Happy Friday, folks! The last Friday of January!
Let’s get right to it.
Good morning to everyone but especially to…
THE UNITED STATES MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM
It wasn’t particularly pretty or impressive, but the United States men’s national team earned a crucial three points in Concacaf World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 win over El Salvador. Antonee Robinson‘s 52nd-minute goal provided the only cushion the USA needed.
It keeps the USA second in the standings. Each of the top three teams automatically qualify for this year’s World Cup in Qatar, and the fourth-place team will face a playoff.
- 1. Canada: 19
- 2. United States: 18
- 3. Mexico: 17
- 4. Panama: 14
- 5. Costa Rica: 12
The United States wasn’t sharp at all in front of net, scoring just the one time despite an expected goal value of 2.98. Jesus Ferreira missed a pair of great chances, and plenty of other good opportunities either petered out before a shot or resulted in shots that missed the target. Still, El Salvador never posed much of a threat. USA goalkeeper Matt Turner — hours after transferring to Arsenal — celebrated in the best way possible: without having to make a single save.
As for the outfield players who stood out, Robinson earned an 8/10 in our soccer expert Roger Gonzalez’s grades:
- Gonzalez: “Scored the game-winning goal with a solid strike in the box in the second half. Also did so well to win back the ball. Saved his team in this one.“
Next up for the USA is a Sunday matinee against Canada, which you can watch on Paramount+.
- Joel Embiid just keeps making 76ers history.
- Ron Torbert will referee the Super Bowl for the first time.
And not such a good morning for…
DRAYMOND GREEN AND KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS
Thursday night’s announcement of the All-Star Game starters brought a major surprise: Andrew Wiggins will get his first career start. Don’t get me wrong: Wiggins has had a really nice year for the Warriors and was a strong candidate to make the All-Star Game roster.
- Quinn: “Beyond points and the 14 games he’s missed, there really isn’t a basketball argument that favors Wiggins over Green. As much as Wiggins has improved defensively, Green is the Defensive Player of the Year favorite. He is Golden State’s de facto point guard, setting up many of the easy shots that have helped vault Wiggins into this conversation with an assist from the spacing provided by Curry. [Entering Thursday] Golden State is 7-7 in the games Green has missed… and 28-6 in the games he’s played.”
Another snub comes from the team Wiggins and the Warriors faced last nigh– the Timberwolves:
- Quinn: “We go from Wiggins’ current teammate in Green to his former teammate in Karl-Anthony Towns. As simplistic as this might be, Towns leads Wiggins in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Box score stats don’t exactly tell the whole story. If they did Green wouldn’t be in the discussion here. But it goes to show just how central Towns is to what Minnesota does. The Timberwolves rely on Towns far more than the Warriors rely on Wiggins.”
It’s hard for me to get too upset about starters in a relatively meaningless game where everyone is going to get plenty of minutes. But that doesn’t mean it won’t matter to Green (who wouldn’t have played anyway due to injury) or Towns. It is a nice honor, after all.
You can check out the full list of snubs here.
Not so honorable mention
- The Trail Blazers suffered yet another blow with Nassir Little tearing the labrum in his left shoulder. It’s likely a season-ending injury.
- Brett Favre’s “gut” tells him Aaron Rodgers won’t return to the Packers.
NFL coaching carousel: Matt Eberflus to Chicago, Dan Quinn staying in Dallas 🏈
The carousel has really started to spin.
A few hours after the Broncos hired Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as their next head coach, the Bears made their move, hiring Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to be their newest head coach.
Eberflus had headed the Indianapolis defense for the past four seasons. Over that span, the Colts finished…
- Second in turnovers forced
- Third in yards per rush allowed
- Sixth in opponent TD-Int rate
- 10th in points allowed
Eberflus will pair with new GM Ryan Poles to try to turn things around in the Windy City. The Bears do have some nice young pieces on both sides of the ball, led by 2021 first-round QB Justin Fields and second-team All-Pro LB Roquan Smith. Who Eberflus and Poles choose as their offensive coordinator will be super important. Fields was up-and-down as a rookie, and the team needs to upgrade both its offensive line and its receiving corps to take advantage of his athleticism.
But perhaps just as important as who’s going where is who’s staying put. In this case, it’s Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who will be staying. Quinn was a heavily sought-after head coaching candidate, so keeping him in Dallas is a big win, writes Cowboys insider Patrik Walker:
- Walker: “This is a gargantuan keep for the Cowboys, a team that saw Quinn flip their defense from literal worst to first in the span of only one season, and who helped instantly turn rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs into record-setting talents at their respective position. Quinn often noted just how much he loved his current situation in Dallas and would only leave if ‘the right’ opportunity presented itself…”
There are still seven head-coaching opportunities up for grabs, and our tracker is up-to-date with all the latest developments.
Exclusive SportsLine NFL picks for this weekend 🏈
Who wins and covers in the NFC and AFC title games on Sunday?
SportsLine’s proven computer model has simulated both conference title games 10,000 times. See which sides to back, all from the model that’s up over $7,500 on top-rated NFL picks since its inception.
• Micah Roberts has nailed 10 of his last 11 picks involving San Francisco and he’s made the call on the NFC Championship Game right here.
• You can also get DFS advice for Sunday from daily fantasy pro Mike McClure, who’s won almost $2 million in his career.
Pete Prisco’s predictions for Championship Sunday 👀
And then there were four. Here’s who Pete Prisco likes to advance to the Super Bowl.
I won’t give it all away, but Prisco likes both underdogs to cover. As for who actually wins… here’s his pick for the AFC Championship:
- Prisco: “The Bengals lit up the Chiefs defense [in Week 17], as Ja’Marr Chase caught 11 passes for 266 yards. The Bengals destroyed the Kansas City blitz. … As for the Bengals defense, they limited Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to 11 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown in the last meeting. They would gladly take that again, but that’s unlikely. … This will be another game about the two quarterbacks. Both will have success throwing it and both will roll up big numbers. In the end, the Chiefs are the better team, but it will be close. … Pick: Chiefs 34, Bengals 32“
What we’re watching this weekend 📺
🏀 Lakers at Hornets, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Knicks at Bucks, 10 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Michigan at No. 10 Michigan State, 12:30 p.m. on CBS
🏀 No. 22 Marquette at No. 17 Providence, 4:30 p.m. on FS1
🏀 No. 12 Kentucky at No. 5 Kansas, 6 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Nets at Warriors, 8:30 p.m. on ABC
🏀 No. 16 Ohio State at No. 6 Purdue, Noon on CBS and Paramount+
🏈 Bengals at Chiefs, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+
⚽ Canada vs United States, 3:05 p.m. on Paramount+, Telemundo and NBC Universo
🏈 49ers at Rams, 6:30 p.m. on FOX