Nichol(s) Slots: G-Men “Pack” it in, SF treats & Happy MLK

In this latest edition of Nichol(s) Slots, the New York Football Giants packed-in Green Bay, San Fran downs the Saints in a thriller by the Bay, Brady embarrasses Tebow and the Hawks are back on top of the West.

Hope all of you are ready! The last Nichol(s) Slots came just after the New Year, where most of you were still recovering — especially one special lady in particular who just got out of the hospital! JPizzle, glad you’re home!

How does a 15-1 football team blow its first game after the bye? 

So much for my Tom Brady-Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl prediction.

The Packers and their defending champion status is history after the Giants outplayed them and beat them up, losing 37-20 at Lambeau Field Sunday night.

For the second time in four years, the G-Men have marched up to Northern Wisconsin and shattered the hopes and dreams of the Packers, their fans and their city.

May be the Packers might want to avoid the Giants in the playoffs?

But unlike ’08, when Favre threw an interception in OT, this game was never in the balance. Aaron Rodgers, the presumed NFL MVP, looked like the often-criticized Eli Manning, where Manning was Rodgers-like. The Packers receivers dropped some regular passes and we finally saw how the Packers would respond if they got down early.

May be most noteworthy of Manning’s game, or the game itself was the Hail Mary to Victor Cruz at the end of the half. I think most of the stadium and the country believed Eli would find a quick route to the outside to stop the clock so they could kick a field goal and go up 16-10 at the half. Instead, he went into Cruz Control and that was all she wrote for the Packers. That play at the half was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or packed the cheese.

Credit New York’s defense, a defense that came with everything it had. And Osi Umenyiora, who prevented one Packers touchdown. Don’t forget the credit to the refs, who dearly tried to keep the champs in it.

May be New York’s win had something to do with losing to the Pack in the Meadowlands just a few weeks ago. The Giants looked better prepared for the Pack the second time around while timing may have been a huge factor because the Giants got the Pack at the right time. Oh, did NY do San Fran a favor.

Green Bay looked rusty. The long layoff definitely had a hand, although it healed most of the injured and I’m sure the Packers welcomed the time off. Green Bay had no running game — but that’s been the case all year. But the Pack had no answer for Manning while Rodgers was more busy trying to pick up first downs on the run than in the air, like Tebow.

Such an odd turn of events in the NFL playoffs.

Am I ready to say Eli Manning is a elite? Well, Eli might be short for Elite, which he proved yesterday. I’ve been skeptical but this proved it for me. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks caught some great passes but that was set up by a NY O-line that prevented the Packers pass rush and a beautiful ball thrown by Manning, who looked a lot like his brother Peyton last night.

But what happened to Green Bay? Really. Seriously. C’mon.

The Packers had all the makings for another Super Bowl run. 15-1. Home field advantage. Aaron Rodgers. Two weeks off.

How did this team go 15-1 in the regular season?

The Saints have similar questions. You win all those games in the dome. You travel out to San Francisco and lose. For the second-straight you, you’re out early because of your road woes.

1-2 is still alive out in the AFC, but NFC-wise, the two best are done. How? How, how, how, how?

San Francisco Treat

How about that game? Back and forth, touchdown after touchdown in the final minutes. It was clearly the best game of the weekend, might have been the best game in quite some time. But San Francisco took it to the Saints. Big hits by the 49ers has them in the NFC championship. And a little bit of clutch from Alex Smith and Vernon Davis. But mostly Smith.

Give credit to Alex Smith in this one. The run was one thing. “The Grab” in San Francisco will go down in history for a long time if, IF the 49ers can make it a championship when it’s all said and done. We don’t ever expect Smith to play that way and he’s come a long way in Frisco, but that laser to Davis left an everlasting impression.

Brady Rules

Is there any question Tom Brady isn’t the star of stars in the NFL or one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time?

Man, did he embarrass Tim Tebow — whom (by the way, whom is the subject in a sentence) is a running back, not a quarterback by any means.

45-10. Ouch. Sorry Tim. Next year.

Five touchdowns in the first half, six overall. The five were an NFL playoff record. Brady used Aaron Hernandez and the Gronk to the fullest affect. I’m not quite even sure Baltimore can disrupt that pattern. The Pats used that double tight end set and they run it to perfection. How do you stop the athletic Hernandez and the powerful Gronkowski?

Give me the Pats over Raven next week. And Gronkowski as my tight end in Fantasy next season.

(Which reminds me, I must make Jimmy Graham my keeper in my one league, while inform you all of a league I’m creating next season — the best of the best fantasy players only)

I’m sure the questions will arise about Tebow and the God factor but forget all that. Please don’t try to play Devil’s advocate with me. Not gonna work.

We were finally exposed to the true Broncos team — a team that didn’t belong in the playoffs in the first place. And Tebow was finally proven that at the NFL level, you can’t carry over your college game when it counts in the NFL.

And Tim Tebow’s last five games — check out Peter King’s MMQB on SI.com — are eerily similar, or even worse than Kyle Orton’s first five games of the season. Both were 1-4, and Orton had thrown for more touchdowns and yards.

Tebow is going to be the Broncos quarterback next year, but when teams capitalize on his run game, he’s going to need an arm to counter. And honestly, for him to stand in the pocket and throw isn’t his game. And to be an NFL quarterback, you have to do that.

Michael Vick is the only exception. Tom Brady is the proof — and I’m pretty sure Tebow can attest to that.

Quickly — T.J. Yates may be filling in for Matt Schaub, but if Schaub is healthy, the Texans win that game. Those two dumb throws at the end cost the Texans a chance at an AFC championship. Houston’s defense was superb, but Jacoby Jones’ momentum-ruining muff in the first quarter set the tone.

Fisher to St. Louis

Former Titans/Oilers coach Jeff Fisher is now the head coach in St. Louis. But why on Earth do the Rams need to be relevant? Miami made the dumbest move by not making Fisher head coach. If any team needs to be resurrected, it’s the Miami Dolphins.

I mean, C’mon, who wants to see the Rams get good again?

Fisher will improve the Rams, but the Dolphins brass reminds me a little of the Bears brass — stubborn and idiotic.

Super Bowl Picks 

Since my original pick of the Packers-Patriots was stymied on Sunday, I have to go with the rematch of the epic Super Bowl XLII between the Patriots and Giants.

I remember working at WFLD Fox Chicago that night and the work I did that night in the newsroom helped me gained popularity around the newsroom. I also told the boys that David Tyree’s catch was probably my generation’s Joe Montana-Dwight Clark “The Catch” moment.

The Mighty Blackhawks 

The Hawks are back on top of the West with a 4-3 win over San Jose at the UC last night but I have to go back to the overtime in the Joe on Saturday against the Red Wings.

I had not seen a more pathetic (may be the loss in Edmonton) display of hockey than that 5 minute overtime from the Hawks this year. They clearly wanted nothing with Detroit in OT on the 4-on-4. They wanted the shootout. The Hawks played soft, timid — were they even on the ice? In a game on the road in overtime, you can’t blow it. You just can’t. Bertuzzi makes the game-winner, the Hawks go home without a second point. I just want to know where their pride was in overtime?

Fortunately, the Hawks played much better against San Jose but the Hawks have to watch their leads. That top line with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg was magnificent — Stalberg and Toews both with goals. Stalberg earned the NHL’s Second Star of the week for his hard-nosed play last week, and if he keeps it up and Andrew Shaw continues his stellar play, may be Stan Bowman can get away without making a trade for a winger. But they will need a defencemen sooner or later. I love using the Canadian “C” in defensemen for some reason.

And please, fix the power play, Coach Q. That 4:00 pp that Detroit killed was the icing on the cake for me.

Winter Classic 2013

Sorry Blackhawks fans, all signs are pointing to Michigan’s Big House for the next Winter Classic with Detroit as host. The Hawks were pushing for the rematch but it appears Toronto will get the bid — which is about time.

What a great situation if you’re not going to make it Chicago-Detroit. Toronto and Detroit are Original Six teams — so the rivalry and nostalgia is there. From a marketing standpoint, it’s a good PR move. The Big House is an amazing venue to use — the modern ballparks have lacked over the recent years and the Leafs need it and geographically it makes sense.

Historically, it makes sense. The NHL wins again in marketing.

And may be, this is what turns the Maple Leafs back into a serious contender.

Serious contenders the Cubs are not with Prince Fielder. Let’s put it this way — if Fielder was such a hot commodity, why hasn’t he been signed already? Teams question his health in a long-term deal, plus Fielder isn’t the best defensive first baseman by any means. The Cubs don’t have him in their plans, manager Dale Sveum had noted that and unless they get him for a bargain, Fielder ain’t coming here.

It’s odd that such a power hitter with great success at the plate is subject to question and criticism. And he’s only 27.

Was Kerry Wood a PR move? I’d say 50/50. He strengthens the Cubs bullpen — his fastball is still clocked near 95 mph — but getting the fans in the stadium matters, too. And while Epstein is here to rebuild the franchise, the Cubs have find a way to sell tickets, even with a mediocre 2012 team. That means Wood and Theo have to be significant figures in Wrigleyville.

Don’t think for the time being Tom Ricketts will use Theo to gauge tickets. The team may be a couple of years away, but the ballpark, the fact that they’re the “lovable losers” and Theo-power might get another 3 million fans to Wrigley.

Now, can they get the Triangle Building constructed?  And lower those prices for such a bad product? Supply and demand say no. Sorry.

Paul Maholm was a solid pickup for the Cubs rotation, who lost the psychotic, ill-tempered Carlos Zambrano in a trade to Miami. Big Z united with his pal, former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. The Cubs will eat most of Zambrano’s $18 million. But you knew that already.

They’re also willing to eat Soriano’s $54 million remaining and if they ship Sori off to an AL team that thinks they’re getting another bat in the lineup, I might rethink this whole 2012 year. I might be willing to take a dive or a step back if it means two steps forward for the Cubbies.

Only the Bulls… Only the Bulls…

I flirted with the idea of writing this edition of Nichol(s) Slot last night, touting the Bulls and their defense. But Monday’s matinee loss in Memphis, 102-86, made me glad I didn’t write about their defense and what not…

The Bulls’ five-game win streak was snapped, but the Bulls didn’t have Derrick Rose, who still deals with a sprained toe.

Still, the Bulls sit at a 12-3 mark but it was evident with Rose out, the Bulls lacked serious scoring as they have nobody to carry load offensively. Boozer? Boozer? Deng? Hello?

C.J. Watson returned to score 17 points but Richard Hamilton continues to nurse a groin injury so the Bulls haven’t really recovered from the injury bug.

Remember, this is a 66-game compacted schedule and you’re going to get games like this sometimes. Buyer beware.

By the way, Kobe is going for his fifth 40-point game against Dallas. Remember the night he scored 63 through three quarters against them back on December 20, 2005? He’ll get 40-plus tonight.

What wrist injury? He’s gunning for an MVP, that’s for damn sure.

I have to cut the blog short, but tomorrow and the upcoming days, look for the Fastest Five and another version of Chalk Talk, where I’ll get to anything I missed today or in the last few weeks. I’ll definitely have something on Kobe-LeBron coming up as the Heat and Lakers face off this Thursday. Count on that.

By the way, if you haven’t checked out any local hoops, get a peek-see at the Elgin and Huntley boys teams. Each team has just one loss and look to be on a crash course for the sectionals once again.

Elgin and Huntley, take a look. Please. Quality prep basketball at its finest.

Happy MLK day!

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