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Bits & Bites - Canada

January 11, 2021
SOURCE: JACOB KUPFERMAN/AP
SOURCE: JACOB KUPFERMAN/AP

🏀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!

🏈Everything you need to know about the NFL playoffs

January 09, 2021
SOURCE: SPORTING NEWS
SOURCE: SPORTING NEWS
Presented with
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The Format

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.


SOURCE: DAVID J. PHILLIP/AP

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.


SOURCE: CHEESEHEADTV

Players to Watch

Quarterbacks (QBs)

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).

Running backs (RBs)

“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.

Wide receivers (WRs)

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).

Tight ends (TEs)

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).

Defense

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?


SOURCE: THE ATLANTIC

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

January 08, 2021
SOURCE: E_WILLIAMS_1, INSTAGRAM
SOURCE: E_WILLIAMS_1, INSTAGRAM

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.

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.

🏈Wildcard Weekend in NFL

January 08, 2021
SOURCE: BRAD MILLS/USA TODAY SPORTS
SOURCE: BRAD MILLS/USA TODAY SPORTS

The set-up: This year’s postseason is supersized, with 14 teams having clinched playoff spots. The top two teams in each conference — the AFC’s Kansas City Chiefs and the NFC’s Green Bay Packers — have earned a bye, so the remaining 12 will play in six wild card games this weekend: three on Saturday and three on Sunday.

  • The games will be played in the higher seed's stadium, and each team has their own attendance policy based on COVID-19 restrictions (which the Cleveland Browns know a thing or two about).
  • Like every round of the NFL postseason, it’s one and done, so teams that win in this first round will move right on to round two (aka the Divisional Round).

Saturday’s must-see match: If you’re going to watch only one game on Saturday, make sure it’s the 8:15 p.m. ET matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) and the Washington Football Team (WFT) (7-9).

  • The Bucs are the stronger team and the heavy favorites to win, but quarterback (QB) Tom Brady might want to watch his back: WFT’s rookie defensive end Chase Young has already marked him as a target. Bring on the drama.

Sunday’s can’t miss game: Saving the best for last, the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) will play the Browns (11-5) on Sunday night at 8:15 p.m. ET.

  • The Steelers just lost to the Browns on Sunday, but we wouldn’t look into that too much: the Steelers were resting their best, while the Browns went all out, fighting for a playoff spot. Expect these division rivals to give us a wild Wild Card finale.

Get in on the action: Don’t be stuck on the bench during the playoffs! Thanks to our friends at FanDuel, GISTers can compete in weekly NFL fantasy for cash prizes (!!!) throughout the playoffs. Here’s the gist:

  • FanDuel is offering GISTer-exclusive weekly fantasy contests with $500 on the line. By pitching in $2 and setting a killer line-up, you’ll walk away with cash if you’re in the top 20% of participants!
  • Plus, by competing in at least two weeks of fantasy contests, you’ll be entered in the final leaderboard — $2,000 is on the line, including the grand prize of $500, a $200 adidas gift card and GIST merch. Cool, no? Sign up and make your picks here (fanduel.com/GISTers) before games kick off on Saturday.*
🏈🏀

Alabama’s DeVonta Smith Named 2020 Heisman Trophy Winner

January 08, 2021
SOURCE: ALABAMA FOOTBALL/TWITTER
SOURCE: ALABAMA FOOTBALL/TWITTER

🏈Football: Alabama’s DeVonta Smith was named the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner Tuesday night, making him the first wide receiver to take home the MVP award since 1991. How fitting for a topsy-turvy college football season. Smith gave an inspiring acceptance speech to close out the ceremony. Pass the tissues, please.

  • Meanwhile, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, the Heisman trophy runner-up, officially declared for the 2021 NFL Draft yesterday. Smith might have won the Heisman, but the NY Jets, er, Jacksonville Jaguars will also land a solid prize.

🏀WBB: COVID-19 sadly continues to impact college hoops. A positive test for No. 6 Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey canceled the highly anticipated matchup between her Bears and No. 3 UConn, originally scheduled for tonight. Wishing Coach Mulkey a speedy recovery!

  • Thankfully there is a top-ranked matchup still on the docket for this week: a Pac-12 showdown between No. 1 Stanford and No. 11 Oregon tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. ET. Nothing like some midday hoops to start your weekend off right.

🏀MBB: Men’s hoops has also struggled with a long list of COVID-19 disruptions. No. 3 Villanova hasn’t played a game since December 23rd and just paused activities again on Monday.

  • With all of these hiccups, it’s no surprise the NCAA has opted to host the entire 2021 men’s March Madness tournament in a bubble-ish environment in Indiana. We love to see it, but we’re still (not so) patiently waiting on that women’s bubble announcement...