Happy Tuesday morning, folks. Week 17 is in the books. Let's get right to all the news.
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Good morning to everyone but especially to...
THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS (AND THEIR PLAYOFF CHANCES)
One down, one (potentially) to go.
Like most of the Steelers' wins this season, it wasn't a particularly pretty brand of football:
- Roethlisberger, in likely his final home game ever, threw for just 123 yards, but...
- Najee Harris ran for a career-high 188 yards, the game-sealing touchdown and broke Franco Harris's franchise rookie season rushing record.
- T.J. Watt had four sacks (he's now one short of tying Michael Strahan's single-season record), and the defense as a total racked up nine sacks, their most in a game since 2001.
With the win, Mike Tomlin set an NFL record with 15 consecutive non-losing seasons to begin his coaching career. NFL reporter Bryan DeArdo was on hand to witness what was likely Roethlisberger's final game at Heinz Field. Here's his big takeaway:
- DeArdo: "Defense, defense, defense. Roethlisberger may have been the man in the spotlight on Monday, playing what even he deemed his last game at Heinz Field, but this one belonged to the Steel City 'D.' With four sacks on a night Pittsburgh totaled nine, T.J. Watt ... confirmed himself as Defensive Player of the Year front-runner and ensured Mayfield never felt comfortable in the pocket."
Here's what the Steelers need to see happen in Week 18 to make the postseason:
While it's unlikely, the fact that this Steelers team even has a chance at making the playoffs is incredible and impressive. They're 8-7-1 despite being outscored by 58 points this season overall. Last night was their first double-digit win of the season. But none of that matters now: They've given themselves a chance in Week 18, and we've seen plenty of times this season that anything can happen on any given Sunday.
- Hawks star Trae Young went off and scored a career-high 56 points but it wasn't enough to top the Trail Blazers thanks to Anfernee Simons's 43-point effort in the first game following his grandfather's death.
- The NBA Is better when its best players are available, and that means the NBA is about to get much better. Kyrie Irving is expected to make his season debut Wednesday and Klay Thompson, who hasn't played since Game 6 of the 2019 Finals, is eyeing to return Sunday.
- The Titans staff found a missing wedding ring in a story that will make you smile.
And not such a good morning for...
THE OKLAHOMA SOONERS
One of the top transfers ever has entered the portal: former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams.
Williams, who took over for Spencer Rattler as the Sooners' starter last year, threw 21 touchdowns and four interceptions as a true freshman and also ran for over 400 yards.
- Jeyarajah: "The 247Sports transfer portal evaluators have already named Williams just the second perfect 1.000 transfer recruit in the nation... Alabama and Ohio State have strong quarterbacks coming back, but Clemson and Georgia could use upgrades. Notre Dame, Ole Miss and Michigan State are also top-10 squads that could be looking for options. Really, any school in the country that isn't starting Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud should at least consider their options if Williams is on the table. He can swing a conference, or even national, title race."
I'm 100 percent on board with that assessment. Williams has a cannon of an arm and is an excellent dual threat. If you need proof, watch him come off the bench and lead Oklahoma to a huge comeback win over Texas.
On the other side is a Sooner program that's now lost its head coach and its superstar-in-the-making quarterback in just over a month. New coach Brent Venables and the Sooners were able to flip former UCF signal caller Dillon Gabriel from UCLA to Oklahoma on Monday night, and while I do like Gabriel a lot as a player, there are few -- if any -- players who can match Williams' immense skill and upside. Williams did say he would consider returning to Oklahoma, but given the Gabriel addition, it doesn't seem to be trending that way.
In the meantime, we'll keep our eyes open for where Williams goes — and, in turn, who will almost certainly be getting a very big "Good Morning" in this newsletter.
Not so honorable mention:
- Mike Zimmer might be on his way out as Vikings head coach, and he's certainly not mincing words. With Minnesota eliminated from the playoff race, might Zimmer want to see what rookie QB Kellen Mond has to offer Sunday? "Not particularly," Zimmer said. "I see him every day."
- Jimmy Butler suffered an ankle injury and had to be carried off the court last night during the Heat's game against the Warriors. The Heat have dealt with a ton of injury and COVID-19 issues, and this would be a tough blow to a team already missing Bam Adebayo, among many others.
Latest twist in Antonio Brown's shocking mid-game exit saga 🏈
In case you somehow missed it on Sunday, Antonio Brown took off his jersey and jogged off the field in the third quarter, effectively quitting on his team in a way we have never seen before (and will likely never see again).
Now we have new information — or at least perhaps a new background story — regarding this bizarre episode.
- Brown felt his injured ankle was too hurt for him to play and twice refused to enter the game after head coach Bruce Arians asked him to do so. Arians then told Brown to "get out," and that was that.
- Arians has strongly disputed this version of events, saying the ankle played no role in Brown's sudden departure. Brown himself has not addressed the departure.
- Immediately after the game, Arians said that Brown was no longer with the team, though he's yet to be officially released.
Something tells me we haven't heard the last of this story, and we may not for a while.
What you need to know with MLB negotiations looming ⚾
The MLB lockout is officially into its second month and --- wait... is that a light at the end of the tunnel?
Well, not quite yet. While negotiations are expected to resume this month, there's A LOT to wade through, writes MLB expert Dayn Perry. That includes:
- Pay structure, especially for younger players
- The luxury tax
While owners prefer the status quo, the longer this lockout goes, the more power the players have, Perry writes:
- Perry: "Should we get into the second week of February or thereabouts without a deal, then the possibility of a compromised spring training becomes a concern. This again plays into the leverage that players may have right now. Spring training games at sites in Arizona and Florida have become a profit center for teams, and they don't want to lose those games. Players, meantime, don't start getting checks until the regular season begins. So the prospect of a shortened spring training figures to increase pressure on the league side to get a deal done."
The first Bracketology update of 2022 arrived just in time for a major upset 🏀
With the calendar turning to a new year, college basketball action is heating up with conference action, and that means it's Bracketology time. Our bracket expert Jerry Palm has eight Big 12 teams — including two No. 1 seeds — in his latest version.
But it was a Big Ten that made the headlines last night: No. 23 Wisconsin went to Mackey Arena and beat No. 3 Purdue, 74-69. If you don't know the name Johnny Davis by now, you need to get acquainted. The star sophomore poured in a career-high 37 points, 27 of which came in the second half.
The Big Ten figures to be a tight race, and wins like these are really, really impressive.
What we're watching Tuesday 📺
🏀 Oklahoma at No. 1 Baylor, 7 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 No. 16 LSU at No. 21 Kentucky, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Kings at Lakers, 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV