New York Giants: 3 big takeaways from the loss to Cleveland

New York Giants, Cleveland Browns

The New York Giants fell to the Cleveland Browns 20-6 on Sunday evening, after being flexed to a primetime game from the 1 PM slot.

Unfortunately, the Giants were without starting quarterback Daniel Jones and star corner James Bradberry. This severely limited their abilities on offense, and the secondary was incapable of keeping up with Baker Mayfield.

With this loss, the Giants still remain in second place in the NFC East, thanks to Washington being defeated by the Seattle Seahawks. However, Big Blue will prepare for a contest against the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday, an equally competitive team compared to the Browns. Barring an unlikely win, the Giants will desperately need Washington to lose the rest of their games and things to come down to a week 17 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.

Three takeaways in the New York Giants’ loss to Cleveland:

1.) The Giants live and die by the pass-rush

The Giants were shredded by quarterback Baker Mayfield, who threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked just once, indicating a poor pass rush by the Giants. On defense, they live and die by their interior defenders, who simply weren’t able to overcome a solid Brown’s offensive line.

The outside linebackers group for the Giants was simply shredded by injuries and unable to provide much support. This is a unit that will need bolstering next off-season.

2.) James Bradberry is the glue

The secondary was simply stretched and picked apart by Mayfield, who completed 27 passes on 32 attempts. He was phenomenal, but that was primarily due to the absence of James Bradberry, one of the best corners in the NFL this year. The Giants utilized safety Julian Love and number two corner Isaac Yiadom to hold down the opposing receivers, but the Browns took advantage of zone coverage routinely against the Giants.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham tried his best, but Cleveland had control the entire game, as Mayfield averaged 9.3 yards per completion and finished with a 126.2 quarterback rating.

3.) The offense is a complete mess

If you’ve watched the offense this year, you can make one conclusion, they are terrible. This is the second consecutive game the Giants have only posted a single digit on the scoreboard, finishing with a combined 13 points in that timeframe.

It is clear that the offense desperately needs support, whether it be a top wide receiver or a new play-caller, to spark things. Of course, they will gain back star running back Saquon Barkley in 2021, but their inability to put points on the bird translates to inadequacy.

They simply aren’t good enough to be a playoff contender, and the Giants need to understand, and if they don’t allocate ample resources toward the unit, they are going to be in big trouble again next year.

Whether it means gauging alternative quarterback options or signing/drafting a top pass-catcher, one could argue sweeping changes are needed to revitalize the offense.

TJ Dillashaw issues a response to UFC callouts

Last night at UFC Vegas 17, there were a couple of key matchups in the bantamweight division. Rob Font defeated Marlon Moraes and Jose Aldo defeated Chito Vera. Both are big wins for those two in the UFC’s bantamweight division.

After the fight was over, both men had something in common during their post-fight interviews. Both Rob Font and Jose Aldo called out former UFC bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw, after they won their fights.

In all honesty, both of those matchups would make perfect sense for Dillashaw’s UFC return. Dillashaw’s suspension ends next month and he said he’s looking to fight in March. However, he wanted a title shot upon his return to the division.

Given the current timelines, it’s highly unlikely Dillashaw will get that title shot. That being said, the UFC will likely try to give Dillashaw a high profile fight like Jose Aldo when he returns to the division. Dillashaw issues a response to the callouts last night on Twitter. 

After Aldo called for the fight, Dillashaw said, “I heard everyone is calling me out, cause they all know that’s my belt.” It’s worth noting that Dillashaw never lost the UFC bantamweight title. He relinquished the belt after he tested positive for EPO.

Dillashaw’s UFC Return

The last time we saw Dillashaw in the UFC was when he was finished by Henry Cejudo at flyweight in the first minute of their fight. After the fight, Dillashaw popped for EPO and was suspended for two years.

He never lost his UFC title at 135 pounds which is why he was campaigning for an immediate title shot. However, I think the UFC is going to go with the Dominick Cruz route with Dillashaw.

After Cruz was out for a few years with an injury, the promotion gave him top contender, Takeya Mizugaki. This fight was a way for Cruz to get his feet wet in the octagon. He looked incredible in that return bout.

Dillashaw is not going to get an immediate title shot. However, I think the UFC should really attempt to book him against Jose Aldo. Aldo proved last night he’s still one of the best in the world and he’s got a big name.

A matchup between the two former UFC champions makes all the sense in the world. If Dillashaw comes out and dominates Jose Aldo, he will be right back into a title shot trying to get the belt back that he never lost in the cage.

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s win at Los Angeles

The New York Jets pulled off the unthinkable on Sunday, topping the Los Angeles Rams in a shocking road upset.

New York Jets fans received the most purgatorial Christmas gift on Sunday afternoon.

For the first time in 357 days, the Jets (1-13) were on the right side of the scoreboard, topping the Los Angeles Rams in a shocking upset out west on Sunday evening by a 23-20 final. Neville Hewitt was among the Jets’ stars with 10 tackles, while Jamison Crowder had a team-best 66 yards through the air. New York defenders had three sacks on the evening, playing a part in dealing a brutal blow to the Rams’ (9-5) chances to win the NFC West. The Jets will also avoid landing in 16-game infamy, a fate that still belongs to only the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns.

ESM looks back on the win and dispenses some game balls from a big victory…

3rd Star: RB Frank Gore

23 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD, 1 reception, 6 yards

Much has been made about the Jets continue to insist on providing Gore a retirement tour of sorts while younger backs sit behind him. But he made the most of his opportunities in Los Angeles and earned some of the biggest touches in Sunday’s victory. Gore helped set the pace with a one-yard score on the Jets’ first drive of the second half and later caught the six-yard pass just before the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter that allowed Jets fans to start celebrating…the ones that wanted to, anyway.

2nd Star: DL Quinnen Williams

4 tackles, 1 sack

Even with an elusive win, it’ll take Jets fans a lot of football therapy to fully remove the demons of 2020 from their mindset. But the season could likely go down as the year that gave rise to the justification of Quinnen Williams at the third overall slot in his draft. Williams continued his breakout on the Los Angeles stage, invading the Rams backfield numerous times and picking up his team-best seventh sack of the season. It’s unclear whether Williams will get to finish his sophomore season, as he missed the finishing touches in the locker room with a concussion. If his season is indeed over, its relative brevity shouldn’t take away the progress Williams has made and the opinions he has changed.

1st Star: RB Ty Johnson

6 receptions 39 yards, 1 TD, 3 carries 16 yards

Johnson is one of those names that have stuck behind Gore’s final days as a feature back, even as he became the first Jets rusher in 26 calendar months to reach triple-digits in yardage in a single game. But he’s making the most of his chances and more or less one of the greatest examples and cases against tanking: the former sixth-round pick from Detroit is potentially creating a longer career for himself, whether it’s in New York or elsewhere. Johnson was one of Darnold’s favorite targets during Sunday’s action, tying with Crowder and Robert Woods for a game-high six receptions. One of his first accounted for a touchdown on the Jets’ opening drive that foreshadowed the magic ahead.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: 23XI Racing could significantly boost Toyota Racing Development

When the NASCAR Cup Series travels to Daytona in February, so will a new team. Owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, 23XI Racing will provide a much needed boost to Toyota Racing Development with Bubba Wallace behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, 2020 was a tough year for Toyota Racing Development. Fielding just six full-time Cup Series cars, Toyota picked up just two victories outside of the dominant Denny Hamlin, who picked up seven. All nine Toyota victories were with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. each picking up a win.

Since NASCAR downsized to three manufacturers (Toyota/Chevrolet/Ford), Toyota has always been short on numbers. They’ve been without an alliance since 2018 (Furniture Row Racing), and it’s hurt them at times. With there being so many Chevrolet and Ford teams, it allows teams of the same manufacturer to work better with each other both on and off the track.

With the creation of 23XI Racing, it gives Joe Gibbs Racing an alliance to work with in 2021 and beyond. 23XI Racing will race JGR quality cars and motors, making Wallace’s car just as competitive as any other Gibbs car.

Being that 2021 will be the first year in existence for 23XI Racing, the team will field just one car. However, if the team has success, the company could potentially expand to multiple cars in the future.

Matt DiBenedetto, currently with Wood Brothers Racing, has an expiring contract at the end of the 2021 season. Austin Cindric  will drive for the team in 2022, putting DiBenedetto out of a ride unless Wood Brothers Racing expands to two teams. DiBenedetto has Toyota experience, and would likely fit well with 23XI Racing.

On the Xfinity Series side of things, several drivers are proving that they soon deserve a Cup Series ride. In 2020, JGR Xfinity drivers Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones combined for seven wins, while Noah Gragson of JR Motorsports picked up two himself.

It’s just a matter of time until those three drivers have Cup Series rides, and it’s not impossible that opportunities could arise for them through 23XI Racing.

Although 23XI Racing has yet to put a car on the track, the future seems encouraging for the team. They have all the assets for instant success, including a young driver with a high ceiling. If the team has the success imagined, 23XI Racing could help boost Toyota Racing Development for a long time.

 

 

Its Official: The New York Rangers will play a 56 game schedule

A New York Rangers hockey season will begin soon. On Sunday, the NHL announced it will play a 56-game season starting Jan. 13, 2021. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are slated to begin May 8 and last into July.

The league and NHLPA have come to an agreement on key dates and framework for the 2021 season, including scheduling, temporary realignment, and COVID-19 protocols, among the scheduling highlights is that teams will only play other clubs in their division during the regular season.

According to the NHL’s press release, the Stanley Cup Playoffs would feature 16 teams in the traditional best-of-seven, four-round format and conclude around mid-July with the plan of returning to a “normal” hockey calendar for the 2021-22 season (regular season beginning in October). The NHL and NHLPA will release the Health and Safety Protocols, transition rules, and critical dates calendar as well as the 2020-21 schedule in the coming days.

The press release also states that given the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHLPA and the NHL intend to be flexible and adaptable in their approach during the coming weeks to ensure compliance with directives from both local and national governmental and health authorities focusing on the health and safety of the players, other game-related personnel and the communities in which we play. The priority will continue to be focused on the health and safety of our fans and Players and Club, League, NHLPA, and arena personnel.

The NHL is going with a division realignment that includes a seven-team Canadian division, which still requires approval from local health officials for the games to be held north of the border.

North: Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto-Winnipeg-Edmonton-Calgary-Vancouver

East: Boston-Buffalo-New Jersey-NY Islanders-NY Rangers-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Washington

Central: Carolina-Chicago-Columbus-Detroit-Florida-Dallas-Nashville-Tampa Bay

West: Anaheim-Arizona-Colorado-Minnesota-Los Angeles-Las Vegas-San Jose-St. Louis

Each team in the East, Central, and West divisions will play every other team in its division eight times, while each team in the North Division will square off nine or 10 times. The top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs.

 

MLB News/Rumors: How long will the 2021 baseball season be?

If the MLBPA has any say, it will be a full 162 games for full pay. MLB reached out to the players union, asking them if they would be open to a shortened season in 2021 that might lop off at least the first month of the season. The immediate response was absolutely not. A big fat NO! MLBPA Executive director former Yankee Tony Clark reiterated what he said  at the end of the season, “the players are planning for a 162-game season and plan to show up for spring training on time.”

The beginning of the season and how long it will be has yet to be ironed out, along with many other 2020 rule changes as to whether they will be continued. Not the least is if there will be a universal DH in 2021 and if they will keep the man on second base after nine innings. At the end of this year, the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire after the 2021 season. The MLBPA is not going to seem weak, going into those negotiations. They will want to hold firm for everything they want for the 2021 season.

The CBA is the negotiated agreement that governs almost every aspect of the working relationship between management (the clubs) and labor (the players). While we’ve had a long run of labor peace in baseball — the sport has gone without a labor stoppage since 1995 — there’s reason to fear that may end with the next round of negotiations. At another time closer to the negotiation I will explain the complex issues involved.

But for now, the details of the 2021 season have to be ironed out, and for owners, it’s not starting well with the denial of playing a full season of games in 2021. In a USA Today story this week, team owners were quoted as skeptical that a full-length season could be completed.

“We’ve seen anonymous quotes attributed to club sources casting doubt on the start date and length of the season, “Bruce Meyer, the MLBPA’s senior director of collective bargaining and legal, said in a statement on Tuesday. “To be clear and ass we’ve made clear to the league, players are planning on showing up on time for spring training and for a full 162-game season as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement and the leagues previously issued schedule.”

If you recall, the length of the MLB 2020 season and how much baseball players would be paid caused long and tense negotiations before Commissioner Rob Manfred mandated the 60 game season. There is no reason to expect anything different before this upcoming season. With so much unknown about the 2021 season, don’t expect any of these issues to be decided by spring training in the headlights. There are so many unknowns from the effect the coronavirus will have on the season, if fans will be in the stands, how successful the hopeful vaccines will be, and if players will be required to take the vaccines. Much more to come on this and many other MLB subjects in the weeks to come.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.

Will the New York Yankees pursue a Luis Castillo trade?

New York Yankees, Luis Castillo

There is no secret that the New York Yankees have struggled with starting pitching over the last few years. They have made moves over the past few years to attempt to address it, but nothing ever led to a World Series.

The Yankees signed the best pitcher in baseball last year in Gerrit Cole. However, the rotation behind Cole completely fell apart. James Paxton was acquired the year before but couldn’t stay healthy in 2020 to help the Yankees.

Luis Severino was out for the year due to Tommy John and Domingo German was suspended. Masahiro Tanaka and JA Happ were inconsistent as well as the young pitchers like Jordan Montgomery and Deivi Garcia.

Simply put, the Yankees had no consistency behind Gerrit Cole. If they want to win a World Series, they need to have a bonafide number two starter that sits behind their ace. Right now, they don’t have that.

When at his best, Luis Severino could be that guy. However, the Yankees don’t know what to expect from Severino as he attempts to come back in 2021. The Yankees are currently examining the market looking for pitching reinforcements.

It’s widely known that the bombers are not going to spend to sign a guy like Trevor Bauer. Bauer played for the Reds last year and won the Cy Young. However, there is a pitcher who pitched for the Reds that the Yankees should pursue.

The Yankees and the Reds to make another deal?

No, the Yankees shouldn’t go after Sonny Gray who’s reportedly available. That’s a been there, done that type of situation. Instead, the Yankees should definitely pursue the young All-Star, Luis Castillo.

Supposedly, the Reds are listening to offers for the young pitcher. Dan Federico was first to report this and it was later confirmed by Jon Heyman. The Yankees should be all over this potential trade.

Luis Castillo would be the perfect option to backup Gerrit Cole in the Yankees rotation. Castillo was 4-6 with a 3.21 ERA last year on the heels of an All-Star season that saw him go 15-8 with a 3.40 ERA.

Acquiring someone like Castillo would cost the Yankees a lot. In terms of prospects, this would be a much steeper price than getting a guy like Francisco Lindor considering Lindor’s pending free agency.

Castillo wouldn’t hit the free agent market until after the 2023 season. If the Yankees could pull off a deal for Castillo, that would instantly make them much better. Imagine a rotation with Cole, Castillo, and a healthy Severino.

There is no word on if the Yankees are pursuing Castillo. However, I would expect them to take a hard look if the Reds are serious about dealing him. This is a situation to watch.

UFC books Raphael Assuncao – Raoni Barcelos

This weekend, the UFC finalized a big time bantamweight matchup for February 27th. Sherdog was first to report that the ninth ranked bantamweight contender, Raphael Assuncao (27-8), and rising contender, Raoni Barcelos (16-1).

We haven’t seen Assuncao since UFC 250 when he welcomed Cody Garbrandt back. That night, Assuncao was having some success, but he ended up being the victim of a highlight reel knockout at the end of the second round.

That was the third straight loss in the UFC for Assuncao. Assuncao is in a very weird spot in his career. He’s always been that contender in the UFC’s bantamweight division that’s gotten one fight away from a title shot.

He’s done it multiple times. However, when he’s arrived at the title eliminator, he’s come up short. In 2016, he fell to TJ Dillashaw after having won seven fights in a row. In 2019 he lost to Marlon Moraes after winning four in a row including wins over Aljamain Sterling, Rob Font, and Moraes.

The 38 year old veteran might be on the UFC chopping block in this next one. If he drops his fourth straight, there is no guarantees with his roster spot. He definitely hasn’t looked like the same Raphael Assuncao as of late.

UFC Bantamweight’s Rising Contender

Standing across from Assuncao on February 27th will be Raoni Barcelos. Barcelos is one of the more hyped prospects in the UFC’s bantamweight division. I’m calling him a prospect despite the fact that he’s 33 years old.

Barcelos made his UFC debut back in 2018 and he’s gone 5-0 since joining the promotion. He finished his first three opponents and he’s looked sensational in his last two fights. While winning decisions over Said Nurmagomedov and Khalid Taha, Barcelos put on a show.

He possesses a very well-rounded game and he’s showing that he can be a force in the division. If he’s able to pickup the win on February 27th, he will likely vault straight into the UFC’s top ten at bantamweight.

Yankees News/ Rumors: Mike Tauchman could be trade piece, Brett Gardner return?

Mike Tauchman, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees have value across-the-board on their roster. Even their depth represents players that other clubs seek. However, the Bombers are still trying to supplement the loss of several starters from 2020, notably in the pitching rotation. The outfield also continues to be a minor question as Giancarlo Stanton is unable to play defense anymore, and the Yankees just recently committed to Clint Frazier, who locked up a starting spot this past campaign.

One player that continues to draw a ton of interest, though, is reserve option Mike Tauchman.

“I get a lot of calls on him to be honest,” Cashman said this week in a media Zoom call. “I feel like Tauchman gets as many on our club.”

Tauchman is a valuable player at 30 years old. His ability to play multiple outfield spots and represent a lefty hitter makes him a unique player. Mike is arbitration-eligible in 2022 and will be a free agent in 2025, so the Yankees have plenty of control over him. It is possible they could view him as a trade piece since Frazier has locked down the outfield spot, and other teams could utilize him as a potential starter.

“People see the value in the player being left-handed and playing left, center and right,” Cashman said.

This past season, Tauchman battled with Frazier for starting reps, but the former Colorado Rockie was unable to lock the position down. He finished the season with a .242 batting average, 14 RBIs, and a 23.4% strikeout rate. Mike historically has a tough strikeout percentage but walked a solid amount at 12.6% this season.

“People might forget (Tauchman and Frazier) were in competition with each other,” Cashman said. “One right-handed, one left handed. Tauchman fits us better in theory, the left-handed bat because we’re so right handed.”

Considering Tauchman actually fits the bill better for the Yankees, it is likely they retain him as a reserve option, especially with the injuries they’ve faced in the outfield recently. He provides immediate value and has the ability to play at a starting level.
Nonetheless, he struggled in 2020 offensively but was extremely efficient in 2019, posting a .277 average with 13 homers and 47 RBIs over 87 games.

“He struggled, he tried to fight through, and it got worse. Then the opportunities kind of dried up throughout the process. So he couldn’t get consistent at-bats to help get offline, and then the season was over. And now the back of his baseball card looks the way it does, but he’s certainly better player than that. I think we recognize that. I think the industry recognizes that.”

Will the New York Yankees bring back Brett Gardner?

Gardner is a player who represents the epitome of reliability. He’s always available to start at multiple outfield spots, and considering he has a lefty bat as well, the Yankees could always use their esteemed veteran.

However, Gardner could be looking for a pricey contract, and the Yankees only want to offer him a one-year, cost-efficient deal. Brett was set to earn an extension of one year for $10 million, but the Yankees rejected the club option.

Comments by general manager Brian Cashman and Grady’s agent seem to indicate that both sides want to come to a deal. Cashman stated on ESPN radio that he would love to partner back with Brett, but ultimately it comes down to price. Not only is he great in the clubhouse, but he is everything the Yankee strive to represent, and his agent had no mentions of retirement.

If they can agree on a one-year deal worth about $5 million, we should expect to see Gardner back in pinstripes for the 2021 season.

New York Giants: Score prediction, strengths, weaknesses

New York Giants, Colt McCoy, Wayne Gallman

The New York Giants have a difficult matchup against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night, and they will be without starting quarterback Daniel Jones and star defender James Bradberry. Without their best offensive weapons and top secondary player, the Giants are going to have to find ways to supplement significant losses.

The Giants have struggled all year to move the ball on offense, and now they have back up Col McCoy starting his second game of the year, despite winning his first against the Seattle Seahawks. The game plan for the Giants should be simple, run the ball effectively and consume as much time off the clock as humanly possible. The more time Cleveland has with the ball, the better chance they’re going to score at will.

Even Patrick Graham will be unable to scheme a low-scoring game for the Giants in this one, as the Browns average 26.8 points per game, and they’re coming off a contest where they scored 42 against the Baltimore Ravens last week.

The Giants’ offense averages a measly 18.3 points per game, and that is with a predominantly healthy Daniel Jones. That should tell you everything you need to know about how effective this unit is, but with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett contracting Covid this past week, TE coach Freddie Kitchens will get the nod to call plays.

How will the New York Giants’ offense look?

We should expect a different sequence of play-calls — more quick throws and easy first reads for McCoy. Kitchens loves to use running back’s as receivers and shorten the length of the field. I don’t expect to see any excessive deep ball throwing from the Giants, who have mainly targeted single coverage occasionally on offense and failed to take creative deep shots through the first 15 weeks of the season.

Defensively, the Giants are going to have to play without Bradberry, which will significantly limit their abilities in the secondary. It’s expected that former CB Julian Love will play on the outside, but luckily the Browns have their strongest pass catcher in the slot.

However, Darnay Holmes is expected to miss the contest with a knee injury, so Jarvis Landry in the slot will be a big target for Baker Mayfield. The defense simply doesn’t have all their pieces healthy, which could end up being the deciding factor.

The only way the Giants realistically have a chance if they run the ball extremely well against Cleveland, consuming time and winning the turnover battle. If they can keep the score low, you can keep yourself in the game theoretically, so that should be the entire game plan for the Giants.

Score Prediction: 27-12 Cleveland