New York Giants hold eighth pick with one game left this season

New York Giants

Usually, you can’t make it deep into the playoff race and have a high draft pick at the same time. But the New York Giants are in a position where they might break that rule. The team is still technically in the running for the playoffs as of now. If Washington loses, the game between the Giants and Cowboys will decide the NFC East. The winner of the NFC East will make it into the playoffs despite their losing record.

But the Giants, despite being in the hunt, still have the high draft position that comes with being a losing record team. That draft position right now gives them the eighth overall pick. That draft position is low enough that they would be out of the Trevor Lawrence lottery, but high enough that they can definitely come away with an instant impact player if they draft right.

This season, the need for a real number one receiver has been pointed out many times. Will they get one in the form of Ja’Marr Chase or Devonta Smith? Maybe. Either of those players could be off the board by the time the Giants draft. Maybe they’ll draft Patrick Surtain II to play opposite of James Bradberry?

The Giants could also win on Sunday, which would push them further down in the draft order. If that win puts them into the playoffs, though, almost no one would complain about it. Whether the Giants are a one and done playoff team or not this year, getting in for the first time in years after losing the team’s best player would be a huge accomplishment to begin the Joe Judge era with.

And if they lose, their draft position is something of a consolation. All thanks to the NFC East as a whole under-performing this season and making it possible for the Giants to contend for the playoffs while having a losing record and a high draft position.

BREAKING: UFC officially books Israel Adesanya – Jan Blachowicz

UFC fans got some exciting news this evening. Dana White told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that the promotion has finalized a light heavyweight title fight between champion, Jan Blachowicz (27-8) and middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya (20-0).

The fight will headline UFC 259 that will take place on March 6th. For Israel Adesanya, he will try to become just the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold two world titles at the same time. He would join Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Henry Cejudo, and Amanda Nunes.

Stylebender is coming off of arguably his best performance of his career at UFC 253. That night, Adesanya was taking on Paulo Costa (13-1) who was expected to be his toughest challenger. However, he was completely outclassed by Israel Adesanya.

Adesanya went on to stop Costa in the second round of their title fight to retain his middleweight championship. Immediately after the fight was over, there were questions about what would be next for the UFC middleweight champion.

UFC Champion vs Champion

In the co-main event at UFC 253, a new light heavyweight champion was crowned. After a decade that just saw either Jon Jones or Daniel Cormier rule the division, there was going to be a new king.

Jones vacated the light heavyweight championship with the desire to chase the heavyweight crown. With Jones moving up, Jan Blachowicz took on Dominick Reyes (12-2) for the vacant title.

Reyes had just lost to Jones in a fight that many believed he won. Some were even calling him the uncrowned UFC champion. However, at UFC 253, the uncrowned champion ran into some serious Polish Power.

Blachowicz completely ran through Reyes on his way to securing a second round finish. Poland’s Blachowicz has completely turned his career around and now he’s on top of the light heavyweight mountain.

However, he’s going to have his hands full in his first fight. With Khabib Nurmagomedov seemingly retired, you could make the argument that Adesanya is the best pound for pound fighter in the UFC.

If he’s able to move up and capture a second world title, it would be hard to argue. Adesanya’s move up to light heavyweight also shows his seriousness in his desire to fight Jon Jones. That could be a fight the UFC aims to make in 2021 if Adesanya is able to beat Blachowicz.

New York Giants CB James Bradberry continuing to have dominant 2020 season

New York Giants, James Bradberry

The New York Giants are still, just barely, alive in the playoff race. New York has a chance to win the division with a win over Dallas this weekend, along with a Philadelphia victory. The Giants have a record of only 5-10 but have somehow stayed in the fight through the entire season.

New York did not get in the position they are in because of their offense. Rather, the Giants are in the playoff race because of their great defense. The Giants’ defense has put together some top-tier performances this season, led by elite cornerback James Bradberry.

James Bradberry stats and highlights

The New York Giants signed James Bradberry to a lucrative, three-year, $43.5 million contract this offseason. James spent the first four years of his career with the Carolina Panthers after being drafted by Dave Gettleman in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Bradberry’s connection to the Giants through Dave Gettleman was obvious. Also obvious was Bradberry’s excellent man coverage, as he spent four years shadowing the best of the best in the NFC South’s wide receivers. Now, playing for the New York Giants, Bradberry has continued to be a great man-cover corner and has elevated his game to shutdown status.

The Giants are getting elite cornerback-play out of James Bradberry. This season, Bradberry has totaled a career-high 17 passes defended, fourth-most in the NFL. Bradberry was also selected to his first Pro Bowl of his career this year.

James Bradberry has earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 79.4 overall through 16 weeks. This makes him the fifth-highest graded cornerback in the NFL this season. According to PFF’s Austin Gayle, Bradberry is one of the leaders in yards allowed per coverage snap at outside cornerback, allowing 0.76 yards (fourth-best in the NFL).

Also according to Pro Football Focus’s tracking, James Bradberry has only allowed 1 catch for 25+ yards this season. He has been a truly elite, shutdown cornerback, never giving up big plays this year. As the Giants push through one last game before either entering the playoffs or the offseason, one thing is for certain: the Giants have a lockdown CB1 to build their defense around.

Buffalo Bills to welcome 6,772 fans for Wild Card playoff game

With approval from the New York State government, the Buffalo Bills will play in front of their hometown fans for the first time this season.

As of Wednesday, Bills Mafia is back in business.

The Buffalo Bills announced that they will welcome 6,772 fans to Bills Stadium for the team’s upcoming appearance in the AFC Wild Card playoffs on January 9 or 10. It will be the first professional sporting event staged in New York State with fans in attendance since the Buffalo Sabres’ March 9 tilt against Washington at KeyBank Center.

In the wake of the ongoing health crisis, Bills Mafia, one of the NFL’s most passionate fanbases, has been forced to view the Bills’ historic season from the outside. Buffalo (12-3) currently holds the second seed on the AFC playoff bracket and won its first division title in 25 years. Now, a limited number of fans will play witness to the first playoff game at Bills Stadium since the 1996 Wild Card round.

“We know that the fans have been waiting 25 years to be able to attend a playoff game and we are so excited to be able to allow the limited amount of fans that we can,” Bills co-owner Kim Pegula said in a statement on the team website. “I want to just say that we are so hopeful that there will be many more games that all fans can attend.”

Bills fans recently showed their love and appreciation after one of the biggest wins in franchise history, greeting the team at Buffalo Niagara International Airport following their AFC East-clinching victory in Denver.

The plan to invite fans was made in conjunction with the New York State government, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo. According to Ryan Dunleavy and Bernadette Hogan of the New York Post, the invitation for fans is “the first step in a first-in-the-nation pilot program launched by New York aimed at “re-opening businesses safely” during COVID-19”. The Post has also reported that Cuomo himself plans to attend the game.

According to the Bills’ website, 6,200 tickets (the rest going to the NFL and its representatives) will be available to season ticket holders, notified on a seniority basis. Attendees will be required to undergo a rapid test for COVID-19 (at a cost of $63) and contact tracing will follow after the game. Fans are also required to wear face coverings and social distance during their time in the stadium. Cash transactions and tailgating are prohibited. Should the Bills advance to the AFC Divisional playoff round and fans are again permitted, those who attended the Wild Card game cannot make the return trip.

“We want to just encourage everyone out there, all our fans that we just need to do our part,” Kim Pegula said. “Wear your mask, being compliant to CDC guidelines, social distancing. We all know what needs to be done, we just all need to do our part to get it done so that we can have everyone back in our stadium soon.”

Buffalo will host their final home game of the season behind closed doors on Sunday afternoon against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants: Daniel Jones plans to play from the pocket

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones returned from his hamstring and ankle injuries last week to play against the Baltimore Ravens. Jones admitted to making changes to his play the past few weeks due to his injuries.

During Jones Wednesday press conference, Jones said he has not been able to take off and run like he had been able to do since the Cincinnati Bengals game when he left early due to a hamstring injury in Week 12.

“I think you can tell from the tape I can not do a lot of the same things I am used to doing,” Jones said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. Jones then continued to say that he will be playing more in the pocket until he feels 100% healthy before moving around and taking off running.

Jones has been at least getting over his injuries enough to go full participant during his Wednesday practice and is officially off the New York Giants’ weekly injury report.

Just last week, Jones was limited in all three weekly practices with both hamstring and ankle injuries. It is very nice to see him getting over injuries in preparation for one of the biggest games of his entire career thus far. I do miss Jones using his legs to extend the play and running out of the pocket and gaining extra yards, but we will have to settle with his pocket-passer version, which looked solid in the second-half loss to Baltimore in week 16.

State of the UFC’s welterweight division entering 2021

Overall, 2020 turned out to be a relatively slow year in the UFC‘s welterweight division. After Kamaru Usman (17-1) and Colby Covington (16-2) had a war to end 2019 for the title, we only saw one title fight in the division during 2020.

That title fight took place at UFC 251. Kamaru Usman defended his title against the BMF himself, Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (35-14). Masvidal had a massive 2019 that made him the top contender in the welterweight division.

However, putting the fight with Usman together proved to be difficult. The fight actually fell apart before it came back together. Negotiations broke down between the UFC and Masvidal when the two sides were trying to make the fight.

As a result, the promotion shifted gears to Gilbert Burns (19-3). Burns became a top contender after he smashed former champion Tyron Woodley (19-6-1) and knocked out Demian Maia (28-10).

Burns was all set to take the fight against Usman at UFC 251. However, Burns tested positive for COVID and the fight was scrapped. That’s how we ultimately got back to the fight between Usman and Masvidal.

UFC’s Welterweight Division in 2021

Usman would go on to use his steady wrestling attack to secure a decision win over Masvidal at UFC 251. However, Usman would be out the remainder of 2020 after getting banged up in the fight.

Tentatively, the UFC is planning on Usman and Burns facing off on February 13th for the welterweight title. The promotion also has their eyes on a grudge match in the division that promises to be big business.

The UFC is trying to book Masvidal against Covington. The two former best friends are now sworn enemies and can’t stand each other. The promotion has been trying to put the fight together, but it’s developed extremely slow.

That fight is one of the more anticipated matchups of 2021. Another fighter to watch this upcoming year is Leon Edwards (18-3). Edwards has won eight fights in a row and he was supposed to take on the star prospect, Khamzat Chimaev (9-0) on January 20th.

However, we learned yesterday that Chimaev had to pull out of the fight. The plan is still for Edwards to fight on January 20th. In addition to all of these contenders, you still have Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (16-4-1) in the mix.

Wonderboy just picked up a shutout victory over Geoff Neal at UFC Vegas 17. Thompson has turned away two straight top contenders to show everyone he’s still a factor at 170 pounds.

Kamaru Usman’s toughest stylistic matchup is his first fight of the year. After Burns, the division is filled with killers waiting for their chance. Usman is going to have his hands full trying to hold on to his UFC gold in 2021.

Mets bring Tony Tarasco as the new first base coach

New York Mets

The New York Mets just added another piece of the 2021 season puzzle. No, it’s not another player: at least not yet. It’s Tony Tarasco, who will take over as the team’s first base coach for next year.

The 50-year-old, according to SNY, will also oversee the team’s base-running and outfielders. The Mets made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

Tarasco spent the last five years with the San Diego Padres, but not as a first base coach. He was the Friars’ minor league high performance and outfield/base-running coordinator. He also has some managing experience, as he was the skipper for the Padres’ Class-A team, the Lake Elsinore Storm, in the 2019 season. He took them to the California League finals.

Tarasco has been a member of MLB teams’ coaching staffs since 2005 with the Washington Nationals. There, he was the first base coach between 2013 and 2015. The Mets are hoping he can add bring his experience.

With the Nats, Tarasco also had other positions, including minor league outfielder/base-running coordinator.

The Mets’ new analytics guy

Tarasco has a firm grasp on analytics. As MetsMerized.com suggests, having another coach on Luis Rojas’ staff that has an understanding of the analytics can only be beneficial for the Mets moving forward.

Before coaching, the new Mets’ face was a player. He participated in 457 games in MLB, with a .240/.313/.397 line, 34 home runs and 39 steals. His wRC+ was 83. He retired in a Mets’ uniform, as it was the last team he played with back in 2002.

He also played with the Atlanta Braves, Montreal Expos, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds and the New York Yankees.

Tony DeFrancesco, the former Mets’ first base coach, will now move to other endeavors but will still be in the organization. He will take a front office role, specifically as a senior advisor of player development and scouting.

Mets’ target George Springer is expected to delay his free agency ‘well into’ January and wants $150 million

To the contrary of what was reported by some unreliable sources around Christmas, George Springer isn’t close to signing a multi-year contract with the New York Mets or any other team. Free agency has been going slower than anticipated, as teams are moving with caution after a very bad year revenue-wise.

The real scenario, according to Andy Martino of SNY (citing league sources), is the following. “The Mets and Blue Jays remain seriously interested in Springer and engaged with his representatives. As you almost certainly know.

“What you might not know yet is that the Mets and Springer are still a good distance apart on value. All parties involved with Springer are bracing for the possibility that his free agency could stretch well into next month,” Martino said.

If his sources are true, we are looking at a late-January resolution for the George Springer’s sweepstakes. “The rumored deal between Springer and the Mets that popped up in several places over the holiday was five years, $125 million. In reality, Springer is expected to sign for much more than that. Two league sources said that he was still asking for well over $150 million,” he said.

Springer’s representatives at Excel Sports Management did not respond to SNY messages seeking comment.

Will the Mets stretch to $150 million?

While the Mets certainly have the financial power to approach the $150 million threshold for a talent like Springer, there is still a rather sizable gap between the two parties, so a deal is not close at this stage.

At this point, Springer is believed to be a priority for the New York Mets, moreso than starting pitcher Trevor Bauer.

The former Houston Astros’ center fielder is a career .270/.361/.491 with a 134 wRC+ and solid defense in the outfield (69th percentile in Outs Above Average, 62nd percentile in Outfield Jump.)

State of the UFC’s lightweight division entering 2021

As we close out 2020, the UFC‘s lightweight division is in limbo. The reason is that the undisputed champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0), said after his last fight that he was walking away from competition.

Khabib choked out Justin Gaethje (22-3) at UFC 254 to successfully defend his title. While in most cases the UFC would just move on and book a title fight for the vacant title, Dana White has said that he’s going to try to convince Khabib to compete again. 

Originally, Khabib wanted to retire at 30-0. However, after his father passed away this year, the UFC lightweight champion promised his mother that his fight against Justin Gaethje would be his last fight.

As of now, we still don’t know what’s going to happen. Nurmagomedov came out this week and said he believed that his title could be up for grabs at UFC 257. The main event of that card features the rematch between Conor McGregor (22-4) and Dustin Poirier (26-6, 1 NC).

State of the UFC’s lightweight division

If we do get confirmation that Khabib is no longer going to fight, it would make sense that McGregor and Poirier fight for the UFC title. The promotion wanted McGregor to fight for the title in 2020. Poirier is the former interim champion and deserves another shot.

It’s a fluid situation, but I think there’s a good chance we see some form of UFC title fight happen at 257. Although not officially announced, the co-main event that night is also a big fight for the lightweight division.

The UFC‘s prized signing of 2020, Michael Chandler (21-5), is expected to make his promotional debut. We found out last week that it appears he will be taking on Dan Hooker (20-9) in the co-headliner.

Again, that’s not confirmed. Whoever wins that matchup will be right at the top of the division alongside Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira (30-8, 1 NC). Oliveira announced his status as a top contender at UFC 256.

A few weeks ago, Oliveira completely dominated Tony Ferguson (25-5). The fight was incredibly one-sided and Oliveira should be in the conversations for a title eliminator after that performance.

2020 was a rough year for Ferguson who lost in dominant fashions to both Oliveira and Justin Gaethje. Ferguson was the boogey man of the lightweight division for so many years. However, he took a major step back in 2020.

There’s a reason why the lightweight division has been the best in the UFC for some time. It’s a murderers row of contenders and with Khabib stepping away, the division is up for grabs. Should be a very fun 2021 in that division.

Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs wins AFC Offensive Player of the Week

After a dominant performance in New England, Diggs becomes the first Buffalo Bills catcher to earn POTW honors since Andre Reed.

The 2020 Buffalo Bills have erased yet another dubious streak in this game-changing season.

No Bills receiver had won the AFC Offensive Player of the Week since Andre Reed torched the Green Bay Packers for 191 yards in a November 1994 tilt. Stefon Diggs has ended the drought, earning the honors with a 145-yard performance that yielded three touchdowns on Monday night in New England. Diggs’ performance was a major catalyst in the Bills’ 38-9 victory over New England and clinched their first sweep of the Patriots since 1999.

Situated against New England’s shutdown corner J.C. Jackson, Diggs helped the Bills build an early lead that they would never relinquish. He and Jackson exchanged words all night, but even the defender had kind words for Diggs after their battle.

“He’s a playmaker, he comes back to the ball better than any receiver in the league,” Jackson said, per Nick Shook of NFL.com. “He’s got great hands. You’ve got to almost be perfect when you’re guarding somebody like that. You’ve got to almost have perfect coverage in man-to-man.”

The acquisition of Diggs will likely go down as one of the most important decisions of general manager Brandon Beane’s tenure. Some felt that Beane sent over far too many draft picks (four) in the deal that made Diggs a Bill, which included a first-round choice that became Justin Jefferson. However, Diggs has proven to be well worth the endeavor, currently leading the NFL with 1,459 yards on 120 receptions, which both stand as Buffalo records. The Bills (12-3) have also earned their best win total since 1993 and their first AFC East title since 1995.

Diggs joins his quarterback, Josh Allen, as AFC offensive honorees throughout the course of the 2020 season. Allen has won four this season and six total in his career, trailing only Jim Kelly (10) for most won in a Bills uniform.

Elsewhere in the conference’s weekly honors, Mike Hilton earned the top defensive honors for his role in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ vital victory over Indianapolis, while Diggs’ fellow AFC East competitor Jason Sanders earned the special teams title in Miami.

The Bills will end their regular season on Sunday afternoon against the aforementioned Miami Dolphins in Orchard Park (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags