I know it's early in the morning, but SOUND THE ALARM -- IT'S OFFICIALLY NBA SEASON! 

A new basketball season kicks off tonight with a couple of awesome games, and that's something we can all be excited about. We've had football and college basketball carry the majority of the sports load over the past couple of months, and there's been a tendency for things to get sort of slow during the middle of the week. That shouldn't be the case from here on out, as the NBA will give us a little more to look forward to on a nightly basis. (Also, hockey will be here shortly too. 😍)

We'll hit some NBA preview stuff this morning but we also can't ignore the fact that we had a stunning Monday Night Football result last night. Hope you got a good night's sleep because we've got a full day ahead of us here today. What better way to kick it off than by spending some quality time together? Pull up a chair and let's get down to business.

📰 What you need to know

1. Predictions for what may become an unpredictable NBA season 🏀

We've got a new NBA season kicking off tonight and it's undoubtedly going to be a strange campaign amid the ongoing pandemic. There's going to be a condensed scheduled, an absence of fans (at least to start the season), an expanded playoff playoff format and, inevitably, a number of bumps in the road caused by COVID-19. 

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With that in mind, this season is an extremely difficult one to predict. This will be the first time we see the league operate outside of a bubble during the pandemic and, with cases continuing to surge, there's a chance things could get complicated and messy. One might say that this season will be "unpredictable" but that's not going to stop our NBA crew from submitting predictions anyway.

  • Between our nine experts, there were four unanimous projected division winners -- the Bucks, Heat, Lakers and Mavericks
  • The Bucks were the most popular pick to win the Eastern Conference but the Nets, 76ers and Heat also received votes
  • Jack Maloney was the only expert to not pick the Lakers to win the West and NBA Finals. He has the Clippers coming out of the West and the Bucks winning it all

Those experts also took their crack at predicting the individual award winners:

And if you still haven't had your fill of predictions, our Sam Quinn has made his over/under picks for every team's Vegas win total projection. 

You can read up on all the predictions and projections you want but we all know that the true beauty of a NBA season lies in the unforeseen developments and the chaos. Hopefully we can keep the COVID-related chaos to a minimum this year, but the odd circumstances and factors at play in this shortened season will cast a darker cloud of uncertainty.

2. Bengals stun Steelers on MNF🏈


So, about the Pittsburgh Steelers...

After starting off the season 11-0, the Steelers have now lost three straight games. They fell to the Bengals on Monday night -- yes, the same Bengals that entered the week with two wins and their starting quarterback and running back injured -- and it was a complete disaster for Pittsburgh. The Bengals came away with the 27-17 win behind Ryan Finley & Co. 

Let's get some game takeaways to help explain this stunning result

Why the Bengals won

  • Cincinnati's pass rush only had one sack but they kept Ben Roethlisberger pressured all game long
  • The Bengals found success in the ground game, rushing for 152 yards on 41 carries (Giovani Bernard had 83 yards and two touchdowns)
  • Finley took care of the football (zero turnovers) and occasionally made some big plays both through the air and on the ground

Why the Steelers lost

  • Roethlisberger looked absolutely brutal for most of the game. He had a number of bad throws that either completely missed the target or put his receivers in vulnerable positions
  • They turned the ball over three times and had a 25% success rate on third down
  • Pittsburgh failed to rush for 100 yards as a team for the seventh time in its last eight games

Not surprisingly, this game also brought some intensity and volatility -- something that we're pretty used to seeing between the Bengals and Steelers in their rivalry games.The Bengals played with a bit more fire and were fully ready to hit the Steelers in the mouth coming into this game. Pittsburgh got pushed around and seemed shook in the early going.

Not long ago it seemed like the Steelers were going to run away with the AFC North, but now the Cleveland Browns are just one game behind them in the standings and we could very well be headed toward a Week 17 matchup between Pittsburgh and Cleveland that decides that division. That would be absolutely incredible.

3. Ranking every single bowl game 🏈

CBS Sports

A strange and complicated college football season has led to a strange and complicated Bowl Season. While a significant number of teams have opted out of bowl play and several bowl games have been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, there will still be a whole lot of notable bowls across college football over the next few weeks. 

Of course, not all bowls are created equal, so which ones are most worth your time? I'm glad you asked because Tom Fornelli -- that lovely guy who gives you betting advice every afternoon -- has ranked all of them for you. Here's his top three:

  1. Sugar semifinal: (2) Clemson vs. (3) Ohio State -- Regardless of whether you believe OSU deserved the No.3 spot in the CFP, you have to admit that this matchup should be outstanding. Clemson and Ohio State delivered one of the best games of the year last season when they met in the Fiesta Bowl and there's reason to believe that this one will be a worthy sequel.
  2. Cotton: (7) Florida vs. (6) Oklahoma -- This isn't a CFP game but it may very well feel like one. The Sooners are riding a seven-game win streak and Florida has one of the best teams in the country. There will probably be plenty of points on the scoreboard so you're probably going to want to tune in for this shootout
  3. Rose semifinal: (1) Alabama vs. (4) Notre Dame -- Alabama is a monster and Notre Dame has had its ups and downs this season, so the excitement level of this game likely hinges on what Fighting Irish team shows up. That being said, if Notre Dame plays its best football, we could be in for one hell of a game

You can find the full rankings of bowls right here.

My favorite bowl during Bowl Season? Either the never-ending bowl of chips and salsa during these football games or the toilet bowl after drinking too much eggnog at Christmas.

4. Five questions facing the 2021 MLB season ⚾

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It'd be hard to blame you if you had some major concerns about the 2021 MLB season, especially considering the major debacle between owners and players that preceded last season. It doesn't seem like the pandemic is going to cease to exist before the scheduled start of the 2021 season, so it's fair to assume there will be some significant hurdles to clear before Opening Day.

Our baseball scribe R.J. Anderson has gone ahead and highlighted some of the biggest questions still left unanswered:

  • Will the season start on time? MLB is supposed to kick off its 2021 season on April 1 but some teams are reportedly bracing for another postponed start to the year. Among the reasons for a possible delay: Pushing back the season would allow more time for vaccination efforts
  • How long will the season last? There's a good chance that the season will feature fewer than 162 once again this year. If the league were to begin play on May 15, they could probably play around 120 games on a normal timeline -- potentially with more double-headers and condensed scheduling
  • What rule changes will stick? Many managers are reportedly in favor of the extra innings rule that automatically puts a runner on second base, and the universal DH could stick as well

You can find a few more burning questions from R.J. right here, but here's mine: Are people actually going to have the patience and energy to deal with another labor spat between the league and players if it comes to that? And, if things don't go smoothly this time around, how hot will Rob Manfred's seat be this summer?

📝 Odds & Ends

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📺 What to watch today


🏈 Boca Raton Bowl: UCF vs. (16) BYU, 7 p.m. | BYU -6 | TV: ESPN

🏀 Warriors vs. Nets, 7 p.m. | BKN -7.5 | TV: TNT

🏀 Clippers vs. Lakers, 10 p.m. | LAL -3 | TV: TNT 

📝 Top scores from last night


🏈 Bengals 27, Steelers 17

Cincinnati jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half and prevented Pittsburgh from clinching the AFC North. 
💵 Winning wagers: CIN +689, Over (40.5)