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.

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.

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.”

11

It’s time for Panthers to shut down Cam Newton for the season

It’s not just time to sit Cam Newton for the rest of the season. It’s time for the Carolina Panthers to consider a potential long-term replacement for their franchise quarterback in free agency or the NFL draft.

The uncertainty surrounding lingering problems with Newton’s right shoulder raises many questions that extend beyond Carolina’s six-game losing streak and 1 percent chance of making the playoffs. If the 2015 NFL MVP needs to have a second shoulder surgery in less than two years, what are the long-term implications? Would he miss an entire season, as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck did in 2017 after having a similar surgery?cheap nfl jerseys china nike

And if surgery isn’t the answer, would resting Newton for the next two games and the entire offseason assure this issue won’t reappear in 2019?11

Newton played well the next two weeks to help Carolina improve to 6-2. Even after the team fell to 6-5, the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner boasted he was playing the best football of his career. Then he threw four interceptions the next game in Tampa Bay.

Newton has now thrown at least one interception in six straight games after throwing one in only three of the first eight.

Newton’s arm strength has been such an issue that backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke has come in for a Hail Mary pass three times.

“You can’t rub magic dust on it, go to this or that person, have the placebo things done where you think certain things are what they are — and you come out and you’re still the same,” Newton said. “Over the past couple of weeks, nothing has really changed.”nfl nike jerseys for cheap

One thing has. The Panthers (6-8) are for all practical purposes out of the playoff picture, and they’re focused on next season with two games remaining against Atlanta and New Orleans.

That puts the onus on coach Ron Rivera and the medical staff. As of Tuesday, Rivera wasn’t willing to commit to sitting Newton the final two games because the Panthers have a “slim glimmer” of hope of making the playoffs.

12

Angels have no choice but to rebuild on the fly — and it might work

It was a form of what is called “rebuilding on the fly,” though the Yankees, true to their nature, executed it on a grander scale.

Eppler — a key assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman for the first three of those years — is on the cusp of a similar, albeit more subtle, transition with the Angels, bucking the trend of an industry that is increasingly operating on both ends of the spectrum.

The Angels aren’t “all in,” because they won’t surpass the luxury-tax threshold and won’t trade quality prospects for short-term fixes. But they aren’t “rebuilding,” because they’re still doing whatever they can — within whatever they consider reasonable — to win in 2019. It’s a product of employing Mike Trout, the greatest player of his generation, for at least two more seasons; of being saddled with what remains ($87 million) on Albert Pujols’ contract; and of being run by an owner, Arte Moreno, who has no interest in pushing the proverbial reset button.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Eppler defined the approach this way: “What you’re trying to do is give yourself an opportunity to continue to win every year, and if everything kind of falls right from a projection standpoint, you might push yourself even into the postseason. You might be there. It’s within your band of outcomes. That’s how I determine ‘rebuild on the fly.’ But you’re going to make some short-term decisions. And you’re most likely not going to trade things that have multiple, multiple years of control. Maybe one more year of control, things like that. But you always have to kind of keep yourself in a competitive window to still have, within your band of outcomes, an 86-or-better-win team.”12

Since their run of five division titles from 2004 to 2009, the Angels have won as many as 98 games (2014) and as few as 74 (2016). But the other seven seasons finished somewhere between 78 and 89 wins — good enough to have a chance, bad enough to fade.

The Angels operated aggressively from 2012 to 2014, a stretch that saw them acquire Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, Zack Greinke and Huston Street. Since then, they have lived in that awkward middle space widely considered baseball purgatory, going cheap on free agents and staying conservative in the trade market.

In some weird way, it might actually be working. The Angels’ farm system ranked 30th — dead last — as recently as 2017 and jumped all the way to 10th in August 2018, according to Baseball America’s organizational talent rankings. Jo Adell, Jahmai Jones, Brandon Marsh, Griffin Canning and Matt Thaiss — all drafted between 2015 and 2017 — performed well as they matriculated through the system. So did Luis Rengifo, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays for C.J. Cron in February. With three international signing periods, Eppler also restocked the lower levels.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

“I can see the growth,” Eppler said. “I know people outside can see the growth. I’ve had opposing general managers tell me, ‘Wow, you guys have grown a lot.’ So that makes me feel kind of good. Is it all ready to pop into the big leagues next year? No, not all of it. Is some of it? Probably. Probably some. We have to just keep making decisions that don’t jeopardize our health or put us in a financially unhealthy situation.”

11

How to spice up the winter meetings after a dull week in Vegas

The only significant free-agent signings during the three days in Vegas were the Philadelphia Phillies with Andrew McCutchen, the Tampa Bay Rays with Charlie Morton and the Texas Rangers with Lance Lynn — and none of those deals is official until the players pass their physicals. The two biggest trades were Tanner Roark going from the Washington Nationals to the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates trading Ivan Nova to the Chicago White Sox.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

None of this is necessarily a problem except in the context that the meetings are billed as a newsmaking event. Important stuff is going to happen. That’s why everyone is here. It’s supposed to be baseball’s time to lead the sports news cycle.

The winter meetings used to be a place of action instead of a place of text messages, like the epic 1992 meetings in Louisville when there were more than 30 free agents signed, including Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux. At the 2000 meetings, Manny Ramirez signed an eight-year, $160 million deal with the Red Sox, only to see that topped by Alex Rodriguez’s audacious 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers. One of the biggest challenge trades in MLB history occurred during the 1990 meetings, when the Blue Jays traded Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter in a monumental exchange of four All-Stars that would help the Blue Jays win two World Series. In 1984, the Oakland A’s traded Rickey Henderson to the Yankees, and the Expos traded Gary Carter to the Mets. Even as recently as 2011, the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson after the Marlins had a temporary moment of insanity and signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.11

Now the name of the game is caution. There are numbers to crunch and options to explore.

“They used to be old school back in the day,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told MLB Network, recalling his days as a baseball operations assistant in the late ’80s. “We’d all be down at the local bar doing stuff on napkins, and I remember, late night, waking up in the morning, [Lou] Piniella might be on the couch and Kevin Towers, one of my best friends in the game who’s no longer with us. Just GMs, managers and scouts all staying out all night trying to figure stuff out. Now you’re sequestered in a suite and you hardly see anybody, nfl nike jerseys cheap china maybe a text until they drag us out here to the media circuit.”

Technology has changed the offseason, of course. Texting is a 24/7 operation, and face-to-face meetings are unnecessary. Mostly, however, front offices don’t feel any urgency to make deals. Nobody wants to make that mistake that haunts a franchise. Here’s an example of what I mean. There were 40 players in 2018 who made at least $20 million. The worst 20 players on the list combined for just 5.4 WAR and over $470 million in salary. That’s a lot of money flushed down the toilet.