Best Sports Stuff Right Now: Roll Tide, Really Long Shots and Happy New Year!
The 2016 sporting calendar saved some of its best events for last as a fitting farewell to fans around the globe.
Everything seems to collide at once, doesn't it? The NBA trots out its monster matchups for the holidays. College football gets that much closer to crowning a champion with the start of the College Football Playoff. NFL dives right into a Week 17 slate with major playoff (and draft!) implications.
Did anyone mention it was bowl season and coaching vacancies and surprises and must-see storylines weaved throughout every single sport? Whew.
Before we welcome in a brand new year and a calendar awaiting fans with open arms, let's take a look at the best sports stuff right now.
Steelers Riding Historic Antonio Brown into the Playoffs
You hear that? It's the rest of the AFC trembling.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are kings of the AFC North once more and head to the postseason led by Antonio Brown, owner of the prestigious accolade listed above.
Brown dropped the game-winning touchdown on the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16 to seize the North. In an AFC now much weaker with the injury to Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, not to mention teams such as the Houston Texans getting in, Brown has the Steelers looking championship-esque.
Cowboys Aren't Taking Their Foot off the Gas Now
The Dallas Cowboys aren't backing off, folks.
Dak Prescott just threw for three touchdowns and Ezekiel Elliott ran for two in a 42-21 thumping of the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, an almost stunning dismissal of a supposed NFC contender.
Rather than rest starters, though, the Cowboys won't back down ahead of a Week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Of note, owner Jerry Jones said the team won't rest Prescott in favor of Tony Romo, according to USA Today's Lorenzo Reyes.
Unexpected Name Propelling the Celtics
The Boston Celtics continue to look like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, though the high-profile signing of Al Horford isn't exactly making all the difference.
Avery Bradley is.
The No. 19 pick in the 2010 draft by Boston ranks second on the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game, a career high while boasting another career best by hitting 41.4 percent of his shots from deep.
ESPN.com's Zach Lowe is one of many paying close attention:
He still succumbs to the siren song of long pull-up 2s, but he hits enough that they represent a perfectly fine outcome for Boston -- especially late on the shot clock. He has canned 44 percent of his pull-up jumpers, the 5th-best mark among the 60 players who jack at least four such shots per game. (The four ahead of him: DeMar DeRozan, C.J. McCollum, George Hill, Nick Young.)
The emergence of Bradley is what builds championship squads, so the conference has been put on notice.
Jay Ajayi Has Dolphins Looking Like Threat in Playoffs
A fifth-round pick in 2015 has the Miami Dolphins in the playoffs and looking dangerous.
His name is Jay Ajayi and he has now rushed for more than 200 yards in both games against the Buffalo Bills this year. He dominates elsewhere, though, considering he has 1,213 and eight scores total.
MMQB's Peter King recently talked about Ajayi's dominance: "What a revelation Ajayi has been. Inactive in Week 1 and unknown until October, Ajayi has had three 200-yard rushing games—two against Buffalo, including his huge game Saturday. His 57-yard run in overtime set up the winning field goal in the 34-31 victory in Orchard Park."
The Dolphins now sit on 10 wins, and as mentioned, the AFC doesn't look so hot in certain respects.
Ajayi and the Dolphins finish the season against the New England Patriots, which could very well be a preview of a playoff game if Ajayi keeps rolling.
It's Not as Bad as You Think in Cleveland
Yeah, yeah, the Cleveland Browns are a big punchline because they only have one win on the season, right?
As King also mentioned in his writeup, the Browns currently have not one, but two top-10 picks in the upcoming 2017 NFL draft. For those keeping score, that means the team has a strong head coach and encouraging young talent with plenty more on the way.
Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. Who is laughing now?
College Football Playoff Semifinals
The CFP semifinal is exactly what those in charge of making the bowls wanted—epic.
In Saturday's first game, No. 1 Alabama, boasting an elite defense, looks to prove it can slow down No. 4 Washington. Does the usual elite Nick Saban defense win out or does Jake Browning, owner of 47 touchdowns passes against six interceptions, topple the beast to advance?
The late game looks just as intriguing. There, No. 3 Ohio State clashes with No. 2 Clemson. The former's J.T. Barrett (2,428 passing yards, 33 total touchdowns) encounters the latter's Deshaun Watson (3,914 and 43) in what looks like one of the year's most explosive matchups.
And thanks to the CFP, two of the teams will advance for one must-see finale.
NFL's Farewell Slate
The NFL playoff race may not look as crazy as it does most years, but the season-ending slate remains one of the best-looking offerings around.
Divisional rivalries abound. The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals will still look to kick the mess out of each other. A dance between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons always provides plenty of scoring. The New York Giants and Washington Redskins don't like each other very much. Don't forget a duel between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions carries major playoff implications.
They won't mean as much, but matchups such as New England-Miami and Dallas-Philadelphia always bring out the heavy hits and crazy fans.
This is the last week many fans will see their teams in action for a while, so it's fitting the majority of the games look great.
NBA's New Year's Day Offering
The NBA served up fans a great platter of games on Christmas and doesn't hold back on the first of the year, either.
The lineup has a little bit of something for everyone. An encounter between the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks provides some interesting cross-conference play. The Portland Trailblazers trying to tackle the Minnesota Timberwolves features some of the best young talent in the game such as Damian Lillard, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
To cap off the night, the streaking Toronto Raptors take on a fun Los Angeles Lakers squad, a matchup featuring two teams at very different levels of contention but one offering plenty of entertainment nonetheless.
NFL's Coaching Search Gets Stranger
Apologies to those who said the NFL coaching carousel couldn't get any crazier.
For those keeping track, that means Ryan joins a pool of major names looking for work. Tom Coughlin has been linked to the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora. And current New Orleans Saints lead man Sean Payton has been linked to pretty much everywhere (that's an exaggeration, but still), but especially the Los Angeles Rams, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
Keep in mind the final week of the season hasn't even happened, so things are about to get especially weird over the next few days.
Those Buccaneers Don't Stop Believing
Hey check it out—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still have a shot at the playoff.
According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Mills, it's a 0.0016 percent chance.
As in, a small chance. Seven different things have to happen, including a whole bunch of losses for certain teams and even a tie between New York and Washington.
Go ahead and scoff away. Just remember this is 2016 we're talking about, which has been quite the rollercoaster, no?
Don't Call It a Comeback
The 2017 Rose Bowl pitting USC against Penn State might as well be called the Redemption Bowl.
On the field, it's always fun to see major programs getting back to relevancy. USC has spent years in purgatory, having last appeared in a major bowl way back in 2009, playing the Sun Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and the Holiday Bowl twice.
It's a similar story for Penn State, a team that last played in a major bowl arguably in 2010. The Nittany Lions' last Rose Bowl berth came in the 2009 Rose Bowl against these same Trojans.
While it's fun to see programs on the upswing, such as Colorado this bowl season, seeing the normal powerhouses getting back to high levels of competition just feels right.
The Wild, Wild NFC
The whole Buccaneers thing was only one part of a crazy NFC playoff picture about to unfold.
Go ahead and take a look at playoff scenarios provided by Randall Liu, the NFL's director of football communications.
There, fans will see just how much hangs in the balance between the Packers and Lions, which also impacts Washington. Those Packers, who have won five in a row behind some epic play by Aaron Rodgers, could win the NFC North, make the playoffs without a divisional title or miss the playoffs outright.
So no, fans won't want to blink this weekend during what could turn out to be the best slate of the year.
Happy New Year from the BSSRN Squad!