World News – AU – How to Watch the NBA at Christmas: A Guide for the avid, casual, and non-basketball fans


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The NBA’s Christmas roster includes five games, four MVPs, three all-stars making their Christmas debut, two 17-time champions, and a partridge in a pear tree. There is something for everybody. Allow me to explain.

The Heat made a remarkable run through the Eastern Conference in Orlando, marked by Jimmy Butler’s superstar turn, Bam Adebayo’s rise, Tyler Herro’s rise, and Goran Dragic’s resurgence. However, there is concern that the fifth seed performance was a possible anomaly due to the quirks of the restart.

Christmas gives Miami an opportunity to make a statement. Not only could the Heat re-establish itself as a real competitor with a dominant win against a young New Orleans team, it could also alert the league that the East is no longer a lesser conference.

For the first time in ages, we’ve seen the same depth of playoff talent in both conferences, especially when Miami – which is likely to end up in the middle of the East – rolls over a team on the edge of the West.

We were first introduced to Zion Williamson as the soaring, rim-rattling prep star on Instagram. During his first season at Duke University, he established himself as the castle for the No.. 1 overall selection in 2019, the most anticipated draft selection since LeBron James in 2003. We were just robbed of a rookie showcase.

A knee injury prevented Williamson from making his NBA debut until January. 22, and he played just 19 games prior to the season’s hiatus without straying from the Rookie of the Year consideration. There were flashes of brilliance that faded with memories of poor bladder performance marred by knee pain.

The 20-year-old has not played a game for more than 35 minutes and has not been overshadowed since March 30. It’s time to unleash an athlete with the potential to one day take hold of James’ reins as the face of the league.

On the one hand there is the Heat, a team that corresponds to the well-conditioned culture of Miami. They’re the South Beach diet of the NBA locker rooms, exceedingly fit even when compared to other professional athletes.

On the other hand, you have the pelicans with the 6-foot-6, 284-pound Williamson in New Orleans, home to Jambalaya, Po-Boys, and Beignets. It’s a matchup designed to split people like Christmas Dinner: Fit vs.. . fat.

Another look at the redesigned Bucks, which added the one-off all-star point guard Jrue Holiday but lost a few more key contributors from a dominant regular season team. Vacationers and fellow arrivals D. . J. . Augustin, Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes and Torrey Craig want to replace the minutes left by Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Wesley Matthews, Ersan Ilyasova and Marvin Williams. Overall, Milwaukee could be worse.

The key is in Holiday, which the Bucks paid a large amount for (Bledsoe, George, three picks on the first round and two pick swaps). . On paper, the 30-year-old is an upgrade from Bledsoe and a perfect addition to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Holiday can play on or next to the ball and offensively divide the floor for the two-time reigning MVP. He’s arguably the best backcourt defender in the league. In practice we have to see.

Stephen Curry is back! The two-time MVP and three-time champion has only played twice since breaking his left hand in October 2019. The most electrifying player of his generation, he is carrying a heavier burden this season than ever before in his career. Without the injured Klay Thompson by his side, the greatest shooter of all time should shoot more than ever. There are few better reasons to watch basketball.

Everyone likes loyalty, right? In the age of the player movement, Antetokounmpo and Curry have the chance to join Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki as legends who have stuck with the teams that have drafted them throughout their careers.

They’re also two of the more personable superstars the league has ever seen.

Alongside 40-year-old Udonis Haslem, who has been an excellent assistant coach at Heat for several years, Curry is the longest reigning player with a team. Designed in 2009, it helped turn the warriors into a dynasty. Antetokounmpo plans to do the same in Milwaukee after signing a five-year $ 228 million extension that the 2013 draft pick made during its 13th. NBA season remains under contract with the Bucks.

Chemistry is a delicate balance. In the NBA, it is usually built up through trials and difficulties over time. Amid the turmoil that led to the exits of all-stars Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, youngsters Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart formed the bedrock of a Celtics team that made three Eastern Conference finals a year four years. The limelight is fully on her now, especially with Kemba Walker rehabilitating at the beginning of the season and Tatum feeling terribly comfortable in that glow.

While the Celtics have built the current iteration of their roster through the draft, the Nets are adding two marquee free agent signings into a roster that relies on cohesion to make it through to the playoffs of the last two seasons. They’re not just tentless agents. It’s Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, a melodrama personified that brings with it the possibility of a chemical disaster in the NBA’s largest media market.

This Nets-Celtics matchup is the result of two different team building tactics that are linked together. Boston took advantage of the high-end picks it got from trading with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn in 2013 to design Tatum and Brown. Previously known for chasing overpriced stars, the nets were set up under a new front office regime. They ditched contracts, acquired undervalued assets, and built a roster worthy of two All-NBA talent. Seven years later, which roster would you prefer for the 2020-21 season? Christmas gives us a preview.

Of course Irving has been to these Celtics once, playing alongside Tatum and Brown. Irving would be the leader who led Boston to a brighter future, except that the two young stars reached a conference finals without the injured Irving, which then flooded their second season together. Irving’s tense tenure culminated in a broken promise to the Celtics and a ghostly departure for Brooklyn.

Irving missed both trips to Boston last season with a shoulder injury. He played a pre-season game in front of no fans at TD Garden, where he burned sage on the sidelines as a pre-game ritual. Irving, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said he « only purifies the energy » around him. He will be playing in an empty arena again, and it remains to be seen if he will clear the building of bad energy again.

If you don’t like a good comeback story, you are the Grinch. Kevin Durant, who threatened to knock James off the pitch as the game’s best active player at the time of his Achilles tear in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, has come the long way back from one of the game’s most devastating injuries. The Nets are confident he can achieve similar success in Brooklyn, which would be an inspiration to the smallest of hearts.

With the Golden State Warriors devastated by Klay Thompson’s injury and the Houston Rockets handling James Harden’s trade request, the Mavericks are able to take control as the West’s most prolific offense – and as a result, a championship candidate. Led by child prodigy Luka Doncic, Dallas ended last season with the highest offensive rating in NBA history and scared the Clippers despite injury problems.

If Doncic enters the MVP season some believe he will, the Mavs could pose a serious threat to the Lakers ousting. At the start of the season, they’ll have to forego the injured Kristaps Porzingis, who would be an integral part of an underdog title run, but a competitive game without him against James and Company would greatly underscore the belief that Dallas is on the shortlist by teams that have the Able to dethrone the king.

LeBron freaks James out. You don’t need another reason to watch it mature. He fills a resume that already puts him second on most lists of all sizes, and each season of MVP caliber brings him closer to No.. 1. 1.

Divide the room into old vs.. . young and place bets on their stats. On one side is 35 year old James, the oldest player to ever average 25-7-10, and on the other side is 21 year old Doncic, the youngest who has an average of 28-9- 8 has. The most marketable player in the NBA vs.. . the boy who could adopt that nickname. Every old mind knows the feel of a young gun coming on the throne, and it feels good to find out that you still have it.

Clippers nuggets is a fascinating style contrast. L.. . A. is being built out of the wings, the modern approach to rostering, and Denver is being built out of the center and point guard into, an older school model.

Nikola Jokic brings a modern approach to an old school game. He can punch bodies into the post and throw a hook over the defense, but he’s also arguably the greatest passing big man in NBA history and a danger of shooting from a distance. Likewise, Jamal Murray is taller than you think and more of a point guard than a traditional one, but Jokic’s style of play compliments Murray’s style of play perfectly.

On the flip side, Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George should be a dynamic pairing. They are among the best two-way grand pianos in the world. You lock up the best players on the opposing team on one end and commit a crime on the other. Only their games weren’t that complementary, and neither were their leadership styles. This game is a window into why team building is more than just fantasy basketball.

This game is also a rematch of one of the most shocking series in league history. The Clippers took a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals, including sizeable edges in Games 4, 5 and 6, but the Nuggets also took advantage of these encounters with a more cohesive ball mark. It was an embarrassing loss to the clips, who should now have some vengeance on their side after having had all these conversations and not going the way.

The Lakers dominated the Nuggets in the conference finals, and in theory the Clippers would have been a more formidable opponent with both Leonard and George able to neutralize James. These two teams should threaten the Lakers again, but one has to get through the other first.

No holiday season is complete without good, old-fashioned family fights. Much has been written about how preferential treatment for Leonard and George didn’t go well with teammates who had previously done the job to get the Clippers into the playoffs, and that that contempt came over in the bubble where too much time together this poses problems to the surface. There is no greater metaphor for 2020.

Ben Rohrbach works for Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him to rohrbach_ben @ yahoo. com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Canadian captain Kirby Dach will miss the Junior Ice Hockey World Championship after suffering a wrist injury in a pre-tournament match against Russia on Wednesday night.

It’s an absolutely charged class of players for this year’s juniors in the world, but these are the top nine most fascinating to see during the tournament.

In Germany, due to the COVID-19 protocols, there are no nine players available for the first two games of the Junior Ice Hockey World Championship.

It all comes down to Week 16, which opened the door to some unexpected players to be the difference makers.

James Harden should be able to return in time for the new season opener for the Rockets on Saturday.

It took 16 weeks of NFL games for the first head coach to miss a game due to COVID-19 protocols.

Titan’s linebacker Will Compton got a haircut and it’s so terrible that his teammates and even the team’s Twitter account toasted him.

Any concerns about how well Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur would work with veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers disappeared towards the end of their second season together. LaFleur, who came to Green Bay after an unremarkable season as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, has teamed up with Rodgers to make Green Bay one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses. « We had a great time together, » said Rodgers. « We laughed at every question about our working relationship all the way up to last year’s NFC (game) championship and back in this year’s playoffs. « . It was a lot of fun working together. The 41-year-old LaFleur has become one of the best young coaches in the league as he prepares to face his former boss on Sunday night when the NFC North Champion Packers (11-3) beat the Titans in a matchup between two of the NFLs host teams with the highest scores. Mike Vrabel has the Titans (10-4) close to a second playoff spot in a row. LaFleur has a 24-6 record in Green Bay and is one of only six coaches in NFL history to have won at least 24 of their first 30 games. He has come a long way since the 2018 season in Tennessee when the Titans turned 25. Place in yards per game and the 27th. Place in points per game as they went 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs. However, LaFleur says he learned a lot from working with Vrabel this year, who has held everyone accountable from his coaches to every player on the squad. « He was really straightforward in his communication, setting out the expectations, » said LaFleur. “(They) were crystal clear to everyone. You knew where you stood and what your tasks were and what your expectations were. I thought he did an excellent job with it. It is something that I have also tried to transfer. Last season Green Bay took a 13-3 lead and won many close games by relying heavily on his defense. When the Packers fought for a goal last season, how long would it take Rodgers to familiarize himself with LaFleur’s offense?. Mike McCarthy’s move to LaFleur after the 2018 season marked Green Bay’s first move as head coach since Rodgers started quarterback in 2008. When the Packers traded four places in the first round for Utah quarterback Jordan Love in April, speculation about Rodger’s long-term future at Green Bay increased. Rodgers and LaFleur responded by helping the Packers (11-3) boast one of the NFL’s toughest crimes. They jump into the teams early by scoring 31 out of 23 points per game. 5 last season. And Rodgers produced one of the best seasons of his career as a Hall of Fame caliber with 40 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. LaFleur has praised Rodgers throughout the season and named him MVP leader last week. Rodgers praised LaFleur’s call to play, noting how the team’s off-season Zoom sessions helped them build the chemistry. Rodgers also credited LaFleur with putting together a quality group of assistant coaches. « He has a great group of teachers and I enjoy the working relationship, the friendship, the communication, » Rodgers said. « We’ve had a good run so far. The Green Bay offensive had one of its few problems last week as the Packers scored touchdowns on their first three drives but were only 49 yards clear after half in a 24:16 win over the Carolina Panthers. That gives the Packers plenty of incentive as LaFleur prepares to keep up with Vrabel, who has noticed how well his former offensive coordinator has fared in Green Bay. Sunday’s game marks the first time the Titans third-year coach has compared his wits to a head coach who once worked on his staff. « I think Matt has confidence in what he believes, » said Vrabel. « I think he’s a hard worker. I think it has a hardness about it as it has been to a lot of different places and has worked its way up. Don’t be afraid to move your family to another opportunity and then turn that opportunity into something else. These are all really strong traits. I think he learned from people that he was there and he has a lot of great coaches. « LaFleur is excited to show Vrabel how much he has grown over the last couple of seasons. « I really enjoyed my time in Tennessee, as I said, learned a lot, » said LaFleur. “Now I hope we have a good game plan, play our best football and hit her butt. NOTES: Center Corey Linsley, who has been in an injured reserve with a knee problem since December. 5, has been practicing this week. His status for the game on Sunday remains uncertain. « We’ll be there another week to see where he is but he looked fine in the limited action he was there in, » LaFleur said Thursday. . . . Jamaal Williams (quadriceps), Jace Sternberger (concussion / illness), and Safety Will Redmond (concussion) haven’t exercised in the past two days. ___AP Pro football writer Teresa M. . Walker contributed to this report. ___More AP NFL: https: // apnews. com / NFL and https: // twitter. com / AP_NFLSteve Megargee, The Associated Press

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Arizona Cardinals are back in the middle of the playoff race for the first time in years, while the San Francisco 49ers are out of the postseason a year after the Super Bowl. Saturday’s game between the two teams is another example of how quickly things can change in professional football. « This is the NFL, it’s competitive, it’s very tight, » said Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray. « The fact that we are still where we want to be in the thick of it is all you can ask for at this point in the season. Arizona (8-6) has tried its fifth season against San Francisco (5-9) in the past six years, who lost to the Cardinals 24-20 in Week 1 and lost a total of six of their last seven games. The cardinals are currently in No.. 7th and last place in the NFC playoff race. They can secure a postseason spot for the first time since 2015 if they win on Saturday and the Chicago Bears lose or tie against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. BEATHARD’S CHANCEC. J. . Beathard will make his first start at quarterback for the 49ers since 2018, with both Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens injured. Beathard believes he has grown into a better player than the quarterback, who won one of 10 starts in 2017-18 with 13 interceptions, 12 TDs and 74. 6 rating. He’s shown a few lightning bolts on mop-up duty this season, and this is an opportunity to show how much he has improved before becoming a free agent this off-season. « I have nothing to lose at this point, » said Beathard. « I’ll go out and have fun. This team has nothing to lose at this point. We won’t make the playoffs. We really have nothing to lose. We have to go out there and leave everything in the field and just have fun with it. That was our motto last week: Just go out and have fun. I look forward to the opportunity. DeAndre Hopkins, recipient of PRACTICECardinals, has voiced criticism in Arizona media circles for lack of time on the practice field. But it’s hard to argue with his game production: He leads the NFL with 1. 324 yards and was recently selected for his sixth Pro Bowl. Hopkins good-naturedly called out some of these critics earlier this week. He said he doesn’t listen too much to local media but his grandfather let him know of some of the highlights. « Tell the people who say I don’t practice watching me play, » said Hopkins with a grin. EXCELLENT WILLIAMS One of the bright spots for the Niners this season was the left tackle game against Trent Williams. Williams, who was a perennial pro bowler while in Washington, has returned to that form with the 49ers after sitting outside all last season. Williams was voted his eighth Pro Bowl this week, calling it his most satisfying. « It never gets old, » he said. « Every year is just as special as the last. This year is a lot more special for me just because I had to overcome last season. It was a mountain climb for me. Zach Allen, defender of ZACH ATTACKCardinals, had a big game against the Eagles last weekend. It ended with 11 tackles, a sack, a tackle against loss, a quarterback hit, and a defended pass. He has been the first defender to defend at least 11 tackles, a sack and a pass in one game since New England’s Willie McGinest did so in 2003. Allen is in his sophomore season, having been selected in the Boston College third round, among a handful of little-known players who have made a huge impact on the Cardinals this season. « He only had a couple of injuries that slowed him down, but it’s cool to see how successful he is in getting him back, » said Cardinal coach Kliff Kingsbury. « He’s the type of guy who was overproductive in college. He’s always around the quarterback when he’s there and it was nice to see he’s done some of those productions here over the past few weeks. « FAMILY TIME The Niners have been based in Arizona for the full month after being kicked out of their home stadium because of coronavirus rules banning contact sports in Santa Clara County. Many of the players and coaches were taken away this week when several families went on vacation. Trainer Kyle Shanahan said he would juggle the schedule to make sure everyone had time with families on Christmas morning. « I know everyone enjoys being with their family, but it’s a lot more appreciated when you’re gone for a while, » Shanahan said. STREAMING: The 49ers Cardinals game will be the first to be broadcast nationally exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, Twitch and other Amazon services. The game will also air in the home markets of Arizona and San Francisco. ___More AP NFL: https: // apnews. com / NFL and https: // twitter. com / AP_NFLDavid Brandt, The Associated Press

Christmas is in such a good mood for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that he has decided not to suspend James Harden for breaking the rules.

PITTSBURGH – Josh Bell went out of his way to be a Pittsburgh pirate. He understood when the club was retooled following the departure of stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole that he would de facto be the face of the franchise. It’s a responsibility that Bell ran up to. He was very involved in the community. He developed a bond with the family of the first base player in the Hall of Fame, Willie « Pops » Stargell. He went on to become an all-star in 2019 and looked just like the pirates were able to rebuild him. And now he’s gone. The pirates sent the 28-year-old bell to Washington on Thursday, giving the Nationals the bat’s general manager Mike Rizzo, saying this was an off-season priority for the multi-year NL-East competitors. Washington sent pitching prospects Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean to Pittsburgh for Bell, a move that Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington deemed necessary to give Pittsburgh the organizational depth it needs to build something successful later. « In order to build this winning team, and to get to this winning team, it sometimes takes some difficult decisions. This is one of them, « said Cherington. Bell was an All-Star in 2019 after a hot first half in which he scored . 302 with 27 home runs and 84 RBIs. This shape was difficult to pin down last year. Bell struck . 233 with 10 home runs in a second half of 2019 with fewer injuries and a career low . 226 in 57 games for the Pirates in 2020. Pittsburgh finished 19-41, the worst record in the majors. Bell believed he could be the cornerstone for Pittsburgh as the pirates under Cherington and manager Derek Shelton wanted to retool, both of whom came aboard after the team’s catastrophic collapse in the second half in 2019 that led to a major reorganization led. Instead, Bell switches to Cole, McCutchen, and outfielder Starling Marte as players sent elsewhere after Pittsburgh flipped them for either less-expensive major leaguers or for well-respected prospects they hope can make an impact later. Bell is transitioning from a team in the middle of a long-term transformation to a team just 14 months away from a World Series title. The Nationals fell to 26-34 and most recently in 2020 in NL East, but Rizzo said this month he expects Washington to have the budget to put together a championship-caliber club. Bell, who acquired a pro rata 1. 777. Earned $ 778 out of a planned $ 4. 8 million, is under contractual control until at least the 2022 season. He is one of three referee-able players for the Nationals, along with outfielder Juan Soto and shortstop Trea Turner. Crowe, 26, is one of Washington’s top pitching candidates. He went 0-2 with an 11. 88 ERA in three starts for the Nationals in 2020. Cherington said there is a chance Crowe could make an impact at the big league level in 2021. Yean, 19, signed with Washington in 2017 as an undeveloped free agent. He has set a 3-5 record with 75 spikes while playing in the low minors. Bell’s exit takes Pittsburgh’s second highest salary on Pittsburgh’s books after Gregory Polanco’s planned $ 11. 6 million. Cherington noted, however, that the pirates are unlikely to be done. « To build a successful team and keep it going in Pittsburgh, we need to keep our focus on talent accumulation and then talent development, and that comes from all kinds of directions, » said Cherington. « But trade is one of them, and this is the time of year that these talks take place. So we will continue it. « . Cherington awaits a response from a fan base that has become used to their best-known players leaving town. However, it was unlikely that the Pirates would sign Bell into a long-term contract. Combine that probability with the time frame the club deems necessary to replicate the success achieved by teams with modest budgets like Tampa Bay and Oakland. This meant that breaking up with Bell – tough as it was – was the right call. « I think what pirate fans want is a winning team more than they want for a single player, even someone who’s a really good guy and player, » said Cherington. « When we think about it, we see it that way. ___More AP MLB: https: // apnews. com / MLB and https: // twitter. com / AP_SportsWill Graves, The Associated Press

This is a week for NFL fans to really party. At first, it appears that the league will complete the 2020 portion of the schedule on time and without cancellations. Second, there are only two games in Week 16 that have no postseason impact. There’s also professional football for four consecutive days, starting with Minnesota’s trip to New Orleans on late Christmas afternoon. The weekend ends with AFC East Champion Bills – how cute that must sound in West New York – on Monday evening to stomp on their tormentors, the Patriots. « This week is all it is about, » says Seahawks trainer Pete Carroll. « It’s about getting to this point, being a championship chance and continuing to present every game we play as a championship chance so that we can practice that mentality, so that we can do just that again when we get here. « . Hopefully all of the lessons will stay and we will move on. Los Angeles Rams (9-5) in Seattle (10-4) The Seahawks will win their first NFC West title since 2016. It would be Seattle’s fifth league title since Carroll’s arrival in 2010. « We finished our season well, » he says. « We had a lot of good wins at the end of the year. This is another opportunity to show that we are getting it and know what we are doing. « . Philosophically, we are close and connected and can hold our own against a really great football team. So nothing changes. The Rams have won five of their last six games against Seattle with an average of 32 points per game and would occupy a third playoff spot with a win under Sean McVay in four seasons. But they have a loss to the jets. Indianapolis (10-4) in Pittsburgh (11-3) There’s a lot of driving here too. The Steelers, the first team to lose three straight after an 11-0 start since the 1969 Rams, still win the AFC North by beating the Colts or losing Cleveland to the Jets. Pittsburgh has won six straight wins in that series, but those Steelers are staggering. They have a sack in an NFL record of 71 straight games and have sacked Philip Rivers 15 times in seven games while playing for the Chargers. Indianapolis has won five out of six and can earn post-season berth with one win and one loss from Baltimore or Miami. Rivers needs a touchdown pass to put Dan Marino (420) in fifth place on the career list. Rivers had two or more TD passes in five consecutive games. Tennessee (10-4) in Green Bay (11-3) The Titans need a win to get a playoff spot for the third time in four seasons. Tennessee can win with a loss from Baltimore or Miami. The Titans claim their first AFC South title since 2008 with a Colts win and a loss. Tennessee is 3-0 against NFC North this season. In NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry it has a major weapon. Henry has a career high of 1. 679 yards and 15 touchdown runs. He is the fourth player in NFL history to win 1 for two consecutive seasons. 500 yards and 15 TDs. The Packers have already won the NFC North and earned the top seed of the conference and only said goodbye with one win while the Rams beat or tie Seattle. Aaron Rodgers has thrown 40 TD passes in the NFL with just four picks, while his primary target, Davante Adams, has 14 TD catches. Atlanta (4-10) in Kansas City (13-1) Not only are the Chiefs Division Champions their fifth straight season, they could hit the Packers (2011) for the best regular season of a reigning Super Bowl champion. A win gives them the coveted AFC goodbye. The Chiefs could be with their 10th. Just achieve the longest winning streak in the regular season in franchise history. Kansas City has never won 14 games in one season. While Matt Ryan made passes to 11 recipients against the Bucs, Calvin Ridley is his primary target with Julio Jones. He had career bests of 10 catches for 163 yards last week and Ridley’s seven 100-yard games lead the NFL. Minnesota (6-8) in New Orleans (10-4), Friday The Saints can celebrate on Christmas night with a win that will give them the NFC South title. A loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday does that too. Drew Brees returned from a four game absence (rib and lung) last week and passed three TDs. It takes Brees 154 yards to become the first quarterback at 80. To become 000. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook lead the NFL with 1st. 833 meters from the precipice. Wideout Justin Jefferson leads all rookies with 73 receptions and 1. 182 reception areas. Tampa Bay (9-5) in Detroit (5-9), SaturdayTom Brady is used to this scenario, even though his current team has been in uncharted waters since 2007. The Bucs need a win or a loss in Chicago to get their first post-season berth since then. The 13-year playoff drought in Tampa Bay is the NFL’s second-longest string after Cleveland’s 18-year run, which is nearing its end. Brady has these six Super Bowl rings from his New England days. Only once, while he was healthy and the full-time starter was there (2002), did the Patriots fail the playoffs. Lions interim trainer Darrell Bevell will miss the game due to COVID-19 contact tracing. Wide receiver trainer Robert Prince will lead the team. San Francisco (5-9), Arizona (8-6), Saturday and NFL first: The game will be broadcast nationwide exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, Twitch and other Amazon services. The game will also air in the home markets of Arizona and San Francisco. Arizona has been trying to win season five over San Francisco for the past six seasons and hold last place on the NFC wildcard. The Niners are playing a street game in their makeshift home in Arizona after being forced out of their home stadium due to coronavirus rules. San Francisco lost both of its home games at State Farm Stadium. Miami (9-5) in Las Vegas (7-7), Saturday With the Raiders nearly dropped out of the playoff competition, Miami has put together some impressive numbers. Last year the Dolphins allowed an NFL worst 30. 9 points per game. This season they allow 18. 4 per game, the lowest average in the league. The Dolphins have a snack in 20 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Cornerback Xavien Howard leads the league with nine interceptions, more than nine teams, and Miami allowed 16 TDs after giving up a league high of 39 last year. The Raiders are at home 5-2 in their first year in Las Vegas and can set a franchise record for home losses with a sixth in a season. You lost four out of five after a 6-3 start and will be excluded from the playoff competition with a defeat or a Ravens win. Cleveland (10-4) in the New York Jets (1-13) Can the Jets accept another mammoth surprise after they have won their victory and probably missed their chance for the top draft pick? Cleveland, who beat against in the Meadowlands last Sunday. The Giants have numerous scenarios to get into the postseason on Sunday but must win. The Browns are about to make their first playoff appearance since 2002, currently the longest drought in the NFL. Her 10 wins under first year coach Kevin Stefanski match most of the franchise since their return to expansion in 1999. New York Giants (5-9) in Baltimore (9-5) The Giants are barely holding on to playoff hopes, and Baltimore likely has to win – and may still be left out. Look for the Ravens who run the ball after running 100 yards or more in 37 consecutive games, hitting the second-longest streak in NFL history, and being Ballhawks: Baltimore leads the league with 25 forced fumbles and tied for 12 second place fiddly restores. New York hopes to have Daniel Jones back at the quarterback. Carolina (4-10) in Washington (6-8) A win in his first game practice against the team he led to the 2015 NFC title – and which sacked him in 2019 – would give Washington’s Ron Rivera the NFC East Crown, when the Giants lose to Baltimore. But D’s headlines were rarely good. C.. . and this week, quarterback Dwayne Haskins was fined 40. US $ 000 and robbed of its captain for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The Panthers have lost eight of their last nine. On Monday they fired General Manager Marty Hurney, who could land in Washington. Philadelphia (4-9-1) in Dallas (5-9) Both NFC East teams are hoping Washington will collapse, although the loser here can’t make the postseason – which shouldn’t even be under discussion given their records. One loss for the Cowboys marks their first record loss in NFC East games since 2011. Eagle’s rookie QB Jalen Hurts has given the offensive a boost in both of his starts. Buffalo (11-3) in New England (6-8) Monday night Division champion Bills may become the first AFC East opponent to beat New England in a season since the Jets and Dolphins in 2000. The 19 consecutive seasons without losing both games against a division opponent are an NFL record. The bills last swept the Patriots in 1999. « To compete against a division opponent and beat them both times is a big deal, » said Bill cornerback Tre’Davious White. « I think this year is the year of the stripes or whatever. I hope this is the case. Chicago (7-7) in Jacksonville (1-13) Jacksonville has lost 13 in a row, tying the longest skid in team history. The Jaguars have allowed at least 24 points in each of those 13 games, an NFL record. While the Jaguars are now in position for the top draft pick (Trevor Lawrence?), The Bears can still make it through the postseason. They need help, especially Arizona is losing. Denver (5-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9) Not much recommended other than the chance to see Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. LA has won two in a row and Herbert’s rapid maturation at the NFL level is encouraging. Denver had one of the most injured squads all season and now sees former star defender Chris Harris Jr on the other side. . Cincinnati (3-10-1) in Houston (4-10) The Bengals looked like a professional team dealing with Pittsburgh on Monday night after losing five straight times. Unfortunately, top draft picker Joe Burrow’s development was slowed down by his mid-season knee injury, but the future looks less difficult than Houston. While QB Deshaun Watson is having a solid season, the Texans are one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments and are looking for a new head coach. ___More AP NFL: https: // apnews. com / NFL and https: // twitter. com / AP_NFLBarry Wilner, The Associated Press

DETROIT – Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roll into Motor City to secure a spot in the playoffs. « So we play to get your team in one place and give you the opportunity to fight for a championship, » said Brady. The six-time Super Bowl winner and the Bucs (9-5) are a win after gaining a post-season spot for the first time since 2007. « I call them hat and t-shirt games, » said Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians. “When you get into the playoffs, you get a hat and a t-shirt. It’s a great feeling for these guys. That was the goal of this year – it was to get into the dance.  » The out-of-competition Detroit Lions (5-9) are likely to be very accommodating at the fan-free Ford Field on Saturday. Detroit is led by its third head coach, Robert Prince, as interim manager Darrell Bevell was the first NFL head coach to miss a game due to COVID-19 protocols. The Lions will be able to do without defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and other assistant coaches due to the contact tracing. « It’s super disappointing, » said Bevell, who has been 2-1 since joining coach Matt Patricia. « I am frustrated. Since we started I’ve tested negative. So there is the whole part of it. You don’t understand everything that goes with it, then there is this drive that you want to have. « HEATING UP Antonio Brown has seen his most productive game since his Bucs debut last month after being suspended for eight games for violating the NFL’s personal code of conduct. He had five catches for the season’s best 93 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown that rounded off last week’s comeback win over Atlanta. « Obviously, as a teammate (and) someone who knows him pretty well, he has done a lot of work to get to this point, » said Brady. « Just proud of him, his focus, how he prioritized different things. Brown, 32, has 30 receptions for 310 yards and a touchdown in six games. « He’s making the most of his opportunities, » said Arians. NEW-LOOK STAFF Detroit’s offense and defense are led by coaches who have never had this responsibility in the NFL. Quarterbacks trainer Sean Ryan will be calling in place of Bevell, who is also serving as the team’s offensive coordinator. Evan Rothstein, who is helping the team with research and analysis behind the scenes, will do Undlin’s game day work with the defense. « I’m confident of what these guys know and how they can handle it, » Bevell said. COMEBACK BUCSTampa Bay has won four times after trailing by at least 10 points to win the most in the NFL this season with the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs were beaten 59-7 in the last six games in the opening quarter. You have overcome the deficit and three sub-. 500 teams and lose to three teams with winning records. « You can win against teams that are not making the playoffs right now, but I don’t think we’re going to win too many playoff games where one team scores 17 points, » admitted Cameron Brate. « It’s going to be something we have to find out. « Tampa Bay has not led in Chicago since week 5 at the end of a first quarter. The Lions took double-digit margins by becoming the first team in NFL history to lose four games in a row after leading by more than 10 points. NO-LOOK PASSLions quarterback Matthew Stafford played with the ribs battered in the Tennessee loss last week, adding a notable touchdown throw for Marvin Jones to his long list of no-look passes. Stafford looked to the right as he threw left and connected to Jones in the back of the end zone. Arians said Stafford is one of his all-time favorite players, ranking him in the top four or five quarterbacks in the NFL. « He’s one of the few quarterbacks I like to go out and watch warming up, just throwing because he’s so special, » said Arians. GRONK FANTampa Bay close end Rob Gronkowski will have at least one request after the game. Pro Bowl fixed end T. . J. . Hockenson, design no. 8 overall from Detroit last year, said he hopes with Gronkowski’s No.. To get away from Ford Field. 87 jersey. « He’s someone I looked up to when I was growing up and throughout my career, » said Hockenson. ___Follow Larry Lage at https: // twitter. com / larrylage ___ More AP NFL: https: // apnews. com / NFL and https: // twitter. com / AP_NFLLarry location, The Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas – Preseason favorites at NFC East will meet in week 16 without their franchise quarterbacks starting and their playoff hopes in the hands of a team that wasn’t that late in the race. Believe it or not, the pandemic has nothing to do with Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles visiting Andy Dalton and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Everyone on both teams is likely wondering what happens in a game that starts 20 minutes earlier in Washington. Philadelphia (4-9-1) benched Carson Wentz three games ago, and Hurts won his first career start before another solid run by the rookie in a 33-26 loss to Arizona to defending NFC Eastern champions Bringing edge of elimination. The Cowboys (5-9) stayed alive by winning consecutive games for the first time in coach Mike McCarthy’s first season. Dalton improved to 3-4 as a starter in week 5 after Dak Prescott’s ankle injury at the end of the season. The only way between the winner between the teams that have won the last four league titles together is if Washington loses to Carolina. Washington’s start was postponed by three hours, making the Games happen almost simultaneously. « We know we’ve been in situations like this before, but I would prefer to go to a game I am not familiar with, » said Eagles coach Doug Pederson. “I think it gives you a level of focus and concentration that you need for a soccer game. As soon as we knock it off on Sunday, it’s all about the game, we’re in the game, we train and play, and we’ll see what happens in the end. Both teams have dealt with a lot of injuries. The Cowboys were hit hardest in the offensive line, while the Eagles had problems there and in the receiving group. But bad play was also a problem, especially when defending Dallas and Wentz, including the Eagles. « It’s been an emotional season, not just for us, but for everyone we deal with, » said Dallas linebacker Sean Lee, who was out early in the season with a muscle injury but made the first start of the season 11. Season with Leighton Vander Esch probably due to a high ankle sprain. « But I’m excited about where we are, I’m excited to help. I am proud that I was able to defend myself and help. « ELLIOTT’S AVAILABILITYDallas, who is knocking out Ezekiel Elliott, is hoping to play despite a sick calf that kept him out of the game for the first time in his career in the 41:33 win over San Francisco last week with an injury. « . The two-time rushing champion didn’t practice last week when he planned to be ready against the Niners. Elliott says he’s through this week. « The rest of this weekend made me feel better, of course, » he said. « I actually got out a bit in training this week and ran around in team exercises. I mean, these are definitely the right steps to take to get ready for Sunday. « . « MUST WIN WARRIORS Since 2017, when they won the Super Bowl, the Eagles have been 11-2 in games they have to win, or they are eliminated from the playoffs or mathematically excluded from the competition. « . « If I had it different, I’d rather do our best at the beginning and you keep it up year-round, but I don’t know what it really is, » said Pederson. “I think our boys respond well to adversity. We’ve faced this for the past couple of seasons. « TURNOVER TURNABOUTThe Cowboys have had a return on sales of plus seven in the last two games after being among the worst in the NFL at minus 13 in the first 12 games. Those seven takeaways in two games came after Dallas forced just eleven in the first 12 games. « When you find yourself in the dry spell, you feel like it will never come, » said Defense Coordinator Mike Nolan, who was on the verge of fighting with the Cowboys with the Cowboys in his first year in office, said a franchise record in points allowed, last in the NFL in run defense. « But I think like we’ve been saying all along, we’re about to become some things that we weren’t in the past. One of them is a team that is making some sales. But you can’t just talk about it. You have to work on it. « DEPLETED SECONDARYCornerback Darius Slay is expected to return after missing a game with a concussion but the Eagles will still be unsafe to start. Rodney McLeod (ACL Crack) and cornerback Avonte Maddox (knee). Kyler Murray of Arizona took advantage of a secondary failure from three starters and threw 406 yards for a career best. Safety Jalen Mills was the only available starter against the Cardinals, so the Eagles relied on Michael Jacquet, Kevon Seymour, K’von Wallace and Marcus Epps. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz praised the group’s efforts. « If you could come to our exercises, a significant part of our team would stay afterwards, » said Schwartz. « You are hungry for meetings. You cannot attend meetings in person. It really has changed. Boys are always hardworking. It really just changed the ways that they could get extra spices and attention. ___More AP NFL: https: // apnews. com / NFL and https: // twitter. com / AP_NFLSchuyler Dixon, The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – Viking recipient Adam Thielen is getting used to playing high stakes, high intensity games against the New Orleans Saints. Here’s another one on Christmas Day. « Yeah, it’s kind of crazy to prepare for them. It almost feels like a division opponent, ”said Thielen. « It’s always a difficult game. It’s always a tough defense and we’ve always cut out our work for ourselves. I assume that it will be similar again on Friday. This is the fifth meeting in four years, including two playoff games where Minnesota scored the touchdown on the last game. A win would allow the Vikings (6-8) to celebrate the holiday by keeping hopes of sneaking into the playoffs alive. For the Saints (10-4), a win would win NFC South for a fourth straight season and keep hopes of winning the conference’s top seed – if Green Bay lost their last two games. The loser will start the new year with three games, but the Saints have the advantage of knowing that they will still be in the playoffs. New Orleans has scored double-digit wins in each of its last four regular season games, only to see the last three playoff runs end just before the Super Bowl, with two overtime losses and the first on a 62-yard Minnesota TD as time in the regulation expired. The Saints’ recent wobble begs the question of whether a similar playoff disappointment is back in store. However, coach Sean Payton prefers to focus on why this team should be ready to take the next step. “I love the strength and tenacity of this team. They came back, played their tails next year and got going again this year, ”Payton said, referring to New Orleans’ winning streak in nine games earlier this year. “Does it have to be the Super Bowl (for the season to be considered successful)?. Probably. But, you know what? It’s a good measuring stick. And that gives you an indication of how the culture has organizationally changed, and we welcome that. HEADED HOMEJustin Jefferson, the third rookie wide receiver in Vikings history to be selected for the Pro Bowl, is returning to his home state after a successful career at LSU. He leads all NFL newbies with 1. 182 receiving yards and has 21 receiving more than 20 yards tied for most in the league. Jefferson has several ticket requests from family and friends to fulfill, but not as many as would be possible in a normal year as Superdome attendance is only limited by pandemics. « It’s good for us not to go into a noisy environment where you can’t hear anything, » said Jefferson. “The circumstances this year with COVID are exactly what it is. We need to bring our own energy, bring our own excitement, and be prepared. Vikings close end Irv Smith Jr. . also grew up in the New Orleans area. ADDITIONAL PROTECTION Saints quarterback Drew Brees has tried a new type of protective vest underneath his jersey since his return from fractured ribs and a lung puncture that paused him for a month. Brees said he didn’t find it too restrictive, noting that he played with “a bigger, thicker flak jacket” early in his career, before switching to a thinner model that was sculpted on his ribs in recent seasons. “Everyone comes from the woodworks when they have rib injuries and they tell you, ‘Hey, wear this. You can jump on a grenade, you’ll be fine, « Brees continued. He said the upholstery he’s « supposedly » trying out now would provide shell protection, but added, « I won’t be the one to prove that theory. 41-year-old Brees passed 234 yards and three touchdowns with his new torso padding in a 32:29 loss to Kansas City last week. It takes 154 yards to become the first QB in NFL history, the 80. 000 career opportunities reached. BANGED UP Minnesota’s young defense had one of the worst performances of the season with a 33-27 loss to Chicago. To make matters worse, the injuries accumulate in this shortened week. Five defenders and three linebackers were listed in the injury report, including middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (Kalb), who has missed the last three games. That doesn’t include the defensive end of Danielle Hunter, who missed the entire season, and full-back Anthony Barr, who was injured in Week 2. « You could always need a little more time if you get injured, » said Viking coach Mike Zimmer. « We have to kill other people. The Vikings have only allowed four sacks and 28 in the last five games. 2 points per game during this period. COOKING CONTAINER The Saints’ third-placed defense had two of their worst games against the run during the current two-game skid, each spitting 179 yards or more into the air. Now they have to deal with Minnesota’s dynamic Dalvin Cook, the 1st. 833 meters from the Scrimmage. « He’s quick, he makes great decisions, » said Cam Jordan. « He did a show. « I think we could have done a little better the last couple of games in our running game, » added Jordan. « We’re going to focus on getting back to our basics and getting back to playing our defenses that we want to play. « . And once you’ve made a team one-dimensional, we can really start attacking them. ___AP sports journalist Dave Campbell contributed to this report. ___More AP NFL: https: // apnews. com / NFL and https: // twitter. com / AP_NFLBrett Martel, The Associated Press

James Harden will be in quarantine until Friday, which means the Houston Rockets star and three-time reigning NBA top scorer can play on Saturday when his team is finally due to open their season in Portland. The Rockets were due to play Oklahoma City on Wednesday, a game that has been postponed due to a variety of coronavirus issues. Among them, Harden had been declared unfit to play after the NBA discovered he had violated the league’s health and safety protocols. Meanwhile, the league announced on Thursday that it had tested for COVID-19 from the 558 players in the week starting December. 16 there were two new confirmed players positive tests. But the Rockets Thunder game is the only one that has been postponed so far this season. « None of this was predictable or ideal, » said Thunder coach Mark Daigneault on Thursday after his team’s training session in Oklahoma City. The Thunder is now opening on Saturday in Charlotte. « I am very pleased with the mentality that the entire organization, including the team, has shown in this, » said Daigneault. The NBA medical staff noted that Harden had to be quarantined for four days, which began Tuesday, before he could return to exercise, games or team activities. The league was still checking to see if any other quarantine decisions were needed for other Rockets players. A team needs eight healthy players by NBA rules, and the Rockets were a short Wednesday. You have 16 players on the roster and nine were out: one was injured; three tests returned that were either positive or inconclusive for coronavirus; Four other players are quarantined as part of the virus logs. and Harden was not eligible. Harden was fined 50 by the NBA on Wednesday. $ 000 for violating protocols. The league prohibits attending indoor social gatherings of 15 or more people or entering bars, lounges, clubs or similar facilities. The disgruntled star’s video surfaced on social media where he was shown without a mask at a crowded party in a private function room Monday night. Harden explained in an Instagram post that has since been deleted why he attended the event. He wrote: “One by one. I showed love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she’s going to be boss and putting her people in successful positions and now it’s a problem. It’s different every day. No matter how many times people try to get my name under you, you can’t. The real people always come out on top. ___More AP NBA: https: // apnews. com / NBA and https: // twitter. com / AP_SportsTim Reynolds, The Associated Press

SEATTLE – The Seattle Seahawks go into the last two weeks hoping to rise to the best record in NFC early to a mid-season swoon that faltered as potential competitors. The route may have been awkward at times, but Pete Carroll’s crew will check what happens at NFC West two weeks before the end. « This week is all it is about. It’s about getting to this point, being a championship chance and continuing to present every game we play as a championship chance so we can practice that mentality, so that we can do just that again when we get here, « said Seattle- Trainer Pete Carroll said. “Hopefully all the lessons will stay and we will move on. Seattle (10-4) can win NFC West for the first time since 2016 with a win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. A season ago, Seattle stumbled upon the chance to win the division in week 17 and lost at home to San Francisco, a conclusion to the regular season just inches away. This time around the opposition is different, but the chance for Seattle is the same: a chance to win the division, ensure a home game and the slim hopes of the No.. 1 to keep alive. 1 seed in the NFC. « To be able to win NFC West, this is what we score for and everything else, all other goals, take care of yourself, » said Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner. The Rams (9-5) would have been in the best position for their second division title in three years if they hadn’t stalled a week ago and lost to the winless New York Jets. The same team that beat Seattle 40-3 a week earlier prevailed against the Rams. Los Angeles can still claim the division with a win over Seattle and in week 17 against Arizona. The Rams also need a win – or help from others – to secure a berth after the season. « Sometimes, with the right teams, these tough losses can come at a time when you can develop a sense of urgency that is needed and this week is sure to be a big game for us, » said Rams coach Sean McVay. FIRST TIME AT Los Angeles dominated the first match against Seattle, even if it was a 23:16 win. The Rams sacked Russell Wilson six times during the season and neutralized wide receiver DK Metcalf when he was shadowed by Jalen Ramsey for most of the game. Metcalf had two catches for 28 yards. McVay was quick to point out that when Seattle first met Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, it went without the two best setbacks. Alex Collins was Seattle’s main representative at the November meeting. « Getting these runners back and the way they run the football has definitely made them even more of a challenge than they already were, » said McVay. THE RAMS CANNOT END The Rams’ versus the Jets debacle underscored a major collective flaw in their offensive: the inability to consistently complete rides. Los Angeles has averaged almost 32 points in their last six games with the Seahawks, but not much from the past two months suggests the Rams will solve their problems against Seattle this time around. Los Angeles is eighth overall in the league (383). 2) and 10. in the red zone touchdown percentage (64. 7%), but only 17. in points (24. 6). The Rams have retrospectively played fewer games than just seven other teams, which means they aren’t losing calorie yards too late. In fact, four of their five losses ended up being one-ball games and they only beat 20 points in one loss. SWITCH FLIPPED For the past six weeks, the Seahawks’ defense has been one of the league’s better units. The change began for Seattle about halfway through their first meeting with the Rams. Seattle held Los Angeles to six points and 114 yards for the second half. Since that game, the Seahawks have kept three of their last five opponents less than 300 yards, and Arizona’s 21 points in week 11 are the most admitted by Seattle. LEGION OF RAM – The Rams have the best pass defense in the NFL, making 192 yards per game and 15 touchdown passes in the league against 13 interceptions. Opposite Ramsey, cornerback Darious Williams was a breakout star as one of the NFL’s top-rated cover men that year. Safety John Johnson leads the Rams in tackles and is captain of the defense, while newbie Jordan Fuller’s safety has been surprisingly effective as a starter both before and after Taylor Rapp injuries. Much of the success of the secondary school comes from an aggressive rush of passing that has spawned 44 sacks, the second most common in the league, despite sitting at the bottom of the league in a quarterback rush. Aaron Donald is second in the NFL with 12 1/2 sacks, while Leonard Floyd added 7 1/2 and Michael Brockers has 5 1/2. ___AP sports journalist Greg Beacham contributed to this report. ___More AP NFL: https: // apnews. com / NFL and https: // twitter. com / AP_NFLTim Booth, The Associated Press

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