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Yahoo Sports AM: Week 18

January 5th, 2024

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🚨 Headlines

🏒 NHL All-Stars: Toronto’s Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL with 30 goals, and Chicago’s Connor Bedard, who leads all rookies with 33 points, highlight the 32 players selected to play in the 2024 NHL All-Star Game next month. Fans will select the final 12 players.

🏀 NBA All-Star voting: Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum are the leading vote-getters in the NBA’s first All-Star fan voting returns.

🏈 Ravens add Cook: Four-time Pro Bowl RB Dalvin Cook signed with the Ravens on Thursday, just days after he was waived by the Jets.

🇿🇦 Pistorius released: Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic champion and first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics, has been released from prison on parole 11 years after he was convicted of killing his girlfriend.

📺 ESPN, NCAA deal: The NCAA has inked a new eight-year, $920 million agreement with ESPN to televise 40 championships per year.


🏈 NFL playoff picture: Where things stand

(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

Week 18 of the NFL season is here! Nine teams have clinched a playoff berth and 12 have been eliminated, leaving 11 teams fighting for the final five spots, Jeff writes.

  • Clinched: Ravens (AFC No. 1 seed), 49ers (NFC No. 1 seed), Dolphins, Chiefs, Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Eagles, Rams

  • In the hunt: Jaguars, Bills, Colts, Texans, Steelers, Buccaneers, Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Vikings, Falcons

  • Eliminated: Broncos, Bengals, Raiders, Jets, Titans, Chargers, Patriots, Bears, Giants, Commanders, Cardinals, Panthers

Races to watch: Four divisions are still undecided, and three wild card spots remain unclaimed.

  • AFC East: The Bills (10-6) play the Dolphins (11-5) for the division title. Buffalo has the third-best Super Bowl odds but can still miss the playoffs entirely with a loss. Miami has already clinched at least a wild card and can win its first division title in 15 years.

  • AFC South: The Jaguars, Colts and Texans are tied at 9-7, with Houston and Indy playing each other. Jacksonville clinches the division with a win over the Titans, while the Colts-Texans winner would need the Jags to lose in order to claim the division.

  • NFC East: The Cowboys (11-5) and Eagles (11-5) are both in the playoffs no matter what. Dallas clinches the division with a win over the Commanders. Philly clinches with a victory over the Giants and a Cowboys loss.

  • NFC South: The Bucs (8-8), Saints (8-8) and Falcons (7-9) are all still alive. Tampa clinches the division with a win over the Panthers, while the New Orleans-Atlanta winner would need the Bucs to lose in order to clinch the division.

  • AFC Wild Card: The Steelers (9-7) join the Jaguars, Bills, Colts and Texans in the fight for the final two wild card spots. The latter four teams can also still win their division.

  • NFC Wild Card: The Packers (8-8) can claim the final spot with a win over the Bears, while a loss opens the door for the Seahawks (8-8), Vikings (7-9), Bucs or Saints to take it. Atlanta can only make the playoffs as a division winner.

Further reading: Breaking down the MVP race and other end-of-season awards


🏒 The PWHL has arrived

Young fans at Tuesday's PWHL game in Ottawa. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)Young fans at Tuesday's PWHL game in Ottawa. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Young fans at Tuesday’s PWHL game in Ottawa. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

After years of fighting and a six month whirlwind to prepare for opening day, a unified North American women’s hockey league has finally arrived, Jeff writes.

Details: The Professional Women’s Hockey League began play on Monday, and as of Wednesday night all six teams — three each in the U.S. and Canada — have taken the ice.

  • Teams: Boston, New York, Minnesota, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa

  • Schedule: The 72-game regular season (24 games per team) runs from Jan. 1 to May 5, with the top four teams advancing to the playoffs.

  • How to watch: Games will broadcast in Canada on a mix of TSN, CBC and Sportsnet, while Americans can watch on the league’s YouTube channel and RSNs in the three local markets.

  • Points system: In the NHL, a team earns two points for a regulation win or an overtime win and one point for an overtime loss. In the PWHL, a team earns three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win, and one point for an overtime loss.

Innovative rule: The PWHL’s rulebook has some notable differences from the NHL. Our favorite: If a team scores shorthanded, the penalized player is freed from the box. This should lead to more exciting power plays, as the shorthanded team is incentivized to play more aggressive.

How the league came to be: The PWHL is the third North American women’s hockey league launched since 2007. There’s reason to believe this is the one that lasts.

  • In 2019, roughly 200 players boycotted existing leagues — most notably, the four-year-old Premier Hockey Federation — over compensation (players made as little as $2,000). That group formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

  • In 2022, the PWHPA partnered with the Mark Walter Group (Dodgers owner) and Billie Jean King Enterprises with the intention of forming a new league. This past June, they bought out and dissolved the PHF, then spent the past six months building the PWHL from scratch.

The PWHL’s differentiator: The PWHL ratified a CBA in July, making it the first women’s pro league to do so prior to launch. The eight-year agreement guarantees decent salaries ($35,000-$80,000), health insurance, retirement plans, parental leave and more.

“So often what we’ve seen in other professional women’s sports leagues is they start off with a league and they’re told, ‘These are the conditions in which you’re going to participate and you don’t have another option, and be grateful for what you have and go play.’ We didn’t want to be like that. We wanted to start with our voices at the table and work to build this together.” — Minnesota’s Kendall Coyne Schofield, via The Athletic ($)

A strong start: 8,318 fans watched Tuesday’s game in Ottawa, the most ever for a women’s professional hockey game. So far, so good.


🏈 The nerdiest title game yet

Michigan is the highest-ranked university to play in the CFP National Championship. (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)Michigan is the highest-ranked university to play in the CFP National Championship. (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Michigan is the highest-ranked university to play in the CFP National Championship. (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

The four-team College Football Playoff era is ending with its most academically impressive matchup yet — by a wide margin, Jeff and I write.

By the numbers: Michigan (No. 21 in this year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings) and Washington (No. 40) are the two highest-ranked schools to play in the CFP title game. And their combined ranking (61) is less than half the next closest.

  • 2024: Michigan (21) vs. Washington (40) — 61 combined

  • 2023: Georgia (49) vs. TCU (89) — 138

  • 2018: Georgia (54) vs. Alabama (103) — 157

  • 2015: Ohio State (54) vs. Oregon (106) — 160

  • 2016: Clemson (61) vs. Alabama (103) — 164

  • 2019: Clemson (66) vs. Alabama (106) — 172

  • 2017: Clemson (66) vs. Alabama (107) — 173

  • 2021: Ohio State (53) vs. Alabama (143) — 196

  • 2022: Georgia (48) vs. Alabama (148) — 196

  • 2020: Clemson (70) vs. LSU (153) — 223

The big picture: Washington will join Michigan next year in the Big Ten, which is basically tied with the ACC as the best academic conference in the new “Power Four” era. The average U.S. News and World Report ranking of member schools:

  • ACC: 52.3

  • Big Ten: 52.8

  • SEC: 113.3

  • Big 12: 137

Reader shoutout: Thanks to Yahoo Sports AM reader Richard Rothschild for the story idea. You’re the best, Richard!


🇺🇸 Photos across America

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

San Francisco Nikola Jokić banked in a miracle 3-pointer from half court at the buzzer to stun the Warriors, who led the Nuggets by 18 points with under eight minutes remaining.

(Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)(Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

(Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Maui, Hawaii — Sahith Theegala (-9) opened with 10 birdies, including six in a row to start the back nine, to take a one-stroke lead at The Sentry, the first event of the 2024 PGA Tour season.

(Chris Coduto/Getty Images)(Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Tucson, Arizona — No. 10 Arizona steamrolled Colorado, 97-50, on Thursday night. Perhaps they were inspired by Adam Sandler, who played pickup with Wildcats managers before tip-off.

(Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)(Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)

Seattle Game day pucks stacked along the bench ahead of Thursday’s game between Seattle and Ottawa. The Kraken won, 4-1, to extend their winning streak to six games.


📆 Jan. 5, 1920: Sale of the century

(Louis Van Oeyen/Western Reserve Historical Society/Getty Images)(Louis Van Oeyen/Western Reserve Historical Society/Getty Images)

(Louis Van Oeyen/Western Reserve Historical Society/Getty Images)

104 years ago today, news broke that the Red Sox had sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 in a deal that forever changed baseball, Jeff writes.

One team’s fortune, another team’s curse: Ruth exploded for a record 54* home runs his first year in pinstripes and went on to lead the Yankees to their first four World Series titles. Boston had won five World Series, including three with Ruth, but they wouldn’t win their sixth until 2004 thanks to the “Curse of the Bambino.”

More on this day:

  • 🏀 1991: Kevin Bradshaw of U.S. International University scored 72 points against Loyola Marymount, the most ever against a Division I opponent.

  • 🏈 2021: Alabama’s DeVonta Smith became the fourth WR to win the Heisman Trophy, joining Johnny Rodgers (1972), Tim Brown (1987) and Desmond Howard (1991).

Crazy stat: Ruth’s 54 home runs in 1920 were more than any other *team* except the Phillies, who hit 64.


📺 Watchlist: The final weekend

Bills-Dolphins headlines Week 18 NFL action. (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)Bills-Dolphins headlines Week 18 NFL action. (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Bills-Dolphins headlines Week 18 NFL action. (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Welcome to the final weekend of the NFL regular season. The seven games with the biggest playoff implications:

  • Bills at Dolphins (8:20pm ET, NBC)

  • Texans at Colts (Sat. 8:15pm, ABC/ESPN)

  • Jaguars at Titans (1pm, CBS)

  • Bears at Packers (4:25pm, CBS)

  • Steelers at Ravens (Sat. 4:30pm, ABC/ESPN)

  • Buccaneers at Panthers (1pm, Fox)

  • Saints at Falcons (1pm, CBS)

The other nine games: Vikings at Lions (1pm), Jets at Patriots (1pm), Browns at Bengals (1pm), Cowboys at Commanders (4:25pm), Broncos at Raiders (4:25pm), Eagles at Giants (4:25pm), Seahawks at Cardinals (4:25pm), Rams at 49ers (4:25pm), Chiefs at Chargers (4:25pm)

More to watch:

  • 🏈 FCS Championship: No. 1 South Dakota State vs. No. 2 Montana (Sun. 2pm, ABC)

  • ⛳️ PGA Tour: The Sentry (Fri-Sun, ESPN+/Golf/NBC/Peacock)

  • 🏀 NBA: Knicks at 76ers (Fri. 7:30pm, ESPN); Grizzlies at Lakers (Fri. 10pm, ESPN)

  • 🏀 NCAAM: No. 9 Illinois at No. 1 Purdue (Fri. 8:30pm, FS1); No. 8 UNC at No. 16 Clemson (Sat. 12pm, ESPN2); No. 22 Ole Miss* at No. 5 Tennessee (Sat. 6pm, SEC)

  • 🏀 NCAAW: No. 10 Texas at No. 24 WVU (Sat. 2pm, ESPN+); No. 3 NC State at No. 13 Virginia Tech (Sun. 12pm, ACC); Mississippi State at No. 1 South Carolina (Sun. 1pm, ESPN)

  • 🏒 World Junior Championship: USA vs. Sweden (Fri. 1:30pm, NHL) … Gold medal game.

*Still perfect: No. 22 Ole Miss is one of just three undefeated teams in men’s college basketball along with No. 3 Houston and No. 19 James Madison.


🏀 NBA trivia

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Ricky Rubio, who retired from the NBA on Thursday, ranks third all-time in assists among international players with 5,160.

Answer at the bottom.


📚 Good reads

(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

🏀 Dan Devine: After a sluggish start with James Harden, the Clippers suddenly look legit

The Clippers preached patience after James Harden’s arrival. The offense we’ve seen over the last few weeks, during which they’ve won 13 of 15 games, is that patience paying off.

🏈 Jori Epstein: NFL officiating is broken, according to coaches and executives

NFC and AFC coaches and executives who spoke to Yahoo Sports for this story overwhelmingly said they believe NFL officiating is getting worse, not better.

🏀 Jeff Eisenberg: 28 and counting: Meet college basketball’s oldest player

When Rayford Albright graduated from Manassas High School in June 2014, LeBron James still played for the Miami Heat.


Trivia answer: Steve Nash (10,335 assists) and Tony Parker (7,036)

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