Jimmy Garoppolo gets his first big test against a good defense after going 3-0 in his first three starts with the 49ers.


Another team from LA, another matchup lopsided in favor of the visitors. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley will be in great positions to succeed against the Tennessee defense, while the Titans don’t have the same rushing efficiency and firepower to get the better of the Rams’ defense.

Derek Carr and Jack Del Rio aren’t the aggressive, finishing QB-coach combination they were a year ago. The Eagles with Nick Foles and Doug Peterson are pretty much the same team they were with Carson Wentz and Pederson. The Raiders’ defense will have no answers, and the offense will struggle once Marshawn Lynch is contained.

According to Gutekunst, one of the first pieces of advice that Thompson offered after getting the job on Sunday was to smile more at his first press conference.

John Gutekunst told his son to be humble, and to make sure that he takes care of his staff.

Now, you know, on Mondays after watching our game, the younger Gutekunst said, he’ll tell me some other things.

The run-blocking remained solid to prop up Elliott replacements Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, but Prescott faced more discomfort in key stretches of key games. The Cowboys were often rendered one-dimensional in the atypical way, as running from either their backs or Prescott sometimes was their only source of offense. In a complementary game, those issues were exacerbated by problems at another position.

Prescott still threw to Bryant often but the catches didn’t come close to matching the targets, and the big plays and red-zone scoring prowess were few and far between. As the Cowboys’ go-to wide receiver turned 29 in November, his decline continued through December. So much for being healthier and re-booted for Prescott in Year 2.

When the L.A. Clippers lost both of their top point guards and then lost Blake Griffin and went on a skid, we wrote them off. It turns out that was premature. L.A. has won six of seven and is just a game out of the playoffs in the West!

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There is never really a good time to suffer an injury.


Because the Bucs have Winston, they could have a bounceback season in 2018 provided they can stay relatively healthy. While Winston has certainly played poorly at times this season, he showed Monday why he was the top pick in the 2015 draft. He led the Bucs downfield in the final minute for a potential game-tying field goal, but Patrick Murray missed a 54-yard attempt as time expired.

JaMychal, after a very good 2016-2017 campaign that earned him quite the raise (but not as much as he hoped for) in his latest contract with the Grizzlies. He wasn’t paid to be a star, but he was paid to be a competent role player who competes at a high level. That hasn’t happened- among players who have played at least 600 minutes, he has the 4th worst net rating (-6, a problem in and of itself with four guys on the team worse than him). His defensive rating (110) is worse than that of Mario Chalmers, and his offensive rating (104) is five points worse than James Ennis III, who is not a starter on this team (but maybe should be). In addition to his various ratings all being career worsts, he is posting the worst PER of his career (12.7), as well as his lowest win shares per 48 minutes (.064).

Fans wanted to sit in the cold. They didn’t fear Pittsburgh or Houston. The Dawg Pound and The Jungle weren’t empty stadiums. Cincinnati and Cleveland didn’t want to be like each other. They couldn’t stand the sight of each other.

Tell ’em, Sam …

Now we live in a time in which Cincinnati wants to be like Cleveland, and vice versa, despite a combined 5-23 record.

But I also include this because Gay’s career strikes me as instructive. Gay was a central player on some bad Memphis Grizzlies teams during his first few seasons. They ultimately gave him a big contract because they had little else and little choice. The Grizzlies started to win, but they did so because they acquired better players than Rudy Gay. In the end they traded him in the midst of their best regular season, and proceeded to make the Western Conference Finals, and win 50+ games the following two seasons as well.

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As six teams compete for the final three playoff spots, the Browns will attempt to avoid infamous perfection.


The Browns have had numerous opportunities to win a game this season, most notably when they held a 21-7 second-half lead on the Packers only to lose in overtime. Their final opportunity to win will come Sunday in Pittsburgh.

It’s been a while since the Browns (0-15) won at Heinz Field, where Pittsburgh’s only setback this season was the controversial 27-24 loss to the Patriots on Dec. 17. Cleveland’s losing streak in Pittsburgh spans 13 games, but last season’s Week 17 contest went into overtime, and the Steelers (12-3) won by just a field goal in Cleveland in the 2017 season opener.

The Chiefs (9-6) are locked into the No. 4 seed in the AFC and will rest starting quarterback Alex Smith. Coach Andy Reid announced this week he will start rookie Patrick Mahomes against the Broncos (5-10) in Denver, where the 2017 first-round pick will have to keep his rocket arm in check in the thin air of the Mile High City to end Kansas City’s long QB drought.

It’s the professor against his prized pupil, and their history together will headline the chatter surrounding this game. From 2004 to 2015, Smart spent every season but one as a member of Saban’s coaching staff. Saban has been Smart’s mentor, as the 42-year-old worked for Saban at LSU, the Miami Dolphins and Alabama, where he was eventually promoted to defensive coordinator. He is in only his second season at Georgia, but in his nine seasons with Alabama, Smart helped the Tide win four national titles. To say Smart learned a thing or two is an understatement. The question is whether he learned enough to outsmart the man who taught him much of what he knows. Alabama has won each of its 11 games against teams coached by Saban’s former assistants — by an average of more than 28 points.

The Tide’s defense looked much stronger and healthier against Clemson than it did toward the end of the regular season, when it was ravaged by injuries, particularly at the linebacker position. Georgia finished with five rushing touchdowns against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, and Sony Michel and Nick Chubb combined for 326 yards — the most by a duo in a single game. Michel finished with an eye-popping 16.5 yards per carry (181 on 11 carries).

With such opportunistic defenses on both teams, neither offense can afford to give the ball away. Clemson gave up two interceptions against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, including one that was returned for a touchdown. The Alabama defense has forced at least one turnover in 41 of its past 43 games, dating to the start of the 2015 season.

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Sean Allen breaks down fantasy hockey matchup data heading into the week of Jan. 1-7 and reviews players who are impacted by new line combinations in 2018.


The Texans will not face disciplinary action from the NFL for the team’s handling of quarterback Tom Savage’s concussion sustained in Week 14 against the 49ers.

A joint statement released Friday by the NFL and NFL Players Association said further review of the play found that the medical staff followed the protocol but the outcome was unacceptable and therefore further improvements in the protocol are necessary.

I’ve been blessed to play with one of the best guys, football players, a friend for a long time. We played in a lot of games together, the biggest games. He made one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history. It’s truly been an honor to call him a friend and a teammate. I’ll miss him. I only had to go against him a few times when he was in Cincinnati. It won’t be the same in here without him, especially since he was the oldest and now I’m the oldest. I count my blessings for all the time I got to share with him.

The Steelers and Patriots each secured a bye through to the divisional round, though New England can clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over the Jets in its regular season finale Sunday.

After posting a penalty-kill save percentage of .873 with the Calgary Flames last season and .906 with the St. Louis Blues the season prior, Elliott sits at .831 with the Flyers this season. While we could take a similar approach as we did with Talbot and guess that Elliott is due for an improvement, there’s an interesting underlying tidbit here. Among goaltenders with at least 30 starts during the past two seasons, Steve Mason’s .837 penalty-kill save percentage was the worst in the league. The players and coaching in front of Elliott remain very similar to those who were in front of Mason for both of those seasons. While luck plays a big role in how penalty-kill save percentage seems to work, it doesn’t account for all of the results. It certainly looks like the Flyers’ goaltender might be at a disadvantage when it comes to a bounce-back in the save percentage department.

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