New York Giants: Bengals uncertainty part of the fun for Patrick Graham

New York Giants, Patrick Graham

The addition of Patrick Graham as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants has been one of their best moves this offseason. Under Graham, new additions James Bradberry and Blake Martinez have stepped up to exceed expectations and others such as Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams have raised their game further than they were able to under the previous administration.

And the defense will play a big role in the Giants’ game on Sunday, when they face the Bengals. After all, the Bengals have already lost their starting quarterback for the season. It looks like the Giants have an advantage here, and even Vegas has favored them. However, the Giants have already lost one game this season to a backup quarterback when they were blown out by San Francisco.

This one isn’t a given just because the Bengals don’t have Joe Burrow. It’s also uncertain just who will replace Burrow. The Bengals have multiple options in Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley. Neither player has been named the starter just yet.

Giants defensive coordinator not scared of the mystery

According to Patrick Graham, the uncertainty is part of the fun.

“You’re seeing a little sprinkle in of a bunch of different, not a bunch of different systems, it’s what they do. I’m not sure what they’re doing to do. That’s the fun part of it,” Graham told reporters Friday about watching film on the Bengals before this game. “We have to prepare for all of it. What’s [Brandon] Allen do? We have to make sure we know what the quarterbacks do and see how it’s going to play into the system. To be honest with you, I don’t know what he’s going to do. We have to prepare for everything.”

The Giants will have a boost in beating whoever the Bengals start at quarterback, because of the addition of safety Xavier McKinney. McKinney is set to return from injury, and was expected in the preseason to play a big role in the defense. His debut, however, has been delayed until now due to that preseason injury.

What Xavier McKinney brings the defense

According to Graham, McKinney is eager to show off his skills after previously being limited to practicing in the classroom rather than the field.

“The thing is, he’s been grinding this whole time. Unfortunately for him, it’s been in the classroom. I feel bad for him. Now with the chance to possibly play, the thing he brings, he’s a good football player out there. That’s the simple way to put it, with some position flex. This guy can play in the deep part of the field. He can play down low. He can play all over the field,” Graham said of McKinney.

It looks like the secondary is definitely set to improve further with the addition of McKinney partway through the season – and at a much needed time. After all, the Giants are still in the running for the NFC East. A win over the Bengals would be a big step in keeping that hope alive.

Preseason games expected to provide clues to Knicks backcourt riddle

New York Knicks, Austin Rivers

Exactly nine months since they played their last game, the New York Knicks will finally be back on the court on Dec. 11.

The Knicks, who last saw action last March 11 — an overtime win against the Atlanta Hawks — will have four preseason games before the new season tips off on Dec. 22.

The four-game schedule includes back-to-back road games against the Detroit Pistons (Dec. 11 and Dec. 13) and a pair of home games against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Madison Square Garden Dec. 16 and Dec. 18. Fans will not be permitted to watch the games at the venue.

New head coach Tom Thibodeau will finally have the chance to size up his young Knicks roster.

All eyes will be on the Knicks’ slam-dunking lottery pick Obi Toppin, who will have the early opportunity to show up the Pistons and the Cavaliers, two teams who passed up on him in the draft.

Battle of the Point Guards

But on top of that, fans will be anxious to see how Thibodeau will try to answer the Knicks’ backcourt riddle with at least five point guards competing for the starter job.

 

Expected to top that list is veteran guard Austin Rivers.

The Knicks officially announced Friday that Rivers, 28, was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets that also netted the Knicks the draft rights to former Euroleague MVP Sergio Gull, former Adriatic League MVP Tadija Dragicevic, and Belgian player Axel Hervelle in exchange for the draft rights to Issuf Sanon.

Rivers will come to New York 29 years since his father, Doc, became a fan favorite at The Garden during a span of two-plus seasons from 1992-94.

Thibodeau would later work under Doc Rivers in Boston, winning a championship in 2008. The two coaches have remained friends. Thibodeau is said to be a fan of Austin’s basketball IQ even when he was still playing for Duke.

Rivers, a former lottery pick in 2012 who turned into a journeyman, will have a chance to star in a young Knicks team looking for stability and leadership at the backcourt.

Rivers agreed to a three-year, $10 million deal with the last two years non-guaranteed. He averaged 8.8 points on a 42.1 percent shooting clip and 35.6 percent beyond the arc, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 23.4 minutes as a backup guard in Houston last season.

Expected to crowd him are holdovers Dennis Smith, Jr., who worked on his jump shot during the long lull with former NBA gunner Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Frank Ntilikina, last year’s starter Elfrid Payton, and rookie Immanuel Quickley.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Giants: Bengals safety Jessie Bates could be a problem for Giants’ offense in Week 12

The New York Giants are once again entering a “must-win” scenario in Week 12. After seeing their divisional landscape change drastically over the last two weeks, the Giants find themselves in the middle of a four-way race to win the NFC East. This could be the year that the Giants make their first playoff appearance since 2016, but they are going to have to pick up some clutch wins before the season’s end if they want to make that pipe dream a reality.

That road to the playoffs starts this week in Cincinnati. The Giants will take on the Joe Burrow-less Bengals after resting in their Week 11 bye. The Bengals lost Burrow in a loss to the Washington Football Team. Washington is now on a two-game win streak after beating Cincinnati last week and Dallas this week on Thanksgiving. Washington looks red hot, but, luckily, the Giants went 2-0 against the Football Team this season and have a tiebreaker over them in the playoff race because of that.

So after losing to Washington and watching their first-overall draft selection go down with a season-ending injury, the Bengals find themselves at rock bottom. Their offense looked pitiful without Burrow in the lineup last week. The Giants need to win this game to improve their record to 4-7, tie for first place in the division, and stay in the playoff race.

The Bengals’ offense might not leave the Giants with too much to worry about. Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon are out and possibly even Giovanni Bernard. But the Bengals’ defense, on the other hand, could cause some problems for the Giants’ offense. One player, in particular, stands out on Cincinnati’s defense: Jessie Bates III. Bates is having a career year and looks like one of the best safeties in the NFL. Bates could slow down a Giants offense that has begun to pick up the pace in recent weeks.

Jessie Bates III Stats and Highlights

Cincinnati Bengals third-year safety Jessie Bates has been a problem for opposing offenses in 2020. Bates is currently the highest-graded safety in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus as he is having a breakout career year.

Through ten games this season, Bates has been dominant on the backend for Cincy. Jessie has recorded 68 combined tackles, including 2 tackles for loss. But Bates’s run support is not what makes him so special. Jessie Bates is an ace in coverage and has shut down opposing passing attacks on a weekly basis.

Jessie Bates III already has three interceptions on the year and a career-high 13 passes defended. Bates has allowed only 12 completions on 26 targets in his coverage this season (46.2% completion percentage). He has allowed the opposition to gain only 115 yards and 2 touchdowns in his coverage this year for a quarterback rating of only 45.0.

Jessie Bates is a rangy safety that shuts down deep passing attacks:

The New York Giants might need to go with a more conservative passing game plan on Sunday as they look to avoid putting the ball in a situation where Jessie Bates III can make a play.

Mets’ Dom Smith praised Steve Cohen and is ‘excited for what is on the horizon’

New Yor k Mets, Dominic Smith

The new-look Mets won’t have the Wilpons and Brodie Van Wagenen in charge. They have a new owner in Steve Cohen, a new president (also tasked with baseball decisions, at least for now) in Sandy Alderson, and will have a new general manager any day now. They will also have a new starting catcher, since Wilson Ramos won’t be back in 2021, and presumably a couple of new starting pitchers, outfielders or even some relievers.

But the offensive structure, sans the suspended Robinson Cano, will be virtually the same as 2020. Jeff McNeil will be back, as will Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso, Brandon Nimmo, JD Davis, and one of the season’s breakout performers: Dominic Smith.

With a .316/.377/.616 line, a .412 wOBA, and a 165 wRC+, Smith was perhaps the New York Mets’ best performer outside of ace Jacob deGrom. Smith even received votes in the MVP race, finishing in the 13th position.

And just like several other players, he has expressed his happiness about Cohen taking over the franchise. “Steve is a great guy! I would say the whole team is excited about what Steve’s vision is and his passion to make this Mets organization great. We all want to win and we know we’re capable of that so definitely excited for what is on the horizon,” he said in a Q&A with SNY.

A difference-maker for the Mets

Smith proved that, with regular at-bats, he can be a difference-maker at the plate, as his first-round pedigree suggests.

“I’m just trying to go out there and be better each day, it’s not about proving myself to anyone but me. I think the team knows I go out there, as all of us do, and give it everything we have. I’m honored to just be in the discussion for MVP, that’s a blessing,” he explained.

He says that he is “always working. I am always working to get better each day. My goal is just to be better each time I step out there on the field and continue to strive for success.”

Smith took the chance to express his happiness about Marcus Stroman returning to the Mets. “Definitely happy Marcus is back! He is an important asset on the team, and he brings the best out of all of us. We would love to train together this offseason, but right now we are just playing it day by day with everything going on with COVID.”

New York Jets: Sam Darnold to start on Sunday vs. Miami

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

After missing the last two New York Jets games with a shoulder injury, Sam Darnold will return for a divisional showdown with the Dolphins.

New York Jets head coach Adam Gase announced on Friday that Sam Darnold will return to the team’s starting lineup on Sunday, as the team heads home to MetLife Stadium to battle the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Darnold will make his first appearance since November 1 at Kansas City, when he reaggravated a shoulder injury suffered a month prior against Denver.

“It’s been a good week for Sam,” Gase said, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. “It just looks a lot different from the last time he tried to make a run at going in a game.”

Though the Jets (0-10) are officially removed from the AFC playoff picture, these final six games could mean everything to Darnold, whose 2020 struggles have observers and analysts wondering if he is still the Jets’ future under center. Having missed four games this season, Darnold is currently on pace to set career-lows with 1,045 passing yards and three touchdown passes.

But, right from the get-go, things will be different for Darnold than they were at the start of the season. Sunday against Miami will mark the first time that Darnold is able to work with the trio of receivers the Jets envisioned would be at the top of the depth chart at the start of the year. Darnold will work with second-round rookie Denzel Mims for the third time this season, having previously united with him for 84 yards on six receptions in tilts against Kansas City and Buffalo. Veterans Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder will likewise be ready to go. The Jets’ offense has enjoyed a slight resurgence upon the trio’s collaboration, tallying 614 yards and 55 points over the last two games, both of which are season-highs over consecutive games. Joe Flacco took over for Darnold in the meantime, leading the Jets to respectable outputs in losses to New England and the Los Angeles Chargers.

In comments made earlier this week, Darnold praised the progress that the incoming receiving trio was able to make, but also expressed personal excitement to get back on the field and lead the Jets to a victory. New York is the lone winless team in the NFL as the season prepares to reach its final stages.

Obviously, those guys are doing a really good job and are making plays for us,” Darnold said, per notes from the Jets. Regardless of their situation and how well they are playing, I just want to be out there, regardless of that. I’m always going to be eager to want to go out there and play football.”

Darnold is 1-3 against the Dolphins in his career, the lone win coming last season in East Rutherford. He would tally 270 yards and two scores in the Jets’ 22-21 triumph.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Breaking: UFC Vegas 15 Main Event is off

Curtis Blaydes, UFC

Shortly after we published our UFC Vegas 15 main event preview, news broke that the fight is off. Per ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, Curtis Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC) has tested positive for COVID-19 and the main event tomorrow has been cancelled.

Blaydes was scheduled to fight The Black Beast, Derrick Lewis (24-7, 1 NC). The fight was a huge fight for the UFC‘s heavyweight division as both men were entering the cage on multiple fight winning streaks.

In addition to that, both men were currently inside the UFC‘s top four. The winner was expected to be on the shortlist of contenders for a future title shot. However, we now know that we will have to wait on this one.

What is the UFC’s plan?

According to Helwani’s tweet, the UFC is currently working on booking this fight for sometime in December. To me, it makes all the sense in the world to book this fight on the main card of the UFC 256 PPV.

That card has taken a lot of hits including losing three title fights. The card’s main event features a flyweight title fight. In addition, Tony Ferguson returns as he takes on Charles Oliveira.

However, the card could use just a little more juice. Considering the UFC‘s December 19th card is already stacked, the December 12th card makes all the sense in the world. This is a crushing blow to the UFC Vegas 15 card.

The promotion will now move forward with Anthony Smith – Devin Clark as the main event of the evening. While that is expected to be a decent fight, in my opinion, it wasn’t even worth being a co-main event.

The UFC was going to struggle tomorrow taking on the Tyson – Jones Jr boxing main event, and now they just lost their heavyweight clash. Tough break for the promotion, but we will just have to see how this plays out.

UFC Vegas 15 Preview: Derrick Lewis – Curtis Blaydes

Tomorrow night in the headliner of UFC Vegas 15, we have a heavyweight showdown that the MMA world is talking about. Top four contenders Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis (24-7, 1 NC) and Curtis “Razor” Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC) will be going to battle.

This fight is a pivotal matchup for the UFC‘s heavyweight division. The winner of this fight will be on the short list of contenders for an upcoming shot at the UFC‘s heavyweight title. Both men having winning streaks that they are looking to continue.

For the Black Beast, he’s looking to pickup his fourth consecutive win in the UFC. Coming into this matchup, Lewis is coming off of a second round knockout over Alexey Oleynik that took place back in August.

The win was the third straight for Lewis. The Black Beast became the UFC’s heavyweight knockout king that night. Since making his promotional debut back in 2014, he’s only won a decision four times while scoring eleven knockouts in that time.

Blaydes on the other hand will be going into tomorrow night on a four fight winning streak. The only man to have defeated Blaydes in his professional career is top UFC heavyweight, Francis Ngannou. Ngannou was able to stop Blaydes both times they fought.

Razor Blaydes is known for his dominant wrestling and his tremendous ground and pound. He’s also really showed improvements in his hands although he’s made it clear that he does not plan on standing with the knockout king at UFC Vegas 15.

UFC Vegas 15 Prediction

The headliner at UFC Vegas 15 is relatively easy to pick in my opinion. The fight is going to go one of two ways. Either Derrick Lewis is going to catch Blaydes and knock him out, or we are going to see a wrestling clinic with Blaydes getting his hand raised.

If Lewis wins tomorrow night, UFC fans will be talking about a knockout. If Blaydes wins, we will be discussing his efficiency and his dominant wrestling. There is a chance that Blaydes can get a TKO finish tomorrow night. However, only if Lewis completely gasses out.

If Derrick Lewis is going to win tomorrow night, he’s gonna have to catch Blaydes coming in. If he can’t catch him, I don’t see the fight going well. Lewis struggles with wrestlers and Blaydes is arguably the best in the division. I can definitely see Lewis catching him, but smart money is on Blaydes.

Prediction: Curtis Blaydes by Unanimous Decision

Buffalo Bills: Cody Ford out for the year, John Brown to miss Sunday

The Buffalo Bills lose two key pieces of their offense to injury as they prepare to enter a crucial final stretch.

As the Buffalo Bills prepare for a crucial final stretch that could lead to a long-sought division title, they’ll be without two of their key offensive starters, one of which will be done for the year.

Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott announced on WGR 550 that offensive lineman Cody Ford will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury in Wednesday’s practice and that receiver John Brown (ankle) will miss at least the next game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Bills (7-3) are looking to clinch their first division title since 1995 and lead the Miami Dolphins a game for the AFC East lead.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Ford suffered a torn meniscus and will undergo surgery that will feature a 3-4 month recovery period. It’s the latest blow to a Bills’ offensive line that has seen its share of medical absences. Ford had already missed three games due to other injuries and Jon Feliciano missed the first seven contests after tearing a pectoral muscle before the start of training camp. Mitch Morse has also missed time, and further turnover came when Quinton Spain was released. Ford’s duties will likely be assumed by a combination of Feliciano, Brian Winters, and Ike Boettger.

Brown’s injury is the latest in what’s been a star-crossed season. A calf injury sustained during the third game of the season previously forced him out and he was previously removed from the Bills’ last game in Arizona with an ankle ailment. The injuries have prevented Brown from capitalizing on a career-best 72 receptions and 1,060 yards from last season’s playoff trek.

In other injury news, defensive end Mario Addison (knee) missed Wednesday’s practice. His status for Sunday has yet to be determined.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Rumors: New York Yankees pursuing future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina, money not an issue

Yadier Molina, New York Yankees

What if I were to tell you that New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez hit .147 with a 36% strikeout rate in 2020? You would probably say, “why on earth is he starting on an everyday basis?”

Well, many are asking that same question, and ultimately, Sanchez still has the support of Yankee management, even if they are pursuing an alternative at the position. This past season, Sanchez lost his starting job to Kyle Higashioka, as the alternative became Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher and took a majority of the reps during the postseason, which says a lot about how far Sanchez has fallen.

You could also make the argument that he didn’t even attempt to regain his spot, letting Kyle take his reps, and simply didn’t fight over the subsequent benching. Passionate players do everything they can to remain on the field and earn starting reps, but Sanchez simply let them slip away, and that could be a cause for concern in itself.

Nonetheless, it has led the Yankees to consider other options at the position, notably St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.

Future HOF catcher Yadier Molina wants to play for a contending team, stating the Yankees have inquired about him, per MLB.com:

In an interview Thursday with Laura Bonnelly, Yadier Molina said there are several teams that have expressed interest in signing the veteran catcher this offseason, including the Padres and Angels in addition to teams previously reported — the Mets and Yankees. He said he’s looking for a two-year deal with a contending club and that he’s not focused on the money aspect, but rather winning another championship before he retires. Molina also said he’d prefer to return to the Cardinals, with whom he has spent his entire 17-year career, over which he helped St. Louis win two World Series titles while winning nine Gold Glove Awards.

Molina finished the 2020 season with a .262 batting average, including four homers and 16 RBIs. He is no slugger but gets decent contact on the ball and only struck out 13.5% of the time (Fangraphs).

Over 145 at-bats, he recorded 38 hits, with 32 of them being singles. He only struck out 21 times, and his ability to get on base fits perfectly with the Yankees’ slugger mentality.

Theoretically, as long as they can get somebody on base and can hit home runs at a high rate, they can put tons of points on the board. That is their analytical standpoint, and it has worked well in recent years. Pitching has been their ultimate deficiency.

However, Molina wants to sign a two-year deal on a contending team, and money isn’t a factor for him. Defensively, he has taken a step down, posting a .985 fielding percentage with five errors and three passed balls.

However, it does seem to be an anomaly based on his performance in 2019, where he allowed just one error and four pass balls over 111 games. Comparably to Sanchez, who played nine games in 2019 and allowed 15 errors and seven passed balls.

There is no question that the Yankees would be getting an upgrade defensively in Yadier, but offensively he isn’t much of a slugger, which the Yankees look for in hitters these days. Nonetheless, their interest is enticing, and we will keep a close eye on this rumor.

UFC Vegas 15 Preview: Anthony Smith – Devin Clark

Anthony Smith

In the co-main event of tomorrow night’s UFC Vegas 15 card, we have a light heavyweight contest which features a former title challenger. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (33-16) will be taking on Devin “Brown Bear” Clark (12-4) in his 50th professional fight.

That number is truly astonishing considering the former UFC title challenger is only 32 years old. Nevertheless, Smith will be making the walk for the 50th time as he’s looking to bounce back after two consecutive losses in the octagon.

Clark on the other hand is looking to break into the UFC‘s top 15. The Jackson-Wink product has won back to back fights to push his overall record to 12-4. Clark has been tested in his UFC career against some of the best including Aleksandar Rakic and current champ, Jan Blachowicz.

Of course, Clark came up short in both of those fights. However, I’ve seen a lot of improvement in his last couple of outings. Sure, the competition level wasn’t extremely high, but he seems to be heading in the right direction.

Smith on the other hand is heading in the wrong direction. Two consecutive losses for Smith have had him contemplating his UFC career. Smith looked fantastic in the first couple of rounds against Glover Teixiera. However, since then, he’s been dominated in seven rounds since.

UFC Vegas 15 Preview

When thinking about the UFC Vegas 15 co-main event, this should be a win for Anthony Smith. However, the key word in that sentence is that it should be Anthony Smith. I really think Smith has a very solid overall game.

We’ve seen him look good on the feet and he’s shown off good submission skills in the UFC. However, he just looked completely out of it in his last fight against Aleksandar Rakic. Sure, he was hurt with leg kicks, but mentally he looked checked out.

Tomorrow night will all come down to which Anthony Smith we get. Devin Clark is going to push forward and try to take Smith down. We’ve seen Smith fold to the point where he accepts getting taken down then shows no urgency to get back up.

If that happens tomorrow night, we are going to see Clark pickup another decision win. However, if we see some urgency out of Smith, I think he can score enough points on the feet and win some scrambles to get the decision.

I think that this fight is going to go the distance. Again, UFC Vegas 15 will come down to which Anthony Smith we get. I think he’s going to show just enough urgency to squeak out an extremely narrow split decision, but I’m not confident in that pick.

Prediction: Anthony Smith by Split Decision