Wild Card Weekend, the New York Mets, Juwan Howard and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The NFL playoffs are off to a statistically interesting start
The first six games of the NFL postseason have provided a multitude of interesting factoids and observations. Not a single one of the teams that advanced won a playoff game last season. Lamar Jackson got the first playoff victory of his career as the Baltimore Ravens ditched their distinction of being the only team not to overturn a 10-point deficit in the last four years. Jackson, Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield’s teams are still alive while Russell Wilson’s is not. Wilson is the only quarterback of that group between the ages of 27 and 40.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recorded their first postseason win since 2002, when they lifted the Lombardi Trophy. The Buccaneers have nothing on the Buffalo Bills — whose fans had to wait 25 years to see their team prevail in the playoffs — or the Cleveland Browns — whose last postseason appearance was in 2002. Those Browns stunned the Steelers with four first-quarter touchdowns, becoming the first team to do so in a playoff game since the 1970 merger. Ben Roethlisberger set an NFL record with 47 completed passes in the loss. All told, it was a rather historic beginning to the postseason.
2. Offense won on Wild Card Weekend
Logically speaking, it makes sense that NFL playoffs games are traditionally low-scoring affairs. The weather is colder and the opponents are better. Recent history backs up that assessment. The four teams that advanced on Wild Card Weekend last season scored an average of 21.3 points. In 2018-19 the average was 21.0. The last team to put up more than 26 points in the wild card round was the New Orleans Saints on Jan. 7, 2018.
The Bills scored 27 in the first game of this year’s playoffs. That was followed by the Los Angeles Rams dropping 30 on the Seattle Seahawks and the Buccaneers producing 31 points and 507 total yards against a stout Washington defense. All six teams that advanced scored at least 20 points and they averaged 29.5, the most in the wild card round since 2016-17. For whatever reason, offenses had much more success than they typically do at this point in the season.
3. The Mets made the right first big move
The New York Mets could’ve gone any number of directions to fulfill new owner Steve Cohen’s promise to spend the money necessary to build a World Series contender. They chose to start by trading for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. By acquiring Lindor — one of the most valuable players in baseball at age 27 — now, the Mets are in prime position to sign him long-term. Adding Carrasco to a rotation waiting for Noah Syndergaard to return from Tommy John surgery is an underappreciated part of the deal as well.
Going the trade route first — and landing a better player than anyone on the free agent market — gives the Mets flexibility moving forward. If they want to sign Trevor Bauer or George Springer, great. If they don’t, they’ve already acquired a superstar in his prime and a more reliable starter than Bauer. The success or failure of this deal ultimately hinges on Lindor’s willingness to sign an extension, but who wouldn’t want to be a Met right now?
4. Juwan Howard is doing it all
There was not a better coach in college basketball at developing players than John Beilein when he was at Michigan. Ohio State didn’t bother to recruit Columbus native Trey Burke. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Caris LaVert were three-star recruits ranked outside the top 150 by 247 Sports. All three are good or very good NBA players. All that to say, Juwan Howard inherited a well-oiled machine that consistently overachieved. Somehow, he has managed to keep it running smoothly and added some extra power to the engine.
The Wolverines are 10-0 and 5-0 in the Big Ten following their 82-57 demolition of Minnesota. They look and feel like Beilein’s teams, which is a compliment of the highest order. And this is just the beginning. Howard currently has the top-ranked recruiting class in the country coming in next season. He is cooler than any other coach who walks into a high schoolers’ living room, is an excellent communicator and makes his players better. That is a scary combination very, very few coaches possess.
5. Liverpool’s absences have finally caught up to them
For most of the season, it’s looked as though the staggering number of injuries Liverpool have had to deal with made them look human again but not much else. They survived games against Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City, Leicester City and Tottenham without suffering a defeat and won three of them. In mid-December the Reds beat Spurs in dramatic fashion to take control of the title race and thumped Crystal Palace 7-0 in their next game. They are winless in their three league contests since.
The uninspiring loss to Southampton featured Fabinho and Jordan Henderson playing out of position as center backs because Jürgen Klopp didn’t have any other proven options available. If Manchester United get at least one point from their game at Burnley on Jan. 12, they will head to Anfield on Jan. 17 as the league leaders, something that seemed unthinkable two weeks ago. The eventual return of Diogo Jota, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez makes it possible they go back to being the class of the Premier League, but enough points will be dropped along the way that the title is there for the taking if someone can rise to the occasion.
Texas guard Andrew Jones’ game-winning 3-pointer in Morgantown exactly three years after being diagnosed with leukemia is a wonderful story in and of itself. The Longhorns’ comeback was also a microcosm of why they are the No. 4 team in the country right now. Last year’s group was talented. This year’s team is tougher, more mature and more experienced. Old wins in college basketball.
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