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Raiders vs. Chargers was an NFL regular season finale for the ages, plus keys to Georgia vs. Alabama

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Happy Monday morning, everyone! (well, not so much for Colts and Chargers fans). What a wild, wild NFL Sunday.

Let’s get right to it.

Good morning to everyone but especially to…

THE PLAYOFF-CLINCHING LAS VEGAS RAIDERS, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AND PITTSBURGH STEELERS

We entered Sunday with three open playoff spots, and, boy, did we get some thrillers to determine who would fill them.

Let’s start on Sunday night with a win-and-you’re-in (well, technically, win-or-tie-and-you’re-in) matchup between the Chargers and Raiders. Lucky for us — and the NFL — these AFC West rivals opted not to just kneel down and both make the playoffs and instead gave us one heck of a game, as well as an end to a season that will likely never be replicated.

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Let me explain:

  • In the early afternoon window, the Colts had a win-and-in game against the lowly Jaguars. Indianapolis was a complete no-show and lost, 26-11 (more on that later).
  • That opened the door for Pittsburgh, who won an overtime thriller of their own, 16-13, over the Ravens.
  • The only other thing the Steelers needed was a win by either the Raiders or the Chargers. Anything other than a tie Sunday night would do for Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, a tie would put both Las Vegas and Los Angeles in the playoffs.

Ok, now onto a Sunday night I’ll never forget:

  • The Raiders led, 29-14, with under five minutes to go in regulation.
  • Then Justin Herbert found Josh Palmer on 4th-and-21 for a touchdown and found Austin Ekeler for the two-point conversion.
  • Los Angeles got a stop, and then Herbert orchestrated another masterpiece, finding Mike Williams for the game-tying touchdown as time expired in regulation.
  • The teams exchanged field goals on their first possessions of overtime.
  • REMINDER: THESE TEAMS COULD HAVE SETTLED FOR A TIE RIGHT THERE AND THEN AND BOTH MADE THE PLAYOFFS!
  • The Raiders drove into Chargers territory, and with 38 seconds left, Josh Jacobs ripped off a 10-yard run to move the Raiders into field goal territory, where Daniel Carlson converted for a 35-32 win.

From Herbert’s heroics to a frantic finish to Carlson’s clutch gene, this game was an all-timer to finish the longest regular season ever. And now, somehow, some way Pittsburgh keeps going, too, writes NFL insider Jason La Canfora in his weekly notebook:

  • La Canfora: “This Steelers team is not fortified for a real playoff push… But then again, defying the odds is what Roethlisberger does best, and I’m not sure anyone could have predicted this 9-7-1 finish and this team being as viable as it ended up being. He keeps escaping. He keeps extending. And his career isn’t over yet.”

There was plenty of drama on the NFC side as well. The 49ers fell down 17-0 to the Rams late in the first half only to come roaring back for an impressive 27-24 OT victory that clinched their playoff ticket. It was San Francisco’s largest comeback win since 2011 and it was the first time Sean McVay has ever lost when his team led at halftime.

It showed the 49ers will be a tough out in the playoffs, writes our NFL expert Jordan Dajani:

  • Dajani: “No matter your thoughts on [Jimmy] Garoppolo, the 49ers are contenders because of their offensive line and playmakers. Even without star left tackle Trent Williams, this offensive front was effective in paving the way for Elijah Mitchell and [Deebo] Samuel to run the ball. The two combined for 130 rushing yards. The wide receivers also had one of their best outings as a collective unit.”

Honorable mentions:

And not such a good morning for…


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CARSON WENTZ AND THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

On Sunday, several Jaguars fans showed up in clown outfits to express their displeasure with the franchise. But the joke was on the Colts, and unfortunately for Indianapolis fans, it’s no laughing matter.

The Colts’ 26-11 loss in Jacksonville was an unmitigated disaster. It means they will miss the playoffs after being near shoo-ins two weeks ago. And at the center of it all is Carson Wentz. Here are some of the lowlights:

  • He was sacked six times. Before Sunday, he had never been sacked more than three times in a single game this season.
  • The two second-half turnovers: an awful fumble followed by an equally awful interception.
  • His numbers prior to a garbage-time touchdown drive: 9-20, 100 yards, one interception … a passer rating of 39.6.

And this was all AGAINST THE JAGUARS.

Remember, the Colts traded a first- and third-round pick for Wentz, and he let them down massively Sunday after struggling last week in a loss to the Raiders. Had the Colts won either of those games, they’d be in the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of other issues. The defense fell apart (Jacksonville’s 26 points were a season high), the offensive line struggled, and Jonathan Taylor never got going.

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But these situations were supposed to be why Indianapolis got Wentz, and he just fell apart.

Two weeks ago, the Colts had won six of their last seven and were a Super Bowl darkhorse with a superstar running back and a strong defense. Now, they have a lot of questions to answer, potentially starting with Wentz. NFL guru Cody Benjamin explored all the options:

  • Benjamin: Let’s say [GM Chris] Ballard wants to explore alternatives right away. Can he? Yes. Absolutely. … The Colts owe just $15 million guaranteed on the remainder of Wentz’s four-year, $128M deal — originally signed with the Eagles. That may sound like a lot, but Wentz is owed a total of $28.3M in 2022, meaning Indy could release Wentz and instantly save $13.3M.”

Not so honorable mention

The NFL playoff field is set 🏈

Let’s keep this simple. Above is the entire field for the playoffs and below is the entire Super Wild Card Weekend schedule:

NFC

  • No. 7 Eagles at No. 2 Buccaneers (-9.5), Sunday, 1 p.m. on FOX
  • No. 6 49ers at No. 3 Cowboys (-3), Sunday, 4:30 p.m. on CBS/Paramount+/Nickelodeon
  • No. 5 Cardinals at No. 4 Rams (-4), Monday, 8:15 p.m. on ESPN/ABC
  • BYE: No. 1 Packers

AFC

  • No. 5 Raiders at No. 4 Bengals (-6.5), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. on NBC
  • No. 6 Patriots at No. 3 Bills (-4.5), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. on CBS/Paramount+
  • No. 7 Steelers at No. 2 Chiefs (-13), Sunday, 8:15 p.m. on NBC
  • BYE: No. 1 Titans

Everything you need to know about the CFP National Championship 🏆


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Hope you still have room for more football, because tonight is the College Football Playoff National Championship! No. 3 Georgia takes on No. 1 Alabama in a rematch of the SEC Championship, which was won by the Crimson Tide, 41-24. Lets see what our experts think about tonight’s game.

College football reporter Barrett Sallee has five keys for the Bulldogs to get revenge:

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  • Sallee: “The front seven was touted as one of the best of all time, and polishing off an unblemished regular season seemed like a mere formality. Instead, they were unable to sack Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young once as the star sophomore sewed up the Heisman Trophy and set multiple SEC Championship Game records in the process. That has to change.”

On the other side, our expert Chip Patterson has five keys for the Crimson Tide:

  • Patterson: “Freshman Ja’Corey Brooks started the Cotton Bowl in [John] Metchie’s absence, but he’s far from the only underclassmen option for potential game-breakers in Alabama’s receiver room. Sophomore Javon Baker is another talented player who could be poised to emerge, and freshman JoJo Earle is another one to watch as he’s worked his way back from a late-season injury.

As for where you should put your money, Tom Fornelli has his eyes on one number in particular:

  • Fornelli:Have you seen the history between these two? There have been four meetings between Saban and Smart, and only one of those four featured fewer than 52 points — Alabama’s 26-23 overtime win in the first title game. The three meetings since have featured an average of 64.3 points per game. I don’t think we get that high again — barring another overtime game — but we should get past this number. Pick: Over 52

For all of our preview content (and there’s a lot of great stuff), you can click here.

Klay Thompson has triumphant return to Warriors 🏀

For the first time since June 9, 2019, we saw Klay Thompson in an NBA game, and it was awesome.

Coming off a torn ACL followed by a ruptured Achilles, Thompson scored 17 points in his long-awaited return as the Warriors beat the Cavaliers, 96-82. Thompson produced plenty of highlights, including a thunderous dunk and three 3-pointers.

Our NBA expert Colin Ward-Henninger was on hand for a special night at the Chase Center:

  • Ward-Henninger: “Watching Thompson score 17 points in 20 minutes in his first game since the 2019 NBA Finals, going 3-for-8 from the 3-point arc, was thrilling, but honestly it wouldn’t have mattered if he didn’t score a single point. Warriors coach Steve Kerr did all he could before the game to keep himself from saying the outcome didn’t really matter. This was about more than basketball, and everyone knew it. The fact that Thompson played well was icing on an already delicious cake.”

What we’re watching Monday 📺

🏈 CFP National Championship: No. 3 Georgia (-2.5) vs No. 1 Alabama, 8 p.m. on ESPN



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Aaron Rodgers has 4th best odds to win 3rd straight MVP | FIRST THINGS FIRST

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Aaron Rodgers is optimistic about this upcoming NFL season. In a recent Sports Illustrated profile, the Green Bay Packers quarterback expressed how happy he was to be in the locker room, that he’s a ‘kinder, gentler QB’ and that fun things are coming. Fox Bet odds show Rodgers tied at 4th for the MVP award, behind Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, and alongside Justin Herbert. Greg Jennings and Nick Wright decide how likely it is that Rodgers will three-peat his MVP win.



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2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the ACC’s top 10 prospects as Clemson defense loaded with talent

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The ACC fell short of placing a team in the College Football Playoff despite a strong season from Pittsburgh. The upcoming regular season represents a clean slate, and Clemson should feature one of the most talented defenses in college football. Although early days, CBS Sports took a gander at the best NFL Draft prospects in the tradition rich conference entering the 2022 campaign:

Davis does a great job of shooting gaps and creating chaos in the opponent’s backfield. He does a good job of stacking and shedding blockers to make an impact in the run game. 

The depth of Clemson’s defensive line allows the team to rotate players and keep everyone fresh. It has a lot of talent along the front seven. In addition to Myles Murphy, Trenton Simpson, Bryan Bresee and Davis, defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro, edge rusher Xavier Thomas and edge rusher K.J. Henry have NFL potential. Thomas, in particular, is poised to showcase his talent this season.

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The buzz surrounding Nelson began early in the process. He has great size for the position and long arms to dictate competition in the trenches. If the technique matches in 2022, there is an opportunity to rise significantly in an offensive tackle class that appears wide open. A wealth of talent at the position has flooded the NFL in recent years with Rashawn Slater, Tristan Wirfs, Penei Sewell and others chief among them.

8. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

Flowers has been on the NFL’s radar for a few years now. An injury to quarterback Phil Jurkovec impacted the receiver, as there were a lot of missed opportunities during which Flowers had slithered behind coverage. He ranked No. 23 in yards per reception (16.95) among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions in 2021. With a healthy Jurkovec, the Pittsburgh native will have a good chance to remind talent evaluators of his potential. 

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The nation’s No. 1 overall high school recruit in 2020 missed most of last season with a torn ACL. The talent is evident, but it is unknown what to reasonably expect from Bresee coming off the injury this season. The Maryland native carries his weight really well and is just a natural athlete. He does a good job of stacking blockers while peering into the backfield and has good top end speed.

Connecticut quarterbacks are having a bit of a moment as both Kentucky’s Will Levis and Van Dyke are considered potential early draft choices. The latter throws with touch and does not panic when pressured. However, there is at least one moment each game where he unnecessarily throws into coverage. Experience can resolve some of those frustrations. 

While his ability to make plays with his legs may fall short relative to other quarterback prospects, he is capable of making accurate throws off-platform. He ranked No. 11 in passer efficiency last season, according to TruMedia. Players above him include Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.

It could be easy to take Bergeron for granted because nothing he does is overwhelming, but he is consistent. Similar to Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, it just looks easy for the Quebec native at times. He plays with good leverage and balance and has an even-keeled style of play. Active eyes allow him to pick up stunts into his gap. 

Cornerback Garrett Garrett Williams is another prospect who has the talent to join this list by season’s end.

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4. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina

The NFL has shown a willingness of late to add wide receivers who are traditionally undersized: Wan’Dale Robinson, Tutu Atwell, Jahan Dotson, etc. Downs was one of the most productive wide receivers in college football a year ago, and that had a lot to do with his ability to create chances for himself. He does a good job of creating leverage with body mannerisms and precision into his breaks. Downs finished third in yards after the catch (757) last season, according to TruMedia, behind Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns (1,135) and Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba (791).

3. Tony Grimes, CB, North Carolina

Grimes has good size and great speed for the position. He profiles as an NFL man coverage cornerback, but the ball production has just not been there yet. With so much talent in that Tar Heels secondary, it should create more opportunities for the Virginia Beach native to compile statistics. If he puts it all together, there is a good chance that he is one of the first cornerbacks off the board next April. 

Grimes was one of the rare football reclassifications who moved from the 2021 recruiting class to 2020. As a result, he should be one of the younger cornerback prospects available.

Simpson is one of the most versatile defenders in this potential NFL Draft class. He is not Micah Parsons but could excel in a similar role allowing him to play in the box, rush the passer and cloud passing lanes. The Charlotte native finds himself around the ball often because of his quick key and trigger. First-year defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin has a lot to work with this season.

When comparing size, Murphy stacks up to last year’s No. 1 overall selection — Travon Walker. Murphy is a good athlete but is realistically not going to match Walker’s historic NFL Combine performance. Murphy does have more exposure to what would be considered a traditional edge rusher role than Walker at the same point in his career. The former shows active hands and an ability to turn speed to power. When attempting to identify the likely first-round selections in the preseason, Murphy jumps out.

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KD to Nets: 'Trade me or fire Steve Nash, Sean Marks' | FIRST THINGS FIRST

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Kevin Durant is not budging on his desire to leave Brooklyn. In fact, Shams Charania reports that during his meeting with Joe Tsai, KD submitted that the only way he would stay with the Nets is if the owner fires head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks. Nick Wright lays out why Durant basically all but ensured he would be traded with this move, and why he’s calling KD’s ultimatum a checkmate.



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