11

Who believes in the Patriots? Almost everyone, actually

Tom Brady stood at the lectern after winning his eighth straight divisional-round playoff game, wearing a black ski cap on his head, smiling patiently as he listened to a question attempting to summarize the sentiments of his haters, who are apparently numerous.

Hey, Tom, the questioner began, as one does when greeting a friend, or loved one. Once again this week, there was a lot of talk about how this was the end of the dynasty, and how you’re were going to fall off a cliff. I’m sure winning is sweet, but is it even sweeter when you continue to prove people wrong?nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

Brady, who still had traces of eye black faintly visible on his 41-year-old face, mulled the question for several seconds, trying to stifle a wry grin that would potentially reveal far more than his answer.
Which he has almost no shot of winning: Brady is going up against the juggernaut that is the Kansas City Chiefs, a team it’s almost impossible to imagine him defeating, as long as you ignore that he did it once already this season; or that only four teams (Broncos, Ravens, Jets, Colts) have ever kept him from playing in the Super Bowl.11

The reality is Tom Brady simply wanted it more, and we, his critics, have been afraid to write the truth, even those three times we voted him the league’s Most Valuable Player, or the four times we voted him the MVP of the Super Bowl.

“Everyone thinks we suck and we can’t win any games,” Brady said on the field after earning a berth in his eighth consecutive AFC championship, twice as many as Jim Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to consecutively in the 1990s. “We’ll see. It’ll be fun.”

Brady was letting us know, in that moment, that he has heard our whispers, he has absorbed our doubts, while also continuing to ignore the noise because he never hears what is said or written about him, especially not the thousands and thousands of words written each week discussing his greatness.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

With 28 career playoff wins, how could anyone argue otherwise? Obviously, a quarterback who didn’t like winning so much would have, eventually, lost some of those games on purpose, or even grown tired of winning, as Brady’s old golf buddy, President Trump, likes to say. Perhaps that is the real difference between Brady and Philip Rivers, a man who fell to 0-8 in his career against the Patriots in this divisional-round loss. It has little to do with the fact that Brady has played his entire career for an organization with tremendous wealth and stability, in front of a rabid and loyal fan base, and for an exceptional coach with an uncanny knack for talent acquisition.

12

Fantasy Premier League: The pros and cons of Marcus Rashford

When the two strikers faced off on Sunday, it was Rashford who had the upper hand. His goal decided the match and helped Manchester United pick up their biggest win since sacking Jose Mourinho. Since the change in management, the Englishman has started every match scoring a fantastic four goals while also recording an assist. In fact, over that period his England contemporary and opponent this week, Harry Kane, is the only striker to be involved in more goals (seven). As for shots on target, no other forward has recorded more than Rashford’s 12 over the past five matches, with teammate Paul Pogba the only player overall to have recorded more overall (15).china nike nfl jerseys cheap

That last stat may be a nice little hint as to just how effective Manchester United have been in attack since the hiring of Solskjaer. In his brief managerial tenure at the club, the Red Devils have led the league in goals scored, assists, and shots on target, and sit second in chances created. Compared to those statistics under the previous administration, this has been a massive improvement at the club. The result of this has been incredible as 42 percent of Manchester United’s wins, and 34 percent of their goals, have come in the five matches since Solskjaer took charge.12

Naturally this outstanding on-pitch improvement has bled into fantasy and, while Pogba has likely been the biggest beneficiary, Rashford has quietly re-established himself as one of the best strikers in fantasy. While his overall ranking does not necessarily flatter him in the ESPN game (45th), he has recorded a tier-high 85.9 points over the past five matches, with Kane and Salah being the only forwards to have recorded more points over that stretch. There’s more to Rashford’s game than just goal scoring though — his creativity has significantly boosted his value this season as his six assists lead his tier on the season.

There’s more to Rashford’s recent form than just the managerial change, it’s also how he’s been deployed. All five of the 21-year-old’s starts under Solskjaer have come as a forward, a position from which six of his seven goals have come this season. The strange thing is, despite his usage by previous managers, this is by no means a new trend. Ever since the Louis van Gaal days it was evident that Rashford was better up front than when shifted out wide. Unfortunately for the latter, the signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku in consecutive seasons meant Rashford had to play on the left in order to get any meaningful minutes. Over his young career, 64 percent of his goals have come when playing up front, and this is certainly evidenced in fantasy as well. When playing as a striker this season, Rashford averages 12.25 points, just about four points better per game than when playing anywhere else. That number would make him a top-20 player in the league, and the best in his tier.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Whether or not, Rashford can keep this up does remain to be seen, however. He has already scored as many goals (seven) as he ever has in a Premier League season, while already having recorded the most assists in his career (six). Fantasy wise, he boasts 203 points in our game, which is within 50 points of his total from all of last season. Of course, the main reason he’s already reaching his season-high marks is playing time. Rashford is currently on pace for 2170 minutes, just about 400 more than he’s ever played before. If he keeps up his current rates of production, he could be in line for a 12-goal, 10-assist season.

10

Jimmy Butler returns as 76ers cruise to win in Cleveland

Butler was 6-of-10 from the field and hit three 3-pointers. He gave Simmons most of the credit.

“Ben is doing what he always does for us, passing the ball,” Butler said. “When he’s playing like that, the game is really easy for everybody.”

Simmons had his 15th career triple-double.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“Having Jimmy back helped because we had multiple guys that could put it away,” he said. “I just do what I can offensively and help find guys who are scoring. Numbers are numbers. Obviously, stat-wise, it looks good.”

Landry Shamet added 16 points for Philadelphia, J.J. Redick had 14 points and Wilson Chandler 11.10

Cedi Osman and Jordan Clarkson each scored 18 points for Cleveland. Rodney Hood and Matthew Dellavedova each had 13 points, and rookie point guard Collin Sexton added 12.

Philadelphia broke it open after Cleveland cut a 13-point lead to 86-85 late in the third quarter.

The Sixers led 86-73 midway through the quarter, but Cleveland scored 12 straight points and trailed by one after Larry Nance Jr.’s dunk. Chandler hit a 3-pointer from the corner as time ran out in the period, starting the deciding run.

“The margin for error in this game is very small for us,” Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said. “Margin for errors is not just a turnover — it’s a bad shot, it’s not getting back defensively.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

The Cavaliers led 44-34 early in the second quarter, but Philadelphia ended the first half on a 31-14 run.

Butler was injured in the first quarter Monday against Detroit and went scoreless in 10 minutes. Philadelphia won that game but lost to Brooklyn and Indiana with Butler out.

“I felt good,” he said. “When you play with such good guys that draw so much attention, I have the easy job. I hang my hat on defense. I don’t care how many shots I get or anything.”

9

Kyrie Irving comes up big for Celtics to deliver OT win versus 76ers

As the Celtics trailed by two in the final 30 seconds of regulation time in Tuesday’s Christmas Day thriller against the Philadelphia 76ers, they had the ball right where they wanted it: in Kyrie Irving’s hands. There is, perhaps, no better shot-maker in the NBA than Irving, who has never found an angle he couldn’t utilize or an arc he couldn’t put on a basketball to get it to drop through the hoop.

The Sixers, meanwhile, had Jimmy Butler — one of the league’s top perimeter defenders, who himself was delivering a spectacular defensive performance — guarding Irving for the game’s most important possession. It was, in short, exactly the matchup both teams were hoping for.buy nike nfl jerseys cheap

Irving, never celebrated for his defense or his energy plays, provided plenty of both of them against Philadelphia. In one stretch alone in the first quarter, he rotated over to prevent a JJ Redick layup at the rim, outworked Sixers center Joel Embiid for a rebound and a putback layup, and drew a charge on Butler — all while putting up 16 points in the quarter.9

Those are the kinds of plays that, once a rarity, have become more commonplace for Irving this season. And as a result, it has elevated his play to a place it hasn’t been before.

“I always talk about being on those big stages,” Irving said. “It’s just so much fun. It’s competition at its highest. I love going against the best.”

Still, Irving has the reputation he has as a shot-maker for a reason. And it was that shot-making that not only helped stake Boston to that early lead, but brought the Celtics home in the fourth quarter when it looked like Philadelphia had taken control of the proceedings.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Time and again, Irving managed to pull the Celtics out of the fire and back to safety:

There was the circus layup he converted after reentering the game with 8:13 remaining and the Celtics trailing by seven that jump-started a quick 10-3 run to tie the contest. There was the ridiculous shot to tie the game at the end of regulation that somehow eluded Butler’s outstretched arms — continuing a trend that, according to Second Spectrum tracking data, saw Irving go 6-for-10 and score 14 points against one of the league’s best defenders. There were the back-to-back 3s midway through overtime to cap a 10-1 run that turned a five-point Boston deficit into a lead it would never relinquish. And of Boston’s 20 points in crunch time, Irving scored half of them — and hit more field goals and 3-pointers than Philadelphia’s entire team while doing so.

Each of those on its own is impressive enough. But collectively, they create a performance few others in the NBA could even contemplate pulling off on any stage — let alone on Christmas Day.

“He’s done that his entire career — take and make tough shots,” said Butler, who finished with 24 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists of his own in over 43 minutes. “That’s why he is the type of player that he is in this league. That’s why I respect his game so much.

12

Aaron Rodgers scenario highlights sportsbooks’ strategy in light of uncertainty

The uncertainty surrounding Aaron Rodgers’ playing status caused some confusion at sportsbooks, and the way each book has reacted to the Green Bay Packers’ next game reveals the differing philosophies they have about how to handle such situations.

As of Monday night, most U.S. and offshore books are not offering a point spread for Sunday’s game between the Packers and New York Jets. On Sunday night, Green Bay opened as a consensus 3-point road favorite, but bets began to trickle in on the home underdog. By Monday morning, the Jets were favored by 2.5 points.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

“The thing about Rodgers is that he’s probably the single most impactful player to the number, even though he’s not 100 percent [healthy],” Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director Vinny Magliulo told ESPN. Yet Gaughan Gaming-affiliated South Point is still offering a line on the game, which currently sits at pick’em — and they’re one of the only books in the world offering a line.

Caesars (which also has the line at a pick’em) also kept the game on the board. William Hill, which had a line at Jets -1 as of Monday morning, took the game down from the board around noon.12
“It’s a player we respect, so when he bets something, we look at his bet and then just try to see where he’s coming from,” Salmons said. “Then a light bulb goes on, and then we say, ‘Maybe he won’t play.'”

Salmons shared that this particular bettor beat nearly every line movement in the NFL preseason, which relies heavily on information and motivation. The race for an edge is a common practice throughout the sports calendar, but it’s particularly notable when a bettor is able to beat the lines in an age when information spreads so quickly and freely.

“Years ago, we didn’t have all these tools, and you had no idea. Now you have all these tools, so it’s great,” Salmons said.

“Social media’s become a way to keep track of things,” Magliulo said. “You have really credible sources out there. We have people monitoring it all the time. It’s a battle for information. We get it.”cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

11

Matt Doherty is a fantasy soccer set-and-forget star

When Matt Doherty got off to a hot start, it raised eyebrows in the fantasy soccer community, but it seemed very few thought the Wolves’ wing-back could keep it up. Fast forward to the present and the Ireland international is an established goal threat for his club, and a top-25 player in the ESPN game.

How is Doherty performing so well, and why did no one see it coming?cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Doherty wasn’t exactly an unknown coming into the season, having played all but one match for Wolves in the Championship last season, but he simply wasn’t putting up the numbers to seem fantasy relevant. In fact, he has already recorded as many shots on target as he managed all of last season (12) and is just a goal and an assist short of his total 2017-18 goal contribution. If you were to look at the Irishman’s production and profile this season compared to last, it would be quite easy to assume they were entirely different players.11

To explain that, we first must take a circuitous path through Barry Douglas. In the preseason, many Wolves players were highly touted fantasy assets and, in defense, Douglas looked the best of the bunch. The left-back was a creative force last season, finishing the Championship campaign with the most assists in the league while creating more chances than any of the high-profile midfielders at his club.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

Looking like a lock for fantasy success in the Premier League, what do Wolves do? They sell Douglas, of course, just two weeks before the season starts. While they found a positional replacement in Jonny Castro Otto, it quickly became evident that the Spaniard was less comfortable bombing forward than his predecessor. So, with Douglas gone, it was only inevitable that someone would have to pick up the creative slack and it’s now become quite evident that Doherty is that someone.

While Doherty had not previously been asked to carry out much in the way of attacking duties, he seems to be well suited to it. He has already been a direct contributor on six goals this season, which is joint-best among all defenders in the Premier League. It also means that Doherty has been involved in nearly 40 percent of Wolves’ goals. While he is providing far more going forward than he has in previous seasons, the change in role and the underlying statistics, point toward this being sustainable for the 26-year-old.

He is now top-three in every attacking category at his club, with Raul Jimenez the only player ahead of him in goals, shots on target, and assists, and Joao Moutinho the only player with more chances created. So, in Doherty, you have a player who is scoring like a forward and creating like a midfielder, while being listed as a defender.

12

John Wall dominates Lakers while Wizards await Trevor Ariza’s arrival

In their first game since reworking a deal for Trevor Ariza, the Washington Wizards played perhaps their best game of the season, with John Wall and Bradley Beal playing like a dominant All-Star backcourt.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

The Wizards snapped a four-game losing streak doing something not seen often in their franchise history — they got the better of LeBron James. Wall exploded for 40 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks while Beal added 25 points and 12 rebounds in an inspired 128-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at a packed Capital One Arena.

Ariza played for the Wizards from 2012 to 2014, and Washington management hopes the veteran will have a positive impact in the Wizards’ locker room during what has been a tumultuous season.12

“We got to move forward,” Beal said when asked about the trade. “… It was good to see [Oubre’s] development, and he’s like my little brother. From that aspect, I’m a little sad about it, hurt by it. But it is a business at the end of the day.”

But Beal also said Ariza is the “perfect fit” for what the Wizards need.

“I get my O.G. back — he’s my vet — in Trevor Ariza,” Beal said. “I embrace that, that’s a plus. It’s [the trade] kind of a two-fold situation. Trev has a spark about himself. He has a true desire to win. He doesn’t care what it looks like — he is going to go out there and do it.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

After a 2-9 start to the season, the Wizards are still hoping to contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If Wall plays the way he did from the start against the Lakers, when he had 28 points and eight assists in the first half — including a step-back rainbow jumper at the buzzer over Tyson Chandler — the Wizards should be a lot better.

“He’s obviously the key,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Him and Brad are the key. They are the best players, they are All-Star players, but they need to bring that energy every night. It goes on them and then our role players need to be stars in their roles. That’s what makes good teams go. We have been banged up. We are playing different lineups, but that is no excuse to play hard. That’s your job — you have to do that.”

11

James Harden doesn’t deny he got away with travel late vs. Jazz

When legally executed, James Harden’s step-back jumper is one of the league’s most lethal weapons and heavily debated topics, as many opponents take umbrage with the allowance of a “gather step” and insist the reigning NBA MVP’s go-to move should be ruled a travel on a regular basis.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

The move Harden made in the final minute of the Houston Rockets’ 102-97 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday didn’t fall into that category. It was simply a missed travel at a critical time, leading to Harden’s getting three free throws in a one-possession game with 54.6 seconds remaining.11

The missed traveling call added a controversial element, but Harden’s 47-point outing against the Jazz was the continuation of an offensive groove for the Rockets superstar. He is averaging 39.5 points per game during Houston’s four-game winning streak, highlighted by a pair of triple-doubles, including a 50-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Harden attributed his recent dominance to “just being aggressive,” noting that the Rockets need to get on a roll due to their disappointing start. Houston improved to 15-14 by beating the Jazz, putting the Rockets in 10th place in the Western Conference standings.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“We’re in a hole,” Harden said. “I keep saying the same thing, but you look at the standings and it sucks. Just look and see that you’re not where you’re supposed to be. We’ll just continue to work and build our way up there.”

Harden hurt the Jazz in the three areas in which he scores in bunches when he’s at his best: around the rim, at the free throw line and behind the 3-point line. Nine of Harden’s 14 field goals came in the restricted area, including a spectacular, right-handed slam over reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert after driving down the lane. He was 15-of-16 on free throws. And while Harden had an off night from long range (4-of-12), he swished his last two 3s, breaking a tie with a 29-footer with 1:44 remaining and drilling a step-back dagger with 13.3 seconds left.

“I say it all the time: He’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” said Rockets guard Chris Paul, who had 11 points and nine assists in the win. “Like, seriously. He can drive, he can shoot, he’s got ballhandling. It’s going to be a tough night for you, whoever it is. I don’t care what you’re doing.”

12

Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram even harder to stop when they line up together

Last season, they only averaged 5.9 yards per play with two touchdowns in 58 such snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“It’s just something we added, and I think it helps us tremendously,” said Kamara, who has actually campaigned to be used even more often in jet-sweep motions as a wide receiver because he has seen the benefits of being a “decoy.”

“I’ve been asking, ‘Put me in motion. They might follow me this play. They might follow me that play,'” Kamara said.

Like when half of the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense followed Kamara across the field in Week 11 while Ingram practically walked into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Or when the Saints jazzed it up even more in Week 10 at Cincinnati, with Drew Brees faking a jet-sweep handoff to Kamara, then faking a handoff to Ingram in the backfield, then looking back in Kamara’s direction on the right before dumping a screen pass off to Ingram on the left. Bengals linebacker Jordan Evans hesitated just enough to get obliterated by a block from Saints guard Andrus Peat. And the safeties didn’t get over in time to stop Ingram from scoring a 28-yard TD.12

Then there was that time when the Saints made their biggest play of the season to date: Michael Thomas’ 72-yard touchdown catch to clinch their 45-35 victory against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9 on a third-and-7 play late in the fourth quarter. Ingram motioned out wide left as a receiver on that play, drawing a linebacker in pass coverage, while two defenders double-teamed Kamara and Thomas burned cornerback Marcus Peters in single coverage.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

But opposing defenses, really, are damned if they do and damned if they don’t because Kamara isn’t always a decoy — obviously, considering he has 1,384 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns this season.

Last week, the Saints did hand the ball to Kamara twice on those jet sweeps in the fourth quarter at Tampa Bay. And he gained 9 and 12 yards, respectively, on those plays.

The Saints’ use of Kamara and Ingram is just another example of Sean Payton’s constantly evolving creativity — which has also included some new read-option wrinkles with third-string quarterback Taysom Hill in one of the coach’s best seasons to date.

The Saints are 15-of-20 passing for 253 yards (an average of 12.65 yards per attempt) with Kamara and Ingram on the field together in 2018, with four TD passes and one interception. They have run the ball 32 times for 221 yards (6.91 yards per rush) and a TD.

12

Broncos’ success based on run game — just look at their record

The team runs the ball better than most, and the amount the Broncos run is a determining factor in their success. In all 18 losses since the start of the 2017 season — 11 last season and seven so far this season — the Broncos have thrown the ball more than they have run it.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Overall, they are 4-18 the past two seasons with more throws than runs. They are 7-0 when they run more than they throw.

“Our success is really based through our running game,” coach Vance Joseph said Monday when describing the early run-game struggles against the 49ers last week. “And that was slow coming [Sunday]. It affected our entire day.”12

To start, they like to play out of a three-wide-receiver personnel grouping. It has been their most-used grouping in all 13 games, including after the trade of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to the Houston Texans and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ going to injured reserve. The Broncos don’t protect quarterback Case Keenum consistently in that grouping — 26 of the 30 sacks allowed have come in three-wide — and they don’t consistently win the line of scrimmage when they try to run between the tackles.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

In the loss to the 49ers on Sunday, the Broncos tried five running plays out of three-wide in the first half and gained a combined 8 yards. Discounting a kneel-down to end the half, they played all but five snaps out of some kind of three-wide-receiver grouping. Those five possessions all ended with a punt, and they trailed 20-0 at halftime.

Asked Tuesday if the Broncos needed to do more with their personnel groupings, Joseph said:

“Well, yeah. Every game is different, and how we attack defenses is different each week. That defense … whether you were in one back or whether you’re in two back, you’re going to see a loaded box. So our issue offensively was winning first, second down with our run game.”

Also, as was the case Sunday, the Broncos haven’t had the lead much in their losses, so they often run less while in comeback mode. They have held the lead for less than a third of the game eight times this season, including in six of their seven losses.