11

Michael Thomas primed for playoffs, fueled by doubters

Thomas was named a first-team All-Pro in his third NFL season after setting franchise records with 125 catches and 1,405 yards to go with nine touchdown grabs. And now he’s got another chance to flex on the biggest of stages, as the No. 1-seeded Saints begin their playoff run Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles (4:40 p.m. ET, Fox) in an NFC divisional-round game.

“The playoff stage is just all about winning,” Thomas said this week, rejecting the question about what it means for him personally. “Whatever it takes to win, be the last team standing, play for a championship and ultimately win a championship is what the playoffs mean to me.

“[This opportunity] is a blessing. It’s what we work for. That’s what training camp, OTAs, all the meetings, all the extra work after [practice], the offseason reps — it’s a testament to the position we’re in now. And we just want to keep it going.”

Thomas, however, has never made any secret about his lofty aspirations to be considered “right there with the best of them” when all is said and done in his career. And we already have seen glimpses of how he thrives on the biggest stages.

You might remember Thomas catching the game-clinching, 72-yard touchdown in the Saints’ most high-profile showdown of this season against the Los Angeles Rams — then pulling a cellphone out from under the goal post because he had prepared ahead of time for having such a big moment in the spotlight.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Last season’s playoffs were no different.11

Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards in the Saints’ wild-card victory against Carolina. Then he caught seven passes for 85 yards and two scores in the divisional-round loss at Minnesota. Both of Thomas’ touchdowns came in the second half as New Orleans rallied from a 17-0 deficit — even though he was being guarded by All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

Brees has had some great pass-catchers in his 13 years with the Saints — including Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham. But Thomas has emerged more than any of them as someone Brees will target in those gotta-have-it moments, even when he’s being swarmed by No. 1 cornerbacks and double-teams — in part because of the lack of proven depth the Saints have in the rest of their receiving corps.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

“Listen, you make good, wise decisions, smart decisions. [But] if he’s one-on-one, I like our odds. Even when he’s 2-on-1, it better be a really good 2-on-1 or else there’s usually still a place you can throw the ball where he can get it and they can’t,” said Brees, who called Thomas’ astounding total of 125 catches “pretty awesome.”

“That says a lot about him, because obviously he gets a lot of attention. It’s not like they just put him on an island every game. He’s getting a lot of double coverage. He’s getting a lot of safeties leaning his way and different things. So, he’s gotta work hard to get open and he does. He does a great job of that.

“He’s highly competitive. He expects to be the guy to get the ball and make the big play, so that’s great. It also opens up opportunities for other guys.”

Payton quickly rejected the notion the Saints would ever target Thomas no matter how heavily he’s being covered: “No, no, no, no, no, no. No. … We don’t just drop back and throw the ball indiscriminately to a player.”

12

Chelsea prepared to report Bayern to FIFA over Hudson-Odoi – sources

Chelsea are prepared to file a complaint against Bayern Munich to FIFA if evidence is found of an illegal approach to Callum Hudson-Odoi or his representatives, sources have confirmed to ESPN FC.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

Bayern are awaiting a response from Chelsea to a fourth bid believed to be worth around £35 million for Hudson-Odoi, and a source told ESPN FC on Wednesday that the 18-year-old has no intention of signing a new contract.

Chelsea have been angered by the public nature of Bayern’s pursuit, with sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic confirming on Wednesday that the German giants “absolutely want to sign” Hudson-Odoi this month.12

Such comments are against competition rules for Premier League clubs, but Salihamidzic’s words alone are not enough to fall foul of FIFA’s regulations.

There is widely-held suspicion at Chelsea that Bayern are coordinating their efforts with Hudson-Odoi’s camp to get him out of Stamford Bridge, though it is also accepted that accusations of “tapping up” are difficult to prove.

Chelsea remain desperate to keep Hudson-Odoi, and head coach Maurizio Sarri’s surprise decision to start him against Tottenham in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal on Tuesday was part of a broader club effort aimed at convincing the winger that his future lies at Stamford Bridge.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

But after the match Antonio Rudiger revealed that Hudson-Odoi has asked him about his experiences in German football, and Bayern are increasingly confident that they will be able to complete a deal for the 18-year-old this month.

Hudson-Odoi’s contract expires in June 2020 and, as long as he remains unwilling to discuss an extension, Chelsea are mindful that his value will likely decrease significantly if he is kept at Stamford Bridge until the summer.

9

Fantasy Premier League: Which Liverpool and Manchester City players should you pick?

But enough about the FA Cup. The Premier League teams fielded weakened starting lineups, with many key players rested. Whether you watched the FA Cup this weekend or not, the last round of Premier League fixtures probably seems like a distant memory … with the exception being the final game played.nfl nike jersey cheap

Manchester City’s 2-1 toppling of Liverpool last Thursday means we still have a proper title race on our hands, to the delight of everyone besides Liverpool fans. But what did it mean from a fantasy perspective?

Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane scored the goals for Manchester City, yet finished with relatively meager points totals of 17.5 and 18.4, respectively. Fourteen outfield players in the league finished with more points than Sane, and 20 with more than Aguero. Roberto Firmino scored Liverpool’s goal, but he still finished with just 16.1 points — 24 players were ahead of him.9

The problem with this game, fantasy-wise, is that it pitted two evenly matched teams against each other, and was a virtual tie numbers-wise. Liverpool won the possession battle, but by an extremely slim margin, finishing with 50.6 percent of the ball. And the teams combined for only 16 shots — nine by Manchester City, seven by Liverpool.

Manchester City had only four shots on goal, and Liverpool had just one more. And in terms of expected goals, it finished Manchester City 1.03, Liverpool 1.24.

Aguero took three shots, and no one else on his team had more than one. Firmino and Sadio Mane led Liverpool, but took just two shots apiece.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Is this a long-term concern? It depends on which player you’re talking about.

I’m more worried about Manchester City. Even though they lead the league in goals scored, it feels like it’s becoming harder and harder to predict who will score them.

12

Ryan Broekhoff finding rhythm in the NBA madness

Dwight Powell interrupts Ryan Broekhoff’s pregame media availability and answers the question about how easy it is for the Australian to find his rhythm despite not playing consistent minutes during his rookie NBA campaign.

Broekhoff proved his Dallas Mavericks teammate prophetic against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, finishing the game with a career high 15 points and three assists in 21 minutes of court time.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

“Obviously I came into this league wanting to play and wanting to compete,” Broekhoff said post-game. “Having the opportunity, with a few guys sitting out tonight, it was good. The coaching staff and the players continue to show a confidence in me to shoot the ball. Tonight some of them went in which was a good feeling.12

Broekhoff spent five years plying his trade in Turkey and Russia before coming to the NBA this season, and as is the case with a lot of rookies — even those with his basketball pedigree — he’s found it hard to come by regular minutes in coach Rick Carlisle’s rotation.

Broekhoff has appeared in just 17 of the Mavericks 39 games, and prior to Saturday, his career high of 9 points came against the Pelicans in early December. Broekhoff says he’s been adjusting to the pace of the NBA season on the fly, and is growing more comfortable as the season rolls on.

“Definitely more comfortable, just adjusting to the game, as well as the travel and schedule and how many games — and how quickly the games seem to pop up each week. But I’m definitely feeling more comfortable and more confident in myself to compete at this level,” he said.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

“Although opportunities have been a little up-and-down, when I have got on I feel like I can compete with anybody that I’ve come up against. It’s been fun learning and adjusting to all that.”

To go back to Powell’s statement, Broekhoff, who entered the league with a reputation as a sharpshooting marksmen, admits it’s been difficult to find that rhythm when entering a game given his sporadic — at best — minutes.

12

Patriots’ game plan vs. Chargers must start with slowing Melvin Ingram

When the New England Patriots were preparing to face the Los Angeles Chargers in October 2017, Bill Belichick noted the presence of pass-rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa by saying they put the Chargers’ defense into a “special category.”

“There’s not many teams in the league that have one player like this. They have two,” he said.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Belichick talking up the opposition is standard operating procedure, but anyone watching the Chargers’ 23-17 wild-card victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday would be hard-pressed to disagree — particularly with Ingram’s ability to control a game.

His speed, first-step quickness and dynamic pass-rush moves contributed to making him a first-round NFL draft choice out of South Carolina in 2012. Offensive tackles across the NFL can attest to how challenging it has been to face him, particularly over the past four seasons, as he has totaled 36 of his 42 career sacks over that span.12

But the Chargers also move Ingram inside, where his speed is a tough matchup for guards and centers at times.

So it’s not just Patriots offensive tackles Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon who have to study up on Ingram and Bosa this week, but left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason, as well.

That group on the interior has been a strength for the Patriots, with Thuney playing every snap this season and Andrews (99 percent) and Mason (84 percent) not far behind. This is their third year playing together, which has also helped from a cohesion standpoint.

“That group’s been pretty solid, pretty dependable, pretty reliable for us. We’ve been pretty fortunate in that part of the offensive line,” Belichick said in late November.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Quarterback Tom Brady has also helped his own cause at times with his knack for getting rid of the football quickly, which has negated pressure; the Patriots finished the regular season ranked third in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed per pass play. Brady will need a quick trigger Sunday against a Chargers defense that totaled seven sacks against Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, tying a franchise postseason record. All seven of those sacks came with the Chargers rushing four or fewer defenders, which is consistent with their approach in the regular season.

11

With third pick, Jets select … a player in CFP title game?

The New York Jets’ higher-ups won’t make the trek to Santa Clara, California, for the College Football Playoff championship game — the team is kind of tied up with a coaching search — but the Jets’ top talent-evaluators will probably catch the game on TV. They most certainly will study the tape at some point before the draft.

The Jets are picking third, and there’s a decent chance that the player they ultimately select will be playing Monday night, along with a bunch of other potential first-rounders. The most likely candidates for the Jets are Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, two of the top defensive linemen in what is considered a vintage year for the position.

“You know how excited we were last year by the quarterback class? Well, multiply that by 10 with the defensive linemen that could go in the first round,” said New York-based draft analyst Tony Pauline, publisher of draftanalyst.com. “This will be a historic class.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

The Jets know all about first-round defensive linemen. They picked Leonard Williams in 2015, Sheldon Richardson in 2013, Quinton Coples in 2012 and Muhammad Wilkerson in 2011. Remarkably, the only one left is Williams, who is entering the final year of his contract. In fact, the only regular contributors on the defensive line under contract for 2019 are Williams, Nathan Shepherd and Mike Pennel. Henry Anderson and Steve McLendon will be unrestricted free agents. Folorunso Fatukasi, inactive for 15 games as a rookie, is a total wild card.11

The New York Jets’ higher-ups won’t make the trek to Santa Clara, California, for the College Football Playoff championship game — the team is kind of tied up with a coaching search — but the Jets’ top talent-evaluators will probably catch the game on TV. They most certainly will study the tape at some point before the draft.

The Jets are picking third, and there’s a decent chance that the player they ultimately select will be playing Monday night, along with a bunch of other potential first-rounders. The most likely candidates for the Jets are Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, two of the top defensive linemen in what is considered a vintage year for the position.

“You know how excited we were last year by the quarterback class? Well, multiply that by 10 with the defensive linemen that could go in the first round,” said New York-based draft analyst Tony Pauline, publisher of draftanalyst.com. “This will be a historic class.”china nike nfl jerseys cheap

The Jets know all about first-round defensive linemen. They picked Leonard Williams in 2015, Sheldon Richardson in 2013, Quinton Coples in 2012 and Muhammad Wilkerson in 2011. Remarkably, the only one left is Williams, who is entering the final year of his contract. In fact, the only regular contributors on the defensive line under contract for 2019 are Williams, Nathan Shepherd and Mike Pennel. Henry Anderson and Steve McLendon will be unrestricted free agents. Folorunso Fatukasi, inactive for 15 games as a rookie, is a total wild card.

10

Bayern Munich can’t afford to wait to land their primary transfer targets

Bayern Munich’s immediate focus is to win their game at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, but behind the scenes, attention has already shifted to next season.

Wednesday’s news of an €85 million agreement with Atletico Madrid for French World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez, only half-heartedly denied by executive chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, underlined the Bavarians’ ambition to make big, decisive moves in the transfer market, buy nike nfl jerseys cheap well in advance of the competition. It won’t be long before we’ll get a strong sense of how the 2019-20 team — the first that will look significantly different to the one that won the Champions League in 2013 — will look.

That’s why they started negotiating with VfB Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard well in advance of the World Cup, for example. Sources in Munich are adamant that the 22-year-old has agreed to make the move to the Allianz Arena next summer, when Bayern can trigger a €35m release clause. There’s a chance the transfer could be brought forward, for a premium, this winter. Stuttgart, though, will find it hard to sell their key defensive player in the midst of an unexpected battle for survival.10

ESPN FC has been told that Bayern are also working on signing Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz, the most talented young German player in the Bundesliga at the moment. The 19-year-old has attracted interest from many elite teams and will only get more expensive as his versatility and elegance on the ball become more widely recognised in the second half of the season.

Havertz’s rapid development, incidentally, has dampened Bayern’s interest in Christian Pulisic. The German champions are working on the assumption that the U.S. player would prefer a move to the Premier League. Borussia Dortmund, furthermore, are naturally much happier to sell him abroad.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

But the rebuild won’t stop there. After narrowly missing out on Jadon Sancho 12 months ago, sources in London have told ESPN FC that Bayern are prepared to push hard for Chelsea youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi, who’s out of contract in 2020 and has so far been reluctant to sign a new deal at Stamford Bridge. “Pace” and “youth” have become the watchwords in Munich; Hudson-Odoi offers both. Germany striker Timo Werner fits the bill as well, but the 22-year-old might already have become too expensive and will only be upgraded to a key target if Robert Lewandowski leaves the club at the end of the season.

9

West Ham’s Felipe Anderson making a strong case for a role with Tite’s Brazil

The Brazilian, who arrived from Lazio in the summer, is suddenly exceeding expectations in his debut season with West Ham. There were fitful signs of promise in an uncertain start for him and Manuel Pellegrini’s new look lineup.

After just one goal in his first 10 Premier League games, Anderson has now hit the target seven times in his last nine matches. Many of these have been match-winners — like the pair against Southampton on Thursday night that turned defeat into victory. It did him no harm at all that this came in the only match played on the night. here was nothing else to share the spotlight and so, back home, the question is starting to be asked; how long until he has a place in the Brazil squad?cheap nike nfl jerseys china

His chances are clearly increasing. He has been around the squad for a while but to this point, there have probably been three things against him.9

One is his inconsistency. He had an up and down time in five years with Lazio. With no international games until the end of March, he now has to keep producing in order to gain the approval of Brazil coach Tite.

The second blemish is his previous record in the famous yellow shirt, which is hardly impressive. Nearly six years ago, Felipe Anderson was one of the main hopes of a Brazil side that went to Argentina to dispute the South American Under-20 Championships — always an important conveyor belt to the senior side. The tournament was an unmitigated disaster, both for him and for his teammates as Brazil failed to qualify for that year’s Under-20 World Cup. Worse than that, they failed even to reach the decisive second round of the South American competition. And even worse than that, they managed to finish bottom of their group of five. Felipe Anderson made little impact, scoring one goal from the penalty spot.buy nike nfl jerseys cheap

He treasures an Olympic gold medal from the Rio Games of 2016 but it is not a competition that he can look back on with a great deal of pleasure. He was in the starting lineup for the opening game — a dire 0-0 draw against South Africa. he scoreline was the same, and the performance even worse in the next match against Iraq. Felipe Anderson was withdrawn at half-time, and spent the rest of the tournament on the bench. He came on towards the end of the final against Germany, but was not trusted to take a penalty in the shootout.

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.