Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Dolphins are doing something no team has ever done, plus should the Lakers trade Russell Westbrook?

Happy Tuesday morning, everyone! I hope your Monday after the long weekend was a good one for you and your fantasy football team.

Let’s get right to it.

Good morning to everyone but especially to…

THE MIAMI DOLPHINS

No team has ever made the playoffs after starting the season 1-7. The Miami Dolphins control their own destiny to become the first.

The Dolphins topped the Saints, 20-3, Monday night to win their seventh straight game and move into the seventh and final seed in the AFC playoff picture. They are the first team ever to have a seven-game losing streak and a seven-game winning streak in the same season.

The Dolphins followed the blueprint that has fueled their winning streak: solid defense and just enough offense.

  • Nik Needham had a pick-six on Saints QB Ian Book’s second pass, and Byron Jones picked off Book’s last pass of the night.
  • The Dolphins registered eight sacks, their most in a game since 2012.
  • Tua Tagovailoa found Jaylen Waddle early and often, with 92 of Tagovailoa’s 198 passing yards — and his lone touchdown — going to the rookie star.

It wasn’t always pretty, but it’s hard to argue with seven straight wins, according to our NFL experts.

  • Tyler Sullivan: “Offensively, it wasn’t a prolific night by the offense, but it was enough to get the job done against a rookie fourth-string quarterback. Tagovailoa was able to make a couple of clutch throws to keep drives alive and Waddle continues to be budding superstar … According to CBS Sports analyst Stephen Oh’s playoff projections, the Dolphins now have a 19.4% chance of making the playoffs, which is up 5% from before the game.”

Now the real test starts: The Dolphins head to the Titans next week before finishing the regular season with a game against the Patriots.

Honorable mentions:

And not such a good morning for…

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IAN BOOK AND THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Last week, the Saints used an incredible defensive effort to beat Tom Brady and the Buccaneers 9-0 in a game that was as ugly as the score suggested.

Then the Saints saw both Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian join the reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning rookie fourth-rounder Ian Book would make his NFL debut. And he looked exactly like a rookie fourth-rounder making his NFL debut on Monday night. There were multiple times Book took unnecessary sacks when he could have thrown the ball away, and he struggled with accuracy. The Saints got almost nothing on the ground, either.

The team’s struggles were unlike anything we’ve ever seen in 15 seasons under head coach Sean Payton:

  • The Saints finished with three points, their fewest ever under Payton.
  • The Saints went 0-12 on third downs, their worst mark ever under Payton.

New Orleans does finish with two very winnable games — vs. the Panthers and at the Falcons — but the road to a fifth straight playoff berth got a lot harder with the loss against the Dolphins.

Not so honorable mentions:

The NFL coaching carousel starts today 🏈

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While the playoff race is heating up, there are plenty of teams already looking toward 2022. Starting today, two teams in that second category — the Raiders and Jaguars — can take a big step in building for the future.

Those two franchises fall under the category of don’t have a full-time head coach or have informed their coach that he won’t be back next season and therefore could officially start their coaching search at 8 a.m. this morning. Previously, they could not start that search until after the regular season ended.

There are plenty of teams that could join them, and NFL scribe Jeff Kerr has his eyes on four teams in particular, leading with one with a former Coach of the Year.

  • Kerr: “1. Bears — Matt Nagy’s hot seat has never been warmer with the Bears eliminated from the playoffs amidst all the dysfunction that has gone on in the organization this year. … With [Justin] Fields heading into his second season and the talent on both sides of the ball, Chicago might be one of the more attractive jobs available this hiring season — especially if general manager Ryan Pace is shown the door.”

Is it time for the Lakers to make a big move? 🏀

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Yes, it is time to talk about the Lakers again. They have lost five straight games and sit at 16-18. They’re among the worst teams in the NBA offensively and are just average defensively. They’re without star forward Anthony Davis for the foreseeable future, and LeBron James, a few days shy of his 38th birthday, is averaging his most minutes since 2016-17.

Something has to change, and that something might just be trading Russell Westbrook — or at least trying to — writes our NBA expert Sam Quinn.

  • Quinn: “When Westbrook plays without [James], the Lakers are getting outscored by 7.4 points per 100 possessions. He isn’t easing anyone’s burden and he’s not keeping the Lakers afloat in their most vulnerable moments. Westbrook has a history of improving significantly as seasons progress, but it’s worth asking how meaningful that improvement would even be to this Lakers team.”

Now, what could the Lakers actually get back for Westbrook? John Wall is a potential answer. Wall hasn’t played this season as the Rockets focus on rebuilding, and their contracts make the hypothetical trade feasible. While they share several similarities stylistically, it may be worth a shot.

  • Quinn: “This is the team that they have. They might be able to change it but they can’t overhaul it entirely. Even if a Wall trade doesn’t fix everything, it offers theoretical benefits that could potentially revitalize a team that is in desperate need of revitalization. It might help, but who cares if it doesn’t? The current team isn’t working either.”

Why are MLB free agents signing overseas… and will bigger names be next? ⚾

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You’ll have to excuse us if there hasn’t been a lot of baseball talk in this newsletter the past few weeks. With MLB still in a lockout — and negotiations yet to really start — there hasn’t been much happening.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t baseball news elsewhere, though. Over the weekend, veteran third baseman Rio Ruiz and former Yankees first baseman Chris Gittens signed with Asian League teams. While they may not be the biggest names, they join the likes of more well-known players such as Yasiel Puig, Freddy Galvis and Ivan Nova who have made similar moves.

Could there be more to come? Maybe not. One analyst told our MLB reporter R.J. Anderson, “It’s just a weird opportunity right now for the Asian clubs.”

  • Anderson: “Even if flocks of MLB players wanted to stick it to MLB’s owners by signing in Japan or South Korea, both leagues have measures in place that protect against an exodus. KBO limits the amount of foreign-born players who are allowed on rosters and caps the earning potential of first-year international players to just $1 million. NPB isn’t as strict about how many foreign players a team can sign… but it does limit the number of them who can be active in any given game. Of course, such legislation will prevent a flood, but it won’t stop some players from considering an Asian league — specifically Japan — if the lockout goes long enough. 

What we’re watching Tuesday 📺

🏈 Birmingham Bowl: No. 20 Houston vs Auburn (-2), Noon on ESPN

🏈 Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State (-10) vs Texas Tech, 6:45 p.m. on ESPN

🏀 Wizards at Heat, 7:30 p.m. on NBA TV

🏈 Holiday Bowl: UCLA vs No. 18 NC State (-2), 8 p.m. on FOX

🏀 Nuggets at Warriors, 10 p.m. on NBA TV

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