Roethlisberger’s confidence in himself was never an issue

McVay, president and CEO of the Outback Bowl: That didn’t get him the No. 1 spot in the draft, but it sure helped to raise additional exposure around what a special athlete the guy was.

Spurrier: He was projected to be the first pick. And some people even suggested he not play his third season. He could’ve not played and probably still been the first pick. So if he got any kind of little injury or pulled muscle or something like that, he pretty much took himself out of the action. But we worked through it. And certainly, as the coach, he deserved to be treated a little bit differently because he did not have to play that year. It was sort of a bonus to all of us he was out there playing.

Jackie MacMullan unfurled a massive, MacMullanian profile of Kyrie Irving upon the Cavaliers’ visit (and loss) to Boston Wednesday. It’s a masterpiece of the form that gets little directly from Irving but more than plenty from everyone else. And though Irving wasn’t particularly useful in providing material (apparently), he comes off well.

This is a kid who thrives on being challenged, who wants to be different, who needs to feel like he’s doing everything he can. That wasn’t happening in Cleveland, and couldn’t so long as Perhaps The Greatest Of All Time was around. So Irving asked out.

There are so many good nuggets and such excellent canon-building in MacMullan’s piece that I implore you to go read it now (in the event you didn’t catch it when it dropped). This is a piece we’ll be referencing when discussing Irving and, by extension, LeBron James for decades.

The Giants didn’t play like they wanted to lie down for a better draft pick last week against the Eagles. That doesn’t mean they didn’t revert to their inept selves at the wrong time — or that they won’t go ahead and look as if they’re lying down in the desert this week. Such a coincidence that one of the final acts of an era of Giants football will play out on the field where they shocked the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl 42. The Cardinals are not good, but they’ll be good enough.

Russell Westbrook’s 26-11-10 triple-double on 52-percent shooting, and Steven Adams, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony’s 51 combined points weren’t enough to overcome the poor defensive effort.

In Seerat Sohi’s weekly SB Nation column, she highlighted how maddening Roberson is as one of the NBA’s best defensive players but worst offensive ones. But his deficiencies are masked to a degree in OKC, and as the numbers tell, his defense stands out. The Thunder are 20 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the court.

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That’s what Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday of his grandfather

Akins was a former Marine and World War II veteran before becoming a legendary high school football coach in Texas. Akins coached at Gregory-Portland High School in Southern Texas from 1965-1988. He was the second-winningest coach in Texas high school football history when he retired in 1988, with 293 wins, and set a state record with 12 straight district titles.

He was probably one of the most incredible people, incredible men that you could ever meet, Brees told reporters Wednesday. They just do not make them like that anymore, honestly. He was 92 years old. He lived an incredible life. He taught me so much about life, about respecting others, caring for others, about discipline, and about hard work.

Obviously, he was a football coach for 38 years so there was plenty of ball being coached along the way, but more so than that just spending time with him. Watching him and my grandmother, they modeled us for what a relationship and marriage should look like. They were married for 67 years and that is pretty remarkable. A guy who grew up from very humble means in Brady, Texas, which if you look at a map of Texas is in the dead center of Texas.

Working the waiver wire is key to fleshing out a winning roster. Here are all of the top free agents you should consider picking up for the week ahead.

On the season, DeRozan currently ranks No. 1 among shooting guards and tenth overall in Offensive Real Plus Minus (ORPM), indicating that his presence on the court has correlated with more positive changes in his team’s offensive scoring margins than any shooting guard this season. This is a big improvement for DeRozan, who finished last season ranked ninth among shooting guards and 38th overall in this stat.

The improved long-range shot and increased playmaking are likely responsible for that improvement in on-court impact — and that long-range shot and those assists also make him a much more potent fantasy threat.

DeRozan is already an impact roto producer in scoring and free throw percentage, because he knocks down a lot of free throws on a great percentage. According to the Player Rater, he’s also a positive in field goal percentage, as he’s shooting 48 percent from the field on high volume as well. But now he’s in the top 10 among shooting guards in assists too, and if he continues knocking down 3-pointers at anywhere near this clip, he’ll soon measure out even more positive in that category to boot.

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This is Tomlin’s predicament as the Steelers prepare for a Sunday afternoon visit from the Browns.

Approaching the final weekend of the 2017 NFL regular season, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin addressed questions about what sort of lineup he would field by responding, We will play to win that football game.

Given that the opposition for that game is the Cleveland Browns, who have won once in their past 31 games, that left open the possibility Tomlin might send out the varsity 11 from Pine-Richland High to protect his regulars from the possibility of injury.

He has not employed a reasonably healthy squad for any playoff run since, perhaps, the team’s last trip to the Super Bowl, in 2010. However, there also is the remote possibility the Steelers still could grab the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs away from the Patriots. Which means the Steelers-Browns game isn’t entirely without meaning.

It is mostly without meaning, though. For the Steelers to gain home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Patriots would first have to lose a home game to the Jets. The Pats have won six of the last seven, 11 of the last 13 and six in a row at Gillette Stadium. They are favored by 15 1/2 points.

I feel like they’re not going anywhere, and I definitely feel like we’re not going anywhere, Alabama cornerback Anthony Averett said. It may be like that, we’re definitely two teams that are very dominant, very consistent, very good coaches. We’re good all over the board.

If these two teams do meet for a fourth time in a bowl game, they would be making history. No teams have ever met four consecutive years in the postseason. As it is, this marks just the second time two teams have played each other in three consecutive years (USC and Ohio State met in the Rose Bowl every year from 1972 to ’74).

So what will both teams look like in 2018? Alabama might have a tougher road because of all the players it has to replace. The Crimson Tide lose 21 seniors, but also must await decisions from underclassmen Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison, Da’Ron Payne, Calvin Ridley and Bo Scarbrough.

Clemson, on the other hand, loses just six seniors but also must await decisions from underclassmen Austin Bryant, Deon Cain, Clelin Ferrell, Mitch Hyatt, Kendall Joseph, Ray-Ray McCloud and Christian Wilkins.

Everybody’s talking about the trilogy like someone’s fixin’ to die or something, Swinney said Monday after the Sugar Bowl. We’ll be back. They’ll be back. We’ll have more of these.

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Giants, Seahawks face offensive line challenges

The New York Giants, who host the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, have some common ground.

The biggest similarity is that both teams have had issues on their respective offensive lines.

Rodgers broke his right collarbone after Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr hit him in the first quarter Sunday. The quarterback was rolling out to his right with Barr pressuring him. As Rodgers threw, Barr hit him in the midsection and drove him into the turf, where Rodgers landed on his shoulder.

Bradford was sacked four times and mostly looked like a player who’d rather hit the ground himself than have someone hit him. He finished with just 36 passing yards on 11 attempts and was mercifully replaced by Keenum just before halftime.

The Jets were at the 47-yard line with seconds left in the first half — if Catanzaro had been called in, he would have been tasked with hitting a 65-yard kick. They called one more play, however, and earned 8 yards on a pass. This resulted in a 57-yard kick for Catanzaro, which he nailed, and was still good enough for the longest field goal in Jets’ history.

For those of us who reside on Cleat Street, this is the type of attitude that brings a tear to our eye. It’s glorious. It’s a man looking at a big ole kick, and saying, “You know what? I want KICKIER.”

NFL Insiders predict: Week 7 upsets, flops, NFC wild cards, more

The Patriots play host to the Falcons and Chargers before their Week 9 bye, then they’ll start racking up frequent flyer miles. They play five of their six games after the bye on the road with trips to Denver, Mexico City to face the Raiders, Buffalo, Miami and Pittsburgh.

The Steelers haven’t been impressing the way some thought they would, but they’re still 4-2 and play the Bengals, Lions and Colts over their next three games. After that stretch, which features two road games, the Steelers will play five of their last seven in Pittsburgh.

From Weeks 9 to 17, the Seahawks will alternate home and road games. It’ll be a lot of back-and-forth travel for them, but FPI still has them favored in all but two of their remaining matchups.

Unless Kansas City can use the final 50 seconds to get a last-second score, we’re heading to OT at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s two-minute drill time for Alex Smith and company.

Chiefs 20, Washington 17: A game-winning drive in the final minutes against one of the NFL’s best teams with not one, but two Kirk Cousins runs for first downs? Somehow that’s possible as Washington sits at the Kansas City 45-yard line at the two-minute warning. Cousins has made some big plays to get his team in position for a potential game-winner, or at least to tie the game with a field goal.

Chiefs 20, Washington 17: Another long drive powered by the Chiefs’ impressive, balanced offense ends with a short field goal.

Washington 17, Chiefs 17: Kareem Hunt cannot be stopped. The rookie out of Toledo cracked the 100-yard marker for the third time in his four NFL games, and continues to be a force in the Chiefs’ backfield. His lowest single-game total yardage figure is 109 in Week 2 against Philadelphia. He’s already topped that on Monday night against Washington.

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The Dolphins were always a top candidate to regress this year, and not only because Ryan Tannehill was lost before the season even began.

This year, while Jay Cutler’s getting paid $10 million to basically show up and do the bare minimum like an 18-year-old with a bad case of senioritis, the schedule is much harder. None of the Dolphins’ opponents for the rest of the season have a losing record right now. That includes the Bills (twice), Patriots (twice), Falcons, Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs. A turnaround like last season is much more improbable.

But why isn’t he? Last year’s team rode a weak schedule and close wins to an 10-6 record. They went just 1-4 against teams that finished the season with a winning record.

Representing the players were NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and president Eric Winston; former player Anquan Boldin; and current players Butler; Reid; Russell Okung (Los Angeles Chargers); Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Michael Thomas (Miami); Mark Herzlich (New York Giants); Kelvin Beachum and Demario Davis (New York Jets); Jenkins and Chris Long (Philadelphia); and Josh Norman (Washington).

Sources familiar with the players’ thinking told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that they went into the meeting skeptical. The level of trust between owners and players has been low in recent years, as the sides have waged court battles over the personal conduct policy and the players have spurned the owners’ efforts to open negotiations on an extension to the collective bargaining agreement. Goodell and Smith have rarely met face-to-face over the past three years, people familiar with the relationship say, and relations had reached a point where people on both sides wondered whether there’d ever be common ground for future negotiations.

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Titans’ Rishard Matthews says he ‘will be done with football’ if players are forced to stand for national anthem

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews said in September that he would kneel for the national anthem until Donald Trump apologized for statements made about protesting players. Instead, he’s stayed off the field altogether in the last two weeks and said Thursday that he would be done with football if players are forced to stand for the national anthem.

It’s the system that they’re used to, Peterson said. I just do my part, talking to Mark [Ingram] and [Alvin Kamara] when I see things they might have missed. I’m just trying to be that leader as of now.

Peterson’s two-year, $7 million contract with New Orleans is lopsided compared to the number of snaps he’s playing. The most he’s been on the field in any single game for the Saints was 15 snaps against the Patriots in Week 2. He had eight carries for 26 yards.

In this league you have to talk less and do more, Kizer said on Wednesday, when asked about his attitude on regaining the starting job. We come in every Monday after a tough loss and we have this discussion about all the things we need to do. We need to start doing those.

Pelicans guard Tony Allen, who played seven years for Memphis and coined the team’s Grit and Grind catchphrase, was featured in a video tribute between the first and second quarters.

I looked at the thing and didn’t realize I was that old, he said, adding: It was all special. A special moment.

The crowd, many wearing Allen’s Grizzlies jersey, gave Allen a long standing ovation when he entered the game in the first quarter. The team recently announced it would retire Allen’s No. 9. Earlier in the day, Allen wrote a thank you letter to the city on the Players’ Tribune website.

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The Giants added a 40-yard field goal with about 30 seconds left.

The Switzerland-based Global Association of International Sports Federations earlier this month granted observer status to the International Federation of (Match) Poker, the International Pole Sports Federation and International Table Soccer Federation along with the organizing bodies for four other nontraditional sports the first step toward joining the Olympic program.

We warmly welcome our first Observers, Patrick Baumann, the president of GAISF, said in a statement. This is an exciting time for them and for us and we will do everything within our remit to help them realize their full potential as International Federations within the global sport’s family and, one day, maybe become part of the Olympic program.

Joining the program in Tokyo in two years will be softball, karate, surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and baseball the games’ second shot at Olympic status. These sports were chosen, especially skateboarding and sport climbing, in part to reflect the changing interest in younger athletes and the worldwide popularity of these sports.

With the Packers’ franchise QB injured, an already volatile NFC playoff picture was jumbled even further. We put all 16 teams into one of four different categories, based on their chances of contention.

Fourth quarter: Giants 20, Broncos 10 The Broncos finally got in the end zone! Trevor Siemian zipped a pass to tight end Jeff Heuerman for a 13-yard score.

The Giants get the ball back, and that gives Orleans Darkwa a chance to go over 100 yards in the game. He currently has more yards than these four running backs gained against the Broncos, combined: Melvin Gordon (54), Ekeziel Elliott (8), LeSean McCoy (21), and Marshawn Lynch (12).

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NaVorro Bowman’s agent Drew Rosenhaus sent a letter to 31 teams saying he had permission to seek a trade.

Trump has not apologized. In Week 3, the entire Tennessee team stayed in the locker room prior to a game against the Seattle Seahawks, before Matthews started doing it by himself.

When asked by reporters about his decision not to come out of the tunnel in Week 5, Matthews chose not to answer. But on Twitter, he’s shared plenty of thoughts on the presidency.

The NFL’s discussion about the national anthem will happen next week during league meetings in New York City and will include representatives from the NFLPA, including executive director DeMaurice Smith, as well as some players yet to be named. There are still plenty of things in the way of a mandate forcing players to stand, and the strong thoughts of players like Matthews are among those obstacles.

This week, NaVorro Bowman’s agent Drew Rosenhaus sent a letter to 31 teams saying he had permission to seek a trade. They tried. Now cut.

There’s reason to panic after Baltimore lost Sunday to the 2-4 Bears, who were coming off a short week and going with a rookie quarterback making his first NFL road start. But, technically, the Ravens trail the Steelers by one game in the AFC North. So, it’s difficult to entirely write them off. It’s just hard to have confidence in a team whose wins have come against these quarterbacks: Andy Dalton, DeShone Kizer and EJ Manuel. — Jamison Hensley

The Cowboys are definitely at risk of rising to a No. 4 on the panic meter, especially if Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension indeed starts immediately. Elliott will need some help from the courts to remain on the field because technically he is suspended through Thanksgiving after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction that kept him on the field. The 2-3 Cowboys face a daunting road without Elliott, but it’s not an impossible one. Before the 2016 season started, most people thought their year would be bumpy without Tony Romo, then Dak Prescott excelled.

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The NFLPA also released a statement on Kaepernick

Our union has a duty to assist Mr. Kaepernick as we do all players and we will support him.

The NFLPA has been in regular contact with Mr. Kaepernick’s representatives for the past year about his options and our union agreed to follow the direction of his advisors throughout that time.

We first learned through media reports today that Mr. Kaepernick filed a grievance claiming collusion through our arbitration system and is represented by his own counsel. We learned that the NFL was informed of his intention to file this grievance before today.

He’s second on the Bears in rushing yards (181), and he’s second on the team in receiving yards (150). He leads the Bears in both targets (29), and in receptions (24). He’s eighth in the league, and first among all rookies, in catches. Cohen is also Chicago’s primary punt returner.

He’s been used in the slot, on the wing, split out wide, and at running back. He’s the most electric playmaker that the Bears have had since Devin Hester.

Despite falling into the fourth round of this year’s draft, Lawson has easily been one of the best defensive rookies across the NFL.

That gave Manning just under three minutes to lead a game-winning two-minute drill; instead, his interception with 48 seconds to go doomed New York to an 0-5 start — and kept him winless against the team for whom he refused to play.

The Spurs have won 128 regular-season games since Aldridge joined the team, which is the best two-year span in the franchise’s history. The second-best mark came the two years prior to Aldridge’s arrival, when the team won 122 games.

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