By Mike Bell

Random notes on cocktail napkins… Where’s the beef with the Braves? Can the Falcons win a playoff game? And how ’bout them Hawks?

Baseball’s Winter meetings just wrapped up in San Diego. The Dodgers made most of the headlines, but the Marlins, the White & Red Sox and Cubs all stepped up to the plate and connected too. Meanwhile the Braves did zilch. Evan Gattis & Justin Upton are still here. We did sign Cuban outfielder Dian Toscano and infielder Alberto Callaspo, (no I never heard of him either).  So what exactly is the plan John Hart? Are we gonna go small ball? Are we gonna stick with Gattis? Will the Braves head into Spring Training still needing some pieces as the Braves Baseball Poo-Bah has inferred?

I didn’t think the Braves needed a major overhaul to compete in the NL East, so keeping most of the core together isn’t a bad thing especially if there were only bad deals to have been made in San Diego. But some Braves fans are still upset with the Jason Heyward trade. And the reality of another season with Atlanta’s own immovable object BJ Upton is sinking in. Is the franchise simply going to tread water until the new Ballpark in Cobb County opens?

The Nick Markakis local kid returns angle might put some fannies in the seats, but it’s not like you made a major upgrade, all you did was save some dough. Hey it’s great you grabbed a steak with Jon Lester, but Liberty Media would never have coughed up the cash to sign the pitcher especially when a bidding war erupted between the Giants and the Cubs, so what was the point? I just hate window dressing moves like that, what so you can convince some of the dimmer Braves fan base you were in the market for Lester?

If John Hart is serious about abandoning Frank Wren’s ill conceived swing for the fences game plan, where’s the base stealers? How do you turn a Bobby Cox disciple like Fredi Gonzalez into a manger who actually knows how to manufacture runs? Sure there’s still a few months until pitchers & catchers report but this was the week you expected some action from the Braves.

There’s obviously no such thing as a morale victory in the NFL. But since no one except Falcon fans like you and me gave this team any shot to even compete with the Packers, MNF was gratifying in the sense it showed what this team’s offense can do. And what a stud and difference maker Julio Jones can be.  We all knew we weren’t capable of anything on defense…The Falcons take on the Steelers Sunday in what should be another high scoring game like Monday night’s loss. Lets just hope we don’t have a 2nd quarter like we did at Lambeau. What was and otherwise awesome night for Matt Ryan was unfortunately overshadowed by another really bad pick. When your defense is 10 tackling dummies and Desmond Trufant your $100 Million QB cant have any empty possessions, let alone contribute to the 24 point Packer avalanche in that 2nd quarter.

The Steelers have been a roller coaster of inconsistency at 8-5. They’ve put up big numbers blowing out the Ravens & Colts, yet they’ve lost to the Bucs & Jets. The Saints exposed their banged up secondary at home 2 weeks ago then they unload on the Bengals on the road. Le’Veon Bell is coming off a 2 TD, 185 yard game and Big Ben went for 3 TDs and 350 yards as they smoked the Bengals in the 4th quarter.

Sunday we’ll see a lot of Steelers fans and a lot of points. Can this defense make some stops? John Gruden’s comments about the Falcons complete lack of pass rush had to have the front office cringing. But hey, the undeniable truth hurts.

Lets hope Julio’s hip doesn’t keep him on the sidelines cuz to win Sunday we may need another 200 yard game from number 11.  Roddy White said Thursday this teams needs to win out, 8-8 teams have won divisions before so there’s no shame in that, especially if the Falcons for once could get hot down the stretch. Being the number one seed in the NFC hasn’t worked out for the Falcons so maybe we take a page from the Giants playoff playbook. The Giants have been left for dead twice before making their December runs to the Super Bowl. The the thing is… those teams had pass rushers.

To paraphrase Bob Uecker in Major League… did you know the Hawks are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference? Judging by the attendance at Philips Arena… you didn’t. The Spurs-Lite approach is really starting to come together for Mike Budenholzer. Plenty of balanced scoring, good defense and of course the return of Al Horford have this team looking good for 2 or even 3 seed this Spring. Hey why not? The East is wide open this season. The Hawks & Wizards are just a 1/2 game behind Toronto for the best record. Kyle Korver, Paul Milsap, Jeff Teague, every night it’s a different player stepping up. Plus the depth at guard with German Chocolate (Dennis Schroeder) & power forward Mike Scott gives this team a kind of sum of it’s parts feel that worked for Coach Bud’s former team in San Antonio albeit without the super stars.

We talked with Kyle Korver today and he said as painful as it was not being able to put away the Pacers in the playoffs it still taught some valuable lessons. Lets hope this team can stay healthy and and make a deep playoff run. As the Danny Ferry drama fades away hopefully more folks will get on board with a very fun to watch & rootable team.