Some words you've probably been waiting to hear for a long, long time: Welcome to the final week of 2020.
In any normal year, I'd say that the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is the strangest week on the calendar. It's typically a real No Man's Land between two holidays, where motivation and productivity are hard to come by and we aimlessly look for ways to pass the time. But that sort of describes the entirety of this year, doesn't it?
A few years back I requested a mandatory worldwide shutdown between Christmas and the turn of the calendar, but I'd like to go on record and say that, personally, I now believe worldwide shutdowns are overrated.
In any case, I'm back for another (partial) week in your inbox and we've got plenty of sports to help get us to 2021. Hopefully you enjoyed your holiday break and are ready to close out this god forsaken year in fine fashion.
📰 What you need to know
1. Examining the NFL playoff races 🏈
It's not just the calendar year that is getting ready to wrap up this week ... so too is the 2020 NFL regular season. The penultimate week is getting ready to wrap up later tonight with Bills-Patriots, a game that doesn't have the divisional stakes that some thought it might when the schedule initially came out.
However, there are still plenty of playoff implications on the table as we head toward Week 17, so it's shaping up to be a verrrry interesting final week. Our Jeff Kerr has a full breakdown of the playoff races and what's at stake for every team with one game left to go, so let's get you caught up to speed with some notes of significance:
- The Browns, Ravens, Colts and Dolphins are all 10-5 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spots (the Steelers clinched the AFC North)
- The Chiefs clinched home-field advantage and the first-round bye in the AFC with their win over the Falcons
- The Bears took over the No. 7 seed in the NFC with a blowout win over the Jaguars, and Chicago will get in with a win in Week 17 (or a Cardinals loss)
- Despite a loss to Carolina, Washington remains in first place in the NFC East. A win over the Eagles next weekend will clinch the division (though the Cowboys and Giants could still win the division next week as well)
On the opposite end of the playoffs, the draft order is also coming clearer into picture. Congratulations to the Jacksonville Jaguars and their fans, as this season of misery will indeed land them the No. 1 pick (and presumably Trevor Lawrence.) The Jets locked themselves into the No. 2 pick with a surprise win over the Browns yesterday, so apologies to any New York fans with their No. 16 Lawrence jerseys ready to go.
As a Patriots fan, it's a relief that the Jets played themselves out of that top pick. It's also so fittingly Jets that they forced their own fans into rooting for them to lose, only to then disappoint them by winning two straight in the final stretch of the season. W-E-L-P welp welp welp.
2. Grading NFL Week 16 performances 🏈
There's plenty to look forward to in the NFL next weekend but today's also a Monday, which means there's also plenty to look back on from these past few days as well. You know we can't let a Monday go by without reviewing some NFL report cards, so let's look at some notable results and the grades that were earned:
- Steelers (A) rebound to clinch vs. Colts (D+): Indy jumped out to a 24-7 lead and it looked like the Steelers might be cruising toward a fourth straight loss, but Pittsburgh bounced back with a strong second half and played well on both sides of the ball. Ben Roethlisberger made some nice throws (and his receivers actually made catches!) to help end the Steelers' clinch the division
- Jets (B-) beat Browns (D-) for second straight win: You'd think losing to the Jets would earn an automatic 'F' for Cleveland, but the Browns were missing a ton of key players and didn't recover until it was too late. Baker Mayfield fumbled the ball away on the Browns' final drive, in turn fumbling away Cleveland's opportunity to control their own playoff destiny
- Washington (D-) benches Dwayne Haskins, loses to Panthers (B+): Ron Rivera failed to beat his former team and clinch a NFC East title for WFT. Haskins and Washington's offense turned the ball over four times in the first half. Haskins was eventually benched in favor of Taylor Heinicke, who provided a spark but not quite enough
Looking for your favorite team's evaluation? You can find all grades right here.
So, one of the biggest questions that will be asked this week is whether Tua Tagovailoa should still be starting for the Dolphins as they fight for a playoff spot in Week 17. On Saturday, Miami, led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, pulled off a miraculous win over the Raiders.
They're in a pretty awkward spot, as they already took the starting job away from Fitz but keep going back to him whenever Tua struggles -- and the rookie has struggled quite a bit to this point. It's obvious that Tua is the future but, heading into a must-win game, Fitz is the guy who gives them the best chance right now.
However, Brian Flores is still sticking with Tua as the Dolphins get ready to face the Bills next weekend. Is it the right call? Discuss!
3. Padres land Blake Snell in blockbuster trade ⚾
It's been a pretty quiet MLB offseason so far, but last night the Padres decided to spice things up by making quite the splash. San Diego continues to be aggressive in the player acquisition market and they managed to successfully add former Cy Young award winner Blake Snell to their roster over the weekend.
- The Padres acquired Snell, 28, from the Rays in exchange for four players -- pitchers Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox, plus catchers Blake Hunt and Francisco Mejia
- Snell won the 2018 AL Cy Young Award and has compiled a 2.85 ERA and 3.54 strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last three seasons
- Snell is owed $39 million through the 2023 season
- Patino, 21, is the prize piece of the return for Tampa. The right-hander is ranked as the No. 23 best prospect in baseball and the No. 2 prospect in the Padres' system
The Padres continue to build something very exciting over there on the West Coast. Snell will help offset the loss of Mike Clevinger, who will miss 2021 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Most importantly, they didn't have to give up MacKenzie Gore -- arguably the top pitching prospect in the game -- while trading for both Clevinger and Snell, and now they could head into the 2022 season will all three of those guys in their rotation.
Meanwhile, this deal has to be a bummer for Rays fans. After making it to the World Series this past season, Tampa stripped away some pretty big pieces from their roster. Tampa already declined to pick up Charlie Morton's $15 million option earlier this offseason, meaning they've now lost two of their top three starters in just over a month. This also means that Snell's final appearance for the Rays could very well be that infamous early hook as he was dominating in Game 6 of the World Series.
I wonder if the computers told Tampa that this was a good move, too.
4. Mavericks crush Clippers in historic fashion 🏀
If you were hoping to see a fun, competitive game between the Mavericks and Clippers yesterday, you were severely let down. However, if you were hoping to get a glimpse of history ... well, congrats because this one was historically ugly.
- Dallas held a 77-27 lead over Los Angeles at halftime -- the largest halftime lead in NBA history
- The Mavericks shot 50% from 3-point range in the first half while the Clippers shot just 20% from the field
- Kawhi Leonard (mouth laceration) wasn't in the lineup for the Clippers and Paul George sat for the entire second half
The Mavs ended up winning 124-73, so it's hard to say that things got better for Los Angeles -- although they did avoid setting a new record for fewest points scored in a game (63), so that's something I guess. Still, that doesn't change the hilarious fact that Dallas scored more points in the first half than the Clippers scored in the entire game.
By the way, Los Angeles entered yesterday's game as three-point favorites, so that makes it somehow even more embarrassing. But, to their credit, the Clippers had enough sense to wear their black alternates for the occasion ... they were at least dressed properly for their own funeral.
📝 Odds & Ends
- Villanova coach Jay Wright has tested positive for COVID-19 and the Wildcats program has paused all basketball activities
- Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro has died at 81
- Jared Goff broke his thumb vs. the Seahawks and could miss Week 17 (and possibly more)
- James Harden scored 44 points in his season debut with the Rockets
📺 What to watch today
🏈 Bills vs. Patriots, 8:15 p.m. | NE +7 | TV: ESPN
🏀 Trail Blazers vs. Lakers, 10 p.m. | LAL -4.5 | TV: NBATV
📝 Top scores from last night
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams connected for three touchdown passes at snowy Lambeau Field.
💵 Winning wagers: GB -3, Over (52.5)
Kyrie and KD's Nets suffered their first loss of the season as Gordon Hayward dropped 28 points in the Charlotte win.
💵 Winning wagers: CHA +484, Under (233)