New York Giants no longer control destiny in NFC East after loss

New York Giants, Austin Mack

The New York Giants ended their winning streak with a lackluster performance against the Cardinals, but the worst outcome from this game doesn’t just have to do with this result. Rather, the combination of the Giants losing and other teams winning has taken the Giants out of first place in the NFC East. While they controlled their fate before and could have made it into the playoffs by holding on down the stretch, it’s now possible for the Giants to win out and not make it in.

New York Giants no longer control their destiny

They have three games left. During that stretch, they’ll face the Browns, Ravens, and Cowboys. The Browns right now are a 9-3 team that takes on the 7-5 Ravens on Monday Night Football, so there’s no guarantee the Giants are able to win out. Even Dallas, a struggling team, won on Sunday and blew out the Bengals by a score of 30-7.

But even if the Giants do somehow win out, or even take two of the thee games, they might not make it into the playoffs regardless. That’s because despite beating Washington two times this season in a sweep, the Giants lost today when Washington won. And with six wins, Washington is set to finish with more wins than the Giants if they can pull off victories against Seattle, Carolina, and Philadelphia in the last week of the season. And that’s no matter how many wins the Giants pick up in their last games.

Considering Philadelphia’s struggles and the 4-9 record of the Panthers, it does look entirely possible that Washington could win out over the Giants. Still, New York isn’t eliminated yet. It looks like their games will mean something right up until the end of the season.

This result, however, is a warning that a good finish for the Giants is still far from solidified. And if they want to be a playoff team, they’ll have to play far more like they did in Seattle and a lot less like they did against Arizona.

Buffalo Bills: Three stars from Sunday night’s win vs. Pittsburgh

The Buffalo Bills made a victorious return to Sunday Night Football, topping the Pittsburgh Steelers to earn their 10th win of the season.

After their performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s safe to say that it definitely won’t take another 13 years for NBC’s Sunday Night Football to return to Bills Stadium in Orchard Park.

The Buffalo Bills celebrated their return to the NFL’s most sought-after primetime spot, topping the Steelers 26-15 on Sunday night in Western New York. Taron Johnson brought the invisible crowd to its feet through a 51-yard runback of a Ben Roethlisberger interception, while Stefon Diggs put up 130 yards and a score on nine receptions. Levi Wallace added another interception of Roethlisberger to seal the deal in the fourth quarter, while Josh Allen overcame an inconsistent start to throw two touchdown passes.

Not only did the Bills (10-3) star in their first Sunday night home game since 2007, but they also earned consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1998-99. Buffalo will clinch a playoff spot on Monday if the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Cleveland Browns. The Bills also picked up a tiebreaker in terms of AFC playoff seeding. They’re a game behind Pittsburgh (11-2) for the second seed, while they also gained a game on the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East division race with the latter’s loss to Kansas City, the current kings of the conference.

ESM has a series of game balls to award after Sunday’s historic win.

3rd Star: P Corey Bojorquez

5 punts, 45.6 average, 2 Inside 20 

Bills fans may be unwilling to admit it thanks to the final result, but the early stages of their Sunday night return were rather boring, packed with three-and-outs and appearances of Bojorquez. To put things in perspective…Bojorquez was invited on the field four times in the first half after getting only four chances over the past two games.

But Bojorquez made the most out of his opportunities and put the Bills’ defense in management situations. Two of his five kicks on the night situated the Steelers inside their own 20 to start off, and every one of Pittsburgh’s post-punt opportunities in the first half yielded no points. Elsewhere on special teams, Andre Roberts averaged 31 yards per kick return to start the Bills off on the right foot when their offense came on the field.

2nd Star: CB Taron Johnson

7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD

At the risk of hyperbole, Johnson’s big play at the end of the first half may go down as one of the most impactful plays of the new century for the Bills franchise.

With the Bills’ offense struggling to gain traction and the Steelers holding a 7-3 lead, the first half scored appeared to be ready to read in favor of the visitors going into the halftime break. But, with Pittsburgh driving with barely over a minute to go in the half and looking to extend their lead, Johnson read Roethlisberger, his eyes fixated on the champion quarterback before stepping in front of JuJu Smith-Schuster to take the intended pass away. The ensuing 51-yard dash to glory gave Buffalo the lead at 9-7 and permanently shifted momentum in the primetime thriller.

Johnson, alas, wasn’t around to enjoy the postgame celebration. He left the game in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.

1st Star: WR Stefon Diggs

10 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD

Diggs’ propensity for yards after the catch came up big on Sunday night, consistently setting Buffalo up in Pittsburgh territory through eating chunks of yardage and clock. He was targeted 14 times during the contest, earning catches on all but three of those opportunities on a night where the Steelers were able to mostly hold his fellow catchers in check (though Gabriel Davis did break free for a touchdown). One of the biggest reasons behind the extension for general manager Brandon Beane, Diggs may well end this season as the most impactful veteran acquisition in the league this year.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

DJ LeMahieu is the priority, but the New York Yankees can’t forget about their other needs

New York Yankees

Over a month through the off-season, the New York Yankees have remained extremely quiet. They’ve denied options to Brett Gardner and JA Happ, tendered Gary Sanchez, and brought back Nestor Cortes Jr., all of which were not surprising.

The Yankees haven’t made a signing early on in the free-agency period, but have been in negotiations with DJ LeMahieu.  LeMahieu is asking for five years and $100 million, while the Yankees are more interested in four years and $75 million (per NJ Advance Media).

Signing LeMahieu is the Yankees obvious priority. The two sides are currently a ways apart, meaning it’ll take some time and effort until an agreement happens.

That being said, the Yankees can’t forget about their other needs. In addition to retaining LeMahieu, the Yankees need starting pitching, relief pitchers, a left-handed bat, and potentially both a backup catcher and left fielder.

Pitching:

We haven’t heard much of anything about Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton, two members of the 2020 team who are free-agents. The Yankees have expressed interest in free-agent Trevor Bauer, the best available free-agent starter. Additionally, the Yankees have talked to the Pittsburgh Pirates about trading for Jameson Taillon.

In terms of relief pitchers, we haven’t heard anything. Tommy Kahnle elected free-agency after undergoing Tommy John surgery, leaving an empty spot in the bullpen. However, even before the Kahnle injury, the Yankees were still expected to pursue relievers in the off-season.

Position players:

Both Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner are both logical candidates to play left field in 2021. Frazier had a breakout 2020 season, showing he’s capable to start for the Yankees. Gardner, despite the Yankees declining his option, could still be re-signed on a cheap deal. The team has also shown interest in signing veteran Michael Brantley, a lefty who spent the past two seasons in Houston.

The Yankees will also look into Kyle Schwarber, formerly of the Chicago Cubs. The 27-year-old can play both left and right field, and can also catch if needed.

Another lefty that the Yankees are reportedly interested in is first baseman Josh Bell. Currently a Pirate, his name came up in discussions for Jameson Taillon.

As important as signing DJ LeMahieu is for the New York Yankees, the team can’t forget about their other needs. If the Yankees wait too long to fill other positions, all of the big names could be off the board, and things could backfire badly.

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s loss at Seattle

Silver linings were few and far between on Sunday in Seattle, as the New York Jets were on the wrong end of a blowout.

The first-ever Jamal Adams Bowl more or less proved the defender correct.

Just about after calling the New York Jets a team that “didn’t want to win“, Adams faced off against his green ex-compatriots for the first time on Sunday afternoon. Adams wound up making some history on his special day, as he became the NFL’s all-time single-season leader in sacks from a defensive back, passing Adrian Wilson’s eight from 2005 with a sack of Sam Darnold in the first half. It was all part of the latest Jets defeat, a 40-3 shellacking at Lumen Field.

Russell Wilson threw four touchdowns for the Seahawks (9-4) before giving way to former Jets franchise man Geno Smith in the third quarter. Elsewhere, fellow former Jet Jason Myers booted two field goals in helping former New York boss Pete Carroll, the longtime head coach in Seattle, inch closer toward another playoff berth. Yet another former wearer of green, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, had six tackles for Seattle, who continues to hold the top NFC wild card spot.

The lone scoring the Jets (0-13) could muster was a 45-yard field goal from Sergio Castillo, who missed three others. Sam Darnold threw for 132 yards while Josh Adams led the runners with 27 yards on six carries.

3rd Star: WR Braxton Berrios

3 receptions, 49 yards

The Jets’ offensive struggles took center stage once again with Denzel Mims missing and Jamison Crowder limited. Berrios did what he could to stem the bleeding, becoming the closest thing the Jets had to an offensive standout. His 49-yard output was his best showing since September.

2nd Star: DL Folorunso Fatukasi

2 TFL, 1 sack

Fatukasi has been a strong silver lining whose late breakout has been masked by the Jets’ problems as a whole. He nonetheless kept things going with a strong day of visiting the Seattle backfield, capping things off with a late sack of Geno Smith. Change is undoubtedly coming to the Jets organization in some way, shape, or form. Fatukasi is doing what he can to make sure he’s not a casualty.

1st Star: S Marcus Maye

4 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD

This season has been…well, it’s been nothing if not a chore to get through from a Jets fan’s perspective. But Maye has been doing what he can to make the season tolerable, primarily by trying to make sure the Jets have some representation in the SportsCenter Top 10.

Maye’s acrobatic interception while covering D.K. Metcalf kept the score at a manageable 7-3 deficit, if only for a short while. The offense failed to do much with it, but Maye made yet another case for a chance to extend his stay in New York as free agency looms. Maye’s turnover coming shortly after Adams dropped what could’ve been a pick-six might’ve only sweetened the deal for Jets fans looking for even the tiniest morsel.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants: 3 major takeaways from loss to Cardinals in week 14

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants put forth an embarrassing performance against the Arizona Cardinals in week 14, coming off a major win over the Seattle Seahawks.

After most believed the Giants had turned the corner and became a solid team, reality smacked us right in the face. The Giants’ offense only posted seven points against an average Arizona defense, and it is clear that Big Blue has a long way to go before they can be considered an above-average team.

Three major takeaways in the New York Giants’ loss to Arizona:

1.) Daniel Jones was not fit to play

It was clear from the beginning that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was limiting Daniel Jones and his playcalling. It seems as if he axed half the playbook to keep Jones safe in the pocket, but the offensive line allowed eight sacks on the day and Jones fumbled three times. He finished with only 127 yards, not picking up a single rushing yard.

If Jones wasn’t fully healthy to make a return, the Giants should never have put him in a position to fail. Not only was this a confidence crushing decision, but the Giants now have plenty of terrible film to look at. At the very least, Colt McCoy could’ve provided some sort of athleticism where Jones was simply trapped in the pocket with very limited mobility.

Nonetheless, Arizona dialed up a perfect game plan against the Giants, utilizing their athleticism on defense to take advantage of a young offensive front. Left tackle Andrew Thomas had a tough day, and right tackle  Cam Fleming was also beaten up on multiple occasions. Not only did the Giants lose massively in time of possession, but they turned the ball over three times.

2.) The Giants didn’t commit to the run

Last week, Wayne Gallman rushed for 135 yards, averaging 8.4 yards per carry. This week, he rushed for 57 yards and 4.8 yards per carry. That is still a solid average, and the Giants should’ve committed more to him, keeping the defense off the field and Daniel Jones from throwing the football.

Instead, Johns threw the ball 21 times, but it was a time of possession that severely limited their ability to call plays efficiently. While Arizona had 37:52 of possession, the Giants had just 22:08. Running the football is their bread and butter, and they didn’t do a good enough job relying on it, which ultimately led to turnovers and eight sacks this week and an unacceptable number that the Giants must take care of moving forward.

3.) Special Teams remains a problem

For the third consecutive game, the Giants’ special-teams unit hurt their chances at winning. Kick returner Dion Lewis fumbled in the first quarter, giving Arizona possession in the red zone, in which they tacked on three points.

The Giants didn’t earn a single punt return, even went Jabrill Peppers had room in front of him to spare, he called a fair catch. They allowed an average of 12.8 yards per return to Arizona and a long of 24. They simply haven’t done a good enough job on punts, and their kick return defense has been skeptical at best.

If this phase of the game isn’t solved soon, it will be a deciding factor for them when it comes to making the playoffs. This is a major loss for the Giants, but there was always going to be some hiccups during this four-game stretch against winning opponents.

How the Buffalo Bills can clinch a playoff spot in Week 14

The Buffalo Bills’ postseason outlook is already pretty strong, but they can officially punch their ticket with a little help this week.

Buffalo Bills fans could experience deja vu all over again in the sweetest of ways this week.

A Sunday night get-together with the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) could play a major role in securing the Bills’ spot in the 2020-21 NFL playoffs. Buffalo (9-3) clinched their spot in last year’s postseason with a win in Pittsburgh during the Peacock network’s prime time showcase. The proceedings move to Orchard Park this season under similar circumstances. Buffalo’s playoff odds already stand at 99 percent, by NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund has them situated at a 99 percent chance to make the playoffs.

How can the Bills earn a letter next to their name in the standings? ESM has the criteria…

Buffalo Win vs. Pittsburgh

Everything starts with a win against the Steelers on Sunday night. It worked perfectly last season, as they used a 17-10 victory to clinch their second playoff spot over the last three seasons. Pittsburgh (11-1) is no doubt seething after losing their dreams of a perfect season against the Washington Football Team last week.

New England Loss/Tie at LA Rams (Completed)

AFC East fans beyond Foxboro have no doubt relished the Patriots’ demise, but the Buffalo faithful particularly enjoyed their 24-3 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams. The Bills wrap up their season series with the Patriots on December 28 during the final Monday night game of the season. They’ll be seeking their first sweep of New England since 1999.

Baltimore Loss at Cleveland

The Ravens (7-5) are the one thing standing in front of the Bills clinching on Sunday, if only because they partake in the Monday night game against the Browns (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Miami Loss vs. Kansas City

A loss from the Dolphins (8-4) against the defending champion Chiefs would not only help the Bills’ regular playoff case, but also give them a chance to secure the division title next weekend. Buffalo owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a win in Week 2, though they’re due for a rematch in the regular season finale.

Las Vegas Loss vs. Indianapolis

The Jets and their questionable defensive playcalling were of no help to the Bills last weekend, as the Raiders (7-5) earned a bit of a playoff jackpot, their postseason hopes extended by another week. Buffalo owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Las Vegas from a win back in early October.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Mets’ fans are aggressively and creatively recruiting Trevor Bauer, according to the pitcher

trevor bauer, New York Yankees

The New York Mets had a very good day on Saturday. They agreed to terms with catcher James McCann, who will sign for four years and over $40 million, and they also brought respected young executive Jared Porter to be the new general manager. The offseason is just getting started for Steve Cohen, Sandy Alderson, and the organization as a whole.

However, starting pitching is still an area of need, and Trevor Bauer, the best hurler in the market, is available just for cash. He likes the New York Mets, and they like him. It is a perfect fit.

The pitcher released a Youtube video on Saturday, in which he said that the Mets’ fans have had the second-best pitch so far for his next contract to be signed in Queens.

He called the Mets’ fans “super passionate… super excited, super energized” and said the fanbase’s “consistency” and “volume” are both a “10.”

“Man, what a great time to be a Mets fan. So much excitement among the fanbase right now,” said Bauer, who once again praised Steve Cohen, his active Twitter account, and recent free agent signings.

“They’re trying to assemble a super team. They’re looking at [it as] ‘Let’s go get all these free agents,’ ’cause the fans are like ‘Oh, we have the opportunity to get all of them now.'”

Mets’ fans are creative and relentless

Fans have photoshopped Bauer in a Mets’ uniform, something he has “enjoyed.”

“They’ve been out there with the photoshops. … It’s been fun to watch. You got me in a t-shirt, they photoshop on the Mets shirt they were selling last year onto me in a different ballpark,” said Bauer.

Bauer said the fans constantly remind him that if he joins, the rotation could be an elite unit.

“They got creative pitches about ‘Hey, come pitch with Jacob deGrom. Back-to-back-to-back Cy Young Award winners in the same rotation,'” Bauer said. “They’re selling the rotation as a strength as a whole. You got deGrom, you got [Noah] Syndergaard, you got [Marcus] Stroman.”

Bauer is fresh off winning the National League Cy Young with the Cincinnati Reds, finishing the 2020 season with a 1.73 ERA. Will the Mets land him?

Knicks making ‘significant’ changes under Tom Thibodeau

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

The Detroit Pistons aren’t an easy opponent by any means, as they feature Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee, and Killian Hayes. However, the New York Knicks managed to keep them to just 84 points in the first preseason game of the season. Five Knicks had double-digit points, including Julius Randle, Obi Toppin,  Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton, and RJ Barrett.

However, it was their defense that rose to the occasion in the contest, as the Knicks failed to breach 100 points in an offensively stout league. Their suffocating defense was the talk of the night, though, as Thibodeau frequently called timeout after missed defensive assignments and preached to his players the importance of protecting the basket.

It is clear that the change from 2019 to now is significant, as the Knicks were routinely gashed defensively.

“It’s been a pretty significant change I would say,” Julius Randle said over Zoom on Saturday, when comparing his experience in 2019 to present day. “Just how we practice, how we go about it from day-to-day process of practice and game speed and all types of stuff.

“We’ve been drilling it nonstop since training camp started, just playing for each other, helping each other.”

New center Nerlenes Noel backed up Randle’s statement, confirming the intensity and different approach:

“Coach is definitely working with us to take defense to a whole other level, just making sure we have that intensity, defensive focus, let everything take care of itself on the other side.”

“We definitely have made it a focal point in our practices, to have that defensive intensity, from transition defense to talking to preaching high level-communication, and it’s going to be very contagious throughout the season to have that always as a backbone,” Noel said. “We all know you can make and miss shots from night to night. You just got to put your work in on your shots and hope for the best on that. But defense is an effort thing. We’re always going to base our game off of that.”

The New York Knicks can help themselves with their new mentality:

Defense can help in multiple ways, demoralizing your opponent and fatiguing them with physicality. This is the old Knicks way, dominating in the paint with big men and containing opponents at all costs.

That doesn’t mean the Knicks don’t need to score, though, and it will be a problem for them this season without capable shooters. They did drafted Immanuel Quickley, but he has to work his way into the roster. Expect to see a lot of bully-ball on the inside and elbow jumpers from the Knicks, who aren’t an elite three-point team.

Yankees targeting cheap Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher in potential trade

Jameson Taillon, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees are still looking for starting pitching, but their bullpen is also weak after the departure of Tommy Kahnle this off-season. Kahnle underwent Tommy John surgery last year and wants to test free agency instead of coming back on an injury contract.

If general manager Brian Cashman didn’t have any problems before, he certainly does now having to supplement multiple starters across the board. He lost three starting pitchers this off-season, a few bullpen guys, and is still trying to retain DJ LeMahieu. As the Yankees try to save money, Cashman is in a tough spot with ownership.

Nonetheless, one player they have been connected to is Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting pitcher Jameson Taillon.

Taillon was injured for the 2020 season, earning just 37.1 innings of work in 2019. He is an injury-prone option that would be cheap for the Yankees to acquire but did have a fantastic 2018 campaign, pitching in 191 innings and logging a 3.20 ERA.

Cashman loves to find these under the radar options they can fill voids with. Similar to James Paxton two years ago, Jameson represents a more cost-efficient route, as the Yankees hope they can extract value from the formally injured picture. Some would say it’s a classic Brian Cashman move, but I don’t entirely believe it will fortify the starting rotation considering his inability to remain healthy.

The New York Yankees could go a different route:

There are other options out there, like Garrett Richards, who is another injury-prone player who pitched in just 51.1 innings this past season and only 8.2 in 2019. His last full campaign was in 2015 with the Angels, where he recorded a 3.65 ERA.

The thing about pitchers is that their injuries don’t normally disappear, inflammation pops back up, and elbow problems persist. We saw this with Paxton, who missed most of the 2020 season with a forearm flexor strain. However, with the Yankees trying to save money and stay under the $210 million luxury tax threshold, don’t expect to see any flashy moves, especially after they acquired Gerrit Cole last off-season.

Management feels as though they have a World Series caliber team, even if their pitching is a bit problematic. When they look over at the Tampa Bay Rays and what they were able to accomplish with a quarter of the salary allocations, it must be a bit overwhelming to spend that much money and see fewer results.

New York Yankees News/Rumors: $25 million is holding back LeMahieu signing

New York Yankees, DJ LeMahieu

The New York Yankees, since the end of the World Series, have been trying to sign DJ LeMahieu after he rejected the only qualifying offer the Yankees dished out. It appears the sides are getting closer but are not yet there. Bob Nightengale, a highly respected journalist with USA Today, reports that DJ LeMahieu is asking for five years at $100 million, while the Yankees have offered four years at $75 million. That leaves a $25 million gap in the negotiations.

The general thought is that neither side is willing to budge from those figures. The two will likely compromise if a deal is to be made, probably at four years to satisfy the Yankees and an amount at $88 million to compromise with the Wasserman Group, LeMahieu’s agent. If the deal can be completed, it will mean that DJ will get $10million more per year and for four years. Considering the LeMahieu is a high profile player, that deal is still a bargain for the New York Yankees.

Yankee general manager has recently side on the Yankee Hot Stove on the YES Network that they are ardently trying to sign LeMahieu.

“We have good intentions when it comes to DJ LeMahieu and trying to re-sign him, and I think he has the same on his end,” Cashman said. “Free agency is very complicated and tricky. It’s a competition. The dance and the conversations will continue. We certainly hope for a positive outcome, but it’s also possible that there isn’t one, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

At this point, the only competition the Yankees seem to have in procuring LeMahieu’s services is the Toronto Blue Jays. If the Blue Jays that reportedly intend to sign DJ outbid the Yankees, the Yankees in this money short offseason could let DJ walk. If that happens, it will devastate the Yankees to have him playing with another team within the same divisions.

In an earlier article, I explained why signing DJ LeMahieu is a deal the Yankees should make as they are getting one of the best players in both leagues and at a bargain price. Here is how I explained it.

LeMahieu has had a better batting average than Manny Machado and Bryce Harper in both years of his contract. To give you an idea from a business standpoint, the Phillies paid $529K for each hit (51) Harper got during the 2020 shortened season. The New York Yankee paid LeMahieu $169K per hit during the same period, for a far greater number of hits (71).

Looking at the above cost per hit, LeMahieu is an absolute bargain for the Yankees, well worth the $24M contract. Based on those figures, if the Yankees double his salary per year and extend it to 5 years for $120M, it would still be a bargain for the Yankees. That $120M, the 5-year contract, would probably get the deal done. The hold up is that the Yankees would like a contract more in the area of three or four years at less than the $100M mark. At the end of a 5-year contract, DJ will be 37 years old. Harper, at the end of his contract, will be 39.