New York Jets: Four WR’s sidelined for contact tracing for Week 16 opponent

The Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets opponent for Week 16, have placed four wide-receivers and a linebacker on the Reserve/COVID-19. Included are Jarvis Landry and Donovan Peoples-Jones, two of the Browns top wideouts. Additionally, wide-receivers Rashard Higgins and KhaDarel Hodge, as well as linebacker Jacob Phillips will not travel with the team.

As of now, Sunday’s 1pm contest in East Rutherford, New Jersey remains on as planned. The Browns were expected to leave Cleveland for New Jersey at 7pm ET on Saturday.

With a win, the Browns can clinch a playoff spot with either a Colts, Dolphins, or Ravens loss. A Jets win would take New York out of the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

 

New York Giants need a Pro Bowl level performance from Evan Engram in Week 16

New York Giants, Giants, Evan Engram

The New York Giants will be playing a crucial, playoff-like matchup in Sunday’s Week 16 matchup. New York needs to win this game to stay alive in the playoff race. The Giants will travel to Baltimore to play the 9-5 Ravens who are coming off of a dominant Week 15 performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Giants on the other hand are coming off of a disappointing loss to the Cleveland Browns. New York scored a total of six points in their Week 15 loss, failing to reach the end zone even once in that game. With Daniel Jones out of the lineup, New York failed to put together any big, scoring plays.

This week, Daniel Jones will return as the Giants’ starting quarterback. New York needs a big game on offense to match Baltimore’s explosive offensive attack. The Giants will need to rely on their offensive playmakers to keep them in this game and give them an opportunity to win. Evan Engram is the Giants’ best playmaker on offense, being selected to the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl, and he needs to have a huge performance to keep New York’s offense afloat against the Baltimore Ravens.

Evan Engram vs the Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens have been slightly above average against tight ends this season. They have only conceded 5 touchdowns to the position this year but have allowed tight ends to gain an average of 51.6 yards per game. Evan Engram is averaging a career-low of 40.9 yards per game this season, so this could be an opportunity for him to have a big performance.

Last week against the Browns, Evan Engram had a decent performance. He was targeted 7 times and hauled in 4 receptions for a respectable 46 receiving yards. This was a solid bounce-back performance for Engram who totaled 40 receiving yards in Week 13 and Week 14 combined.

This week, it was announced that Evan Engram had been selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. Many Giants fans were confused as Engram is a polarizing player whose inconsistency frustrates fans. Having a clutch, Pro Bowl-level performance against the Ravens is a  good way for Engram to prove these disgruntled fans wrong.

New York Liberty G Layshia Clarendon, wife Jessica welcome first child

Clarendon, set to enter their second year with the New York Liberty, welcomed “the best Christmas present ever”.

New York Liberty veteran Layshia Clarendon announced this week that she and her wife Jessica (nee Dolan) welcomed their first child on Christmas Day.

“You were a hope, a dream, a conversation, and a long 41 week [sic] wait and now you are here. How could Christmas get any sweeter than this?” Clarendon said in their Instagram post commemorating the arrival. “2020 was a year full of grief, fear, and deep wounds. The journey to this moment has been a salve for our souls every step of the way. ⁣Don’t hesitate to embrace and celebrate your joy. We all deserve it, in times like these, and always. #BabyC #CallMeBigPoppa.”

Clarendon, 29, has been married to Dolan, a senior manager at the Wasserman agency and fellow Cal-Berkeley alumna, since 2017. The 2017 WNBA All-Star has been one of the more active voices in the WNBA’s social justice endeavors. She joined the Liberty last season on a two-year deal, serving as one of the few veterans and the most experienced representative on a New York squad stacked with rookies. In addition to their on-court duties, Clarendon also serves on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council, which also includes Liberty CEO Keia Clarke.

Over eight WNBA seasons, Clarendon has averaged 7.3 points and 3.0 assists in a career that has also visited Indiana, Atlanta, and Connecticut. She put up a career-best 11.5 points per game in last season’s bubble-based endeavor in Bradenton, with her season-best tally of 20 coming in the Liberty’s opener against Seattle in July.

While the plans for the 2021 WNBA season have not been revealed, the Liberty will choose first in the upcoming draft this spring. It will mark the second consecutive season in which they will choose first.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills celebrate Christmas with gifts, style, and song

The Christmas holiday only added to the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills’ ongoing festivities in Orchard Park.

With apologies to Lexus, the Buffalo Bills have been the true providers of a “December to Remember” in 2020.

With the Christmas season in full swing, the Bills are enjoying one of the most successful and publicized campaigns in team history. Buffalo (11-3) has won four in a row, including each of their three December contests. That trio has each been televised to a national audience, and that trend will continue on Monday when the Bills battle the New England Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN). They can clinch the second overall seed in the AFC playoff bracket with a win over the Patriots and a Pittsburgh loss to Indianapolis on Sunday.

In the midst of their preparation, the Bills did take some time to acknowledge the holiday as they prepare to head to Foxboro. For example, it began to look at lot like Christmas at the team facility this week, appropriately on December 24. Quarterback Josh Allen bore a green sweatshirt under his practice jersey, bearing the insignia “Felic Navidad” and an animated image of namesake and starting offensive lineman Jon Feliciano dressed as Santa Claus. Receiver Stefon Diggs likewise appeared to be clad in such a hoodie. A certain Buffalo defender gave a whole new meaning to “White Christmas”, as cornerback Tre’Davious White wore gold cleats adorned with wreaths, holly, and lights.

The Bills also made time for gift-giving during the week. Fortunately for the fans, these Christmas surprises came not through Sunday turnovers, as they kept the exchange to off-the-field…heck, maybe even off-the-road…endeavors.

Buffalo receivers had a special surprise for receivers coach Chad Hall, coming together to purchase the former Air Force second lieutenant with a new Ford F-150 pickup truck. Hall’s emotional reaction was captured in a video since deleted from Isaiah McKenzie’s Instagram page but preserved by The Bills Wire’s Bradley Gelber.

As a team, the Bills commemorated the holiday by having their players sing the seasonal carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. The video’s introduction features general manager Brandon Beane channeling Randy Quaid’s character from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, clad in a bathrobe and Bills winter hat. Beane also jokingly laments that he and the front office were unable to find better singers for the holiday season.

Buffalo will conclude their regular season in Orchard Park next weekend against Miami.

 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Week 16 opponent arrival delayed by contact tracing

New York Giants, Cleveland Browns

The contending Cleveland Browns are set to take on the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon for the latter’s 2020 home finale.

The Cleveland Browns have announced that a player has tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing is being conducted, delaying the team’s departure for New Jersey, where they’re set to battle the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon.

Cleveland has closed its team facility in Berea and is continuing its preparation for the Jets virtually. The Browns (10-4) will be making their second straight visit to MetLife Stadium, previously topping the New York Giants in a flexed Sunday night showdown.

“Earlier today, the Cleveland Browns were informed that a player’s test results have come back positive for COVID-19,” the Browns declared in a team statement. “Our facility is closed and our flight to New Jersey has been delayed while contact tracing is being conducted. The team is holding meetings remotely as we continue to consult with the NFL and medical experts on the appropriate next steps as the health and safety of our players, coaches, staff and the entire community remains our highest priority.”

The Browns have dealt with their share of COVID-related issues. Offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr. and practice squad receiver Ryan Switzer were each placed on the reserve list due to close contact with a positive individual outside the organization. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com has said that Wills, the 10th overall pick of April’s draft, has not tested positive and has been expected to be activated prior to Sunday’s game.

Additionally, star defender Myles Garrett has felt the virus’ lingering aftereffects after testing positive earlier this season. According to ClevelandBrowns.com, Garrett said that he continues to suffer from shortness of breath, remarking “deep big breaths are tough right now” last weekend’s win.

As of yet, there are no changes to the Week 16 schedule. The Browns are likely playoff-bound and destined to partake in the opening weekend of the playoffs on the weekend of January 9-10. Their regular season finale against Pittsburgh could potentially be flexed into the Sunday night spot on January 3, especially if the AFC North division title is on the line.

[UPDATE: 7:00 p.m. ET]: The Browns announced that they had placed four receivers (Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and KhaDarel Hodge) and two linebackers (B.J. Goodson, Jacob Phillips) on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. In their place, they have elevated receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley and Derrick Willies from their practice squad, as well as linebacker Montrel Meander.

The transaction has not been well-received by Landry.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Yankees History: On this day after Christmas one of the Happiest/Sad days of the last decade (video)

New York Yankees, Yankees, Derek Jeter

No New York Yankee player has had a much more impact on the Yankees’ success in the past two decades than Derek Jeter. In an important moment, he always seemed to rise to the occasion, even when it didn’t seem likely. On the last day of his career at Yankee Stadium, it seemed that the game was choreographed for Jeter even though they would not go on to a postseason appearance in 2014. He retired with 3,464 hits and 260 home runs, and a career .816 OPS.

Not only was Derek Jeter a great hitter, but he was also an excellent defender as one of the best shortstops in baseball. But one of the strangest talents that Jeter had was the ability to accomplish a particular feat and do it unexpectedly. On the evening of Oct. 13, 2001, the seventh inning of the third game of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and Athletics, and Jeter was in the right place at the right time. With Oakland’s Jason Giambi on third base. With Mike Mussina on the mound, Torrence Long hit one down the right-field line, Spencer fielded the ball but overthrew both cut off men. Jeter mysteriously appeared past the first baseline getting the ball and flipping it to Posada, who tagged out Giambi. This is an astonishing play that he has never been seen then or since.

One of Derek Jeter’s most stressful times was the games leading up to his 3,000th hit, a record seldom seen in baseball.  In all of baseball history, only 27 players had had 3,000 hits. Jeter entered his 2011 season struggling and not used to bad press, but after a two-hit game in Cleveland lifted his average to .257, Jeter — a .314 career hitter before this season — acknowledged that the scrutiny of his struggles had taken some fun from the chase for 3,000.

“It’s kind of hard to enjoy it when there’s a lot of negativity that’s out there,” Jeter said. “Hopefully, I might be able to enjoy it the next few days.”

Nevertheless, the hit watch was on among the New York Yankee faithful. Jeter was known for having his Mom and Dad in the stands for important moments in Jeter’s career. This was no different in the days leading up to his 3,000 hit moment.  On July 9, 2011, he entered the game at Yankee Stadium just two hits short of the remarkable accomplishment. Jeter would get a hit in the game, drawing him even closer. Again referring to Jeter over accomplishing, in his second at-bat, he would launch a David Price breaking ball over the left-field fence for his 3,000th hit, a homer no one expected. With a sold-out Stadium, he would hit five for five and hit the winning hit in the game.

With so many important moments in the future Hall of Famer’s career, it wasn’t easy to pick on a particular moment of accomplishment. But today, I have picked one of the most successful moments of his career. With his career all but over, the Yankee star played his last game at Yankee Stadium. It was one of the happiest days for Yankee fans as they celebrated his career, but at the same time is was sad for the fans to know they would never see their favorite shortstop play again.

But even with the celebration, there was a game to be played that day against the division winning Baltimore Orioles on that afternoon in 2014. There was nothing on the line, but somehow the game took on special meaning for Yankee fans. The stands were full for that last Yankee game. Like in many games, his family was in the stands. As the game progressed to a tie in the ninth inning, fans didn’t know if Jeter would be taken out of the game to give him his moment in the bottom of the ninth. But the decision was made to have Jeter hit instead. He took to the plate and hit a game-winning walk-off a line drive to end his career as if it was choreographed.

That late afternoon saw a celebration of Derek Jeter that would last long after the game was over without a single fan leaving the ballpark. The celebration will be one that will be long-remembered by New York Yankee fans. Below will remind you of that game. Thank you, Derek Jeter, for an amazing career that will lead to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

As roster cuts loom, who could be let go from the UFC?

After Yoel Romero was released, UFC President Dana White stated that the promotion was likely going to cut 60 plus fighters before the end of the year. He said we’d likely see some big names exit the UFC.

Since the Romero release, we haven’t seen a ton of high profile names get released from the UFC. We saw Rachael Ostovich be let go, however, that really isn’t that much of a surprise considering she’s lost a lot in her tenure.

One of the fighters that I’ve speculated about is Tyron Woodley. The former UFC welterweight champion has been completely dominated in three straight fights. Factoring that in with his age and he’s a prime release candidate.

Woodley doesn’t have the looks of someone who can be UFC champion again. Combining that also with the fact that he’s been a headache for Dana White and again, you have more reasons as to why he could get released.

Of course, there has been no official talk of this, but I’m just thinking of logical candidates. There are several other high profile fighters who could be released by the UFC. Let’s take a look at a few options.

Three big names the UFC could release

Shogun Rua

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (27-12-1) could be one of the fighters that will be on the UFC chopping block. The former light heavyweight champion just turned 39 years old and really doesn’t have the looks of a top contender anymore.

Shogun was just stopped by Paul Craig at UFC 255. It was a really poor performance from Shogun and he ultimately tapped to strikes in the second round of the fight. Shogun has had a great run, but it’s clear that he’s nearing the end.

After the fight was over, Shogun said that he would think about retiring from the sport altogether. However, if he doesn’t want to retire, he might finish off his career with another promotion. If he wants to continue, he could be a fighter released by the UFC.

Mike Perry

There might not be a fighter who is more of PR nightmare for the UFC than Mike Perry (14-7). Outside of actually competing in the cage, Perry’s 2020 has consisted of domestic violence allegations, punching an old man in a bar, and getting rid of all his coaches.

His last two UFC fights, he’s been cornered by his girlfriend and another friend of his. Perry also badly missed weight for his last UFC fight. He’s incredibly fun to watch, however, he has a lot of issues. He also doesn’t appear to be taking his fighting career seriously.

I personally don’t think the UFC is going to cut Perry at the moment. Dana White seems to be a fan of watching him inside the cage. However, it’s very clear that Perry is on thin ice right now and I wouldn’t be shocked if things turned around and he was cut by the promotion.

Junior Dos Santos

Out of all the potential UFC roster cuts, this is the one I don’t want to see. However, it’s one that could happen. Former heavyweight champion, Junior Dos Santos (21-9) could find himself on the chopping block.

JDS is looking at a four-fight losing streak where he’s been finished in all four fights. There are moments in those fights where you can see glimpses of the former UFC champion. However, all four have reminded us that he’s no longer the same fighter.

I’m a massive fan of JDS as a person and a fighter. However, the reality is that he’s no longer a serious contender in the UFC’s heavyweight division. He appears focused on continuing to fight, but the UFC might not want him to continue with their promotion with that finish streak.

Marked Man: RJ Barrett unfazed as Knicks host Doc Rivers’ 76ers

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett

RJ Barrett will be a marked man when the New York Knicks host the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night in their home opener at a fan-less Madison Square Garden.

But with or without fans, Barrett is ready to protect homecourt in The Garden, which he called “the best place to play basketball.”

Barrett is off to a solid start, leading the Knicks with 26 points on an efficient 11-of-15 shooting in a losing effort in Indiana.

The 76ers are expected to key in on the Canadian wingman on defense. But Barrett is unfazed.

“I think basketball is basketball. It’s a great system that we’re trying to run offensively. We have the whole team. If we move the ball, play together, I feel it’s going to be tough to keying anybody on the team,” Barrett told reporters on his zoom call after morning shootaround.

Playmaker and shotmaker

With their rookies Immanuel Quickley (hip pointer) and Obi Toppin (sore right calf) doubtful to play against the 76ers, Barrett is expected to take on a larger role. His five assists against the Pacers was a great indication that he can also be a playmaker on top of being the Knicks’ best shotmaker. That will be critical as defenses will start to pay extra attention to him the way Pacers did in the second half.

Barrett only scored six points after exploding for 20 in the opening half last Wednesday.

“They started playing the pick and roll differently, but like [coach] Thibs said, ‘we gotta adjust, and we gotta learn how to deal with when they start doing that.’ And that’s just part of growing up, being in a team. Just learning what to do in those situations and still be successful,” said the 20-year old Barrett.

Improved outside shooting

After getting snubbed in the All-Rookie Teams, the 2019 third overall pick took it personally. He attacked the offseason with a chip on his shoulder.

And the initial results have been encouraging. Criticized for his inefficiency and the lack of an outside shot in his arsenal, Barrett has responded with perfect 3-for-3 shooting from deep against the Pacers.

Asked what changed, Barrett pointed to experience as the best teacher.

“[I really improved on] Just a year of having experience. Just being able to know a little about the nuances of the game,” said the 20-year old Barrett.

Knowing now what to expect on defense, Barrett is beginning to play loose and relaxed.

Newfound confidence

Theo Pinson, who watched Barrett from the borough across Manhattan when he was still with the Brooklyn Nets last season, saw that change in the Knicks’ 2019 third overall pick.

“Just confidence. That’s the biggest thing in the world. You can tell the game has slowed down for [Barrett]. He’s letting the game come to him. When you get that one year under your belt, you just feel more relaxed,” Pinson said.

But Barrett knows it’s just one game, and much like the team as a whole, he is focused on only one thing.

“I definitely still need to get better. I’m nowhere near to where I want to be,” Barrett said.

He epitomizes what these young Knicks are undertaking in Tom Thibodeau’s first year.

Grow and get better each game.

Thibodeau said they were able to play 24 minutes of good basketball in Indiana. But that won’t cut it in this league.

“[We’re] Just trying to be a 48-minute team. That’s what we’re stressing. [To play] Elite level of basketball the whole game,” Barrett said.

Thibs, Austin vs. Doc

The Knicks’ season home opener will also pit Thibodeau against his former mentor in Boston and a good friend, Doc Rivers.

During his 18-month exile from the league, Thibodeau visited and observed Rivers and his former team Los Angeles Clippers.

Doc Rivers, who once played for the Knicks, was also instrumental in pushing his son, Austin, to go to New York instead of joining him in Philadelphia.

Austin Rivers is said to be progressing towards a return from a groin injury. It’s going to be interesting if he makes his Knicks debut against his father.

Maxey’s Garden debut

The Knicks will also have a good look at Tyrese Maxey, Quickley’s teammate at Kentucky, and one of the guards they passed up in the draft.

Maxey came off the bench and produced six points, two rebounds, and two assists in more than 10 minutes in his NBA debut.

Too bad Maxey won’t face Quickley in what could be a great matchup in the battle of second units.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Giants: Daniel Jones expected to start, says report

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants were missing Daniel Jones against Cleveland, but that should change when they take on Baltimore tomorrow. Jones has been struggling with a hamstring injury and a further ankle injury for weeks now, but the team is opting to bring him back instead of shutting him down for the season with two games left. At least, that’s according to what a source told ESPN about the subject.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is expected to start Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens after missing last week’s game with ankle and hamstring injuries, a source told ESPN.

Jones last played against the Arizona Cardinals but had big troubles owing to his lack of mobility. Presumably, the Giants have learned their lesson after that time and are confident that Jones won’t suffer from the same issue in this game. Before that point, Jones had missed the Seahawks game outright – but the Giants were able to achieve victory regardless with Colt McCoy.

Reports from earlier in the week indicate the staff is more confident in Jones’ movement and recovery. However, that’s not to say that he’s returned to practicing with no limits just yet.

Going into this game, Jones is an important addition for the Giants because they technically still have a chance in the playoff race. If the Giants win out in the last two games and Washington loses one of their last two games, they’ll make it in.

But that’s a tall task considering the current state of the team, and we won’t know until Sunday if Jones will be able to play at a hundred percent strength and contribute to that outcome.

UFC rebooks Manel Kape – Alexandre Pantoja

The UFC has rebooked the flyweight debut of the former RIZIN 135 pound champion, Manel Kape (15-4). Combate was the first to report that the promotion is rebooking the matchup between Kape and Alexandre Pantoja (22-5) on February 6th.

The flyweight matchup was originally supposed to take place on the UFC Vegas 17 prelims. However, Pantoja had to pull out of the fight. As a result, the UFC shifted to having Kape serve as the UFC 256 backup for the main event.

Kape relished the opportunity saying that he would deliver a destructive performance if he got the chance to step in. Of course, there were no issues at UFC 256 so Kape’s debut would have to wait.

While it’s not the biggest mainstream move in the world, the Manel Kape signing was a big deal for the UFC‘s flyweight division. Kape is looked at as one of the very best in the world at 125 pounds.

The UFC’s flyweight division has really taken off this year. After flirting with extinction for a couple of years, the division appears to be here to stay and the UFC is investing a lot into developing the 125 pound division.

Big UFC test for Kape

While a lot of the attention will be on the UFC debut of Manel Kape, he’s not going to have an easy task on February 6th. Alexandre Pantoja will enter the octagon ranked fifth in the flyweight rankings.

One of the more powerful flyweights in the promotion, Pantoja has been in there with some of the best. Since May of 2018, the only losses that Pantoja has suffered include losses to Askar Askarov and the UFC flyweight champion, Deiveson Figueiredo.

It’s worth noting that Pantoja has two victories over top contender Brandon Moreno. Granted, one came on The Ultimate Fighter so it does not count towards Pantoja’s official record. However, you can see the level of fighter he is.

Giving Kape a fight like Pantoja shows you how serious the promotion is about him. On a lesser scale, this is similar to the UFC signing Michael Chandler. This flyweight matchup should be fireworks in early February.