Happy Thursday morning, all! For many of you, it's your last day of work of 2021, so congrats. And for those of you who still have a couple of days to go, you've got this! The College Football Playoff semifinals await.

Let's get right to it on today's CBS Sports HQ A.M. Edition newsletter (sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox every morning).

Good morning to everyone, but especially to ...

JA MORANT AND THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

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The Memphis Grizzlies are transforming from cute story to a really, really good team right in front of our eyes, and if you needed any more proof, you got it this week.

On Monday, they went into Phoenix and beat the Suns -- one of the best teams in the league -- on a game-winner from Ja Morant. On Wednesday, Morant was even better: 41 points and 10 rebounds in a 104-99 comeback win over the Lakers. Memphis is now 22-14 this season, good for fourth in the Western Conference. 

And Morant is showing once again why he deserves to be mentioned among the league's most exciting young talents. Though the Grizzlies went 10-2 while Morant was sidelined with a knee sprain and their defense this season has been better when he is off the floor, Morant takes Memphis to a whole new level.

If Monday's performance didn't make that clear, Wednesday's certainly did. Morant nailed a career-high six 3-pointers on seven attempts, and his three career 40-point games are now most in franchise history. There's no wonder why he's right up there with the game's biggest stars on Brad Botkin's NBA Star Power Index.

But the success isn't all because of Morant, as that 10-2 stretch without him proved:

Honorable mentions:


And not such a good morning for ...

RICKY RUBIO AND THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

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The last 20 seasons of Cavaliers basketball can pretty much be summed up in the good (with LeBron James) and the bad (without LeBron James).

That was, until this year. Cleveland is 20-14 -- its best start to a season without LeBron since 1997-98 -- and is fifth in the Eastern Conference. Wednesday, however, brought bad news: Ricky Rubio is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. 

Now, if you haven't paid much attention to the Cavs, this may not seem like a big deal. You would be wrong.

When Rubio's been on the court this year, Cleveland outscores opponents by 9.1 points per 100 possessions, compared to 2.4 points when he's off the court. The Rubio-Darius Garland tandem has been among the NBA's most effective backcourts.

The Cavaliers will still sport a terrific defense without Rubio, and they have the easiest remaining regular-season schedule, but this significantly lowers their playoff ceiling, writes NBA reporter Colin Ward-Henninger:

  • Ward-Henninger: "If we were thinking about this version of the Cavs as a potential first-round playoff series winner, their chances probably just took a big hit with Rubio's injury. His NBA playoff experience, along with countless battles as a member of the Spanish national team, give Rubio a level of poise and composure that would have been essential for a team whose top players have never seen the postseason stage."

Not-so-honorable mention:


Why all four CFP teams could win 🏈

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We're one day away from the College Football Playoff semifinals, and I am pumped. So many storylines. Can Alabama repeat? Can Cincinnati hang with the Crimson Tide? Was Georgia's blowout loss in the SEC Championship a sign of things to come? Does Michigan have enough offensively against the dominant Bulldog defense?

Luckily for you, we've laid out how each of the four teams can win it all. Let's start with No. 1 Alabama, and why college football reporter Chip Patterson thinks Nick Saban's squad will win yet another title trophy.

  • Patterson: "No single player from any of the four College Football Playoff teams can individually impact a game like Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner emerged as the most outstanding player in the nation thanks to his combination of season-long production and his performances when the Crimson Tide's season was on the line."

Of course the first step for Alabama to win it all is win its semifinal matchup against No. 4 Cincinnati. The undefeated Bearcats pose a unique threat of their own, writes Shehan Jeyarajah:

  • Jeyarajah: "Georgia is the team known for defense, but Cincinnati has the best overall pass defense in the playoff. ... Projected first-round NFL Draft pick Ahmad Gardner allowed just 17 catches all season, holding all receivers to just 117 total yards and zero touchdowns with three interceptions. His counterpart, Coby Bryant, won the Thorpe Award."

As for the Orange Bowl, Tom Fornelli makes the case for No. 2 Michigan and its outstanding pass rush:

  • Fornelli: "The presence of [Aidan] Hutchinson and [David] Ojabo allows Michigan to get pressure on quarterbacks without blitzing, which is a massive advantage. In turn, first-year defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald is free to mix up his coverages and disguise his blitzes. All of this leads to opposing quarterbacks having difficulty reading the defense before the snap and therefore having even less time to diagnose things after the snap."

But No. 3 Georgia's defense still reigns supreme and could carry the Bulldogs to the title, explains David Cobb:

  • Cobb: "Interior behemoths Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter and Devonte Wyatt all weigh in at more than 300 pounds and are among the nation's top run-stuffers. .. Georgia will wreak havoc up front against a Michigan squad unaccustomed to blocking such disruptive players."

You can get the full deep dive on both semifinal matchups via the Cover 3 Podcast's Super Preview right here.


NFL playoff picture + Fantasy advice 🏈

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While there's no NFL game tonight (the first Thursday without NFL since early September), you could fill your free time trying to figure out the NFL playoff picture.

Luckily for you (and me), as with every week, Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com ran the numbers to project the playoff field, and NFL expert John Breech made sense of it all, including a tight race for the AFC's third Wild Card spot:

  • Breech: "AFC Wild Card 3: Chargers -- If the computer malfunctions before the end of the season, it's going to be because it's trying to figure out who's going to get the final wild-card spot in the AFC. Right now, the race is down to the Chargers, Raiders, Ravens and Dolphins. According to the computer, the Chargers have a 31.4% of getting in, which makes them the slight favorite, but the Ravens (26.6%), Raiders (24.3%) and Dolphins (19%) are all within striking distance."

Meanwhile, the second-to-last week of the year probably means your fantasy championship week, too, and if you've made it there:

  1. I'm jealous.
  2. You need fantasy expert Jamey Eisenberg's Start 'Em, Sit 'Em.

What we're watching Thursday 📺

🏈 Duke's Mayo Bowl: North Carolina (-10) vs South Carolina, 11:30 a.m. on ESPN
🏈 Music City Bowl: Tennessee (-6) vs Purdue, 3 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 76ers at Nets (-5), 7 p.m. on NBA TV
🏈 Peach Bowl: No. 12 Pittsburgh vs No. 10 Michigan State (-2.5), 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Warriors (-5.5) at Nuggets, 9:30 p.m. on NBA TV

Head over to SportsLine for the latest expert picks on those games and more.