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I'm not going to lie to you ... yesterday was a bit of a slower day in the sports world. It happens, especially when we're stuck in the middle of a surging pandemic. The good news is that I'm still here for you this morning, bringing you what you need to know, as well as what you didn't even know you needed to know.  

The other good news is that we've got ourselves some NFL action tonight. I suppose the one benefit to the league's schedule being thrown in a blender is that we occasionally don't have to wait so many days to have football in our lives. And, to boot, tonight's game is a pretty intriguing one; The Patriots are hitting their stride and the Rams are coming off a big win against the Cardinals with a chance to make a push for the NFC West title. 

So, what do you say we dive in and pass the time until kickoff?

📰 What you need to know

1. Big Ten rules Ohio State can play in conference title game 🏈

Welp, it looks like Ohio State is going to be playing in the Big Ten title game after all. As we noted off the top in yesterday's newsletter, the Big Ten's athletic directors met Wednesday to discuss whether they should eliminate the six-game threshold needed to qualify for the conference championship game this year.

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Had the conference ruled against OSU's participation, the Buckeyes may have also lost a potential spot in the College Football Playoff. However, the Big Ten did indeed scrap that six-game threshold on Wednesday, which means that Ohio State will be pushed through to next weekend's title game.

  • Ohio State will represent the East Division in the 2020 Big Ten Football Championship game against Northwestern  
  • By default, No. 12 Indiana would have been the Big Ten East representative even though they lost to Ohio State 42-35 on Nov. 21
  • Big Ten statement: "The decision was based on a competitive analysis which determined that Ohio State would have advanced to the Big Ten Football Championship Game based on its undefeated record and head-to-head victory over Indiana regardless of a win or loss against Michigan."

I wasn't sure if the Big Ten was going to make the right call here but I'm glad they did. Ohio State has proven that they're one of the best teams in the country this year, even if they've only played five games. Having a Big Ten conference championship without the Buckeyes simply because they were unfortunate enough to fall victim to the conference's ineptitude and self-imposed restrictions would have essentially invalidated the title game and robbed us (and OSU) of the matchup we deserve.

2. Champions League group stage comes to an end ⚽


Just like that, the Champions League group stage has come to an end. Matchday 6 wrapped up on Wednesday and it was an exciting final day that brought high stakes and clutch performances. Let's get into some takeaways:

  • Real Madrid advance with huge win: Real desperately needed a win to advance out of Group B after what has been a tumultuous start to the tournament. Zinedine Zidane was likely coaching for his job. Luckily, Karim Benzema scored early and then added an insurance tally later in the first half en route to a 2-0 win
  • Gladbach advance despite losing: Although Monchengladbach lost to Real Madrid and failed to secure their own fate, they did ultimately advance to the knockout stage thanks to Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk playing to a scoreless draw
  • Mo Salah makes history for Liverpool: Salah scored Liverpool's lone goal less than a minute into the club's 1-1 draw against Midtjylland. With that goal, he passed Steven Gerrard to become the team's all-time leading scorer (22) in the Champions League
  • PSG and Instanbul Baseksehir finish match: After an incident of racism from an official caused Tuesday's match to be postponed, the two sides finished the match yesterday. PSG came away with a 5-1 win and Neymar delivered a hat trick

On to the Round of 16 we go. Let's take a quick look who's in and who's out:

  • Group A: Bayern Munich (winners), Atletico Madrid (runners-up), Red Bull Salzburg (Europa League)
  • Group B: Real Madrid (winners), Borussia Monchengladbach (runners-up), Shakhtar Donetsk (Europa League)
  • Group C: Manchester City (winners), Porto (runners-up), Olympiacos (Europa League)
  • Group D: Liverpool (winners), Atalanta (runners-up), Ajax (Europa League)
  • Group E: Chelsea (winners), Sevilla (runners-up), Krasnodar (Europa League)
  • Group F: Borussia Dortmund (winners), Lazio (runners-up), Club Brugge (Europa League)
  • Group G: Juventus (winners), Barcelona (runners-up), Dynamo Kiev (Europa League)
  • Group H: Paris Saint-Germain (winners), RB Leipzig (runners-up), Manchester United (Europa League)

Now's probably as good a time as any to check out Roger Gonzalez's updated UCL Power Rankings. And, as a reminder, the Round of 16 draw will take place on Monday but we won't see the knockout stage officially start until February 15.

3. NHL realignment is reportedly set 🏒

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Washington Capitals at Vegas Golden Knights

The NHL still hasn't officially finalized plans for a new season but things continue to move in the right direction. After learning earlier this week that the league and the players' union came to an agreement on financial terms, reports of the league's planned temporary divisional realignment leaked yesterday. The four divisions -- including an all-Canadian division -- are reportedly as follows:

  • Division A (Canada): Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets  
  • Division B: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals
  • Division C: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Division D: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights

From just an initial glance, it seems like Division C is by far the weakest of the bunch -- your reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning should be able to cruise away with that division -- while Group B is arguably the most competitive. That being said, the all-Canadian division is going to command the most attention due to the novelty of it. 

The biggest questions that still remain for the upcoming season: What will the schedule look like, and will teams be playing games in their own arenas ... perhaps with fans? And what about the postseason -- are we going back to a normal 16-team format or, with a shorter season, will the league keep the expanded postseason and play-in format that they utilized last season? Things are moving quickly so we may get our answers soon.

4. Six NBA stars with something to prove 🏀


We're quickly approaching the start of a new NBA season -- opening night is Dec. 22 -- and it's inevitably going to be a very weird time. But let us not forget that there are a number of players who are looking to bounce back during this strange campaign after suffering some tough luck in 2019/2020, and a lot of them are big names. 

Our NBA scribe Jack Maloney is here to highlight some of the top NBA stars who have something to prove as they return from injury this season:

  • Kevin Durant, Nets: It can be easy to forget that we haven't actually seen KD play for the Nets yet. He'll finally suit up for Brooklyn alongside his new running mate in Kyrie Irving and, considering they're two of the most gifted players in the league, it should be a fun experiment. It's also one that hinges on Durant proving he can co-exist with Kyrie off the floor
  • Steph Curry, Warriors: We saw a bit of Steph last year and he shouldn't have much of a physical limitation after the hand injury that plagued him last season, but he still has a bit to prove during this campaign. He'll once again be without Klay Thompson, who could have been on this list had he not tore his Achilles while training last month
  • DeMarcus Cousins, Rockets: Cousins has had absolutely terrible luck over the last handful of years. He's suffered a torn Achilles tendon, a torn quad and a torn ACL and is getting set to suit up for his fifth team since 2016. It's anyone's guess how effective he'll be given his physical state, but he could be set up to find success in the Rockets' system

Blake Griffin, Victor Oladipo and John Wall also make Maloney's list and you can go ahead and read up on them here.

📝 Odds & Ends

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📺 What to watch today


🏈 Patriots vs. Rams, 8:20 p.m. | LAR -5 | TV: NFLN

🏀 No. 24 San Diego State vs. No. 23 Arizona State, 10 p.m. | ASU -4.5 | TV: FS1

📝 Top scores from last night

🏀No. 20 Florida State 69, Indiana 67

Scottie Barnes banked in a runner with two seconds left in overtime to give FSU its 25th straight win at home. 
💵 Winning wagers: IND +3.5, Under (139.5)