Good morning sports fans, it's Wajih AlBaroudi here again with your need-to-know info on this fine Thursday. Today we are going to take a look at the growing parity within the NFL, which I think is making these late-season games more fun to watch than usual every week. We'll also cover how the NHL came to the conclusion to back out of the Olympics, as well as much more.

But first, some quick housekeeping. This will be last HQ AM newsletter sent out until Monday, as we are taking a brief break for the holiday.

OK, now let's wrap up the short week!

Good morning to everyone but especially to...



From the lowly Detroit Lions stomping the Arizona Cardinals to the New Orleans Saints blanking the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 2021 NFL season has been unpredictable, to say the least. That's especially true at the so-called top of the league. 

The Green Bay Packers are the only team to retain a top-four spot in Pete Prisco's weekly NFL Power Rankings, and even they were a two-point conversion away from losing to the Tyler Huntley-led Baltimore Ravens. The Cardinals, Buccaneers and New England Patriots all tumbled out of the top four after losing by two-plus scores over the weekend. 

This late into the season, it's pretty fun to see this much movement happening at the very top of the league.

Prisco's biggest riser of the week is the Los Angeles Rams. They smothered the Seahawks on Tuesday, limiting Seattle to a mere 214 yards -- its lowest total since 2017 -- in a 20-10 home victory. Los Angeles' roster is top heavy, but its stars played up to their pedigree against Seattle.

Here's why Prisco moved the Rams to No. 4 in this week's power rankings, which is a five-spot improvement for them.

  •  Prisco: "It wasn't easy against the Seahawks, but they found a way. The defense came up big in that game. Can Cooper Kupp be stopped?"

An NFC West rival of the Rams had a decidedly worse weekend. The Cardinals put together an inexplicably horrible performance against the Lions, losing 30-12 to fall to 10-4. Kyler Murray, an MVP favorite during Arizona's 7-0 start to the season, posted a season-low 6.27 yards per attempt. Jared Goff, meanwhile, tossed three touchdowns and recorded a season-high 139.7 quarterback rating. 

Prisco dropped Arizona from No. 4 to No. 8 in his power rankings, and here's why: 

  • Prisco: "In two weeks, they've gone from the top seed in the NFC to a team searching for answers. Losing to the Lions the way they did isn't a good look for a playoff team."

Here are some other big risers and fallers on Prisco's power rankings:

Honorable mention:

And not such a good morning for... 

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Hockey test
Getty Images


The NHL has postponed 50 games and paused their season over COVID-19 concerns, and for that reason it won't send players to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Citing a material disruption to its schedule, the NHL executed its Olympic opt-out clause to avoid February's Games with no financial penalties.

Instead of sending players to the Olympics, the NHL will use its planned Feb. 6-22 break to reschedule postponed games. The opt-out wasn't an easy decision for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman:

  • Bettman: "We have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our Players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL's regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events -- 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 -- Olympic participation is no longer feasible"

With the NHL players skipping the 2022 Olympics, they're now missing two consecutive Games. The NHL didn't send players to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea over a scheduling disagreement. 

The Olympic opt-out is the latest of many moves the NHL has made to combat its COVID-19 crisis. Within the past week, the league has:

  • Introduced stricter COVID protocols (Dec. 18) 
  • Paused its season through Christmas Day (Dec. 20) 
  • Opted out of the Olympics (Dec. 22)

Over 65 players remain in the NHL's COVID protocols even though all but one of the league's players - the Detroit Red Wings' Tyler Bertuzzi - are vaccinated. 

Not so honorable mention:

How COVID-19 could affect the College Football Playoff 🏈


After a relatively quiet regular season, COVID-19 could drastically impact college football's postseason. The virus has begun spreading rapidly across the sport, forcing Texas A&M to back out of the Gator Bowl and sending the entire Miami (Fla.) team to protocols ahead of the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, among other cases. 

In response to the virus' spread, the College Football Playoff Management Committee announced the following COVID-19 contingencies:

  • Semifinal games -- both of which are scheduled for New Years Eve -- will not be rescheduled if a team doesn't have enough available players, allowing the other team to advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship
  • If both teams in a semifinal cannot play, the other semifinal winner will be awarded the national title
  • If only one semifinal team has enough available players, it will be declared the national champion
  • The national championship is currently slated for Monday, Jan. 10, but it can be rescheduled to as late as Friday, Jan. 14
  • If the championship isn't played before that Jan. 14 deadline, it will be declared vacant

The same day the CFB Management Committee announced the contingencies, Alabama -- one of four CFP semifinalists -- announced offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and offensive line coach Doug Marrone tested positive for COVID-19. Alabama's semifinal opponent, Cincinnati, has no known COVID cases.

Michigan, which is slated to play Georgia in the semifinal, also has no known COVID cases and will get a team-wide booster shot Wednesday. Georgia quarterback JT Daniels and receiver George Pickens are reportedly in COVID protocol.

Here's CFP executive director Bill Hancock's reasoning for the contingencies:

  • Hancock: "We certainly wish we were not in this position, but the only responsible thing is to take whatever actions we can reasonably take to better protect those who play and coach the game."

Here's to hoping all teams are healthy and ready to play on schedule. 

A look at college basketball's top five teams 🏀


Fresh off a 37-point victory over Alcorn State, the Baylor Bears remain atop our Gary Parrish's Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings. The defending national champions have won their first 11 games and done so by double digits in all but two contests. 

Here are the teams rounding out Parrish's top five, starting with Duke and star freshman Paolo Banchero:

  • No. 2 Duke
  • No. 3 UCLA
  • No. 4 Purdue
  • No. 5 Gonzaga

The four teams behind Baylor have one loss, but the Bruins have played only nine games because COVID-19 forced them to pause their season. Duke (86.1) and Purdue (85.8) have the best offenses of the bunch, averaging the fifth and ninth most points per game among Division 1 teams, respectively. 

Villanova is Parrish's biggest riser, climbing four spots to No. 20 after Tuesday's 71-58 win over Xavier. The Wildcats are allowing 62.7 points per game, their best scoring defense since 2016-17. 

Alabama dropped a whopping 15 spots on Parrish's list, from ninth to 24th, after Tuesday's one-point loss to Davidson. Memphis served Alabama a 14-point loss a week prior. 

Here are some of Parrish's other notable rankings:

  • No. 7 Kansas, no change
  • No. 10 USC, +1
  • No. 11 Iowa State +1

Keep an eye on out for a big update to these rankings later today coming off of No. 19 Tennessee's upset win over No. 6 Arizona last night.  

What we're watching Thursday 📺

🏈Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Florida (-7), 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏈49ers at Titans (+3), 8:20 p.m. on NFL Network