Oct 5, 2020

Axios Sports

๐Ÿ‘‹ Happy Monday! Hey, it's Kendall. I took the day off, so Jeff's running the show this morning. I'm super grateful to have him as a co-pilot on this newsletter, and his talent speaks for itself. You're in good hands.

Today's word count: 2,028 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: ๐Ÿ˜ท The NFL's (lack of) bubble burst

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The NFL postponed two games over the weekend due to multiple players testing positive for COVID-19.

  • Steelers at Titans: Moved to Week 7 (Oct. 25) after 20 members of the Titans' organization tested positive.
  • Patriots at Chiefs: Postponed to tonight (7:05pm ET, CBS) after Patriots QB Cam Newton and Chiefs practice squad QB Jordan Ta'amu tested positive.

Why it matters: Instead of building a bubble to keep COVID-19 out, the NFL implemented protocols to prevent its spread. That put the onus on teams to be responsible โ€” a risk that has been exposed just a month into the season.

Details: Though the Pats and Chiefs have thus far avoided an outbreak, the Titans' situation is far more dire given the sheer volume of positives, which included two before their Week 3 game against Minnesota (no Vikings have tested positive).

  • For six straight days, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 4, the Titans had at least one positive test, pushing the total to 20 (10 players, 10 personnel).
  • On Thursday, when that number had ballooned to 13, the NFL implemented enhanced safety protocols for exposed teams, including two tests per day and daily deep cleanings of team facilities.
  • Now, the NFL and NFLPA are investigating the Titans to determine the cause of the outbreak.

The big picture: The NFL's protocols are not all that dissimilar to MLB's, which makes this outbreak somewhat expected given the latter's early-season struggle to keep COVID out of the sport.

  • The good news: Though MLB navigated two outbreaks soon after the season began (Marlins, Cardinals), it responded quickly, made necessary changes, completed the regular season and is starting round two of the playoffs today.
  • Yes, but: While baseball is socially-distanced by nature, football is anything but. Plus, MLB implemented seven-inning doubleheaders to make up its missed games, but football is a brutally punishing sport, making rescheduling far more difficult.

Between the lines: The Chiefs are about to test the limits of a compressed schedule, as tonight's make-up game, plus their scheduled Thursday matchup in Week 6, means they're about to play three games in 11 days. Yikes.

Looking ahead: When the NFL floated mini-bubbles during the season's planning stage, players balked at the idea of living in hotels for four months; but given the current situation, it could reemerge as an option going forward.

  • A simpler solution might be teams increasing their vigilance like the Eagles just did on their trip to San Francisco.

The bottom line: It remains to be seen if the next step will be league or team mandated, but the speed and success of the response could determine what the rest of the season looks like.

2. ๐Ÿˆ NFL Week 4: Broken records abound

Tom Brady celebrates a win over the Chargers. Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

Even without the Titans and Patriots games, yesterday delivered a slate of record-breaking and otherwise noteworthy performances across the league.

  • Buccaneers 38, Chargers 31: Tom Brady passed Warren Moon (40 years, 342 days) as the oldest player with five passing TDs in a single game (43 years, 62 days).
  • Bengals 33, Jaguars 25: Joe Burrow got his first win and also became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 300+ yards in three straight games.
  • Ravens 31, Washington 17: It took Lamar Jackson just 35 games to reach 5,000 passing and 2,000 rushing yards, breaking Michael Vick's record (39 games).
  • Browns 49, Cowboys 38: Dak Prescott (1,690 yards) passed Kurt Warner (1,557 yards in 2000) for the most passing yards through four games in NFL history.
  • Seahawks 31, Dolphins 23: Russell Wilson threw two more TDs to reach 16 on the year, tying Peyton Manning (2013) for the most through four games.
  • Bills 30, Raiders 23: With two touchdowns, Derek Carr (151 TD) passed Ken Stabler (150) for the most in Raiders history.
  • Saints 35, Lions 29: The Lions led 14-0, meaning they've now lost a record six consecutive games in which they led by 10+ points.

Tonight's slate:

  • 7:05pm: Patriots at Chiefs (CBS)
  • 8:50pm: Falcons at Packers (ESPN)

Full scoreboard.

3. ๐Ÿ€ NBA Finals: Gritty Heat win Game 3

Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Heat brought out their best when they needed it most, beating the Lakers, 115-104 on Sunday night.

The game: Miami was again without Bam Adebayo (neck) and Goran Dragiฤ‡ (foot), forcing Jimmy Butler to play the hero if they wanted to avoid going down 0-3.

  • The star: Butler responded with the best game of his career, pouring in 40 points (14-20 FG, 12-14 FT), grabbing 11 boards, dishing 13 assists and adding a couple of blocks and steals for good measure.
  • The record books: His 40-point triple-double was just the third in NBA Finals history (Jerry West, LeBron James), and the 73 points he scored or assisted on are tied for second-most in a Finals game (Walt Frazier, 74).

The big picture: The Lakers had all the momentum entering the game, with two MVP candidates forming a juggernaut that looked poised to sweep their injury-riddled challenger.

  • But Miami has played the underdog since the playoffs began, and they weren't about to roll over and just let the Lakers have the title.

What they're saying: "I think we realize that we belong," Butler said after the game. "They can be beat."

The bottom line: The Lakers can indeed be beaten, and with Butler playing at this level โ€” plus the lingering possibility of Adebayo and/or Dragiฤ‡ returning โ€” it looks like we've got ourselves a series.

Up next: Game 4 is Tuesday night at 9pm (ABC).

Go deeper: Game 3 reaction (The Ringer)

4. โšพ๏ธ MLB playoffs: ALDS preview

The ALDS begins today, with the Astros battling the A's (4:07pm ET) and the Yankees facing the Rays (8:07pm) in Game 1 of these best-of-five series.

  • Wild stat: All four matchups (including the NLDS, which begins tomorrow) are true division series after the AL and NL Central went a seemingly impossible 0-7 in the Wild Card round.
  • Reminder: No more true home teams, with Astros-A's being played at Dodger Stadium and Yankees-Rays at San Diego's Petco Park.
The Astros and A's had a bench-clearing incident in August. Photo: Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Astros vs. A's

Oakland won the AL West for the first time since 2013, breaking Houston's streak of three straight division crowns.

  • Head-to-head: The A's won the season series, 7-3, and their bench-clearing brawl in August should make this a particularly heated battle.
  • Pitching: Even without Justin Verlander, Houston has the far stronger rotation, but Oakland's elite bullpen more than makes up for that discrepancy with their 3.77 staff ERA more than half a run better than the Astros' 4.31.
  • Hitting: They've both got middle-of-the-pack lineups, but Houston has vastly underperformed expectations. If guys like Josรฉ Altuve and Alex Bregman start hitting how they're supposed to, Oakland could be in trouble.
  • Go deeper: ESPN series preview
Gerrit Cole will take the ball for the Yankees in Game 1. Photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Yankees vs. Rays

Tampa broke an even longer division crown drought than the A's, capturing their first AL East title since 2010.

  • Head-to-head: The Rays crushed the Bronx Bombers this year, winning the season series 8-2. Much like the Astros and A's, there's no love lost between these division rivals.
  • Pitching: The Rays are pretty clear-cut winners here, with three legit aces complemented by the second-best bullpen in the league. Still, Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka give the Yankees a formidable one-two punch.
  • Hitting: The Yanks set a record with 22 runs and 7 HR through their first two postseason games last week. When healthy, as they are now, this is the best offense in the league.
  • Go deeper: ESPN series preview
โšพ๏ธ Bonus: MLB team payrolls
Expand chart
Data: Spotrac; Chart: Axios Visuals

The eight remaining playoff teams run the gamut from MLB's highest payroll (Yankees) to its third lowest (Rays) โ€” and they happen to be playing each other.

  • The smallest difference in payroll among Division Series matchups is the Dodgers (2) vs. the Padres (8).
  • Look: Every team's 2020 payroll.
5. ๐Ÿˆ Upset-filled weekend shakes up AP poll
Expand chart
Data:ย AP; Table: Axios Visuals

Another wild weekend of upsets shuffled the poll, as five previously-ranked teams dropped out of the Top 25.

Down go the favorites:

  • TCU 33, Texas 31: A week after completing an epic comeback, Texas fumbled away its shot at victory in brutal fashion. This was the Longhorns' sixth loss as a ranked team against an unranked opponent since 2017 โ€” most in FBS.
  • Iowa State 37, Oklahoma 30: The Cyclones got their first home win over the Sooners in 60 years while Oklahoma continued its free fall, losing consecutive regular season games for the first time since 1999 and finding itself unranked for the first time since September 2016.
  • NC State 30, Pittsburgh 29: Wolfpack QB Devin Leary shredded the previously unbeaten Panthers' top-ranked defense to the tune of 336 yards and 4 TD, including the game-winner with just 13 seconds left.
  • Arkansas 21, Mississippi State 14: The Razorbacks' first SEC victory since 2017 came against the squad that was just a week removed from defeating reigning champion LSU on the road. Makes sense.
  • SMU 30, Memphis 27: Memphis rallied from a 24-3 deficit to tie the game late, but it wasn't enough as SMU buried a game-winning FG with nine seconds left.
  • Tulsa 34, UCF 26: Tulsa's win snapped UCF's 21-game home winning streak, which dated back to 2016 when they lost to ... Tulsa.

Go deeper: Power rankings (ESPN)

P.S. ... The Pac-12 released its full schedule over the weekend.

6. โšก๏ธ Catch up quick
Photo: Horsephotos/Getty Images
  • ๐Ÿ‡ Preakness: Swiss Skydiver, the first filly (female horse) to run the Preakness since 2014, won in a photo finish Saturday at Pimlico, edging out Kentucky Derby winner Authentic by a neck. Her time, 1:53.28, is the second fastest ever at the Preakness, behind only Secretariat's historic 1973 (1:53.00). Watch the whole race.
  • ๐ŸŽพ French Open: No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal cruised to the quarterfinals on Sunday morning over unseeded American Sebastian Korda (6-1, 6-1, 6-2), but it was otherwise a tough weekend for the favorites, as four seeded men โ€” and six women, including No. 1 Simona Halep โ€” lost to unranked opponents.
  • โšฝ๏ธ EPL: Manchester United (6-1 loss) and Liverpool (7-2 loss) each allowed six or more goals on the same day for the first time in history. For Liverpool, it was also the first time a reigning Premier League champ had ever conceded seven goals in a game.
Storm legend Sue Bird. Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
  • ๐Ÿ€ WNBA Finals: After taking Game 1 on Friday, Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm won again Sunday, 104-91, taking a commanding 2-0 lead over the Las Vegas Aces in the best-of-five series. Bird, the future Hall of Famer who turns 40 next week, set a WNBA playoff record in Game 1 with 16 assists before adding another 10 in Game 2. Next up: the Storm will look to clinch their second championship in three years Tuesday at 7pm (ESPN).
  • โšพ๏ธ MLB: The Baseball Writers' Association of America voted to remove Kenesaw Mountain Landis' name from the MVP trophy, making this the first year since his death in 1944 that it won't bear his name. Landis โ€” who became MLB's first commissioner in 1920 โ€” left a legacy that included "documented racism," with various former MVPs wondering why this took so long.
7. ๐Ÿ“บ What to watch: ESPN's Oscar Pistorius doc
Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

ESPN's newest documentary in its 30 for 30 series, "The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius," chronicles the South African sprinter's rise to the Olympics and fall in the wake of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp's tragic death, as she was shot by Pistorius in his home on Valentine's Day, 2013.

The big picture: "The Blade Runner," as fans called him, dominated the Paralympics (eight medals) before becoming the first double amputee ever to compete in the Olympics (2012).

  • Yes, but: Underneath his heroic faรงade was a complicated man with a troubled past, and though his intent remains a mystery, he was found guilty of the culpable homicide of Steenkamp nonetheless.
  • He's currently serving 15 years, ineligible for parole until 2023 at the earliest.

๐ŸŽฅ Watch the trailer (YouTube); then watch the four-part doc (ESPN+).

8. Oct. 5, 2001: โšพ๏ธ Bonds breaks HR record
Photo: D. Ross Cameron/AFP via Getty Images

19 years ago today, Barry Bonds hit home runs No. 71 and 72 in consecutive at bats off Dodgers RHP Chan Ho Park, breaking Mark McGwire's three-year-old record for most in a single season.

By the numbers: He hit No. 73 two days later, which remains the record. No one's hit more than 59 since (Giancarlo Stanton, 2017).

  • Incredibly, this was Bonds' only season with 50+ HR, but his eight, 40-homer campaigns are tied for second (Harmon Killebrew, Alex Rodriguez, Hank Aaron), behind Babe Ruth's 11.

Go deeper: Bonds breaks McGwire's record (The Undefeated)

9. โšพ๏ธ MLB trivia

The late, great Bob Gibson. Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Bob Gibson, the legendary Cardinals pitcher and Hall of Famer, died Friday after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 84.

  • Question: Gibson's 1968 season is on the short list for greatest ever, with his 1.12 ERA ranking 4th all time. Leaving out Shane Bieber's absurd 2020 (1.63), who is the active leader for lowest single-season ERA?
  • Hint: 1.66 in 2015

Answer at the bottom.

10. ๐ŸŽฅ Sunday's top plays

Niners WR Brandon Aiyuk with the monster hurdle. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

  1. ๐Ÿˆ Aiyuk hurdle
  2. ๐Ÿˆ OBJ 50-yard reverse
  3. โšฝ๏ธ Fancy footwork
  4. ๐Ÿˆ Dak threads the needle
  5. ๐Ÿˆ Wentz teardrop
  6. ๐Ÿ€ Jimmy buckets
  7. โšฝ๏ธ Touch, turn, strike
  8. ๐Ÿ€ Filthy layup
  9. ๐ŸŽพ Soccer tennis
  10. ๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ Epic closing sprint

Watch all 10.

Talk tomorrow,

Jeff "Why was there no baseball this weekend?" Tracy

Trivia answer: Zack Greinke (Dodgers)