Happy Thursday morning, all. I hope this newsletter finds you well.
Let's get right to it.
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Good morning to everyone but especially to...
Derrick Henry isn't making promises, but he is making progress. The Titans' superstar running back took a major step forward in his recovery from a broken foot, going through a padded practice Tuesday in which he took contact.
The Titans are expected to make an official decision on Friday. There's no running back who means more to his team than Henry does to the Titans, so should he return, it would be a major boon for the AFC's top seed. This season, the Titans averaged 5.7 yards per play with Henry on the field compared to 4.8 with him off the field. Even Ryan Tannehill's passer rating was more than 15 points higher when Henry played.
I'll do some more digging for you: the Titans' three-headed monster of Henry, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones have played just 120 snaps together this season, and none since Week 7. On those 120 snaps, though, the Titans averaged 7 yards per play. For reference as to how good that is, the 49ers led the NFL this season at 6.1 yards per play.
That means Tennessee could be more dangerous than we may think, as NFL guru Jeff Kerr writes in his ranking of the remaining eight teams.
- Kerr: "Tennessee has eight wins against teams with a winning record and has used 91 different players this season -- both are NFL records. ... If Henry doesn't get off to a slow start in his return, the Titans are going to be a dangerous team to beat at home this postseason."
- Joel Embiid became the first player in NBA history to score 50 points and grab 10 rebounds in less than 28 minutes of playing time last night. That seems pretty good to me.
- Nikola Jokic had a 49-point triple-double. That also seems pretty good to me.
- Daniel Jones gifted a pair of Super Bowl tickets to a thoroughly deserving high school quarterback.
And not such a good morning for...
THE DALLAS COWBOYS
Generally speaking, it's not a great thing to have one of your franchise's most iconic players bash the team. That means it's not a great time to be the Dallas Cowboys.
- Aikman: "(Michael Irvin) would've had 10 catches at halftime if they played us the way they played CeeDee Lamb in that game. ... The game is not that difficult. If I've got a great player at wide receiver and a corner is playing him in single coverage, throw him the ball. He's going to win most of the time."
Aikman's correct in that Lamb probably should have been more involved -- he finished with one catch (on five targets) for 21 yards and one rush for 5 yards -- but the idea that Lamb "won" most of the time isn't quite right. Of the four targets he didn't catch, two were the result of tight coverage, one was a bad throw from Dak Prescott that landed several feet short and one was a flat-out drop by Lamb.
Anyway, we're less than one week removed from the Cowboys' season ending, and I'm sure we'll be hearing plenty more frustrated Cowboys opinions throughout the offseason. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Not so honorable mention
- Bucs coach Bruce Arians was fined $50,000 for striking his own player, safety Andrew Adams, during Sunday's Wild Card win. Arians plans to appeal the fine.
Ranking the divisional round matchups 🏈
Let's face it: the Super Wild Card Weekend wasn't all that super. The average winning margin was more than 17 points, and only one underdog -- the 49ers -- won.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say the divisional round will be much, much better. The bettors agree, with the line for all four games within 5.5 points. I wouldn't be surprised if we see multiple underdogs win.
Now, how do you rank these four matchups? There's a clear top game in our NFL expert Jordan Dajani's eyes:
- Dajani: "Bills-Chiefs seems to be a hair above the rest. Of course, this is a rematch of the AFC Championship Game last year, and these two offensive juggernauts will square up again in the postseason, this time to see who will be able to play in the conference title game. In the previous round... Patrick Mahomes threw five touchdowns to go along with 404 yards, while Josh Allen also had five scores as his Bills found the end zone on every single meaningful drive they played against New England. With those two MVP caliber quarterbacks playing at this high of a level, this is appointment viewing for football fans."
It's hard for me to disagree here. Allen has morphed into one of my favorite players to watch, and Mahomes is Mahomes. There's little else that needs to be said there.
I'll leave you with this to chew on:
- Since Mahomes became the Chiefs' starting quarterback, 17 different teams have him twice in a single season, including playoffs.
- Of those 17, only one has won both meetings: the Tom Brady-led 2018 Patriots, who eventually won the Super Bowl.
So, while the Bills are more than capable of becoming the second team on that list, don't expect a repeat of Buffalo's 38-20 blowout win back in October.
You can check out the full rankings here.
MLB trades we'd like to see once the lockout ends ⚾
Yup, the MLB lockout is still going on, and, nope, there's no end in sight.
One way to help us get through it? Hypothetical trades that actually make sense. How about the Athletics -- who seemed likely to cut payroll before the lockout began -- and the Yankees, who are (almost) always willing to spend?
Here's the package that should happen, according to our MLB expert Mike Axisa:
- Yankees get: SP Frankie Montas, 1B Matt Olson
- Athletics get: INF Oswald Peraza, RHP Luis Gil, C/1B Austin Wells and "see what it takes to bridge the gap"
Here's why it could make sense for both sides:
- Axisa: "With the trade Oakland kick-starts its rebuild -- I'm not sure we can call it a rebuild as much as a scorched earth effort to get a new ballpark, even if it means moving to Las Vegas -- and the Yankees address two pressing needs with players who are under team control through 2023. The dots are very easy to connect. Montas and Olson are ideal fits for New York."
But my favorite Axisa hypothetical involves a third baseman who has hit more HR than anyone else at the position over the past two years, and I'll leave you with that cliffhanger to go check out.
What we're watching Thursday 📺
🏀 No. 4 Purdue at Indiana, 7 p.m. on FS1
🏀 No. 3 Louisville at No. 4 NC State, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Suns at Mavericks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Pacers at Warriors, 10 p.m. on TNT