Capitals

Bengals must recognize Eagles haven't quit

201212091337490288519-p2.jpeg

Bengals must recognize Eagles haven't quit

The Philadelphia Eagles haven't completely given up on the season. They damaged Tampa Bay's playoff chances last weekend and get an opportunity Thursday night to do the same to the Cincinnati Bengals.

It's a critical game for the Bengals (No. 16 in the AP Pro32). At 7-6, they are in the midst of the AFC wild-card race, tied with the Steelers and a game in front of the Jets for the final spot. After blowing a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter against Dallas, at home no less, they can't afford to flop in Philly, where the Bengals are a 3-point favorite.

Had the Eagles (No. 27, AP Pro32) not rallied to win at Tampa on the final play last Sunday, this wouldn't seem much of a hurdle. To the credit of coach Andy Reid and the young players he's using in this lost season, the Eagles still are trying.

``I think the big thing is, it's a great thing for the team sticking together,'' rookie quarterback Nick Foles said. ``We can build off of this.''

Perhaps. But at 4-9 and with an eight-game slide just concluded, Philadelphia isn't going anywhere this season. Cincinnati could be, and with games remaining at Pittsburgh and home for Baltimore, a loss to the lowly if re-inspired Eagles is unthinkable.

``We let a huge opportunity get away based upon what happened with a couple of other clubs,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ``And that's the shame of it.''

Falling to Philadelphia would be even more of a shame.

BENGALS, 19-13

---

No. 3 San Francisco (plus 3) at No. 1 New England

If Patriots do to Niners what they did to Texans, there might be no stopping them.

BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 24-17

No. 6 (tie) New York Giants (plus 1) at No. 5 Atlanta

Falcons look like first-place team chasing those behind them.

UPSET SPECIAL: GIANTS, 26-20

No. 10 Indianapolis (plus 8 1-2) at No. 4 Houston

Texans look like first-place team chasing those behind them, too.

TEXANS, 23-21

No. 13 Pittsburgh (plus 1) at No. 14 Dallas

Picking road underdogs is dangerous business. But Dallas isn't imposing at home.

STEELERS, 23-17

No. 6 (tie) Green Bay (minus 3) at No. 12 Chicago

Packers wrap up NFC North, keep archrivals skidding.

PACKERS, 27-17

No. 2 Denver (minus 2 1-2) at No. 8 (tie) Baltimore

Ravens need to straighten themselves out. This is not the best game to do so.

BRONCOS, 28-27

No. 8 (tie) Seattle (minus 3) vs. No. 26 Buffalo at Toronto

Win here and Seahawks can make playoff plans.

SEAHAWKS, 24-20

No. 15 Minnesota (plus 3) at No. 17 St. Louis

Jeff Fisher should be in Coach of Year conversation.

RAMS, 21-20

No. 18 Tampa Bay (plus 3 1-2) at No. 19 New Orleans

Bucs will kick themselves for loss to Eagles when season concludes.

BUCCANEERS, 30-27

No. 32 Jacksonville (plus 7) at No. 23 Miami

Jaguars have No. 1 overall draft pick in their sights.

DOLPHINS, 17-9

No. 25 Carolina (plus 3) at No. 21 San Diego

Both teams pulled off upsets a week ago. Chargers avoid one.

CHARGERS, 30-28

No. 24 Detroit (minus 6 1-2) at No. 29 Arizona

Cardinals will show up this time. They just won't win.

LIONS, 24-13

No. 30 (tie) Kansas City (plus 3) at No. 30 (tie) Oakland

AP Pro 32 rankings say it all about these teams.

CHIEFS, 19-17

No. 20 New York Jets (plus 1) at No. 28 Tennessee, Monday night

Now Jets fans are talking playoffs? Fuhgeddaboudit!

TITANS, 14-13

No. 11 Washington (OFF) at No. 22 Cleveland

With or without RG3, Redskins have come too far to stumble here.

REDSKINS, 17-13

---

2012 RECORD:

Against spread: 8-7 (86-106-7). Straight up: 9-7 (127-77-1)

Best Bet: 6-6-2 against spread, 10-4 straight up.

Upset special: 10-4 against spread, 8-6 straight up.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

 

CAPITALS FACEOFF PODCAST:

Quick Links

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

capture_vegas.png
USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.