Smart’s proficiency on the block gives Brad Stevens another tool

In the playoffs, teams bust out matchup-specific strategies they might not bother with in the regular season. They aim to surprise. They go to greater lengths to shut down one weapon, and dare you to find a counter.

One such gambit for which Boston must prepare: teams slotting bigger wings onto Isaiah Thomas, and hiding their point guards on Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, or even Jae Crowder. This doesn’t scare Boston, and it shouldn’t. Nothing scares Isaiah Thomas. Put Leonard on him, and Thomas still thinks he can rain step-back fire.

Bradley can shoot over some little point guards, and Smart is developing a bruising post-up game — one he broke out this week, when Atlanta assigned Thabo Sefolosha to Thomas and stashed its point guards on Smart:

Versatility is everything the playoffs. It is adapt-or-die territory. Smart’s proficiency on the block gives Brad Stevens another tool.

The Heat, of course, already have a well-compensated starting center in Hassan Whiteside and, sources say, had no interest in Orlando’s pitch. The South Beachers continue to leave the impression that they’re resistant to surrendering Dragic before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

A player who is sure to move between now and the trade deadline?

Denver’s Jusuf Nurkic. Judging those decisions — even though we directly see how they play out on the field — is also tough. It’s too easy to criticize a coach who goes for it on fourth-and-short and fails, even if the play he calls manages to scheme somebody open.

Sources say that the Nuggets, having acknowledged that Nikola Jokic and Nurkic didn’t click as a pairing, are actively working to find Nurkic a new home that would give him the chance he deserves to be a front-line center.

Bucs CB C.J. Wilson lost 2 fingers in July 4 fireworks accident, according to report

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback C.J. Wilson is the latest player to suffer a “severe hand injury” in a fireworks accident on July 4, according to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune. The Lincoln Time-News in North Carolina cites sources close to Wilson’s family who say that he lost two fingers in the accident.

Wilson, 25, signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2013, but played just two games for the team. He played two games for the Buccaneers in 2014 and recorded four tackles. The Bucs released a statement acknowledging the incident:

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul also suffered a severe hand injury on Saturday due to a fireworks injury and isn’t providing the team with much information about his condition.

There is always a concern over a player’s motivation after signing a new (massive) contract as Houston has. However, the Chiefs LB is absolutely saying all the right things.

“Once you get paid, it’s not like you won the lottery,” Houston said. “You still got work to do. You still have to prove yourself. You can still get better each and every day so that’s my goal.”
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The decision to amputate the finger belonged to Pierre-Paul, according to reporter Ian Rapoport. The amputation could reportedly accelerate his recovery and allow him to be ready to play within two months. The Giants were reportedly unaware Pierre-Paul would lose a finger from the accident.

Andy Dalton, Bengals: The Bengals finally won a playoff game, thanks to the Raiders sneaking into one of the wild card spots. That should be enough to make Dalton quarterback for life in Cincinnati, making that one game the costliest playoff win of all time.

the Packers’ former No. 1 cornerback, will be done in Green Bay

Detroit’s offensive line will once again look a lot different in 2017, with at least one new starter at right tackle after Riley Reiff gets ready to head elsewhere in free agency. There’s a chance the Lions will lose right guard Larry Warford as well, meaning the right side of their offensive line will once again have to find chemistry to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford and block for running back Ameer Abdullah. The right guard replacement is likely already on the roster if Warford departs, potentially in Laken Tomlinson or Joe Dahl, while the team’s new right tackle will come through either the draft or free agency. — Michael Rothstein

Authentic Youth Laken Tomlinson Jersey Gordon had an uneven rookie year in which he failed to get into the end zone, finishing with 641 rushing yards. Gordon also fumbled six times, losing four of those. However, Gordon refocused during the offseason, spending time training with mentor running back Adrian Peterson in Houston. It showed, as the Wisconsin product finished with 997 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns. A hip strain and knee sprain kept him from reaching 1,000 yards for the first time in his NFL career, but he totaled 1,416 yards from scrimmage in 2016, No. 10 in the league.

Authentic Youth Jon Weeks Jersey This would’ve been a runaway had Pierre-Paul not been injured late in the season. Still, he’s the winner for comeback player of the year in the NFC East after recording 53 tackles and three forced fumbles to go along with seven sacks in 12 games. It’s even more amazing when you consider he did it with 7? fingers following a July 4 fireworks accident the previous year. Pierre-Paul returned in 2015 but was still learning how to play with the limitations. This season he was a disruptive force against the run and pass. He even scored a touchdown and was tied for the league lead with eight batted passes before a sports hernia injury prematurely ended his season.

The Patriots now take on the Steelers or Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game

What makes the Brady-Belichick Patriots great is their array of options to beat you. They have the best scoring defense in the NFL and a range of offensive weapons so diverse that they can tailor each week’s game plan to the opponent.

One week it might be Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan who beat you. The next it might be Lewis and James White. LeGarrette Blount had just eight carries in this contest, and Bennett had just four targets in the passing game; but you know either or both could be the primary focus of the offense next week.

The Patriots now take on the Steelers or Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Brady is a combined 8-0 at home against those teams (including the playoffs).

The NFL has requested more information from Ezekiel Elliott related to assault accusations made against him, league sources told ESPN. Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire
Over the summer, Elliott’s ex-girlfriend posted pictures of her bruised arms on Instagram and tagged Elliott, sparking an investigation that has lasted all season. Police in Aventura, Florida, were also called to Elliott’s apartment in February to investigate an altercation involving the same woman, according to a report in USA Today Sports.

Elliott was not arrested and did not face charges related to the alleged incidents. Elliott said he was interviewed by the NFL during the season, but the league’s investigation is not complete.

The rookie running back insists he did nothing wrong and is being compliant. He believes he has nothing to hide, a source said.

A player does not have to be charged in the legal system to be suspended by the NFL for a violation of the personal conduct policy.
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Game Youth Tashaun Gipson Jersey Elliott and the Cowboys host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC divisional round.

Roddy White is 34. His knees are starting to give him more trouble

Impressive metrics. It’s easy to see why some fantasy and draft writers are still in his corner.

Roddy White is 34. His knees are starting to give him more trouble. He needed one knee drained prior to minicamp, and he said there’s a possibility that it’ll need to be drained again during the season. Read his comments about the situation and tell me you don’t come away at least mildly concerned.

Surely you recall Julio Jones’ injury issues as well. I’m not promoting any sense of the “injury prone” notion, but I’m telling you Hankerson could explode if either White or Jones misses time.

Matt Ryan attempted 628 passes in 2014, second most in the NFL. The Falcons offense has proven itself capable of producing two players in the WR1 to WR2 range. Hankerson does not cost you anything at this point. Keep him on your radar in all formats.

He returned for the last four games of the season, but the results were mixed. He started three of of those contests, and the Raiders handed it off to him more than 20 times in two of them. He only averaged more than 3.7 yards per carry once during that time span, however. If you didn’t actually watch the games, you might figure he was just a one-hit wonder who caught the Chiefs slipping. I would beg to differ.

Murray was still playing well and still flashed. It just wasn’t quite as flashy as what he did in the Chiefs game. I think Murray’s impressive combination of size (6’3 and 230 pounds) and freakish athleticism will allow him to take over as the undisputed starting running back for the Raiders this year.

Can you imagine trying to tackle a dude that big who clocked a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at his pro day? Hey man, good luck with that. Add in the fact that the Raiders’ offensive line should build off their play last year and be a solid unit, and Oakland may actually be able to grind the shit out of people with its ground game this year. Don’t forget that new head coach Jack Del Rio is an old-school guy who loves to run the ball. I think the sky is the limit for Murray.

Bisciotti declined to put anyone on the hot seat for 2017

On Tuesday, Bisciotti declined to put anyone on the hot seat for 2017. He said he couldn’t quantify what would need to happen next season to spur changes.

Kyle Clifford Mens Jersey “If Joe goes out for the year in Week 2, I’m going to grade with a curve,” Bisciotti said. “So, I just can’t project that out because there are so many variables that go into that. I really can’t. I can just tell you that I trust my partners.”

Baltimore failed to produce a winning season in back-to-back years for the first time since 1998-99.

This season, the Ravens were in first place in the AFC North as late as Week 13, and they had a chance to control the division if they kept Antonio Brown out of the end zone with nine seconds remaining in Week 16.

J’Marcus Webb Mens Jersey What one word would sum up this 8-8 season?

“Bewilderment,” Bisciotti said.

In the NFL, talent is currency; it buys tolerance and, in some cases, immunity. And Hill? He has a special talent. Whenever he touches the ball, the field crackles with electricity; he doesn’t turn corners so much as he bounces around them, bending like a ray of light. He scored 12 touchdowns this season, tying the Chiefs’ rookie record, and made the AP All-Pro team as a unanimous choice.

All of which is to say: He’s not going anywhere.

“With Tyreek’s situation, he needs to understand there are going to be questions. There need to be men who are open about it.”

¡°For us to be a young as we are, I think we are a pivotal part in making sure this team is successful,¡± Campbell said. ¡°We just have to be on our s— and don’t make anything up and do our job. Then we’ll be fine.¡±

Steelers looking for 1st West Coast win in a decade vs. Chargers

Carlos Gomez Youth Jersey The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers won a game on the West Coast was 10 years ago, when second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the team to a 24-22 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Week 5 of the 2005 season. Prior to that, it was a Week 17 win over the Chargers in 2000.

A 2011 win against the Arizona Cardinals happened in the Pacific Time Zone prior to the state’s annual Daylight Savings Time switch to the Mountain Time Zone in November, but with a 2-4 record in Arizona and Denver since 2000, the Steelers haven’t done well against teams two time zones away either.

Jack Ham Elite Jersey This is the MMBMs DraftKings moment. Dalton has been using my columns and tweets to build up his football IQ and gameplan using takes that arent available to his opponents who dont follow me. It reeks to high heavens of insider trading and if Im the league Im examining this relationship throroughly and immediately to make sure that there is no evidence of impropriety.

A quick look at the Bengals 5-0 start shows victories verse the Raiders, Chargers, Ravens, Chiefs and Seahawks. 5 teams that I have written cover stories on in the past 6 months. Coincidence? Extremely unlikely.

How are the New England Patriots Cheating Now?

Its extremely simple. The Patriots have allways had your Wes Welker, Woodhead, Edelman, Amendola, Devlin type guys. Fellas who care more about how hard they’re working than how hard you think they’re working. Honestly shocked that there even members of the NFLPA with work ethic like that. They’re like if Ayn Rand went back in time to kill Hitler but instead ended up getting Eiffel towered by General Patton and Chuck Bernarik outside Versailles.

Simple answer for Ezekiel Elliott’s and Dak Prescott’s playoff inexperience?

Mark Sanchez remembers seeing punter Steve Weatherford on a training-room table before Sanchez’s first playoff game as a rookie quarterback for the New York Jets after the 2009 season.

¡°Did you ever see ¡®I Am Legend,¡¯ the movie? Remember when they capture the zombie guy, and he¡¯s in there breathing superfast?¡± said Sanchez, now a backup QB for the Dallas Cowboys. ¡°I promise you, he was on the training-room table like that before we took the field.¡±

Cliff Avril and Frank Clark combined for 21.5 sacks during the regular season, and Michael Bennett has looked like his usual self in recent weeks.

James Carpenter Youth Jersey During the regular season, the Seahawks ranked 20th in blitz frequency, sending five rushers or more 25.5 percent of the time. For the most part — especially since Thomas is out — they are going to rely on their front four to get pressure. Avril, Clark and Bennett will have to be consistently disruptive for the Seahawks to be effective against the NFC’s top offenses.

Special teams can’t let them down. Buffalo is instead planning to move on from Taylor, despite the fact that their scoring has increased dramatically since he arrived. The year before he got to Buffalo, the Bills were 26th, and they’ve been 10th and 11th in the two years he has started. He’s clearly a huge part of the difference.

Kevin Bieksa Youth Jersey This is under the radar but definitely a concern.

The Seahawks missed six extra points during the regular season — tied for second most in the NFL. They go into the postseason with a new long-snapper in Tyler Ott after Nolan Frese suffered an ankle injury last week. And they just brought in Devin Hester this week to be their returner.

The Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons had excellent special-teams units during the regular season. The Seahawks need to make sure they’re buttoned up here and don’t cost themselves a game with a special-teams miscue.

The 2017 Winter Classic was full of endearing mistakes

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Game Robert McClain Jersey It really wouldn¡¯t be a major NHL event without a handful of endearing hiccups along the way. It¡¯s what the NHL does, and we love them for it. We truly do.

The 2017 Winter Classic in St. Louis had a handful of them before the game even began, and we went on from there. These were hilarious and unbearable and we¡¯re so glad they happened. Check back all game as they keep rolling in.

However, if Kennedy suffers a poor season or gets hurt, he may decide to opt into his deal, putting the Royals on the hook for his remaining three years. If his value is diminished, it will also be much more difficult to trade him with so much money owed. The Royals took a great risk in giving Kennedy the opt-out while giving him the freedom to leave if the grass is greener on the other side.

In his book, Reifman writes about the presentism theory from psychologist Daniel Gilbert. Presentism is the state of expecting present conditions to last indefinitely. The idea is that if a player in basketball makes many shots in a row, the team around him would keep feeding him the ball expecting his ¡°hot hand¡± to continue. Seems like a common thing across sports, right?

¡°However something is now, you think it¡¯s going to continue,¡± Reifman said. ¡°So if the Columbus players have this belief that ¡®we own the third period¡¯ because they¡¯ve been owning the third period, that could continue on.¡±

And you could extrapolate that to Columbus playing with a lead. They got the first goal against Minnesota on Saturday; during this 15-game win streak they¡¯ve scored first 10 times. Repetition feeds into that presentism: the belief that wins follow from those certain events. And streaks are born.

Packers vs. Lions live stream: How to watch ‘Sunday Night Football’ online

The final game of the regular season is one of the most important yet. The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions meet up with the NFC North title on the line, in the season finale of Sunday Night Football. As always, the game is on NBC and can be streamed online at NBC Sports Live.

This is ostensibly a “win or go home” game, but the Lions and Packers will both be watching Washington closely earlier in the day. Washington (8-6-1) controls its playoff destiny and will clinch the No. 6 seed if it beats the New York Giants, meaning that the loser of this game is sitting at home next week.

However, if Washington loses, then both NFC North teams are in the playoffs and this game will just determine seeding. There’s also a wacky scenario where the Lions and Packers tie, and both get in regardless of what Washington does, which would certainly be a unique outcome.

But that doesn’t mean that Sunday Night Football no longer bears consequences for the two teams. The winner will be the NFC North champion and host of a playoff game, while the loser will land the No. 6 seed.

Green Bay earned a spot in the playoffs thanks to a timely winning streak that came after a 4-6 start. Following a fourth consecutive loss, Aaron Rodgers told reporters that he thought the Packers could finish the season without any more losses.

“I feel like we can run the table, I really do,” Rodgers said, via ESPN. “The offense is starting to click a little bit more; we’ve just got to put together a game where we’re more consistent from the first snap to the last. We’ve been, I think, getting closer to that. We’ve really been clicking, at times, in the last few games.”