QB Taylor: ‘Don’t agree’ with swap to Peterman

QB Taylor: ‘Don’t agree’ with swap to Peterman

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills benched third-year starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor and will start rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, coach Sean McDermott announced Wednesday.

“As I continually evaluate our roster and our goal to become better, I’ve decided to start Nate Peterman as our quarterback this week,” McDermott said. “I remain confident in Tyrod Taylor and his ability to help our football team moving forward.”

Peterman replaced Taylor with less than five minutes remaining in Sunday’s 47-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints, although McDermott said after the game that Taylor was still the starter.

“Tyrod was our starter when you asked me that question both Sunday and again on Monday,” McDermott said Wednesday. “Just like I do every week, I continue to evaluate our team, continue to evaluate our situation. I thought about it, slept on it, and I felt like that we needed to move in a different direction at this time and made a decision Tuesday morning.

“Tyrod and I met [Tuesday]. Tyrod is a competitor. He is a professional. He was certainly disappointed yet very professional in the way the conversation went and the way he’s handled it to this point, and I would expect the same moving forward.”

Taylor, a team captain, said he was “obviously disappointed” with McDermott’s decision.

“I don’t agree with the decision, but ultimately Coach McDermott has a vision for this team, what he feels is best for the team, as well as the owners and GM,” Taylor said. “So I have to move forward and continue to be the leader and teammate that I am from a different role.”

The crowd at New Era Field cheered the quarterback change Sunday. Taylor completed nine of 18 passes for 56 yards, one interception and a career-low 33.6 passer rating despite the Bills’ debut of receiver Kelvin Benjamin and the return of tight end Charles Clay from a monthlong absence because of a knee injury

Peterman, making his NFL debut Sunday, completed 7 of 10 passes for 79 yards and one touchdown in two offensive possessions. The Pittsburgh product was the eighth quarterback chosen in April’s draft.

“I’ve been impressed with Nate and his maturity as a rookie in a very early point in his career,” McDermott said. “He’s certainly worked hard. When you look at Nate and what he was able to do through OTAs, through training camp, through preseason and then [Sunday], I thought he did some good things, albeit that was a small sample size in a regular-season game. That said, he has a lot of work do, just like we all do.”

McDermott later added of Peterman, “He’s ready. I wouldn’t make this move if I didn’t feel he was ready.”

Taylor’s benching comes as the Bills, with a 5-4 record, sit in sixth place in the AFC. They travel for back-to-back road games against the Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs before returning home to host the AFC East-leading New England Patriots.

“When you transition quarterbacks, I don’t know if there’s ever a right time,” McDermott said. “You know me well enough now to know that I make very few decisions from a knee-jerk standpoint. This was methodical. I took my time on this and I make every decision in the best interest of the football team, bar none.”

Buffalo began the season 5-2 before consecutive losses to the New York Jets and Saints in which they were outscored 81-31 while allowing 492 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns.

“It’s about becoming a better team. That’s what we’re here for,” McDermott said Wednesday. “We are 5-4, I understand that, and we are in the playoff hunt at this point. It is always and will — for the time that I am here — be about becoming the best team that we can possibly become. We are made for more than 5-4, and I’ve come here to be more than 5-4.”

The Bills, led by veteran offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in his first year with the team, rank 28th in yards per game (292.0), 30th in passing yards per game (180.4) and 20th in offensive points scored per game (18.9). Taylor ranks 19th in Total QBR (51.2), 16th in passer rating (91.4), 14th in completion percentage (64.2) and 26th in yards per pass attempt (6.63).

“Tyrod has made improvements,” McDermott said. “He has made a significant contribution to our team. I remain confident in Tyrod moving forward. This is not an indictment on Tyrod. He is an important part of our football team and will continue to be an important member of our football team.”

Taylor’s Total QBR and yards per pass attempt have declined each season since he became the Bills’ starter at the beginning of the 2015 season. He was selected as an injury replacement to the Pro Bowl in 2015 after posting a 66.3 Total QBR.

He has thrown 10 touchdown passes this season, the third-fewest in the NFL among the 20 quarterbacks with at least 300 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has thrown just three interceptions.

“You learn from playing,” Taylor said. “We’re 5-4. Games didn’t go the way we liked, some of the ones that we lost. You got to learn from it. I wouldn’t say you can pinpoint one thing that I did that led to this decision.”

Taylor agreed to a six-year extension in August 2016 that allowed the Bills to release him without significant salary-cap consequences after the first season of the deal. McDermott, in his first year as coach, and since-fired general manager Doug Whaley decided to keep Taylor this past offseason but agreed to a restructured contract that slashed the final three seasons (2019-21) and reduced his pay by $10 million over 2017 and 2018.

Taylor is due a $6 million bonus if he remains on the roster on the third day of the 2018 league year, which begins in March. If Buffalo decides to keep Taylor, he would count $18.08 million against the salary cap next season. Releasing him would cost the Bills about $3 million.

“[I’m] very confident in my ability,” Taylor said. “I think I’ve grown as a player the past three years and I’m going to continue to keep growing, whether I’m playing on Sundays or learning right now. I’m going to keep growing, and I have full confidence I can be a franchise quarterback when the opportunity presents itself. I’ll continue to keep doing the things I know how to do.”

McDermott, who said he made the decision himself and without the consultation of his assistant coaches, did not rule out the possibility of Taylor returning to the starting role.

“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see how we play. Again, this is about becoming better as a football team. This is about looking at our team and the combination of players on the field and seeing if this is going to make us a better football team. As a decision-maker, you have to be able to or willing to take calculated risks to get to where you’re trying to go. I’m comfortable doing that. That’s my responsibility.”

Taylor’s benching marks the latest change to the Bills, who are attempting to snap their 17-year playoff drought. Under McDermott and first-year general manager Brandon Beane, the Bills have made seven trades that have shaken up both sides of the ball. Those moves have included dealing away wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, as well as acquiring Benjamin from the Carolina Panthers last month.

“We discussed it as a team [Wednesday] morning,” McDermott said. “Their response — and they’ve been through this before — is they march on. They’ve been through a lot of things already. As we continue to grow and continue to move in the direction that I want us to move, there’s going to be difficult decisions and adversity, as you’ve heard me say before. That’s all about becoming better.

“We’re here for more than five wins. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I was brought here. That’s the vision. It’s nothing more than that. It’s about getting us to where we’re trying to go. To win a championship. Everyone wants to get to the playoffs, I understand that, and that’s important. But at the end of the day, it’s about trying to become that football team that the fans of western New York and the Buffalo Bills fans of the world have dreamed of for years.”

The Bills own extra selections in the first and second rounds of the 2018 draft, including the Chiefs’ first-round pick and Rams’ second-round pick, which they could potentially use to select a quarterback. However, McDermott dismissed the idea that benching Taylor was part of a plan to replace him in the draft next season.

“It’s about winning now,” he said.

Source: http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21422733/buffalo-bills-start-nathan-peterman-quarterback

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Olsen: Vikings’ worries about TV work ‘crazy’

Olsen: Vikings’ worries about TV work ‘crazy’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen insists he won’t gain an unfair advantage assisting in the broadcast of the Vikings-Rams game for Fox Sports on Sunday as some in the Minnesota organization have suggested.

“The notion that I’m going to gain an unfair advantage is crazy,” the three-time Pro Bowl selection said on Wednesday. “We have scouts at every game across the league. I’m going to have enough trouble on my hands broadcasting a game, let alone looking for little nuances on the sideline.

“I don’t know how much time I’ll have for stealing of secrets. I never was intending or thought I was in a production meeting. I never thought I would watch a practice.”

NFL.com reported that Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman spoke with the NFL and Fox Sports to say it is in inappropriate that Olsen be allowed to participate in the broadcast during the bye weekend for the Panthers.

“The notion that I’m going to gain an unfair advantage is crazy. We have scouts at every game across the league. I’m going to have enough trouble on my hands broadcasting a game, let alone looking for little nuances on the sideline.”

Greg Olsen

Olsen has been on injured reserve with a broken foot suffered in a Week 2 win against Buffalo, but is set to come off next week in time to play in the Nov. 26 game against the New York Jets.

The Panthers (7-3), who trail the New Orleans Saints (7-2) by half a game in the NFC South, host the NFC North-leading Vikings (7-2) on Dec. 10. They could face the NFC West-leading Rams (7-2) in the playoffs.

Minnesota’s concern is that Fox Sports announcers Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis will have access to practice and production meetings, and they potentially could share team secrets with Olsen.

“For anyone who has ever been in those broadcast production meetings, if you’re spilling your deepest, darkest game plan secrets to the broadcast crew that’s kind of on you,” said Olsen, who has been in production meetings before. “We’re not getting anything that’s really going to give you much insight on how to beat them.

“The whole thing is so crazy to me. I don’t know. Whatever.”

Olsen said he would have no issue if a Minnesota player was in the booth for a Carolina game.

“What you see on the tape is what you see and then whatever your secrets are for that week you sure as not telling anybody,” he said. “So I don’t know what’s left.

“I don’t even know what to say. I never imagined in a million years when Fox asked me to do this five months ago that this was ever going to become an issue.”

Olsen is disappointed this has taken away from what he considers a special moment for him because broadcasting is something he might be interested in after football.

“It kind of sucks that it’s controversy as opposed to people being a little excited for a little different take on the game,” he said. “But that’s the world we live in. Everyone has a problem with something. I get it. I understand this is a highly competitive world. I get it.

“But I’m still going to do it.”

Source: http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21425180/greg-olsen-carolina-panthers-minnesota-vikings-worries-tv-work-crazy

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Vikings stick with QB Keenum over Bridgewater

Vikings stick with QB Keenum over Bridgewater

Johnson calls Vikings’ QB decision ‘smart move’ (0:42)

Keyshawn Johnson agrees with Minnesota’s decision to keep Case Keenum as the starter for Week 11. (0:42)

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings will stick with Case Keenum at quarterback when they host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, coach Mike Zimmer announced Wednesday.

Keenum, who spent the 2015-16 seasons with the Rams, led Minnesota to a 38-30 victory at Washington in Week 10, throwing for 304 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Zimmer said it wasn’t a difficult choice to go with Keenum. He said his performance on Sunday was “part of” the decision to stick with him.

The decision to ride out the momentum with Keenum for another week delays the return of Teddy Bridgewater, who was activated to the 53-man roster last week. Bridgewater injured his left knee in August 2016 and hasn’t played in a game since; he will continue to serve as Keenum’s backup in Week 11.

Zimmer said the quarterback is healthy enough to play, otherwise he wouldn’t dress out.

Keenum is 5-2 in his starts for the Vikings and has Minnesota riding a five-game winning streak.

Keenum has the NFL’s third-best Total QBR (72.6), behind injured Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott. In Sam Bradford‘s absence, Keenum has orchestrated a Vikings passing attack that ranks 12th in the NFL with 245.8 yards per game.

Minnesota is in first place in the NFC North at 7-2 and faces off with Los Angeles (7-2) in a game with playoff implications. Keenum will go head-to-head with Jared Goff, the former No. 1 overall pick who replaced him as the Rams starter in November 2016 after Keenum went 4-5 to begin the season. The Rams lost their remaining seven games after the switch.

“He’s a great dude,” Keenum said of Goff. “We’ve kept up throughout the season, obviously a lot of congratulatory texts between the two of us. I think one of my friends said it, ‘Just like everybody predicted. Case Keenum with the 7-2 Minnesota Vikings going up against the 7-2 Rams.’ I’m excited. I really am. He’s a great player. He’s playing really well. I’m excited for him.”

This season paints a different picture. Both quarterbacks boast the most-improved QBRs from last year to now, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Goff is at the helm of an offense that is on pace to lead the league in scoring after finishing last in points last year.

Source: http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21424213/minnesota-vikings-stick-qb-case-keenum-teddy-bridgewater

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How real are the Cavs’ issues, and will they last?

How real are the Cavs’ issues, and will they last?

Are the now-.500 Cleveland Cavaliers back on track or do they have bigger problems? What moves can they make to ensure a Finals rematch?

Our NBA Insiders go 5-on-5.


1. Now that they’re back to .500, the Cavs’ mood should be …?

Jackie MacMullan, ESPN.com: Buoyant. LeBron is energized from trolling Enes Kanter, Frank Ntilikina and the city of New York, and his brilliant decision to turn the game into a “subway series” has only enhanced team chemistry.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Indifferent. They have proved their mood isn’t affected by their regular-season record. Even though there are seven new players, the team’s mood goes as LeBron’s goes. Over the past few years his intensity level varies widely in the first couple of months of the season, and we’re seeing that again.

Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight.com: Not nearly as playful and haughty as its been so far. I’m sure it’s just LeBron’s lingering resentment for Phil, but the jubilant social media posts from him and Isaiah Thomas were a bit much. The Cavs are still playing largely awful basketball.

Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com: Patient. Cleveland is without three of its top nine rotation players right now. Until Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson and Derrick Rose are fully healthy with this group, who is to say that they’re destined to be a .500 ballclub?

Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Glad things aren’t worse. Given Cleveland’s minus-2.7 point differential, the team could easily be a game or two below .500. But their ability to turn things on late in games, such as their fourth-quarter comeback Monday at Madison Square Garden, has allowed the Cavaliers to survive their poor start without greater damage to their record.


2. The Cavs’ 30th-ranked defense is …

A) a problem.
B) irrelevant to their postseason hopes.

Herring: A. Last year’s NBA Finals — a span in which the Cavs surrendered 113 points or more in each contest — highlighted that Cleveland can only flip the switch so much come postseason. Yes, rim protector Tristan Thompson is out. But let’s be clear: The Cavs would have absolutely no chance to beat Golden State with the sort of defense they currently play.

Pelton: I guess that depends how you define their postseason hopes. If it’s getting back to the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers should be able to improve enough to get by against Eastern Conference foes. But failing to build good defensive habits will matter if Cleveland gets that far and faces the Golden State Warriors or, really, whoever comes out of the West. And I think their hopes include another title.

McMenamin: C, an embarrassment. Yet, recent history shows us they ratchet things up for the playoffs, which not-so-coincidentally happens when LeBron James gives his all to all aspects of the game. So, please, criticize them for being a terrible defensive squad in the moment, but don’t waste our time if you want to make that moment signify proof of a sure postseason collapse.

Windhorst: A. Defense is about building habits. That’s coachspeak, but it’s also the truth. The Cavs didn’t have good defensive habits last year and it came home to roost in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the Finals, when they couldn’t get a single stop to save their season. Ty Lue knows it, he has tried to issue the warnings and the veterans don’t seem to care much.

MacMullan: A. If you want to win championships, you cannot rank 29th in opponents’ 3-point shooting percentage (39.7 percent) as Cleveland does. Defensive transition also needs to be tightened up dramatically.

3. What move or kind of move should Cleveland make?

Pelton: A rim-protecting center would be a useful addition for the Cavaliers. I’d consider offering little-used Channing Frye and a second-round pick for such a player. Could that land Dewayne Dedmon from the Atlanta Hawks with John Collins looking capable of taking on a larger role, for example?

Herring: The Cavs will likely just wait for their injured guys, Thomas and Thompson, to come back. But a part of me thinks old hand Matthew Dellavedova, now with Milwaukee, would actually be a decent stopgap until then. Not totally sure it’s worth unloading someone like Iman Shumpert to swap salaries. But Delly is a more natural point guard, can shoot from outside and also helps provide some defensive resistance.

MacMullan: If I were the Cavs’ GM, I’d be trying to acquire a 3-and-D player to help bolster those anemic defensive 3-point numbers. Relying on Derrick Rose, Wade and Isaiah Thomas won’t cut it.

Windhorst: They should add an offensively dynamic All-Star level point guard. Thomas believes he’s going to be that guy and they need it. But in the spirit of the question, they could really use an athletic big man who can protect the rim to give their defense a protective layer.

McMenamin: I was talking to a prominent agent before the Cavs played the Knicks on Monday, and he was adamant that Cleveland needs a rim protector on this roster. Does he represent someone with that skill set? Sure. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. I think this team needs more time together before it’s worth exploring a more drastic transaction.


4. On a scale of 1-10, how much of the Cavs’ issues will be solved by the return of Isaiah Thomas?

Windhorst: No clue. I have no idea what sort of condition he will be in. I will say this: If they could make a few more 3s and make the other team inbound the ball instead of take off on a fast break after a long rebound, that would help their defense.

MacMullan: I will give this a 4. IT will help lighten LeBron’s load offensively and help keep him fresh for the postseason, but Thomas was dead-last in most defensive metrics among point guards. Everyone simply shoots over him.

McMenamin: 6, taking the conservative route. IT, if the healthy player he was in Boston last season, will give Cleveland a much-needed secondary scorer behind James and also shore up their spotty outside shooting. Also, considering his contract situation, Cleveland will get a motivated player added to the mix that wants — no, needs — to have a successful showing with the Cavs to lock up millions upon millions of dollars of future riches. That said, Thomas is a minus defender and he will need time to fit in with Cleveland’s sometimes cantankerous group, so it’s not like his addition won’t have its challenges.

Pelton: 6? Thomas himself isn’t going to be the solution to Cleveland’s defensive woes. However, his shooting at point guard would make it much easier for the Cavaliers to create the spacing necessary to play Kevin Love with Tristan Thompson, which would help on D.

Herring: I’d give it a 4. Assuming he’s fully healthy once he comes back, that will help. Going from Shumpert or Rose to Thomas will make a world of difference on offense, especially once Thompson is back, too (for screening purposes). But their biggest problem is on D, which is the last thing the 5-foot-9 Thomas would actually help.


5. Fact or fiction: Cleveland and Golden State will have a fourth straight Finals matchup.

McMenamin: Fact. Haven’t seen anything in the first month of the season that has been so radical that now is the time to come off that prediction.

Windhorst: It’s fiction to think I’d make a prediction in November.

MacMullan: Fact. While the Cavaliers are flawed, they still have the best finisher in LeBron. Boston’s young stars need more seasoning, and the Celtics still miss too many shots.

Herring: Fact. We still haven’t seen Cleveland at full strength yet, and LeBron is still LeBron. That may be enough to get the Cavs back on the biggest stage once more. But given how terrible the Cavs’ defense is, it’s hard to imagine how they realistically compete in a rematch without some massive changes taking place between now and then.

Pelton: Faction. If I had to pick who will win the East, I’d probably still take the Cavaliers despite Boston’s 13-game winning streak. But their chances aren’t anywhere close to 100 percent at this point.

Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/21411597/nba-5-5-debate-how-real-cleveland-cavaliers-issues-last

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How Kyle Kuzma’s old-school moves made him the perfect fit for a new Lakers era

How Kyle Kuzma’s old-school moves made him the perfect fit for a new Lakers era

With an unrelenting work ethic and an inventory of old-school post moves, Kyle Kuzma has become one of the best rookies in the NBA. 

Bill Bertka has seen just about everything in his 90 years: the beginnings of the Showtime era Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, Kobe Bryant’s legendary pre-draft workouts that convinced then-GM Jerry West he was looking at a future star, the best coaching moments of icons like Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.

So when Bertka burst into the Lakers’ scouting meetings this spring, raving about some kid from Utah he’d scouted during the Pac-12 Conference tournament, everyone in the room took note.

“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss recalls. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”

The guy who’d turned Bertka’s head was Kyle Kuzma, a lanky forward with a sweet jump shot and old-school post moves whom most mock drafts projected as a late-second-round pick.

At the time, the room was still debating the merits of the star freshmen at the top of the draft — Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum — who had the talent to become superstars and change the course of the franchise if the Lakers ended up keeping their top-3 protected pick.

Most analysts regarded Kuzma as a solid all-around player with the potential to be a stretch-4 in the NBA game, but 21-year-olds don’t get much credit for potential in the one-and-done era. And 21-year-olds who shoot 31.2 percent from beyond the arc in their junior year of college might as well pack their bags for the G League.

But when Bertka spoke that way about a player, it was best to pay attention. Kuzma might not have had the hype the Lakers’ eventual lottery pick, Ball, did. He certainly didn’t have anyone promoting him like Ball’s outspoken father, LaVar Ball. But Kuzma had a versatility to his game that’s hard to find in players his size (6-foot-9). If he was still available at the end of the first round when they had Picks 27 and 28, they’d consider him.

“When Magic [Johnson] and I drew up the architecture for how we wanted this team to be built, we knew that positionless, versatile players would be at the core of that,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. “And when we started drilling down and studying Kyle, we knew he’d fit that mold.”

Said Buss: “What stood out for me was his ability to switch between multiple positions and guard them as well. His offensive skill set didn’t really have many holes minus the consistency on his perimeter shooting. But he started to shoot it better once he got to conference play, and it carried into his workout with us.

“I loved his activity and his motor. He never really took plays off, and he didn’t really lose himself after making a mistake.”

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0:18

Kyle Kuzma goes to the spin move and finishes with a scoop shot in the lane.

Buss says the Lakers had been watching Kuzma directly or indirectly since his freshman year when they were scouting former University of Utah center Jakob Poeltl (now with the Toronto Raptors). And because they’d seen him over a number of years, they could see the improvement in his game from year to year. It suggested a player who was still growing his skill set and maybe why he’d been such a late-bloomer on the prep and AAU circuit.

“In high school, AAU, even prep school, I didn’t really know how to play basketball,” Kuzma says. “It was kind of like, ‘Let’s throw the balls out, go get buckets, just score and go play.’ Once I got to college, I didn’t know defensive rotations, my footwork was sloppy. I used to travel every other play.”

He was talented but raw. The proverbial diamond in the rough, or in this case, diamond from the rough streets of Flint, Michigan. He speaks openly of the violence and poverty he experienced growing up. His mother, Karri, described in heartbreaking detail how the water crisis in Flint caused her to break out in rashes, lose hair and feel sick.

But what Kuzma did have was an unrelenting work ethic and a coach, Earl Jordan, who was willing to put in the time.

“I got Kyle when he was a sophomore,” Jordan says. “He was about 6-4 then. Skinny kid. And he could shoot the ball. His dribbling needed work, but he had a good idea of what he needed to do.

“So I talked to his mom and said, ‘Look, let me work with him. I can help him. Bring him over here and I can help him.'”

Jordan has been working with young basketball players in Flint for four decades. Every year he runs a free camp that’s attended by nearly 400 local kids ages 13-17. This year will be the 25th anniversary of his camp. Name a basketball player from Flint (they call themselves Flintstones) — Charlie Bell, Mateen Cleaves, Robaire Smith, “Sweet” Lou Dunbar of the Harlem Globetrotters, Carl Banks — and chances are Jordan has worked with them.

At age 67, and retired from a 35-year career with General Motors, coaching is Jordan’s only focus now. All he asks in return for the time he puts into training is that the players come back to Flint and talk to the local kids.

But just because Jordan didn’t charge anything for the workouts he put Kuzma through, it doesn’t mean they were easy.

“We worked every day, all summer on the same moves,” Kuzma says. “Post moves. The same post moves every day, all day. It got kind of boring at times.”

Kuzma laughs at that part, knowing Jordan probably will hear or read that he called that intense work on his post moves boring. But also because those old-school post moves have become something of a hallmark of Kuzma’s breakout success as a rookie.

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0:19

Kyle Kuzma puts a great spin move on his defender to score the basket.

Kuzma is second among all rookies in scoring, fourth in rebounding and starting alongside Ball in a lineup that the Lakers hope becomes the beginning of a basketball renaissance after four straight seasons in the lottery.

But whereas Ball is known for his passing, vision and ability to handle the enormous expectations on him as the No. 2 overall pick and LaVar Ball’s spoken-into-existence-superstardom, Kuzma has exceeded any expectations the Lakers or anyone had for him as a rookie. The 27th pick in the draft already has four double-doubles in his first 14 games, and recently told Lakers.com that he thinks he would be a top-5 pick if last summer’s draft were redone.

He’s shooting 31.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, the same as his junior year at Utah. But his form is so much more consistent that the Lakers trust and encourage him to shoot it from deep whenever he’s open.

“After college, I really looked at every single shot that I shot. Pretty much every shot in my sophomore year and my junior year and just watched my form,” he says. “I watched how I shot it from 3, and I just noticed I was a very undisciplined shooter.

“Form, balance. You’re supposed to shoot the same way every time, and I didn’t. So once I left school, I just really dialed in on perfecting my balance, perfecting shooting the ball up, keeping my hand up, and really just trying to lock in on that.”

As impressive as that improvement has been, it’s Kuzma’s old-school post moves, the ones Jordan taught him during those long, boring sessions at Bentley High in Flint, that make his game stand out.

He has a running hook shot, an up-and-under, a jump hook and all sorts of finishes with both hands that would make Jordan — or Kevin McHale — proud. Kuzma claims to have a skyhook, a la Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, too, but hasn’t used it in a game yet.

“I might just have to bust that out at a home game,” Kuzma says, winking, knowing how the Staples Center crowd would react to an homage to one of the franchise’s legends.

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0:32

Kyle Kuzma pumps up the crowd with impressive back-to-back buckets in the third quarter of the Lakers’ first preseason game.

Back in Flint, Jordan is beaming at how Kuzma’s blending old-school and new-school basketball.

“That’s the thing I kind of miss about the NBA, is you just don’t see the old-school big men anymore,” Jordan says. “It’s a lost art.”

Somehow Kuzma has all of what his old-school coach taught him, and the ability to play the up-tempo, pace-and-space game the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have wrought upon the modern NBA.

He also has a locker right next to Ball, the Lakers’ far more famous rookie, who took a much, shall we say, “louder” path to the same place.

Who could’ve foreseen this for Kuzma? Who spoke it into existence the way LaVar Ball did for Lonzo? That would be Kuzma.

“You know how you’re in elementary school and the teacher goes around the room and like, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?'” Kuzma says. “I said, ‘NBA player.’ And she’s like, ‘Well, OK. Maybe pick a real job.’

“But I really believed it. I felt like I was meant to be here. I play with a chip on my shoulder, but it’s not so much, I’m a show you, it’s like I always knew I was going to be here.”

Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/21416019/nba-how-kyle-kuzma-old-school-moves-made-perfect-fit-new-lakers-era

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Karl-Anthony Towns: ‘I agree with David Stern with marijuana’

Karl-Anthony Towns: ‘I agree with David Stern with marijuana’

Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns thinks the league should allow players to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. 

Last month, former NBA commissioner David Stern said he believed that as more states legalized both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, the NBA and other professional sports leagues should remove it from their banned substances list. Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns has also become a supporter of the medicinal benefits of marijuana, not for himself, but for someone close to him, as he explained in a recent sit-down interview with ESPN.com.

If you’re commissioner Adam Silver and could make one change to the rules in the NBA, what would it be?

I agree with David Stern with marijuana. You don’t have to actually make it “Mary J” [or] “Half Baked.” You don’t have to do it like that, but you could use the [chemical] properties in it to make a lot of people better. That’s something that Adam Silver has to do. That’s out of my control, but maybe legalizing marijuana. Not fully legal where people are chimneys but using [marijuana] as a beneficial factor as an athlete, as a person living daily. I think a lot of times fans forget that sometimes there may be some things that are banned that may not be the greatest for playing basketball, but for everyday living off the court, sometimes those things that are legal could help us.

Is the legalization of marijuana discussed among players?

Yeah, I think it’s discussed. But I look at it from my experience with it. I’ve never smoked, I’ve never taken a strand, I’ve never taken properties of it, whatever the case may be. But I deal with kids all the time at autistic schools, Reed Academy in New Jersey. My girlfriend has an autistic nephew, and you realize those properties of marijuana can do a lot of good for kids and for adults. These guys, just because we’re NBA athletes, we’re not super humans. Some of us have conditions that could use [medicinal marijuana] to our benefit for everyday living, just taking care of our kids and our families.

Are you hoping by saying what you said that it sparks more conversation throughout the league about this issue?

If I wasn’t playing basketball, I wanted to be in the medical field. My mother’s in the medical field. I went to school to be a kinesiologist at Kentucky, which is the study of the kinetic movement of the body. So if I have patients, my job is to take care of people. The reason I brought that up is because there’s a lot of research that shows medical marijuana has benefits to help autistic children live their lives easier. Not smoking, but the properties of [marijuana] make his life so much easier, and he now feels like a regular kid.

How much research have you been able to do about this topic?

I’ve done a little bit just because anything medical always intrigues me, just to see how the world is getting smarter about treating our bodies. There’s a lot of other conditions and diseases that can be helped by using those properties that are in medical marijuana to benefit people’s lives. I was talking to my mother yesterday about seeing studies about abnormalities in people’s bodies and doing surgeries to fix that, fix those conditions. My mom’s been working at Rutgers University medicine for 20-plus years. I love learning about different ways to take care of my body, so I’m always looking for ways that could help me be a better athlete and a better player. And make things just move smoother.

How much work have you done over the years with helping kids with autism?

I felt very passionate about it at an early age. I was fortunate to work with a lot of autistic kids and feel for them. I thank God every day that I was blessed with — I think everyone has a truly special gift, I think God has really gifted me with patience. I think, one, it’s helped me tremendously relate with people and understand where they’re coming from and really be patient, especially with autistic kids. Helping them step by step do little things and really have that love for them. Sometimes I think people get missed because they’re looked at as abnormal when they’re really not.

I’m very blessed to be in a position where I had two loving parents who gave me such an open mind. Really never told me how to think, let me come up with my conclusions, steer me in the right direction. Let me develop what I believe and just enhance it by giving me so much love, no restrictions. I always felt you do what’s right. Even today, I do what I feel is right. … I’m very honest, when I talk to the media I say how I feel. I obviously never want to lie … that’s why I brought [the marijuana issue] up. From my own personal experience with my girlfriend and her nephew, I’ve seen nothing but benefits for him. And I’m very happy that he finds comfort. He finds that normalcy every day. Just like a father, a mother, a parent with a child, you’d do anything for your child.

“Just because we’re NBA athletes, we’re not super humans. Some of us have conditions that could use [medical marijuana] to our benefit for everyday living, just taking care of our kids and our families.”

Karl-Anthony Towns

You mentioned earlier that this topic is discussed among players. Do you think medicinal marijuana use is something a lot of players are in favor of?

I think in the right context it would be beneficial. Obviously, everything in moderation. We don’t have a Tylenol bottle and take six of them. You take what’s directed to help you feel better. We have an amazing drug program for our questions, and we have great backing by the association who does so much research, and they do so much great work with that. Whether it’s not legal, whether it’s legal, they always do a great job of making sure that they give the players every chance to be healthy.

Have you talked to anyone within the league — would you talk to Adam Silver about this?

We have such a great commissioner in Adam Silver who’s willing to listen to opinions and talk to us about how he feels as well. I think David Stern obviously made an intellectual statement from his experience and just seeing things from a different perspective.

The NBA has done a great job of just really cracking down on things that should not be legal. Not only legal as a performance enhancing, or whatever case it may be, but just for daily living to have a better life, a more sustainable life, a more healthy life by removing those drugs from the game.

Are stereotypes about marijuana changing?

I think it’s about keeping an open mind. You have to understand what the use is for. Obviously recreational use, that’s something more of a personal hobby. But legalization of medical marijuana has helped millions of people’s lives. I know people who have had very bad arthritis and feel much better about daily movement, be able to be with their grandchildren to a better extent.

There’s a difference between recreational and medicinal. A Vicodin or Percocet is very, very addicting. And it’s a drug, but used in the right context it can truly help people who are in a tremendous amount of pain. With the right moderation and reasoning for it, it’s very beneficial.

And again, you’re coming at this as a guy who has never smoked.

No, I’ve never smoked or drank a day in my life. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. All my friends don’t drink or smoke. I’ve always believed the people you keep around you [represent] who you’ll become. I have no animosity or ill will or any belittlement to anyone who smokes or drinks. Everyone has their own hobbies and what they like to do and who they are. So I just personally have never done anything like that. I was just raised a little different like that. I never had anyone [around me] who wanted to do it … I’m a strong believer, I have a strong mind. So if I don’t want to do it no one can peer pressure me into doing it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/21412829/karl-anthony-towns-says-nba-remove-marijuana-banned-substances-list

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Fear not, Big Ten, your CFP hopes are not lost

Fear not, Big Ten, your CFP hopes are not lost

Matich: Ohio State not out of CFP yet (1:39)

Trevor Matich describes what has to happen in order for the Buckeyes to make the College Football Playoff. (1:39)

It’s supposed to be about the teams — not the conferences — but the latest CFP rankings left certain leagues giddy and others gloomy.

(We’ll get to the SEC, which continued to top the rankings, albeit now with Alabama instead of Georgia, in a bit.)

The ACC and Big Ten toasted CFP chairman Kirby Hocutt and the selection committee Tuesday night. The ACC is almost assured of a playoff spot, and the Big Ten, which many wrote off two weeks ago, is barely on the outside. The Big 12, meanwhile, can’t feel overly secure about its position, while the Pac-12, as expected, should start looking ahead to next season.

Let’s start with the ACC, which has enhanced its rep during the playoff era and now boasts two of the top three teams in No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Miami. It’s a bit surprising that the Hurricanes, still perfect on the season and coming off their best performance against Notre Dame, didn’t leapfrog Clemson, which struggled to put away 3-5 Florida State before pulling away late.

Clemson’s overall profile clearly resonates with the committee, especially its Week 2 win over now resurgent Auburn. Although victories over Virginia Tech (no longer ranked) and Louisville (never ranked) aren’t as helpful, Clemson’s overall schedule strength, which includes a win over No. 19 NC State, kept it ahead of Miami. But if both teams win their remaining games — Clemson faces The Citadel and rival South Carolina; Miami has Virginia and Pitt — it sets up a playoff play-in in the ACC championship.

Could Miami still get in as a one-loss at-large with a close defeat to Clemson? That seems possible, but the Canes shouldn’t bank on it.

The SEC still seems likelier than any league to get two teams into the final top four. Although Georgia fell six spots to No. 7, it controls its own fate. Barring slip-ups against Kentucky or Georgia Tech, Kirby Smart’s team has a playoff play-in opportunity in Atlanta, where it will face Alabama or a rematch with Auburn, which is up to No. 6 after its 40-17 win. Alabama and Auburn seem to have clear paths to the top four by winning out, and Alabama’s rise to No. 1 increases the possibility that it cracks the top four even with a close loss at Auburn in the Iron Bowl or, most likely, to Georgia in the SEC title game following a win at Auburn. Gus Malzahn’s team can’t afford any missteps, but it remains far and away the most realistic two-loss playoff candidate.

The Big Ten is simply trying to have one entrant in the playoff for the fourth consecutive year. By rising three spots to No. 5, Wisconsin has put itself in a solid position. The Badgers host No. 24 Michigan this week and likely will face No. 9 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin’s win over No. 23 Northwestern, which is favored to win out and finish 9-3, will help its profile.

Ohio State amazingly is not out of this thing, despite two double-digit losses, including a historic defeat at now-unranked Iowa. Not only did the Buckeyes move up five spots after crushing Michigan State, but also the Spartans fell only five spots to No. 17, despite a 45-point defeat. Ohio State is helped by its win over Penn State, which inexplicably rose four spots to No. 10 after beating Rutgers. Look, I like Penn State, and the Lions haven’t absorbed a bad loss, but what changed so much in their profile from last week? A win over 4-5 Rutgers shouldn’t transform the committee’s view so dramatically.

The committee soured on the Big 12 this week. Oklahoma’s 38-20 win over TCU, its second consecutive signature win, resulted in an only one-spot rise. Why is Oklahoma’s profile — wins over Ohio State (road), Oklahoma State (road) and TCU (home) — weaker than Clemson’s? Does the Auburn win really resonate so much? Oklahoma even has a more excusable loss (an Iowa State team with two AP top-five wins) than Clemson’s (4-6 Syracuse). The gap is a bit baffling.

TCU tumbled six spots to No. 12 after its loss in Norman, and Oklahoma State moved up just two spots after a win at Iowa State, which is no longer ranked. While Michigan entered the rankings with no quality wins, West Virginia remained out.

Oklahoma will be fine if it runs the table. The Sooners will face TCU or Oklahoma State in the league title game. But any slip-up could put the entire Big 12 on very thin ice.

The Pac-12’s slim playoff hopes seemed to die Friday night at Stanford Stadium, as Washington absorbed its second loss, which resulted in a nine-spot drop to No. 18 on Tuesday night. USC seems like the league’s only remaining candidate, but at No. 11, the Trojans would have to climb over so many teams to reach the top four. Washington State has wins over USC and No. 22 Stanford and still can beat Washington and USC again, but at No. 14, Mike Leach’s team needs a miracle.

Speaking of miracles, Notre Dame had to avoid a second loss to keep its playoff quest going, and a no-show in South Florida resulted in a five-spot drop to No. 8. There’s too much traffic for the Irish to get through, especially without a conference title to display.

UCF got a bit more respect this week, moving up three spots to No. 15. The Group of 5’s spot in the New Year’s Six likely will go to the winner of the AAC title game, which will likely be No. 21 Memphis against UCF or still-unranked South Florida. But don’t forget about Boise State, which sneaked into the rankings at No. 25.

With Notre Dame out of the way and the Pac-12 essentially joining the Irish in the cold, that leaves four leagues, each featuring multiple candidates, competing for four spots. The Week 12 slate doesn’t offer many playoff-shaping games other than Wisconsin-Michigan, as it’s tune-up time in the SEC and elsewhere.

But leagues should know where they stand after Tuesday night, setting up a mad dash to the finish line on Dec. 3. Buckle up.

Source: http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/21416891/fear-not-big-ten-your-college-football-playoff-hopes-not-lost

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Buckeyes’ bounce-back creates interesting questions, starting with: ‘What if?’

Buckeyes’ bounce-back creates interesting questions, starting with: ‘What if?’

Ohio State bounces back (1:06)

Ohio State dominates Michigan State to get its 3rd-largest win against an AP-ranked opponent. (1:06)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Normally, a 45-point blowout of a major-thorn-in-the-side rival garners a few more postgame smiles than what appeared in the Ohio State locker room Saturday afternoon.

A 35-3 halftime lead at the Horseshoe against Michigan State, the second-best team in arguably the nation’s toughest division, provided more than ample time to wipe aside the joyful catharsis of rebounding from an embarrassing loss a week ago. By the time the final minutes of the 48-3 victory were ticking away, that feeling had been replaced by the thoughts of missed opportunity buzzing inside Buckeye heads.

“I think when we play well we can do that to anyone,” sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa said. “It’s not surprising, but it’s kind of annoying that we couldn’t do that every week. … It’s tough to think about what could’ve been.”

By the time Monday morning rolled around head coach Urban Meyer had no interest in thinking about what could have been or even what might eventually be. On Monday and Tuesday this week, Meyer cut off questions about the small chance his team has of slipping back into the College Football Playoff hunt before they could reporters could finish asking them.

“There will be zero conversation about what happened before and what’s going to happen in the future,” Meyer said. Zero.”

The number the Playoff committee had in mind this week was nine. That’s where they stuck the Buckeyes in this week’s ranking, making Auburn and Notre Dame the only two-loss teams ranked higher. It’s tough to think about a team that was drubbed by the solid yet far from spectacular Iowa Hawkeyes as a College Football Playoff participant, but the question begs to be asked: Could college football deliver enough chaos in the next few weeks to force the committee to consider Ohio State?

First, what could have been: If not for giving up 55 points to Iowa, a 9-1 Ohio State team is in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten’s East Division and take a crack at Wisconsin for a Big Ten title. That game in Indianapolis in this alternate reality likely would have been billed as a CFP quarterfinal — win and you’re in.

Instead, Ohio State’s players did their best to push aside questions about rankings and focus instead on the clear path to a conference championship that lies in front of them. Wins over Illinois and Michigan would get them a title shot, and that was the focus in Columbus during the past week.

“I think we don’t want to look too far ahead. We don’t want to look backwards,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “We want to focus on the next two games and getting to the Big Ten championship.”

If the same team that rolled over Michigan State shows up the next three weeks, the Buckeyes will have a good shot to do just that. And then, of course, it will be hard to ignore questions about whether a conference title and wins over at least three ranked opponents (Penn State, Michigan State and, in this scenario, Wisconsin) deserves some playoff consideration.

The playoff has never invited a two-loss team to its semifinals, but the odds of that happening in year four got a lot better this weekend. There are only six Power 5 teams left standing with one or no blemishes on their record. All of them have at least one stiff test remaining.

If the committee has to select a school with multiple losses, Ohio State will prove to be an interesting test case to see how they weigh consistency against a group’s ceiling. Consistency is elusive for just about every program in college football. It’s what makes the transitive property such a flummoxing and deceiving tool when trying to evaluate the sport’s best teams. And if it ends up taking a bit of a back seat to the eye test in the committee’s nebulous “find the best four” edict, Ohio State has a shot.

The ugliest loss the playoff-makers have excused in their first three times through this process was by 14 points to an unranked team. That belonged to the 2014 Ohio State team (35-21 against Virginia Tech) that went on to win a national championship. It seems easy enough to forgive laying one egg as an anomaly. Multiple lapses in dominance start to feel like a trend, especially when the second egg is a 31-point whopper to a run-of-the-mill Big Ten team.

The committee has stuck to the idea that who you beat is more important than who beats you or how ugly a loss might be. Will we even get the chance to find out if that mentality changes when they start to evaluate teams with more than one data point in the L column?

College’s football most consistent trait — its wild inconsistency — makes that question hard to answer, but it sure is fun to think about. We’ll spend the coming week piecing together what we absolutely know to be true about what lies ahead, and then strap in to watch another slate of games blow it up again. This is a beautiful game.

For Meyer and his Buckeyes, they’d rather not think about what could have been or even what might still be.

“I wish I could put [my players] on a desert island,” Meyer said Saturday afternoon.

For now, they might as well be. But stay tuned, because no school has proven to be better at finding its way back onto the boat in the College Football Playoff era than Ohio State.

Source: http://www.espn.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/143361/buckeye-bounce-back-creates-what-ifs-and-more-interesting-questions

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NFL money line, picks against the spread: Finding the best Week 11 underdog

NFL money line, picks against the spread: Finding the best Week 11 underdog

In an unpredictable season where NFL underdogs are winning outright more than one-third of the time, there are plenty of opportunities to land a big payday in Week 11. And if you want to go big and bet on an underdog this week, you need to hear what SportsLine expert Emory Hunt has to say.

Hunt played running back and earned the nickname “The Czar of the Playbook.” As CEO of Football Gameplan, he watches more game film than a lot of coaches. That’s where he spots tendencies he can exploit.

In his past 30 NFL picks, Hunt has been dead-on 20 times — an unbelievable 67 percent cash rate.

Now Hunt has identified multiple money-line plays that will lead to huge payoffs in Week 11, and he’s sharing them over at SportsLine.

One we’ll give away: Hunt loves the Packers to win outright at home against the favored Ravens. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy is slowly opening up the playbook for QB Brett Hundley, who did not commit a turnover in Sunday’s road win at Chicago, while Ravens QB Joe Flacco ranks 31st in passer rating and threw two picks in his last game.

Take Green Bay at +105 and start your Sunday off in the black.

Hunt is going even bigger with his Underdog of the Week. He has identified a dangerous underdog facing a must-win situation. No one is high on this team, but Hunt says they’ll show up in a big way come Sunday. Anybody who grabs this team now will set themselves up for a sweet payout.

Hunt also knows there’s a critical factor that no one is thinking about that ultimately leads to this upset. And he’s sharing what it is, and who to back, over at SportsLine.

So what is Emory Hunt’s underdog money-line play of the week? Visit SportsLine now to see which favorite is about to fall hard, all from the man who’s a scorching 20-10 in his past 30 NFL picks, and find out.

Source: https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/nfl-money-line-picks-against-the-spread-finding-the-best-week-11-underdog/

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NFC has turned the tide in head-to-head matchups with AFC in 2017

NFC has turned the tide in head-to-head matchups with AFC in 2017

For a long time, AFC teams dominated their NFC counterparts in head-to-head matchups. From the time the NFL expanded to 32 teams and went to the current rotational schedule in 2002 all the way through 2010, the AFC posted a .500 or better record against the NFC every single year. With the Patriots and Colts teams led by the two best quarterbacks of their generation — and possibly ever — leading the way, the AFC combined to go 323-253 (0.561) against the NFC during that span of time. 

The tide turned a bit over the last several seasons, but the balance has never been tipped in the NFC’s favor more than it has this year. NFC teams have a 24-14 record in head-to-head matchups with AFC opponents this season. That 0.632 winning percentage would be the best mark the NFC has posted against the AFC under the current divisional format, and the second-best figure either division has posted against the other during that time, behind only the AFC’s 44-20 domination of the NFC in 2004.

nfc-afc.png

As of this writing, only three of 16 NFC teams have a losing record in games against the AFC, and only two of those three teams have played more than one game against an AFC opponent. With 26 NFC-AFC tilts left on the schedule during Weeks 11 through 17, it’s worth checking in on which NFC teams might be able to help themselves in the playoff hunt by beating up on the inferior conference. 

In order to do that, let’s first take a look at the playoff race. Here’s how the NFC standings look on our playoff picture page. 

nfc.png

With seven games remaining and the current occupant of the No. 6 seed in the conference sitting at 6-3, let’s all admit to ourselves that the four teams sitting at 3-6 or worse, while not yet mathematically eliminated, are not going to make the playoffs. They’re too far back with too few games to play, and have too many teams to leapfrog in the standings in order to make it. So we’ll deal with the 12 teams with records of 4-5 or better. 

That group of 12 teams is a combined 20-10 against the AFC so far this season, with 18 games left to play. Six of the 12 teams have one AFC game left, three of them have two games left, and two of them have three games left. The Falcons are already done with their AFC schedule, having gone a disappointing 1-3 against the AFC East. 

Let’s walk through this by category. 

One AFC Game Left

Teams: Eagles, Vikings, Saints, Rams, Panthers, Seahawks

Do you notice anything that these six teams have in common? No? Take a look at the playoff picture image again. These are the six current NFC playoff teams! No wonder. 

The top-seeded Eagles are 2-1 against the AFC West, and they have a Week 16 game against the Raiders left on their slate. That’s not an especially easy or difficult AFC game, relatively speaking, but at 8-1, the Eagles don’t actually need much help making the playoffs at this point. They’re all but assured of a spot, and are heavy favorites to take a first-round bye. 

The Vikings are 2-1 against the AFC North this season, and they have a Week 15 matchup with the Bengals left on their schedule. The Bengals are 3-6 and one of the league’s more inept offensive teams this season, which plays right into Minnesota’s hands. The Vikings defense should be able to easily handle Cincinnati’s offense, and this game could help them in the race for a bye. 

The third-seeded Saints are … you guessed it … 2-1 against the AFC East this season. They have a showdown with the Jets scheduled for Week 15. While New York played over its heads early this season, they’ve come crashing back down to earth and now sit at 4-6, and 0-2 against the NFC South. The Jets seem likely to get gashed by the Saints’ run game, and if Josh McCown hasn’t turned back into a pumpkin by mid-December, the Saints’ newly-sturdy defense will likely finish the job. 

The NFC West-leading Rams are 3-0 against the AFC South this year, with 106 points in three contests against the Colts, Jaguars, and Texans. If Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and company could hang 27 on arguably the best defense in the league (Jacksonville), they should have no problem doing damage against the Titans in Week 16. Whether the Rams are in the mix for a bye or merely the NFC West crown will likely depend more on how they fare in games against the Vikings (Week 11), Saints (Week 12), Eagles (Week 14), and Seahawks (Week 15). 

The Panthers are also undefeated against the AFC, with wins over the Bills, Patriots, and Dolphins already on their ledger. They finish up their AFC slate against the Jets in Week 12 after taking their bye this coming weekend. Pushing their record to 8-3 will be important, because the Panthers face the Saints and Vikings in their next two games following the Jets contest. Any hope of a bye will hinge on them going 2-1 or better through that stretch.

The sixth-seeded Seahawks are 2-1 against the AFC South, but they likely have the toughest South opponent left on their schedule — especially given the matchup implications. The Jags are the lone AFC South team the Seahawks have yet to play, and the matchup of Seattle’s offensive line against the Jaguars’ dominant defensive front could get ugly. That Jacksonville game is part of an almost impossibly tough four-game stretch that sees the Seahawks host the Eagles, travel to Jacksonville, host the Rams, and then go on the road to play the Cowboys in Ezekiel Elliott’s first game back from his suspension. 

Two AFC Games Left

Teams: Lions, Cowboys, Washington

All three of these teams are 1-1 against AFC opponents this season. The Lions and Cowboys are one game out of a playoff spot, while Washington is two games out. 

The Lions lost to the Steelers and defeated the Browns, and they have the Ravens (Week 13) and Bengals (Week 16) left on their schedule. The Cowboys lost to the Broncos and defeated the Chiefs, and they have the Chargers (Week 12/Thanksgiving) and Raiders (Week 15) left on their schedule. Washington beat the Raiders and defeated the Chiefs, and has the Chargers (Week 13) and Broncos (Week 15) left on its schedule. 

The Cowboys clearly have the best AFC win among this group, but they also likely have the toughest remaining AFC schedule, and they’re also the only one of the three teams that won’t have their star running back for any of the remaining AFC games on its schedule. Throw in two games against the Eagles, and things are not looking good for Dallas. 

Detroit has two solidly winnable AFC games left, but the division rival Packers (also 5-4, see below) have three, one of which is against the Browns. Detroit might be more helped by its easy-ish NFC schedule, with two games against the Bears and one against the Bucs still to come. 

Washington could go on a run for a playoff spot with a so-so remaining schedule, but that run would probably have to start with a seemingly unlikely win over the Saints this weekend. Dropping to 4-6 would likely leave them too far out of the mix to take advantage of having two games left against the Giants, one against Dallas without Zeke, and two against the bottom two teams in the AFC West.

Three AFC Games Left

Teams: Packers, Cardinals

If Aaron Rodgers was healthy, everyone would be talking about the Packers going on a big run over the next few weeks. They play the Ravens, Steelers, Bucs, and Browns over the next four weeks, and if Rodgers were able to play, only Pittsburgh would really have the offense to hang with them. Alas, Brett Hundley is under center, and though he just beat the Bears, it seems likely that only Cleveland is a guaranteed win in that stretch. If the Pack is to nab a playoff spot, they’ll have to go at least 3-1 there, though, because they end the season with a much tougher run against the Panthers, Vikings, and Lions. If they can manage wins against two of the three AFC North teams over the next month, they could be in good position for the stretch run. 

Arizona is two games out right now and is starting Blaine Gabbert this week. It’s probably not worth actually considering the Cardinals here, but we set the cutoff at 3-6 and they’re above it. We’ll note that the Texans, Jaguars, and Vikings are still on their schedule, but so are the Rams, Washington, and the Seahawks. They’re not getting in. 

Conclusion

The most vulnerable playoff team appears to be the Seahawks, who have just one AFC game left (against the toughest possible AFC opponent for them) and a rough schedule otherwise. It seems like they’re a prime candidate to drop out, but none of the 5-4 teams are especially well set up to take advantage of Seattle’s potential stumble. 

The Falcons don’t play any more AFC teams and have looked disjointed all season. They also play the Seahawks, the Vikings, and the Saints twice the rest of the way. The Lions have two AFC games left and they should both be winnable, and they also have two games left against the Bears. But they’ve also beaten exactly one good team all season. Four of their five wins are against the Cardinals, Giants, Rodgers-less Packers, and Browns. The Cowboys are without Zeke and have the hardest remaining schedule of the non-playoff teams. The Packers don’t have Rodgers. 

Forced to choose, the Lions seem like the most likely team to jump into a spot, but the level of confidence there is not very high at all. 

Source: https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/nfc-has-turned-the-tide-in-head-to-head-matchups-with-afc-in-2017/

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