🏈NFL Wildcard Weekend Recap
The expected: To no one’s surprise, quarterback (QB) Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a wild-card win in Saturday’s primetime game against the Washington Football Team (WFT).
- WFT back-up QB Taylor Heinicke (pronounced HIGH-NUH-KEY) gave them a run for their money, but Brady, who has now beat 17 different teams in the playoffs over his career, was never in doubt.
- Just hours earlier, the No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills edged out the Indianapolis Colts for their first playoff win in 25 years, and the New Orleans Saints beat the Chicago Bears in a bit of a snoozefest yesterday.
The unexpected: The LA Rams gave us the first shock, beating the heavily-favored Seattle Seahawks in their own house on Saturday afternoon. Moreover, they won with their QB Jared Goff, who was supposed to still be recovering from thumb surgery, when their backup-turned-starter QB John Wolford was sent to the hospital after a nasty hit.
- Then yesterday, Baltimore Ravens QB and 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson was finally vindicated when his Baltimore Ravens beat the Tennessee Titans, securing his first-ever playoff win. It helped that the Ravens’ defense held Titans running back “King” Derrick Henry to just 40 yards.
- And in the most unexpected turn of events, the Pittsburgh Steelers forgot how to football. Literally. Just. Forgot. The COVID-19-depleted Cleveland Browns were up 28–0 before the first quarter was finished for the most unanswered points scored in any first quarter in NFL postseason history. They went on to win 48–37. OMG.
Bits & Bites - Canada
🏀NBA: As the youngest of the infamous Ball brothers, Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball has spent his life trying to keep up with the older guys. All that practice paid off on Saturday night when he became the youngest NBA player to ever score a triple-double. Not bad for just his 10th career game.
- Maybe the Toronto Raptors can take notes? They’re now 2-7 following yet another loss. After Saturday night’s spark of hope, in which they set a franchise record for most points scored in a game (144, for those counting), they lost to the Golden State Warriors by one point last night. Nick has some work to do.
🏂Snowboarding: If this weekend’s FIS Snowboard World Cup Big Air competition is any indication of what February’s World Championships will be like, Canadians should be pumped. Olympic silver medalist Max Parrot won the event with a technically perfect showing, while Liam Brearley finished seventh.
- On the women’s side, Jasmine Baird and Laurie Blouin finished 15th and 16th, respectively. Solid results, but still some work to do.
⛸Figure skating: Kudos to Skate Canada for adapting to the new world of virtual *waves hands* everything. Over the weekend, they held the first half of their first ever Skate Canada Challenge, a completely virtual event which allowed skaters to participate via livestream from their empty home arenas. Check out the results here.
🏒Hockey: The Toronto Maple Leafs organization made herstory when they hired the first female equipment manager in North American men’s pro hockey for their AHL team, the Toronto Marlies. Love it!
🏈Tonight: CFP National Championship, Alabama vs. Ohio State (CAN)
The teams: The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide went a perfect 10-0 this season, capturing the school’s 28th SEC championship en route to their eighth National Championship appearance since 2010. Boasting three of the top five finishers for the Heisman Trophy (in addition to a long list of other award winners), it’s an understatement to say Alabama’s roster is incredibly stacked.
- No. 3 Ohio State’s appearance in the CFP is a bit controversial. Due to COVID-19 cancellations and a delayed season start, the Buckeyes only played five regular-season games.
- Still, they’re fresh off a blowout 49–28 upset over No. 2 Clemson and could pull off another underdog miracle tonight. Woof.
Players to watch: Alabama wide receiver (WR) and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith has been an absolute force all season, breaking ankles and records. Along with Heisman finalist QB Mac Jones, he’ll lead an Alabama offense that puts up video game-like scores with ease.
- Keep an eye out for Canadian John Metchie III, a WR for the Crimson Tide. The sophomore has made a name for himself on a star-powered ’Bama team and will be an important target for QB Jones tonight.
- Ohio State QB Justin Fields was the main factor in the Buckeyes’ upset victory over Clemson. Fields tossed six (!!!) touchdowns (TDs), stepping up through injury to lead his squad. But…is he ready for the biggest stage of his career?
Prediction: While we do love an underdog story, we’re expecting the elite Alabama roster, led by legendary coach Nick Saban, to roll away with the title. But our GISTers are split. Only 54% of GISTers who participated in our first-ever “Sunday Scroll” newsletter poll think the Crimson Tide will take home the National Title. Drama.
🏈Everything you need to know about the NFL playoffs
The setup: Expanded from last year’s 12 teams, the 2020 NFL playoffs is sharing the love by featuring 14 teams: seven from the AFC and seven from the NFC. Within each conference, the divisional winners (North, South, East, West) as well as the next three best teams in each conference (the wildcards) make the playoffs.
The bracket: The NFL playoffs consists of four sudden death (aka one and done) rounds. Anxiety, is that you? The Wild Card Round starts today, then comes the Divisional Round, followed by the Conference Championships and, of course, it all culminates with the Super Bowl.
The advantage: Instead of the top two seeds in each conference receiving a first-round bye, this year only the No. 1 seed in each conference — the Kansas City Chiefs (AFC) and Green Bay Packers (NFC) — will move directly to the Divisional Round (aka the second round).
- They’re also the only teams that have a guaranteed home-field advantage throughout the postseason, but, TBH, that won’t matter as much given the COVID-19 fan restrictions.
Teams to Watch
Kansas City, AFC, No. 1: The reigning Super Bowl champs are heading into the postseason with a 14-2 season record. Led by the ketchup-loving quarterback (QB), Patrick Mahomes, and the ever-stylish head coach, Andy Reid, they’re a heavy favorite to repeat.
Buffalo Bills, AFC, No. 2: For the first time since 1995, the Bills won the AFC East. We can’t believe we’re saying this, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bills in the Conference Championships. Bills Mafia, get your tables ready.
Green Bay Packers, NFC, No. 1: Thanks to some team chemistry rivaled only by Summer Roberts and Seth Cohen, the Packers have a very real chance at winning the Super Bowl for the first time since their 2011 Championship.
- As the only publicly owned franchise in the league, we’re pretty down for this. Do you like cheese?
New Orleans Saints, NFC, No. 2: Led by veteran QB Drew Brees, the Saints are familiar faces in the playoffs. With reports indicating that Brees is set to retire at the end of the season, expect NOLA to make a deep run in his likely final campaign.
The full picture: Ready to put your analytics hat on? For the best data-driven predictions on who will win the Super Bowl, click here.
Players to Watch
Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs): Last year’s Super Bowl MVP Mahomes continued to dominate throughout the regular season. Just wait until Playoff Patrick shows up.
Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Brady is in the hunt for his seventh (!!!) career Super Bowl, but it’s his first time donning a new uniform. Can Tompa Tom get out of the first round?
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers): Talk about a Sweet Sixteen. Rodgers is in his 16th NFL season and it might just be his best one yet. Rodgers highlighted his MVP-worthy year by setting a Packers franchise single-season touchdowns (TDs) record with 48.
Other QBs to watch: Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and “Big” Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers).
“King” Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans): The King (that’s right, move over LeBron) continues to reign supreme. Henry surpassed 2,000 regular-season rushing yards, making him just the eighth player in NFL history to do so. All hail.
Nick Chubb (Cleveland Browns): His 12 rushing TDs helped the Browns snap an 18-year playoff drought.
Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints): Kamara gave us all a gift with his record-tying Christmas Day performance, posting six rushing TDs in a single game. Sky’s the limit for Kamara on the playoff stage.
Davante Adams (Packers): Adams leads the league with 18 receiving TDs...and somehow makes it look easy.
Stefon Diggs (Bills): This guy is feeling the love and showing out with his new squad. Expect him to keep up the momentum for the Bills Mafia.
Other WRs to watch: DK Metcalf (Seahawks), Terry McLaurin (Washington Football Team) and Chase Claypool (Steelers).
Travis Kelce (Kansas City): Kelce can truly do it all. He set a single-season record for a TE with 1,416 yards, he’s Kansas City’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee and his dancing skills are elite.
Rob Gronkowski (Bucs): Gronk has some impressive dance moves of his own and even came out of retirement to compete for another championship.
Other TEs to watch: Mark Andrews (Baltimore Ravens), Jared Cook (Saints) and Logan Thomas (Washington Football Team).
T.J. Watt (Linebacker, Steelers): This Watt is a key element in one of the best defenses in the league. Watt’s brother Derek is a Steelers fullback, and they’ll surely have their big bro Houston Texan J.J. Watt, one of the best defenders in the league, cheering them on. Family goals.
Myles Garrett (Defensive end, Browns): Garrett, the first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal Browns defense. Expect Cleveland to rely heavily on Garrett and his signature stops.
- The 2020 regular season marked the highest-scoring season in NFL history, but they say defense wins championships. Question is, which defense will step up to the challenge?
The Super Bowl
Save the date: Super Bowl LV (55) is taking place on February 7th in Tampa, Florida, at the home of the Buccaneers...which is pretty bad news for the Bucs as no host team has ever made it to the Super Bowl. We’re not superstitious, but we are a little stitious.
The entertainment: The NFL is clearly hoping to entice a younger crowd, hiring TikTok royalty, The Weeknd, as their halftime performer. In addition to The Weeknd’s incorrectly spelled name, the Canadian also has the tough task of performing during a pandemic, as it’s expected that fans won’t be able to engage with the on-field performance. The other tough task? Following J.Lo and Shakira.
THE GIST'S PICKS
📗 WHAT TO READ ABOUT:
Herstory. Six of eight female coaches will be on the sidelines these playoffs with one woman on each sideline when Washington hosts Tampa on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET. You know we love to see it.
🏈 WHAT TO PLAY:
We said it once and we’ll say it again. With $2,000 on the line, you can’t not play our GISTer-exclusive fantasy league. Sign up and make your picks before game time.*
❤️ WHAT TO FEEL NOSTALGIC ABOUT:
Remember Slime Time Live? Miss watching episodes of SpongeBob on Saturday mornings? The NFL has us covered. Tomorrow’s Bears vs. Saints game will feature special kid-focused Nickelodeon-themed content.
🎥 WHAT TO WATCH:
We can’t get enough of our vote for Comeback Player of the Year, WFT QB Alex Smith. There’s plenty of on-field action to watch this weekend, but make some time for the documentary Project 11, which details Smith’s return from a life-threatening leg injury. Incredible.
🏀The WNBA Played a Role in Warnock's Georgia Senate Seat Win
Monday: A day before the Georgia runoff election, the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream shared a video of its players encouraging their Georgian fans to get out and vote for Senate candidate Reverend Raphael Warnock. Now that’s how you leverage momentum.
- The catch? Warnock’s opponent is the Dream’s co-owner, Kelly Loeffler. You may remember her July 2020 letter to the WNBA commissioner, in which she opposed the Black Lives Matter movement and her team’s involvement in it, saying the “political movement” didn’t align with the league’s values. No thank you, please.
Tuesday: The Dream’s ringing endorsement was the push Warnock needed to beat Loeffler and become Georgia’s first-ever Black senator. The players celebrated their owner’s defeat on Twitter, and so did LeBron James, who tweeted his interest in buying the Dream team.
Wednesday: And then yesterday happened. There really aren’t words to accurately capture the day’s essence. As Congress gathered to confirm the presidential election votes, mostly white protestors stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., vandalizing the historic property in an attempt to disrupt democracy.
- And, like many, the sports world erupted. Teams like the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons and athletes including Megan Rapinoe, Dwyane Wade and the Dream’s own Renee Montgomery condemned the acts of domestic terrorism.
The big picture: Similar to these athletes, we can’t help but think about the blatant differences in how yesterday’s rioters were treated compared to the BLM protestors of last summer. Unfortunately, it was yet another demonstration of the impact of divisive leadership and institutionalized racism. Hypocrisy is alive and well.