I kick off each show on Sports Open Line with the “Three Strikes” segment. That’s where I pick three key story lines for the day and offer up a brief take on each of them. Well, this is the on-line edition. Three stories, three brief commentaries. Feed back is always welcome (kjwheeler@cbs.com).

Strike 1

The Patriots embarrassed the Rams 45-7 in London yesterday and they did it like there was some malice behind their effort. Just look at the evidence. With a 38-7 lead early in the 4th quarter the Patriots kept Tom Brady in the game to lead a drive that was capped by a 14-yard play-action pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski. I couldn’t believe Brady was still in the game, let alone dropping back to throw passes.

Let me be clear – I am not accusing Bill Belichick of anything unsportsmanlike. These guys are pros, it’s the NFL, so there doesn’t need to be any mercy for the weak. I’m just surprised they’d risk injury to Tom Brady in that scenario, though maybe they weren’t worried because the Rams never really got close to him during the course of the game.

This game was an ugly reminder that the Rams aren’t close to being a contender just yet. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jeff Fisher has them ahead of schedule a bit, but this game was simply a reminder of where they are. Year One of a rebuilding phase.

Let’s not forget that. Let’s not let a surprising 3-2 start cloud what we’re seeing. This is a team most of us, including national football analysts, had winning 4-6 games in 2012. The London Game was nothing more than a reminder that there is a lot more work to be done.

Strike 2

How about those Giants? As an encore to their comeback win in the NLCS against the Cardinals they go out and sweep the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Fans in Detroit have learned the same lessons that we learned here in St. Louis – the Giants are really good and they’ve been really hot.

The Giants are no fluke. This is their 2nd World Series victory in 3 years and they’re going to be a legitimate contender again next year, too. They’re talented, they have an outstanding manager and GM Brian Sabean knows what he’s doing (even though sometimes it doesn’t appear that way, the results are the only evidence needed).

They shut down Detroit’s big hitters (Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder) just like they shut down the Cardinals big hitters. Maybe that should tell us that it wasn’t the “failings” of the hitters but rather the performance of the SF pitchers that we should all have been talking about.

There’s no doubt the Cardinals could have been better in the NLCS, just like there’s no doubt that the Tigers could have been too, but maybe the reason they both looked so bad was that the Giants were just playing THAT GOOD.

Strike 3

Congrats to Mizzou on that first SEC win. Too bad it might be the only one in 2012.

The Tigers have three more conference games this season and all of them are on the road. This week they’ve got the #7 Florida Gators in The Swamp with the Gators fighting mad after a loss to Georgia. With Florida’s defense and strong running game this one could be ugly.

Then they have the high powered Tennessee Volunteers offense to deal with in Knoxville. Tennessee has scored 30 or more points in all of their games except the Alabama game and they just took South Carolina down to the wire on the road in a 38-35 loss. The Gamecocks smoked Mizzou 31-10 in South Carolina, for the record.

After a non-conference game against Syracuse the Tigers finish up with a game against Texas A&M at College Station. Now, A&M is no world beater but they have a high powered offense led by freshman QB Johnny Manziel. They played #7 Florida within a field goal (20-17) and they were within a touchdown of #5 LSU (24-19) too.

I’m not ripping Mizzou, by the way. I’m simply pointing out once again what I said before the seasons started. The SEC is not like the Big 12 has been the last 5-6 years. Mizzou capitalized largely on a weak Big 12 North division with K-State and Nebraska down for much of Mizzou’s recent run of success. It’s going to take some time to get used to playing at the SEC level week in and week out. It’s going to take time to build up the roster depth you need to compete in the SEC.

My only hope is that recruits don’t tune the Tigers’ staff out moving forward because of a tough opening season in conference. The Tigers should have a good class for 2013 because most of those guys are either on-board or close to it by now. It’s the 2014-2015 classes I’m worried about.


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