Tuesday’s Den: Nobody asked me, but……..

Cowboys 31, Buccaneers 14
First time in 30 years Dallas won a road playoff game.
Cowboys’ first two drives: 6 plays, minus-5 yards, no first downs
Cowboys’ next six drives: 58 plays, 404 yards, five TD’s
Dallas K Maher missed four of five PAT’s
Cowboys play the 49ers in Santa Clara Sunday night.

— I’m a little surprised that QB Lamar Jackson didn’t go to Cincinnati for the Ravens’ playoff game. Will be interesting to follow his contract situation with the Ravens this off-season.

— Arizona Cardinals hired Monti Ossenfort as their new GM; he had been the Tennessee Titans’ director of player personnel. His first job in Arizona is to hire a new head coach.

Ossenfort also spent 15 with the New England Patriots, starting as a scout and eventually climbing to be the team’s director of college scouting- he has four Super Bowl rings.

— Illinois’ basketball team is going to get a mid-season boost by adding two foreign players; Zacharie Perrin, a 6-10 forward from France, and Niccolo Moretti, a point guard from Italy, who had been playing NBA Global Academy in Australia.

Illinois is 13-5 right now, 4-3 in the Big 14.

— FS1 has San Jose State-New Mexico, a full-access broadcast Tuesday night, which means both coaches will be miked, there will be almost no commercials, and we’ll be able to hear some of the huddles and halftime talks. They do this with Big East games now and then; it is interesting to listen to.

— All-time scoring leaders in college basketball:
3,667— Pete Maravich, LSU— head coach was his dad
3,249— Freeman Williams, Portland State
3,232— Antoine Davis, Detroit Mercy— head coach is his dad
3,225— Chris Clemons, Campbell
3,217— Lionel Simmons, LaSalle
3,165— Alphonso Ford, Mississippi Valley State
3,150— Doug McDermott, Creighton— head coach was his dad

— Nowadays, TV guys routinely preach how it is OK for a kid to play with two fouls in the first half; back when John Chaney was coaching at Temple, he was a big believer at not playing kids when they had two fouls in the first half, and the talking heads nodded their heads— almost no one played kids in that situation 20-25 years ago.

Coaches are mixed in their two-foul strategy; Virginia, UCLA, Kentucky don’t play their guys much with two fouls in first half. Lot of the smaller schools do, maybe because they have less depth than the bigger-name programs.

— Purdue 64, Michigan State 63— 7-foot-4 Zach Edey scored half of Purdue’s points; they trailed 57-53 with 3:43 left to play. Other than Edey, Purdue was 9-26, a potential red flag for March.

— Middle Tennessee 74, UAB 73 OT— Blazers have lost four of last five games, after starting season 12-2; their last four losses were by 1-2-3-2 points. UAB star Jordan Walker missed their last two games.

— Florida Atlantic 76, Western Kentucky 62— FAU has won 16 games in a row; they’re in the top 25 for the first time ever. Owls’ only loss was to Ole Miss back in November.

— Rice 88, UTSA 81 OT— Much-improved Owls are 13-5, 4-3 in Conference USA; they trailed this game 43-25 late in first half, 69-57 with 4:10 left in game.

— UCSB 73, Cal-Irvine 65— Gauchos post an upset in the Bren Center, creating a 4-way tie for first atop the Big West standings, with Cal-Riverside/Hawai’i.

— Villanova 77, Georgetown 73— Hoyas have now lost 28 Big East games in a row.

— Boston Red Sox added C Jorge Alfaro to a minor-league deal; he’ll make their roster and split time with Reese McGuire behind the plate. Alfaro has been in the majors the last seven years, hitting .256 for three teams (Phillies-Marlins-Padres). 

Monday’s Den: Wrapping up a sports Sunday……

— In the history of the NFL, there have been 692 games where one team was +5 or better in turnovers; those teams are 657-30-5.

In playoff games, teams with a +5 or better turnover ratio were 26-0 before the Chargers lost in Jacksonville Saturday night— now they’re 26-1.

Bills 34, Dolphins 31
— Buffalo led 17-0 early in 2nd quarter.
— Dolphins led 24-20 midway thru 3rd quarter.
— Bills outgained Miami, 423-231.
— Last three Buffalo games went over the total.
— Bills host Cincinnati in next round Sunday afternoon.

— Bills won their last eight games, scoring 32-35-35-34 in last four.
— Last three games, Buffalo converted 30-53 third down plays.
— Miami lost six of its last seven games overall. 
— Dolphins’ last six games were all decided by 6 or less points. 
— Miami lost its last five playoff games; their last win was in 2000.

Giants 31, Vikings 24
— QB Jones threw for 301 yards, ran for 78 more.
— Giants’ first four drives: 35 plays, 316 yards, 24 points.
— Giants outgained Minnesota, 431-332.
— Giants converted 7-13 third down plays.
— Giants visit Philadelphia in next round Saturday night.

— Last six years, #6-seeds are 9-3 SU/11-1 ATS in this round of playoffs.
— Giants are 14-4 ATS this season, 6-2 as a road underdog.
— Kirk Cousins is now 1-3 in his career in playoff games.
— Over was 8-2 in Minnesota’s last ten games.
— Vikings were 13-5 this season, but were outscored by 10 points.

Bengals 24, Ravens 17
— Bengals scored on a 98-yard fumble return for a TD with 11:37 left, after QB Huntley lost the ball trying to score on a QB sneak.
— Ravens outgained Cincinnati 364-234, to no avail.
— Baltimore was 9-2 this year giving up 20 or less points, 1-6 if they give up 20+.
— In their last seven games, Baltimore scored 13.1 ppg.
— Since 2015, Ravens are 1-4 in playoff games.

— Cincinnati won its last nine games (12-3 ATS last 15).
— Bengals converted 7-13 on third down, Ravens 3-11.
— Bengals’ first two drives: 24 plays, 114 yards, 9 points.
— Bengals’ last five drives: 30 plays, 117 yards, 7 points.
— Bengals are 12-0 this season if they score 21+ points.

— Next weekend’s playoff schedule:
Saturday:
Jaguars @ Chiefs (-8.5)
Giants @ Eagles (-7)

Sunday:
Bengals @ Bills (-4.5)
Cowboys/Bucs winner @ 49ers

— Former Cardinals’ coach Kliff Kingsbury is going to be paid $5.5M a year every year thru 2027 by Arizona; will be interesting to see if/when he gets back into coaching. 

— Cubs signed 1B/DH Trey Mancini for two years, $14M.

— Xavier 80, Marquette 76— Musketeers have won 11 games in a row, scoring 80+ points in their last five; Marquette scored 48 points in first half of this game, only 28 in second half.

— Rutgers 68, Ohio State 64 OT— These teams split two meetings this season, with the games decided by total of five points.

— St John’s 85, UConn 74— Huskies have lost four of their last five games, after a 14-0 start. Red Storm was +11 in turnovers (21-10); they shot 62.2% inside arc. 

— There were five games in the MAAC Sunday; all five were decided by 7 or fewer points, four of them were decided by 4 or fewer points.

— Memphis 61, Temple 59— Teams combined to shoot 8-52 on the arc; Temple led 45-36 with 8:43 left in the game. Memphis improves to 13-5, 3-2 in AAC. Ugly game, though.

— Missouri State 64, Indiana State 62— Loss drops the Sycamores into a 3-way tie for first in Missouri Valley, with Southern Illinois/Belmont. Missouri State made 16-17 on foul line, Indiana State made 8-14. 

Sunday’s Den: Wrapping up a sports Saturday……..

Jaguars 31, Chargers 30
Chargers led 27-0 with 1:00 left before halftime.
Lawrence in 1st half: 10-24, 77 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT’s
Lawrence in 2nd half: 18-23, 211 yards, 3 TD’s
Jacksonville won, despite being minus-5 in turnovers.

I cannot emphasize enough how rare it is for an NFL team to be minus-5 in turnovers and still win the game. Doug Pederson is 5-2 as a head coach in the playoffs.

49ers 41, Seahawks 23
Seattle led this game 17-16 at halftime.
49ers had nine drives; they scored 4 TD’s, kicked 4 FG’s.
San Francisco averaged 10.5 yards/pass attempt.
Metcalf caught 10 passes for 136 yards, 2 TD’s for Seattle.

College basketball stuff………
SEC
Kentucky 63, Tennessee 56— Wildcats outscored Tennessee 22-7 on foul line. This is Kentucky’s first top 50 win this season.
Vanderbilt 97, Arkansas 84— Vandy outscored Hogs 63-42 in second half. Arkansas has injury issues; they’ve started SEC play 1-4.
Alabama 106, LSU 66— Crimson Tide led 59-22 at halftime.

SEC has seven teams in top 50; Alabama/Texas A&M are the two unbeatens in SEC play.

ACC
Clemson 72, Duke 64— Clemson is 7-0 in ACC play for the first time EVER. Duke led by 8 with 14:47 left in game. Duke is 4-3 in ACC; he is destined to be this generation’s Gene Bartow, replacing a legend but having mixed results.
NC State 83, Miami 81 OT— Wolfpack led by 10 at the half; they were +13 in turnovers (17-4). State outscored Miami 5-0 in last 2:13 of overtime.

Clemson is 7-0 in ACC games; five other teams are 5-2. ACC has six teams in top 50.

Big X
This is a very good league; Texas Tech/West Virginia are a combined 20-4 out of conference, a combined 0-10 in conference games. All ten teams in the league are in the top 60

Kansas 62, Iowa State 60— Jayhawks are 5-0 in Big X, with four wins by 4 or less points.

Kansas leads the Big X, a game ahead of Texas-Iowa State-Kansas State..

Big West
Cal-Riverside 65, UCSB 64— Highlanders upset Santa Barbara, are in 3-way tie for second in Big West play. Cal-Irvine sits atop the league with a 5-0 mark.

CAA
William & Mary 69, NC-Wilmington 67— Seahawks were 27-41 on foul line in a 2-point loss; they lost two games this week, after winning their previous 12 games.
Charleston 78, Elon 60— Cougars have won 17 games in a row; their one loss was 102-86 at North Carolina on November 11.

Charleston is 6-0 in CAA play, Hofstra 5-1. Only 5 of 13 teams in this league are in the top 200.

Conference USA
Florida Atlantic 66, North Texas 62— FAU has won 15 games in a row; their one loss was 80-67 at Ole Miss, back on November 11.
Rice 83, UTEP 82— Owls are 3-2 in C-USA; all five games were decided by 3 or less points, or in overtime.

FAU is 6-0 in conference games, has a 2-game lead. C-USA has four teams in the top 100. 

Horizon
Wright State 78, Milwaukee 74 OT— Raiders shot 58.5% inside arc; they’ve won five of their last seven D-I games. Milwaukee has won four of its last five games, all of which were decided by 5 or less points, two of them in overtime.

Youngstown State, Northern Kentucky and Milwaukee are all tied for first, at 5-2 in league play.

Missouri Valley
Belmont 76, Northern Iowa 72— Belmont made 14-31 on the arc; they’ve won four in row, seven of last eight games.

Bradley/Drake are both in the top 100; Indiana State leads the MVC, by half-game over Belmont and Southern Illinois. 

Mountain West
Colorado State 82, UNLV 81 OT— Rams banked in 40-footer at the buzzer to force overtime, then overcame a 4-point deficit in last 0:30 of OT. Colorado State was 14-32 on the arc, only 6-8 on foul line. UNLV was 23-31 on the line; they’ve lost four of five MW games, two of them in OT.

New Mexico 76, San Diego State 67— Lobos start three seniors, two juniors; they now have won at both Saint Mary’s and San Diego State.

Nevada, Boise State, San Diego State all have one conference loss; league has five teams in top 60, six teams in top 100.

Pac-12
Oregon 87, Arizona 68— Ducks got squashed by Arizona State 90-73 Thursday, then laid the wood on Arizona here. Arizona shot 37.5% from the floor; they’ve lost two of last three games, after a 14-1 start.

Washington 81, Cal 78 OT— Golden Bears led by 11 with 9:43 left, by 6 with 2:35 left. 

UCLA is 7-0 in conference games, Arizona State 6-1; league has eight teams in the top 100, only three in the top 50.

WCC
Gonzaga 115, Portland 75— One of those nights in Spokane; during a time-out, a Gonzaga fan hit a half-court shot, for $1,300. Gonzaga scored 1.51 points/possession, almost a perfect game- they made 17-38 3’s.

Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s are both 5-0 in conference; BYU/Santa Clara are also in the top 100. San Francisco was 11-4 out of conference; they’ve started WCC play 1-5. 

Saturday’s Den: Cleating out a cluttered mind…….

— NFL playoff nuggets for this weekend:
Rain/wind expected for the Seahawks-49ers game; last two years, #2-seeds are 3-1 SU/ATS in this round. 49ers ran for 189/170 yards in their two wins over Seattle this year. Both QB’s are making their first career playoff start.

Both QB’s in Chargers-Jaguars game are also making their first-ever playoff start. Last six times #5-seed was favored in this round, they went 5-1 ATS. Jaguars waxed the Chargers 38-10 at SoFi back in Week 3. Chargers’ WR Williams (back) is out.

Dolphins are starting #3 QB Thompson (1-1 as an NFL starter) this week; they lost five of their last six games, beating Jets 11-6 last week. Miami hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000.

Last five years, #6-seeds are 9-1 ATS in this round.

Despite being 13-4, Vikings have been outscored 427-424. Giants are 13-4 ATS this season, 5-2 as a road underdog. Kirk Cousins is 1-2 in playoff games; both head coaches are first-year coaches, so obviously, this is their first playoff game.

Cincinnati won its last eight games (12-2 ATS last 14). Bengals won AFC title last year; before that, their last playoff win was in 1990. John Harbaugh is 11-8 in playoff games, 1-3 since 2015.

In his career, Tom Brady is 41-20-2 ATS as an underdog; this is first time he has been a home underdog in a playoff game. Dallas is 0-8 in its last eight road playoff games; their last road playoff win was in 1992.

In overtime games this season, both teams will get the ball at least once, unless there is a defensive score on the first series in OT. This is different than the regular season rule, where a TD scored by the offense on the first drive ends the game.

Elsewhere…….
— In Michael Jordan’s last season in the NBA, at age 40, he played in all 82 games, and averaged 37 minutes a game.

— 11 years ago this week, Dwight Howard scored 45 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in a win over the Warriors; he was 21-39 on the foul line. In his career, Howard shot 56.7% on the foul line, missing 4,094 free throws. He scored 19,485 points in his career; would’ve been nice to get over the 20,000 mark.

— If a team trades for Raiders’ QB Derek Carr, here is what they’ll pay him:
2023— $33M
2024— $42M
2025— $41.3M

— Baseball stuff:
Pirates signed OF Andrew McCutchen for one year, $5M.
A’s signed P Shintaro Fujinami; he’ll make $3,250,000 this season.
Padres/Juan Soto avoided arbitration; he’ll make $23M this year.

— Some random baseball stats from last year:
Chicago White Sox were outscored 416-331 at home last year, but they outscored opponents 355-301 on the road.

Mets’ opponents hit .224 at Citi Field LY, scoring 266 runs in 81 games. Opponents scored 340 runs when the Mets were on the road, hitting .248,

Colorado hit .283 at home, scored 456 runs; on road, they hit .225, scoring 242 runs.

Last year, Cincinnati Reds scored 365 runs at home, only 283 on the road.

Over last three years, there have been 852 doubles hit in 193 games at Fenway Park; in the Red Sox’ 191 road games during that same span, only 664 doubles were hit. As for home runs, there were 472 hit at Fenway, 442 hit in Red Sox road games.

Last year, Seattle’s lefty hitters hit only .196, which helps explain why Jesse Winker, Fernando Toro were traded away this winter.

Last year, Arizona Diamondbacks ht 71 home runs at home, 102 on the road. Opponents hit 79 homers in Phoenix, 112 in Arizona road games.

Tampa Bay Rays hit .242 at home, .237 on road, not much difference, but Tampa’s opponents hit .249 in their own home ballparks, only .216 in Tampa Bay.

— Butler 79, Villanova 71— Wildcats trailed 40-30 at halftime, then went on a 14-0 run to start the second half, but Butler shot 68% inside the arc and improve to 11-8, 3-5 in Big East games. Villanova has lost five of its last six games, is 2-5 in conference play.

— VCU 63, Dayton 62— Dayton had ball twice in last minute with a 4-point lead, still gagged the game away in regulation. VCU wins despite going 3-8 on foul line; they were down 14 at the half. VCU has won eight of nine games, is 4-1 in the A-14.

— Warriors 144, Spurs 113– 68,323 fans saw Golden State crush the Spurs in the Alamodome, the largest crowd ever for an NBA regular-season game. 

Friday’s Den: Random stuff with the weekend here……..

— One of the most underreported stories in sports: College football coaches live a nomadic existence, especially assistant coaches. They change jobs. A lot.

Clemson fired offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter after only one year as the Tigers’ play-caller; Streeter was a longtime assistant and is a former Clemson QB, it had to be awkward, seeing how he was Clemson’s QB coach when they had Deshaun Watson/Trevor Lawerence.

Clemson then poached TCU’s OC Garrett Riley, three days after the Horned Frogs got waxed in the national championship game. They must’ve thrown a boatload of $$$ at him.

— It says on my Twitter feed that Baylor went for it on 4th down 47% of the time this season; Texas Tech went for it 42% of the time. Did they outlaw punting in the Big X?

Wyoming only went for it on 4th down 6% of the time, Nebraska 8%, Clemson 12%. Maybe if Clemson played the freshman QB sooner this season, they wouldn’t have had to fire their offensive coordinator.

— When Al Davis owned the Oakland Raiders, he used to interview guys for coaching jobs that he had no intention of hiring; he just wanted to pick their brains. Seriously. 

I’m wondering if this still goes on; do coaches ever turn down interviews with rival teams?

If I was a billionaire who owned an NFL team, I’d be damned if someone would tell me who we could/could not hire as our head coach, but there are rules, so even if a team knows who they are going to hire, they have to go thru the motions and interview other people. Might as well learn something from those interviews.

— Watching the last episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks last night, had to feel bad for coach Kliff Kingsbury, whose firing this week wasn’t even a surprise, that’s how bad Arizona’s season was. He seems like a good guy. 

— In better news, it only took me five years to figure out how to get HBO Max on my TV; I’ve been watching it on my laptop for years, but now that I have YouTube TV, I can watch Hard Knocks, West Wing re-runs and Curb Your Enthusiasm on my TV. Apparently I’m not as dumb as I look.

— If Chiefs/Bills meet in the AFC Championship game, it’ll be played on a neutral field in Atlanta, since the Bills/Chiefs didn’t play the same amount of games this season.

— Warriors-Spurs are playing in the Alamodome Friday night; they’re expected a crowd of about 65,000, the biggest-ever crowd for an NBA game. Hopefully none of the players will take the night off for “load management”

— Minor League baseball is expected to use an automated ball-strike umpiring system across the Triple-A level during this coming season; half the AAA games are expected to use the automated system, the other half using a challenge system, as MLB experiments with how they’re going to change the umpiring system going forward.

— Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) has 13 basketball teams, as they shuffle teams in/out, with the teams that leave going elsewhere for football-related reasons. As a result, the CAA’s rating has dropped to 24th out of 32 leagues, its lowest ranking this century and only 2nd time they’ve been out of the top 20.

CAA was the 14th-rated league last year, now they’re 24th.

— Gonzaga 75, BYU 74
BYU led by 10 points with 5:03 left.
Zags hit a 3-pointer with 0:10 left for the win.
BYU made 13-25 on the arc, only 5-10 on foul line.

— Minnesota 70, Ohio State 67— Interesting telecast on FS1, with no commercials and access to both benches/locker rooms. Banter between Minnesota coach Johnson and the refs was fun to listen to, a little like the old NFL Films stuff from the Hank Stram days. 

Gophers were a 15-point underdog; this was their first conference win. Minnesota’s last four games have now been decided by either 2 or 3 points.

— Iowa 93, Michigan 84 OT— Hawkeyes trailed by 7 with 2:07 left, outscored Michigan 23-7 the rest of the way. Michigan is 9-7 now, has lost four of its last six games.

— Kansas City 81, St Thomas 60— Tommies are in their second year of D-I ball; home team is now 7-0 SU/ATS in their Summit League games this season.

— Oakland 69, Robert Morris 65— Oakland started this season 2-11, but now they’ve won five games in a row, are 5-2 in Horizon games. Grizzlies’ last three wins were by 1-2-4 points.

— Celtics 109, Nets 98— Celtics have now beaten Brooklyn nine times in a row. 

Thursday’s Den: Doing some thinking out loud…….

— 7 of the 12 starting QB’s in this weekend’s NFL playoff games will be making their first career playoff start; 4 of the 12 head coaches will be coaching their first playoff game.

— Which reminds me that since 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had THREE head coaches. There are five NFL teams that have had 18 head coaches each during that same time. 

— Georgia QB Stetson Bennett just won his second consecutive college national title; he is three months older than Chargers’ QB Justin Herbert, who is finishing his third NFL season.

— New Jersey Jets fired offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur; they didn’t score a TD in their last three games this year, after finishing 31st in league in points and total yards last year.

— Miami Marlins traded SS Miguel Rojas to the Dodgers for a minor league infielder; Rojas is expected to play a utility role for the Dodgers.

— Detroit Tigers are moving their centerfield fence in 10 feet this season, and lowering the fences in right and right-center field. Their CF fence will be 415 feet from home plate, second behind Colorado in longest distance from home plate.

— Mike Trout got traded in our fantasy league again this week; think it is the fourth time he’s been traded, which seems weird to me. Wish someone would offer to trade him to my team.

— San Diego Padres signed 42-year old DH Hector Cruz to a one-year, $1M deal; he hit only .234 with ten homers for Washington last year.

— Oklahoma basketball coach Porter Moser grew up in Naperville, IL; his next door neighbor was Paula Zahn, who went on to be a national news anchor on CBS and CNN. Apparently Ms Zahn was also Moser’s babysitter for a while.

— Texas 79, TCU 75— Horned Frogs led 40-22 late in first half; Texas scored 50 points in the second half, shot 56% inside the arc.

— Marquette 82, UConn 76— Huskies have lost three of last four games, after a 14-0 start; all three losses came on the road. Marquette is 14-4, 6-1 in Big East.

— Alabama 84, Arkansas 69— Crimson Tide was really impressive in this game, scoring 51 points in 2nd half. Alabama was 25-36 on foul line, ton of free throws for a college team, especially on the road. Alabama plays fast, is an excellent defensive team.

— UCF 107, Memphis 104, 2OT— Kendris Davis was 21-23 on the foul line. In a college game. And his team still lost. UCF made 16-35 on the arc, 33-37 on foul line.

— Penn State 85, Indiana 66— Hoosiers lost last three games, giving up 91-84-85 points, after a 10-3 start; they’re 1-4 in the Big 14.

— Duke 77, Pitt 69— Panthers led by 11 early in second half, but Duke outrebounded them 51-28, made 23-27 on foul line. Both teams are now 4-2 in a down ACC.

— Charleston 71, NC-Wilmington 69— Two of the better, if not the two best teams in CAA; Charleston is 17-1, hasn’t lost since Veteran’s Day against North Carolina- they start three seniors. UNCW led this game by 5 with 2:24 left, but the Cougars pulled it out.

Too bad this game wasn’t on TV; CAA needs to hook up with ESPN for better TV exposure.

— Saint Louis 63, George Mason 62— Billikens outscored GMU 9-0 over final 2:21 to avoid being upset at home. Mason lost by one, was 12-23 on foul line. No bueno.

— Cal-Riverside 74, Cal-San Diego 68— Apparently this was an epic bad beat, as Riverside (-3.5) stole the ball at the very end up 71-68 and their kid shot a 3-pointer at the buzzer and banked it in to cover the spread, after UCSD blew an 18-point second half lead.

— Western Kentucky 80, UAB 78— Blazers lost their last three games, by 2-3-2 points, after starting season 12-2. Blazers led by 7 with 7:58 left; they were 18-28 on foul line.

— Clemson 83, Louisville 70— Never thought I’d see the day where Louisville’s basketball team is 2-15, but here we are. Opponents are shooting 55.2% inside the arc against them; they’re turning ball over 23.9% of the time. 

Wednesday’s Den: Mid-week musings…….

— Carlos Correa is going to sign a 6-year, $200M contract with Minnesota, pending a physical, but since he played for the Twins last year (136 games), doubtful that he will flunk this physical.

Correa his .291 with 22 homers for the Twins last season; he is 28.

Other baseball stuff:
P Johnny Cueto signed a one-year, $8.5M deal with the Marlins.
1B Brandon Belt signed one-year, $9.3M deal with Toronto.
OF Corey Dickerson signed a ne-year, $2.25M deal with Washington.

— Red Sox IF Trevor Story had elbow surgery this week, is expected to miss most of 2023; not sure why the surgery was done in January instead of October, but it was. Story hit .238 with 16 homers last year, his first year away from Colorado.

— Detroit Lions led Green Bay 20-16 with 2:10 left Sunday night; they actually used a hook-and-ladder trick play to try and get a first down to run out the clock. You NEVER see play calling like that in the NFL; they got the first down on the following play, and eliminated division rival Green Bay. 

Dan Campbell has been a unique head coach in his two years with Detroit; he isn’t afraid to try bold stuff, and his players bust their butts for him. In the first 5:00 of a game against the Rams last year, Lions tried an onside kick and a fake punt. In the first 5:00 of the game. 

For the record, if you bet on the Lions every game the last two years, you would be 23-10-1.

Miami Heat 112, Oklahoma City 111
In a one-point game, Heat was 40-40 on the foul line.
Jimmy Butler was 23-23 on the line; the entire Thunder team was 14-21.
Miami scored the last six points of the game.

South Carolina 71, Kentucky 68— Gamecocks were ranked #214 coming in; they were a 20-point underdog in this game. Kentucky is 3-5 against top 100 teams, 3-3 in last six games overall. The natives are restless in Lexington.

Florida 67, LSU 56
All ten starters in this game are transfers.
Teams combined to shoot 10-53 on the arc.

Virginia 65, North Carolina 58
Tar Heels have lost eight in a row in Charlottesville.
UNC big guy Bacot got hurt 2:00 into the game.
Carolina led by 7 early in second half.

Kansas 79, Oklahoma 75
Sooners led by 10 with 5:19 left in game
Kansas was 31-39 on foul line; ton of foul shots for a college game. 
Kansas is 15-1, 4-0 in Big X, with wins by 2-3-14-4 points.

Seton Hall 66, Georgetown 51— Hoyas lost their last 27 Big East games.

DePaul 75, Villanova 65— Villanova is 8-9; anyone have Jay Wright’s phone number?

— Grand Canyon PG Jovan Blacksher tore his ACL, is out for the year; the Antelopes are 11-5 this season, 2-1 in the WAC.

— Bill Belichick’s record without Tom Brady: 79-88
Tom Brady’s record without Bill Belichick: 37-19

— As far as NFL totals go, under hit 55% this season, the most under’s have hit since 1991.

— This week is a tough one for NFL coaches on non-playoff teams. Lot of guys get fired.
Washington Commanders fired OC Scott Turner.
Tennessee Titans fired four assistants, including OC Todd Downing.

— There are currently five head coaching openings in the NFL:
Arizona
Carolina
Denver
Houston
Indianapolis

— NFL Draft is April 27-29, in Kansas City. NFL has done a good job the last few years in moving the draft all over the country. Smart.

— Get well soon to White Sox’ relief pitcher Liam Hendriks, who revealed this week that he has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. We wish him well with his treatment/recovery. 

Tuesday’s Den: Nobody asked me, but……..

— Georgia 65, TCU 7
Dawgs win national title for second year in a row.
Georgia had six drives in first half; five TD’s and a field goal.
This was one of the worst games I’ve seen in several years.
TCU’s punter, by the way, is a 29-year old Australian.

— Houston Texans head coaches, 2020-23:
2020– Bill O’Brien
2021– David Culley
2022– Lovie Smith
2023– to be decided

Texans are the worst organization in the NFL

— Arizona fired HC Kliff Kingsbury, GM Steve Keim Monday; Cardinals were 28-38-1 in four years under Kingsbury, losing their only playoff game last year. Kingsbury had previously gone 35-40 in six years coaching Texas Tech, going 1-2 in bowl games.

— 2022 Chicago Bears are the first NFL team ever to finish with the most rushing yards in the league but also finish with the most losses.

— Washington Commanders’ rookie Sam Howell was the 65th QB to start an NFL game this season, the most ever in a non-strike year.

— Buccaneers are third team ever to win an NFL division with a losing record; the other two were Seattle in 2010, Carolina in 2014. Both of those teams won their Wild Card game, then lost the following week. 

— LA Dodgers DFA’d pitcher Trevor Bauer; they have to pay him $22.5M this year, and whoever picks him up only has to pay him $750,000.

— DeJuan Clayton is a 6-2 guard for the Cal Bears’ basketball team. He is in his 7th year of college basketball, which doesn’t happen much. Clayton will turn 26 years old in May.
2016-21— Coppin State
2021-22— Hartford
2022-23— California

— Random trivia: When Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, his replacement in the US Senate was Charles Goodell, who had been a 4-term Congressman.

Charles Goodell is/was the father of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

— Phillies/Tigers made a trade over the weekend:
Phillies get: RP Gregory Soto, IF Kody Clemens
Tigers get: OF Matt Vierling, utility guy Nick Maton, C Donny Sands

— Seattle Mariners signed OF AJ Pollock to a one-year, $7M deal.

— Raiders’ QB Derek Carr has a no-trade clause in his hefty contract; you get the feeling he is going to wind up waiving the no-trade clause to land with a team that will start him.

— Favorites went 27-15 SU, 19-22-1 ATS in bowls this season. Under was 21-19-2.

— All six Wild Card games this weekend are rematches from during the season; we’ll have info on all six games posted on our NFL page later this week.

— Bills’ QB Josh Allen threw for 704 yards, ran for 124 more in two games vs Miami this season; he is only player EVER with 700+ passing yards, 100+ rushing yards against one team in the regular season. 

Monday’s Den: Wrapping up an NFL Sunday……

Seahawks 19, Rams 16 OT
— Mayfield completed only 13-26 passes, for 147 yards.
— Rams in 2nd half/OT: 32 plays, 99 yards, 3 points.
— Rams lost 11 of last 14 games SU (5-9 ATS).
— Rams were 4-2 scoring 20+ points, 1-10 when they scored less.
— In their losses, LA was outscored 162-55 in second half.

— Seahawks made the playoffs when the Lions beat Green Bay.
— Seattle tied this game with 2:23 left on a 22-yard field goal.
— Seattle won the game on a field goal on their 2nd possession of OT.
— Seattle held last three opponents to 297/279/269 total yards.
— Seahawks visit the Bay Area, play the 49ers in playoffs next week.

Lions 20, Packers 16
— Detroit won eight of its last ten games (9-1 ATS).
— Last ten games, Lions were +14 in turnovers (18-4)
— Last six games, Detroit outscored foes 94-51 in second half.
— Lions were 5-2 ATS as a road underdog this season. 
— Under Campbell, Lions are 12-21-1 SU, 23-10-1 ATS.

— Green Bay missed playoffs for first time since 2018.
— Packers had won/covered their last four games before this loss.
— Green Bay kicked a FG on three of its first four drives.
— WR Watson caught five passes for 104 yards.
— Green Bay was 1-8 this year when they scored less than 24 points. 

Bills 35, Patriots 23
— Bills won their last seven games, scoring 29.3 ppg.
— Bills ran two kicks back for TD’s, including opening kickoff. 
— Last three games, Buffalo converted 21-37 third down plays.
— Bills won six of last seven games with New England.
— Last three Buffalo games went over the total.

— With this loss, Patriots are eliminated from playoff contention.
— New England went 2-5 SU/1-6 ATS in their last seven games
— Both teams turned ball over three times.
— New England was 7-0 giving up 17 or less points, 1-9 giving up 20+.
— Last six games, Patriots converted 30-100 third down plays.

Dolphins 11, Jets 6
— Dolphins win; they’re the #7 seed in the AFC, visit Buffalo next week.
— Sanders kicked a 50-yard FG with 0:18 left for the win.
— Miami won six of its eight home games this season.
— Miami is 6-4 this season in games decided by 6 or fewer points.
— Dolphins’ win snapped their 5-game losing skid.

— Last three games, Jets had 30 drives, didn’t score a TD.
— Jets went 2-8 in their last ten games, after a 5-2 start.
— Jets were outgained 302-187, ran ball 20 times for 38 yards.
— Jets went 6-1 scoring 20+ points, 1-9 scoring less than 20.
— 10 of last 12 Jet games stayed under the total.

Vikings 29, Bears 13
— Vikings went 13-4 this season, despite being outscored by 3 points.
— Minnesota outgained the Bears 482-259.
— Vikings averaged 10.3 yards/pass attempt.
— Minnesota is 11-0 when it scores 24+ points, 2-4 when it does not. 
— Seven of their last nine games went over the total.

— Texans won, so Chicago gets the first pick in April’s draft.
— Bears lost ten in row, 13 of last 14 games SU (3-10-1 ATS)
— QB Peterman was 11-19/114 passing in his first start in four years.
— Last four games, Bears converted 12-47 on third down.
— Last ten games, Chicago gave up 33.2 ppg.

Texans 32, Colts 31
— Mills threw 28-yard TD pass with 0:50 left for the win.
— By winning, Houston slips to #2 in April’s draft.
— Texans led 24-14 with 2:00 left in third quarter.
— Last six games, Houston was outscored 88-49 in second half.
— Last five weeks, Houston had 13 takeaways (+5 turnovers)

— Colts lost 10 of their last 11 games SU.
— Both teams turned ball over three times in this game.
— Colts went 1-6 ATS as a favorite this year.
— Six of their last eight games went over the total. 
— Colts had 14 turnovers in last six games (minus-5)

Panthers 10, Saints 7
— Piniero kicked a 42-yard FG as time expired for the win.
— QB Darnold played whole game, was 5-15/43 passing, with two INT’s.
— Carolina’s only TD; they recovered Darnold’s fumble in end zone.
— Panthers went 5-3 SU last eight games, 8-3 ATS in last 11.
— Panthers are 13-9 ATS in last 22 games as a road underdog.

— Saints outgained Carolina, 304-203.
— Panthers are 5-2 ATS in last seven visits to Bourbon Street.
— New Orleans held 8 of last 9 foes under 6.0 yards/pass attempt.
— Saints went 3-1 after their bye week, giving up 12 ppg.
— Saints are 5-10 ATS in last 15 games coming off a win (2-5 TY). 

Falcons 30, Buccaneers 17
— Atlanta covered spread for first time since Week 6.
— Falcons outscored Tampa Bay 20-0 in second half.
— Atlanta split rookie QB Ridder’s four starts.
— In Ridder’s four starts, Falcons converted 25-56 on third down. 
— Seven of their last ten games were decided by 6 or fewer points.

— Tampa Bay used all three of its QB’s in this game.
— Bucs have home playoff game next week, rested guys in 2nd half.
— Tampa Bay is 7-1 allowing less than 20 points, 1-8 giving up 20+.
— Buccaneers are 2-11-1 ATS in their last 14 games.
— Bucs were held under 100 yards rushing in 14 of last 16 games.

Steelers 28, Browns 14
— Browns went 3-3 SU/ATS in Watson’s six starts.
— Watson’s six games: Browns scored 8 TDs on 57 drives, with 21 3/outs.
— Steelers sacked Watson seven times in this game.
— Browns were 2-7 this year when they ran for less than 171 yards.
— Browns were 7-4 giving up 24 or less points, 0-6 giving up more than 24.

— Steelers won/covered six of their last seven games.
— In those seven games, Steelers converted 70-129 (54.3%) on third down
— In this game, Steelers were 9-15 on 3rd down, Cleveland 5-12.
— Steelers finish 9-8; Tomlin has still never had a losing season.
— That said, last five years, Pittsburgh is 0-2 in playoff games.

Bengals 27, Ravens 16
— These teams will meet again in the playoffs here next week.
— #3 QB Brown was 19-44/286 passing with two INT’s.
— Ravens turned ball over four times (minus-3).
— Last five weeks, Baltimore was outscored 51-16 in second half.
— Baltimore is 2-6 ATS in its last eight games.

— Bengals’ first three drives: 28 plays, 143 yards, 17 points.
— Cincinnati won its last eight games (12-2 ATS last 14).
— Baltimore outgained the Ravens, 386-257.
— Last three games, Bengals were held to 53-73-55 rushing yards.
— Bengals are 11-0 if they score 21+ points, 1-4 if they score 20 or less.

Broncos 31, Chargers 28
— Chargers didn’t need this; they play at Jacksonville next week.
— Chargers are 9-1 giving up less than 27 points, 1-6 if they give up 27+.
— Last 12 games, Chargers converted 78-174 on third down (44.1%)
— Chargers are 4-8 ATS in last 12 AFC West road games. 
— Denver outrushed the Chargers, 205-59.

— Broncos ran for 205 yards, outgained Chargers 471-352
— Jeudy caught five passes for 154 yards.
— Denver averaged 10.2 yards/pass attempt.
— Denver covered five of its last six games.
— Last five Denver games went over the total. 

49ers 38, Cardinals 13
— San Francisco won its last ten games (8-2 ATS)
— 49ers outscored last nine opponents 157-54 in second half.
— 49ers are 10-0 when they score 24+ points, 3-4 when they don’t.
— Last five games, 49ers converted 65-132 (49.2%) on third down.
— 49ers are 8-1 ATS as a home favorite this season.

— 49ers host Seattle in the playoffs Saturday.
— Cardinals lost their last seven games, and 11 of their last 13.
— Arizona turned ball over four times, ran for only 61 yards.
— Arizona was 1-13 SU when it scores less than 29 points.
— Last 12 games, Arizona was outscored 191-92 in 2nd half.

Eagles 22, Giants 16
— Giants went 3-6-1 SU in last 10 games, after a 6-1 start. 
— Giants are 13-4 ATS this season, 5-2 as a road underdog.
— Giants are 8-0-1 allowing 20 or less points, 1-7 allowing 21+ points.
— Davis Webb played QB for Giants (23-40/168 passing).
— Giants visit Minnesota in playoffs next week.

— Eagles clinch #1 seed in NFC, have next week off.
— Philly won 15 of last 19 games against the Giants.
— Giants covered five of last six visits to Philadelphia.
— Hurts was 20-35/229 passing in his return to the lineup.
— Philly is 7-2 SU/6-3 ATS at home this season.

Commanders 26, Cowboys 6
— #5-seed Dallas visits Tampa Bay in playoffs next Monday night.
— Cowboys are 0-8 in last eight road playoff games (last win- 1992)
— Prescott threw a pick-6 that made score 13-0 Washington.
— Cowboys missed the PAT after their only touchdown.
— Cowboys are 7-6 ATS in last 13 games as a road favorite (2-3 TY).

— Rookie QB Howell was 11-19/169 in first NFL start.
— Washington went 1-3-1 SU/1-4 ATS in its last five games.
— Commanders outgained Dallas 309-182 in this game.
— Washington was 5-1 when it scores 23+ points, 3-7-1 if they didn’t.
— 12 of their last 15 games stayed under the total.

Sunday’s Den: Wrapping up a sports Saturday

Jaguars 20, Titans 16
— Jaguars scored defensive TD with 2:51 for game-winning score.
— Jaguars had worst record in NFL last year; they just won AFC South.
— Jacksonville had only 47 snaps here; they ran ball 14 times for 19 yards.
— Last four games, Jaguars outscored foes 79-27 in second half.
— Jacksonville won five in row, seven of last nine games. 

— Tennessee lost last seven games, after a 7-3 start.
— Last seven weeks, Titans were outscored 89-38 in second half.
— Tennessee scored 19 or less points in 11 of last 13 games.
— Titans outgained Jacksonville, 312-222.
— Titans turned ball over 12 times in last five games (minus-5)

Chiefs 31, Raiders 13
— Kansas City clinches #1 seed in the AFC.
— Chiefs in 1st half: 5 drives- 3 TD’s and a field goal.
— Only 9 of their 56 plays came on third down.
— Kansas City ran ball for 168 yards, their 3rd-highest total this year.
— Chiefs won 12 of last 14 games (6-8 ATS).

— Las Vegas finishes season losing four of last five games.
— Raiders turned ball over 14 times in last seven games (minus-7)
— Last four weeks, Raiders allowed 162.5 rushing yards/game.
— Las Vegas is 9-15 ATS in last 24 games coming off a loss
— Kansas City won 17 of last 20 games against the Raiders (12-8 ATS)

College basketball knowledge……
— Big X— All ten teams in this league are in the KenPom top 35; no easy games here.

Texas 56, Oklahoma State 46— Longhorns lost their last game 116-103, then fired their coach for off-court reasons, then went to Stillwater and held the Cowboys to 46 points. Six of Texas’ top eight players are seniors, usually a good thing.

Kansas State 97, Baylor 95 OT— Markquis Nowell scored 32 points, had 14 assists for K-State, which is 14-1 under first-year coach/former Baylor assistant Jerome Tang.

Iowa State 69, TCU 67— Cyclones blew a 9-point lead with 2:57 left, but hit game-winning 3 with a couple seconds left to snap TCU’s 11-game win streak. TCU was 16-28 on foul line, which is bad, but Iowa State was 3-9,

— Big 14— League has four teams in top 30; top seven teams in Big 14 have one conference loss. Minnesota (0-4) is only winless team in conference games.

Michigan State 59, Michigan 53— Spartans have won six in a row, after a 5-4 start. Wolverines lost their last five visits to East Lansing.

— SEC— Three teams in top 10, five in top 25, all while Kentucky is struggling.

Alabama 78, Kentucky 52— Crimson Tide is 3-0 in SEC, winning by 11-22-26 points; their eFG% defense is #4 in country. You don’t see the Wildcats lose by 26 very often.

Florida 82, Georgia 75— Georgia coach White coached the Gators the last seven years, but bolted to Athens last spring. Dawgs led 23-10 early, made 10-20 on the arc, but Florida shot 59% inside the arc, snapping their 3-game losing streak.

— Big East— Providence/Xavier are on top of league early on, with Villanova 2-3 in their first year without Jay Wright. Georgetown has lost 26 consecutive conference games.

UConn 69, Creighton 60— Bluejays are shooting 35.3% on the arc this season, but were 2-16 in this game, as UConn snaps a 2-game losing skid. Creighton started season 6-0, is 3-7 since then.

Xavier 88, Villanova 80— Musketeers have won nine in row, are 13-3 under Sean Miller; they’re shooting 40.8% on the arc, #4 in country. Villanova is 8-8 in its first year without Jay Wright, 2-3 in Big East games.

— Pac-12— UCLA/Arizona are only teams in league in the top 30; UCLA (5-0) sits atop the standings right now.

Washington State 74, Arizona 61— On a day with very few upsets, this was a big one; Arizona had won eight games in a row- they’re 14-2 now. Coogs made 12-28 on the arc, held Arizona to 0.94 points/possession.

— ACC— 12 of 15 teams already have 2+ conference losses; you don’t see Clemson atop the ACC basketball standings very often. Notre Dame/Louisville are both 0-5; Duke is continuity team #337- they look very ordinary right now, but they’ve got talent.

Should be noted that KenPom has ACC ranked as the #6 league right now; last time they were the #6 league was ten years ago

Clemson 75, Pitt 74— Clemson is 13-3, 5-0 in ACC games; this is their best start since 1997. Tigers were down 8 with 5:35 left in this game. Pitt fouled a 3-point shooter three times in the second half, which didn’t help their chances much. 

— Mountain West— Nevada (4-0), San Diego State (3-0) are atop the standings; the league is a little deeper with pretty good teams this year. Six teams are in the top 80; Aztecs are only team in the top 25.

UNLV 84, New Mexico 77— Harkless scored 21 points in second half for the 12-3 Rebels, who had lost their first two Mountain West games.

Both coaches in this game are sons of famous coaches (Kruger/Pitino); that’s a little unusual.

— WCC— Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s are both unbeaten in WCC games, but Zags had to weasel out a pair of very tough road wins this week. WCC is deeper than it has been in a while.

Gonzaga 81, Santa Clara 76— Zags were 14-22 on foul line, Santa Clara 3-4, at home; when was last time Zags won consecutive WCC games by only 2-5 points?

Upsets of the Day:
— Washington State (+13) 74, Arizona 61
— Florida International (+12.5) 90, UAB 87 OT
— Appalachian State (+11.5) 71, James Madison 62
— Idaho State (+8) 67, Weber State 57
— Milwaukee (+8) 74, Fort Wayne 70
— Pacific (+7) 80, Pepperdine 75

Saturday’s Den: My 13 favorite Batman (TV) villains

13) Chandell (Liberace)— The gifted piano player was both Chandell (the piano player) and his twin brother Harry who it turns out, was the real villain. 

Trivia: Two Batman villains also had roles in Magnum PI; Howard Duff (Cabala) played Magnum’s grandfather. Barbara Rush (Nora Clavicle) played Magnum’s Aunt Phoebe, a playwright who had Alzheimer’s, and was also in another earlier episode. 

12) Bookworm (Roddy McDowell)— Appeared in two episodes; Bookworm’s crimes were inspired by literary works, well, because he likes books.

McDowell also appeared in the Batman animated series in the early 90’s.

11) Colonel Gumm (Roger C Carmel)— He loved the color pink and was obsessed with stamps; Colonel Gumm appeared in the two-episode crossover with The Green Hornet, with Bruce Lee as Kato and Van Williams as the Green Hornet. 

Trivia: There were three different Mr Freeze’s; Eli Wallach, Otto Preminger, George Sanders. 

10) Siren (Joan Collins)— Played a sidekick to The Riddler’s devious plan to take over Gotham City’s boxing industry, but she also wanted to uncover Batman’s true identity. 

9) The Archer (Art Carney)— Ed Norton from The Honeymooners was also a Batman villain!!! 

Archer’s character was based (loosely) on Robin Hood; his henchmen were Maid Marilyn, Big John, and Crier Tuck.

8) King Tut (Victor Buono)— Appeared in eight episodes; Buono supposedly loved playing the character because it allowed him the chance to overact, one of the aspects of the character that made King Tut so beloved by fans. 

7) Marsha, Queen of Diamonds (Carolyn Jones)— Better known for playing Morticia Addams on The Addams Family, Ms Jones was in five episodes of Batman, joining Addams Family cast members John Astin, Ted Cassidy in making Batman appearances.

6) Egghead (Vincent Price)— When I was a kid, would often substitute (eggs-ellent) for excellent when talking to my family. For a little kid, that was eggs-citing. Vincent Price was awesome in this role, an egg-centric guy with a very strangely-shaped head. 

5) Mad Hatter (David Wayne)— This villain was obsessed with getting his hands on Batman’s cowl, which of course didn’t happen. 

Wayne also appeared in four movies with Marilyn Monroe. 

4) Penguin (Burgess Meredith)—Is more famous for playing Rocky Balboa’s trainer Mickey, but Meredith appeared in 20 Batman episodes, most of any villain. 

3) Catwoman (Julie Newmar)— Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt also played Catwoman, but Julie Newman was the best of the three; she was 5-11, a prima ballerina for the Los Angeles Opera who graduated high school when she was 15. 

in 2004, her next-door neighbor Jim Belushi sued her for $4M alleging harassment and defamation of character, as a result of a dispute over leaf-blowing. 

2) Joker (Cesar Romero)— Appeared in 19 episodes, 2nd-most of any villain. Romero refused to shave his mustache and you can see it under his white face paint. 

Romero had a long, excellent career; he appeared in the first Oceans Eleven (1960). 

1) Riddler (Frank Gorshin)— No one wore the green body suit with the big ???’s on it better than Gorshin, who had a long career as a TV guest star, appearing in CSI, Wonder Woman and the original Hawaii Five-O, among many other shows. 

John Astin played The Riddler for two episodes, but of course he was way more famous as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family.

Friday’s Den: Random stuff, with the weekend here……..

— Texas Longhorns fired basketball coach Chris Beard for cause Thursday; he was arrested last month on a domestic family violence charge. It is unclear what really happened, but the school doesn’t seem to care. They cut ties with Beard without talking to him or his people.

This note is from a 2009 article on Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, and his approach to coaching bowl games: “Bowden doesn’t have a long list of rules. Only one is needed; don’t embarrass the program.”

That is why Texas fired Beard; he embarrassed the program, in a pretty big way.

— When I was in college, I was student manager of the basketball team; one of my jobs was to bring the bag of uniforms to road games, so I can imagine that when Texas A&M showed up to their game at Florida the other night, and their uniforms were still back at their hotel, the managers got some serious grief. 

Aggies got a technical foul, and the game started with Florida leading, 1-0. Luckily for the managers, Texas A&M won the game, sparing them a VERY long flight home.

Managers don’t get much praise, but when they screw up, they’re an easy target. A&M coach Buzz Williams was also a manager when he was in college; maybe he took it easy on them.

— NFL cancelled the Bills-Bengals game, so they’ll play 16 regular season games, while everyone else will play 17.

— Promising news for injured Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin; he was communicating with doctors Thursday; writing, not talking. The tube they have in him that helps him to breathe prevents him from speaking, but they said he asked who won the game Monday night, a good sign.

When I saw the hospital in Cincinnati holding a press conference, that made me feel good. You don’t hold press conferences to dispense bad news; you use press releases for that.

— Washington rookie QB Sam Howell will be the 65th quarterback to start an NFL game this season, the most ever for a non-strike year.

— Houston Texans are 2-13-1; Chicago Bears are 3-13. If the Texans lose, they clinch the #1 pick in April’s draft.

My question is this: If you ran the Texans’ franchise, would you suggest to the head coach that losing Sunday’s game would be a wise thing, good for the long-term health of the franchise?

— Baltimore Ravens are 10-6 this season; they’ve led by 9+ points in five of their six losses.

— Los Angeles Angels did a smart thing, hired Wayne Randazzo as their new TV play-by-play guy; he had been a radio voice with the Mets. Randazzo and Mark Gubicza will be a very good team on TV.

— Lewin Diaz is a 26-year old baseball player who played in 112 games for the Marlins over the last three seasons. He is having an interesting offseason:
November 15— Designated for assignment by Miami
November 22— Claimed by the Pirates
November 30— DFA’d by Pittsburgh.
December 2— Claimed by the Orioles.
December 21— DFA’d by Baltimore.
December 23— Traded to the Braves.
December 28— DFA’d by Atlanta.
January 5— Claimed by the Orioles. Again.

— XFL announced their schedule for this spring; the new 8-team league kicks off February 18.

— Going to be a fun three months of college basketball; there are no great teams; the way rosters are cobbled together now, teams are more fragile, so even the best teams are flawed. Last couple of nights have been very entertaining.

— One of the officials at the BYU-Loyola Marymount game was Bill Vinovich, who is better known for being an NFL referee.

— Gonzaga 77, San Francisco 75
USF played their butts off; this was their Super Bowl, they led almost the whole game.
Gonzaga star Timme was only 3-16 from the floor.
USF led by 12 early in second half, by 6 with 4:05 left. Tough loss for them.  

— Purdue 71, Ohio State 69— Buckeyes led by 12 in first half; Purdue made 13-31 on the arc. They took 31 3-point shots, only 27 shots inside the arc.

— Iowa 91, Indiana 89
Hoosiers led 28-7 early on, 50-40 at halftime.
Iowa lost one of its starters for a while; he is batting anxiety-related issues, I’m sure made more complex because he is also the coach’s son. Has to be a difficult situation.
Kris Murray scored 30 for Iowa, playing all 40 minutes.

— Most teams aren’t deep, which is why fewer and fewer teams utilize pressure defenses. Iowa played three starters 36:00+ in their game. This will make conference tournaments a little more dicey to handicap; playing three days in a row is tough for teams with a 7-man rotation.

— Florida Atlantic 88, UAB 86— Two best teams in Conference USA hooked up here; Blazers led by 6 with 3:48 left, but the 13-1 Owls pulled the game out. 6-4 soph Johnell Davis scored 36 points off the bench for FAU.

— Santa Clara 89, Pepperdine 79— Herb Sendek’s Broncos are a quiet 14-4; the WCC is deeper with good teams than it usually is.

— North Texas 70, Western Kentucky 66— Mean Green sprinted out to a 21-2 lead, then hung on for dear life. 12-3 North Texas made 11-26 on the arc.

— Grand Canyon 72, Sam Houston State 68 OT— Antelopes trailed 53-44 with 4:21 left to go in regulation; they scored 28 points in last 9:21 of the game.

— UCLA 60, USC 58— Bruins led by 18 early in second half, then went into a scoring drought; they scored 44 points in first half, 16 in second half, but they also scored last four points of the game and survived, improving to 14-2, 5-0 in Pac-12.

— Arizona 70, Washington 67— Huskies led by 14 late in first half, but Arizona cut lead to 42-41 at halftime. Wildcats are 14-1, shooting 60% inside the arc.

— Texas State 63, James Madison 62— Dukes were only 14-24 on the foul line. 

Thursday’s Den: Doing some thinking out loud……..

— Week 18 in the NFL can be dicey to handicap; teams in the playoffs are looking ahead to next week, the also-rans are licking their wounds and looking ahead to the draft, while they give their younger players a look. Some teams need to win to get in the playoffs or to get the first round bye; those are the better teams to focus on.

Chicago Bears haven’t won a game since late October; they’ll sit banged-up QB Justin Fields and start Nathan Peterman in the finale vs Minnesota. Peterman is 1-3 as an NFL starter; his last start was four years ago for Buffalo, a 41-9 loss to the Bears team he plays for now.

Washington Commanders are giving rookie QB Sam Howell his first NFL action this week; he was their 5th round draft pick last spring. He should find comfort in the knowledge that Patrick Mahomes’ first NFL start was also in the last game of his rookie season.

— Cincinnati Bengals are 12-3 against the spread this season, best record in the league.

— Unusual fact: JJ Watt’s last two NFL games will be at Atlanta, at San Francisco, the only two NFL stadiums Watt had never played in during his great career.

— Miami Dolphins went 0-4 in December, their first winless December since 1993.

— Former Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino lasted 20 days as offensive coordinator at UNLV; he bolted to Texas A&M this week, where he’ll call plays for Jimbo Fisher.

— Aaron Judge hit his 62 home runs last year off of 56 different pitchers.

— Baseball stuff:
Red Sox signed 3B Rafael Devers to an 11-year, $331M contract; Tuesday he signed a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, but they agreed on this bigger deal Wednesday. 

Cubs signed 1B Eric Hosmer to a one-year deal for the minimum salary; Hosmer is already banking $39M for the next three years from San Diego, so its a minimal risk for the Cubs.

Milwaukee Brewers signed P Wade Miley for one year, $4.5M and acquired P Bryse Wilson from the Pirates.

Arizona Diamondbacks re-signed P Zach Davies for one year, $5M. Davies was 2-5, 4.09 in 27 starts last season.

— PGA Tour resumes today in Hawai’i; since 2015, Justin Thomas is a combined 177-under par in Hawai’i tournaments, 24 strokes better than any other golfer.

— Tuesday night, the Celtics lost 150-117 in Oklahoma City; five Thunder players scored 20+ points. It was only the second time EVER that the Celtics allowed five opponents to score 20+ points in the same game.

The other time was March 17, 1968 against the Baltimore Bullets, when Earl Monroe, Jack Marin, Kevin Loughery, Ray Scott and LeRoy Ellis all scored 20+ points.

— New Mexico Lobos were in college basketball’s top 25 this week, before they lost at Fresno State; one voter had the Lobos ranked as high as #9. Three other voters left New Mexico completely out of the top 25.

Wednesday night was an excellent night of college basketball:
— NC State 84, Duke 60— Coach named Gene Bartow went 52-9 in two years at UCLA in the mid-70’s; problem is, he was replacing John Wooden, the best college hoop coach ever, so 52-9 didn’t butter the biscuit- he moved on to the new program at UAB, where he lasted 18 years.

Jon Scheyer is 13-4 in his first year coaching Duke, where he is replacing Mike Krzyzewski, probably the 2nd-best coach in college basketball history. Losing to the Wolfpack by 24 ain’t going to make anyone happy. Five of his 9-man rotation are freshmen, another a soph. 

Duke is 3-4 away from home; I’m thinking Scheyer will last the same two years at Duke that Bartow lasted in Westwood, then he’ll find a cushier job and probably thrive there.

— Providence 73, UConn 61— Huskies started season 14-0, but now they’ve lost to Xavier and Providence the last six days. Opponents went 52-63 on the foul line in the two losses.

— TCU 88, Baylor 87— This was a fun game to watch, two good teams going toe-to-toe for 40:00. Baylor led by 17 late in the first half, but a connected Horned Frog squad (#3 in the country in continuity) stormed back and pulled the game out at the end. Mike Miles scored 33 points for the winners.

TCU is 13-1 with five top 100 wins; their loss was to #257 Northwestern State.

— Iowa State 63, Oklahoma 60— Odd game; Cyclones led 25-7 early, then Oklahoma went on a 20-0 run. Game was tied at halftime; Iowa State won at the end- they’re #6 experience team in country, forcing turnovers 30.1% of the time, #1 in the country in that department.

— Arkansas 74, Missouri 68— Eric Musselman is a very good coach; he used to coach Golden State and Sacramento in the NBA, after all and also did eight years in the G-League. His teams are tough and resilient.

Mizzou led this game 25-8, but Arkansas outscored them 47-34 in second half. For the second game in a row, Anthony Black played all 40:00 for the Razorbacks. 

Wednesday’s Den: Mid-week musings……..

— Sports betting became legal in Ohio on New Year’s Day; anyone want to take a guess who made the first wager? Hint: He bet on the Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series.

Yup, Pete Rose made the first bet. Go figure.

— You see lot of stuff about people making prop bets, and posting picks on prop bets. One of the popular NFL prop bets is which team will score the first touchdown on Sunday afternoons; how exactly do you handicap that?

One week the Commanders scored the first TD of the week, and they kicked off to start that game; they scored a defensive TD. Most every team elects to kick off if they win the coin toss, so how do you know who will have the ball first?

When I’m in a casino, I’m a conservative bettor, probably a little too much so, but I’m not big on just having action. It is difficult enough to pick winners; trying to figure out if a QB will go over his passing yards over/under depends on several factors which are unknown before the game.

My opinion is that prop betting is more difficult than picking sides/totals.

— How conferences did in their bowl games this year:
AAC 4-3 SU. 3-1 ATS as favorite, 1-2 as underdog
ACC 6-3 SU. 3-2 ATS as favorite, 2-2 as underdog
Big 14 5-4 SU. 4-2 ATS as favorite, 2-1 as underdog
Big X 2-6 SU. 0-2 ATS as favorite, 4-2 as underdog
C-USA 3-3 SU. 0-2 ATS as favorite, 3-1 as underdog

MAC 4-2 SU. 0-2-1 ATS as favorite, 3-0 as underdog
MW 3-3 SU. 1-3 ATS as favorite, 1-1 as underdog
Pac-12 3-4 SU. 0-4 ATS as favorite, 2-1 as underdog

SEC 6-5 SU. 2-3 ATS as favorite, 2-4 as underdog
SB 3-4 SU. 2-2 ATS as favorite, 1-2 as underdog

Georgia is -13.5 over TCU in the national title game Monday night.

— Tulane 46, USC 45
USC led 28-14 at halftime, 45-30 with 5:00 left in game.
Trojans were 11-15 on third down, Tulane 3-8.
Green Wave ran ball for 304 yards, 9.5 yards/carry.
Caleb Williams was 37-52/462 passing for USC, with five TD’s.

— We’ll be doing a deep dive into college basketball soon; there is enough data out there now to analyze teams, and start to figure out what’s up. With the transfer portal so prominent, it takes some time for things to take shape.

— Detroit Lions play the Packers in Lambeau Field Sunday night; if the Rams upset Seattle Sunday afternoon, Lions-Packers will be winner-take-all for the #7-seed in the NFC.

— Sounds like Sean Payton/Jim Harbaugh are going to fill two of the NFL’s head coaching vacancies this winter. Right now, Carolina-Denver-Indianapolis are open jobs right now. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Arizona job became open next week.

— Tennessee-Jacksonville is a play-in game for the AFC South title Sunday; Joshua Dobbs will start under center for the Titans, who have lost six games in a row, after a 7-3 start.

— Scott Stallings received an invitation to the Masters golf tournament last week, but it was the wrong Scott Stallings.

Stallings the golfer qualified for the Masters by reaching the Tour Championship last year; he didn’t realize what happened until the other Scott Stallings sent him messages on Instagram letting him know about the mail mix-up- the Masters people mailed it to him by mistake.

— PGA Tour starts this week with a tournament in Hawai’i; good to know that someone, somewhere will be warm.

— Cavaliers 145, Bulls 134 OT— Donovan Mitchell scored 71 points, had 11 assists and 8 rebounds for Cleveland. He was 20-25 on the foul line.

Speaking of the Cavaliers, now that sports betting is legal in Ohio, they’re partnering with Caesar’s on a 10,000-square-foot sportsbook in their arena, which has bars, betting kiosks and betting windows.

— Baseball stuff:
Red Sox signed 3B Rafael Devers to a one-year, $17.5M deal, to avoid arbitration.
Nationals signed 1B/OF Dom Smith to a one-year, $2M deal.

— Rutgers 65, Purdue 64— Second year in a row the Scarlet Knights upset Purdue when the Boilermakers were #1 in the country.

— Kansas State 116, Texas 103— Don’t see many college games where the losing team scores 100+ points. K-State scored 1.42 points/possession, making 13-24 on the arc. Wildcats are 13-1 under first-year coach Jerome Tang.

— Pitt 68, Virginia 65— Panthers trailed by 12 early in 2nd half; they’re 4-0 in ACC this year, after going 25-85 the previous six seasons.

— Fresno State 71, New Mexico 67— Lobos were the last unbeaten team in the country; they led by 7 with 10:58 left in the game. Fresno State shot 61.3% inside the arc. 

— Next week I’ll switch the TV in my house from DirecTV to YouTube TV; I’ve had DirecTV for over a decade, but it is expensive, and they’re at war with the FOX channel in Albany, so I didn’t see the World Series live, missed lot of college football games. The Super Bowl is also on FOX and I kind of want to watch that, too. 

I’ve been told by several people that YouTube TV is good; younger people especially are very enthusiastic about streaming services. Plus, YouTube TV gets the NFL Sunday Ticket next year and from what I can tell, I’ll save some $$$. We’ll see how it goes. 

Tuesday’s Den: We pray for Damar Hamlin

Wish I was writing about Tulane’s bowl win Monday, or Donovan Mitchell or Klay Thompson having great games Monday night, but I can’t right now. I’m praying for Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo safety who was injured Monday night and is now in a Cincinnati hospital, in critical condition.

Life is precious. I’ll be back in this space tomorrow.