Hi everybody! This is Gabe Fernandez coming back at you with another newsletter takeover.
It's a particularly wonderful time of the year in terms of the sports world as seemingly every single sport is experiencing some form of relevancy. The NFL released its schedule for the upcoming season yesterday -- the details of which we'll get VERY into -- both the NBA and NHL are about to start their postseasons, baseball is in full swing and the Champions League final is a mere couple weeks away.
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Wow, look at all those sports! What's your favorite time of the sports calendar? Let me know on Twitter.
Today we're talking the new NFL schedule and why your favorite team could easily go 10-6, maybe even 11-5, this year, a notable sneaker endorsement deal featuring arguably the WNBA's biggest star, and some more Rangers drama.
And away we go!
📰 What you need to know
1. Breaking down the 2021 NFL schedule 🏈
If you've found yourself randomly getting a whiff of a parking lot tailgate, or feeling the urge to high-step your way to your destination, don't worry. It's not the warning signs of a medical emergency, but rather the early signs of football season being around the corner.
The first of many steps solidifying the reality of next season began Wednesday with the release of the NFL season schedule.
The amazing football scribes here at CBS Sports sifted through page after page of every match up on the gridiron throughout this calendar and year and analyzed them all to find some of the best for this upcoming season. Most notably, they found some of the year's best rivalry matches where the bad blood between the two sides will almost certainly spill over. To find the whole list, you can check out this link here. Otherwise, here are three of my favorite rivalry games from the list.
- Buccaneers at Patriots, Week 4: Obviously everyone will be seeing how Tom Brady performs against Bill Belichick for the first time in his career, but I'll be more focused on the videos of Belichick press conferences during the week leading up to this game, where ol' Bill will almost certainly angrily shut down at least one question about his former QB
- Ravens at Browns, Week 14: Football fans will certainly remember Lamar Jackson heroically returning from a trip to the bathroom to lead an incredible victory over their AFC North foes last season in Cleveland, so what will this match up bring? Will Lamar need to return to the porcelain thrown to find some more on-field magic, or will it be on Baker Mayfield to show up last year's heroics by doing something even more drastic, like returning from a mid-game appendectomy?
- Browns at Steelers, Week 16: You might be saying to yourself, "Hey Gabe, this list seems kind of slanted towards AFC North teams. That's kind of unfair." And to that I say, too bad, write your own newsletter if you're so bothered by it. Anyways, this game will probably be pretty damn good because one side will be looking to prove last season wasn't a fluke, and the other side will have a receiver looking to prove he's not only trying to be a TikTok influencer.
But that's not the only list of best games you can check out. We also put together:
2. Every NFL team's strength of schedule 🏈
Of course, the real question on every football fans' mind is who will have the easiest regular season as the league enters the 18-week era for the first time in history. For some, that means an extra game against a middling team. For others, it means an extra game this season against a potential Super Bowl contender.
Either way, one thing is certain: every fan base in the league will have something to complain about.
It's worth noting the typical caveat that these strength of schedule metrics are done by taking the performance of teams from last season and using them to predict how they'll perform this upcoming season. Lots of things can change such as coaches, starting quarterback and other personnel throughout a roster. One team is even going to be more adjusted to a brand new city, and nearly every franchise will be dealing with large crowds for the first time in well over a year. That being said, some good teams stay good, and some bad teams stay bad.
Without further ado, here are the top three most difficult, and least difficult schedules for 2021.
- 1. Steelers: Opponents' Combined 2020 Win Percentage of 57.4%
- 2. Ravens: Opponents' Combined 2020 Win Percentage of 56.3%
- 3. Bears: Opponents' Combined 2020 Win Percentage of 55.0%
- 30. Falcons: Opponents' Combined 2020 Win Percentage of 46.4%
- 31. Cowboys: Opponents' Combined 2020 Win Percentage of 45.2%
- 32. Eagles: Opponents' Combined 2020 Win Percentage of 43.0%
3. WNBA star Breanna Stewart joins Puma, will get signature sneaker 🏀
In an interview with NPR on Wednesday, ESPN's sneaker journalist Nick DePaula made quite an astonishing note about the state of WNBA players getting signature sneakers in recent history (emphasis my own).
- DePaula: "So Sheryl [Swoopes], back in '95, that was really the starting point of the WNBA, which launched in 1997. Seven of the first nine women's signature shoes were within the first five years of the WNBA. Then I think what happened was brands were looking at slowing sales and turned away from it altogether. It's been unfortunate because I think there's now there's a whole generation of young girls that grew up playing the game that didn't aspire to have a signature shoe."
So when it was announced that Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart was signing with Puma and getting her own signature sneaker from the sports apparel company, it's not only breaking news about the endorsements of a high-profile athlete in women's sports, it's genuinely a historic milestone. Puma has inked other notable basketball players, like LaMelo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, but the extent of their deals have only included exclusive colorways on existing sneakers.
Objectively speaking, it's a set up that makes sense. In terms of accolades and accomplishments, Stewart has done more than every NBA player on Puma's team, so she's deserving of having her own sneaker. What that also means is that it's worth pointing out how Puma isn't exactly bravely going out on a limb in making this decision. They're a business, and so when Puma chose to give arguably the greatest women's basketball player on the planet her own shoe, it was with business ramifications in mind.
Still, this is a net positive for women's basketball as investing in women players is, in turn, investing in the women's game. That's something required to not only grow the sport and encourage others to take part in it, but also to take steps towards tackling issues like gender pay disparity among athletes. Hopefully news like this will become so commonplace that it doesn't become lead news, but until then, we'll keep celebrating those landmarks.
4. Rangers fire coach David Quinn as front office makeover continues 🏒
The turmoil within the New York Rangers hit another checkpoint on Wednesday when it was announced that the team would be parting ways with head coach David Quinn, as well as assistants David Oliver, Jacques Martin and Greg Brown.
It's the latest bit of leadership turnover within the organization since, well, Tom Wilson decided to enrage the entirety of the New York-area with his antics of injuring a star player and punching another guy who was down on the ice. Still, take that moment away and the decision is understandable as the team did not perform up to expectations this season.
Quinn joins president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton as the latest ouster from the franchise. Now, the team has a fresh slate to work with as it enters the offseason with the hopes of improving. Where the team goes from here remains to be seen as there are now multiple high-level positions that don't just have to be filled, but rather filled competently.
However, one thing is clear: if the team does improve during this next era of new coaches, one person who ironically might have to be thanked is the most hated man in hockey.
📝 Odds & Ends
- Former Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said that coach Joe Brady did not have the team practice two-minute drills or red-zone situations, which both seem like important things to practice. But I'm not an NFL head coach, so what do I know?
- The Seattle Kraken have taken another step towards becoming a real NHL franchise after signing their first player in team history
- The historically classy and endearing Houston Astros decided that they would be the first ballclub to provide minor league players with furnished apartments. Is this an important step in acknowledging minor leaguer rights, or is this just feudalism with extra steps? You decide!
📺 What to watch tonight
⚾ Red Sox vs. Athletics, 7:10 p.m. | BOS -111 | TV: NESN
🏀 Heat vs. 76ers, 7:30 p.m. | MIA +1.5 | TV: TNT
🏀 Suns vs. Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. | SUNS -215 | TV: TNT
Best thing I saw on the internet 🏅
If you're smart like me, you're an ardent supporter of the universal DH in baseball. On Wednesday, Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker unintentionally made a compelling case for it when he had the most carefree plate appearance against the Orioles.