by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
*This conversation had been edited for grammar and clarity.
JS: The NFL Playoff Divisional Series just wrapped up. On Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens took care of the Houston Texans rather easily and the San Francisco 49ers struggled to put away with Green Bay Packers before finally doing so later in the game. On Sunday, the Detroit Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that was close until the fourth quarter. And the Kansas City Chiefs survived the Buffalo Bills in a back-and-forth matchup that could’ve gone either way and ultimately ended with Buffalo’s most dreaded phrase: “wide right,” when Tyler Bass missed what would’ve been a game-tying 44-yard field goal. Eric, the games were much better than the Wild Card round, but which one did you think was the best?
EF: Three of the games this weekend were close. I am picking the Chiefs over the Bills and I will put them just slightly above the 49ers over the Packers. Man, we were so close to a number seven seed playing in a conference championship game. The Chiefs/Bills game was everything we expected it to be, a five-star heavyweight fight and it was exactly that.
JS: I’m kind of glad we avoided a 7-seed in the Championship Game. I know it’s not like the Packers had a losing record but I do prefer seeing the best teams from the regular season prevail in the postseason.
JS: Who was your MVP for the Divisional Round?
EF: I am going to go with Lamar Jackson because his team played the best out of everyone. I know he only threw for 152 yards in the air, but he did back it up with 100 yards on the ground rushing and four touchdowns against an incredibly good Houston Texans defense so at least for now, he did silence his critics.
JS: Lamar Jackson is likely going to win his second MVP award in a couple of weeks and yet people still find ways to criticize him. Amazing!
JS: The AFC Championship is up first on Sunday, January 28. It will see the Kansas City Chiefs travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. That game will be on CBS at 2 p.m. (CST). How do you see this one playing out and which team will head to the Super Bowl?
EF: I think it will be an exciting game. I am looking forward to this one. The Chiefs last week won a tough game at Buffalo. And for parts of the game, they were the better team. I do think the pressure to win this game is on Baltimore because they are at home and they are trying to get over this Hump with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. He played great last week. Now can he do it again with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line? I keep picking the Chiefs because they are the current dynasty in the NFL. To me, whoever wins this game is the favorite to win the Super Bowl. I think Kansas City will find a way to win the game, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens win it.
JS: I’m right there with you, Eric. I’ve been saying this is the most beatable Chiefs team I can remember during their dynastic run but here we are in the postseason and they’re 2-0. Baltimore is a team they’ve had success against in previous matchups - but this is a different Ravens team and a bigger stage. I have to keep riding the KC train until it derails. I’m picking the Chiefs to win.
JS: The NFC championship game has the Detroit Lions going out to the West Coast to play the San Francisco 49ers. That game is on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. (CST) on Fox. How do you see the NFC title game playing out?
EF: Well, I have gone back and forth with this pick. I love both teams. How they got to this point is incredible. Detroit's first NFC championship game since 1991. San Francisco's fourth in the last five years. Both teams have played close playoff games at this point. This one is no different. The 49ers are incredibly good, but I want the Lions to get to the Super Bowl. So, I am going with Detroit. I would be happy for the franchise and their fans.
JS: I just can’t get over the amount of talent the 49ers have at the moment. Two of the five finalists for MVP are on the team in quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Christian McCaffrey. Then you have George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel catching the ball. And the 49ers with potentially one of the five best defenses in the game. I think that’s mighty hard to beat. You’re right that the Lions making the Super Bowl would be one helluva story but I don’t know if they can get past the 49ers, who have been the cream of the crop all season in the NFC. I have to pick San Francisco.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
*This conversation had been edited for grammar and clarity.
JS: Well, Eric, I think it’s safe to say the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs was an absolute shit show if you wanted a bunch of close, tight games down to the wire. We essentially only got one of those in the Detroit Lions/Los Angeles Rams game. Does that automatically make Detroit/L.A. the best of the weekend? And was Wild Card weekend the worst round of NFL playoffs you can ever remember?
EF: From a competitive standpoint, this was a terrible Wild Card weekend. We all knew how good some teams were and others proved worse than we thought. And for some of the teams that lost, there are more definite questions than answers and they will have interesting off-seasons (Dallas, Philly, Miami, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the Rams). Especially for a holiday weekend and a lot of people being snowed in as well, you would think there would be good games. Hopefully, the games this weekend in the Divisional Round will be better.
JS: Which team that lost during the Wild Card round surprised you the most?
EF: I won't say I am surprised that this team lost, but I am surprised by how they lost. It’s the Dallas Cowboys being dominated by the Green Bay Packers at home. Green Bay scored 48 points and Dallas had won 16 straight at home coming into the game. I’m patting myself on the back for picking Green Bay.
JS: Yes, I’m not surprised the Cowboys lost to the Packers because the Cowboys always do that “Playoff Cowboys” thing where they completely turn into a different and much worse team and always seem to fall to Green Bay in the postseason but I still predicted they would win. The fact that they just looked completely lost and like they didn’t care that much had me turn the game off at halftime. I didn’t watch a second of the second half. Which winning team during Wild Card weekend surprised you the most?
EF: It is a toss-up between the Houston Texans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I will say Houston because of their first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans and their rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. The Texans looked like they are back to the years when they were a good team to watch in the 2010s.
JS: I didn’t watch a second of the Buccaneers' win over the Eagles because it conflicted with the Emmy Awards but the fact that they routed a team that went to the Super Bowl last year and began this season 10-1 as the worst team, at least record-wise in the entire playoffs, was surprising to me. I know the Eagles had some injuries to deal with but I thought they’d still be able to pull this game out at least. They didn’t even seem - at least by the score - like they had a chance.
EF: I am glad we chose different teams. I will say Philadelphia was not right it seems all year even though they did start 10-1. The last eight games for them were not good. I would expect them to make major changes in the offseason.
JS: If you were tasked with handing out an MVP for the Wild Card round who would it be?
EF: There are lots of great candidates but I am going with C.J. Stroud, who dominated a really good Cleveland Browns defense. He had a near-perfect passer rating. What a great playoff debut for him.
JS: What Puka Nacua did for the Rams in a losing effort with 181 receiving yards on nine catches and a touchdown was impressive but I agree with your Stroud pick.
JS: OK, let’s get into the four games of the Divisional Round this upcoming weekend… There will be two games on Saturday, January 20 and two on Sunday, January 21.
The first game on Saturday sees the Houston Texans travel up north to Baltimore to take on the No. 1 seed in the AFC in a Ravens team that, of course, had a bye week during the Wild Card round. This game will be on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. (CST). Eric, how do you see this one playing out?
EF: Well, the Ravens will be fully rested coming off the bye as you mentioned. Both teams met in Week 1 with the Ravens blowing out the Texans. Houston will have much more confidence going into this game than they did earlier this season, but I think their magical season will end in Baltimore. The Ravens will win a close but exciting game.
JS: The Ravens have seemed for most of the season like the team to beat in the AFC, surprisingly as you’d think it would’ve been the usual suspects like the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, albeit both are still in the playoffs. I think Houston could give Baltimore a run for its money but at the end of the day, I’m going with the veteran coach in John Harbaugh and a guy who’s been to the playoffs before in former MVP and possibly soon-to-be two-time MVP Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Baltimore pulls it out.
The second game on Saturday will have the Green Bay Packers go across the country to face the NFC’s top seed the San Francisco 49ers. That game will be on Fox at 7:15 pm (CST). How do you think that one plays out?
EF: Again, the 49ers took advantage of the bye week to get healthy. Not to underestimate the Packers, especially after beating the Cowboys in the way that they did, they will be a tough out, but the 49ers and Lions are the two best teams in the NFC without a doubt. I think San Francisco will win it.
JS: I hate to sound like a broken record but the 49ers are similar to the Ravens in the AFC in that they have been the best in the NFC, especially since the Eagles started their downfall after the 10-1 start to the season. The team has one of the best defenses in the game and the offense, which was their downside for the last few years now has so many weapons for QB Brock Purdy with Christian McCaffrey probably being the best running back in the game right now and George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk both having 1000-plus receiving yards. The 49ers should take this game.
JS: The first game on Sunday sees the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel up north to Detroit to take on the Lions - good thing for the Buccaneers that Ford Field is a dome because traditionally warm weather teams don’t do well in the postseason in the cold. This game will be at 2 p.m. (CST) on NBC. Which team will win this game, Eric?
EF: This will be another game in which both teams met earlier in the regular season. It was week 5 in which the Lions won at Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are a great story this season and they won the NFC South and a playoff game. They should be proud of themselves. But the Lions are the better team. The Lions will win this game.
JS: I didn’t expect the Buccs to make it this far. I don’t see any reason why they can’t at least hang with Detroit but I’m also going to agree with your prediction. The Lions got their first playoff win in more than 30 years this past weekend - why not make it two in a row? Lions QB Jared Goff had a good game against the Rams in the Wild Card round with 277 passing yards and a touchdown. Though, Buccs QB Baker Mayfield did have a better week with 337 yards and three touchdowns.
JS: The final playoff game of the Divisional Round is frankly the one I’m most excited about - the Kansas City Chiefs going up north to face the Buffalo Bills. I know these two have faced off in the playoffs before but this will be the first time at home for the Bills. Remarkably Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has played in 15 postseason games already in his career and this will be the first time he’s ever played on the road if you don’t count the neutral-site Super Bowls. Is this the best game of the weekend, Eric? And how do you see it going down?
EF: Bills vs. Chiefs is definitely the best game of the weekend. I’m glad that this game is the last game of the weekend too. As you mentioned, this is the first time the Chiefs have played on the road in the Mahomes Era. But I don’t think they will be intimidated at all. Buffalo won at Kansas City several weeks ago and therefore this is the reason why the game is at Buffalo. I expect this game to go down to whichever team gets the football last will win. I trust Mahomes a little more than Bills quarterback Josh Allen. I am going with the Chiefs to win.
JS: You’re right about the Chiefs not being intimidated. They’ve been around the postseason too much and had too much success to be intimidated. I don’t think playing away from home will change that. The Bills are on this terrific hot streak right now having won six straight games - the last five of the regular season and the Wild Card round matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. As you mentioned that streak started with a win over the Chiefs and that streak includes wins over the Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, teams that also made the postseason. It’s the type of streak the Bills could very well run right to the Super Bowl. But I also feel the same way you do about not feeling like I can turn against the Chiefs. Even though the team hasn’t looked as dominant at times during the season I need to see them lose in the postseason before I can count them out. I know that’s kind of a cheap prediction. It’ll be a close game, I think, but I too have K.C. winning.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
*This conversation has been edited for grammar and clarity.
**Since the publication of this the NFL has moved the Steelers @ Bills game to Monday @ 3:30 p.m. (CST) due to severe weather in Buffalo. The game will still be seen on CBS.
JS: The NFL Playoffs kick off on Saturday, January 13 with the Wild Card weekend. The no. 1 seed in both the AFC and NFC conferences gets the bye week, which means they don’t have to worry about a thing this weekend other than who they’ll be playing in the Divisional Round the following week. Those teams are the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC.
The first playoff game on Saturday will see the no. 5 seed Cleveland Browns travel to Houston to take on the AFC South champion Texans. That game will begin at 3:30 p.m. (CST) on NBC. It’s one of those matchups where the 10-7 Texans have home-field advantage for winning its division but the Browns at 11-6 had the better season. Eric, how do you see this first game playing out?
EF: The Browns and Texans just met on Christmas Eve with Cleveland winning that game. The biggest difference was quarterback C.J. Stroud did not play for Houston because of injury. Browns receiver Amari Cooper had a big game with over 200 yards. Cleveland is making the playoffs with four different starting quarterbacks. Joe Flacco is going to get the start and he does have a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP on his resume. I think the Texans will play much better than they did on Christmas Eve. But with the Browns defense and Flacco's experience in the playoffs, Cleveland will win this game.
JS: Joe Flacco, whose career seemed done, has been a huge surprise for the Browns this season and rejuvenated their season when he joined the team. Thirteen touchdown passes in just five games is remarkable. I only halfway joke wondered if a guy could win Comeback Player of the Year based on only five games. I will add that his eight interceptions in just five games are quite a lot. But he does have veteran experience. It wasn’t all that long ago that some people were discussing C.J. Stroud in the MVP talk but with him being hurt that kind of fell by the wayside. This should be a good game. I think it’ll be a close one - maybe even one of the better ones of the weekend - but I’ll agree with your Browns prediction.
JS: The second game on Saturday will be streaming on Peacock only (which plenty of people are bitching about nonstop this week - but come on people just shell out a few bucks for a month and then get rid of it if you don’t want it - this is how a lot of sports might be broadcast going forward so you might as well get with the picture). Anyway. That game sees the 11-6 Miami Dolphins travel to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to take on the defending champion Chiefs, also an 11-6 team. These two teams met up in week nine in early November with the Chiefs winning 21-14. How do you think this one plays out?
EF: The weather is going to be brutal Saturday night in Kansas City. Temperatures will be in the single digits possibly in the negatives. I do not think it will bode well for the Dolphins. They had a chance to win the AFC East and get the two seed playing the first round at home. Now they go on the road at a loud stadium at Arrowhead with a ton of injuries. I think this will be the blowout of the first round. The Chiefs didn't play most of their star players in Week 18 and they will be ready to go. I’m predicting Kansas City in a rout.
JS: I thought that this could be a tight, hard-fought game like their meeting in the regular season but that was before seeing the forecast. As a fan, I enjoy seeing the elements come into play in the games - but as someone who wants to believe in fairness, it’s kind of sad to see it impact one team or another. The Chiefs appear to be the most beatable they’ve been in the last half-decade this season - especially with the weakest receiving corps they seem to have had during that span. That’s put a lot of focus from opposing defenses on tight end Travis Kelce and it’s shown as Kelce hasn’t had a touchdown since week 11 and only had five this season, which is quite a drop off from the last few seasons. The Chiefs do have experience, which could be a huge factor. The Dolphins haven’t won a playoff game since 2000 but I don’t see that streak ending on Saturday.
JS: There are three games on Sunday. The first of those sees the Pittsburgh Steelers, the last team into the AFC side of the playoffs, traveling to Buffalo to take on the Bills, who won the AFC East on Sunday night with a win over the Dolphins to end the season with an 11-6 record. The game will be on CBS at noon (CST). I understand that weather could play a major factor in this game as well, Eric.
EF: Yes, but I do think the Bills will win this game because they have the better quarterback in the game with Josh Allen. Mason Rudolph is starting his first playoff game for Pittsburgh and star linebacker T.J. Watt won’t play due to a knee injury he suffered in Week 18. I thought the Steelers were done when they lost to the New England Patriots on a Thursday night but once again they found a way to have another winning season in the Mike Tomlin Era, now 17 straight seasons. Having said that, Buffalo is the better team. The Bills came back from a 6-6 record. There was a lot of tension but they found a way to win the final five games and they are a dangerous team going into the playoffs. It will be a closer game than people expect even without Watt in the lineup. The Bills will pull away late in this one.
JS: The Bills finished the year on a hot streak coming all the way from being a .500 team that looked like it might not make the postseason to winning its division. The playoffs are old hat for the Bills at this point but they haven’t been able to get over the hump that is the AFC Championship game. I’m not sure they’ll make it even that far this postseason but I do agree they should beat Pittsburgh.
JS: The second game on Sunday will have the Green Bay Packers traveling to Dallas to face the Cowboys. That game will be on Fox at 3:30 pm (CST). The Packers and Cowboys have played some memorable playoff games throughout NFL history and the Packers always seem to be a thorn in the Cowboys' side when it comes to playoff games. But this isn’t quite the same Packers team we’ve seen in the past led by guys like Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre and the Cowboys haven’t lost at home this season. Eric, will there be an upset here or do the Cowboys have this one in hand?
EF: It wouldn't surprise me or anyone else if the Packers upset the Cowboys on Sunday. In fact, I’m going to say Green Bay will win on Sunday. I just don't think the Cowboys will handle the pressure. Yes, they have 16 straight wins at home and yes Jordan Love is starting his first playoff game for Green Bay but all of it doesn't matter. The playoffs are always about anything goes. The Packers are playing with confidence and they won't be afraid of going to Dallas.
JS: The NFC and the whole league feels wide-open this postseason. So, if the Cowboys can’t get it done this year I don’t know when they will. A loss to the Packers should be one of those moments where change is necessary. But I think the Cowboys will at least pull out this win on Sunday. The team has been too good this season to blow this opportunity but then again it’s the same team that lost to the Arizona Cardinals this season.
JS: The final game on Sunday sees the Los Angeles Rams traveling to Detroit to take on the Lions at 7 pm (CST) on NBC. This is a genuinely interesting matchup in that the QBs for these teams were once traded for one another by these very teams. It, of course, worked out well for the Rams with Matthew Stafford, one of the greatest QBs in Lions franchise history, leading them to a Super Bowl title. Jared Goff has seemingly found new life in Detroit and led the team to one of the best seasons in the league this year. You know Goff is going to want to stick it to L.A. this weekend. How do you think it’ll play out, Eric?
EF: The greatest quarterback in Lions' history is making his return in Stafford. To me, this is the best game of the weekend. It’s Detroit's first home playoff game in 30 years and Ford Field will be electric on Sunday night. I agree that Goff wants to stick it to the Rams this weekend. I think the Lions have their focus off a bit after the controversy at the end of the game in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. Plus, Sam LaPorta, their young impressive tight end was injured in Week 18. That is a huge loss for the Lions. I would love it for the Lions to make the Super Bowl but I am picking the Rams in this one. They will win it late.
JS: It’s unlikely LaPorta will play this week due to that injury, which is a huge loss for the Lions offense, but I feel like they should still have enough weapons to get past the Rams. I honestly haven’t heard a whole lot about the Rams this season so maybe I’m sleeping on them too much though?
EF: The Rams had a slow start to the season but they have been one of the hottest teams in the NFL over the last two months. They played the Ravens really tough on the road and they can be really dangerous with their experience in big games. Puka Nacua was a fifth round pick and he has become their best option at wide receiver outside of Cooper Kupp. Look for him to have a big game. Nocua is the favorite to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
JS: And the final playoff game of Wild Card weekend is the Monday Night Football game between the Philadelphia Eagles, who choked away the NFC East division late in the season, against the NFC South division champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That game will be on both ESPN and ABC at 7:15 pm (CST) and I don’t really care because I’ll be watching the Emmy Awards over on Fox at the same time. The Emmys will need all the ratings help they can get. Who’s going to win this one, Eric?
EF: I don't know which team I trust more. The Eagles have lost six of their last seven after starting 10-1 and most of their wins have been close. Their defense has regressed. Now, quarterback Jalen Hurts has hurt his middle finger in his throwing hand. They are limping to Tampa Bay against a team that has won their third straight NFC South title. But Tampa only won 9-0 in Week 18 against an awful Carolina Panthers team. This is a tough choice because the winner would have to possibly go to San Francisco in the next round to take on a well-rested 49ers team or Dallas if the Rams beat the Lions because the lowest seed would take on the highest seed. The way Philly has collapsed the last several weeks I think they will make a ton of moves this offseason. Tampa has at least most of its immediate future set up. Part of me wants to trust Philly for just this one game, but I am going with the healthier team in the Buccaneers. I feel the least confident about the pic because Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield can have really bad games. Yes, he has a playoff win in his career, but the winner of the game will have their season end in the Divisional Round next weekend.
JS: I feel like the Eagles have too much talent to lose in the first round even with the struggles they have had over the last couple of months. So, I will pick them to win this game just based on that fact. But I do agree with what you said about whoever wins this game likely not making it past the Divisional Round, which if you had said that about the Eagles when they were 10-1 I would've thought you were insane. One question I have if the Eagles do lose to the Buccs in the first round after starting the season 10-1 is do they fire head coach Nick Sirianni?
EF: It would not surprise me if they did. If they win, he will return next season. If the Eagles lose, things will be interesting in Philadelphia. Think about the fact they fired Doug Pedersen a couple of years after winning the Super Bowl. So, if things go south, Eagles fans will turn on the coach really quickly. I think he is safe for now, but Sirianni's and Mike McCarthy's seats are the hottest of all the coaches in the playoffs.
by Julian Spivey
One of the biggest stories about the NFL Playoffs heading into the Wild Card Round this upcoming weekend has been the bitching and moaning on the internet about the second game of Saturday’s postseason slate between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs appearing exclusively on the Peacock streaming service.
Now, there are only three options for you regarding this game.
1. If you’re already a Peacock subscriber (as I am) go to the Peacock app on your TV, computer or phone and pull up the game and enjoy. You could also see if you have any family or friends with Peacock and make a party of it.
2. Pay $5.99/month to subscribe to Peacock. And here’s a hint: if none of the programming on the service interests you you can cancel your subscription at any point and only be out the $5.99.
3. Don’t watch the game.
If you’re in the Miami or Kansas City markets don’t worry the game will appear on your local NBC affiliate.
All of those options are fine by me. But whining about a game being on a service you don’t have is such a first-world problem that it merely comes off as annoying to the rest of us who understand what leaving in 2024 is like and how streaming is likely the future for many sporting events – certainly not all, don’t suspect we’ll ever see the Super Bowl exclusively on Paramount+ or anything like that but whether it’s a playoff game in a major sports league or 14% of the NASCAR season (as it will be beginning in 2025 on Amazon Prime Video) or something else you might as well realize your options are to subscribe or give up.
I’d rather watch the sporting events I love than be without them. If you don’t feel that way that’s perfectly fine but please do the third option up above without driving the rest of us up a wall about it. Please enjoy the other five playoff games over the weekend. You should be able to watch with an old-school antenna if you choose as they will all be on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.
However, I suspect many of those complaining are going to find one way or another to watch these games, even if they have to shell out the $5.99 to do so.
There’s no inalienable right that states your favorite sporting events must be on a TV channel everyone has access to. Other outlets, including streamers, have every right to spend their money as they please and NBCUniversal spent a lot of money - $110 million according to the Wall Street Journal – for the one-year rights to exclusively air the Saturday at 7 p.m. (CST) playoff game exclusively on Peacock.
It’s only a one-year deal, so if the league doesn’t believe enough people tuned into the game on Peacock to make it worthwhile for them they might do something else with it next year – or another outlet can outbid NBCUniversal for the rights to show it wherever they would like.
It’s truly a perfect business model for Peacock, especially with the get of the game including the Kansas City Chiefs, which are one of America’s most-watched teams, especially since the relationship between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift began during the season and many Swifties, who may never have watched football otherwise, have tuned in to root for Kelce and see in-game shots of Swift cheering him on from a spectator’s box. Don’t scoff at that as a factor. I know one close personal friend who’s a Swiftie who has done exactly that.
NBCUniversal has every right to try to promote its Peacock brand by airing this football game exclusively on the streamer and the NFL has every right to sell the game to the highest bidder. As a fan, you just have to deal with it.
by Julian Spivey
NBA All-Star voting has been underway for about two weeks now on NBA.com and the NBA app allowing fans a chance to help get their favorite players and the league’s best players into the starting lineup of the midseason celebration, which is returning to the classic Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference format in 2024.
Fans may vote once daily between now and Saturday, Jan. 20 but there are a few days during the vote that will count for three times as many votes. The remaining days where your vote will count for three times the number are Friday, Jan. 5, Friday, Jan. 12, Monday, Jan. 15 and Friday, Jan. 19.
The starters for the 73rd annual NBA All-Star game will be revealed on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 25 during tip-off of that night’s national broadcast. The 2024 All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, February 18 at 7 p.m. from Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the home of the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis. That game will be broadcast on TNT.
I recently filled out my first ballot for the 2024 NBA All-Star Game and will now reveal my selections.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
The NBA’s reigning MVP Joel Embiid is an obvious pick as he may very well be working on his second consecutive MVP award. Embiid is currently leading the league with 34.8 points per game and is fifth in the league with 11.8 rebounds per game. Embiid’s 76ers are currently third in the East with a 23-10 record and are three games behind the Boston Celtics for first place.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Former two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is once again putting up massive numbers for the Milwaukee Bucks, whom he’s helped to lead to a 24-10 record thus far to rank second in the East, 2.5 games behind the Celtics. Antetokounmpo’s 30.9 points per game are fourth in the league and his sixth in the league in rebounding with 11.3 per game.
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
The Boston Celtics have pretty much been the best team in the Eastern Conference all season thus far and have two players who are certain to be All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum has the better overall numbers this season, as is usual, with 27 points per game (10th in the league) and 8.5 rebounds but the way he consistently falls asleep in the postseason for his team has kind of led to me not believing in him or respecting him so I’ll give my vote to his teammate Jaylen Brown, who is averaging 22.7 points per game this season with 5.1 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game. Admittedly, Tatum deserves the spot more based on his numbers, but this is an exhibition game created solely for the pleasure of the fans and this fan would rather see Brown get this starting nod.
If you’re looking at overall numbers for your All-Star ballot then your best option of any of the backcourt players in the East is Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young with his 28.2 points per game and 11.3 assists per game. But if you look at the standings and see the Hawks are currently in 10th place maybe you’d rather give a starting nod to someone on a winning team at the moment. Young can be a reserve.
Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers)
One of the league’s breakout players this season has been Indiana Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who leads the league with 12.7 assists per game while also scoring 24.7 points per game. He led the Pacers to the championship game of the in-season tournament if that means anything to you and it would also be terrific fan service for Pacers fans to have one of their own in the East starting lineup for the midseason celebration – so Haliburton is on my ballot.
There are so many good options for starting backcourt in the East right now with Young, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Jalen Brunson that not only are really good players going to miss out on the starting lineup but most likely the All-Star game altogether.
Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia 76ers)
I was tempted to vote for Mitchell of the Cleveland Cavaliers here because his numbers are both very good and similar to those of Maxey and it would’ve made for five different starters from five different teams, which is always nice for the fans of those respective teams, but I feel like Maxey has been such a surprising and standout option for the 76ers that he deserved this opportunity a bit more. After all, Maxey has never made an All-Star team and Mitchell has made a handful. Maxey is averaging 25.9 points per game this season with 6.4 assists per game.
LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
You honestly didn’t think he wasn’t going to be here, did you? It’s amazing the kind of impact the man, who recently turned 39 years old, is still having on the league. He’s still in the top 20 in scoring with 25.4 points per game, he’s top 10 in assists per game at 7.4 and manages 7.4 rebounds per game, which is more than potential All-Star caliber centers in the league like Kristaps Porzingis and Myles Turner. Yes, the Lakers have been quite the enigma this season looking at times like the best in the league by winning the in-season tournament with a perfect record and then also looking like a team that might not make the postseason with their current record of 17-17 having them as the 10th place team in the West but James is still the face of the game and must be front-and-center at the All-Star game.
Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)
Many people, including myself, view Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as the current No. 1 player in the league and with him averaging 25.7 points per game (14th in the league), while also being top five in the game in rebounding (12.3) and assists (9.1) it’s hard to pick against him. Jokic is also the best player on the league’s reigning champion and has the team currently only one game behind the surprising Minnesota Timberwolves as the best team in the West. He’s a lock to start.
Kevin Durant (Phoenix Suns)
The Phoenix Suns have undoubtedly been a disappointment this season, especially given the fact that they should’ve been considered the favorite to win the Western Conference, but some injury issues have led to the team’s big three (Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal) almost spending no time on the court together. Durant has been Phoenix’s constant this season averaging 29.9 points per game (6th in the league), along with 6.3 rebounds per game and 6 assists per game.
Stephen Curry is my favorite player in the NBA and a huge reason for my getting back into the game I had faded away a bit from during my college years and statistically, he’s having a good season – leading the league in three-pointers made per game and in the top-10 in scoring but I have to be a bit more objective here. Curry can come off the bench this time.
Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
Luka Doncic is the leading scorer in the Western Conference thus far this season (second in the NBA) with 33.4 points per game and he’s third in the league in assists with 9.4 per game. He also pulls down 8.3 rebounds per game – pretty impressive for a point guard. His team is also three games better at this point than Curry’s so it makes it a slightly easier pick.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)
So, most fans should know the name Shai Gilgeous-Alexander by now but because he plays in a small market like Oklahoma City and Thunder haven’t been all that great for most of his tenure in the league thus far maybe some haven’t gotten to know him just yet. But he’s led his Thunder team to the second-best record at the moment in the West at 23-10 and is averaging 31.4 points per game, which is third in the league. He’s also averaging 6.4 assists per game and 5.9 rebounds per game. He might not have the star power to get a starting spot over say Stephen Curry just yet but he certainly deserves a spot in the West’s starting five.