by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
Julian: The NFL Playoffs Divisional Round was as good as the Wild Card round was bad. All four games were close, they all ended up being within one score. There were also some pretty major upsets and some instant classics. Of the four Divisional Round games, which was your favorite?
Eric: No doubt Buffalo vs. Kansas City. Just the final two minutes of the four quarter alone was crazy. 25 points were in that last two minutes. High scoring affair between two evenly matched teams. It is shame one had to lose and end their season. Now I know Buffalo did not touch the ball in overtime but again from start to finish it was entertaining.
Julian: I was only able to catch the last six minutes of the Packers/49ers game on Saturday but couldn’t believe the end result. I missed all of Titans/Bengals due to my schedule, but Sunday was the better day either way. The Buccaneers comeback against the Rams was almost as epic as Tom Brady’s led Patriots over the Falcons in the Super Bowl a few years back. It seemed that game was destined for overtime with the Buccs having taken all the momentum away from the Rams and when all of a sudden Matthew Stafford finds Cooper Kupp, who I really think needs to be high in the MVP voting this year, for a long completion that leads to a game-winning field goal. But yes Chiefs/Bills was potentially the most fun I’ve ever had watching the last 15-plus minutes of a football game with all the going back and forth, especially in the final two minutes. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that many combiner points with that little amount of time remaining on the clock.
Julian: The game was not without its controversy though in that the Bills didn’t get to possess the ball in overtime with the Chiefs driving down the field and scoring a touchdown to win it. Do you think the NFL needs a rule change when it comes to overtime games?
Eric: I feel like they do just because if one team scores on its first possession the game is over. The other team would be mad because they did not get a chance to at least tie the game. I know we rarely see playoff overtime in the NFL, but it had been long overdue to change the rules.
Julian: I think I might still be at a point where I just know it’s better now than the way it was for many years in which any score would end the game and it really did feel like the coin toss would sway the game because it doesn’t seem to take all that much work to get into field goal range in the NFL. At least this version that makes the team receiving the ball first score a TD to win gives the defense more of a fighting chance. But I do think both offenses having the chance to possess the ball would be even more fair. I just don’t want to see it done like college football where the team already is in field goal range when they get the ball. I want defense to have some say in the outcome. I also want the clock to remain an aspect.
Julian: According to Yahoo Sports the Chiefs/Bills game is the fifth greatest NFL game ever played - do you agree with that?
Eric: Wow! I can see it being top five in some people's eyes, but in others would say it is tainted because of the NFL overtime rules in the playoffs. But as far as entertainment value goes, this game is in the top five for sure. It is a shame that this Super Bowl likely won't top this game.
Julian: It was certainly one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen, but I have trouble putting into perspective with some great games of the past. Like “The Greatest Game Ever Played” and “The Ice Bowl” are part of Football lore and I just don’t know where a division round playoff matchup fits in with that. I guess the test of time will show where this game ranks.
Julian: On Saturday you texted me: “Well, I feel as though the Titans and Cowboys are the same teams.” What did you mean by that?
Eric: The Titans and Cowboys won their divisions pretty easily. They both had a home playoff game and they both were one and done. I would say Tennessee has the better coach and better team overall, but the fact that they were slim favorites at home and lost tells you what is going on with both teams. They have decent rosters, but they have come up short in the playoffs.
Julian: Speaking of one and done, the Packers were the favorites by many going into the playoffs to win it all and they pretty much laid an egg at home in Lambeau in frosty weather against the San Francisco 49ers. How did this happen?
Eric: I don't know what happened with the Packers. I am stunned at their performance. They only scored 10 points at home, and they had the first round bye on top of that. The 49ers were the better team Saturday. The playoff mystique at Lambeau Field has disappeared. It was once the toughest place to play in the playoffs.
Julian: The Packers and Aaron Rodgers simply haven’t been good in the postseason going back almost a decade now. For much of that decade Rodgers has been one of the two or three and some would even say best QB in the NFL. How does his lack of postseason success affect his legacy?
Eric: Rodgers has the same legacy as Brett Favre. The Packers have had 30 years of experience between these two quarterbacks, and they could only win two Super Bowls. Green Bay had a lot of good teams in that time but couldn't win the whole thing.
Julian: You picked Patrick Mahomes as your Wild Card round Player of the Week. Are you sticking with him for the Divisional Round or is there another player you’d like to shout out?
Eric: Yeah, I am going to stick with Mahomes. He has had two great games so far in the playoffs. We will see if can keep it up this week in the AFC championship game.
Julian: For the second straight week I see your Mahomes pick and agree with your Mahomes pick but want to spice things up and go with a Buffalo Bills players. I hate to pick a player of the week in a losing fashion, but I can't ignore the record-setting game had by Bills receiver Gabriel Davis and his four touchdowns catches, eight receptions and 201 yards (which is more than 25 a catch). Not even the all-time greatest Jerry Rice ever caught four TDs in a playoff game.
Eric: That is an excellent pick.
Julian: Alright, let's get on to our Conference Championship predictions. I don't see how the Championship Round could possibly be as good as the Divisional Round was, especially because I think the matchups this weekend are weaker than they were last weekend. It's unfortunate, but somehow that's how the seeding from the regular season works out. The AFC championship will see the Cincinnati Bengals, who went from not winning a playoff game in more than 30 years to winning two in as many weeks, traveling to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, who are looking for a trip to their third straight Super Bowl. This game will be Sunday, January 30 at 2 p.m. (CST) on CBS. What's your prediction, Eric?
Eric: Chiefs and Bengals met in Week 17 in a thriller with Cincinnati winning on a walk off field goal that helped clinch the AFC North. Joe Burrow had a tough game, but overall, he has been my MVP for the season. Jamarr Chase will win Offensive Rookie of the Year. If the Bengals had this game at home, I would pick them, but I can't go with the Chiefs who will host the AFC Championship game for the fourth straight year. Kansas City wins 38-28.
Julian: A 10-point win for the Chiefs seems very reasonable to me, but I also can’t help but feel this one might not be that close. I felt like if any playoff team in the AFC could knock Kansas City off its pedestal it would’ve been the Bills. The Chiefs are just too veteran from top to bottom to fall to an upstart team like the Bengals in such a big game. Though, wouldn’t that be quite the story of Cincinnati went from not being able to win a playoff game in more than 30 years to Super Bowl appearance.
Julian: The NFC Championship is an all-California matchup with the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Los Angeles Rams. That game can be seen on Fox at 5:30 Sunday afternoon. How do you see this one playing out?
Eric: These two teams know each other well. But the 49ers have had the Rams number in recent time. Kyle Shanahan is 6-0 head to head vs. Sean McVay. These two are the young guns in football coaching. I always think the team that goes into the playoffs with momentum on their side is the one that usually go on a run. Maybe it is San Francisco's turn. The Rams have been good defensively all season, but down the stretch outside of the Arizona playoff game, their defense is taking a beating in the second half. That should be something to watch. I do expect the 49ers to play better offensively with better weather conditions. I am going with the underdog 49ers to come away with a 27-24, emotionally charged rivalry victory.
Julian: Wow. Shanahan is 6-0 vs. McVay head-to-head. That’s a great stat of which I was unaware. It makes me almost want to change my prediction. I didn’t think either of these teams would be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl at any point during the season. I feel like on paper the Rams are simply better even with your head-to-head stat proving they’ve had no success against the 49ers in many years. L.A. has the better defense, the better quarterback and the better receiving corps. I just have to take the Rams in this game.
by Julian Spivey
Baseball Hall of Fame debates used to be among my all-time favorite sports debates. It used to be fun discussing with friends and random strangers online who I thought deserved to be a Hall of Famer and who I didn’t think quite made the cut. Now it’s a topic I dread.
Discussion over who does and doesn’t belong in Cooperstown, the site of the Baseball Hall of Fame, has become as heated and filled with as much vitriol and hatred as politics. It’s two-sided. It’s split down the middle and there’s seemingly no room for disagreement. You’re right if you believe one thing and an idiot if you believe the other.
Baseball began testing and penalizing for steroids almost two decades ago now, but they’re still ripping the sport apart when it comes to its hallowed halls and its fan-base. There are those who believe players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame, whether they took performance enhancing drugs or not. And there are those who don’t believe they belong.
Tuesday, January 25 was always going to be D-Day for fans when it came to this topic because it was the day either Bonds and Clemens (and to a lesser extent Sammy Sosa) were either going to make the Hall of Fame via the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWA) or they were going to fall off the ballot after 10 years of eligibility.
It was the day a large portion of baseball fans were either going to be happy or furious. Based on my Twitter feed I seem to be among the minority when it comes to fans on the happy side. I’ve always felt that Bonds and Clemens and other PED users didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they demeaned the game of baseball. Bonds, in particular, destroyed the greatest record in all of sports in Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, in my opinion. I felt these guys didn’t belong because they didn’t do things the right or fair way. Apparently, the majority of the BBWA agrees with me in that sentiment. I’m not sure if the majority of baseball fans do – again, based on my Twitter timeline on Tuesday.
I’ve heard all of the reasons why people believe Bonds and Clemens and others deserve induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and I’m tired of discussing it because nobody ever changes their minds and it either leads to a fight or nowhere at all, which is a waste of time.
Bonds and Clemens may have fallen off the BBWA ballot, but it doesn’t mean their Hall of Fame hopes are completely kaput. In fact, I believe both players will one day make the Hall of Fame via one of the Veterans Committees that look at players overlooked or declined by the baseball writers. When that day comes it’ll be another D-Day for baseball fans – though by that point there might be fewer of the old school fans left hoping to keep the Hall of Fame as pure as they can. I’ll admit it’s not completely pure as is, but I think it’s better off without Bonds, Clemens and their ilk.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
Julian: So, we’ve completed the NFL Playoffs Wild Card weekend and I’d have to say it’s easily the worst opening weekend of the NFL playoffs that I’ve ever seen. Four of the six games were blowouts and the other two weren’t very fun watches either. The NFL added two extra playoff teams and two extra playoff games this season and I can’t help but wonder if it’s played a factor into diluted the Wild Card round. Though, that being said, that really only impacted the Buccaneers/Eagles and Chiefs/Steelers matchups. It takes more than one year to really say something has changed for the worse, but what do you think was going on with football during Wild Card weekend. Is the product diluted or was this just a coincidence?
Eric: Overall, this weekend was not that great. Really, I am not surprised all six teams won. They were all the better team. I think I would give it another year with the extra wild card game. Maybe having a week 18 also hurt a little bit. Let's just say I would give it incomplete grade for the whole weekend overall.
Julian: Which of the six games did you find the most compelling? All of them were duds for me personally. I’d say Cincy/Vegas was probably the best of the six, but even then, it felt like the Bengals had things under control from start-to-finish.
Eric: I agree that Raiders vs. Bengals were the best of the six. The rest of them were not that good. Bengals were in control most of their game. If the first game of the weekend was the best of the wild card weekend, then it shows you how bad the games were.
Julian: One of the most puzzling things of the NFL Wild Card Weekend was the entirety of the Dallas Cowboys/San Francisco 49ers game where the 49ers just came out like gang busters and piled it on the Cowboys. Then San Fran somehow forgot how to play football and let the Cowboys back in the game and then in a scenario where the Cowboys couldn’t stop the clock, they decided to let QB Dak Prescott run a draw with like 14 seconds on the clock up the middle of the field and let time expire. What the hell happened there?
Eric: One of the most bizarre things I have seen in a finish of a game. I could not understand the play call. No timeouts left. You have to throw the ball. Who cares if it is incomplete? You have to give it a shot in the end zone.
Julian: Who would you give Player of the Week to for the Wild Card weekend?
Eric: Patrick Mahomes. Over 400 yards and 5 touchdowns against a very decent Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Impressive performance.
Julian: Just to keep things interesting I’ll go with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen who also threw 5 touchdown passes with 308 yards and completed 21 of 25 passes. He also rushed for 66 yards, which was fifth most of all players during Wild Card weekend.
Julian: Ok, let’s get to the Divisional Round of the Playoffs coming up this weekend. The first game of the weekend sees the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans, the number one seed in the AFC. The Titans went 12-5 this season to win the AFC South. This game will be on CBS at 3:30 (CT). How do you see this one playing out?
Eric: I see the Titans winning this one. I believe they will have the return of Derrick Henry so that will be huge for Tennessee. I don't know if people are really sold on the Titans even if Henry coming back. Coaching matchup will be great to see. Mike Vrabel for Tennessee vs. Zach Taylor for Cincinnati. These two are one and two as far as coach of the year. I would give it to Taylor because no one thought the Bengals would this good so soon. But Tennessee will win this one 30-23.
Julian: I agree when you say people don’t seem to be sold on the Titans, despite the no. 1 seed. I can’t really blame people for that either, especially with their best player Henry coming back from injury. I think Henry is the best offensive player in the NFL not at the quarterback positions and still think he should’ve been the league’s MVP last season, but it’s a question mark coming back from injury. I wouldn’t be surprised with an upset from Cincy this weekend, but I’m still going to stick with the Titans making it to the AFC Championship game. I do think the best two teams in the AFC are the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills though who matchup in the other AFC playoff game this weekend and it’s kind of a shame that won’t be the AFC title matchup.
Julian: The second playoff game on Saturday is the San Francisco 49ers traveling to Lambeau Field in Green Bay to take on the Packers. How do you see this one playing out?
Eric: Rematch from a couple of years ago in the NFC championship game in which the 49ers won at home. Both teams played each other with the Packers winning on the road on a walk off field goal. No surprise San Francisco won last week at Dallas. But I am taking Aaron Rodgers and the Packers who are well rested in this match-up. Green Bay 31, San Francisco 20.
Julian: I feel like the Packers/49ers game is the game from the Divisional Round that's most likely to feel and look like the games from last weekend's Wild Card Round did. I believe it's going to be a blowout with the Packers winning quite handily. The 49ers got off to a hot start last weekend against Dallas, but just didn't seem to show they could finish the game letting that team back into the game. You can't do that against the Packers. I think the Packers are the Super Bowl favorites for many and I see them rolling over San Fran.
Julian: On Sunday at 2 pm the Los Angeles Rams travel to Tampa Bay to take on the defending champion Buccaneers in a battle of two warm climate teams. How do you see this game turning out Eric?
Eric: The Rams dominated the Bucs in their regular season matchup earlier this season. I know Tampa Bay is still dealing with injuries, but the Bucs are a different team now than they were when they met in Week 5. Rams defense will pressure Brady, but it won't be enough as Brady out duels Matthew Stafford. I got Tampa Bay winning 31-24.
Julian: The Rams were really impressive against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night, but I have to think the defending champs will be a tougher game, especially with the Rams on one day less rest. You have the margin as a one touchdown game and that wouldn't surprise me. I'm definitely banking on the Buccs to make the NFC Championship game though.
Julian: The last playoff game of the weekend will be the Buffalo Bills traveling to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, a team trying to reach its third consecutive Super Bowl. This game will be broadcast on CBS at 5:30 p.m. and is what I believe most NFL fans would view as the game of the week. You have two really talented young QBs in Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen going head-to-head. How will this one turn out, Eric?
Eric: This is going to be the best game of the four games for the weekend. These two teams know each other very well the last couple of years. Chiefs won the AFC championship game last year, but Buffalo blew out Kansas City earlier in the year. This is a different Chiefs team the Bills are facing. Boy this is a toss-up. I feel like whoever wins this game is going to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Buffalo wins this game in a classic, 31-28 and I will say they will go to overtime just to make it fun.
Julian: I definitely agree with you that whoever wins this game is probably going to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl - which is why I wish this had been the AFC Championship Game matchup. I also agree that it's probably going to be a really close game and I hope an all-timer. It's probably just that I've seen more Chiefs games than Bills games over the last few years, but I can't help but feel Kansas City is the better team so I'm going to give my pick to them.
Eric: Arrowhead Stadium is probably the toughest venue to play as a visitor in the NFL. The Bills went in there earlier and dominated the Chiefs. I don't think it will be easy for Buffalo to win but can they do it? I think so.
by Julian Spivey
Lusia “Lucy” Harris, a legendary figure in women’s basketball, died on Tuesday, January 18 in her native Mississippi at 66. A cause of death hasn’t been released.
Harris is known as “The Queen of Basketball.” She led Delta State University, out of Cleveland, Miss., to three consecutive women’s college basketball national championships from 1975-77 as a 6-foot-3 center averaging 25.9 point per game, 14.5 rebounds per game and shooting 63.3 percent from the field.
Harris was a first-timer at a lot of major women’s basketball moments. She was on the inaugural United States women’s basketball Summer Olympic team at the 1976 Montreal games, where she teamed with other legendary figures of women’s basketball like Nancy Lieberman, Ann Meyers and Pat Summitt (playing under her maiden name Patricia Head). Harris became the first woman to ever score a point in women’s basketball competition at the Olympics. She averaged 15.2 points per game and 7 rebounds per game leading Team USA to a silver medal at those games.
Another first came for Harris in 1977 when she became the first and thus far the only woman to ever be drafted in the NBA Draft when the New Orleans Jazz selected her in the seventh round. According to the Associated Press, she didn’t end up trying out for the Jazz roster because she was pregnant at the time.
Yet another first came for Harris in 1993 when she became the first African-American woman’s player to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1999, she would be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as part of that hall’s inaugural class.
Harris is clearly one of the all-time greatest players in the history of women’s basketball and arguably the greatest graduate of Delta State University. I don’t think there’s any argument to be made that she’s the greatest athlete to ever come out of Delta State. She’s the kind of athlete whose name should be in big bold letters on the Delta State basketball arena where the Statesmen and Lady Statesmen play basketball games. However, it’s not.
Whose name is on the Delta State basketball arena? Walter Sillers Jr.’s name.
Who is Sillers? Well, he’s only “one of the most racist political leaders in Mississippi’s history” according to James W. Loewen’s 1999 book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites and Monuments Get Wrong.
According to Loewen’s book, Sillers, whose father was a member of the Red Shirts (similar to the Ku Klux Klan) and used armed intimidation against African-Americans during the Reconstruction era, was elected to the Mississippi House in 1916 and became Mississippi Speaker of the House in 1944. Throughout his more than two decade tenure as Mississippi Speaker he came to be known as “Old Guard” or “Grand Old Gibraltar” for his defense of white racial privilege, according to Mississippi History Now. According to the website, Sillers was resentful over President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democratic Party’s revocation of the two-third rule, “which for nearly a century gave the White South veto over party nominees.” He was also furious by the 1944 Smith v. Allwright U. S. Supreme Court ruling “banning the all-white political primary, one of the key tools propping up White supremacist power.” Sillers was also against integration, among other things you can read on the state’s website.
In 1961, five years before Sillers death, Delta State University dedicated its coliseum as the Walter Sillers Coliseum, which probably wasn’t unusual for a university in the deep south during the era of the civil rights movement.
However, for the university to continue to have the name on its coliseum more than 60 years later is simply head-scratching. They continue to uphold the name of a bigot when they had one of the greatest players of all-time play in that very coliseum.
The name of Walter Sillers Jr. should’ve been stripped off of that building many years ago. Lusia Harris Coliseum would be much more fitting. However, Mississippi always seems to be one of the last states in our country to change from what is wrong to what is right. Hopefully that day will come soon. It’s just a shame Harris died before getting the chance to see it happen.
If you would like to help the cause Delta State University President Bill LaForge can be reached by phone at (662) 846-4000 or by email at email@example.com
The athletic director at Delta State University Mike Kinnison can be reached by phone at (662) 846-4300 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about Lusia Harris you can check out the recent The New York Times documentary “The Queen of Basketball” right HERE.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
Julian: The NFL Playoffs begin this Saturday (Jan. 15) with two games, followed by three on Sunday and the first ever Monday Night Football playoff game after that. The first game on Saturday sees the AFC's fifth seeded Las Vegas Raiders travel to Cincinnati to take on the fourth seeded Bengals, who haven't won a playoff game since 1991. It's hard to believe this will be Raiders QB Derek Carr's first career playoff game and interim head coach Rich Bisaccia is the first coach in the Super Bowl era to ever lead a team to the playoffs while not beginning the season as the coach. So, Eric, how do you see Raiders/Bengals playing out?
Eric: Las Vegas vs. Cincinnati could have the makings of a shootout featuring teams who have not had much experience in the playoffs. It will be an interesting game.
Julian: Joe Burrow has had a great season in his second year with the Bengals with some even saying he's already a top-5 QB in the league. How do you think he'll perform in his playoff debut?
Eric: I think he will rise to the occasion. Just a couple of years ago he was leading LSU to a national championship. I don't the big stage will intimidate him.
Julian: The Raiders have been on a hot streak winning four straight games to barely slip into the playoffs, but I think this will finally be the year the Bengals snap that playoff losing streak. What's your prediction for the first of Saturday's two games?
Eric: Raiders are a hot streak. They have really played well on the road. Won at Dallas and Indianapolis. Love Hunter Renfrow with Darren Waller. But again, Burrow will not be nervous at home. He makes one more play than Carr. Bengals win 35-31.
Julian: The second playoff game on Saturday is the sixth seeded New England Patriots at the third seeded Buffalo Bills, two AFC East foes that are very familiar with each other. The two teams split the season matchup with the Patriots winning 14-10 on Dec. 6 and the Bills winning 33-21 on Dec. 26. The Patriots have been something of a surprise this season with Mac Jones taking over at quarterback and doing just well enough to get by. How do you see this matchup playing out?
Eric: Each team winning on the road in the two matchups. New England has the head coaching advantage, but to me, Buffalo is the better team. They have unfinished business after making it to the AFC Championship game. I don't know what to expect from Mac Jones making his first playoff start. Bills win 24-17. It will be a battle until the very end.
Julian: I feel kind of the same way about this matchup. I'm predicting the Bills because they are the most talented team of the two - and could be one of the favorites out of the AFC in a year where there doesn't seem to really be a true favorite. It's probably the Chiefs because of past success and overall talent.
Eric: I agree with the AFC playoff picture. There is not one dominant team in that conference. You think about the Titans who claimed the one seed and did without Derrick Henry. I look at Kansas City, can they win on the road to get to a Super Bowl, same with Buffalo, and I would not count out either the Raiders or Bengals with their offenses.
Julian: The first NFL Playoff matchup on Sunday is the noon game between the second seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the seventh seeded Philadelphia Eagles at noon on Fox. Buccs QB Tom Brady is still out there playing like an ageless wonder and a MVP candidate at 44, which is one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever seen in any sport. Tampa Bay feels like one of the two favorites in the NFC, along with the top seeded Green Bay Packers who get a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The Eagles were the final team in in the NFC and it would seem like a pretty big upset if they were to beat the Buccs. Eric, how do you think this one plays out?
Eric: This is an easy decision for me. Tampa Bay, even though they have injury issues with Chris Godwin out. But I am not going to bet against Tom Brady. He works around the chaos, and he is simply the best at it.
Julian: If the Eagles were to pull off an upset what would they have to do?
Eric: Philadelphia has been one of the best running teams in the NFL. They would need to depend on the running game led by Jalen Hurts.
Julian: The second game on Sunday should be the closest of the three games that day and it’s the San Francisco 49ers, the six seed in the NFC, traveling to Texas to play the third seeded Dallas Cowboys. I’ve been saying for weeks that I felt like the Cowboys were going to be eliminated in the first week of the playoffs, but that was when I thought they’d be playing the Arizona Cardinals. Now that they’ve drawn the 49ers, I feel like they have a great chance at sticking around for the second weekend. Dallas has the most talent in this matchup, but sometimes Dallas has a way of losing games they’re supposed to win. What do you think?
Eric: Dallas has talent. We know what they are capable of offensively. The defense has been the most improved unit in the NFL this season, but we have seen this before, especially this year. Yes, they won 12 games, but they probably could have (or should have) won more. They could have been a 13 or 14 win team. The matchup against the 49ers is better for the Cowboys, but I feel like people are taking San Francisco in this one because they have been in the Super Bowl more recently and I am going to say 49ers will win in overtime 37-31.
Julian: The final playoff matchup on Sunday is the most lopsided NFL Wild Card matchup ever based on the odds. The seventh seed Pittsburgh Steelers, who slipped into the playoffs simply because the Indianapolis Colts couldn't beat the worst team in the league the Jacksonville Jaguars in the final week and the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers failed to tie despite trying their damndest travel to Kansas City to play the two seeded Chiefs. The Steelers are a 12.5 underdog according to BetMGM. Even Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger seemingly isn't giving his team much of a shot telling the press on Wednesday: "We don’t have a chance, so let’s just go in and play and have fun." He was probably being coy when he said that, but "Big Ben" has never seemed like much of a jokester. Eric, does Pittsburgh stand a chance in hell at winning this game?
Eric: We have seen this before from the Steelers. Go back to the 2005 season. Jerome Bettis' final year. Last seed to get into the playoffs. What happened? Went on the road three times in a row and won them all enroute to the Super Bowl. Bottom line is I will not count the Steelers out. I know they did not play well in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, but when Pittsburgh plays inspired, that is when they are usually at their best.
Having said that, I think it will be a closer game than people expect. Pittsburgh's defense will play a lot better than what they did. TJ Watt will be the Defense Player of the Year. He will have a great game. The Chiefs will struggle a bit on offense, but they will figure it late. Chiefs win but still Pittsburgh will play inspiring football for Big Ben. 27-20 Kansas City is score prediction.
Julian: This year we’re getting our first Monday Night Football playoff game ever when the Arizona Cardinals take on NFC West division rival Los Angeles Rams. I’m not really a fan of weekday NFL games because they don’t fit well into my personal schedule so I’m not really over the moon about a MNF playoff game. How do you feel about it?
Eric: It is fine but whoever wins the game, they are going to have a disadvantage going into the next round. Whether it is going to be Green Bay or Tampa Bay, it will be tough for Rams or Cardinals to win then turn around and play 5 or 6 days later.
Julian: The Rams and Cardinals split the season series this year. The Cardinals won 37-20 in Week 4 and then the Rams won 30-23 in Week 14. How do you see this one playing out?
Eric: It's going to come down to the quarterbacks in this game. Who will make the bigger plays and who will make the fewest mistakes? Neither Kyler Murray nor Matt Stafford has many playoff experiences under the belt.
I do think the Rams defense is better than the Cardinals defense and they will make Kyler uncomfortable. I am going with the Rams 28-24.
Julian: I think this will be one of the closest games of opening weekend of the NFL playoffs, if not the closest game. Matt Stanford has been in the league an awful long time to have never won a playoff game and I think he’ll be determined to get the job done. Like you said, the Rams have the better defense and that includes one of the two best defenders in the league in Aaron Donald. The rams also probably have the best offensive player of the season who is not a QB in receiver Cooper Kupp. So, I’m going to give the advantage to the Rams too.
by Eric Fulton
So, they meet again. Once again for all the marbles. Georgia vs. Alabama. It is no surprise that these two teams are in the College Football Playoff National Championship game on Monday night. It is also probably no surprise that both teams are playing one another.
While these two teams are clearly the best in college football this season, the difference is what it will mean for both teams at the end of the game. For Alabama, it would be another back-to-back championships and title number seven in the Nick Saban Era. For Georgia, it would be the first national championship since 1980, silencing the doubters who believed they cannot win the big one.
The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are meeting for the second time in the last month and third time in the last two seasons. Alabama won both matchups in convincing fashion. In the 2021 SEC Championship game, Alabama dominated Georgia 41-24, led by quarterback Bryce Young. Young’s incredible performance against Georgia would clinch him the 2021 Heisman Trophy. Meanwhile, Georgia’s dominant defense struggled against Alabama’s potent offense. It would be the second straight matchup that Alabama blew out Georgia. The Bulldogs had won every game except one played in the last two years outside the Alabama contests.
While the Crimson Tide have a great advantage in the quarterback position in Young, Georgia does have a veteran quarterback in Stetson Bennett who has not really been asked to do much thanks to a fantastic defense and a very strong running game. One offensive player that can be a major factor for Georgia is tight end Brock Bowers. A true freshman All-American, Bowers already has NFL talent and could very well be the best tight end in pro football in the next few years. He leads Georgia in catches with 52 for 846 yards and 12 touchdowns. For Alabama’s offense, Young will get all the attention, but keep your eye on running back Brian Robinson Jr., who has 1,275 rushing yards this season. In the Cotton Bowl vs. Cincinnati, he rushed for 204 yards, which is a single game Alabama record for a bowl game.
Defensively both teams gave up a lot of yards in the SEC Championship game. There were 985 total yards gained in December. Both teams pride themselves on great defense and not giving up the big plays. 41-24 is a pretty high scoring affair for a Georgia-Alabama contest. I do expect it to be a lower scoring game in the National Championship match than it was in the SEC Championship.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart is widely considered the best head coach in college football who has yet to win a national championship. To win his first, he will have to outcoach the greatest college football coach ever in Nick Saban. Saban was previously undefeated in games where he was opposed by a former assistant. Another former national championship head coach, Jimbo Fisher was the first to beat Saban when Texas A&M handed Alabama’s only loss thus far back in October. For Smart, a win would be huge for Georgia, but to the Bulldog fans, he would be revered in Athens, Ga. forever.
The last time Alabama and Georgia faced each other for the national championship was one of the greatest games in the history of college football. Back in 2018, the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs faced off in Atlanta where Alabama won the game in overtime capped off by one of the greatest ending touchdowns in football history known as 2nd & 26 where Tua Tagovailoa came in relief and threw the winning touchdown to receiver DeVonta Smith. Alabama won that game 26-23. I would expect this year’s game to be very close and it could be another instant classic.
by Julian Spivey
The first results of NBA fan balloting for the NBA All-Star game, which will be held on February 20 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, were released on Thursday, Jan. 6 and they were somewhat of a mess, especially in the Western Conference.
Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic would currently be one of the starting guards from the West despite missing quite a few games due to illness and injury during the first half of the season. But that’s not even the worst of it as fans have Klay Thompson, who will compete in his first game today (Jan. 9) for the Golden State Warriors in more than two seasons, in the fourth spot in voting. Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies is between Doncic and Thompson in voting despite missing a handful of games, as well.
While things aren’t as bad in the Eastern Conference voting there is one noticeable head-scratcher with Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving placing sixth in the guard voting despite playing only one game thus far this season due to being held out because he won’t receive a Covid vaccine and can’t play home games in Brooklyn due to local mandates.
Despite these curiosities I do believe fans have gotten four of the five starters in the East right this far into the season. I’ll get to that in a bit. Fans are three out of five when it comes to the West starting players.
I just voted for the first time for this year’s All-Star choices before sitting down to write this piece and wanted to cast my ballot using only the statistics given to me by the ballot itself on NBA.com. The only statistical categories offered on the ballot are points per game (PPG), rebounds per game (RPG), assists per game (APG) and fantasy points (which I don’t care about and didn’t really consider in my voting). I did do some research when it came to games played this season because I do think those players who competed in more games are more deserving of a spot.
Here’s my All-Star choices thus far:
The Los Angeles Lakers are toiling around in sixth place in the Western Conference standings. They’ve suffered through injuries and not gelling as a unit thus far, but I can’t blame LeBron James for any of that. His numbers are among the best in the league this year with 28.7 PPG, which is second in the league and he’s 37 (ancient in NBA years). He was my first of three frontcourt choices. James has received the most fan votes thus far of any West frontcourt player.
My second frontcourt choice for the West is the NBA’s reigning MVP, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. “The Joker” is ninth in scoring this season with 26 PPG and is second in rebounding with 14.1 RPG. Jokic’s Nuggets are scuffling thus far this season, like the Lakers, but he’s deserving of an All-Star slot. The fan vote also has him second in the Western Conference frontcourt.
The third spot on the West frontcourt is where I differ with the fan vote. The fans currently have Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George in the starting spot. George is a good choice. With 24.7 PPG he is third on the frontcourt ballot in scoring. George is currently injured though and has played six fewer games so far than my third choice Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Towns is just behind George in PPG at 24.1 and, honestly, KAT just needs something good right now after all the hell he’s been through over the last couple of years.
Golden State Warriors star point guard Stephen Curry leads all NBA players in the fan vote with over 2.5 million votes. Curry is an easy decision for the West’s first guard spot as he’s likely the league’s front-runner for Most Valuable Player right now with the Warriors as a somewhat surprising, best team in the league thus far. Curry has averaged 26.8 PPG this season and recently broke Ray Allen’s record for most career 3-pointers made. Doncic has been very good when he’s been on the court for Dallas, but I feel he’s missed too many games so far to deserve the second guard spot. I’m not sure why Devin Booker is only fifth in the fan voting for West guards thus far, but he’s got my second spot. Booker is the star of the reigning Western Conference champion Suns and has averaged 23.5 PPG this season for a team that’s been going back-and-forth seemingly daily with the Warriors for best in the league. Give Booker some love fans!
As I said earlier in this piece the fans are doing a rather good job when it comes to selecting the East starters for the All-Star game. The leading vote getter in the East is Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, who is leading the league in scoring with 29.9 PPG and has the Kyrie Irving-less Nets (well, mostly) second in the East. He’s my first choice, as well. Second for the fans is two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first championship in half a century last season. Antetokounmpo is averaging 28 PPG and is an easy decision. He’s my second choice too. The fans went with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid as their third frontcourt option and that’s a no-brainer for me, as well. Embiid has kept the 76ers afloat in the East this season with the team currently fifth in the standings and has scored 26.8 PPG, fifth in the league, while bringing down 10.7 RPG.
DeMar DeRozan has been making sure folks don’t forget about him this season in his first year with the Chicago Bulls. The veteran is a big reason why the Bulls are currently atop the Eastern Conference standings averaging 26.5 PPG. DeRozan has a pretty big lead for guards in the fan voting and is the only one to top 1 million votes thus far.
Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden has a slight lead ahead of Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young right now in the fan vote and maybe it’s a bit bias on my part, as I don’t care all that much for Harden and think his game is a bit boring, but I think Young, who is third in the league (second in the East) in scoring at 28.3 PPG should have the other East guard spot. That being said Harden’s Nets are 7.5 games better in the standings than Young’s Hawks.