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Colts enter offseason drama-free for first time since 2014

Former coach Chuck Pagano and former general manager Ryan Grigson’s fractured relationship hurt the franchise, and there was three years of nonstop talk about quarterback Andrew Luck’s right shoulder. All those issues factored into three straight seasons of missing the playoffs.nfl cheap jerseys nike

It was evident the Colts didn’t have to worry about those things this season because they had a new head coach, a general manger with a clear vision and a healthy quarterback.

The result?5

Their best record — 10-6 — since, well, the Colts didn’t have any distractions when they finished 11-5 and reached the AFC Championship Game in 2014.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

“It’s going to be the first normal — if there is such thing as a normal — offseason,” general manager Chris Ballard said. “But it is going to be nice to just be able to dial in, ‘All right, here’s the things we need to get better at.'”

The only coaching change Frank Reich and Ballard have to worry about is finding a new offensive line coach, as Dave DeGuglielmo was fired and assistant offensive line coach Bobby Johnson is headed to the Buffalo Bills.

One of the biggest factors that helps Ballard is that there are no longer any lingering doubts about Luck’s health. It took 25 minutes until Ballard was asked his first question about his quarterback during his 48-minute season-ending news conference this week.

The Colts will have more than $120 million in salary-cap space as they attempt to go from “good” to “great” next season. Ballard was steadfast in saying they will look to sign free agents, but he’ll do it judiciously because he wants to “stay the course” in his desire to build through the draft.

Premier League will lose its most unique player when Mousa Dembele leaves Tottenham

Promising young footballers are regularly compared to a current or former great and it’s usually based upon a couple of attributes: the new Thierry Henry, the new Lionel Messi, the new Ronaldo. They rarely live up to the billing, but it’s a useful shortcut for describing their style. It’s difficult, though, to imagine anyone being an accurate “new Mousa Dembele” — not because the Belgian was so magnificent that no one could possibly come close, but because Dembele is unlike anyone else before or since.
Rewind to summer 2010, when Dembele joined Fulham. They’d just been defeated in the Europa League final, had lost Roy Hodgson to Liverpool and appointed Mark Hughes as their new manager. Dembele was a promising signing, having won the Eredivisie with Louis van Gaal’s AZ, but he was regarded as a forward. The Guardian’s report described him as “the Belgium striker” while noting that “he can also play on the wing.” Hughes said he was “strong and quick, and will add another dimension to our attacking options.”nfl cheap jerseys nike

Dembele came off the bench against Manchester United and then made his full debut at Blackpool, where he played just off Bobby Zamora and assisted both goals in a 2-2 draw. The next weekend he was again Zamora’s strike partner in a home clash with Wolves. Zamora suffered a broken leg in the first half but Dembele came to Fulham’s rescue with two goals, securing a dramatic 2-1 win.

“We hope Moussa can get the goals — there’s a big onus on him now that Bobby’s out,” said Hughes. That made sense: he’d managed two goals in two starts. Yet despite playing the remainder of the season up front, Dembele didn’t manage another goal until his final game of the season, a 5-2 home defeat to Liverpool. In fact, he was so lacking as a goal-scoring threat that his position changed entirely.6

The crucial change came in a home contest against Stoke the following February. When one journalist dared to tweet (presumably having been tipped off by a dressing room source) that Dembele would be starting alongside Danny Murphy in the engine room, he was widely mocked. This was a forward and a relentless dribbler; Fulham played two aggressive wingers. How would Martin Jol, who had replaced Hughes, be brave enough to use him in a midfield duo? But, sure enough, that’s what happened. With new signing Pavel Pogrebnyak playing up front and scoring on debut, Dembele was now a deep central midfielder.

“Dembele was playing in a deeper role than usual and the Belgian was clearly enjoying being able to dictate the play,” read the match report on Fulham’s website.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“Dembele was impressing for the hosts despite playing in an unusual role alongside Danny Murphy in central midfield,” read the Daily Express. “The Belgium international was leading the Stoke defenders a merry dance.”

That set the tone for the rest of Dembele’s Premier League career: opponents found themselves unable to get close. This was 2012, a period when Barcelona still dominated European football and Spain were about to complete their hat-trick of international successes, a period when midfielders were essentially all about passing. But Dembele, while very reliable in possession, was largely about dribbling. It’s difficult to think of another central midfielder so adept at turning away from pressure, at slaloming past opponents to launch a quick break.

India must turn ‘Sorrow of Sharjah’ at Asian Cup into fuel for fire

Japan’s J League started in 1993. At the same time, the national team was doing well in qualification for the 1994 World Cup and what would be a first appearance on the global stage. Going into the final game against Iraq in Qatar, the Samurai Blue just had to win to book their ticket. The goal was duly scored, and at halftime the team’s Dutch coach, Hans Ooft, wrote “45 minutes to the World Cup” on the whiteboard in the dressing room. Iraq equalised soon after the break, but Japan restored their lead and were in front with just seconds to go.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Then it happened. Jaffar Osman Salman rose in the area and his header looped ever so slowly, ever so painfully, over the head of the goalkeeper. Suddenly it was 2-2, Japanese players were sinking to their knees and South Korea, who had already won their game and were lying down on the turf thinking it was all over, were celebrating instead.5

Years later, Ooft theorised that the heartbreak of 1993 had been an important turning point in the history of Japanese football. To have something so valuable in your hands, only to have it snatched away in the cruelest way possible, had two effects.

Qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup was a fine achievement, but that was nothing to thrashing Thailand in the opening game. Thailand have been the dominant team in Southeast Asia, a stronger region than South Asia, for much of this decade. They expected to win comfortably against India with three of their players in the J League, but they lost 4-1. India then went on to face the host United Arab Emirates, the third-placed team from 2015, a team that wasn’t that far from qualifying for last summer’s World Cup and a team a couple of levels above India in Asian terms. The U.A.E., led by former Serie A and Asian Cup-winning coach Alberto Zaccheroni, won 2-0, but India impressed once again and had they been more clinical and the crossbar a little thinner then a deserved point would have come their way.nfl cheap jerseys nike

It left the Blue Tigers needing a point against Bahrain in the final game. When you only need a draw, it can make for a difficult situation. Do you attack, defend or do a bit of both? India defended and did so too deeply. It very nearly worked, but a careless tackle from captain Pronay Halder in the dying seconds prompted the referee to point to the spot.

Champion Red Sox to visit White House during spring training

The World Series champion Boston Red Sox are scheduled to visit the White House on Feb. 15, team president Sam Kennedy told the Boston Globe.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Kennedy said he expects “a healthy representation of ownership, executives, coaches and players” to attend the ceremony, but it is not mandatory.8

Red Sox pitchers and catchers report Feb. 12, with position players due in camp five days later. Kennedy told the Globe that the current plan is for the team to travel as a group from Fort Myers, Florida, to Washington, where it will also visit the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

“We thought an earlier visit rather than waiting until later in the year made the most sense,” Kennedy told the Globe.

Kennedy had said in December that the Red Sox had accepted an invite from the White House, which typically celebrates national championships by having teams come to Washington.

Manager Alex Cora, who has been critical of President Donald Trump’s comments on his native Puerto Rico, has said he will attend.

Life without LeBron in Los Angeles and Cleveland looks about the same

LeBron James’ second stint in Cleveland — the four NBA Finals appearances, the first championship in franchise history that snapped a 52-year title-less drought for the city — was an unabashed success.

And on Sunday, before his former team beat Los Angeles 101-95 at Staples Center in a game against the LeBron-less Lakers, a member of the Cavaliers told ESPN he thought last season “took a lot out of” the now 34-year-old James.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

It stands to reason that James’ mileage was the motivating factor behind Lakers president Magic Johnson telling SiriusXM NBA Radio back in November, “We are trying to make sure that we watch his minutes but also that we don’t run everything through him because now it is Cleveland all over again.”5

In one sense, Johnson already has assured that James’ time in L.A. will be nothing like it was with the Cavs. The Lakers constructed their roster around the four-time MVP in 2018 much differently than the Cavs who surrounded him in 2014. That Cleveland team was built on a star system — James, flanked by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — and then filled out with 3-point specialists who could feast off James’ ability to create.

These Lakers have James surrounded by a handful of hopeful stars — Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball — and a supporting cast full of players who can theoretically play both ways while also providing some playmaking.

Johnson continued his interview by saying, “We want to get up and down.”cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

And to his credit, the past couple of months have proved Johnson to be right on those two points. James’ 34.6 minutes per game are indeed a career low for him in this his 16th season. And the Lakers are playing the brand of basketball Johnson wanted to see: They rank third in the league in pace at 104 possessions per game.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s one undeniable way in which the Lakers are eerily identical to those recent Cavs teams: They stink without James.

In James’ last four seasons in Cleveland, the Cavs went 4-23 in games in which he missed because of rest or injury. And that number probably would have been worse had James not played every single one of Cleveland’s 82 games in 2017-18.

Sony Michel’s big day bodes well for Patriots against Chiefs

New England Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel had earned a reputation for performing on the biggest stage at the University of Georgia. And in the biggest moment of the Patriots’ season, he delivered a standout performance in a 41-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC divisional-round playoff game.

Michel’s emergence couldn’t have come at a more important time, and the Patriots will need it again in next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Keeping the ball away from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be critical, and Michel — who was supported by bone-crunching fullback James Develin, unsung blocking from tight end Rob Gronkowski and an offensive line determined to impose its will — showed he can be relied upon to be a go-to guy in a playoff game.6

“He had a great game, and he’s just had a great year. He’s just battled and fought hard,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “I really love Sony as a person and his commitment to the team. He’s just been a lot of fun to be out there with, made a lot of hard yards. It’s great to see.”

The 31st overall pick in the draft, Michel finished with 129 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns. He became just the third player in the past 25 postseasons with three rushing touchdowns in the first half of a playoff game, joining Ricky Watters (1993) and LeGarrette Blount (2013).cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Michel also became the only player in the past 25 postseasons with 100 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in the first half of a playoff game. In 2018, only one player had 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a single half — Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who was voted second-team All-Pro

Fans who followed Michel at Georgia won’t be surprised, as the humble, soft-spoken 23-year-old was the offensive star of the Bulldogs’ double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl last year. He had 11 carries for 181 yards with three touchdowns in that game, along with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Can Andy Reid rewrite the book on ‘Playoff Andy’?

Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs won a very important football game here Saturday night. Their 31-13 victory over the Colts was the franchise’s first home playoff win in 25 years — since Joe Montana was their quarterback. It came one year and six days after the Chiefs coughed up an 18-point halftime lead and lost a home playoff game to the Titans. Saturday’s win came at the expense of the same quarterback — Andrew Luck — who engineered a 28-point second-half comeback to beat them in a playoff game five years ago, in Reid’s first season as Chiefs coach. This was a demon-exorcising victory, and Reid knew it.

“I’m into history; I love history if it makes you better,” Reid said. “That was the important thing for our guys — don’t get caught up on all the stuff that happened in the past. They’re out in the community. I’m not. I’m locked down in my office, so I don’t hear all that stuff, but they’re actually out there. So just keep it positive and move forward.”china nike nfl jerseys cheap

But the moving forward matters when you’re talking about the Chiefs in January — and when you’re talking about Andy Reid in January. There have been too many collapses, too many near misses, too many teams that were too good to go home as early as they did, for that not to be a part of these twin stories. The Chiefs always blow it in the playoffs. Reid always blows it in the playoffs. Death, taxes and those two things.5

So the fact that Reid’s Chiefs won Saturday matters, because it means they host the AFC Championship Game next week. Win one home game, Andy Reid, and you go to the Super Bowl for the second time in your otherwise brilliant 20-year head-coaching career. Win one home game, Chiefs, and you go to the Super Bowl for the first time in 49 years. Decades of frigid frustration sit 60 good minutes away from erasure.

“This is a new era, new team, new mindset,” Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones insisted. “We’re changing the culture around here.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

They might be. Spending the week before the game in this town, I expected to find Chiefs fans gnawing their fingernails to the nubs with memories of last year, five years ago, all those playoff disappointments. But fans felt pretty good about this game, and as lifelong Chiefs fan Allen Roberson told me Wednesday night, “Mahomes is the difference.”

That would be young Patrick Mahomes, the 23-year-old superstar quarterback to whom Reid turned over his playoff team a year ago without any guarantees that he could handle it. The Chiefs made last year’s playoffs with Alex Smith at quarterback, and even after Smith’s career year, they traded him to Washington the week of the Super Bowl, anointing Mahomes the starter after a rookie year spent sitting on the bench.

Alternate broadcast of some Wizards games to focus on betting

The future of sports-betting-infused game broadcasts will be on display Friday, when the Washington Wizards host the Milwaukee Bucks.
Friday’s game will be the first of eight that are scheduled to have the gaming-focused broadcasts, which were first reported by SportsBusiness Daily.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

The predictive contest, “Predict the Game,” will ask approximately 30 questions throughout the game, such as: “Will Wizards forward Trevor Ariza score 10 or more points in the first half?”

In addition, odds, point spreads and over/unders will be shown on broadcast graphics.6

“Combining the excitement of live Wizards games with engaging predictive gaming and data feeds will deliver a very entertaining experience for viewers, from first-time gaming players to savvy sports bettors,” NBC Sports Washington senior vice president and general manager Damon Phillips said in a news release. “The level of interest from fans, partners and sponsors in this area continues to increase, so we are pleased to offer this compelling product this season.”

“It’s the 1.0 version of where we’re ultimately going,” Zach Leonsis, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards, told SportsBusiness Daily. “This will get more advanced. … The challenge for operators will be to make sure that the game play is supportive and not interruptive of the broadcast itself.”china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Last May, the United States Supreme Court overturned a federal statute that had prohibited states outside of primarily Nevada from offering sports betting. Since the decision, legal sportsbooks have opened in Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

The District of Columbia has passed legislation to allow sports betting, including at sports venues like Capital One Arena, home to the Wizards and Washington Capitals, but the law is awaiting final approval.

In recent months, NBC Sports has registered sports-betting-related web domains, including NBCSportsbook.com and NBCSportsSportsbook.com.

Additional alternate broadcasts are scheduled for Wizards games on Jan. 27 at the San Antonio Spurs, Jan. 30 against the Indiana Pacers, Feb. 2 against the Bucks, Feb. 22 at the Charlotte Hornets, March 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, March 19 against the Utah Jazz and April 5 against the Spurs.

Despite loss, Nets can finally point toward a brighter future

For the past five years, any mention of the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets immediately brought up one thing: the blockbuster, draft-night trade in 2013 that altered the course of both franchises and inextricably linked them for years to come.

A move the Nets thought would elevate them to championship contention instead helped them win a single playoff series — and served as the firepower behind Boston’s execution of one of the most efficient rebuilds in NBA history, thanks to Brooklyn’s descent to the bottom of the standings.nfl cheap jerseys nike

As the Nets remained there, the trade — and its seemingly never-ending draft obligations — served as a constant reminder of how all of that losing would not translate into any of the one currency losing teams always can hang onto: hope.

That was the case, at least, everywhere outside of Brooklyn. Inside the team — and, specifically, the offices of general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson — there was simply too much work to be done to spend time worrying about the situation they inherited.5

“I’ll give Sean a lot of credit: We just kind of put it in a box, and we never really talk about it,” Atkinson said before his Nets lost 116-95 to the Celtics on Monday at TD Garden. “But I do love the fact that it’s Brooklyn and Boston, and this is what the NBA’s all about. I hope we can improve enough where these games become more and more meaningful as we go down the line.”nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

While no one would mistake the Nets for being in the same class as the Celtics quite yet, the Nets do have something cooking in Brooklyn, despite the restrictions both Marks and Atkinson have spent the past two-plus seasons working under. Even after losing Monday night, the Nets have won 12 of their past 16 games, a stretch that has allowed them to surge into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Given the dearth of quality teams in the East outside the top five, there’s no reason to think the Nets can’t stay there.

That the Nets are even in the conversation for a playoff spot is a credit to the plan Marks and Atkinson have put in place since they arrived with the organization in 2016. That plan required them to get creative to create assets when the franchise otherwise didn’t have any. The assets the organization should’ve had wound up in Boston, as first-round picks in 2014 (James Young), 2016 (Jaylen Brown) and 2017 (Jayson Tatum) gave the Celtics a pair of young wings to build around. The 2018 Nets pick that became Collin Sexton was the key piece of the trade that brought Kyrie Irving to Boston in the summer of 2017.

Eagles bring ‘different team’ into rematch with Saints

Shortly after flipping off his former coach, Sean Payton, for running up the score, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins got dressed and exited the visitors’ locker room at the Superdome without saying a word. Considering Jenkins usually stands at his locker until every last question has been exhausted, that was saying something.new nike nfl jerseys cheap

He spoke tersely to a couple of reporters who caught up with him in the corridor before he headed for the bus, clearly stinging from an embarrassing 48-7 loss to his former team.

“It was one of those things that I didn’t feel like as a team we had a lot of fight. I would rather get thrown out of a game than just lay down and take it,” Jenkins said later that week. “At this point in time, we need to figure some things out about ourselves.”6

Well, they have. The Eagles were 4-6 following that Week 11 loss. They have won six of seven since, including a 16-15 thriller against the Chicago Bears over the weekend to set up a rematch with the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs on Sunday (4:40 p.m. ET).cheap nfl nike jerseys china

“I think we’re a different football team now than we were then,” said coach Doug Pederson, “and you know, we’ve just got to put a good plan together in all three phases and, you know, go back down there. We’re on the road. It’s going to be in a dome. It’s going to be loud again, all those things. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

The Eagles’ offense has been much better since that matchup as well. Philly averaged 20.5 points per game in its first 10 games compared with 27 points per game in its final six regular-season games. Nick Foles has a good bit to do with that. He led the NFL in completion percentage and yards over the final three regular-season games in place of the injured Carson Wentz — all wins.

“It wasn’t a good game for us but at the same time, the thing that impresses me about my team is even in those moments where it wasn’t a good game for us, we still stuck together,” Foles said. “So it’s going to be a tall task this week. New Orleans, they had a bye week and they are a tremendous team. They had an amazing season but you know, I love these guys that I get to go play with. I know we’re ready for this week. Just one day at a time. Now we get to go back home, get a little sleep, get our bodies ready to roll again.”