As Ferris Bueller might say: The world of sports moves pretty fast...
... If you don't stop and look around at least once a week, you could miss it. Here we'll review what you might have missed in the past week all in one place. Why spend hours scrolling through Twitter to catch up on the news you want? We've already done that for you, so remember to check back every Monday to get your dose of weekly sports review.
We saw the Bills and Seahawks punch their tickets to the postseason in Week 15 leaving only four spots left to claim in both conferences. The Lions, 49ers, Broncos, and Patriots will not be among them as they all added their names to the list of teams mathematically eliminated from contention.
The Jets completed one of the biggest upsets of the season on their way to their first win of 2020 against the playoff-contending Los Angeles Rams, but with that victory gave up valuable ground to Jacksonville in the race for the top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, also known as the Trevor Lawrence Sweepstakes.
The Jets front office watching their team win https://t.co/84aIlRVaZa— Reggie Chatman Jr. (@Reggie Chatman Jr.)1608509361.0
Miami, Baltimore, Arizona, and Tampa Bay all picked up important wins as they're vying for postseason spots in a highly competitive field. The Browns Sunday night win over the Giants kept them in the top Wild Card spot in the AFC. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs still look like the team to beat, but there's another gunslinger in the AFC named Josh Allen that may be planning to play the Grinch in Kansas City's championship sequel.
Can confirm that @JoshAllenQB looks good in shorts. https://t.co/yCQtGldySs— Buffalo Bills (@Buffalo Bills)1608505560.0
What to Watch For
The Baltimore Ravens (9-5) have been led by a resurgent Lamar Jackson over the past two weeks, and it may be just in the St. Nick of time for reigning MVP. The Ravens will play the Giants and Bengals over the last two weeks of the regular season which should give them a good shot at finishing 11-5.
My 2 year old son just looked at me and asked “Dad, do you know what I want for Christmas?” I told him I didn’t and… https://t.co/jLzZzkM6vS— Platinum Sombrero (@Platinum Sombrero)1608000026.0
Currently the Colts (10-4) and Dolphins (9-5) are ahead of Baltimore sitting in the final two playoff spots, but the Dolphins have an unfavorable final two games against the Raiders and Bills. If the Dolphins lose even one game the rest of the way out, we could see the South Beach fans on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
The NFC is a little murkier as nine teams remain in contention to reach the postseason. The NFC East is completely up for grabs as even the 4-9-1 Eagles could still win the division if they win out and everyone else loses out which as we've seen throughout this season, is completely possible. The Cardinals and Bucs helped their causes with wins in Week 15, and a loss by the Rams increased their chances to earn a playoff berth.
Playoff Matchup Predictions As of Week 15 (Only first seed in each conference receives first round bye)
1. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have looked like the best team in the league all season, and we expect their high level of play to continue into the postseason. Patrick Mahomes has been stellar, and the bevy of weapons at his disposal is simply not fair to the rest of the league.
Here's the list of guys to tally 95+ catches, 1,300+ yards and 10+ touchdowns multiple times since 2018: Travis Kelce— Matt McMullen (@Matt McMullen)1608563501.0
2. Buffalo Bills
7. Baltimore Ravens
Josh Allen has stepped into the elite category of NFL quarterbacks this season. The acquisition of Stefon Diggs has expedited his development and Buffalo might be the team to unseat the Chiefs in the AFC this year.
You LOVE to see it. 😍 #GoBills | #BillsMafia— Buffalo Bills (@Buffalo Bills)1608483000.0
If Lamar Jackson is able to carry his team to the playoffs, you never know what he can do. The book on him so far is that he can't win big games. That has been the case for many high profile quarterbacks in league history, and it's always true until it isn't.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Tennessee Titans
The Steelers started the year with 11 consecutive wins. They're on a two game slide right now, but a Monday night matchup against the Bengals tonight gives them an opportunity to seal a division title and prevent the Browns from having a chance to overtake them.
Derrick Henry proved last season he is a problem in the playoffs and the Titans will certainly look to ride their star running back as far as he'll take them this playoff season.
Derrick Henry is the first RB in 12 years with 1,650 rush yards & 15 rush TD in a season... AND HE STILL HAS TWO… https://t.co/1cMArsLk1b— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS)1608563257.0
4. Indianapolis Colts
5. Cleveland Browns
The Colts have been surprisingly good on both sides of the ball this season. We think they'll overtake the Titans for the division lead by the end of the season. Unfortunately for them that would result in a matchup against Cleveland instead of Pittsburgh, and we think that the Browns are the better team in the AFC North at this point in the season.
Cleveland is a team that nobody in the AFC wants to see in the playoffs! 2020 is weird. But it's true. Nobody wants a playoff opponent that can run the ball down down your throats for 60 minutes and Cleveland has the best 1-2 punch in all of football in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. It's been a long time since we've seen brown and orange against the backdrop of crisp white snow, and we're here for it.
Happy Sunday #DawgPound #browns @Browns https://t.co/TVClveY9HZ— CJ McCollum (@CJ McCollum)1608524921.0
1. Green Bay Packers
In what will go down as one of Aaron Rodgers' best seasons, the Packers are trying to get one step further than they did last season. Losing to San Francisco in the NFC Championship game a year ago, Rodgers wants to add another Lombardi to his resume before he discount double checks himself into the Hall of Fame.
2. New Orleans Saints
7. Arizona Cardinals
Drew Brees is back and he pretty good in his return from multiple rib fractures and a punctured lung. Not good enough to best the Chiefs in Week 15, but Saints fans should have nothing to worry about. If Michael Thomas can get healthy for the playoffs it will boost their chances to make a run, but he was just recently placed on IR and will be out for the remainder of the regular season.
Kyler Murray and the Cardinals outlasted Jalen Hurts and the Eagles in Week 15 to earn an important win to keep them a game ahead of the Bears for the last playoff spot in the NFC. Although their level of play has slipped from the beginning of the year, a mobile quarterback like Murray can prove to be a tough matchup for any team in a must-win game.
Kyler Murray & Jalen Hurts really gave us a SHOW today 💯 Murray: 406 YDS | 27/36 | 3 TD 29 YDS | 1 T… https://t.co/DuMhXD9zTD— Overtime (@Overtime)1608510829.0
3. Seattle Seahawks
6. Los Angeles Rams
Remember when we were all asking for Pete Carroll to #LetRussCook? Well now we're just hoping he can work a toaster. We have serious concerns about this Seattle team from a defensive perspective, but if Wilson isn't able to provide the Superman heroics we've come accustomed to seeing from him Seattle will be looking at an early exit.
The Rams would make up the other half of this matchup and this combination is about as vanilla as it gets. We envision the line on this game being "bleh" and an over/under of "who cares". Whoever comes out of this the winner, will likely be outed in the next round. Let's hope for a different opening round 3/6 matchup.
4. Washington Football Team
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While you may think that the assessment of a potential Seattle and Los Angeles was harsh and that this potential game is worse, let me tell you that you'd be wrong. Washington has been the best NFC East team for the majority of the season and that's with a rotating cast of quarterbacks and a rookie running back named Antonio Gibson.
Gibson along with Jacksonville's James Robinson, has been a pleasant surprise among this rookie class and his potential return from injury in Week 16 gives fans of the Football Team legitimate hope of winning the division and maybe, just maybe a playoff game or two. Chase Young leads an impressive defense, one that likes to get at the opposing QB which may not bode well for Tom Brady.
Highest-graded defensive rookies: 1. Chase Young, Wash: 79.8 2. Doug Costin, Jags: 75.6 3. Mykal Walker, Falcon: 79… https://t.co/WCRqObWoau— PFF College (@PFF College)1608486000.0
The Bucs were a preeminent favorite to win the Super Bowl after their offseason acquisitions of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Leonard Fournette. Antonio Brown signed on with the team once he was eligible, coming off a league imposed suspension. This added to an already solid group that included Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Ronald Jones.
What we've seen from Tampa has been a team trying to find its identity all year. Through ups and downs however, Tom Brady has been low-key great. He's thrown for 3,886 yards and 32 touchdowns so far, and has been a steady figure for the team as they are attempting to lock up their playoff position.
We won't get to see Tom's old coach and team in the playoffs this year, but we will get our annual postseason dose of Tom Brady.
In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.
After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.
The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.
It should also be stated that Reggie Jackson has been really good for Los Angeles throughout the playoffs and is someone that the team leans on to take and make tough shots in crunch time. His fearlessness attacking the rim provides a lot of space for his teammates.
Reggie Jackson after getting his free agency bag this summer https://t.co/kgR7AUeQZ5— Josiah Johnson (@Josiah Johnson)1624936925.0
The Suns have dropped two of the last three games, and their win came in Game 4 which saw a final tally of 84-80 so it's tough to gauge how much stock to take in that victory. What I'm trying to say is the Clippers have definitely looked the part of a Western Conference Champion the past three games, and the Suns are at risk of flaming out.
Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (MCL sprain) will not play tonight in Game 5 of the WCF against the Phoenix Suns.— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes)1624923130.0
The Clippers' starting big man, Ivica Zubac, was out with a knee injury while Los Angeles out scored the Suns by 26 in the paint. So far in every game but one (Game 3 when L.A. beat Phoenix 106-92) the team that has scored the most points in the paint has ended up winning. Both teams are good from the free throw line and it gets the opposition into foul trouble so it is a sound strategy for either side. But Deandre Ayton wasn't able to get much going offensively in Game 5 finishing with only 10 points in 37 minutes.
For the Suns, they were quick to point out their own shortcomings following the loss. Coach Monty Williams noted, "It's just unacceptable the way we started the game," he continued on to compare the Suns and Clippers in Game 5, "We showed up in the first quarter, and they played with desperation."
Monty Williams: “Leadership is tricky - if you can’t get people to follow you, you’re just walking by yourself”— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel Nichols)1624922492.0
Chris Paul who had 22 points and eight assists talked about Phoenix's inability to hold onto advantages, "We've got to close quarters better," Paul goes on to say, "that's been a problem for us all series long."
Paul has been a leader both on and off the court helping this young team to play far above the level anyone expected them to this season, but he's also been a part of many teams that fell short in the playoffs.
A championship run is the one knock on his hall of fame resume, and it seemed destined to happen this year especially after the Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. But he isn't the only player who has had their reputation affected by playoff performances.
The nickname Playoff P isn't an endearing one. It has become synonymous with Paul George and his failures in the postseason up to this point. Any success that the Clippers were going to have this year was always likely to be attributed to Kawhi Leonard, but now that he is sidelined it's all on PG to carry the load.
George entered rarified air Monday night joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant as players who scored 20 or more points in each of the first 18 games in a postseason. All of their teams reached the Finals. George is hoping to follow suit as the Clippers are headed back home to host Game 6.
Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.
Offense being the key word here.
Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.
For a player that relies so heavily on driving to the basket to get shots off close to the hoop, it's expected for that player to draw plenty of contact resulting in a lot of free throw opportunities. That was certainly indicative of what we saw from Simmons in the first two rounds of the 20-21 playoffs.
He got to the line 45 times against the Hawks in their second round matchup, but only converted 15 freebies which equates to a 33% free throw percentage in the series. Simmons shot just 34.2% from the stripe if you include their first round games against the Wizards, which accounts for the worst free throw percentage by a player with at least 70 attempts in a postseason in NBA playoff history.
With a minimum of 70 attempts, Ben Simmons' 34.2% free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in a postseaso… https://t.co/EvEcQxEe8m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPN Stats & Info)1624244835.0
In the four games that Atlanta beat Philly in this series, they lost by a combined 17 points. If Ben Simmons shoots just 70% from the line and makes 31-45 during this series, that adds 16 to Philadelphia's series point total. Obviously, the attempts might not directly impact the losses, but from a very broad overview, it would draw the series significantly closer — especially taking into account that three of the four losses the 76ers took in the series were lost by four points or fewer.
Also let's not allow people to say that the free throw stat is overblown and out of context. It's not. Shaquille O'Neal, who is notoriously one of the worst free throw shooters in league history, still managed a career playoff free throw percentage of 50%. That's why we saw the conception of "Hack-a-Shaq" where teams would intentionally foul O'Neal to put him on the line rather than allowing him to hurt them in other ways.
We've begun to see teams adopt this practice now with Simmons, which is just flat out embarrassing for a player of Simmons' pedigree. We have seen what he's able to do with the ball. He flies down the court on fast breaks, is a brilliant creator for teammates, and is one of the better finishers at the rim that we have in the league today.
We've already touched on his defensive prowess that has elevated him to becoming NBA All-Defense multiple times and a three time All-Star. But what do the Sixers do with Simmons before next season?
The 24-year-old point-forward still has plenty of time to work on his game. We've seen other players add a jumper later in their careers to great success; just ask Vince Carter how that works. But, usually, in order to develop a perimeter shot, there is at least a solid foundation to build on — that being the ability to consistently hit free throws.
Simmons is a career 60% free throw shooter, and he shot right around the mean during the regular season. The decline in made shots from the charity stripe in this postseason is cause for concern that this isn't the beginning of a trend.
Add to that Simmons' reluctance to take shots further away from the basket, and defenses have the luxury of ignoring Simmons in the half court set. We have seen teams (like the Jazz and 76ers) that rely heavily on the pick and roll get shut down in these playoffs, and it's teams like Atlanta and Phoenix that are able to spread defenses thin by putting multiple shooters on the court at one time succeed.
In 34 career playoff games, Ben Simmons has made 5 shots outside of 10 feet (from the basket).— Paul Hembekides (@Paul Hembekides)1624277710.0
Joel Embiid was phenomenal in the postseason, so let's not ignore that fact. Also, he was playing on one knee and still almost willed the Sixers to a win. But again, Embiid was not 100% in the playoffs, which limited his abilities.
Doc Rivers answers a question whether Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team https://t.co/8xL35u98RC— Rob Perez (@Rob Perez)1624244460.0
Following their loss, Doc Rivers was asked if he thought Ben Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, to which he responded, "I don't know that answer to that question right now," which doesn't provide a whole lot of confidence in Simmons' status with the team next year. Trade rumors have already begun to circulate, and it would make sense for this Philly team to hit the reset button now.
If Simmons continues to be exploitable in big moments, as we've seen him be so far in his career, his value is only going to go down. Adding further complications into the situation is the team just agreed to a new contract extension with Simmons and is due to make between $33 and $40 million per season over the next four years.
As the two cornerstone pieces of The Process appear to be two Scotties without a Mike, the early departure for the East's top seed will likely mean a big shakeup in the near future. If Embiid is healthy, he is elite without question. Maybe Philadelphia will go out and add around their two stars, but unless the organization is confident that Simmons can avoid another atrocious offensive performance in future playoff series, all they have is a really good regular season team.
The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.