The Super Bowl, Manchester City, Trevor Bauer and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The margin of error in the NFL can only get so big
The Kansas City Chiefs had won 25 of the last 26 games started by Patrick Mahomes prior to the Super Bowl. Based on what they did in the AFC Championship Game, there was no reason to believe the 31-9 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was coming. A loss maybe, but not by 22 points. For whatever reason, the team that has looked invincible for a vast majority of the past two seasons had no answers for the Buccaneers on either side of the ball.
There are plenty of possible explanations to point to. Britt Reid’s car crash. Injuries to the offensive line. Mahomes’ banged-up toe. None of them explain what happened by themselves, and all of them probably played a role. On the most basic level, the Chiefs picked the wrong time to have a bad game. As exceptional as Mahomes is, not even the best quarterback on the planet can compensate for mental lapses and poor performances like Kansas City had. He can cover up a whole lot of shortcomings, but nobody can completely protect a team from a night like the one the Chiefs had in Tampa.
2. Manchester City are about to run away with the Premier League
Manchester City entered their showdown with Liverpool on Feb. 7 knowing the other four teams in the top six of the Premier League table had already dropped points over the weekend. A draw would’ve put them well on their way to a third league title in four seasons. It was Liverpool who needed a win to stay within striking distance. Pep Guardiola’s side missed a penalty and conceded one that allowed the Reds to draw level in the 63rd minute. The Cityzens responded with three goals in 12 minutes and cruised to a 4-1 win.
They are now five points clear of second-place Manchester United and have a game in hand. A win over second-tier Swansea City in the FA Cup on Feb. 10 would be their 15th in a row across all competitions. And they are doing this without the services of Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Agüero, arguably their two most important players. Liverpool are decimated by injuries and lost, United have one win in their last four games and Leicester City don’t have the depth to keep up. It’s almost inevitable at this point that what looked like a wide-open title race just a few weeks ago is not going to be a contest at all.
3. The Baylor Bears reminded everyone just how good they are
In a span of less than 30 days, Baylor defeated four virtual locks for the NCAA Tournament (Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas and Texas) as well as two other tournament-caliber teams (Oklahoma State and Auburn) by an average of 12 points. All six of those teams are top-60 in KenPom and none of them were endangering the Bears’ perfect season in the final seconds of the game. From a resume standpoint, what Scott Drew’s team did is more impressive than Gonzaga’s ridiculously good showing in non-conference.
The conversation about college basketball’s best team starts in Spokane and ends in Waco. Gonzaga has the country’s most terrifying offense, Baylor its most versatile and stingy defense. The fact that more than one team is still in this discussion is a reflection of how impressive the Bears have been this season. Gonzaga dispatched high-level Big 12 teams with ease at the beginning of the season and Baylor is doing so now. Someone had to do something awfully special to earn a place on the same level as the Bulldogs, and the Bears have been up to the challenge.
4. Trevor Bauer making the Dodgers invincible is no sure thing
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ well-documented postseason struggles prior to winning the World Series last season were not due to a lack of talent. Even with the addition of Mookie Betts, they had to win three straight games against the Atlanta Braves just to reach the Fall Classic. Betts’ bat was not the reason the Dodgers succeeded in 2020 where they had come up short so many times before. His presence in the locker room might have actually been more valuable than his on-field contributions, which is really saying something.
Motivated at least in part by the stockpiling of talent by the San Diego Padres, L.A. inked Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102 million deal. The most expensive player in baseball is now a controversial, toxic guy who has finished with an ERA under 4.18 twice in his nine-year career. Bauer was always going to get a lucrative deal after his lights-out 2020 season, but the Dodgers have an abundance of arms and a hole at third base. It’s not like they needed him. On paper, of course he makes them better. In practice, the move is reminiscent of years past when the Dodgers threw money at issues it is incapable of fixing.
5. This is a different 76ers team
After getting swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of last season’s playoffs (albeit without Ben Simmons), the Philadelphia 76ers concluded the heartbreaking loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 conference semifinals was as far as they would get with head coach Brett Brown and the front office in its present state. In came Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey, who made a concerted effort to turn an awkward roster into a balanced one. The results have been extremely promising.
Philadelphia is atop the Eastern Conference at 17-7, 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Milwaukee Bucks. In an eight-day stretch from Jan. 20 to Jan. 27, the Sixers beat the Celtics twice and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Joel Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 29.3 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 55.3% from the field and 39.0% from three. This is the Sixers playing to their full potential, and in that regard, Rivers and Morey have done what no one else seemed able to. The larger questions about what that actually means, though, can only be answered in the postseason.
Since when is prioritizing winning a bad thing? Athletes get blowback all the time for seemingly choosing money and security over a better on-field situation, though they certainly have every right to do so. It would be a red flag if Watson passively accepted the decisions of a dysfunctional organization to protect his finances, not the other way around.
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