It seemed inevitable there’d be a Rams-Saints rematch somewhere in the NFC playoffs after witnessing their Week 9 encounter at New Orleans. Back then, the Rams’ eight-game win streak covering September and October to open the season came to a halt on that first weekend in November when Drew Brees threw for 346 yards and four TDs without a pick during a 45-35 triumph, extending the Saints’ wins tream at the time to seven straight.
Lessons learned from that one: Don’t doubt Michael Thomas, the 25-year-old, third-season receiver out of Ohio State who set a franchise record with 211 yards on 12 catches, capped by a game-changing 72-yard TD reception. He celebrated by pulling a flip phone out of the field-goal padding and reprised a celebration last seen by the Saints’ Joe Horn in 2003. The Saints finished off the deal with P.J. Williams broke up a fourth-down pass from Jared Goff (28 of 40 passing, 391 yards, three TDs, one INT) to Brandin Cooks. “We love it. You find out about yourself when you have a little bit of adversity,” Rams coach Sean McVay said afterward. “I know that everybody in that locker room is going to respond the right way. Sometimes setbacks can be setups for comebacks — and that’s the way we look at it.” So that sets up this NFC Rams-Saints title game, Sunday at 12:05 p.m. at the Superdome on Channel 11.
In the Saints’ 20-14 win over Philadelphia in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff contest, Thomas pulled in a 2-yard TD reception to give his team its first lead of the game. It came at the end of an 18-play, 92-yard drive that ate up nearly 11 ½ minutes. Thomas finished with 12 receptions for 171 yards, targeted 16 times, more than twice as many as anyone in the game.
The Rams and Saints have one game against each other in NFL playoff history – the Rams of St. Louis with Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk lost a 31-28 decision against the Aaron Brooks-led Saints at the Superdome in the 2000 wildcard round despite 21 fourth-quarter points.
The Rams-Saints contest comes before the AFC championship game – New England at Kansas City, Sunday at 3:40 p.m., Channel 2.
Need anything else on that one? Ask a Chargers fan.
The latest ESPN bracketology breakdown/guess at the field of 68 for the men’s college basketball tournament allows for only two Pac-12 teams — Arizona and Arizona State – compared to the 10 that could possibly represent from the Big 10 (out of 12) or eight others from the ACC. Heck, the West Coast Conference is on par to have two teams as well at this point. It’s not just ESPN; others in this prognostication game believe the Pac-12 is too talentless to have more than a pair of entries. Before USC and UCLA are allowed to measure up against the Wildcats and Sun Devils next weekend (Jan. 24-26) for their one-and-only meetings of the regular season, the Trojans and Bruins conduct their first of two regular-season faceoffs at the Galen Center (UCLA at USC, Saturday, 1 p.m., Channel 2) for what seems to be some cannibalization as they both try to strengthen their resumes with nearly the same records.
Also this week for Southern California teams:
* Loyola Marymount at Gonzaga, Saturday at 6 p.m., TheW.tv; vs. Pepperdine at Gersten Pavilion, Saturday at 1 p.m. Spectrum SportsNet
* Pepperdine at BYU, Thursday at 7 p.m., ESPNU; at Loyola Marymount, Saturday at 1 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet
* Long Beach State at UC Irvine, Wednesday at 7 p.m., ESPN3; vs. Cal State Fullerton at Walter Pyramid, Saturday at 7 p.m.
* Cal State Northridge vs. Hawaii at the Matadome, Thursday at 7 p.m., ESPN3; vs. UC Irvine at the Matadome, Saturday at 3 p.m.
Also this week nationally:
* Monday: Syracuse at Duke, 4 p.m., ESPN; Texas at Kansas, 6 p.m., ESPN
* Tuesday: Arkansas at Tennessee, 4 p.m., ESPN2; Kentucky at Georgia, 4 p.m., ESPN; Virginia Tech at Virginia, 5 p.m., ACC Network; Marquette at Georgetown, 5:30 p.m., FS1; Notre Dame at North Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPN
* Wednesday: Iowa State at Texas Tech, 6 p.m., ESPNU; Houston at SMU, 6 p.m., ESPNEWS
* Thursday: Oregon State at Arizona State, 6 p.m.; Stanford at Washington, 6 p.m.; Oregon at Arizona, 6 p.m.; Cal at Washington State, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Net
* Friday: Maryland at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m., FS1; Xavier at Villanova, 5:30 p.m., FS1
* Saturday: Michigan at Wisconsin, 9 a.m.; Florida at Georgia, 9 a.m., Channel 2; Alabama at Tennessee, 11 a.m.; North Carolina State at Notre Dame, 11 a.m., ACC Network; Indiana at Purdue, 11 a.m., Channel 11; Navy at Army, 11:30 a.m., CBSSN; Wake Forest at Virginia Tech, 1 p.m., ACC Network; Kentucky at Auburn, 1 p.m., ESPN; St. John’s at Butler, 1:30 p.m., Channel 11; Cal at Washington, 2 p.m., Pac 12 Net; Virginia at Duke, 3 p.m., ESPN; Oregon State at Arizona, 4 p.m., Pac 12 Net; Oklahoma at Texas, 5 p.m., Longhorn Network; Gonzaga at Portland, 7 p.m.; Air Force at Nevada, 7 p.m., ESPNU; Oregon at Arizona State, 7:30 p.m., Pac 12 Net
* Sunday: Colorado at Utah, 3 p.m., ESPNU
Perhaps it’s not so fitting that a list published by Sports Illustrated sizing up the “Fittest 50” – the top 25 men and 25 women who fit the category of best-in-shape for their athletic exploits – includes the Lakers’ LeBron James in at No. 7. The writeup: “At age 34 and in his 16th NBA season, LeBron James knows how to sculpt, shape and strengthen his 6’8”, 250-pound beastly body for the rigor of the NBA season. From plyometrics to Bodyblade exercises, to a team of coaches, trainers, personal chefs and masseuses that help him prepare, James spends a lot of time—and money—on his physical fitness, but the attention to detail continues to pay off as his storied career carries on.”
No mention of a sore groin that’s kept him out of the last 10 Lakers’ games since a Christmas Day game in Oakland, of course. He was apparently testing it out on the Rams’ sidelines during last Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the Cowboys at the Coliseum. Maybe James was comparing jumping jack techniques with the Rams’ Aaron Donald, who came in the same list at No. 11 “thanks to his Hulk-like 6’0”, 284-pound build.”
More time will pass before James gets another checkup, so no guarantees at all that he makes it to either of the Lakers’ two nationally televised contests this week –– at Oklahoma City on Thursday (6:30 p.m., TNT) or at Houston on Saturday (5:30 p.m., Channel 7). The Lakers’ lone home game this week against Chicago (Tuesday, 7:30: p.m.) is a Spectrum SportsNet affair.
The Clippers have their own high-profile meeting this week with Golden State at Staples Center that ESPN has picked up (Friday, 7:30 p.m., also on Prime Ticket).
Also this week for the Clippers:
* Vs. New Orleans, Staples Center, Monday at 7:30 p.m., Prime Ticket
* Vs. Utah, Staples Center, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Prime Ticket
* At San Antonio, Sunday at 4 p.m., Prime Ticket
A return to the ring by Manny Pacquiao seems so quaint. The I’m-Not-Retired-Yet tour for the recently turned 40 year old still has a 147-pound title to defend when he meets up with four four-division titlist Adrien Broner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, which Showtime felt compelled to put on pay-per-view starting at 6 p.m. “I am not making a prediction, but my goal is to knock out Broner,” said Pacquiao in a recent interview with ESPN. Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) spent some of his New Year’s Eve training at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood after working out in the Philippines. “I am looking for a knockout against Broner. I have to maximize the opportunity.” This is Pacquiao’s first U.S. fight since Nov., 2016 when he won a welterweight title from Jessie Vargas. Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) is 11 years younger than Pacquiao.
The PGA Tour’s $5.9 million Desert Classic in La Quinta (Thursday-Sunday, Golf Channel) at least sounds more like the event it once was when a certain celeb had the title hosting role and brought many of his Hollywood friends in for some exposure. This is the 60th anniversary of the event formerly known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, Humana Challenge and Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. The Coachella Valley tournament runs through the PGA West Stadium Course as well as the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West and the La Quinta Country Club – all three have been involved in the rotation since 2016. The 156 pros will have 156 amateurs in tow, rotating around the three tracks before a pros-only final Sunday. Jon Rahm is the defending champion after a playoff win a year ago. The event still seems to fly under the radar – the last big-name winner was Phil Mickelson in 2004. Michelson is back, along with Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, Patrick Cantlay, Charles Howell III and Zach Johnson, This starts the West Coast swing – next up is the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am before it lands at Riviera Country Club for the Genesis Open (Feb. 14-17).
Actually, a couple more things:
- Congratulations to the Kings for becoming the last NHL team to reach the 100 goal mark. In their 45th game of the season. During a 4-1 loss to lowly Ottawa late last week. Tampa Bay has almost twice as many goals in leading the Eastern Conference. The Kings’ team goal for the rest of the season: Score more than the Ducks, who are next-to-last, which might account a bit for their recent nine-game losing streak. The Kings at least come into the week off an impressive win over the visiting Penguins.
This week for the Kings:
At Minnesota, Tuesday at 5 p.m., NBCSN
At Dallas, Thursday at 5:30 p.m., Fox Sports West
At Colorado, Saturday at noon, Fox Sports West
This week for the Ducks:
At Detroit, Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., Prime Ticket
At Minnesota, Thursday at 5 p.m., Prime Ticket
At New Jersey, Saturday at 10 a.m., Prime Ticket
Vs. N.Y. Islanders at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., Sunday at noon, Prime Ticket
- The Australian Open in Melbourne, which officially started Sunday night (U.S. time) and already saw Martina Sharapova rip through a 6-0, 6-0 win, in the U.S., will beat the heat through the Jan. 27 finals. ESPN2 coverage is usually at 6 or 8 p.m. through 4 a.m. each day this week.
- The start of the college football All-Star games include Saturday’s East-West Shrine Classic in St. Petersburg, Fla. (noon, NFL Network) as well as the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl (2 p.m., FS1).