Haggerty: Disaster in Montreal isn't just on the ice

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Haggerty: Disaster in Montreal isn't just on the ice

For longtime Habs haters, to those who shout out typical Montreal when a penalty call doesnt go their way against the Montreal Canadiens, these should be good days.The Habs are mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They canned an assistant coach just hours before the start of a game in an ultimate panic move during the seasons first month. They fired a head coach that had taken them to the conference finals just two years ago. Theyve become a mere shell of their once-and-former greatness on the ice.Its only a matter of time before general manager Pierre Gautier is in the crosshairs himself after the horrendous contract given to the gimpy Andrei Markov and the onerous contract adopted when dealing for Tomas Kaberle. Sure, Kaberle has given them some short-term boost, but that deal with two more years at 4 million per season will end up handcuffing the Habs in the end.So its well-established what a catastrophe the Canadiens have become on ice this year.But whats really troubling about the proud franchise are the public stances that the influential Habs are not taking. There have been several instances where the Canadiens could have used their clout and influence to keep things under control in Montreal, and instead theyve simply let things spin away from them.The Canadiens could have stepped in and quieted the fervor that led to an overflow of 911 calls and a farcical public investigation into Zdeno Chara last year. But instead they let their hockey-as-religion fandom become a frenzied laughingstock. A few well-placed words would have calmed things down rather than incited them particularly when it was clear that Max Pacioretty was going to be perfectly okay.Once again it now appears the Habs are allowing and even condoning another public boondoggle with the biased sentiment against interim coach Randy Cunneyworth and English-speaking coaches everywhere.Lets forget about the fact Montreal has jettisoned French-speaking coaches like Claude Julien and Guy Carbonneau in the past, and has painted itself into the current 1-3-1 trap thats bogged them down. Perhaps this is all just a ruse to grease the skids for Patrick Roy to take over next season.But its all been done in such a clumsy and slipshod manner that it seems very unbecoming of a Canadiens franchise that does everything with class, style and panache. The Habs are allowing usage of the Bell Centre building for a language rally, and thats about as clear an endorsement as youll get for the frivolous language argument taking place in Montreal right now.Its also part of the reason Montreal is such a mess right now.Peripheral, non-sports issues like whether the coach is Anglo or Francophone are taking over the conversation rather than ways to fix a beleaguered, inexperienced defensemen crew.People care more about whether the coachs name is Guy or Pierre than they do about whatever is needed to get the mercurial P.K. Subban back on the right track.The first rule to turning a hockey team around is actually paying attention to details pertinent to the actual hockey team. Everybody knows that hockey is religion in Canada, and Montreal is fanatical breeding ground where Les Habitants seemingly permeate everything.Its almost like the Middle East of hockey in terms of wild-eyed followers, and the team could do plenty to influence those most ardent supporters of the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge. Instead the government, the police, and the rank and file citizens are in accordance with Habs ownership and management in a concert of crazy that keeps tarnishing the teams pristine image over and over again. Cooler heads at the top of these powerful organizations could take action to simmer down the rabid nature of it all, but instead they stoke the flames of controversy and dissent.Montreal is a beautiful city with great, passionate people, but its not all that surprising to know its also a city thats a playoff upset or two away from Habs fans and Montreal hooligans burning police cruisers in the streets. Thats exactly what they did four years ago after beating the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs when the Habs were the No. 1 seed. Thats right . . . the first round.Its time for somebody to grab the city by the scruff and let them know its just a hockey team at the end of the day, and not a political demagogue or religious symbol.Nobody is going to care what language the Habs coach is speaking if they dont start winning some games, and thats really what its all about at the end of the day.Isnt it?

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

The Patriots and Raiders and neck-and-neck as the race for home field in the AFC turns for home. And, with four games left, the Raiders are ahead by a nose. The tiebreakers between the 10-2 teams in play currently? Common games followed by strength of victory. 

The first tiebreaker – conference record – is a deadlock as both teams are 7-1 in the AFC (the Brady-less Patriots lost to the Bills back in Week 4.

After conference record, it's the teams record in common games. 

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So far in common games with the Texans and Bills, the Patriots have gone 2-1 and the Raiders have gone 2-0. The Patriots play the Ravens next week. Oakland beat them. The Patriots play Denver after that. Oakland beat them as well but have one more game against Denver in Week 17.

So if it comes down to common games the Patriots really need to win these next two games.

Or hope the Raiders stub their toe a time or two in their final four games which are at the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos with a home game against Indy in Week 16.

As for strength of victory, that too goes to Oakland at this point. The Raiders’ strength of victory is at .471. The Patriots’ is at .370.

But the tiebreaker that kicks in after conference record and before strength of victory – common games – is very much unresolved.The remaining picture as it stands right now? The Ravens are the No. 3 seed with a 7-5 record that leads the AFC North. The Texans’ 6-6 record is good enough to lead the AFC South. The 9-3 Chiefs are the top Wild Card. The 8-4 Broncos are the No. 6 seed.

The Patriots play the Ravens and Broncos over the next two weeks. Currently, the Dolphins (7-5) and Steelers (7-5) are on the outside looking in.

The Titans (6-6) will have a chance to get even with the Texans in Week 17 in head-to-head matchups but they host Denver and play at Kansas City the next two weeks so they have obstacles to clear before they get there.

AFC PLAYOFF RACE: Steelers end Giants' winning streak at 6 in 24-14 victory

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AFC PLAYOFF RACE: Steelers end Giants' winning streak at 6 in 24-14 victory

PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the New York Giants' winning streak with a familiar formula.

Ben Roethlisberger passed for 289 yards and two touchdowns, Le'Veon Bell rolled up 182 yards of total offense, and Pittsburgh's resurgent defense harassed Eli Manning into a flurry of mistakes in a dominant 24-14 win on Sunday.

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