Michigan-Alabama game could foreshadow bleak future for bowls

Amid the first blurry hours of the new decade, Michigan will face Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. Before the season began, many of us would not have been surprised if this were one of the two College Football Playoff games, a matchup between the program with the most wins in college football history and the most dominant program of the past decade.  

But this … is not that. It is, instead, a second-tier amusement in the shadow of Disney World — a game between teams that slogged through seasons that would have been quite respectable if only the expectations hadn’t been so high. For Alabama fans spoiled by their team’s success under Nick Saban, a 10-2 season is a “ train wreck”; for Michigan fans yearning for a win over Ohio State, a 9-3 season is a total letdown. And now, instead of being defined by its rich history, this Citrus Bowl will likely be characterized by how it embodies college football’s future: an era where players seem more and more likely to skip games that are essentially meaningless. 

This especially holds true for the Crimson Tide, with a roster loaded full of NFL prospects, including pretty much its entire receiving corps. It is now conventional wisdom that there is absolutely no reason for anyone with a potential NFL future to risk their health in a bowl, meaning a mass of Alabama players, along with a handful of Michigan players, could wind up sitting out this game. 

I get it. 

I think athletes should be able to profit off their names and likenesses, and I’d like to see a reasonable path toward further compensation. That’s obviously the debate that’s going to frame the future of college sports heading into the 2020s. By the time we awake on New Year’s morning, dry-mouthed and full of regret, for the 2030 Citrus Bowl, I imagine college sports will look completely different than they do today. I’m not entirely confident, though, that the Citrus Bowl will exist in its current form by then.     

Here’s the thing about college football: It was long defined by its lack of resolution. There was no official national championship game for most of its history; there was often no good way of determining a national champion at all except for the media to make its best guess and vote. That allowed the bowl system to continue to exist. And while it was weird and corrupt and sponsored by Poulan Weed-Eaters and run by aging men in garish sport coats, it also gave meaning to so many otherwise forgotten seasons. You went 7-5? Well, at least you get a Liberty Bowl bid as a reward.     

It was a delusion, I know, because the vast majority of college football games — hell, the vast majority of competitions in pretty much every sport — don’t really mean anything. But now that the Playoff exists, it’s presented the notion that the sport’s framework was, well, weird and corrupt. That’s good, because players can finally break through the illusion of amateurism and push toward getting paid. It could also be bad, though, because the focus on the endgame could cheapen all the ritual that made college football unique in the first place.        

Don’t believe me? It’s already happened in college basketball. The season now feels like an overlong slog leading into the NCAA Tournament, where one-and-done players have essentially turned the upper echelon of the sport into something that feels just as slimily transactional as it did when envelopes full of cash were being shipped via overnight mail in the 1980s.      

Now, maybe you think that trade-off is worth it if it pushes college sports into a more equitable future for all those players who will sit out the Citrus Bowl. And for now, the television ratings and revenue for bowls are still oddly strong, mostly because there are those of us who will watch any college football game dangled in front of us. 

But maybe we’re in a “bowl bubble.” This next decade is going to raise all sorts of questions about the future of the sport, and by the time it’s over, we may no longer be arguing about whether all these great players should be sitting out all these “meaningless” bowls. We may be asking: Why are we playing these meaningless games in the first place?

By: Michael Weinreb

https://www.yardbarker.com/college_football/articles/michigan_alabama_game_could_foreshadow_bleak_future_for_bowls/s1_13132_30788495

Blue Jackets’ Oliver Bjorkstrand expected to miss four to six weeks

The Columbus Blue Jackets announced they have placed Oliver Bjorkstrand on injured reserve. The forward is expected to miss four to six weeks due to a rib/cartilage contusion with an oblique strain, an injury he received during the team’s 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

Bjorkstrand suffered the injury in the third period of the game when he was cross-checked by the Devils’ Damon Severson. He left the game and did not return. It’s a severe blow for an injury-plagued Columbus team. The Blue Jackets now have seven players on injured reserve and 10 total players injured, including Josh Anderson (shoulder), Cam Atkinson (lower body), Emil Bemstrom (ribs), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist), Sonny Milano (upper body), Ryan Murray (lower body), Markus Nutivaara (upper body), David Savard (illness) and Andrew Peeke (hand).

The injury is even more significant considering Bjorkstrand has been red-hot recently, scoring four goals in the last five games and moving into a tie with Pierre Luc-Dubois for the scoring lead with 12 goals, two of which came during Saturday’s victory over the Devils. He has 12 goals and 23 points and was on target to break career highs in several categories. The 24-year-old is also tied for 17th in the NHL with 122 shots.

The team  recalled Nathan Gerbe from the Cleveland Monsters on an emergency basis. The 32-year-old veteran hasn’t played in the NHL since appearing in two games during the 2017-18 season, but the quick-moving veteran has eight goals and 25 points in 30 games for the Monsters.

By: Holger Stolzenberg

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/blue_jackets_oliver_bjorkstrand_expected_to_miss_four_to_six_weeks/s1_14825_30873749

NHL players most likely to be traded this season

Even though the NHL trade deadline is still two months away, it is not too early to start looking at the players who could be on the move. We already saw one of the biggest names make headlines this month when the New Jersey Devils traded Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes. Here we look at 20 more players who could be wearing different jerseys this season. Rebuilding teams like the Devils, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators are all well represented.  1 of 20

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators

For the second year in a row, the Senators should be one of the busiest teams at the trade deadline. They are still in the middle of their rebuild, and they have several veterans playing on expiring contracts. Pageau figures to be the most marketable on the trade market given his defensive play and the fact he is having a career year offensively. Just about every Stanley Cup contender in the league could find a spot for him.  2 of 20

Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

This seems like a pretty obvious trade waiting to happen. Kreider is slowing down, he is not the player he was a few years ago, he is a free agent after this season and the Rangers are still looking more toward the future than the present. They should easily be able to get a first-round pick and a prospect (think similar package to the Taylor Hall trade for New Jersey) if — or more likely when — they decide to trade him.  3 of 20

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are going nowhere again this season and need to rebuild their organization. It has been long overdue and the longer they keep putting it off, the worse off the team will be. One player who figures to be on the trade block is Toffoli, a veteran winger in the final year of his contract who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He is not going to be a game-changer for a team, but he could be a strong secondary scoring option for a contender. 

4 of 20

Alex Galchenyuk, Pittsburgh Penguins

This situation is simply not working out. The Penguins acquired Galchenyuk in the Phil Kessel trade over the summer, and he has been a complete non-factor, more often than not being relegated to fourth-line duty. When the Penguins start getting key injured players back in the lineup, Galchenyuk figures to be the odd man out. He is in the final year of his contract, and general manager Jim Rutherford is quick to move on from acquisitions that turn out to be mistakes. This one has been a mistake.  5 of 20

Lias Andersson, New York Rangers

It was just three years ago that the Rangers made Andersson the No. 7 overall pick in the draft, and it already seems like it’s not going to work out. After struggling to carve out a niche for himself in the Rangers lineup, Andersson has requested a trade out of New York. The Rangers acquired him with the draft pick they got in the trade that sent Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes. Even though he was considered a bit of an overdraft at the time, some team will no doubt see a low-risk, potentially high-reward gamble here with the hopes of grabbing lightning in a bottle.  6 of 20

Ron Hainsey, Ottawa Senators

Hainsey is the exact type of veteran who gets traded every deadline for a mid-round draft pick. But he’s a veteran with playoff experience who is viewed as a solid leader and responsible player whom coaches can trust. Does it matter if the player is actually going to make a positive impact on the ice? Not at all! Some playoff team is going to add Hainsey for a fourth-rounder in January or February and play him 17 minutes a night on its third pairing through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

7 of 20

Tyler Ennis, Ottawa Senators

Ennis has done exactly what the Senators needed him to do: played well enough and produced enough offense to build up some trade value so they can add another pick or prospect. He does not have a future as part of the Senators rebuild and with his contract up this summer, a trade seems like an easy decision.  8 of 20

Wayne Simmonds, New Jersey Devils

Simmonds was part of New Jersey’s big offseason that was supposed to bring the Devils back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It has not worked out that way. With the Devils stuck near the bottom of the NHL standings and Taylor Hall already traded, you know more moves are probably on the way. Simmonds is at the end of his career and a free agent after this season. He may not want to be a rental player for another team, as he was a year ago, but with no trade protections in his contract he may not have much of a choice.  9 of 20

Zach Bogosian, Buffalo Sabres

His value will not be high, but he has reportedly requested a trade out of Buffalo. The Sabres already have a logjam on defense and are going to need to trade someone at some point. Injuries have severely impacted his career the past few seasons 

10 of 20

Colin Miller, Buffalo Sabres

If the Sabres wanted to deal from their defensive depth to help fill a hole at forward and get an actual return, Miller might be the player on the move. After a really strong run with the Vegas Golden Knights, he has not really fit in with the Sabres or fully gained the trust of their coaching staff. A fresh start somewhere else could do him well.  11 of 20

Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings are on track for a historically bad season, and general manager Steve Yzerman has a ton of work to do in trying to fix this mess. He has a few veterans he can dangle at the trade deadline, and the 34-year-old Green is a potential option. He has not been particularly good, and he has a no-movement clause, but you have to think he would welcome an opportunity to play for a contender one more time in his career.  12 of 20

Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks

Lehner has been one of the few bright spots for an otherwise dismal Blackhawks team. They are headed for a third consecutive non-playoff season and with Lehner a free agent after this season, he would figure to be an attractive trade chip. He could also be a game-changer for a team in need of a goalie upgrade (looking at you, San Jose Sharks). 

13 of 20

Sami Vatanen, New Jersey Devils

This is another veteran player with an expiring contract whom the Devils could look to move. His name had surfaced in trade speculation more than a year ago, and with the Devils out of the playoff race, that figures to happen again over the next few months. He plays a lot of big minutes for the Devils, but he is probably best suited as a middle-pairing (or even third-pairing) defender on a contender. He will bring some offense, but he is not really a shutdown defender or possession driver.  14 of 20

Erik Gustafsson, Chicago Blackhawks

He is not going to repeat the huge offensive season he had a year ago and he turns 28 later this season, so he is no longer a young, up-and-coming player. Do the Blackhawks see him as a part of their future? If not he could easily be on the move given his dirt cheap contract and the fact he can bring some offensive help from the blue line.  15 of 20

Nick Bjugstad, Pittsburgh Penguins

He has been injured for most of the season, but he has a fairly big contract for what he provides to a team that is consistently pressed against the salary cap. The Penguins have some key restricted free agents to re-sign this summer, and they would still no doubt like to add to their NHL roster this season, as they start to emerge as a Stanley Cup contender. Trading Bjugstad’s contract for anything they can get would be a good way to create salary cap space to start that process. 

16 of 20

Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers

Technically speaking the Panthers are still very much in the playoff hunt, so they may not be ready to sell just yet. But the overall mediocrity of the Atlantic Division is the only thing really keeping them in it at this point, and if Tampa Bay and Toronto ever get their acts together the Panthers could quickly slide down the standings. Hoffman is an unrestricted free agent after this season and while he has his flaws as a player — his play away from the puck — he can still fill the back of the net and add some offensive punch to a team’s lineup.  17 of 20

Evgenii Dadonov, Florida Panthers

Another veteran on an expiring contract in Florida, Dadonov has been an incredible find for the Panthers and one of their top players since returning to the NHL from Russia. But if the Panthers slide out of the race, he would figure to be an attractive target on the open market. He offers the same sort of offensive production as Hoffman does, but he is a better all-around player.  18 of 20

Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators

Granlund was supposed to be one of the pieces to put the Predators over the top a year ago in their quest to win a Stanley Cup, but he has underwhelmed during his entire tenure with the the team. With Nashville off to a slow start and currently out of the playoff picture, his contract status (unrestricted free agent after this season) could make him a trade candidate if the Predators are unable to get back into playoff position. 

19 of 20

Kyle Turris, Nashville Predators

This seemed far more likely earlier in the season when Turris could not crack the Predators’ lineup, but this is a relationship that hasn’t really worked out. The Predators also have a ton of money invested in Turris over the next few years, and that is going to be a contract they are going to want to get out of at some point.  20 of 20

Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators

This is a real long shot because of how well he has played this season, but it also might be a sell-high situation for the Senators. Duclair is in the middle of a career year and will be due a pretty big pay raise this summer as a restricted free agent. A lot of teams gave up on Duclair too soon, and the Senators have benefited from it in the short term. Their confidence in his ability to maintain it might determine whether they want to sign him long-term or trade him. Ideally, the Senators keep him. But you can never tell what this team might do in a rebuild. 

By: Adam Gretz

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/nhl_players_most_likely_to_be_traded_this_season/s1__30879731#slide_2

The best moves of the MLB offseason so far

The early part of the MLB offseason has already brought with it some blockbuster moves, as well as some under-the-radar signings that could have a big impact in 2020. Here’s a look at the best moves of the early offseason, as of Dec. 20. 1 of 20

Angels hire Joe Maddon

The Angels last made the playoffs in 2014, and their one year with Brad Ausmus at the helm didn’t go well. The organization continues to waste Mike Trout’s talent, but Maddon is as capable as any manager to get L.A. back to the postseason. He started to wear thin with the Cubs recently but should be able to give the Angels a jolt of energy and new-age thinking. 2 of 20

Angels acquire Dylan Bundy

Seemingly over the injury issues that plagued him early in his career, Bundy was a massive disappointment in Baltimore over the last two years and fetched only a group of middling prospects from Anaheim. Much of his issues have been directly related to the long ball, and getting out of Baltimore’s hitter-friendly confines can only help. The Angels desperately needed to beef up their rotation this offseason, and Bundy is a nice start. 3 of 20

Braves sign Will Smith

Smith was a dominant closer for the Giants last season, and he’s been one of the league’s best left-handed relievers since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2018. A three-year contract for any reliever is a risk, but Smith is still only 30 and has seen nothing but success in the majors since converting to the pen in 2013. He can serve well in any bullpen role for a Braves team with World Series aspirations.

4 of 20

Brewers sign Josh Lindblom

Lindblom has a history of MLB experience and some success, which is important to remember after three terrific seasons as a starter in Korea. He returns to the majors on a three-year, $9.125 million contract with Milwaukee, which seems like a minimal risk for a pitcher with excellent control and the ability to pitch in multiple roles. For the cost, there’s nothing but upside. 5 of 20

Brewers acquire Omar Narvaez for Adam Hill and draft pick

Milwaukee remedied the loss of Yasmani Grandal by acquiring Narvaez. The catcher is in no way comparable to Grandal, but he did prove to be one of the league’s best offensive catchers in Seattle last year by hitting .278-22-55. Poor defense is a concern, but the price was right for the Brewers. 6 of 20

Brewers acquire Eric Lauer and Luis Urias for Zach Davies and Trent Grisham

Milwaukee is always in search of undervalued assets and stuck with that mindset in this deal. Lauer is a former first-round pick who is unproven at the major league level, but he has a good minor league track record and has been serviceable in two seasons with the Padres. Urias was considered a top prospect just one year ago and gives the Brewers insurance at shortstop with Orlando Arcia continuing to struggle. Davies would seem like a big cost with a career 3.91 ERA in 111 starts, but he doesn’t miss bats and became strictly a five-inning starter late last season. Grisham is a former first-round pick who didn’t hit in the minors until last year, so the jury is still out on him.

7 of 20

Cardinals sign Kwang-Hyun Kim

The Cardinals seem to be going for values more than splashes this offseason, a product of spending big money on the extensions of Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt. Signing Kim to a two-year, $8 million contract brings with it minimal risk with plenty of upside, after the lefty posted a 2.51 ERA in 190.1 innings in Korea last season. He has an MLB-quality slider and could contribute in a variety of roles. 8 of 20

Diamondbacks sign Stephen Vogt

The pending expansion to a 26-man roster will enable many teams to carry three catchers, a strategy that the Diamondbacks have already liked to employ. Vogt gives the team a veteran backup for Carson Kelly, and he was able to reestablish his health last year as Buster Posey’s backup in San Francisco by posting a career-high .804 OPS. Not only could Vogt be used as a backup catcher, but he also is a strong pinch-hitter for only $3 million. 9 of 20

Dodgers sign Blake Treinen

It’s no mystery that the bullpen was L.A.’s biggest weakness last year, and Treinen gives the team a big boost. He fought shoulder issues in Oakland last season but was one of MLB’s best relievers in 2018, with an 0.78 ERA and 38 saves in 68 appearances. An extreme groundball pitcher, he gives the A’s another setup option and potentially a closer alternative if Kenley Jansen struggles again.

10 of 20

Giants sign Kevin Gausman

Gausman clearly isn’t the pitcher he was when he was first promoted by the Orioles, and he is coming off the worst season of his career. The silver lining is that he was terrific as a reliever for the Reds late last year and posted a career-high 10.0 K/9. San Francisco clearly saw that upside when it signed Gausman, and the move to a larger park will help the home run-prone right-hander. There’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract, and this is one of the highest upside one-year deals so far this offseason. 11 of 20

Giants acquire Zack Cozart and Will Wilson

San Francisco took Cozart’s contract off the Angels hands to bring on Wilson, the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft. The Giants are effectively paying $12.7 million for Wilson, a middle infielder out of NC State. That’s a hefty price for a prospect, but the Giants have some spare change now that they’re in rebuilding mode. If Wilson turns into an MLB regular, the trade is easily a win for San Francisco. 12 of 20

Marlins claim Jesus Aguilar off waivers

Aguilar was one of the league’s top offensive first basemen in 2018, hitting .274-35-108, but he fell flat last year. After continuing to struggle late in the season with Tampa Bay, Aguilar was waived and claimed by the nearby neighbors in Miami. As the Marlins continue to rebuild, they have at-bats to provide players like Aguilar who are looking to revitalize their careers as the former minor league veteran tries to prove his 2018 season wasn’t a fluke. 13 of 20

Marlins select Sterling Sharp in Rule 5 draft

There aren’t many treasures to be had in the Rule 5 draft these days, but Sharp could be one. The former Nats prospect missed much of last season with a back injury, though he has a career 3.71 ERA in the minors and is coming off a great showing at the Arizona Fall League. An extreme groundball pitcher, Sharp has a chance to not only make the Marlins out of spring training but also to serve in their starting rotation. 14 of 20

Rangers sign Kyle Gibson

Gibson has regained the former talent he showed as a top prospect with the Twins recently, posting a 3.62 ERA in 32 starts during 2018. He struggled late last season after stomach issues but has shown an uptick in velocity lately to go along with an excellent slider. He also had a career-best 2.86 K/BB ratio last year, showing enough upside to be worthy of the three-year, $28 million contract he signed with Texas. The contract is strikingly similar to the one Lance Lynn signed with the Rangers last offseason, and there’s similarly interesting upside. 15 of 20

Rangers acquire Corey Kluber for Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields Jr.

It’s rare that a two-time Cy Young winner can be had for what’s effectively a salary dump, but the Rangers were able to pull it off. In fairness, Clase looks like an outstanding bullpen arm and DeShields can really track the ball in center field, but neither player is a true impact performer in the short term. Kluber missed most of last season with a fractured elbow and struggled before the injury, but he’s entering only his age 34 season and was an elite pitcher as recently as 2018. The Rangers rotation looks terrific with Kluber added to Lance Lynn, Mike Minor and Kyle Gibson. 16 of 20

Rays acquire Hunter Renfroe and Xavier Edwards for Tommy Pham

Tampa Bay got a great 2019 season out of Pham but might have sold high on the soon-to-be 32-year-old by acquiring Renfroe and Edwards. Renfroe struggles defensively, but he hit 33 home runs in only 494 plate appearances last season and is just entering his prime. Edwards is the kicker in the deal, a first-round pick from 2018 who hit .322 between Low-A and High-A last season at age 19. He very well could be the Rays’ second baseman of the future next to top shortstop prospect Wander Franco. 17 of 20

Red Sox sign Jose Peraza

Cincinnati’s shortstop of the future just one year ago, Peraza was non-tendered after an awful 2019 season. Boston signed him to a one-year, $3 million contract, and he will effectively replace Eduardo Nunez on the roster. He brings the upside of a young Nunez, as shown by his 2018 season in which he hit .288 with 14 home runs, 23 stolen bases and appearances at multiple positions. The Red Sox can use some defensive versatility as they figure out the futures of Michael Chavis and Mookie Betts. 18 of 20

Twins re-sign Michael Pineda

Pineda’s market was hurt by the 60-game PEDs suspension that he will continue to serve at the start of 2020, but he looks like a bargain on a two-year, $20 million contract. No team knows him better than Minnesota after employing the big right-hander last year, and the Twins were able to get a lot out of him after a slow start to the season. With great control and a 5.00 K/BB ratio last year, Pineda shows huge potential. 19 of 20

White Sox sign Yasmani Grandal

Chicago didn’t waste much time in the offseason, signing Grandal to a four-year deal in November. He’s been one of the leagues best and most consistent catchers in recent seasons, providing plus-plus ability both offensively and defensively. He should still have some life left as he enters his age 31 season, and he gives the team a nice middle of the order hitter to add to its young talent. 20 of 20

Yankees sign Gerrit Cole

Cole signed a record-breaking nine-year deal with a Yankees organization that has been surprisingly patient and restrained in recent seasons. Clearly an elite starting pitcher, he gives the Yankees the one missing piece that could put them over the top, and he is potentially capable of offsetting the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium dimensions after posting a 13.8 K/9 and 6.79 K/BB ratio last season.

By: Seth Trachtman

https://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/the_best_moves_of_the_mlb_offseason_so_far/s1__30857315#slide_1

Shh! Sneaky Pacers are Bucks’ greatest threat in East

The 2019-20 season didn’t begin well for the Pacers. They started without star Victor Oladipo, defensive anchor Myles Turner got hurt soon after, and Indiana lost its first three games -– one to the lowly Cavaliers. After a dramatic summer makeover, the Pacers were a pedestrian 7-6 three weeks into the season.

Then Indiana started winning, and winning a lot, with few noticing. But after beating the red-hot Lakers this week, the Pacers (19-9) are a game out of the No. 2 seed in the East. They’re still in sixth place because of how tightly packed the non-Bucks contenders are, keeping the Pacers further under the radar. But they have virtually the same record as the much more ballyhooed 76ers and Celtics. If the winning continues, and Oladipo makes it back from a knee injury (the timetable is unclear), the Pacers will be ignored all the way to the conference finals. 

Keep an eye over your shoulders, Bucks.

In the off-season, Indiana was aggressive because several of its players hit free agency. Bojan Bogdanovic left for Utah, Thaddeus Young went to the Bulls, Tyreke Evans got a two-year ban for drug abuse, and Darren Collison retired to commit himself to his Jehovah’s Witness faith. In all, the Pacers had to replace over 60% of last season’s minutes, and they did so with a series of bold moves, all of which are starting to pay off.
The biggest move was prying Malcolm Brogdon, a 6-foot-5 sharpshooter who can play both guard spots, from Milwaukee. He joined the 40-50-90 club last season by shooting 50.5% from the field, 42.6% from three and a league-leading 92.8% from the free-throw line. The Bucks decided they’d rather have a few draft picks than Brogdon, a gritty defender whose 6-foot-11 wingspan lets him switch onto much bigger players and disrupt passes. Maybe they didn’t believe in Brogdon, who recently turned 27, but the more likely reason is that they didn’t want to pay the luxury tax this year, possibly because one of their owners bought a casino.  
Brogdon is fantastic in a larger role in Indiana, driving to the basket relentlessly (15.6 times per game, 15th in the league) and getting good shots for his teammates (7.6 assists per game, seventh in the league). He has improved every season since winning Rookie of the Year in 2016-17 as a second-round pick (the lowest draft pick to win ROY since the legendary Woody Sauldsbury in 1958).  
Another undervalued guy is his backcourt partner, Jeremy Lamb, who is most famous for being on the wrong side of the lopsided James Harden trade. Then he toiled in obscurity in Charlotte while making himself into a solid complementary player -– he moves without the ball, hits floaters at a high rate, and is good on catch-and-shoot threes. He was a top-15 guard last season in defensive plus/minus, and, like Brogdon, he has long arms (6-foot-10 wingspan) that make him disruptive on D. Plus, he willingly moved to the bench even though he was Charlotte’s second-best player last season, which means he should adjust seamlessly when Oladipo returns from his injury and semifinal run on “The Masked Singer.” How appropriate for this invisible team that even when their star is on national television every week, he’s in an elaborate disguise.
Speaking of NBA obscurity, T.J. Warren was one of the least-known scorers in the league in Phoenix, averaging 18 points for a franchise that’s usually not relevant around Thanksgiving. Now that he’s on the Pacers, Warren has dropped pounds and added an interest in defense. The Packers also brought in Justin Holiday, who has formed a devastating bench combo with his brother Aaron -– they’re combining for 17.6 points and three three-pointers a game, at a 38% clip. Even Doug McDermott, a disappointment in Chicago and New York, is shooting 47% from behind the arc, and T.J. McConnell, cut loose by the Sixers, is averaging 4.9 assists in under 18 minutes per game. Maybe he feels comfortable among so many other TJs in Indiana (they also have T.J. Leaf).
Even the players who stayed have been underrated! Domantas Sabonis, who signed a controversial extension in the fall, has backed it up by averaging 18 points and a whopping 13.3 rebounds. Myles Turner was fifth in the Defensive Player of the Year vote last season — he should have been higher -– and has continued his defensive dominance this season. Experts say Sabonis and Turner don’t provide enough spacing to play together, but Sabonis-Turner lineups are outscoring opponents by six points per 100 possessions. Indiana is even getting solid, limited minutes from rookie center Goga Bitadze, the greatest (and only) Georgian NBA player since Zaza Pachulia!
On a 56-win pace, the Pacers have won 12 of their past 15. They’re seventh in defensive rating and 13th in offensive rating, though that second number should rise with Oladipo. Lamb is comfortable coming off the bench, and he and Brogdon can both easily play next to the unmasked Thingamjig. It’s an ideal situation for Oladipo to come back to, because Brogdon, Lamb, and Holiday the Younger can take over ball-handling duties and defending the other team’s best guard. Meanwhile, Victor can focus on easing his way back, getting his body right, and nailing the high harmonies on his next R&B album.
None of the Pacers’ additions were nearly as flashy as adding Kyrie Irving, or Jimmy Butler, or Kemba Walker, or even Al Horford, but Brogdon is arguably as valuable as any of them. And many of the things Indiana is very good at don’t show up in the box score: They don’t get a lot of steals, and they’re only 11th in blocks, but they’re great at limiting three-point attempts (fourth in the league) and harassing opponents into low-percentage shots (teams only shoot 43.6% from the field). They don’t have a 20-point scorer, but they have seven guys averaging more than nine points. The Pacers don’t make a lot of threes –- Reggie Miller is shaking his head right now — but they make the second-most two-pointers.
Look, Indiana can’t compete with Milwaukee when it comes to top-end talent, and this season’s Bucks are a juggernaut. But the Pacers can match up with any other Eastern contender, and it’s doubtful that the Bucks would look forward to playing them in May. Indiana has the big to contain Giannis as much as anyone can and the perimeter defenders to throttle Milwaukee’s three-point-crazy offense. 

The Pacers are ready to make playoff games very difficult, and with Oladipo, they’ll also have a closer who can get his own shots in tough spots. That guy might also be Brogdon. He’s certainly not going to miss any clutch free throws.
Boston is more popular, Philly has more stars, Toronto is the defending champions, and Miami is the best soap opera (thank you, Dion Waiters!). But when all is said and done, the biggest threat to the Bucks may well be the NBA’s most anonymous contender, the Pacers. Because the most dangerous opponent is the one you don’t see coming.

By: Sean Keane

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/shh_sneaky_pacers_are_bucks_greatest_threat_in_east/s1_13132_30850205

Report: LeBron James will play Christmas Day against Clippers

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James missed his first game on Sunday due to a thoracic muscle strain, but he’s reportedly going to play on Christmas Day against the Los Angeles Clippers.

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin wrote that James is also dealing with “a nagging groin issue” and that the Lakers are listing him as day to day. Then, he shared that, despite these injuries, “a source close to James told ESPN he expected the star to be in the lineup.”

This should not surprise anyone. James isn’t one of those NBA stars who enjoys the regular “load management” day off here and there. He’s more the kind of guy who doesn’t want to come off the court for a single second.

On top of that, the Lakers have suddenly lost three straight games after opening the season with a 24-3 record. So, you know James is going to show up for this huge prime-time game on Christmas Day.

The 34-year-old superstar is enjoying another fantastic season, averaging 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 10.6 assists per game.

By: Jesse Reed

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/report_lebron_james_will_play_christmas_day_against_clippers/s1_12680_30878096

Marshawn Lynch could return to Seahawks in wake of RB injuries

The Seattle Seahawks are in desperate need of running back help as they head toward the postseason, and they could bring back a very familiar face to help address that issue.

Marshawn Lynch is reportedly traveling to Seattle on Monday to discuss the possibility of rejoining to his former team, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports.

The Seahawks have had their entire running back depth chart wiped out in recent weeks. It began when Rashaad Penny suffered a torn ACL earlier this month, and then both Chris Carson and CJ Prosise suffered season-ending injuries in Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said Carson is expected to miss the rest of the year with his hip injury and Prosise will not return after hurting his arm.

Lynch is one of the most popular players in Seahawks franchise history, so fans would likely be thrilled if he signed with the team again. He is 33 and has not played much over the past two years, as he appeared in just six games with the Oakland Raiders last season. However, Lynch is certainly familiar with Seattle’s offense and should have something to offer if he’s healthy.

There were reports prior to the season that Lynch could still play for another team, but he never ended up signing.

By: Steve DelVecchio

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/marshawn_lynch_could_return_to_seahawks_in_wake_of_rb_injuries/s1_127_30878246

Yardbarker’s NFL Week 16 game-by-game analysis, grades

In Philadelphia, the Eagles moved a massive step closer to clinching the NFC East title with a win over the Cowboys. In Nashville, the Titans fell to the Saints but can clinch the AFC’s No. 6 seed with a Week 17 win at Houston. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 16 whip-around:  1 of 16

PHILADELPHIA 17, DALLAS 9

COWBOYS (7-8): Dallas’ supposed stars didn’t play like stars:Dak Prescott threw for a season-low 6.0 yards per attempt; WR Amari Cooper had just 24 yards receiving, and TE Jason Witten collected only 14 (second-worst total of the season); and RB Ezekiel Elliott averaged just 3.6 yards per rush attempt (fourth-worst of season). The Cowboys have stacked up most of their production in blowouts against bad teams. Dallas has averaged 15.2 points in its six losses to teams that currently own a winning record. Good offenses can beat up on bad teams consistently. Great offenses come through with clutch performances in the biggest moments. The Cowboys simply aren’t capable. Overrated! GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: Vs. Redskins (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


EAGLES (8-7): With its offense missing five starters and the season on the line, Philadelphia needed a top-tier performance from its defense and it got it. The Eagles limited Dallas’ supposedly elite offense to a season-low-tying nine points and only 16 first downs (tied for second-fewest). Up front, Fletcher Cox blew up run plays and pressured Dak Prescott into errant throws. In the back end, Philadelphia’s shaky secondary played one of its best games. CB Sidney Jones came up with the play of the game, breaking up a potential touchdown on a fourth-down pass intended for Michael Gallup late in the fourth quarter. If the Eagles are going to win the NFC East and make a surprise playoff run, it’s the defense that must make it happen. If the Eagles beat the Giants in Week 17, they are in. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: At Giants (Sun.)

— Michael Nania 2 of 16

KANSAS CITY 26, CHICAGO 3

CHIEFS (11-4): Kansas City will almost certainly earn the AFC’s No. 3 seed. But this Chiefs edition is playing better than the 2018 iteration that had home-field advantage. Given a “Sunday Night Football” Week 16 road assignment last season, the Chiefs gave up 38 points in Seattle. Before that, they yielded 29 to the Chargers and 33 to the Raiders. The ’19 Chiefs’ past four games combined: 31 points. Steve Spagnuolo’s improved defense held Mitchell Trubisky to 120 pre-garbage-time yards, stopping the Chicago QB’s stretch-run surge. The Chiefs may have overpaid for safety Tyrann Mathieu, and the totality of DE Frank Clark’s season (seven sacks) pales in comparison to his 2018 Seahawks work. But both have become impact players. With a defense capable of complementing Patrick Mahomes in a way last year’s Bob Sutton-coordinated unit could not, these Chiefs are more dangerous than when their quarterback was the runaway MVP. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT:  Vs. Chargers (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


BEARS (7-8): Andy Reid’s team is at least a tier above where the Bears and his protege Matt Nagy reside. The problem for Chicago on Sunday night at Soldier Field chiefly was the offense, which had neither rhythm nor flow. Neither QB Mitchell Trubisky (18-for-34 for 157 yards) nor the running game (101 yards) provided any spark. The defense really held its own, per usual, against an elite offense, and DE Khalil Mack (one sack and TFL) was as outstanding as ever. Until the Bears get better, more consistent QB play, this will be Chicago’s fate against elite teams. GAME GRADE: C+ | NEXT: At Vikings (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 3 of 16

OAKLAND 24, LA CHARGERS 17

RAIDERS (7-8): The Raiders reportedly are debating whether to end the Derek Carr era after six seasons, but the scrutinized quarterback helped Oakland avoid mathematical elimination with a strong performance. Carr completed 26 of 30 passes for 291 yards in Oakland’s “away” game in Los Angeles, firing mid-range throws that put Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams in position for 56- and 43-yard catch-and-runs, respectively. Jon Gruden’s reported dissatisfaction with Carr’s limited skill set is not without merit. Entering Sunday, Carr ranked last in the league in Next Gen Stats’ intended air yards metric. The Raiders might struggle, however, to upgrade on their mid-level starter next year. Would a team with several needs trade both of its mid-first-round picks to move up for the second- or third-best quarterback prospect? Gruden and Carr might have to coexist to start the Las Vegas years. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT:  At Broncos (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


CHARGERS (5-10): Facing a Raiders team that ranked 26th in run-defense DVOA, the Bolts rushed for 19 yards – their worst regular-season total of the decade. Melvin Gordon gained 15 yards. The fifth-year Charger has one game remaining to avoid injury and move to free agency. He has only 566 yards rushing in 11 games this season. Le’Veon Bell needed a desperate Jets GM to salvage a big payday in March. Without Bell’s accolades, and partially because of the former Steeler’s failure in New York, Gordon will not see that kind of market in 2020. The Chargers have also failed to develop offensive linemen in recent years, and veteran acquisitions Mike Pouncey and Russell Okung missed much of the season with injuries. The center and left tackle will be 31 and 33 next year, respectively. It is safe to predict the Bolts will be targeting offensive linemen in free agency and the draft. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: At Chiefs (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson

4 of 16

NY JETS 16, PITTSBURGH 10

STEELERS (8-7): What a nightmare for Pittsburgh, which somehow is still in the mix for the No. 6 seed. Undrafted rookie free agent Devlin Hodges started at QB but was rightfully pulled after two interceptions (six over his past two games) in favor of Mason Rudolph, who was knocked out with an injury. Mercifully, the Duck fluttered back in. The running back situation is a disaster. James Conner lasted a short stretch before he once again left a game with an injury. Outside of Conner, who can’t be counted on, none of Pittsburgh’s running backs is well-rounded enough to contribute in all phases. Pittsburgh rushed for only 75 yards (3.0 per carry), and its running backs’ inability in pass protection contributed to four sacks. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: At Ravens (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


JETS (6-9): Although Marcus Maye will be Robin to Jamal Adams’ Batman as long as the safety duo stays together, he did the most to deliver an upset win. Maye intercepted a Devlin Hodges second-quarter pass in the end zone, but his acrobatic fourth-quarter pass breakup of a would-be James Washington go-ahead touchdown was more impressive. Maye getting his left hand in between Washington’s grip may keep Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. Adams and Maye become extension-eligible after Week 17. While the Jets will need to give their two-time Pro Bowler a much bigger contract, they must decide on Maye’s future first. No fifth-year option exists on the 2017 second-rounder’s deal, so 2020 will be Maye’s contract year. New York’s B-side safety was former GM Mike Maccagnan’s investment but he has played 15 games this season while battling injuries. A lack of Jets homegrown talent should prompt GM Joe Douglas to consider a Maye re-up. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: At Bills (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 5 of 16

NEW ORLEANS 38, TENNESSEE 28

SAINTS (12-3): The chemistry between Michael Thomas and Drew Brees makes New Orleans the most dangerous team in the NFC. Thomas shredded the Titans’ weak secondary and made history, reaching 145 receptions to set the NFL season record (surpassing Marvin Harrison’s 143 in 2002). Tennessee had no answer for Thomas, who grabbed 12 of 17 targets for 136 yards and a game-sealing touchdown reception with just over two minutes to go. He entered the game leading the NFL with 3.36 yards per route run out of the slot, giving him a mismatch against CB Logan Ryan, who entered the game with league-worst totals of 719 yards and five touchdowns allowed out of the slot. Thomas took full advantage of that edge throughout the game, destroying the Titans with a thousand paper cuts in the underneath game (as he does to most teams). GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: At Panthers (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


TITANS (8-7): Many have pondered when QB Ryan Tannehill would come back to Earth. With every passing week, however, the 31-year-old looks less like a fluke and more like a player who has blossomed, albeit later in his career than most quarterbacks. Tannehill’s season passer rating stands at 114.6 after he posted a 133.6 mark against New Orleans (League average was 91 entering Week 16.) He put up strong numbers (17-for-27, 272 yards, 3 TDs) against a strong pass rush (five sacks). Tannehill also showed he is capable of producing without the threat of RB Derrick Henry, who sat out with an injured hamstring. The Titans will make the playoffs if they can beat Houston in Week 17; if they do get in, Tannehill makes them a team no AFC opponent wants to see. GAME GRADE: C + | NEXT: At Texans (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 6 of 16

ARIZONA 27, SEATTLE 13

CARDINALS (5-9-1): RB Kenyan Drake continues to be a revelation. After shredding Seattle for 166 yards and two TDs, he has six touchdowns and 303 yards on just 46 carries over his past two games. Drake, a soon-to-be free agent, has three 100-yard games for the Cardinals, and is the catalyst for two straight wins. His season numbers are not eye-popping, which should keep his price down in free agency, but even if there are aggressive bidders, the Cardinals should aim to keep him. Kliff Kingsbury’s system might be all about the quarterback and receivers, but Arizona is not in a position to let talent get away.  GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: At Rams (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


SEAHAWKS (11-4): In addition to losing game, Seattle suffered significant personnel losses that could cripple the Seahawks in the playoffs. RBs Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise are done for the season with hip and arm injuries, respectively. LT Duane Brown needs knee surgery. Second-string RB Rashaad Penny was already done with an ACL injury. Suddenly Seattle is on its fourth-string running back. Yikes. Assuming they are unable to beat San Francisco and win the NFC West, the Seahawks may need Russell Wilson to be spectacular in the first round of the playoffs. Seattle’s entire season was spent on the edge, repeatedly scraping by in close games, mainly due to Wilson’s brilliance. Now, just winning a playoff game will be a major accomplishment. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT:  Vs. 49ers (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller

7 of 16

INDIANAPOLIS 38, CAROLINA 6

PANTHERS (5-10): Christian McCaffrey caught all 15 of his targets in Indianapolis, setting a record for most targets without an incompletion (record was first tracked in 1992). In his starting debut, rookie Will Grier was 15-for-15 for 119 yards targeting McCaffrey (7.8 per attempt) and 12-for-29 for 105 yards (3.6 per attempt) with three interceptions when targeting any other player. The 15 targets tied a career-high for McCaffrey; the 15 receptions were a career-high, too. Few running backs in league history have showcased as much two-ability as McCaffrey; the ones who have are either in Canton or on their way.GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: Vs. Saints (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


COLTS (7-8): The Colts won’t make the playoffs, but they didn’t quit on Frank Reich, throttling Carolina and giving Panthers quarterback Will Grier a rude welcome in his first NFL start. QB Jacoby Brissett didn’t do much but didn’t have to, as Indianapolis’ running game dominated, and Nyheim Hines became just the fifth player this century and 15th since 1950 to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game. The big question facing the Colts as they approach Week 17 and look toward 2020 is: What’s the ceiling for Brissett? Indianapolis has one of the more balanced rosters in the NFL, but unseating the Texans atop the division will take star power at the most important position on the field. The Colts seem to think Brissett possesses it, but his career passer rating (85.6, below league average) suggests otherwise. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: At Jaguars (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 8 of 16

ATLANTA 24, JACKSONVILLE 12

JAGUARS (5-10): Another week, another listless performance. What will become of head coach Doug Marrone? Jacksonville gave up 518 yards, and, aside from a drive-killing Matt Ryan interception, did not stop an Atlanta march in fewer than six plays. Rookie Gardner Minshew did nothing to suggest he should be the starting quarterback next season. With one game left, Jacksonville has major questions under center. It sounds like a full housecleaning is in order, but NFL.com reported owner Shad Khan may prefer keeping Marrone and GM David Caldwell. Executive VP Tom Coughlin was fired last week in the wake of the NFLPA’s letter to its members warning them about signing with the Jaguars. What a mess. GAME GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: Vs. Colts (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


FALCONS (6-9): Falcons players are playing hard for head coach Dan Quinn, whom they want to return. Quinn’s defense has been particularly impressive. It dismantled Jacksonville, holding the Jaguars to 4.9 yards per play and only 3-for-14 on third down. The secondary was excellent, racking up five pass deflections and holding Gardner Minshew to a 72.1 passer rating and 4.9 net yards per attempt (both season-worsts on the road). Going into its Week 9 bye, Atlanta was one of the league’s worst on defense, allowing 31.3 points a game in its 1-7 start. Since then, the Falcons have allowed just 18.1 points as they have gone 5-2. It’s clear the players respect the coach. Will it matter when ownership evaluates Quinn? GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: At Bucs (Sun.)

— Michael Nania 9 of 16

DENVER 27, DETROIT 17

LIONS (3-11-1): Clearly, this team needs to play better defense. Hello, head coach Matt Patricia? This is your area of expertise, correct? And, as usual lately, the Lions struggled to run (96 yards on 21 carries). Detroit was crushed in the time-of-possession battle (36:08 to 23:52). The Lions allowed four consecutive drives of nine plays or more as Denver took control late in the first quarter. The Broncos got to the second and third levels of Detroit’s defense far too easily. Four Lions recorded eight or more tackles — three of them were defensive backs. Not good. Denver doesn’t feature a particularly dynamic offense and are led by a rookie quarterback, but the Lions were simply too soft. GAME GRADE: D+ | NEXT:  Vs. Packers (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


BRONCOS (6-9): Despite Denver drafting Royce Freeman in the 2018 third round and subsequently signing Phillip Lindsay as an undrafted free agent, the latter keeps revealing a massive talent disparity between the sophomore backs. Lindsay runs do not resemble those of most ball-carriers, with the Colorado product’s blend of straight-line speed and frenetic style creating one of the league’s most interesting skill sets. Late in a 109-yard rushing day, Lindsay zoomed through traffic for a game-clinching 27-yard touchdown run. He did so behind blocks from the Broncos’ backup fullback, backup right guard and third-string right tackle. Lindsay is 42 yards from his second 1,000-yard season; he would be the first UDFA to start 2-for-2 in 1,000-yard seasons. While 2018 draftees are not extension-eligible until 2021, Lindsay is next week because he was undrafted. The Broncos can control him via exclusive-rights free agency and restricted free agency through 2021, but with Lindsay having far outplayed his contract, expect 2020 extension discussions. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: Vs. Raiders (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 10 of 16

MIAMI 38, CINCINNATI 35 (OT)

BENGALS (1-14): Congratulations, Bengals fans. Your team is on the clock for the No. 1 overall pick. If LSU QB Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the starter next season, the Ohio native may want to bring a running game with him. RB Joe Mixon was fighting a stomach ailment in this game, and the Bengals got almost nowhere on the ground (59 yards, 2.36 yards a carry). But at least Cincinnati showed spunk. Late in the fourth quarter, Tyler Boyd caught what looked like a meaningless touchdown pass. Then the Bengals recovered the onside kick and found Tyler Eifert on a Hail Mary pass for another amazing touchdown, making the score 35-33. QB Andy Dalton took the two-point conversion into the end zone to take this heart-stopper to overtime. GAME GRADE: B+  | NEXT: Vs. Browns (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


DOLPHINS (4-11): Miami’s defense threatened to undercut Ryan Fitzpatrick’s nearly game-long brilliance with a borderline unfathomable end-of-regulation collapse. The 37-year-old quarterback threw for a career-high 419 yards and a season-high four touchdown passes. While the bearded veteran’s presence looks strange on one of the 21st century’s least talented teams, Fitzpatrick has undeniably helped DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and other developing Dolphins. The fifth-year wideout and second-year tight end combined for 11 receptions, 193 yards and three touchdowns against Cincinnati. They are better positioned for the future. With the Dolphins signing Fitzpatrick to a two-year deal, he will likely have an open invitation to return and mentor whichever quarterback the team selects in the 2020 first round. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: At New England (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 11 of 16

BALTIMORE 31, CLEVELAND 15

RAVENS (13-2): An overeliance on tight end Mark Andrews and rookie WR Marquise Brown has been worrisome. Against the Browns, however, other receivers got involved for MVP candidate Lamar Jackson, a promising sign for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. In all, 10 Ravens were targeted, with Andrews leading the way (shock!) with six catches (on nine targets) for 93 yards. Other than Andrews and Brown, Hayden Hurst and Justice Hill show the most promise; All three young players have excellent speed. WR Miles Boykin (6-4, 220) and TE Hurst (6-4, 260) have great size. Jackson might not throw to any receivers in a game for three weeks. Expect him to sit against the Steelers in Week 17; then the top-seeded Ravens will enjoy their playoff bye and prepare for a division round game at home. GAME GRADE: B + | NEXT:  Vs. Steelers (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


BROWNS (6-9): The Browns have had far too many stretches of poor play this season, but none was worse than one to end the first half against Baltimore. As it did in beating the Ravens 40-25 in Week 4, Cleveland bottled up Lamar Jackson & Co. early. Then the Browns imploded. During a one-minute-and-18-second stretch in the second quarter, Baltimore scored two touchdowns and accumulated 138 yards. On the Ravens’ first possession in the second half, Cleveland allowed another TD. And the Browns, harboring ever-so-slight playoff chances entering the game, were done for 2019. Cleveland has been inconsistent and undisciplined this season. Blame head coach Freddie Kitchens, who could be done in Cleveland. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: At Bengals (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 12 of 16

NY GIANTS 41, WASHINGTON 35 (OT)

GIANTS (4-11): Although they crushed their chances at the No. 2 overall pick and the potential opportunity to select Ohio State stud D-lineman Chase Young, the Giants got a glimpse at their future in Washington. Saquon Barkley was dominant, rushing for 189 yards on 22 attempts (8.6 per carry). He added four catches for 90 yards. He scored once through the air, once on the ground. Barkley has battled injuries all season, but he looked healthy, cutting with gusto and making defenders miss consistently. Daniel Jones was surgical against the Redskins’ makeshift secondary, becoming the first rookie in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to pass for 350+ yards, five or more touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT:  Vs. Eagles (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


REDSKINS (3-12): What matters most for Washington is the development of rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. On the positive side, he was outstanding when he was on the field. Haskins completed 12 of 15 passes for 133 yards (8.9 per attempt), threw for two touchdowns (and no interceptions) and earned a 143.2 passer rating (season-best for the second consecutive week). Haskins made one of the best plays of his pro career, as he scrambled to the left on a broken play and found Steven Sims for a touchdown on a third-down play in the red zone. On the down side, Haskins did not finish the game; he was carted off with an ankle injury early in the second half. (X-rays were negative.) Unless Haskins is 100%, Washington should sit him for Week 17. GAME GRADE: C+ | NEXT: At  Cowboys (Sun.)

— Michael Nania 13 of 16

NEW ENGLAND 24, BUFFALO 17

BILLS (10-5): Facing the staunchest road assignment the modern NFL presents young quarterbacks, Josh Allen showed why he is best positioned to take the reins from Tom Brady as the AFC East’s top quarterback. The dual threat signal-caller remains erratic, and some of his overthrows on a 13-for-26 passing day proved costly in Foxborough. But against far and away DVOA’s top pass defense, Allen displayed flashes of what he could become with more seasoning. The deft drop-in to Dawson Knox and perfect strike to John Brown despite front-side pressure stunned a Gillette Stadium crowd unaccustomed to seeing competent Bills efforts. Allen’s mid-range work with Cole Beasley, particularly on a 25-yard off-balance laser, illustrated the improvement the polarizing prospect has made since a shaky rookie season. Buffalo’s conservative play-calling showed the coaching staff’s lack of complete trust in its passer, but if Allen makes a similar leap in 2020, a (gasp) Bills Super Bowl window will open. GAME GRADE: B | Vs. Jets. (Sun.) 

— Sam Robinson


PATRIOTS (12-3): New England’s nominal third-string running back, Rex Burkhead does not possess the defined role that James White or Sony Michel does. But the Patriots use the ex-Bengals back as a sporadic spark, and Burkhead’s versatility is needed more now than at any point in his three-year New England career. Burkhead did not lead the Pats in yards from scrimmage Saturday, with Michel besting him at 101, but the 29-year-old reserve sparked a team that possesses less firepower than it has had in many years. While Burkhead’s bulldozing 1-yard run gave the Pats the lead, his team-high (and career-best) 77 receiving yards helped Tom Brady against one of the league’s premier defenses. Bill Belichick sticking with Burkhead, whose receiving talents could be labeled redundant alongside White, proved pivotal — after his first-quarter fumble — in the Pats cementing their 11th straight AFC East title. This diverse backfield functioning as it did against the Bills could save the Pats come January. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: Vs. Dolphins (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 14 of 16

SAN FRANCISCO 34, LA RAMS 31

RAMS (8-7):  Although Los Angeles lost, its offense looked dangerous all game Saturday. Sean McVay schemed and scripted effectively, and his ability to get Jared Goff (323 passing yards) on the move and out of the pocket largely neutralized the 49ers’ pass rush. Although he had only 48 yards rushing, Todd Gurley looked like the back who keyed most of the Rams’ success last season. He was explosive and quick, particularly on a touchdown run in which he left Richard Sherman gasping for air. The Rams’ frustration came courtesy of their defense, which surrendered a pivotal first down on a third-and-16 because of a blown coverage by safety Taylor Rapp. That sort of missed assignment, coupled with other poor efforts, could spell trouble for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. GAME GRADE: C NEXT: Vs. Cardinals (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


49ERS (12-3): Although San Fran’s defense was flummoxed much of the game by Los Angeles’ scheme, LB Fred Warner’s pick-six showed how dangerous the 49ers can be. Most noteworthy: the faith head coach Kyle Shanahan showed in QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who did not have a good game statistically (two picks, one TD pass). On a third-and-16 with the score tied, Shanahan trusted Garoppolo to take a shot downfield, and it paid off. Los Angeles blew its coverage, and Garoppolo hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 46-yard gain that all but decided the game. The 49ers’ victory means that their season-ending showdown with Seattle will decide the NFC West. A Niners win will give them the NFC’s top seed. GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: At Seahawks (Sun.) 

— Chris Mueller 15 of 16

HOUSTON 23, TAMPA BAY 20

TEXANS (10-5): Thanks to its defense and the generosity of turnover machine Jameis Winston (four picks), Houston clinched the AFC South. As good as the Texans’ defense was, their quiet offensive day is cause for concern. The Buccaneers stifled the run, which is what they do better than almost every team in the league, but Deshaun Watson (184 yards passing) was unable to take advantage of a porous pass defense. It’s also fair to wonder whether the outcome would have been different had the Buccaneers had first-time Pro Bowler Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Mike Evans (hamstring), their top receiving targets. Houston is still alive for the third seed in the AFC, but with Tennessee looking like a strong potential sixth seed, it might be best for the Texans if they draw the Bills in the first round. GRADE: C + | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


BUCS (7-8): Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers’ passing attack faced a tall order with receivers Chris Godwin (second in NFL with 1,333 yards) and Mike Evans (fifth with 1,157) out with hamstring injuries. The results were mixed from the young corps of pass-catchers who replaced them. Breshad Perriman, Tampa Bay’s third-leading receiver entering Week 16 (511 yards), was excellent. He led the way with team-highs of seven catches and 102 yards, logging his second consecutive 100-yard game. When targeting wide receivers other than Perriman, Winston went 10-for-19 for 138 yards, picking up just five first downs. Odd stat: Winston has 32 TD passes … and 28 interceptions. GRADE: C | NEXT: Vs. Falcons (Sun.)

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_nfl_week_16_game_by_game_analysis_grades/s1__30874373#slide_15

By: Yardbarker Staff

Yardbarker’s NFL Week 15 game-by-game analysis, grades

In Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the Bills clinched a playoff spot with a win over the Steelers. Earlier, the Eagles earned a come-from-behind win against Washington, setting up an NFC East showdown with the Cowboys in Week 16 in Philadelphia. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 15 whip-around: 1 of 16

BUFFALO 17, PITTSBURGH 10

BILLS (10-4): It’s hard to envision Buffalo being playoff-bound were it not for key additions made during head coach Sean McDermott and since-fired GM Doug Whaley’s few months together. In the spring of 2017, the Bills added Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer – the safeties via team-friendly free-agency deals and CB White via a momentous first-round trade that gave the Chiefs Patrick Mahomes. That trio quickly helped Buffalo assemble a formidable pass defense, one that is belatedly receiving attention. Likely en route to All-Pro acclaim, White intercepted Devlin Hodges twice – the second pick leading to a Bills field goal – and Poyer notched one of the visitors’ two end-zone picks. The third-year Bills were the difference in another defensive battle, one that cemented the franchise’s first 10-win season since 1999. White’s six interceptions are tied for the league lead. Buffalo’s secondary equips QB Josh Allen with a safety net, and it keeps showing up in big spots. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Patriots (Sat.)

— Sam Robinson


STEELERS (8-6): It’s a shame Pittsburgh is so limited offensively with QB Devlin Hodges, who doesn’t have the arm strength to make big-time NFL throws. Duck’s performance (23-for-38, 202 yards, four interceptions) negated another stellar showing by the defense. LB T.J. Watt, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, was spectacular (two tackles for loss, two QB hits), and DE Cameron Heyward was a force, routinely beating Quinton Spain, especially when aligning on the outside shoulder of Buffalo’s top-heavy left guard. Heyward’s aggression and hustle set the tone for what may be the NFL’s best defense. Too bad the Duck couldn’t fly. GAME GRADE: C + | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 2 of 16

PHILADELPHIA 37, WASHINGTON 27

EAGLES (7-7): For the second consecutive game, the Eagles needed somebody on their banged-up offense to step up. Rookie Miles Sanders delivered, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and grabbing six passes for 50 yards and another TD. In the process, he smashed the Eagles’ rookie record for yards from scrimmage, held by DeSean Jackson. He has 1,120. Philadelphia needed every yard it could get from Sanders, as the defense struggled to contain a Washington offense that averaged 7.1 yards per play. The Eagles are far from perfect, but their talented backfield of Sanders and Boston Scott has allowed them to overcome injuries. An NFC East showdown against Dallas awaits. GAME GRADE: B  | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


REDSKINS (3-11): For the Redskins, all that really matters is the development of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who suffered from poor pass protection and drops by his receivers in his first five starts. Against the Eagles, Haskins finally got more aid and he had the most productive performance of his pro career. He completed 19 of 28 passes for a career-best 261 yards and posted career-highs in yards per attempt (9.3) and passer rating (121.3). Haskins has a special connection with former Ohio State teammate Terry McLaurin, who caught five passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. A special guest watched from Daniel Snyder’s owner’s box: Urban Meyer, Haskins’ coach at Ohio State. Hmmm. Does Jerry Jones know? GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Giants (Sun.)

— Michael Nania 3 of 16

DALLAS 44, LA RAMS 21

RAMS (8-6): The defending NFC champs’ playoff hopes were virtually extinguished after a performance much more reminiscent of their midseason slump than their recent two-game winning streak. Los Angeles is at its best when it runs the ball effectively, but the Rams totaled just 22 yards on the ground. Todd Gurley did next to nothing, averaging fewer than two yards per carry, and Jared Goff’s numbers (284 yards passing) were inflated by garbage-time production. The Rams could still go 10-6 and miss the playoffs, but they should not be fooled into thinking that there aren’t significant issues to fix. Chief among them is Goff’s performance this season. His passer rating of 84.8 is significantly below the league average of 91.3, and he has been the main cause of multiple losses. Since Los Angeles has guaranteed more than $100 million to Goff, the goal must be to maximize his production and performance, although it is fair to wonder just how high his ceiling is. GAME GRADE: F  | NEXT: at 49ers (Sat.)

— Chris Mueller


COWBOYS (7-7): Finally. Dallas earned its first win over an opponent with a winning record. Credit the O-line. Against a defense that entered the game ranked second in pressure rate (30.1%) and seventh in sack rate (8.4%), QB Dak Prescott was not sacked in 23 pass attempts. Los Angeles had also been dominant defending the run, entering the game allowing the fourth-fewest yards per rush attempt (3.8). But Dallas shredded the Rams, rushing 45 times for 263 yards (5.8 per attempt) and scoring three touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott led the way 24 totes for 117 yards (4.9 per attempt) and two scores, but Tony Pollard was dynamic (131 yards on just 12 carries, 10.9 per attempt). The game marked just the eighth time in Cowboys history that Dallas ran for 250-plus yards and three-plus touchdowns. Run like this and the NFC East is theirs. GAME GRADE: A +  | NEXT: at Eagles (Sun.)

— Michael Nania

4 of 16

ATLANTA 29, SAN FRANCISCO 22

FALCONS (5-9): What. A. Stunner. George Kittle led the 49ers with 13 catches for 134 yards, but the rest of San Francisco’s receiving corps combined to catch just nine passes on 17 targets for 66 yards (3.9 per target), a testament to the Falcons’ lockdown coverage. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, getting extended action for just the fifth time this season, led the Falcons with three passes defended. Desmond Trufant, who entered the game as Pro Football Focus’ third-ranked corner from Weeks 11-14, stayed quiet against Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders. Dan Quinn’s defense held QB Jimmy Garoppolo to 5.9 yards per pass attempt, his second-worst mark of the season. Since the bye week, Atlanta is 4-2 and allowing just 19.2 points per game. Will Quinn keep his gig? GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)

— Michael Nania


49ERS (11-3): San Francisco was on top of the NFC but left the door wide open for Seattle and New Orleans with a sloppy loss. The 49ers never got going on offense, with only George Kittle providing a consistent threat, and their vaunted pass defense was unable to keep Matt Ryan from going down the field for the winning touchdown. Other than a scramble by Ryan, every play on Atlanta’s winning drive was a pass. That’s problematic for the 49ers, who knew what was coming. Ultimately, the Niners might not need home field, or even to win the division, because when things are going along well, their style of play wins anywhere, as they proved against the Saints. Still, this performance should serve as a wake-up call; they might be loaded with talent, but they’re not nearly good enough to overlook anyone.GAME GRADE: F  | NEXT: vs. Rams (Sat.)

— Chris Mueller 5 of 16

HOUSTON 24, TENNESSEE 21

TEXANS (9-5): Houston wasn’t perfect, but it did enough to seize control of the AFC South. While the story of the Texans’ season is primarily about superstar talent – specifically QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins – Kenny Stills was a key figure in the victory over Tennessee, doubling his season touchdown total with two scores. Watson took advantage of Titans cornerback Adoree Jackson’s absence (foot) to hit Stills twice in situations in which Hopkins and Will Fuller commanded significant defensive attention and Stills drew man-to-man coverage. Houston’s chances of winning the division are better than 90%. If Stills, RB Duke Johnson and the rest of the supporting cast take advantage of their opportunities, Houston can beat anyone.GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT: at Bucs (Sat.)

— Chris Mueller


TITANS (8-6): The stats would suggest QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Derrick Henry cooled off from their torrid recent pace, but had Tennessee not suffered multiple self-inflicted wounds, it would be atop the AFC South. Tannehill threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and was victimized on his only interception by a blatant drop by Anthony Firkser. Firkser’s play likely will decide the division, as Tennessee was poised to go in for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Instead, Houston scored a touchdown two plays after Whitney Mercilus’ 86-yard interception return. One more win for Houston will give it the division; the playoff hopes of the Titans, who must win out to take the AFC South, are grim. That’s bad news for them, good news for the rest of the AFC. The way things were going, Mike Vrabel’s team looked like one of the most dangerous teams outside of Baltimore. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 6 of 16

ARIZONA 38, CLEVELAND 24

BROWNS (6-8): Embarrassing. The body language from this team was simply awful. And the Browns’ play on the field was sloppy and extremely uninspired. Where is the leadership? Is veteran WR Jarvis Landry providing it? He was spotted sulking. Where’s Odell Beckham? He and Landry combined for 89 yards receiving on 21 targets against a poor defense. Baker Mayfield has a lot of TV commercials, but he’s still finding his way. Head coach Freddie Kitchens, a possible Black Monday candidate, is lost. Cleveland should add veterans who have won in the league. It sure could use a player like Steelers CB Joe Haden. Oh, wait, they had him. GAME GRADE: F  | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Sun.) 

— Matt Williamson


CARDINALS (4-9-1): Arizona owes David Johnson plenty of money, but it may have found a full-time running back in Kenyan Drake, at least if the price is right. Johnson will count $16.2 million against the cap in 2020, but Drake now has two 100-yard games in Arizona after Sunday’s 137-yard, four-touchdown effort. Drake, acquired from Miami earlier this season, had just two 100-yard outings as a Dolphin. Drake will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, but his career statistics suggest that a big contract is not likely in the open market. Arizona has major areas of need in the draft; trying to retain Drake could fix one of them without the use of a valuable pick. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Seahawks (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller

7 of 16

MINNESOTA 39, LA CHARGERS 10

VIKINGS (10-4): Danielle Hunter is a stud. The 25-year-old end out of LSU recently became the youngest player in history to get 50 sacks. Against the Chargers, Hunter caused the Philip Rivers fumble that was returned for a Minnesota touchdown. Shortly afterward, he recovered a fumble by RB Melvin Gordon, one of seven Chargers turnovers. As usual, Hunter’s extreme length and great get-off was on full display against an overwhelmed Chargers line. When Hunter entered the league, he was a piece of raw clay. Man, he has learned the game. Hunter’s Week 16 matchup against Aaron Rodgers, sacked once by the Bears on Sunday, will be intriguing. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: vs. Packers (Mon.)

— Matt Williamson


CHARGERS (5-9): Most NFL teams would trade their skill-position arsenals for what the Bolts have. The Melvin Gordon-Austin Ekeler-Keenan Allen-Mike Williams-Hunter Henry quintet is healthy, but the Chargers still turned the ball over seven times. The franchise had not committed seven turnovers in a game since 1986, in an era when interceptions were more commonplace. Philip Rivers threw three interceptions, running his season total to 18 (second-most in the league), and lost a fumble the Vikings returned for a touchdown. Gordon lost two fumbles. The one-time Charger cornerstones are lumbering toward free agency. While Gordon has little chance to return to Los Angeles, unless his market craters to the point the Bolts re-sign him via a buy-low agreement, Rivers certainly could be back. But after this season, can the Chargers convince themselves to bring back an immobile 38-year-old – at a franchise-QB price – who fared this poorly despite having high-end weaponry? GAME GRADE: F  | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 8 of 16

KANSAS CITY 23, DENVER 3

BRONCOS (5-9): While the 2018 Denver draft/UDFA class produced Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos’ reliance on two less remarkable members of the class has limited the offense. QB Drew Lock cannot count on 2018 fourth-round pick DaeSean Hamilton, a wideout whom the Broncos hoped would step up after the Emmanuel Sanders trade, and third-round RB Royce Freeman has not shown a high ceiling. The Broncos fell behind early and rushed for 52 yards on a snowy day in K.C. So Lock opted to throw Hamilton and ex-UDFA Tim Patrick a combined 16 passes; five of them were completed. Freeman averaged 2.4 yards per carry – his eighth game averaging fewer than 3.5 per tote this season – and continues to fail the eye test. The Broncos need better auxiliary weaponry to support Lindsay, Sutton and Noah Fant next season. With Denver owning a rookie quarterback contract and seven picks in the first four rounds in 2020, upgrade avenues exist. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


CHIEFS (10-4): A CBS graphic indicating Travis Kelce’s first seven seasons have produced more receiving yardage than any tight end was deceiving. Microfracture surgery ended Kelce’s rookie season after one stat-less game. The 2013 third-round pick’s 6,367 yards in six seasons better every other tight end’s first seven years. Comparing Kelce’s first six healthy seasons to the field, the Chief has 812 more yards than any tight end in NFL history. Kansas City began using its near-unrivaled chess piece frequently against Denver to avoid testing cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Since 2016, the perennial Pro Bowl weapon has posted four 100-yard games against the Broncos; his 11 catches for 142 yards Sunday were easily season-highs. With both Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes, Kelce has been the Chiefs’ skill-position centerpiece. He’s swung the AFC West’s balance of power. With a tight end-record four straight 1,000-yard seasons, the 30-year-old playmaker is on track for the Hall of Fame. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 9 of 16

NEW ENGLAND 34, CINCINNATI 13

PATRIOTS (11-3): Despite Bill Belichick’s defenses being perhaps the most reliable 21st-century NFL unit, no Patriot has earned Defensive Player of the Year. On a team with an undependable offense, Stephon Gilmore should be given strong consideration to become the sixth cornerback to win this award. Shutdown corners are often avoided to the point where their stats suffer (see: Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey or Raiders 1.0-years Charles Woodson), but Gilmore has six interceptions and two return TDs. Gilmore’s 64-yard pick-6 in Cincinnati came on a day when the eighth-year corner produced two INTs and four passes defensed. Although the Pats’ record is built on a weak schedule, Gilmore has thrived against all competition, regularly locking down No. 1 wideouts to lead a historically great DVOA pass defense. With impact stats plus weekly film showcases, Gilmore has his front-seven peers beat to join Mel Blount, Lester Hayes, Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Charles Woodson as corner DPOYs. GAME GRADE: A-minus  | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sat.)

— Sam Robinson


BENGALS (1-13): Even though Cincinnati lost by 21, the defense is improving. Slumping Tom Brady barely completed 50% (15 of 29) of his passes for a measly 128 passing yards. James White, who gave Cincinnati’s suspect linebackers problems, was the only Patriot with more than 22 receiving yards. New England’s ailing rushing attack racked up 175 yards (5.5  yards per attempt). But after the Patriots’ first drive, the Bengals’ run defense held up well. Five turnovers, not their defense, cost the Bengals. Clearly, Cincinnati needs a QB. Where are you, Ohio native Joe Burrow? GAME GRADE: C  | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson

10 of 16

GREEN BAY 21, CHICAGO 13

BEARS (7-7): Aaron Rodgers attempted 33 passes (203 yards) but was sacked just once and rarely disrupted by Chicago’s pass rush. DE Akiem Hicks, put on injured reserve Oct. 15, returned and made his presence felt (4 tackles, 2 QB hits). But Chicago’s edge players, especially Khalil Mack, didn’t put enough pressure on Rodgers. Mack, who has had a down year by his amazing standards, draws most of the attention from offensive coordinators. He isn’t a declining player, but his inability to impact this game (one tackle) is disconcerting. GAME GRADE: C  | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


PACKERS (11-3): Kenny Clark is rarely mentioned among the league’s best defensive tackles, a big mistake. Powerful and with long arms and strong hammer-like hands, the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder gets off the ball quickly and with force. Chicago had no success with its inside running game, largely attributable to Clark’s stellar play. (Overall, the Bears rushed for 96 yards on 27 carries.) An every-down force, Clark couldn’t be blocked when the Bears passed either, demonstrating a great bull rush and a wide variety of other pass-rush moves. Clark’s dominance is evident in his stat line: eight tackles (six solo), two sacks and three tackles for loss. GAME GRADE: B + |  NEXT: At Vikings (Mon.)

— Matt Williamson 11 of 16

TAMPA BAY 38, DETROIT 17

BUCS (7-7): Jameis Winston was stellar, rebounding from an early interception to throw for 458 yards (10.9 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns. Winston, who has thrown for over 10 yards per attempt in three of his past four games, eclipsed 300 passing yards in the first half. WR Breshad Perriman stepped up with Mike Evans out with a foot injury, grabbing five passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns. Winston has set a career-high in turnovers, but he is on track for career-highs in touchdown rate, yards per attempt and yards per game. Is he a franchise quarterback or not? At 67 years old, head coach Bruce Arians might not want to start over at QB. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sat.)

— Michael Nania


LIONS (3-10-1): This was a bleak game for head coach Matt Patricia, the former Patriots defensive coordinator whose expertise is supposed to be, well, defense. Even without the injured Mike Evans, the Bucs threw the ball at will. Jameis Winston rarely was under pressure, and even more alarming, Bucs receivers ran free almost all game. Winston found receivers in short zones, deep — heck, they were open everywhere. There were plenty of coverage busts, too. Tampa Bay’s best receiver in this game, Chris Godwin, didn’t even finish because of a hamstring injury. Eleven different Tampa Bay receivers had a least one catch. Is Patricia a Black Monday candidate? GAME GRADE: D-minus  | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 12 of 16

NY GIANTS 36, MIAMI 20

DOLPHINS (3-11): Miami deployed one of the least recognizable starting lineups in modern NFL history. The Giants’ rout moved them behind the Dolphins in the 2020 draft order as a result. With a potential draft-damaging game against the Bengals looming, there is no reason for the Dolphins to keep playing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Josh Rosen would cover the Dolphins on multiple fronts. Two more starts would give the trade acquisition more experience and potentially enhanced trade value or, if said starts go as poorly as Rosen’s meetings and practices apparently have, the 2018 first-round pick could “help” the Dolphins lose their final two and secure the No. 2 overall draft slot. While it would look like an NBA-style tanking move, head coach Brian Flores sticking with the 37-year-old Fitzpatrick – as he said he plans to – serves no purpose for a rebuilding team that built 2019 around developing players and acquiring draft capital. GAME GRADE: D  | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.) 

— Sam Robinson


GIANTS (3-11): Eli Manning was solid in perhaps his final home game as a Giant, tossing two TD passes and averaging 10.1 yards per attempt. He had face-plant moments, too: three interceptions against a defense that entered the game allowing the third-highest passer rating in the NFL (103.7). If he decides to play next season, Manning should have no shortage of suitors. Cincinnati and Miami might want a stopgap starter while waiting for a rookie (Joe Burrow?) to develop. Perhaps Chicago or Jacksonville (where Manning has a connection with VP of football operations Tom Coughlin) will be in the market. Pittsburgh, with questions surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, might also seek a starter. If he can’t find a starting spot, he could attract interest from a playoff-worthy franchise. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: at Redskins (Sun.)

— Michael Nania

13 of 16

SEATTLE 30, CAROLINA 24

SEAHAWKS (11-3): Tyler Lockett, who had eight catches for 120 yards, is Seattle’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver (75 catches for 994 yards and seven touchdowns). Almost as important as Lockett’s emergence is the rise of rookie D.K. Metcalf, a second-round pick in the 2019 draft. Even though Metcalf was targeted only four times against Carolina, managing a 19-yard touchdown catch in the process, Russell Wilson’s growing trust in him is obvious. Metcalf’s targets have gone up, from 5.6 per game in the first half of the season, to more than seven a game. Metcalf’s detractors claimed he was a Combine superstar and not a polished receiver coming out of Mississippi, but he has proven to be anything but. His college teammate, A.J. Brown, also a 2019 second-round pick, is an emerging star for the Titans. GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT:  vs. Cardinals (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


PANTHERS (5-9): It’s clear Carolina has two glaring needs: run defense and quarterback. Against Seattle, the NFL’s worst run defense was atrocious, yielding 154 yards (and two touchdowns) on 34 attempts. Proving he’s nothing more than a backup, Kyle Allen continued his stretch of ugly play, posting a 58.7 passer rating (91.3 was league average entering Week 14) and tossing three picks. He averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt. Should Carolina bring back Cam Newton, who has missed most of the season with a Lisfranc injury? He was ineffective earlier in 2019. The Panthers will probably draft toward the lower end of the top 10, where Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (if he comes out) and Georgia’s Jake Fromm might be available. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow appears out of Carolina’s reach, barring a trade up. GAME GRADE: C-minus  | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)

— Michael Nania 14 of 16

JACKSONVILLE 20, OAKLAND 16

JAGUARS (5-9): Jacksonville managed to spoil the Raiders’ final game in Oakland with two late Gardner Minshew touchdown passes to Chris Conley. But the Jaguars’ listless performance before that rally feels more relevant to their future than what happened in the game’s final five minutes. After Jacksonville’s first drive yielded a field goal, its next five possessions featured four three-and-outs and 16 total yards. A beleaguered defense did well to keep the Jags in the game long enough. Head coach Doug Marrone can say his team hasn’t quit on him, but there was precious little to get excited about. GAME GRADE: C +  | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


RAIDERS (6-8): Oakland fans have handled an unfortunate situation bizarrely well. The Raiders are about to become the first NFL franchise to leave their original city twice. They have one winning season since 2003 and went full rebuild in their final two Oakland seasons. Somehow, Raiders supporters accepted Oakland being a three-year lame duck after Mark Davis received relocation approval in March of 2017. The cascade of boos and assortment of items thrown onto the Oakland Coliseum’s field, after a blown lead against the Jaguars in the Raiders’ home finale, seems restrained considering what the city endured. Other markets have not handled imminent relocation so well – see Cleveland in 1995 or Houston in ’96 – yet Raiders fans kept supporting a team that sold off top assets in a pre-Las Vegas purge. Do not be surprised if Raiders home games become somewhat like Chargers LA atmospheres in transplant-heavy Las Vegas. A good bet: Vegas Sundays will not bring the atmosphere the Black Hole provided.  GAME GRADE: C  | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 15 of 16

MONDAY: INDIANAPOLIS AT NEW ORLEANS

COLTS (6-7): Indianapolis is all but certain to miss the playoffs despite starting 5-2 and looking more solid top to bottom than most of the rest of the AFC. A three-game losing streak has derailed the Colts’ season; Jacoby Brissett’s poor play during that stretch (82.1 passer rating; league average 91.3 through Week 14) is a major reason why Indy has slumped. He was unable to win a shootout with turnover-prone Jameis Winston in Week 14, despite Tampa Bay’s defense being one of the league’s worst against the pass. The Colts signed Brissett to a two-year, $30 million deal in September. The length of that deal looks like a wise move, because while Indianapolis’ early rally after Luck’s retirement was a nice story, Brissett has not proven definitively that he can perform like a franchise-level player. NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


SAINTS (10-3): The defense has sputtered in its three home games since the bye week, yielding an average of 35 points. The Saints have had a tough time stopping QBs at the Superdome, as their 100.5 passer rating allowed at home ranks seventh worst in the NFL. Saints opponents average 25.2 points in New Orleans, the 11th-worst figure by a home team. New Orleans is 11th in home point differential (plus-17), after ranking sixth from 2017-18 (plus-129). Sean Payton’s team should dominate a Colts team that is 2-4 on the road, but will the defense step up? NEXT: at Titans (Sun.)

— Michael Nania

16 of 16

BALTIMORE 42, NY JETS 21

JETS (5-9): Lamar Jackson’s latest showcase came against a depleted secondary and revealed a perennial Jets deficiency. Surely drawing scorn from fantasy owners facing Jackson-led teams, the Jets’ pass defense was missing Pro Bowler Jamal Adams and bounce-back slot cornerback Brian Poole. Ravens targets ran wide open in the blowout – the Jets’ seventh loss by at least two touchdowns this season – and Jackson tossed a career-high five touchdown passes and averaged 9.2 yards per pass attempt. The returns of  Adams, Poole and C.J. Mosley will help, but needs remain at boundary corner and edge rusher for yet another offseason. The Jets, who ranked 22nd in pass-defense DVOA before the Jackson rampage, have one front-seven player (free agent-to-be Jordan Jenkins) with more than three sacks. Needs across the offensive line, and the ill-advised contracts Joe Douglas’ GM predecessor authorized – such as the nightmare pact given to cornerback (and imminent dead-money sinkhole) Trumaine Johnson – will not make defensive upgrades easy, however. GAME GRADE: D-minus  | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


RAVENS (12-2): Thursday night’s win, which clinched the AFC North for the Ravens, showed us how dangerous Baltimore’s passing game is when TE Mark Andrews (58 catches, 759 yards and 8 TDs) and rookie WR Marquise Brown (43-563-7) are in the lineup. Coordinator Greg Roman does a great job scheming to get them open. Andrews stretches the field and makes plays after the catch, and he’s a supreme weapon in the red zone. Brown isn’t quite Tyreek Hill (yet), but he’s a threat against whom defenses must keep deep help on his side of the field. That can hurt against the Ravens’ NFL-leading running game. Andrews and Brown combined for eight catches, two TDs and only 97 yards, but their impact went far beyond those stats. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Browns (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_nfl_week_15_game_by_game_analysis_grades/s1__30813089#slide_1

The best NHL player at every age

From 18-year-old Jack Hughes with the New Jersey Devils, to 42-year-old Zdeno Chara with the Boston Bruins, and every age in between, we take a look at the best current NHL players at every age. Some names you probably expect, while others may surprise you. See who  made the list. We have them all here! 1 of 24

Age 18: Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, is one of four 18-year-olds to play in the NHL this season. He had a slow start to his career, being held without a point in each of his first six games, but he has shown improvement as the season has gone on. The offensive numbers aren’t great (as should be expected for an 18-year-old) but he has posted strong possession numbers and is looking more and more confident with every game.  2 of 24

Age 19: Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes

Svechnikov is blossoming into a superstar for the Hurricanes. He leads the team in goals and total points, and after scoring 20 goals as an 18-year-old is on pace for 35 goals as a 19-year-old. If he is able to maintain that pace, he would be just the fifth different player since 2005-06 to score 35 goals before their age 20 seasons. That list includes only Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.  3 of 24

Age 20: Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

Heiskanen was snubbed in the Calder Trophy race a year ago by not even being voted as a finalist. But with the way his career is progressing into Year 2, he might have Norris Trophies waiting for him in his future. He and John Klingberg are going to run the Stars defense for the foreseeable future and be as good as almost any other one-two blue line duo in the league. 

4 of 24

Age 21: Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

This is the age where choosing the top player starts to get difficult. Cale Makar was an option here, as were Patrik Laine and Pierre-Luc Dubois. But Pettersson gets the call for the impact he has made in Vancouver. The 2018-19 Rookie of the Year, Pettersson has been a franchise-changing player for the Canucks and has helped speed up their rebuild by giving them a game-breaking talent up front. He has a chance to be an elite goal-scorer, is a tremendous playmaker and a one-man highlight reel every shift.  5 of 24

Age 22: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

McDavid does turn 23 in the middle of January, so he barely makes the cut for this age. McDavid is the single most dominant offensive player in the league and is going to be the odds on favorite to win the scoring title every season as long as he stays reasonably healthy. He and Leon Draisaitl are the two driving forces behind the Oilers offense, and they are the two players carrying the team. The Oilers’ improved record in the standings will help him win the MVP Award he should have won the past couple of years.  6 of 24

Age 23: David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

He might finally be the player to take the goal-scoring crown away from Alex Ovechkin. After scoring 38 goals in only 66 games a year ago, Pastrnak has come back this season with 25 goals in his first 31 games and has become one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league. His contract ($6.6 million salary cap hit) is going to turn out to be one of the biggest steals in the NHL. 

7 of 24

Age 24: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013, it took MacKinnon a few years to become a superstar but now that he has, he looks completely unstoppable. After scoring 97 and 99 points the past two years, respectively, MacKinnon is on track for even more production this season and drives the best line in the league (alongside Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog) for a young team that is on the verge of greatness.  8 of 24

Age 25: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

He has not played up to his normal standard in the first part of the 2019-20 season, but that does not take away from everything he has already accomplished in his career. He won the 2019 Vezina Trophy (league’s best goalie), was a finalist the year before and has been one of the league’s top goalies since he became the No. 1 starter in Tampa Bay.  9 of 24

Age 26: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Over the past four years he has been the second-best offensive player in the league behind only Connor McDavid. His 128 points during the 2018-19 season (when he was league MVP and scoring champion) was the highest single season output in nearly two decades and helped the Lightning tie an NHL record with 62 regular-season wins. The only thing his career is missing at this point is a Stanley Cup. 

10 of 24

Age 27: Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

He literally just turned 27, and he gets the edge over players like Mark Stone, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Gabriel Landeskog. Couturier is one of the league’s best shutdown centers who also possesses the ability to score 35 goals and 70 points. Put those two things together, and you have one of the best all-around centers in the league at any age.  11 of 24

Age 28: Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers

From the moment Panarin arrived in the NHL, he has been one of the league’s best offensive players. The Rangers signed him as a free agent this past summer to a massive contract, and it might be one of the rare free agent contracts that actually works out as planned. He is good enough to help a rebuilding team stay in playoff contention this season and young enough to still be a part of a contending team in New York in the future.  12 of 24

Age 29: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

It seems crazy to say, but Stamkos might be one of the most underrated players of his era. His production stacks up with the elites (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin), and he could have been even better at this point had he not missed so many games during his prime years to injury and a lockout. He is still one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the league. 

13 of 24

Age 30: John Carlson, Washington Capitals

Carlson, who turns 30 in January, has finished in the top five in the Norris Trophy voting in each of the past two seasons, and this might be the year he actually wins it. Midway through December he is still on pace for more than 100 points, something no defenseman has done since the 1991-92 season. He is one of the driving forces behind the Capitals’ great start that has them on track for what could be their fourth Presidents’ Trophy in the past decade.  14 of 24

Age 31: Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

You hate him when he does not play for your team, but you wish he did play for your team. Marchand is one of the league’s best all-around players, combining elite offensive production, great defensive play and a knack for being the most annoying player in the league to play against. He tends to take the latter part way too far, far too often, especially when you consider how good of a player he actually is. He should not need to resort to such sideshow acts to make an impact.  15 of 24

Age 32: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

His offensive numbers may not be what they were earlier in his career, but he is still an elite scorer and a fierce two-way player. He has already put together a top-10 career in the history of the league and by the time he finishes, he may be in the top five when you put together his individual accomplishments and team success. He might still have another Stanley Cup ahead of him in his career. 

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Age 33: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin had a down year during the 2018-19 season and was determined to come back this season and show that he is still one of the league’s elite players. He has done that and more, as he has helped the Penguins overcome some significant injury issues early in the 2019-20 season to play like a Stanley Cup contending team. His 1.37 points per game average through his first 20 games would be the third-highest mark of his career. He is also closing in on the 400-goal mark for his career.  17 of 24

Age 34: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

He simply does not slow down. Even at age 34 he is on track for yet another 50-goal season and is still within striking distance of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record. When you consider the era he has played in, it is almost impossible to argue he is not the greatest goal scorer of all time. The only players to ever score 50 goals in a season age 33 or older are Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Hull and John Bucyk. Buyck is at this point the only one to score 50 goals at age 34 or older. Ovechkin, on his current pace this season, will join him and probably over the next few seasons as well. 18 of 24

Age 35: Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

Fleury continues to climb the NHL’s all-time wins list and will have a chance to finish his career in the top three by the time he retires. He is still as durable and athletic as ever in the crease, but it still might be in the Golden Knights’ best interest to limit his workload a little bit, as they cannot keep relying on a 35-year-old goalie to play more than 60 games in a season and still be fresh for the playoffs. His best playoff performances during his career have come during seasons in which he has played fewer regular-season games. 

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Age 36: Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Giordano remains one of the NHL’s all-time greatest undrafted success stories, and his career hit iys peak a year ago with his first-ever Norris Trophy win. He has not been quite as dominant this season (he is 36; it should be expected that at some point he slows down), but he is still an outstanding No. 1 defenseman for the Flames.   20 of 24

Age 37: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

It is starting to look as if he will never get that Stanley Cup as a member of the New York Rangers, but he has still put together a Hall of Fame-worthy career and been the best, most consistent goalie of his era. He is also still playing at a level that might keep the rebuilding Rangers in contention for a playoff spot and maybe another run for him.  21 of 24

Age 38: Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

Anderson has put together an outstanding career for himself, playing 17 years in the NHL and appearing in more than 630 games for four different teams (Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers). He has performed at a really high level throughout most of those seasons and at times been one of the most productive goalies in the league. He is one of the few bright spots on a rebuilding Senators team that does not give its goalies much help on a nightly basis. He is one of only two 38-year-olds in the NHL this season. The other is his teammate veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey. 

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Age 39: Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks

Miller is the only 39-year-old in the league this season, so he gets this one by default. But that should not take away from the reality that he is still a pretty good goalie and helps form one of the best goaltending duos in the league alongside John Gibson. They have to be nearly flawless in net for the Ducks to have a chance to win on most nights, but they do their best to keep the team competitive. It will be interesting to see if he gets moved to a contender in need of some goaltending help before the trade deadline later this season.  23 of 24

Age 40: Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

Thornton and longtime teammate Patrick Marleau are the two 40-year-olds in the league this season, and they are on the same roster once again after the Sharks re-signed Marleau as a free agent earlier this season. Marleau has the higher goal total so far, but Thornton is the better all-around player and still has the vision and playmaking to make players around him better. He is one of the best passers who has ever stepped on an NHL ice surface.  24 of 24

Age 42: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

Chara is the oldest player in the NHL and is still finding ways to be productive for the Bruins. He is not the dominant player he was during his peak years in the league when he was a constant Norris Trophy contender, but he is still able to play 22 minutes per night for a Stanley Cup contender (a Stanley Cup Finalist a year ago and one of the league’s best teams this season) and make an impact. He already has five goals through his first 31 games and can still make noise defensively. 

By: Adam Gretz

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/the_best_nhl_player_at_every_age/s1__30769559#slide_24