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What made Cavaliers-Warriors a great game? The numbers tell the story


Game 8 of the 2016 NBA Finals — or rather the Christmas Day game between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers — lived up to its billing.

What made the contest great from a statistical perspective?
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The Cavaliers won a game that they led for 42 seconds, the second-least amount of time a team led in a win this season (the Orlando Magic defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in a game that Orlando led for 19 seconds on Nov. 1). In their four NBA Finals wins in 2016, the Cavaliers led for an average of 34 minutes.

At the close of November, Chicago sported the league’s fourth-best average scoring margin, behind only the Warriors, Clippers and Cavs. But the Bulls’ December has only been slightly more enjoyable than the Lakers’ December — and you’ll fully realize how faint that praise really is when you get down to the details in the Lakers’ comment.
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Entering its Christmas Day home date with San Antonio, Chicago’s minus-9.6 PPG scoring drop from last month to this month was the league’s second-most, behind only Atlanta’s minus-11.1 and narrowly ahead of the Lakers’ minus-8.5.

The Nuggets bookended their last week before the holidays with a stirring second-half comeback to take down the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks — and then an utter meltdown from 108-100 up on the visiting Hawks?

Remember those four air balls Kobe shot in a playoff game against the Utah Jazz at the end of his rookie season in 1997?

Calvin Johnson will play vs. Saints


Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson will play against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. Johnson was listed as questionable on the Saturday injury report with an ankle injury that kept him out of practice on Thursday and Saturday.

He was able to practice in a limited capacity on Friday and there were no reported setbacks with the injury, and most expected he would be available for Monday’s game.

A 6-8 record would hardly be cause for celebration in most NFL cities. But in Oakland, it represents significant progress for a franchise that has been a mainstay in the league’s basement for much of the past decade. The Raiders haven’t had a winning record since 2002, the longest active streak in the league and tied for the fourth-longest in NFL history. In that span, they’ve never finished better than third in the AFC West.

Game Youth Keanu Neal Jersey Still, for a team that was 11-37 over the previous three seasons, there is some optimism finally among Raiders supporters. The future is very bright with a terrific young core led by quarterback Derek Carr, linebacker Khalil Mack and wideout Amari Cooper.

Mark Barron Kids Jersey Carr has struggled in the past few weeks, but with six 300-yard passing games, he’s tied for the second-most in a single season in team history. He also joined Daryle Lamonica as the only Raiders quarterbacks to throw 30 touchdown passes in a season. Mack’s 15 sacks this year are one shy of the franchise record set by Derrick Burgess in 2005. And Cooper on Sunday became the first Raiders receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards since Randy Moss did it 10 years ago.

Both Encarnacion and Trumbo could do some damage in 81 home games at Coors Field


The plan in Chicago had been simple: Add enough through free agency and trades to supplement a recovering farm system and make a few serious runs in the AL Central, one of the weaker divisions in baseball. Unfortunately for the White Sox, the pieces never came together, they never finished .500 with Jose Abreu or David Robertson or Melky Cabrera or Todd Frazier or Adam Eaton, and players like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana only got the briefest taste of winning early in their careers.

Even if the plan was good — I’d argue it was, though the execution wasn’t always — at this point it’s just not happening.

Chicago had to accept that their window was just about closed, and they had to get while the going is good. After all, the longer you wait to rebuild, the more painful it is because your tradable assets may have lost value.

Jeremy Lane Womens Jersey Both Encarnacion and Trumbo could do some damage in 81 home games at Coors Field. The 30-year-old Trumbo led the majors with 47 home runs last season, while the 33-year-old Encarnacion wasn’t far behind, hitting 42 homers and tying for the major league lead with 127 RBIs.

For instance, extreme shopping sprees by the Yankees in the early to mid-2000s and, more recently, by the Los Angeles Dodgers yielded a grand total of zero titles, despite the huge financial advantages. (Yes, the Yankees won it all in 2009, but that year they spent about 21 percent less — relative to the MLB average — than they had at their peak in 2005.)

Authentic Youth JJ Redick Jersey The next winter, Dombrowski poured even more cash into Florida’s roster — increasing payroll by another 33 percent — when he signed more free-agent deals with Alou, Alex Fernandez, Bobby Bonilla and Jim Eisenreich.

With dominant win, Colts show they’re not done yet and keep playoff hopes alive


Hold off on closing the door on the Indianapolis Colts having a chance to the win the AFC South.

Just when you thought the Colts were basically done, they put together their most complete effort of the season and dominated the Minnesota Vikings 34-6 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
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It¡¯s OK if you¡¯re scratching your head trying to figure out the Colts. You¡¯re likely not the only one.

“We¡¯re good enough to play with anybody,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “We just have to show up every week. Any given Sunday you can get embarrassed.”
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¡°We completely support Dak as our starting quarterback, unequivocally. That¡¯s that,¡± Jerry Jones said Thursday afternoon. ¡°There¡¯s no issue there at all, and we¡¯re very fortunate — and I¡¯ve said that, that we have depth there. You¡¯ve certainly got depth in a big way when you¡¯ve got Tony Romo sitting there, and that¡¯s not trying to be cute.¡±

The Cowboys don’t think three consecutive games with fewer than 200 yards passing means Prescott is struggling. They don’t believe there’s anything fluky about the way he’s passed for more than 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

More importantly, they love his intangibles. Stats will never tell Prescott¡¯s entire story.

At his best, he¡¯s about protecting the football, making good decisions and excelling with the game on the line.

¡°I¡¯d call 11-2 a hot hand,¡± Stephen Jones said. ¡°Dak is our quarterback. I think he¡¯s playing at a very high level right now. It¡¯s amazing to see what he¡¯s done with this team and how he¡¯s become a leader in this locker room.

¡°He¡¯s got the attention of our veteran players and he¡¯s had that basically since the first day he got here. That¡¯s not an easy thing to do. Whatever it is, he’s up for the challenge. I’m a 110 percent believer in Dak.”

He sounds like a man committed to Prescott.

Derek Carr’s season-low four standard fantasy points last week came at a bad time in the fantasy season


Mens Denzel Perryman Jersey Derek Carr’s season-low four standard fantasy points last week came at a bad time in the fantasy season. But if your team’s still in the mix, he’s primed for a bounce back this week.

Dave Schultz Game Jersey Derek Carr, Raiders: If you own him and you’re still alive … well-done. Yes, I know he was brutal on a short week traveling to Arrowhead (ding!) in Week 14, but prior to that he had scored at least 18 points in three straight and four of the previous five (the Denver game being the only exception). In that five-week span, from Weeks 8-13, Carr was tied with Tom Brady as the fifth-best QB in fantasy.

Philip Rivers, Chargers: That’s six straight games with multiple touchdown passes for Rivers. He’s better in leagues that don’t count turnovers, obviously, but he’s back at home this week and he’ll need to throw a ton in this one, both to keep up with the Raiders and because I don’t think the Chargers will run that effectively without Melvin Gordon. The Raiders are giving up the 11th-most QB fantasy points per game, but they’ve looked better recently.

One of the reasons coach John Harbaugh fired Marc Trestman as offensive coordinator was the inefficiency in the passing game. That dink-and-dunk scheme didn’t suit a strong-armed quarterback like Flacco.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco is averaging just 6.53 yards per attempt, which ranks 29th in the NFL.

But the passing attack hasn’t changed much under a coordinator whose offenses used to be nicknamed “Air Marty.” In Mornhinweg’s game plans, Flacco has been relegated to checking down passes more than stretching the field.

Together, they would review and evaluate film to promote consistency across crews. They would make weekly training videos and practice tasks that seem mundane but have a disproportionate impact on public confidence, such as smooth announcements of penalties.

Brian Urlacher’s head is full of luscious hair now


On Tuesday, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher appeared on Chicago’s WGN Morning News to make a special announcement: he has hair.

Urlacher says he kept his hair a secret for as long as he could because he “wore a hat everywhere [he] went for a year.” At first, he wasn’t sure about having hair in the first place, because he “hadn’t seen [himself] with hair since probably high school, maybe college,” but now looking at himself bald gives him pause. He also had this funny anecdote:

“I know I look a little better because I was going to a fancy restaurant one day, and I had my hat off by accident. I was getting food and this girl goes, ‘You look like Brian Urlacher, but he’s a lot … older-looking than you’ — this was when I had hair — she goes, ‘He looks a lot older than you.’ I was like, ‘ You’re right, thank you.’ So basically, she was telling me I look kinda young.”
And you know what?
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“As the conversation went on, I was really inspired by him,” Hunt recalled. “I saw a great coach, a great leader and a confidence that explained his product and his record. It happened pretty quickly here. The building believed.”
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The players, the office staff, the people. They all began to believe. Andy Reid began connecting people in Kansas City. He began building more than just a team. It was an 11-5 start and the playoffs followed by a 9-7 season. And now 11-5 again and the playoffs again, at the Houston Texans (9-7) on Saturday.

This season, Reid illustrated the true measure of his bonding and building in Kansas City. The Chiefs began the season 1-5. They have played most of the year without their best offensive player, injured running back Jamaal Charles, and nearly half of it without their best defensive player, injured linebacker Justin Houston. Yet, they enter the playoffs with a franchise-record 10 consecutive victories.

To climb from 1-5 to 11-5 is this NFL season’s ultimate Code Red Revival.

Are these large reliever contracts worth it? It’s complicated


In the past two playoffs, the Kansas City Royals, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs relied on elite late-inning relievers to help take them to the World Series. As a byproduct of that and several other factors, MLB teams are breaking the bank to acquire similar players.

Dion Bailey Limited Jersey Ryan¡¯s contract might be the gold standard in examples of why teams should avoid spending big over many years for a top reliever. He didn¡¯t even finish his five-year contract with Toronto.
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Mark Saxon’s take: Marlins manager Don Mattingly saw Jansen grow from a converted minor league catcher into one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball in their time together on the Dodgers, so it’s natural that Mattingly would push hard for a reunion in Miami. But the Marlins might have been fighting an uphill battle all along, considering the Yankees have made little secret of their desire to sign one of the top closers and the Nationals lost Mark Melancon and are still in need of a major splash. Also, you can never count out the Dodgers to swoop in and offer the most attractive contract.

¡°It’s significant,¡± manager Dave Roberts said last week at the winter meetings about having a closer he could count on. ¡°There’s a comfort level when you have a guy that you know and can trust that can close out a game. But there’s still different ways, different formulas. But, obviously, that elite closer, there’s a reason they are elite.¡±

Roberts sounded, at times, as if he was resigned to the idea of not having Jansen at his disposal again. The Dodgers¡¯ decision-makers ultimately decided he was a player they could not live without.

On Saturday, Jansen committed to a partner for life. Two days later, he recommitted to the only team he has ever known, for at least the next five years, anyway (not counting that reported opt-out after three years).

Buffalo has allowed the fewest receptions of any team in the NFL


“I’m not expecting for everything to go perfect,” he said. “You don’t want to put that kind of pressure on anybody. Again, it’s his [second] game in a little over maybe two years. So hopefully it will go right. But if it doesn’t that’s OK too.

“We got to go get him to play and hopefully play well. But we all understand the situation that he’s in and that he’s facing. But I think he’s up to the challenge.”

Jackson said that Griffin’s durability — he has had serious knee, ankle and shoulder injuries in his career — will be an issue when the team decides his future.
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Larry Murphy Womens Jersey “Everything’s weighed, and the most important thing about that position is availability,” Jackson said. “You have to be available to your football team and you have to be out there. I think he gets that.”

He also dropped a sure touchdown pass that hit him squarely in the hands. Veteran guard Josh Sitton is also pushing through an ankle injury, but the Bears are probably better off with reserve guards Ted Larsen and Eric Kush.

How likely is Brown to break Harrison¡¯s record this week? Four players have had seven or more catches in a game against the Bills this season. Buffalo has allowed the fewest receptions of any team in the NFL.

Johnson started this season with eight touchdowns in his first six games. He has three rushing touchdowns in the six games since. The Dolphins have allowed nine rushing touchdowns this season, one fewer than the NFL average.

¡°We¡¯ve been fortunate, I¡¯ll tell you that,¡¯¡¯ veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson said. ¡°Derek Carr is a rising star. He¡¯s up for and is a candidate for MVP in the league. That tells you right there he¡¯s doing a lot of things [well] this year, great this year. We¡¯ve had success against him there in Oakland and hopefully we have the same success here with the crowd we have here. It¡¯s going to be a challenge for him. It¡¯s always a challenge to stop him.

Do the Jets have a QB starter currently on their roster?


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Sure, coaches had talked about “changing the culture” in Oakland for years, ever since Jon Gruden was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. From Bill Callahan’s “dumbest team in America” rant to Norv Turner’s painfully awkward two-year tenure to Art Shell’s unfortunate one-year “fox in the hen house” return to Lane Kiffin being eviscerated in Al Davis’ awesome overhead projector presser that included an intermission to Tom Cable’s sanguine “We’re not losers anymore” proclamation after going 8-8 in 2010 to Hue Jackson’s epic meltdown to Allen’s uninspiring visor and sharpie, it’s been quite the chaotic ride.

After taking the moribund Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs twice and rebuilding the Denver Broncos defense as its coordinator, Del Rio gets it when the Raiders espouse the notion there are 31 teams in the NFL and then there are the Oakland Raiders.

Do the Jets have a QB starter currently on their roster? Should they reach for one early?

“Guys always talk about that, that you have to win first [but] I don’t think I agree with that,” said Del Rio, who inherited a 3-13 team and led them to a 7-9 record in his first season. “I think you change the way you look at yourself. You change the way you look at each other. Then, through that process and through the challenging every day and committing yourself every day and the unselfishness and all those things, doing it because it’s right and really, truly committing to excellence … when you start doing those things, then the wins come.

“I don’t think you wait until you win to join up. What we have is buy-in.”
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The Raiders, for the first time in recent memory, have a bona fide culture change that was part of their master plan all along. They just had to take a detour or two and find the right coach to get there.

Randall Cobb made a catch so good, the penalty flags against it should have been thrown in the garbage


Randall Cobb just made one of the greatest catches you’ll see on a football field. Unfortunately, technically, it didn’t happen:

Cobb reached up, corralled the ball with one hand, protected it from hitting the ground with his own bicep, and caught it. It’s especially difficult because this wasn’t a light toss; it was a 51-yard bomb. It’s hard to snag a ball that just flew 51 yards in the air with one hand!

Game Womens Taj Gibson Jersey Unfortunately, the catch technically never happened. Aaron Rodgers likes to call for snaps while the opponent is in an illegal position, and this time, he caught the Cardinals with 12 men on the field. But in doing so, he called for the snap before the Packers were set. He got the flag thrown for the Cardinals’ foul, but he also got a flag called on his own team for an illegal shift.

In the end, the Packers trounced Washington, 35-18.

It points to the fact that they all had big games this weekend, but I haven’t seen a lot of people talking about what they did to help their team win the game because other things or other players overshadowed their performance.

I’m on record stating that I would never draft a true 3-4 nose tackle in the first round. I just believe you can always find a couple of lazy, outta shape three-techniques later in the draft and turn them into nose tackles if need be. A dude who has to come out of the game on third-and-medium or longer just will never be worth that high of a draft pick to me. That partially has to do with my big belief about getting constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks being correlated with winning.

Or as Al Davis used to say, “the quarterback must go down and he must go down hard!”

Eric Berry Authentic Jersey Poe, however, was worth his first-round slot because he is the rare enormous human being who can also run like a deer, really fat deer, but a deer all the same. He doesn’t have to come out on passing downs because even though his listed weight is 346 pounds — which probably means he is a lot closer to 360 by this point of the season — he is still explosive enough and quick enough to be able to get pressure with power, as well as with finesse.