January 17, 2019 at 03:49 #656
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The top five seeds are newcomers, led by the Eagles. They are going with a backup quarterback and are making their first trip to the postseason party since 2013. The Vikings are back after a year away, hoping to become the first team to ever play a Super Bowl in its home stadium .
The five new teams went a combined 32-48 in 2016 but 59-21 this season, providing hope to all those franchises and fans who are already preparing for free agency and the draft.
The field features just two Super Bowl winners, the Rams at the turn of the century when they were based in St. Louis, and the Saints in 2010, when they upset the Colts and Peyton Manning.
The Rams, in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, host the Falcons on Saturday in the showcase of wild-card weekend. The Saints, who ended a four-year playoff drought, host the Panthers on Sunday.
Strength and weakness of each team:
1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (13-3). No Lombardis: lost Super Bowl 15 to Oakland in 1981 and Super Bowl 39 to New England in 2005.
Hope: The Eagles have the NFL’s third-ranked rushing offense with three productive backs: Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement. They’ll have to rely on them more to take pressure off QB Nick Foles and a passing attack that has struggled since second-year sensation Carson Wentz tore his left ACL in December, a major blow to the Eagles’ bounce-back season .
Nope: Foles isn’t Wentz, who was a leading MVP candidate when he got hurt. But the offense still has plenty of pop and talent, and Foles has the ability to get on a roll. He needs to develop more chemistry with receivers during the bye, be more consistent and avoid mistakes. Otherwise, the Eagles could fall into the trap that befell the Cowboys last year when Dallas became the first No. 1 seed not to reach the Super Bowl since 2013.
The Dope: ”We’ve got some good work the last couple of weeks with Nick, and we’ll go back and evaluate all of that. We have to get better in the run game. That helps any quarterback obviously, so we have to get better there. Then just taking a look at what his strengths are, strengths and weaknesses. Everything at this time of the year now becomes magnified even more going into the postseason.” – coach Doug Pederson.
2. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (13-3). No Lombardis: Lost Super Bowl 4 to Kansas City in 1970, Super Bowl 8 to Miami in 1974, Super Bowl 9 to Pittsburgh in 1975 and Super Bowl 11 to Oakland in 1977.
Hope: The defense , with all due respect to QB Case Keenum and the job he’s done. The Vikings ranked second in the league in both fewest rushing yards and fewest passing yards allowed, so there’s not really a one preferred way to attack them. No team gave up fewer points, either. With Pro Bowl picks at each of the three position groups yet a selfless attitude that’s kept individual players from chasing splashy plays or padding statistics at the expense of the scheme, coach Mike Zimmer’s unit will be a challenge for any opposing QB, especially in Minnesota at raucous U.S. Bank Stadium.
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The Dope: ”Guys have to understand that you have an opportunity here to do some great things and you have to take advantage of that opportunity. If you don’t, you’ll probably regret it for the rest of your life.” – DE Brian Robison.
3. LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-5). Last Lombardi: Super Bowl 34, beat Tennessee 23-16 on Jan. 30, 2000, while based in St. Louis.
Hope: The NFL’s most surprising comeback story shows few signs of ending prematurely. L.A. has the talent and smarts on both sides of the ball, with the league’s highest-scoring offense led by QB Jared Goff and MVP hopeful RB Todd Gurley. The Wade Phillips-led defense remains a strength with DT Aaron Donald disrupting offenses weekly. Rookie coach Sean McVay has outsmarted his older foes with impressive regularity.
Nope: They can’t act like they’ve been here before, because they haven’t. Only six Rams have any playoff experience whatsoever, easily the fewest in the current field. McVay, Goff, Gurley and Donald have never been under the postseason spotlight, where every mistake is magnified. So the big question is whether they’ll continue to thrive under pressure or crater.
The Dope: ”There is a lot of value in experience. This is a very humbling business. … You try to learn from the experiences that you do have and not try to repeat the same mistakes twice. But I think, for a younger team, we’ve demonstrated a maturity throughout the course of the year.” – McVay, who was born 20 days after the Rams last hosted a playoff game in Southern California on Jan. 4, 1986.
4. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-5). Last Lombardi: Super Bowl 44, beat Indianapolis 31-17 on Feb. 7, 2010.
Hope: Although Brees passed for his fewest yards (4,334) since joining the Saints in 2006, he was as efficient as ever, setting a single-season record with his 72 percent completion ra Miguel Cabrera ruptured his left biceps tendon Tuesday night, an injury that will sideline the slugger for the rest of the season, and the Detroit Tigers lost 6-4 to the Minnesota Twins.
The two-time AL MVP will have surgery this week, the Tigers said. Cabrera, playing his 12th game since missing 26 with a hamstring strain, exited in the third inning and underwent an MRI during the game.
Ehire Adrianza hit his first career grand slam to help Minnesota rally. Ryan Pressly (1-1) got three outs for the win, and Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 14th save.
Louis Coleman (3-1) was charged with the loss.
ASTROS 6, ATHLETICS 3
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – Evan Gattis hit a three-run homer and drove in five runs, Carlos Correa returned from a four-game absence and homered on the first pitch he saw, and the Astros earned their sixth straight win.
Lance McCullers Jr. (8-3) pitched seven innings of two-run ball. Ken Giles got three outs for his 11th save in 11 tries.
Correa was back in the lineup at shortstop after missing a series sweep at Texas with soreness in his right side.
Oakland’s Daniel Mengden (6-6) was charged with six runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.
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SEATTLE (AP) – Mitch Haniger and Ryon Healy each homered twice as the first-place Mariners shook off two homers by Mike Trout for the second consecutive night.
Trout took sole possession of the major league lead with 23 home runs. He also hit a pair in the Angels’ 5-3 loss Monday night at Safeco Field.
Mike Leake (7-3) allowed one run in six innings for Seattle, which has won three straight and 10 of 12. Edwin Diaz worked the ninth for his big league-best 25th save.
Angels right-hander Jaime Barria (5-2) surrendered two earned runs in five innings.
DODGERS 12, RANGERS 5
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Joc Pederson, Max Muncy and Yasiel Puig homered off Bartolo Colon, sending the Dodgers to the victory.
The 45-year-old Colon (3-4) has allowed 19 homers this season. He recorded his 2,500th career strikeout against Muncy in the first.
The Dodgers pounded out 16 hits in winning their second straight game.
Edward Paredes (1-0) got the win with a scoreless inning of relief. Daniel Corcino pitched three innings for his first save.
YANKEES 3, NATIONALS 0
NEW YORK (AP) – Didi Gregorius homered twice for New York, Washington slugger Bryce Harper left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a pitch for the second time, and the Yankees earned their 10th win in 12 games.
Harper fell to the ground in pain when hit on the right elbow by a 90 mph pitch from CC Sabathia (4-1) in the fifth inning. The 2015 NL MVP came out after he was hit on the left foot by Dellin Betances‘ 89 mph slider leading off the eighth.
Gregorius drove a hanging curveball from Tanner Roark (3-7) into the Yankees bullpen in right-center during New York’s two-run second. He sent a fastball into the right-field second deck leading off the sixth for his fourth multihomer game.
Sabathia allowed four hits in 5 2/3 innings. Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect ninth for his 18th save.
BREWERS 4, CUBS 0
MILWAUKEE (AP) – Chase Anderson pitched seven innings of one-hit ball, and the Brewers moved back into first in the NL Central.
Anderson (5-5) struck out six and walked two. The Brewers had been shut out in Anderson’s three most recent starts against Chicago.
Travis Shaw hit a pair of two-run doubles for Milwaukee, which had dropped seven in a row against Chicago.
Cubs right-hander Tyler Chatwood (3-5) worked five innings, yielding four runs, three earned, and five hits.
RED SOX 6, ORIOLES 4
BALTIMORE (AP) – Home runs by Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi helped Eduardo Rodriguez win his fifth straight start, and Boston extended Baltimore’s losing streak to six games.
Rodriguez (8-1) gave up two runs and eight hits over 5 2/3 innings to increase a career-best run of success that began on May 20 against the Orioles.
Joey Rickard homered for the Orioles, who own the worst record in the big leagues (19-47). David Hess (2-3) stumbled in his sixth big league start, allowing five runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Baltimore reliever Zach Britton made his season debut, six months after undergoing surgery for a ruptured right Achilles tendon. The lefty pitched a scoreless seventh.
WHITE SOX 5, INDIANS 1
CHICAGO (AP) – Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez homered to lead off Chicago’s three-run first, and James Shields won for the first time since opening day.
Shields (2-7) gave up one run and four hits in seven innings after going 12 starts and 13 appearances without a win. Joakim Soria got one out for his ninth save.
Moncada and Sanchez connected on consecutive pitches from Adam Plutko (3-1), helping the White Sox beat the AL Central leaders after losing their first four meetings this season.
Cleveland had won five of six.
PHILLIES 5, ROCKIES 4
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Aaron Nola struck out 10 in another dominant performance and Scott Kingery hit a three-run homer, leading Philadelphia to the win.
Nola (8-2) allowed one run and four hits in 6 2/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.27. Seranthony Dominguez escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the ninth for his third save.
Kingery drove a 1-2 pitch from Jon Gray (6-7) out to left-center to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead in the first. He added a sacrifice fly in the third.
The Phillies have won two in a row for the first time since a three-game winning streak May 13-17.
The Rockies have lost five straight and nine of 11.
BRAVES 8, METS 2
ATLANTA (AP) – O
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