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Today's word count: 1,555 words (6 minutes)
1 big thing: 🏈 How the underdogs can win
It's been seven years since a wild-card weekend team won the Super Bowl (Ravens). But the momentum being carried over from last week by teams like the Titans, the demise of home-field advantage and the lack of experienced QBs in the field suggest that this could be the year of the underdog.
Vikings at 49ers
- Kickoff: Saturday, 4:35pm ET (NBC)
- Weather: 56°F, Partly cloudy
- Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
- Spread: SF -7
- O/U: 44.5
How the underdog can win: By grabbing an early lead. Minnesota's offense is built around a power rushing attack led by Dalvin Cook and the play-action looks they get off that (Kirk Cousins excels in play-action). When they're rolling, the Vikings have one of the most efficient passing games in football, so a fast start would be huge.
- Pregame read: 'Jimmy was kind of like Ferris Bueller': Inside Jimmy Garoppolo's early football career (The Athletic)
Titans at Ravens
- Kickoff: Saturday, 8:15pm ET (CBS)
- Weather: 59°F, Overcast
- Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn
- Spread: BAL -10
- O/U: 47
How the underdog can win: By feeding the rookie. squeaked out a 20-13 win over New England despite their passing offense hitting a wall. That can't happen against the high-powered Ravens (NFL-best 33.4 ppg), so Ryan Tannehill must target rookie WR A.J. Brown early and often and hope he can beat Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Baltimore's excellent man coverage.
- Pregame read: How Lamar Jackson bent football to his will and made the Ravens the center of the NFL universe (The Ringer)
Texans at Chiefs
- Kickoff: Sunday, 3:05pm ET (CBS)
- Weather: 32°F, Partly cloudy
- Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely
- Spread: KC -9
- O/U: 51
How the underdog can win: Run it back. The Texans narrowly beat the Chiefs in Week 6 by committing to the run (Deshaun Watson, Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson combined for 192 yards) which, in turn, limited Kansas City to just 47 offensive plays (vs. 83 for Houston). Perhaps they can execute that game plan once again in a cold weather game that might demand it.
- Pregame read: What Mahomes knows (SI)
Seahawks at Packers
- Kickoff: Sunday, 6:30pm ET (FOX)
- Weather: 22°F, Overcast (snow expected Saturday)
- Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, Chris Myers
- Spread: GB -4.5
- O/U: 46.5
How the underdog can win: Jadeveon Clowney. Seattle was 16th in pass rush win rate this year (D-line beat 43% of blocks), while Green Bay ranked first in pass block win rate (O-line held 72% of blocks). So the Seahawks will need their best athlete to step up and bother Aaron Rodgers, who completes 69% of non-pressured passes (vs. 45% under pressure).
- Pregame read: The Seahawks should be scared of Za'Darius Smith (SB Nation)
2. ⚽️ Premier League snapshot
We're 22 weeks into the English Premier League season, and Liverpool (19-1-0) has yet to lose a match, opening up a comfortable lead over second-place Leicester City and third-place Manchester City, the two-time defending champs.
Why it matters: It's been 30 years since Liverpool last won the Premier League title — a long, painful wait that has "bred a desperation, a trigger-happiness, a willingness to believe," in a generation of rabid fans, writes NYT's Rory Smith.
"That, in truth, is the biggest test that Liverpool must pass: coping with the anxiety that will set in as the dream of a generation drifts closer to reality."— Smith
- Game of the week: Tottenham vs. Liverpool (Saturday, 12:30pm ET)
- Goal leaders: Jamie Vardy, Leicester City (17); Danny Ings, Southampton (13); Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal (13); Marcus Rashford, Manchester United (12); Tammy Abraham, Chelsea (12)
- Assist leaders: Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City (12); Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool (8); Son Heung-Min, Tottenham (7); six players (6)
- 🇺🇸 MLS SuperDraft: David Beckham's Inter Miami selected Clemson forward Robbie Robinson with the top pick, while fellow expansion team Nashville SC chose Indiana defender Jack Maher at No. 2.
- 🇪🇸 Barcelona falls: Atlético Madrid stunned Barcelona with two late goals in a thrilling 3-2 win in the semi-final of the Spanish Supercopa in Saudi Arabia.
- 🇮🇹 Italian heavyweights: Cristiano Ronaldo and second-place Juventus travel to Italy's capital on Sunday to play fourth-place Roma.
3. ⛳️ Pete Dye, famed golf architect, dead at 94
Pete Dye, who designed many of America's most famous golf courses and became known as the "Picasso" of golf architecture for his distinctive layouts, passed away yesterday. He was 94.
"I think of Pete like Picasso, somebody that has created a nontraditional design, whether it's a painting, a sculpture or a golf course. He was so innovative in a profession that is very traditional."— Course designer Arthur Hills
Famous courses: Dye designed more than 100 public and private golf courses worldwide, including multiple PGA Tour stops (click to explore):
- Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wisconsin)
- The Ocean Course (Kiawah Island, South Carolina)
- PGA West Stadium (La Quinta, California)
- Harbour Town Golf Links (Hilton Head, South Carolina)
And then there's the island-like par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass, perhaps the most photographed hole in golf history...
4. 🎙 Audio roundup: Dan Patrick, Zion, PMT
Legendary sportscaster and radio personality (and actor!) Dan Patrick learned on air yesterday that he'd been inducted into the National Sports Media Hall of Fame. He was appreciative but also peeled back the curtain on his career-long struggle with winning awards:
"I hated winning awards because it always meant that I spent more time away from my family. I was really good at my job because I made my job my first priority. I think that's what really beats me up because for some reason it reminds me that I was working second shift, working on the weekends."
"Like ... I wasn't around. And as strange as that sounds, I had mixed emotions if I would win something. ... I'd be like 'Yup, you weren't at home, you were at work.'"
🎙 More audio:
- JJ Redick Podcast: Zion Williamson said he was leaning towards coming back to Duke and had his mom's full support, but ultimately his family decided that declaring for the draft made the most sense. Listen now.
- Pardon My Take: Divisional round preview with Warren Sharp, Mike Leach is in the SEC, Paul Rabil on the PLL's expansion team, PR 101 for John Beilein. Listen now.
5. 📊 By the numbers
🏀 98-game home win streak
No. 4 Baylor cruised past No. 1 UConn last night, 74-58, snapping the Huskies' 98-game home win streak and delivering them their worst home loss since 2005. That's two UConn streaks ended in two years by the Bears, who also snapped the Huskies' regular-season win streak at 126 just over a year ago.
🏈 More than $27 million
The two schools competing in Monday night's College Football Playoff national championship game, No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson, boast coaching staffs that will be paid more than $27 million for this season alone.
🏒 12th goalie goal
Nashville's Pekka Rinne became just the 12th goalie in NHL history to score a goal last night when he had an empty-netter in the Predators' 5-2 win over the Blackhawks.
6. 🏈 Browns/Bengals fans need pot, petition says
The State Medical Board of Ohio is considering a petition that Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals fandom be considered a qualifying condition to legally obtain medical marijuana, CNN reports. No, really.
- Ohio state law requires a great deal of information in order to file a petition, meaning the applicant managed to — at the very least — get an expert to weigh in, a physician to write a letter of support and "relevant medical and scientific evidence" to support the claim.
7. Jan. 10, 2003: 🏀 The Bobcats are born
17 years ago today, Charlotte was awarded an NBA expansion franchise to be known as the Charlotte Bobcats. Thankfully, that name and those hideous road jerseys wouldn't last very long.
- 1988: Charlotte Hornets franchise established
- 2002: Charlotte Hornets move to New Orleans, become the New Orleans Hornets
- 2003: Charlotte Bobcats franchise established
- 2013: New Orleans Hornets rebrand as the New Orleans Pelicans
- 2014: Charlotte Bobcats rebrand as the Charlotte Hornets
Fun fact: As part of the 2014 deal, the renamed Hornets reclaimed the history and records of the 1988-2002 Hornets, while all of the Hornets' records during their time in New Orleans remained with the Pelicans. (The Browns did something similar in their return to the NFL in 1999).
8. The Ocho: 📸 Photos from Lausanne
Ladies and gentlemen, the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics are officially underway in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Members of the U.S. delegation waved American flags as they made their way through the Opening Ceremony processions. Click to meet Team USA.
The Opening Ceremony was full of spectacular performances. Here we have two young singers on a makeshift gondola surrounded by alpine horns performing a verse of the Swiss national anthem.
And here we have Switzerland's Caroline Ulrich competing in ski mountaineering, a brand new Olympic sport that involves climbing mountains on skis, then descending down them.
9. 🏀 NBA trivia
The Milwaukee Bucks are the first team since the 1983-84 San Antonio Spurs to score at least 100 points in each of their first 39 games of a season.
- Question: Who was the 1983-84 Spurs' leading scorer?
- Hint: Began his 14-year career in the ABA.
Answer at the bottom.
10. 🏈 Derrick Henry's high school stats are absurd
Truly one of the craziest things I've ever seen. Imagine being in high school and having to face 57 Derrick Henry carries.
- By the numbers: During his senior year of high school, the Titans RB rushed 462 times for 4,261 yards (9.2 yards per carry) and 55 TD. That's 327.8 yards per game. For his career, he had 12,124 yards and 154 TD.
Go deeper: High school highlights (Twitter)