This has been an unprecedented fall/winter in the city of Toronto. The Raptors have been in first place for 30 straight days and following the Leafs 9-2 debacle to Nashville, they are 9-1-1. Both teams in excellent playoff positions before Christmas!
Obviously the Raptors are the story as they continue to carve out wins, even without Demar in the lineup and possibly playing the worst defense of Dwayne Casey’s tenure. Until last night’s somewhat sloppy win over Orlando they had allowed over 100 points to opponents in ten straight games. That will not help win a championship. They need to tighten up and get back to aggressive play. They have been over playing the perimeter game instead of driving the lane and drawing fouls. That’s how you grind out wins, defense and toughness. Luckily their schedule looks great going into Christmas with 7 straight games against sub-500 teams (2-0 so far) but they will need to get everything straightened out before their brutal post-Christmas road trip which is six consecutive against Bulls, Clippers, Nuggets, Blazers, Warriors and Suns. If they come home with at least 4 wins from that trip, they are in great shape to win the whole conference.
The Leafs have looked great over the past 12 games with Bernier finally anointed the number 1 goalie and the return of David Booth and Joffrey Lupul, they now have four solid lines that can score. They are only three points out of first place in the conference (I can’t believe it even as I type it). They can no longer focus on just making the playoffs but winning a series and making some noise. That is the only way to make a statement in the league because as San Jose teams of the past few years will tell you, the regular season means nothing.
Melky Cabrera finally signed a contract. Three years and $42-million with the White Sox. That’s two less years and thirty-plus million less than he was supposed to get. I think he and his agent really overplayed their hands and thought he was more sought after than he was. Rumor has it that the Jays never really wanted to sign him back because of his clubhouse and off-field attitude. I would assume there is some truth to it or else more teams would have swooped in with bigger offers. He apparently was not the best team mate and more than a couple of the Blue Jays players had no problem voicing that opinion to management. If that is true, good on AA for trying to cut the cancer and change the culture of the clubhouse. This team on paper is not a championship team yet but if you get rid of the bad influences, you get one step closer (I’m talking to you RA Dickey).
I’m just checking the standings in the NFL as I haven’t had time…what? Is this right? I can’t believe it! The Lions are in first place in the NFC North! They are 10-4 and have the same record as the Packers after they lost in Buffalo while the Lions grinded out an ugly win in Minnesota. That means with two games left, the final game of the season in Green Bay could be for the NFC North title. The Lions play in Chicago this weekend and the Packers in Tampa so while it is unlikely, a Lions win and Packers loss gives Detroit the division. That would be nice because playing at Lambeau is tough (ask the Pats) but assuming they both win this weekend, it sets up a playoff atmosphere in Green Bay on Dec 28 which will most likely become the Sunday night game. The only thing that still bothers me is that there will be a 10-win team out of the playoffs because of the embarrassing performance of the NFC South (looks like New Orleans will win the division at 8-8 with games against Atlanta and Tampa to end the season). Right now they are focused on Chicago but I would think they can’t help but look ahead to get prepared for the biggest game of the season since they BEAT the Packers 19-7 in week 3. Bring on those 5-9 Bears!