Derrick Henry. OK, he's been a beast at every level of his football career. The best prep back in the country. (How great was he at Yulee High in Florida? Uh, he ran for 2,465 yards and 26 TDs as a freshman. His senior year in high school? Yeah, that would 4,261 and 55 TDs. His prep career: 12,124 — 8.7 per carry —and 153 rushing TDs.) He won the Heisman in his final year at Alabama. Now he's the best running back in the NFL. And he dotted his transformative season with a dominant performance in Foxboro with 182 rushing yards and 205 total yards — for a team that won a playoff game with 277 total yards.
Kirk Cousins. Was he the best Vikings player on the field? No, no he was not. Was he the quarterback that got the Vikings a road playoff win? Yes, yes he was. And for a guy who has been dogged about a career with a hallmark win, well, Cousins can look around, smile and offer, "You like that."
DeShaun Watson. Dude was amazing in the second half as the Texans reversed course. Seriously, think if Houston was again bounced without a playoff win? Now, in large part because of some crazy elusiveness — especially on the game-clinching play in overtime — the Texans are headed to Kansas City.
Lakers defense. Yes, it was the Pistons, but the L.A. LeBrons became the first team in 20 years to block 20 shots in a game. (Again, it was against the Pistons.)
Georgia secondary. Richard LeCounte stays and the nation's top corner commits to the Bulldogs? I believe that Clemson has the best signing class in the country and Georgia is a very close second, regardless of the point totals and rankings. This bunch of Bullpups is balanced and deep and addresses a number of key areas of importance and need. There may be a slew of us who are not sold on Kirby's abilities on Saturdays in the fall, but his ability on the recruiting trail from December through February is impossible to doubt. Here's more from TFP SEC guru and Press Row cohost David Paschall.
Couple of local area female basketball stars. First former Bradley Central star Rhyne Howard crushed UT with 37 as UK rolled by the Lady Vols. (Side note: This is the place that the fall of the Lady Vols program under Holly is most pronounced. At the height of Pat Summitt's powers is there anyway possible that Howard goes from Bradley to Lexington? Of course not.) On the prep front, Olivia Koontz. The Signal Mountain High School junior won the MVP at The Best of Preps basketball tournament — an event that is very near and dear to me for a lot of reasons — after SMMHS beat Baylor in the title game. Koontz — full disclosure, whom I know and we are friends with her entire family — hit the game-winner in the final seconds for the program's first win over Baylor at the chip.
New Orleans Saints in general, Drew Brees in particular. Wow, three straight postseason losses in late, dramatic fashion. Hey, Saints, finish a game. Thankfully, the faux controversy of the offensive pass interference was ignored — in the moment and by the Saints after the game. As for Brees, the Saints had an NFL-record-low eight turnovers this season, but Brees had two turnovers in the loss to the Vikings. You have to wonder how big the Saints' window will remain considering that a) Brees is 40; b) several of those young defensive stars are about to get paid; c) did we mention Brees will be 41 next week. And I don't believe it's a huge coincidence that Taysom Hill got several shots at QB yesterday — and looked like the best Saints player not named Michael Thomas. And what do you do with Teddy Bridgewater? We all are speaking about the hushed tones and behind-closed-door conversations in Foxboro, and those same, big, hard conversations are being had in the Big Easy, too.
NFL wildcard home teams in Vegas eyes. And this is not just this weekend, friends, when the road team went 3-0-1 against the number with three outright wins (and say what you want, but even the biggest Johnny Texans Fan would admit that Houston was lucky to rally by visiting Buffalo). Did you know that in the first weekend of the NFL playoffs over the last three years, the road team is 11-0-1 against the number? (Yeah, feels like we should have paid a little more attention to that one, don't you think?)
Booger McFarland. Dear Lord, he's the only announcer anywhere who could make me long for salad days and easy-listening tones of Jason Witten. Seriously. And to make matters absolutely as bad as possible for the cliché- overloaded Booger, his thrilling game with his less-than-thrilling analysis — he called for the Texans to run a draw and then clock the ball late on third-and-10, and yes, only Reggie Ball thinks that is a good clock idea — was followed by Tony Romo expertly calling the Titans-Pats classic.
UT hoops. Unless there are a couple more foreign dudes about to make debuts — and do it with a little more defensive vigor — these Vols are going to struggle in SEC play. LSU is good but they are not one of the top four teams in the league, and Will Wade's Tigers withstood a fast UT start Saturday and won by double-digits in Knoxville. And you know the rule: When Weeds writes college hoops, we read Weeds on college hoops. His assessment on the bubbling issues for Rick Barnes' boys.
The reviewed pass interference debacle in particular and the refereeing structure in general. After the Saints' loss in last year's playoffs, the multiple hand-wringing sessions about making P.I. reviewable led to a rule change. Well, despite having the rule in place and the chance to overturn called and non-called pass interference fouls, the NFL officials buzzed down and told everyone where they could stuff their challenge flags and ignored almost all of the reviews. (First, we all said last year that there is P.I. on almost every play in terms of actual rules, so how would they be able to not call it on reviewed plays? And I'm OK with NFL referees viewing P.I. like state troopers viewing speeders: If you are over 10 mph or more, you have earned that ticket. If you are both hand-fighting, no harm no foul.) Again, I think not overturning the Vikings TD Sunday was the right call, but that is because I hate that rule. If it was truly reviewed, Kyle Rudolph pushed off. The other thing that was strange was the on-field overturn call about the kickoff and then the ball toss to the official in which the call on the field was a TD, and then everyone kind of just shrugged and went, "We know what he meant." Huh? Do we think that anyone dropping the ball before crossing the goal line meant to purposefully fumble before scoring? Of course not. Trying to referee intentions is a dangerous slope, no?
Dallas. Just because. Man, in the worst-kept secret ever, Jason Garrett has been relieved of his coaching duties. Why did this take so long and need multiple meetings? (Side note: According to OddShark, Lincoln Riley is even money to be the next Dallas coach. Then at +700 Josh McDaniels, Mike McCarthy and Urban Meyer and then Matt Ruhle and Robert Sales at +900. Interesting.)
Future in Foxboro
Well, I said last week I was riding with the Patriots until they turn the lights out on the dynasty.
Did that happen Saturday night?
I think so, to be honest, and it's not just the age of Tom Brady. Let's explore:
First, the dynamics among Brady, Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft will be the best sports soap opera since LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami. Truly.
Brady is 43 — he will be 44 before the start of next season — and his success well into his 40s is historic. But his play and his skills are clearly not what they were even two years ago.
But he's far from the only offensive shortcoming, considering they lost their best difference-maker when Gronk retired, their best offseason acquisition when Antonio Brown went nuts, their best offensive lineman when Isaiah Wynn was injured and their most reliable receiver when Julian Edelman developed the drops. (And, in addition to owing his Hall-of-Fame fringe career to Brady's excellence, Edelman is not getting anywhere near the heat he should for that drop on second down on the final realistically meaningful drive Saturday. Edelman led the league in drops this year, yet, because of positional stereotypes, he's still going to be called a possession receiver. So it goes.)
The issues are not simple for the Pats.
Does Brady want to stay? Do the Pats want Brady back? Those are the baseline questions, but the ripple-effect questions — would Brady want to play elsewhere, would Brady be a back-up, does Belichick want Brady back, and, eventually, would this be about Kraft possibly choosing his favorite son between two GOATs? — are even more intriguing.
You know who I'd like to interview: Jarrett Stidham, the former Auburn QB who is waiting in the wings and is feeling who knows what?
This and that
— Speaking of change in the AFC, well, how is this stat from @AlbertBreer on Twitter: "The AFC has been repped by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger in 15 of the last 16 Super Bowls (and 16 of the last 18). Next weekend will be the first divisional weekend without any of the three in 17 years."
— OK, our NFL playoff picks went a forgettable 1-2-1 but man we thought we were good on the Bills, and not buying the half proved costly in Buffalo plus-3. So it goes. 59-37-4 against the spread this season. That's 61.5 percent friends.
— Speaking of picks, two quick things: One with the last bowl game before the title game tonight, we will have the scores for the Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success (Bowler Optional) tomorrow. Deal? Deal. As for my Fab 4 college picks against the number, well, with the exception of backing Auburn and Tennessee, we have sprinted to the finish line with a truckload of entertainment. We went 4-1 post-New Year's Day — missed UT minus-2, hit Tulane minus-7, Ohio minus-7.5, Cincy minus-7.5 and under 55, and we're on Louisiana minus-14 over Miami tonight. Bowl record: 21-12 against the number in the bowl games. That's 63.6 percent, gang.
— Yes, the college football world will be watching when Tua makes his choice of staying or going today at 11 a.m. Hey, it's his decision of course, and I see merits of both, but man, it would be amazingly hard for me to not take first-round money with that history of injury on his résumé.
— Yeah, the NFL is king and it's good to be the king. Yes, it had dynastic ripple effects, but the CBS game between Tennessee and New England drew more than 31 million viewers, which is 10 million more than the Clemson-THE Ohio State semifinal, which was a monster success.
— The hubbub about the Golden Globes is HI-larious to me. Ricky Gervais is a comedian. Just like George Lopez. If you are mad at one and defending the other, well, you may want to re-examine. As for the show — and yes, Spy, I have a guilty pleasure of award-show viewing — well, Ellen DeGeneres' Carol Burnett award (and montage and speeches) was pretty cool, Tom Hanks is a class act, and hey, Joaquin Phoenix, just because you can swear on live TV does not make it appropriate.
Weekend winners and losers. Go.
Will Tua stay or go? Would you stay or go?
As for the rest, well, here's hoping you had a great holiday break. I was wicked under the weather Saturday. Egad it was bad.
On this day, Jan. 6, in 1681 the first recorded boxing match happened as the Duke of Albermarle had his butler fight his butcher. In the grand scheme of things, with the exception of the 100 meters, boxing has changed the least. Rich folks making not-as-rich dudes fight for their enjoyment. Sounds about right.
Theodore Roosevelt was born on this day in 1858. One of our nation's most underrated presidents, all things considered.
That said, today is the 45th anniversary of the debut of "Wheel of Fortune."
Rushmore of all-time TV game shows. Go.