Matthews: NFL Play-offs Should Be A Blast


Sure, this season’s NFL has at least four terrible teams – the Jets, Oakland, Arizona and San Francisco.

I’d put Buffalo, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville a notch above.

But most of the rest of the 32-team league is decent and there are legitimate races for all three AFC division titles and for playoff berths in both conferences. Entering Week 15, 26 of the league’s 32 teams were mathematically alive for trips to the post-season (including those on life-support).

Would it be a stretch to think 12 teams are legitimate threats to win Super Bowl 53 --  (my order of probability entering Week 15) – New Orleans, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City,  New England, Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Houston, Baltimore and Minnesota.

Apologies to Indianapolis, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Miami and Aaron Rodgers.


Would you like to see a New York Yankees lineup with Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton batting 2-3-4 or 3-4-5?

Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, at this week’s baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas, did not rule out the Yankees as the landing spot for his free-agent client. All the Yankees need to do is offer the fattest contract. That’s how Boars operates.

It probably would not become the most powerful outfield in baseball history because Harper likely would be asked to play first base with Aaron Hicks in center field.

No matter where Harper played for the Yankees, the team would be a must-see attraction at home, on the road and on cable TV from Opening Day through the last day of the season.

Would the Yankees be a cinch to win the World Series? No. Judge, Harper and Stanton might offset their 125-or-so home run with 550-or-so strikeouts, and the starting rotation looks good but not great.


The Toronto Raptors impressed NBA fans and analysts Tuesday and Wednesday nights by beating the Los Angeles Clippers and the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors on the road in consecutive games. The Clippers and Warriors were pretty much at full strength.

Meanwhile, Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard sat out both games with a sore right hip. (Toronto is 6-1 in games he has missed due to minor injuries or to rest this season).

Very impressive. The Raptors have an NBA-best 23-7 record (11-4 at home and 12-3 on the road). They’ve outscored opponents 115.6 to 107.0 (+8.5).

Is Toronto the team to beat for this season’s championship? Of course not. Golden State is.

The Warriors are 19-10 and seldom have played with a completely healthy starting lineup. They sometimes play down to their competition. Opponents often seem more into the games. The bench isn’t as deep as in recent past seasons.

But Golden State figures to get a huge boost late in the regular season. DeMarcus Cousins, coming off an Achilles injury, is working out with Golden State’s G-League affiliate. He hasn’t played yet, but he’s making progress.

When the playoffs start, the Warriors figure to have Cousins ready to play full-time. Their competitive juices figure to be flowing and they’ll be playing the game the way only they can.  Whip the ball around, hit the open man under the basket or at the three-point line. No team has ever done it better. Many have tried. None have been as successful.


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have more offense than Baltimore but the Ravens play much better defense and are far less likely to cough up the football.

The Ravens will start Lamar Jackson at quarterback on Sunday with Joe Flacco healthy again and ready to play if necessary. The game plan will be for Jackson and Gus Edwards to use their legs to help control the clock. Flacco’s arm could be useful if the Ravens fall behind.

The Buccaneers are 5-8 despite a dangerous passing attack and usually give up many more points than they score.

Bob’s “Best Bet”:  BALTIMORE (-8) 27, Tampa Bay 13.

Saturday’s games

(home team in CAPS)

Houston 30, NEW YORK JETS (+6 ½) 17 – The Texans should bounce back after their nine-game winning streak was snapped last week at home against Indianapolis. Rookie QB Sam Darnold outdueled fellow rookie Josh Allen last week in Buffalo but Deshaun Watson is a more polished foe.

Cleveland 24, DENVER (-3) 20 – The exciting young Browns are have an outside chance at a playoff berth for the first time since 2002, when Kelly Holcomb was quarterback. I prefer brash rookie Baker Mayfield, who can carry a team with his skill and enthusiasm.

Sunday’s other games

BUFFALO (-2 ½) 20, Detroit 13 – Both teams are short on firepower but Buffalo has the stronger defense and rookie QB Josh Allen’s legs could continue to give the offense a boost. Of course, sloppy play by Allen could be costly.

MINNESOTA (-7) 28, Miami 13 – No prime-time jitters for Vikings QB Kirk Cousins here. Minnesota figures to run more and pass less after the brutal 21-7 loss at Seattle. It can’t hurt.

Oakland 31, CINCINNATI (-3) 17 – The Raiders are feeling good about themselves coming off a 24-21 victory over Pittsburgh and quarterback Derek Carr could have another productive game against Cincinnati’s porous defense.

CHICAGO (-5 ½) 24, Green Bay 14 – The Bears blew a 20-0 lead in a 24-23 Week 1 loss at Green Bay. The Packers have gone downhill since and Chicago’s defense figures to pay back Aaron Rodgers for years of domination.

Dallas 22, INDIANAPOLIS (-3) 17 – The Cowboys have won five straight games with stingy defense, a strong running game with Ezekiel Elliott and some timely chunk passes from Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper. Can that formula win a big game on the road? They can if Prescott protects the football.

JACKSONVILLE (-7) 17, Washington 7 – A pretty good defense, running back Leonard Fournette and the home crowd should help get the job done against the hurting Redskins with Josh Johnson at QB.

ATLANTA (-8 ½) 31, Arizona 14 – Both reams have had more downs than ups this season but Atlanta’s offense will be the best unit on the field. Matt Ryan versus rookie Josh Rosen is a QB mismatch.

Tennessee 23, NEW YORK GIANTS (-2 ½) 20 – The Giants are 4-1 in their last five games but the Titans are fighting for a playoff berth and QB Marcus Mariota figures to make fewer mistakes than Eli Manning.

Seattle 28, SAN FRANCISCO (+5 ½) 13 – The Seahawks have more to play for and have won the last nine meetings in the regular season.

New England 35, PITTSBURGH (+1) 27 – The Patriots likely will bounce back from last week’s embarrassing 24-23 loss at Miami and beat the Steelers for the sixth straight time.

LOS ANGELES RAMS (-11) 35, Philadelphia 20 – The Rams, eager to make up for last week’s weak collective effort in a 16-6 loss in chilly Chicago, catch the Eagles at the right time with star QB Carson Wentz not expected to play.

Monday night’s game

New Orleans 24, CAROLINA (+6 ½) 13 – The Panthers started 6-2 and have lost all five games since. The Saints are playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs and they’re the much better team.


Recommended viewing: Thurman Thomas: A Football Life. The one-hour NFL Films production debuts Friday, 8 p.m., on the NFL Network. If you’re as Bills fans, you’ll probably enjoy it very much.

According to Bill Barnwell of ESPN, Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s receivers have dropped 5.3 percent of his passes, the second-highest rate in the NFL, behind only Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles.

The Buffalo Sabres beat the visiting Arizona Coyotes 3-1 Thursday night to boost their home record to 11-3-2. Last season, the Sabres were a mere 11-25-2 at KeyBank Center for the entire season.

The biggest victory for Syracuse U. football this season was signing coach Dino Babers to an extension, terms not disclosed. It is great to see that Babers was not using SU as a stepping stone to a higher-paying job at a more high-profile football school. He’s a very good offensive-minded coach. That means attractive football for recruits, alumni and the fan base.

Cheers to Syracuse U. redshirt freshman Andre Szmyt kicker for sweeping the five first-team All-America honors. He was 28-for-32 on field goals and second in major-college football with 141 points. A terrific kicker in an invaluable asset and playing home games indoors at the Carrier Dome should make SU a prime destination for kickers for a long time.

I’m wondering if Thursday night’s thrilling Los Angeles Chargers 29-28 come-from-behind win at Kansas City in prime lifted Chargers QB Philip Rivers into the race for NFL Most Valuable Player. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and New Orleans’ Drew Brees have been the MVP favorites, but Rivers beat Mahomes head-to-head in an important game Thursday night and Brees has cooled off in recent weeks.

Anthony Lynn (head coach Los Angeles Chargers) and Frank Reich (head coach Indianapolis Colts) must be feeling pretty good about flunking their interviews for the Buffalo Bills head coaching job.

The December/January issue of ESPN The Magazine has world champion gymnast Simone Biles as the cover subject, with the billing “The Most Dominant Athlete of 2018.” Tough to disagree.

Saturday WBA super middleweight title fight at Madison Square Garden: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez -1600 (bet $1,600 to win $100; Rocky Fielding +900 (bet $100 to win $900)...UFC 232 odds December 29 in Las Vegas: Jon Jones -280 (bet $280 to win $100; Alexander Gustafson +230 (bet $100 to win $230).


Friday, December 14

Paul Rabil 33...Randy Starks 35...Sam Aiken 38...former Red Wings pitcher Dave Gassner 40...Craig Biggio 53...Vijay Armitraj 65...Bill Buckner 71...Stan Smith 72.

Saturday, December 15

Jalil Okiafor 23...Ryan Pressly 30...Josh Norman 31...Nick Buss 32...Desmoind Bryant 33...Rodney Harrison 46...Frankie Dettori 48...Mo Vaughn 51...Jerry Ball 54...Carlton Bailey 54...Art Howe 72...Stan Bahnsen 74...Nick Buoniconti 78.

Sunday, December 16

David Johnson 27...Mike Weber 31....Antrel Rolle 36...Luke Harper 39...Cliff Robinson 52...Billy Ripken 54...William “The Refrigerator” Perry 56...Jerry Gray 56...Bart Oates 60.


December 14

98 years ago (1920), Jack Dempsey KOd Bill Brennan in 12 for the heavyweight boxing title...88 years ago (1930), the NFL New York Giants beat Notre Dame 22-0 in a charity exhibition game...71 years ago (1947), NASCAR was founded in Daytona Beach, Florida...65 years ago (1953), the Brooklyn Dodgers signed pitcher Sandy Koufax...50 years ago (1968), Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins had his first NHL hat trick...38 years ago (1980), Nancy Lopez and Curtis Strange won the LPGA J C Penny Golf Classic...30 years ago (1988), the Miami Heat, after a 0-17 start, won their first NBA game...21 years ago (1997), Mike Gartner became the fifth NHL player to score 700 goals.

December 15

93 years ago (1925), the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Americans 3-1 in the first hockey game at Madison Square Garden...83 years ago (1935), the Detroit Lions won the NFL championship...45 years ago (1973), Tennessee beat Temple 11-6 in basketball...38 years ago (1980), Dave Winfield of the New York Yankees became the highest-paid baseball player: 10 years for $15 million...36 years ago (1982), Bill Parcells became the 12th coach of the New York Giants...26 years ago (1992), Arthur Ashe was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year...10 years ago (2008), Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford won the 74th Heisman Trophy.

December 16

100 years ago (1918), Jack Dempsey KOd Carl Morris in 1`4 seconds...88 years ago (1930), golfer Bobby Jones won the first James E. Sullivan Award as America’s top amateur athlete...46 years ago (1972), the Miami Dolphins became the first NFL regular-season undefeated team: 14-0...45 years ago (1973), Buffalo’s O.J. Simpson became the first NFL player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season...39 years ago (1979), Roger Staubach played his last regular-season game with the Dallas Cowboys.

Bob Matthews' Column

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