Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

January 10, 2022

👋 Good morning! If you missed last night's Raiders-Chargers thriller, I genuinely feel sorry for you. Instant classic in Las Vegas.

🎾 Breaking: Novak Djokovic's deportation order has been overturned by a federal judge, clearing a path for him to play in the Australian Open.

Today's word count: 1,616 words (6 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: 🏈 Bring on the NFL playoffs

Congrats, Raider Nation. Photo: Chris Unger/Getty Images

Entering Week 18, the NFL had already set a record with 32 walk-off wins. Sunday saw three more, all of which happened in overtime and clinched playoff spots for the victors, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Playoff matchups: The Titans (AFC) and Packers (NFC) earned byes, while 12 other teams will play in next weekend's Wild Card round.

  • AFC: No. 2 Chiefs vs. No. 7 Steelers; No. 3 Bills vs. No. 6 Patriots; No. 4 Bengals vs. No. 5 Raiders
  • NFC: No. 2 Buccaneers vs. No. 7 Eagles; No. 3 Cowboys vs. No. 6 49ers; No. 4 Rams vs. No. 5 Cardinals
T.J. Watt
What did the Watts feed their children? Sheesh. Photo: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

More NFL:

  • Sack lunch: T.J. Watt tied Michael Strahan's NFL record of 22.5 sacks with this takedown. Reminder: He only played 13 full games.
  • On the clock: Despite beating the Colts, the Jaguars secured the No. 1 pick thanks to the Lions beating the Packers. That's what you call a win-win.
  • Stud rookie WRs: Jaylen Waddle (104 receptions) passed Anquan Boldin for most by a rookie, while Ja'Marr Chase (1,455 yards) extended his rookie record over Justin Jefferson.
  • "Manningcast" curse: All seven active players who joined the "Manningcast" this season lost their next game.
  • Historic slide: The Broncos have missed six straight postseasons since winning Super Bowl 50, the longest post-title playoff drought ever. On Sunday, they fired head coach Vic Fangio.

Go deeper: Ranking the 14 playoff teams (CBS Sports)

2. ❤️ Why we love sports: Olympian gives up spot

Erin Jackson and Brittany Bowe

Erin Jackson (L) and Brittany Bowe speak to the media on Sunday. Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

U.S. speedskater Brittany Bowe earned an Olympic spot on Sunday — then gave it to her teammate.

Catch up quick: On Friday at the U.S. speedskating trials, Erin Jackson slipped in the 500-meter qualifying race and finished third behind first-place Bowe and second-place Kimi Goetz.

  • Only the top two qualify, meaning a slip had cost Jackson a shot at a medal in Beijing as the No. 1-ranked skater in the event. Then Bowe did something wonderful: she gave up her spot to Jackson.
  • Bowe and Jackson are longtime friends, and Bowe had already qualified for Team USA in the 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter events.

What she's saying:

"I woke up and I was just giving it some thought and I didn't want to have this moment without Erin out there. So I called her late this morning and just told her that I wanted to officially give her her spot."
"This is bigger than just me. This is the Olympic Games. This is about Team USA, and it's about giving everybody an opportunity to showcase what they have. [Erin has] earned the right to be there, and I cannot wait to see what she has in store in Beijing."
— Bowe, via WSJ (subscription)

The bottom line: Sometimes, sports are about winning. Other times, they're about more than that. An epic game like Raiders-Chargers makes me appreciate sports. Moments like this make me love them.

3. 🏆 Alabama vs. Georgia for all the marbles

Photo illustration of Bryce Young, Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Jordan Davis

Bryce Young, Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Jordan Davis. Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Alabama and Georgia will play for a championship tonight — five weeks after their SEC title game matchup, and four years after their national title game thriller.

State of play: The Bulldogs are slight favorites to win their first championship in 41 years, but they've lost seven straight to the Crimson Tide, who have won a casual six national titles in 14 years.

Game info:

  • Kickoff: 8pm ET
  • Lines: UGA -2.5 | O/U: 52.5
  • Venue: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
  • How to watch: ESPN (Main telecast), ESPN2 (Film room with Jimbo Fisher), ESPNU (Command Center), ESPNews (AT&T 5G Skycast) and more.

The intrigue: The QB matchup is fascinating. On one side is Bryce Young, a former five-star recruit and Heisman winner. On the other side is Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on who uses a flip phone.

By the numbers:

  • 25-1: Nick Saban boasts a 25-1 record against his former assistants, including a 4-0 record against Kirby Smart.
  • 9.64: Georgia has allowed just 9.64 points per game this season, by far the best mark in the nation (Clemson is second at 14.85).
  • 61%: The crowd is projected to be 61% Georgia fans, per Vivid Seats. And the top two cities for people traveling to Indy this weekend are Atlanta and Athens, per Airbnb.

Notes:

  • Top prospects: This game features 17 of Todd McShay's top 100 prospects, including Alabama OT Evan Neal (3), Alabama WR Jameson Williams (6), Georgia LB Nakobe Dean (8), Georgia DE Travon Walker (14) and Georgia DT Jordan Davis (26).
  • Fun fact (for Georgia fans): Since 2008, six teams have squared off in bowl games after meeting in the regular season. The teams that won the first meeting all lost the second meeting.
  • Fun rewind (for Alabama fans): It's hard to forget what happened the last time these teams met on this stage. Tua to DeVonta ... Bama wins in overtime.

Go deeper: Full preview (ESPN+)

4. ⚡️ Lightning round

Cameron Smith

Cameron Smith poses with the trophy. Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

⛳️ Wild scores: Cameron Smith (-34), Jon Rahm (-33) and Matt Jones (-32) recorded the three lowest scores in PGA Tour history at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, with Smith emerging victorious in Hawaii.

⚾️ Historic hire: Minor league hitting coach Rachel Balkovec will manage the Tampa Tarpons (Yankees' low-A affiliate) this season, making her the first female skipper in affiliate professional baseball.

🏀 Bird's back: Sue Bird will return for her 19th WNBA season, giving her a chance to extend some records, including most games (549) and most assists (3,048).

👟 Good read: Can the Cal Ripken of running continue his streak? (Eric Wills, GQ)

"Over the course of five Olympics, New Zealand's Nick Willis became a track and field legend. Now, at 38, he's trying to complete an unprecedented feat: breaking the four-minute mile for the 20th straight year."

5. 💵 Chart du jour: New York goes online

Sports betting handle, by state
Note: Handle = total money wagered. Data: Legal Sports Report; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

New York launched mobile sports betting on Saturday, with four online sportsbooks beginning operations and another five awaiting final approval, Jeff writes.

The big picture: Now that New Yorkers can bet from their couch — rather than travel to New Jersey — many believe the Empire State will eventually contend with New Jersey and Nevada for most money wagered by state (currently 17th).

State(s) of play: 30 states plus Washington, D.C., have live, legal sports betting markets, but only 18 (plus D.C.) allow mobile betting, per Forbes.

  • In-person and mobile (15 plus D.C.): Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Wyoming
  • In-person only (12): Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin
  • Mobile only (3): New Hampshire (in-person will launch soon), Tennessee, Virginia
  • Legal, not yet operational (3): Florida, Nebraska, Ohio

What to watch: It's no coincidence this launch came just before the NFL playoffs and CFP Championship. The next month will almost certainly break the record for money wagered on sports nationwide.

6. 🇺🇸 Photos across America

Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry
Photo: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson returned to the court on Sunday after a 941-day absence, scoring 17 points in the Warriors' 96-82 win over the Cavaliers. You love to see it! Missed him so much.

North Dakota State celebrating
Photo: Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

FRISCO, Texas — North Dakota State beat Montana State, 38-10, on Saturday to win its ninth FCS national championship in 11 seasons.

  • Wild stat: The Bison have never lost when making the trip from Fargo to Frisco for the FCS title game, going 9-0 since 2011.
Nathan Chen
Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

NASHVILLE — Nathan Chen won his sixth U.S. figure skating championship on Sunday, cementing himself as the favorite in Beijing.

7. 🌍 Photos around the world

Soccer fan
Burkina Faso supporters in the stands. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon — The Africa Cup of Nations kicked off on Sunday, with Cameroon beating Burkina Faso, 2-1, and Cape Verde holding off Ethiopia, 1-0.

Chinese residents playing hockey
Photo: Di Yin/Getty Images

BEIJING — Locals play hockey on the frozen river near Beijing National Stadium, which will host the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in 25 days.

Big wave
Photo: Octavio Passos/Getty Images

NAZARÈ, Portugal — Big wave surfers are a different breed, man.

8. 📆 Jan. 10, 1982: "The Catch"

"The Catch"

Look closely enough and you might see Tom Brady in the crowd. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

40 years ago today, the 49ers beat the Cowboys, 28-27, in the NFC Championship game after tight end Dwight Clark made "The Catch" with 56 seconds left to play.

Rest in peace: Clark passed away in 2018 at the age of 61 after battling ALS. This story, about his final gathering with old teammates and others he loved, is well worth the read. Friendship is everything.

9. 🏈 College football trivia

Nick Saban after winning the 2021 CFP National Championship. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Nick Saban is one of four active FBS head coaches with at least one national championship.

  • Question: Name the other three.
  • Hint: One is still at the school where they won.

Answer at the bottom.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Football is good" Baker

Trivia answer: Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State; now Texas A&M), Mack Brown (Texas; now UNC)

🙏 Thanks for reading. For more sports coverage, follow us on Twitter: @kendallbaker and @jeffreytracy.