Nothing like starting with a painful subject

Fact: I'm sorry (really sorry) to bring this up, but tomorrow's AFC championship game between the Colts and New England Patriots in Indianapolis represents the first home championship game for the Colts since Jan. 3, 1971, when the horseshoes beat the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium to advance to the Super Bowl. The franchise played one NFL title game and one AFC title game here - and won both.

Opinion: Here's the math: The Maryland Terrapins need to go at least .500 in their remaining 12 ACC men's basketball games to have a shot at making the NCAA tournament. At 1-3 now, they won't get in with a 6-10 league record and might not at 7-9, either. To assure themselves of a place in the Big Dance, they need to go 7-5 in their remaining games to finish 8-8 in the ACC and 22-9 overall. It's going to be a challenge, given their inconsistency.


Fact: The New Orleans Saints' victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend doubled their franchise's all-time playoff victory total from one to two. They started playing in 1967 and recorded their first playoff victory in December 2000.

Opinion: To make their lives a tad easier, the Terps need to sweep their remaining home games against TOTDNC (teams other than Duke and North Carolina). That means beating Georgia Tech, Virginia, Florida State and North Carolina State at Comcast Center in the coming weeks.


Fact: Check out the straight talk from Garry Neil Drummond, a University of Alabama trustee emeritus, on the subject of Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban's $32 million package: "This is CEO pay. I think it is one of the worst things we have ever done."

Opinion: Although fans were ready to see Rodrigo Lopez depart after he lost 18 games for the Orioles in 2006, he deserves kudos for having pitched pretty well overall in Baltimore. He was two games over .500 during a five-season span in which the Orioles were 90 games under .500. That's not bad.

Fact: The five pitchers projected to constitute the Orioles' starting rotation in 2007 (Erik Bedard, Kris Benson, Adam Loewen, Daniel Cabrera and Jaret Wright) were a combined 52-46 with a 4.56 ERA last season.

Opinion: The level of play when Towson met Loyola in men's basketball Monday night at Reitz Arena was incalculably better than the level that prevailed at both schools before Pat Kennedy and Jimmy Patsos arrived three years ago. (And for that matter, although their 4-11 record doesn't indicate it, the Morgan State Bears are appreciably better under first-year coach Todd Bozeman.)

Fact: Aubrey Huff's batting average had declined for three straight years before rising six points last season.

Opinion: Although it could be argued that nothing is worth the price of admission in the NBA (average ticket price: $47.20, according to Team Marketing Report), the show being put on by the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas comes close. It doesn't get much better than putting a 60-spot on the Lakers and Kobe Bryant at the Staples Center, as Arenas did in December.

Fact: Memo to the Ravens: The past four AFC North winners failed to defend their titles. The last team to win the division back-to-back was the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001 and 2002.

Opinion: My only problem with criticizing the play-calling in the Ravens' playoff loss is that one botched play possibly changed everything. If Steve McNair had thrown a touchdown pass instead of an interception on the goal line in the second quarter, the Ravens would have taken a 10-6 lead after their slow start and the game could have unfolded quite differently.


Fact: The smart horse players have a strapping colt named Nobiz Like Showbiz at the top of their list of 2007 Kentucky Derby contenders. He is trained by Barclay Tagg, who handled Funny Cide, and will prep in Florida.

Opinion: I have my doubts about one player's ability to transform a league, but it's a good time for Major League Soccer to take a shot and give a pile of money to superstar David Beckham. American soccer is making inroads, however gradually. MLS' goal should be to surpass hockey as America's fourth-favorite team sport within a decade - not impossible, it says here, since hockey has basically self-destructed.

Fact: The Ravens are 1-3 in playoff games (0-2 at home) since the Super Bowl.

Opinion: It's going to be great fun to watch Denver Nuggets teammates Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony try to share the ball when Anthony's suspension ends Monday. Iverson said, "This is 'Melo's team and 'Melo has to act like it's his team," whatever that means.

Fact: This will be my last column for a few months. I'm taking a leave to work on a book. See you in the spring.