Believe it or not, we have progress in the NHL talks

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Believe it or not, we have progress in the NHL talks

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- NHL labor talks that began during the day Wednesday stretched to nearly nine hours, and both sides planned to meet again later Thursday.It isn't known what progress -- if any -- was made during the second straight day of marathon talks in the dispute that is threatening the entire hockey season, but owners and players surely sense that time is now a factor and a deal must be made soon to get the game back on the ice."We had good, candid dialogue," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said early Thursday morning. "There continue to be some critical open issues between the two parties, and we understand the union should be getting back to us (Thursday) on some of those issues."The players' association is expected to have internal discussions Thursday morning before meeting with the NHL."We had a series of candid discussions tonight. We will meet again tomorrow," said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, who like Daly didn't take any questions after the talks ended for the night.Negotiations resumed Wednesday and stretched deep into the night again, this time in fits and starts, as the league and the players' association searched for an agreement. The sides began talks a little after 2 p.m. and kept going through the night, except for a two-hour dinner break.Talks on Tuesday lasted about eight hours and wrapped up at midnight, with the promise that negotiations would continue Wednesday.Very little information leaked out of the meeting room, but it is believed that each side submitted proposals to the other and spent lots of time apart discussing what was offered. One point of contention is the length of the new contract, with owners looking for a 10-year pact, and players wanting a shorter term.Owners often retreated to their room one floor above the location of the bargaining session and then took the elevator back down to get talks going again. Some of the joint sessions lasted as few as 15 minutes.Cautious optimism emerged Tuesday in the first round of talks that kept NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the outside along with union executive director Donald Fehr, while six owners and about 18 players talked inside. The good feeling carried over into Wednesday morning when various team executives said they heard good reports during an NHL board of governors meeting.Bettman spoke briefly after that, just before negotiations started again, and the sides remained silent the rest of the talks while discussions were ongoing. The reemergence of a podium with a lectern featuring the NHL shield in a media workroom sparked some hope that some sort of announcement would soon be coming. It remained unoccupied for quite some time, however it gained instant popularity on Twitter.Bettman declined to take any questions earlier Wednesday when he stood at that podium in a Manhattan hotel. A ray of hope that a season-saving deal could be made emerged late Tuesday night after about eight hours of bargaining."We are pleased with the process that is ongoing, and out of respect for that process I don't have anything else to say," Bettman said.Executives scurried on New York streets and hopped into cars after the two-hour board of governors meeting, some offering an opinion on the proceedings."We feel good about the information we got," new Columbus Blue Jackets President John Davidson said.Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the six owners participating in these negotiations, also painted an optimistic picture as he walked the few blocks back to the hotel hosting the meetings."We're going to continue to talk up until we get a deal," said Tanenbaum, who added there is more clarity on both sides where each group stands. "All I can say is as long as we're talking we're hopeful."If a breakthrough can be made soon, the delayed and shortened hockey season could get going quickly."I've always been hopeful there would be a season," said Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils president and general manager. "Right now we just have to leave it in the hands of the people that are talking."The same negotiators participated in talks Wednesday, with minor tweaks to the large contingent of players.Bargaining stretched Tuesday night until about midnight, and it was clear progress was made when Daly stood side by side with union special counsel Steve Fehr and issued a rare joint status report. Negotiations took place in a pair of sessions that included groups of various sizes.The sides are trying to avoid another lost season. The NHL became the first North American professional sports league to cancel a full year because of a labor dispute back in 2005. The deal reached then was in place until this September, and the lockout was enacted on Sept. 16 after that agreement expired.The lockout reached its 81st day Wednesday. The main issues are how to split revenue and issues surrounding how player contracts are set up. The league had more than 3 billion in the 2011-12 season, but an analysis by Forbes magazine recently showed a major gap between profitable teams and those that operate in the red."We had a long day," Steve Fehr said Tuesday. "We thought it was a constructive day. We had a good dialogue. In some ways I'd say it might be the best day we've had, which isn't too overly optimistic of a picture. There is still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done."Daly echoed Fehr's comments, and spoke well of the talks."I appreciate the efforts of the players," Daly said. "Everybody is working hard. I think everybody wants to get a deal done, so that's encouraging. We look forward to hopefully making more progress."That was the extent of the details revealed by the two sides, which could be another good sign that neither group wanted to say anything that could throw the discussions off the rails.All games through Dec. 14, along with the New Year's Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game, have been wiped off the schedule.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.