The NFL playoffs, Brooklyn Nets, start of the NHL season and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The Packers have nobody but themselves to blame
The Green Bay Packers ended up on the “wrong” end of the two most crucial refereeing decisions in the NFC Championship Game. Sean Murphy-Bunting got away with a hold on his interception at the end of the first half. Kevin King’s pass interference penalty that effectively ended the Packers’ season was called after defensive backs were allowed to do whatever they wanted all game (see Murphy-Bunting’s interception). Neither of those calls determined the outcome though.
What did? Green Bay allowing a 39-yard touchdown pass with a second left in the first half. Matt LaFleur opting to kick a field goal and ceding control of the game to Tom Brady (and the refs). The Buccaneers turning two Packers turnovers into 14 points while Green Bay got six points off its three takeaways. Aaron Rodgers should not lose home games when his team wins the turnover battle and have a 9:14 edge in time of possession, even if Brady is on the other sideline. The fact he did is precisely why Brady is 10-4 in conference championship games and Rodgers is 1-4.
2. The NFL (especially its owners) should be ashamed
The NFL spent all season publicly supporting the fight for social justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Then it came time to hire the next crop of head coaches. The most logical candidate was Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the guy who oversees the league’s best offense, works for Andy Reid and just won a Super Bowl. Six teams have found a new coach and all of them passed on Bieniemy. Matt Nagy lasted one season in Bieniemy’s position before getting his current job. Doug Pederson lasted three — the same amount of time Bieniemy’s been in the role — while experiencing significantly less success.
The Philadelphia Eagles picked an unknown 39-year-old who was on vacation instead of Bieniemy or their well-respected assistant head coach, Duce Staley.
#Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni was on vacation earlier this week when the Eagles called for an interview & Sirianni did not have a suit with him
Sirianni wore casual clothes he had with him & Eagles management did the same to make him comfortable
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) January 22, 2021
Nick Sirianni was the third coach hired under the age of 40, all of whom, unsurprisingly, are white. Brandon Staley oversaw the league’s top defense and had the Sean McVay magic dust sprinkled on him. There are logical reasons why the Los Angeles Chargers may have preferred him to Bieniemy. It’s one thing to take a risk on a young, unproven guy with an impressive track record. It’s something else entirely to be the third team to hire someone who hasn’t turned 40 in the hope that he is a great coach for a decade when the guy who won the only Super Bowl in franchise history was just shown the door after three playoff appearances in five seasons. Everybody sees what is happening and the owners simply do not care. They had to manufacture reasons not to hire Bieniemy and managed to do so.
3. The concerns with the Nets have already been validated
The Brooklyn Nets were never going to be able to answer the questions that come with building a team without depth around three offensive-minded players — two of whom essentially do the same thing — in the regular season. Brooklyn can only prove this big three works by winning in the postseason. Mortgaging the franchise’s future for James Harden isn’t worth it unless the result is a ring. What the regular season can do, though, is reinforce the validity of the questions.
Kyrie Irving has taken 33 more shots than James Harden in the three games they’ve played together. He is averaging more field goal attempts per game than Kevin Durant since returning to the team. The Nets are 1-2 since Irving, Harden and Durant joined forces with two losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and a win over a Miami Heat team without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. They’ve given up at least 124 points in all three contests. Yes, it’s the beginning stages of this experiment, but there is no reason to believe the issues plaguing the Nets will be fixed by the playoffs. In fact, it’s more likely they get worse once teams get to install more detailed gameplans in a postseason series.
4. The NHL has picked up where it left off
The beginning stages of the NBA season were filled with all kinds of surprising results that have sorted themselves out as more games are played. The NHL didn’t even bother with the surprising results part. Last season’s four division winners — the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights — are a combined 14-4-5 through games on Jan. 24. That’s an average of 1.43 points per game.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning are 3-1-0 and atop the Central division. Two points back of the division-leading Capitals in the East are the Philadelphia Flyers, who earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in the 2019-20 playoffs. The other No. 1 seed was the aforementioned Golden Knights. For once, there’s a good chance a league’s standings will look quite similar at the start and end of the season.
5. Nate Oats is working his magic in Tuscaloosa
Bobby Hurley led the Buffalo Bulls to the NCAA Tournament for the first time the season before he left to take the Arizona State job. Nate Oats got them back to the Big Dance in year one. In four seasons, he won two regular season conference titles, three conference tournaments and two NCAA Tournament games. Oats turned that success into a job offer from Alabama, where he is having the same kind of impact.
He inherited a 18-16 team and guided the Crimson Tide to a 16-15 mark in 2019-20. With an offseason to construct a program more in his image, Oats has turned Alabama into the best team in the SEC. The Crimson Tide are 13-3 overall and 8-0 in conference while every other SEC team has at least two losses. Keep in mind Oats is doing this at a place with one conference title of any kind since 1991. What sets the 46-year-old apart — and should scare everyone else in the SEC — is that his time at Buffalo suggests he’s not a program builder. He’s a program sustainer. If Oats’ track record is any indication, he hasn’t even gotten to the part he excels at yet.
Hats off to FIFA for resisting the push for a “Super League” and threatening to keep players who participate in it out of World Cups. Nobody else has the power to stand up to the clubs attempting to orchestrate it and the sport is better off without it. The people involved don’t care one bit, which is why it was so crucial for FIFA to step up.
Photo by Mike Morbeck / Wikimedia Commons