Harris English. The former Baylor School golfer won the Sentry Tournament of Champions PGA event over the weekend. It was his first Tour win since 2013 and came on the first hole of a playoff. It also was played in 81-degree weather on a course on the coast of Hawaii and came with a tidy check for $1.34 million. Yeah, that's a strong weekend.
Cleveland Browns. Ravaged by the COVID, and going on the road for their first playoff game in more than 20 years, the Browns hammered the Steelers early and held on for a 48-37 playoff win.
The Ravens D. Yeah, there will be a lot of chatter about Lamar Jackson getting his first win today on the ESPN platforms, but the Ravens bounced the Titans because of a front seven that did what no team has done this year against Tennessee. They made Derrick Henry irrelevant. And they did it in a close game. How? By shooting gaps and refusing to let Henry get any type of momentum. His powerful, downhill style generated the fifth-most rushing yards in a single season in NFL history. Sunday, against a Baltimore team that he torched for 133 yards in Week 11 and 195 yards in last year's playoffs (which was exactly one year ago today), Henry got 40 yards on 18 carries with a long rush of 8 yards. How? Penetration. On 11 of those 18 carries, the Ravens got hands on Henry at or behind the line of scrimmage.
TV innovation. The Saints-Bears may have been one of the most boring of a very aptly described wild wildcard weekend, but the broadcast, the execution and the originality of the NFL putting the game on Nickelodeon was excellent on all measures. It was designed to bring the NFL and in some ways explain football to young kids, and it was great. In intention and production. And buckets, the folks who were bemoaning it as silly, well, just turn the station. If you need to see a replay with the 'Mike' circled or the interchangeable replay expert debate whether WR2 got both feet down or whether RB1 was down before fumbling or even hear Romo predict the next play, it was simulcasted with a traditional broadcast on CBS. But this was genius at its core — to lure young fans to the game — and it was executed extremely well.
Tom Brady. A great playoff performance allows the GOAT to put an emphatic exclamation point on the Bill or Brady back and forth.
College football parity. Yeah, the title game is tonight with the 'made-for-TV' matchup of Alabama-THE Oho State. But how about this stat, which will not change tonight: Six NFL teams won playoff games in the last two days; six college football teams — Alabama, Clemson, THE Ohio State, Georgia, Oregon and LSU — have won a game in the college football playoff in its existence.
My NFL picks. Egad, that was dreadful. Side note on a stat to remember next year: After Saturday's games, the underdogs were 14-1 against the spread in the previous 15 wildcard weekend games. After Sunday that number moved to 15-3, but still.
Justin Thomas. The major champ who is a fan favorite and one of the future stars the Tour will desperately need as it transitions to a post-Tiger reality, dropped a homophobic slur after missing a par putt over the weekend. He apologized profusely for being caught on the live mic saying the term, which sounds a lot like maggot. We all know there are several bona fide no-no words out there — amazingly, in this day and age, way worse than all but one of Carlin's seven dirty words — and this is one of them. Ask yourself this, if Thomas dropped the original F-bomb rather than this F-bomb after missing a putt or hooking a driver, are we even discussing it? Would we even have batted an eye? And while we all know the modern impropriety of using that word in particular, that may be the biggest change in nomenclature of my lifetime. Growing up, I can remember hearing that word on TV and being used rather casually to be honest. Not that using it then makes it OK or anything other than the 180-degree change in my lifetime. (Speaking of words that are no longer acceptable, some person named Hailie Deegan who is an online NASCAR racer of some note used the R-word, and at first glance I was unaware of what the 'R-word' was in reference to. It's a slur for mentally challenged folks.)
Houston Texans. Wow, you deal what turned into the No. 3 pick for an injury-riddled left tackle. You dealt the third-best WR in the NFL for a second-rate RB and a second-rounder. Yet, that was not enough, so you insult and potentially create a trade-me-or-else situation with arguably the second-best young QB in the NFL behind Patty Mahomes by ignoring DeShaun Watson's input about hiring a coach and/or GM. And never mind whether you think Watson should have input on those decisions — because I can see both sides of that discussion — but the Texans asked Watson for his thoughts on it and then ignored his suggestions. And know this: If Watson wants out, every team not named Chiefs, Seahawks, Packers, Chargers and potentially Bengals should be on the phone right now saying "What would it take?"
Bonus pick: We love the way NFL coaches are embracing the analytics of going for two in various situations, and it makes mathematical sense. (Side note: It always struck me as funny that in a game that demands toughness to even compete, most coaches fall back on the traditional and wrong decisions, if not completely, at least in large part because of a lack of toughness when it comes to being second-guessed about said decisions.) That said, there's still a LONG way to go considering Mike Vrabel punted from the Ravens' 40 down seven in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-2. And don't even get me started on using a timeout — especially in the second half — to avoid a delay of game penalty. Clock control is >>>>>>>>>> than 5 yards in terms of potential value.
Well, the most improbable season in college football history ends tonight with two of the most predictable participants in the national title game.
Before we get rolling on a slew of thoughts about tonight's game, you know the rules. Here's Paschall on the Alabama-THE Ohio State showdown.
OK, let's go rapid fire style:
If Jaylen Waddle plays, Alabama will score 50-plus. If he doesn't, Alabama still may score 50-plus.
Favorite bet on the board is Alabama minus-0.5 in the first quarter. Love it. Mortgage payment bet.
Justin Fields could make himself millions tonight. A good game in this one — win or lose, secures his spot as the No. 2 QB on the board. It also could really behove the Jets, who have the No. 2 pick, which would become way more valuable if Fields shows out tonight.
I know Alabama cruised in the postseason college football awards, but with all apologies to the dude at Coastal Carolina, how does Saban not win coach of the year every year? Every. Single. Year.
While he does not have the upside of catching a ton of eyes, Mac Jones will have a lot of attention tonight from NFL eyes. Big stage, big stakes, and a possible big statement.
Finally, my pick — Alabama a whole bunch, THE Ohio State a couple of scores. Let's go 48-20.
This and that
— According to this story from The Athletic, 5-at-10 favorite Dan LeBatard and former ESPN boss John Skipper are exploring the possibilities of forming a sports/entertainment content company. Very interesting, especially considering Skipper's connection to — and loyalty from — some of the biggest names and stars in the sports media galaxy while he was the boss at ESPN. Now add in LeBatard's friends in the business, and that's a direct line to a lot of the names and faces you see across the WWL and beyond.
— Speaking of TV innovations, ESPN's 'Megacast' of the Titans loss to the Ravens — a script that will be replicated tonight for the national title game — will be a blueprint for TV operations with multiple platforms, even if one of them is online. Appealing to various levels of fans — be it the youthful fan on Nickelodeon or the hard-core junkie with film-breakdown and analysis of experts debating analytics and in-time decisions — is smart business, for the leagues and the networks. Especially if you sell multiple advertising on multiple platforms for a product as popular as the NFL playoffs or the college football title game.
— Speaking of NFL playoffs and TV, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that the NFL allowed its TV partners to sell two extra minutes of advertising in these playoffs. That extra 120 seconds could equate to as much as $8 million according to the story.
— Speaking of the NFL and TV, part III, did you see the NFL ratings numbers for the most surreal year in sports history. The NFL was down 7% for the season, averaging 15.4 million viewers per non-make-up broadcast in 2020 compared to 16.5 milliner per game in 2019. That's certainly not good, but even bad news by comparison these days is a testament to the NFL's power and stature among all sports. The NFL regular season was down — and who knows about the playoffs or the Super Bowl next month — but look at the numbers of the rest of the sports during the COVID: World Series down 30%, NBA Finals down 49%, Masters final round down 58%, Stanley Cup Finals down 61%.
— Love stats like this one from Zak Keefer, the Colts beat writer for The Athletic: "Quenton Nelson as a pro: — all 3,263 of the Colts' offensive snaps — kept his streak alive this season despite a back injury — in 1,704 career passing snaps, he's allowed 3 sacks — that's one sack every 568 snaps." Those are Hall of Fame numbers friends.
— While we're discussing the NFL, let's ponder this: There were two NFL players who made the most coin possible by actually not playing. The first one was Dak Prescott, the Dallas QB who got hurt and watched the Cowboys offense implode and stagnate after his injury. The other was Bud Dupree, the Steelers linebacker who was a legit difference-making pass rusher who got hurt when the Steelers were undefeated. Without Dupree, the Steelers defense looked pedestrian, and Pittsburgh limited into the offseason with five losses in its last six games.
— Speaking of Tony Romo, hearing that he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame made me scratch my head. And when they showed that he and Sean Payton were second and third in Eastern Illinois history in terms of passing marks — Jimmy G holds all the records — it made it even more puzzling.
Weekend winners and losers. Go.
Side question: If you are the Dolphins would you deal Tua and the third pick — the Texans' original pick they sent to Miami for Laremy Tunsil — for Watson? If I was the Dolphins GM, I could not say yes fast enough and hustle by tuckus to Tua's house to help him pack.
As for multiple choice Monday, what's your outcome for tonight?
> Alabama rolls;
> Alabama wins a one-score game;
> THE Ohio State rolls;
> THE Ohio State wins a one-score game.
As for today, it's a rare numeral date with the same number used three times — 1/11. Only two of those a year.
The first recorded snowfall in Los Angeles happened on this day in 1949.
Rushmore of 'Snow' and be creative.