Happy Monday! Welcome back to Axios Sports, that newsletter written by that guy.
1 big thing: Pat vs. the Pats
Patriots 41, Chargers 28: Sony Michel ran for 129 yards and 3 TDs as the Patriots rolled in Foxborough to earn their 8th straight trip to the AFC Championship Game.
- Fun fact: This was Tom Brady's 28th postseason win (28-10 overall record), which is the most in NFL history ... by a lot. No. 2 on the list is Joe Montana with 16.
Chiefs 31, Colts 13: The Chiefs won their first playoff game in Arrowhead since 1993(!) thanks to a suddenly lights-out defense and veteran-like play from QB Patrick Mahomes.
- Fun fact: Mahomes is technically the first Big 12 QB to ever win an NFL playoff game. I didn't believe it either, but here's the proof.
🗓 AFC Champ. Game: Patriots at Chiefs, 6:40 pm ET next Sunday
- Only four QBs have kept Tom Brady from playing in the Super Bowl this century: Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Jake Plummer and ... Mark Sanchez.
- Now, Mahomes — a young star with seemingly unlimited potential — gets his shot at the king in what just happens to be the first AFC title game ever hosted in Kansas City. Talk about a storyline.
2. Meanwhile, in the NFC...
- Go deeper: The Saints' 18-play, 11-minute drive after halftime showed just how scary they can be. The Eagles barely touched the ball in the third quarter.
Rams 30, Cowboys 22: The Rams' unstoppable rushing attack was just too much for the Cowboys. Plain and simple. (Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson both had 100+ rushing yards, the first teammates to do that in a playoff game since 1997.)
- Journalist on-scene: "I'm not saying you catch a whiff of pot at the Coliseum," writes The Ringer's Bryan Curtis. "I'm saying that, last night, Section 26L was like sticking your head in a pot campfire."
🗓 NFC Champ. Game: Rams at Saints, 3:05 pm ET next Sunday
- Flashback: On Nov. 4, the undefeated Saints beat the undefeated Rams 45-35 in New Orleans. Now comes Round 2.
P.S. The top four teams in points per game this season: Chiefs (35.3), Rams (32.9), Saints (31.5) and Patriots (27.3)...
3. KD vs. PG
Entering the season, few people would have put Paul George above Kevin Durant on a "best small forwards in the West" list. Three months later, plenty of fans are doing just that, Axios' Michael Sykes writes.
What's happening: The NBA released the latest All-Star fan voting totals, and Paul George has supplanted Kevin Durant as a starter.
- If this holds up, it will be the first time since 2010 that a healthy Durant won't be in the All-Star starting lineup (he missed out in 2015, but that was due to a broken foot).
Be smart: In many ways, fan voting — which accounts for 50% of final tallies, with players and media making up the other 50% — says more about fan bases and marketing departments than it does about who the best players are.
- That being said, look at the numbers: KD is the better offensive player, but PG isn't far behind. He's also grabbing more boards and playing better overall defense, so one could absolutely argue that he's earned the starting spot.
P.S. LeBron will likely be the other starting forward. His numbers for comparison: 27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 58.5% 2PT, 35% 3PT.
4. The Kyler Murray saga continues
Major League Baseball is prepared to "waive a rule that prevents teams from giving major league contracts to recently drafted players if Kyler Murray and the Oakland A's can strike a deal that would have him choose baseball over football," ESPN's Jeff Passan reports.
- In other words, instead of only being able to pay Murray his $4.7 million signing bonus, Oakland would be allowed to add him to its 40-man roster and pay him more guaranteed money.
The bottom line: The MLB is prepared to do some unprecedented things in order to convince Murray to play baseball, and that should come as no surprise.
- "The Heisman winner who chose baseball." Think about how valuable that is from a marketing perspective.
5. Soccer 'round the globe
🇪🇸 La Liga: Lionel Messi scored his 400th La Liga goal in Barcelona's 3-0 win over Eibar, which is by far the most in league history. Cristiano Ronaldo is 2nd with 311 goals and former Athletic Bilbao striker Telmo Zarra is 3rd with 251.
🇬🇧 Premier League: David De Gea did his best Gandalf "You shall not pass" impression yesterday, making 11 saves — many of them spectacular — in Manchester United's 1-0 victory over Tottenham. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is now 6-0 as United's manager.
🇺🇸 MLS: FC Cincinnati took UCLA freshman midfielder Frankie Amaya with the first pick of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. See all the picks.
6. Photo of the day
The Australian Open is underway in Melbourne.
- American men: No. 9 John Isner was stunned just hours ago by fellow American Reilly Opelka.
- American women: No. 5 Sloane Stephens won easily, and No. 17 Madison Keys (7 pm ET) and No. 16 Serena Williams (8:15 pm ET) play tonight.
7. 🏀 NBA trivia
Steph Curry and Kyle Korver both leapfrogged Jason Terry on the career 3-pointers list this weekend, with Steph (2,296) now in 3rd and Korver (2,284) in 4th.
- Question #1 (easy): Can you name the only 2 players ahead of them on the all-time list?
- Question #2 (hard): Can you name the 2 other active players who are also in the top 10?
8. The Ocho: Snooker, explained
In pool, the goal is to clear all the balls from the table. In snooker, the goal is to score the most points by pocketing balls worth different point values.
- In addition to the cue ball, there are 21 balls on the table: 15 "reds" (each worth 1 point) and 6 "colors": yellow (2 points), green (3), brown (4), blue (5), pink (6) and black (7).
- To begin a frame, reds are bunched in a triangle similar to pool, while colors are placed on pre-marked spots on the table.
- When a red is pocketed, the player must target a color with the next shot and continue in that sequence (red-color-red-color). Once sunk, reds are removed from the table, while colors are placed back on their pre-marked spots.
- How a frame ends: After the 15th red is pocketed, the colors must be sunk in ascending order (yellow to black), and are not placed back on the table. Once the black ball is sunk, the player with the most points wins.
🚨 Happening now: The 2019 Masters, snooker's most prestigious tournament, is taking place in London as we speak.
- Update: Reigning champ Mark "The Pistol" Allen was knocked out by Luca Brecel in yesterday's opening round. Madness at the (Snookers) Masters!
9. On this date: 1/14/1976
Forty-three years ago today, CNN founder Ted Turner became CEO of the Atlanta Braves, a position he held until 1996.
Fun fact: Did you know Turner once managed the Braves for a night? Unfortunately, his 24-hour stint (which was more of a stunt) ended in a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Go deeper.
10. Everything else
🏒 Snoop Dogg was in the broadcast booth for the Los Angeles Kings' home game yesterday and it was pure entertainment.
- In not so entertaining news, the great Rick Nash has retired due to concussion-related symptoms. If you haven't watched HBO Real Sports' story on the NHL's concussion problem, you should.
⛳️ Matt Kuchar overcame a sloppy start (3 bogeys in 5 holes) with near-perfect golf the rest of the way (putted for birdie on the final 13 holes) to win the Sony Open, his ninth career tour victory.
- In other golf news, well-known swing coach Hank Haney thinks Jordan Spieth has the putting yips. "You watch his hands on short putts and there is a tremor there," Haney told ESPN.
🏀 Up by 3 with 11.8 seconds left, Northern Kentucky literally ran a football play to ensure that they got the ball inbounds. Why don't more teams do this?
- Speaking of awesome plays, here's Duke freshman Cam Reddish's game-winner against Florida State that you probably saw. Dickie V. yelling "Oh! Oh!" will never not be awesome.
📖 Best thing I read: Read this.