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AP photo by Jay LaPrete / Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.

Weekend winners

NFL bonus babies. Entering the final weekend of the season there were several dudes on the fringe of cashing large bonus clauses in their deals. Saints receiver Emmanuel Sanders needed eight catches for his $500,000 bonus. Antonio Brown needed 11 catches for $250,000. And the big one, Leonard Floyd needed 0.5 sack for a $1.25 million incentive in his contract. They all reached those numbers.

Justin Fields. He was nearly perfect as THE Ohio State thrashed Clemson. It was an amazing performance — 22 of 28 for 385 and six TDs — and one that made us all remember how excellent Fields can be. (And that Kirby picked Jake Fromm over him.)

Derrick Henry. Wow. Just wow. Derrick Henry went for 250 on an amazing 34 carries Sunday as the Titans clinched the AFC South. While we can all foresee Aaron Rodgers and Patty Mahomes finishing 1-2 — in whatever order — in the MVP voting, Henry is an absolute wrecking machine. He finished 2020 with 2,027 yards and 17 rushing TDs. He became just the eighth  running back in NFL history to top 2,000 yards in a season, and his 2020 total ranks fifth all-time. Plus, Henry's season total of 378 rushing attempts is 19th all-time in single-season carries, and it's the most in a pass-happy NFL since 2006 when Larry Johnson set the all-time mark of 416 attempts.

Everyone connected to the Cleveland Browns. The playoff drought is done, so the fans deserve to celebrate. The front office, who crafted an impressive roster with a slew of shrewd decisions, deserves a toast. Coach Kevin Stefanski has a team that is forging a run-first identity and has a chance to do more than just make the playoffs when they visit a battered Steelers bunch next week. And maybe most of all, Baker Mayfield, the quarterback who just a year ago was being roasted for making too many commercials and not enough progress on the field. In a breakout season, Mayfield sealed Sunday's playoff-clinching win with a Single Wing QB sweep around right end. 

The NFL. OK, there's the big picture realization of the NFL's reach and power when it comes to TV popularity, which is the pipeline of cash in the modern realm of sports business. If you didn't see the final TV numbers for 2020, well, how about this: The top 13 most-watched sporting events of '20 were NFL games. No. 14 was the college football national title game. Nos. 15-thru-48 were more NFL games, interrupted by the Rose Bowl between Oregon and Wisconsin on Jan. 1 at 49. Nos. 50-thru-74 were more NFL games, the Citrus Bowl between Alabama and Michigan was 75th. And, you guessed it, 76-thru-85 were more NFL games. Yes, normal interlopers were COVID-impacted, but wow, that's 82 of the 85 most-watched sports broadcasts. Then there is the drive of the league, which got every game in. Yes, every single game, in the most surreal season in sports history. Now look forward and realize that the two faces of the league — and of State Farm Insurance — have home-field advantage through the playoffs. And amid the COVID, if Patty Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers face off in the Super Bowl, it will be among the most watched ever, considering the star power, how many more TVs will be used with the limited number of Super Bowl parties and the cut-back crowds at sports bars.    

Bettors. It was an unpredictable NFL season — it was the second-best season ever for NFL underdogs, who covered 55.7% of the time — that ended with the sports books cashing a lot of checks. Sports bettors generally side with favorites, as evidenced by Nevada sports book winning a record $61.8 million in November according to national gaming numbers. But Sunday was a different animal as the betting favorite went 14-2, which according to this ESPN story led one Vegas betting executive to call it the worst Sunday of the season. 

 

Weekend losers

Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson. What a disgrace, and in a year that the NFL made the Broncos play a game with a practice squad wide receiver as the starting QB. Pederson — facing a division rival in a game that was the ultimate factor for a division title — pulled Jalen Hurts for some dude named Nate Sudfeld. It ended as you would expect, and in truth for all the conversations and wink-wink, nod-nod, conversations about tanking in the NFL, when it's this clear and the rest of the league has this kind of visceral reaction, well, you're reminded about the truly egregious and dangerous impact of tanking. Especially in this day and age of gambling, because there are not a slew of player props available every game and lots of money on the line. (Side note: Wonder if some of the betting services will refund some of the wagers on that game.) As for Peterson, well, this may be the most direct way to say it: You know you are seriously doing something, Doug, when the conversation is about a complete and total embarrassment in a game against Daniel Snyder's franchise and you are the focus of the disgraceful allegations. 

Folks who forget to mute Zoom. After Trevor Lawrence's Clemson career was ended by THE Ohio State's blitzkrieg, he was awaiting the next question when an unknown journalist offered that Lawrence needs to shave his mustache. His "Thank You" reaction was aces. That said, the 'stache is the opposite of Magnum PI's.

Isaiah Wilson. The former Georgia offensive lineman and Tennessee Titans first-round pick has had a disastrous first year in the league. He has struggled to adjust to the NFL speed. He was at a college party and fled from police when pot was found. He got a DUI and over the weekend, according to a video from A to Z Sports Nashville, Wilson was partying with a whole lot of folks, including some very social young ladies who were anything but distanced.    

Dan LeBatard fans. The controversial ESPN personality ends his time with the Bristol folks today. His last radio show is today and the end of 'Highly Questionable' also is today. It was a great run, and I am an unabashed fan of his work. His radio show is the best around. Certainly he will have his pick of offers, but it will not be as easy to find as it was with ESPN.

Donald Trump. Wow, where are we and how do we make this stop? If the stakes were not so high — the threat posed by peaceful transitions of power in a democracy is enormous — Trump's post-election antics would be the basis for a high-comedy movie. And the fact that so many Republican leaders are picking 'person over party' is beyond troubling. Yes, we all want election fraud to be unearthed and punished, but sweet buckets of ballots and cold cups of chads, this is beyond ridiculous at this point. And the tape of Trump and the Georgia Secretary of State that surfaced Sunday is beyond troubling.

 

Bowl game wrap

OK, we'll start with this caveat: There are no bowl results as of yet, because the entries are on my laptop which I expected back Friday from the TFP IT pros. Alas, it's still in the shop getting overhauled.

So, we'll figure that out ASAP.

But the conversation about bowl games not related to my tardiness in the standings can't be good.

The games have been anything but intriguing. 

Yes, that talking point comes around every bowl season, and we have always maintained that if you don't want to watch the parade of fringe bowl games, then don't. That's OK by me, because I want to watch more college football.

Well, not this year. Granted Auburn has been disappointing and the lackluster bowl effort with a slew of the Tigers best players made this the most indifference I've ever felt toward the end of an AU season. No anger, no joy, no regret, no hopefulness.

Just, "OK, that's done. What's next?" 

But in truth, it just wasn't Auburn in this bowl season. Yes, Alabama was awesomely impressive because it's impressively awesome, and Fields and THE Ohio State were inspired.  

The landscape of the college football bowl season has been filled with ugly and/or uninteresting games. 

The sportsmanship has been downright bad. Yes, the fight after the Mississippi State-Tulsa game was the worst example, but the river of unsportsmanlike calls over the weekend were striking. 

The game action has ranged from bad to one-sided. Players opting out — and rightly so — all over the place. Yes, college football has been surreal all year — as expected — and nowhere near as much fun as normal. 

Maybe we should have expected it after a regular season that was so surreal and strange and, in truth, dull.

Thoughts?

 

 

This and that

— The one funny thing from the Doug Pederson debacle was this social media exchange between former Giants QB Eli Manning and Eagles DT Fletcher Cox. When Pederson pulled the competitive plug on his Eagles — which ended the Giants' outside shot at the playoffs — Manning Tweeted, "This is why we don't like the Eagles." Cox responded, "We don't like you either (with several smilie faces)."

— The most heavily wagered regular season college football game of 2020 at PointsBet was Ball State-Eastern Michigan, a MACtion Wednesday night special in early November. Chew on that.

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on Steve Sarkisian getting the keys to a real Cadillac in college football, the Texas Longhorns.

— You know the rules, and when TFP ace sports columnist and college basketball pooh bah Mark Weidmer writes about how crazy SEC hoops will be, dude would know. We've said it many times, but it's worth repeating as we flip the calendar from college football to college hoops, Weeds on college basketball is as good as anyone anywhere. And anyone who thought Alabama could stroll into Knoxville and down the mighty Barnes Boys, well, good on you.

— College picks went 4-4 over the weekend and are a very predictably mediocre 13-12 to this point. That said, if you can find Alabama minus-7 get it now — and buy the half — because when the details about Justin Fields' torso are finally revealed, that number will get to double digits quickly. NFL picks went 3-3, because, well there you go. Finished the NFL season 37-36. So there's that.

 

Today's questions

OK, multiple choice Monday on the Monday that several NFL coaches will be revealed of duties, which current college coach would you hire if you were an NFL GM and had an opening:

> Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley

> Iowa State's Matt Campbell

> Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald

> Clemson's Dabo Swinney

(Yes, we purposefully, left Nick Saban off, because a) he would be the easy and universal choice, and b) he's never leaving Alabama.)

On this day, Jan. 4, let's review. The National Negro Baseball League organized on this day in 1920.

On this day 15 years ago, the Texas-USC Rose Bowl happened. Best college football game ever? Discuss.

On this day in 1999, Tennessee won the first BCS title by beating FSU. Yeah, that fields 100 years ago.

Don Shula would have been 91 today. Former boxing great Floyd Patterson was born on this day in 1935.

Rushmore of Floyds, and happy new year friends.

 

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