The last thing he wants to do is talk about scoring.

The Vikings’ offense has cooled off a little in the chill of winter, but as long they protect the ball and finish drives when needed, their defense will allow them to go deep into the playoffs.

The Eagles saw their defense struggle against the Giants. Then it was Nick Foles and the offense struggling against the Raiders. They’re still winning, but it’s suddenly getting too close for comfort.

Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau attributed Butler’s scoring spike to bringing out the best in his teammates: That was the best way for him to get everyone else comfortable. And he’s asserted himself a lot more in terms of the scoring.

Karl-Anthony Towns agrees. When you got a person like that who’s a walking bucket, he says, it’s obviously very comfortable to have.

The Philadelphia Eagles can jump aboard the Jay Train when they host Atlanta in an NFC divisional playoff Saturday and try to ride Ajayi to the conference title game.

I feel really good, like, I feel really good, said Ajayi, who has been bothered by knee issues. No. 1 seed team with an opportunity to go get a Super Bowl. I’m grateful, I’m blessed, I’m excited for this opportunity because it’s all in front of us and if we really take advantage of what we want to do and execute how we can, we can get it done.

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon left during the fourth quarter of the win over the Jets with an ankle injury and did not return. Gordon eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season for the first time in his three-year career and is expected to play in next week’s regular-season finale against the Raiders.

Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith tried to play against the Seahawks, but his injured knee flared up early and he was forced from the game.

Jaguars receiver Jaelen Strong went down late in the loss to the 49ers with a leg injury and did not return.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees joined Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only players in NFL history with at least 70,000 passing yards. Brees finished Sunday’s 23-13 win over the Falcons with 239 yards and a touchdown. Brees also extended his NFL record of seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards to 12.

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Los Angeles comes up just short on a third-and-8 and it elects to go for it on fourth down.

Rivers drops back to pass on the play and the Chiefs bring pressure. Rivers lofts a throw to Antonio Gates and the ball is intercepted by Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston. Three straight Los Angeles drives have ended with a turnover.

Field goal Chiefs. The Chiefs move the chains once but Alex Smith’s third-down pass comes up short of the marker and Kansas City settles for a 51-yard field goal from Harrison Butker. The Chiefs now lead 23-13 with 10:59 to play.

Turnover Chargers. Rivers completes a 7-yard pass to Austin Ekeler, moving the Chargers to their 41. But Ekeler looses the football and its recovered by Kansas City safety Ron Parker. Two straight Los Angeles drives have ended in turnovers.

Tyler Jones? You mean TYUS Jones? Either the Cleveland Cavalier assistant coaches made the same mistake on their pregame notes as my iPhone X does when it autocorrects Tyus to Tyler, or the three-time NBA champion doesn’t have much time (or respect) for the first-round draft pick (and STARTING POINT GUARD) for his upcoming opponent. Either way, the setup has occurred.

The Capitals took a 2-0 lead, and the Blackhawks rallied to tie before the third period. Troy Brouwer, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago, scored the game-winning power-play goal with 13 seconds left in regulation to send a partisan crowd of nearly 43,000 fans into hysterics.

Gorgeous stadium, too, even if the 40 degrees and sunny weather didn’t make for memorable conditions.

Call it recency bias, call it what you will, but the 2018 Winter Classic delivered another of the event’s better games while riding a wave of hype surrounding the 10th anniversary of the first Winter Classic in Buffalo (more on that in a bit).

Freezing temperatures at game time made for some adventurous puck play, and the annoying shadows that made TV viewing a bit difficult in the first period were gone by the second. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first, and the Sabres rallied with goals in the second and third. For the first time since 2014, the game went to overtime, where J.T. Miller ended it for the Rangers.

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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.”

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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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