Charlie Pallilo: The lack of a Super buzz, Rockets, NCAA hoops and more

Rob Gronkowski could be a difference maker for New England.

It sure seems there was more interest last year here in the run-up to the Super Bowl. Well duh, the game was played here. Add in the Texans’ season devolving into a fetid mess and an overall decline in NFL interest this season, and yeah, the buzz volume has been more whisper than earsplitter. But what, you’re not going to watch version LII Sunday? Whether you detest them, envy them, or marvel at them, what the Patriots have done and continue to do during the Belichick-Brady dynasty is astounding. Eight Super Bowl appearances in 18 years. In which century do you think the Texans make their 8th Super Bowl appearance?

Clearly the Eagles can win the game. The Jaguars gave the Pats fits at Foxborough. The Eagles’ defense isn’t Jaguars great, but is darn good. The Eagles will move the ball against the New England defense. But what the Patriots do is stiffen in the red zone. Good chance Nick Foles turns it over there at some point.

If Rob Gronkowski stays healthy, the Eagles just don’t have a good matchup against him. Who does? And Brady is still Brady. Patriots 23,  Eagles 20.

Rockets roll on

Congrats to the Rockets for extinguishing any Spurs’ hopes of mounting a charge at them for second best record in the Western Conference. Granted they had no Kawhi Leonard, but the Spurs were overmatched in San Antonio Thursday night in dropping seven games behind the Rockets in the loss column. The Spurs are closer in the loss column to the lottery than they are to the Rockets. The Rockets are back on pace to win 60 games.

Record review

So close Calvin Murphy, so close. Next month would have marked the 40 year anniversary of Murph holding the Rockets franchise record for points in a game. March 18th 1978 the Pocket Rocket went off for 57 in a game against the New Jersey Nets. That was before there was a three point line in the NBA.

Contrary to the cliché, all records are not made to be broken.  But Murphy’s fell Tuesday when James Harden went for 60 while the rest of the Rockets mustered 54 in a struggle of a win over awful Orlando. Harden is the 25th player to score 60 or more in a game. Only four guys have gone 60+ more than once: Elgin Baylor four times, Michael Jordan five, Kobe Bryant six, Wilt Chamberlain...32. THIRTY-TWO!

This may seem heretical to some, but James Harden’s offensive production is now at a higher level than even peak Hakeem Olajuwon’s was. Harden’s raw output and scoring efficiency are superior. As a player Harden is nowhere close to Dream; there’s that other half of the game that kind of counts (defense). But for pure offense, this James Harden is better than Hakeem’s Dreamiest. If you prefer more of an apple-to-apple comparison, this James Harden is certainly better than Kobe Bryant ever was offensively. Yes there is a caveat somewhere in size from meaningful to total solar eclipse-causing: regular season Harden. Hey, it’s a cross he has to bear. For now.

Tournament talk

It was a tough Wednesday night for the NCAA Tournament hopes for the Universities of Houston and Texas. Both are still strongly alive and right now probably would make the field of 68, but both missed out on opportunities for substantial resume-enhancing road victories. UH blew (or had ripped from it-matter of perspective) an 18 point lead at 8th ranked Cincinnati. No shame in the defeat, the Bearcats haven’t lost a home game in more than two years. The Coogs get a rematch with the Cats week after next. They hope the second time around goes the way it did vs. Wichita State. But road wins gain extra credit, and the Coogs do not have a quality road win to their name. A win at Cincy also would have vaulted UH into the Top 25 for the first time in a dozen years.

In Lubbock, UT could have made it a season sweep over top 10 Texas Tech but fell at the buzzer in overtime. Being in the Big 12 means the Longhorns play a vastly tougher schedule than does UH. UT has played one of the five toughest schedules in the country but you still have to win some games. Texas is 4-5 in Big 12 play. A 7-11 finish should mean the NIT, and furthermore should mean at least a warm seat for Shaka Smart going into next season. Fab freshman Trae Young and Oklahoma are in Austin tomorrow.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Jeff Allen has been a free agent disappointment with the Texans whose release should be considered.  2. Allen replaced Brandon Brooks when the Texans wouldn’t pay market rate to keep him. Brooks starts at right guard for the Eagles in the Super Bowl Sunday.  3. Best North American markets:  Bronze-Quincy, Boston   Silver-St. Lawrence, Toronto   Gold-Pike Place, Seattle

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Keep an eye on Tank Dell this Sunday. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

I remember thinking how in the world can these little frail guys survive at the NFL level? I mean, I saw Joe Theismann and Ed McCaffrey's legs snap. Drew Bledsoe got his chest caved in. Seeing 300-plus pound men cry when injured is humbling. So when a guy like Tank Dell comes along, I'm always a bit apprehensive. Especially when they come with a ton of hype.

For every eight to ten big strong players that get hurt, there's one or two little fellas that have relatively healthy careers. The comp that came to mind when looking at Tank was DeSean Jackson. Listed at 5'10 and weighing a heavy 175 pounds, Jackson was arguably the best “small guy” in NFL history. Dell being about two inches shorter and about ten pounds lighter, while also playing a similar role, is in line to be a similarly electrifying type of player. I put my assessment on the line and doubled down with my predictions on what his, and others' season totals will look like last week:

Tank Dell: 68 catches, 1,105 yards and 6 touchdowns- Dell will be a really good slot, but has some outside skills. Namely, his speed. He's more slippery than if Mick had greased that chicken before Rocky tried catching it. I could see his production going up as the season gets longer because Stroud will begin to look for him more and more as they build chemistry. Yes, I know I only have him with six scores. Keep in mind this is a run first offense. At least that's what we can deduce from looking at where it came from in San Francisco.

In his debut game last week vs the Ravens, he notched three catches for 34 yards on four targets. He was tied for third on the team in targets with Noah Brown and Mike Boone. While Robert Woods and Nico Collins were one and two in targets last week, I think Dell will ascend that list starting this week. Word came down that Noah Brown is headed to IR, meaning he'll miss at least the next four weeks. The chemistry he and fellow rookie C.J. Stroud have developed is palpable. From working out together, to attending UH games together, these two seem to have a nice bond already.

Woods is a solid vet two years removed from an ACL injury. Collins was a third rounder with size who hasn't done a whole lot. Dell is easily the most exciting option at receiver this team has. John Metchie III was expected to be the next guy up. Unfortunately, cancer had him take a backseat, until now. Metchie is back at practice this week, so a debut is imminent. He could potentially challenge for more playing time, but it may take him some time to get used to things and get going again.

As far as my statistical prediction for his season, he only needs to average four catches for 67 yards per game, and get a touchdown every two to three games for the remainder of the season. Given Brown being out the next few games, Metchie not quite being up to speed, Woods being an older player on a short-term deal, and Collins not really being what everyone thought he could be, it leaves things wide open for Dell to step up.

Playmakers come in all shapes and sizes. Levon Kirkland was a 300-pound middle linebacker in a 3-4. Doug Flutie led teams to playoff wins as a 5'9 quarterback. In football, size matters. The bigger, stronger guys normally win out. When it comes to receiving and returns, you want speed, quickness, and agility. Dell has that in spades. Add his competitive nature and chemistry with his quarterback and you have a recipe for a star in the making. I know I'm not the only one hoping the Texans continue Tank-ing.

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