How do the 12-4 Chargers cause chaos in any team’s drive to the 2019 Super Bowl? By simply playing. As a No. 5 seed with perhaps the second-best team in the AFC — their play of late might not show that — they can make life difficult for those who finished ahead of them in the divisional races. A story in the Washington Post assessing these playoffs gives the Houston Texans the easiest road to the Super Bowl out of the AFC if teams like the Chargers start playing as they did in mid-season and begin knocking everyone out. Their first playoff game, however, comes with a trip to Baltimore (Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 2) and a rematch of a Week 16 loss to the AFC North Division winning Ravens, with the smell of a 22-10 loss still hanging in the holiday air. Win there, and it’s likely another rematch is set up against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC semifinals.
The Ravens won their last three in a row and six of their last seven (only a three-point loss to Kansas City in that run) to take the first division title since 2012, sporting the NFL’s top-ranked defense and watching Lamar Jackson wake up the offense. The Chargers sported a 7-1 road record this season, for what that’s worth, tied with New Orleans for the best away mark in the NFL. But when California kids have to go to the brutal chill of an East Coast destination, things can turn frosty pretty fast.
If you’re looking at other hypotheticals, like ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Rams have the third-best chance of winning the Super Bowl (16.8 percent, behind New Orleans’ 30.5 percent and Kansas City’s 24 percent) with the Chargers as the fifth-best (4.2 percent). Over at FiveThirtyEight.com, New Orleans and Kansas City are almost even at 20 percent to win it all, with the Rams fourth behind New England, and the Chargers seventh. Hmmm.
As the Rams get a bye week, here’s the wildcard round to start things:
* Indianapolis at Houston, 1:30 p.m., Channel 7/ESPN
* Seattle at Dallas, 5:15 p.m., Channel 11
* Philadelphia at Chicago, 1:40 p.m., Channel 4
Really, could this be the year California sends four teams to the NBA Finals? Only the New York Times could be that observant with a headline that actually ran on a story posted. Aside from the fact only two teams make the finals, and only one could be from California …
The point of the piece was that the four NBA teams playing in California – the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors and Kings – have never made the Western Conference playoffs in the same season, but less than halfway through this regular season, it seems possible. It’s also impossible to note that while the Warriors are back atop the Western Conference, the Lakers and Clippers are wedged in the middle and the Kings are barely holding on to the No. 8 spot, it is so tightly packed with 11 teams having at least 18 wins, a dozen teams could change all kinds of places in a matter of weeks.
The Lakers’ radar this week includes:
* Vs. Oklahoma City, at Staples Center, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN
* Vs. New York, at Staples Center, Friday at 7:30 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet
* At Minnesota, Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet
On the Clippers’ schedule this week:
* Vs. Philadelphia, at Staples Center, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Prime Ticket
* At Phoenix, Friday at 6 p.m., Prime Ticket
* Vs. Orlando, at Staples Center, Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Prime Ticket
There is a eight-day waiting period between the national semifinals and the Jan. 7 title game at Santa Clara, but still plenty of meaningful (or meaningless) bowls to be played out.
That includes the still-in-tact Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual Which Does Not Include Northwestern By Mutual Decision of Big Ten. The Wildcats lost the conference title game, so instead we have the awkwardness of No. 6 Ohio State, in what is supposed to be Urban Meyer’s final game, against No. 9 Washington, which somehow survived a mild Pac-12 schedule (Tuesday, 2 p.m., ESPN).
Also this week:
* Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md.: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech, 9 a.m., ESPN
* Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex.: Stanford vs. Pittsburgh, 11 a.m., Channel 2
* Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara: Michigan State vs. Oregon, noon, Channel 11
* Liberty Bowl at Memphis, Tenn.: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State, 12:45 p.m., ESPN
* Holiday Bowl in San Diego: Northwestern vs. Utah, 4 p.m., FS1
* Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.: North Carolina State vs. Texas A&M, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
* Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.: Mississippi State vs. Iowa, 9 a.m., ESPN2
* Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.: Kentucky vs. Penn State, 10 a.m., Channel 7
* Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.: LSU vs. Central Florida, 10 a.m., ESPN
* Sugar Bowl in New Orleans: Texas vs. Georgia, 5:45 p.m., ESPN
Going into the final week of non-conference play, the Pac-12 had just one team in the Top 25 college basketball poll – Arizona State, No. 17 in the AP, and No. 18 in the coaches’ poll and, if you’re going by the new NCAA NET rankings, a dismal No. 31, best in the conference. And this was before the Sun Devils fell to No. 45 after they were upset at home against Princeton last weekend. Accurate or not, that’s still the highest placed school in the Pac-12.
Or is it the Pathetic 12?
After UCLA’s fourth loss in a row, this time at home to Liberty, the 7-6 Bruins dropped from No. 61 to 94 in the NET. USC is at No. 130 out of 353, trailing schools such as Gardner-Webb, Brown, Austin Peay, UC Irvine (No. 106), Radford, San Diego (of the WCC) … Let’s just end this.
As the rumors swirl about Steve Alford’s job status at UCLA — update, he’s been fired — the problem is now that any Pac-12 team trying to improve it status between now at the selection of the 68-team tournament in early March has really no chance to do so now that non-conference play is over. In the AP and coaches’ polls, not one of the 11 non-ASU teams were even mentioned in the “others receiving votes.” Remember last season, when the Pac-12 had only three reps in the tournament, and UCLA had a play-in game.
Another unbalanced Pac-12 basketball season begins with the Bay Area teams visiting Southern California. God speed to them:
* Vs. Stanford, at Pauley Pavilion, Thursday at 8 p.m,, ESPN
* Vs. Cal, at Pauley Pavilion, Saturday at 1 p.m., Pac-12 Network
* Vs. Cal, at the Galen Center, Thursday at 7 p.m., Pac-12 Network
* Vs. Stanford, at the Galen Center, Sunday at 5 p.m., ESPNU
To start the West Coast Conference:
* Thursday: Loyola Marymount at Pepperdine, Firestone Fieldhouse, 7 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet
Also this week in the Southland:
* Loyola Marymount vs. Portland, Saturday at Gersten Pavilion, 3 p.m.
* Pepperdine vs. USF, Saturday at Firestone Fieldhouse, 5 p.m.
* Pepperdine vs. Alabama A&M, at Firestone Fieldhouse, Monday at 3 p.m. (non-conference)
* Long Beach State vs. Bethesda, Walter Pyramid, Saturday at 7 p.m.
* Cal State Northridge at San Diego State, Tuesday at noon
* Cal State Northridge vs. Yale, at the Matadome, Saturday at 7 p.m.
National games of interest:
* Tuesday: Notre Dame at Virginia Tech, 10 a.m., ESPNU; Marquette at St. John’s, 4 p.m., FS1; Cal State Fullerton at Washington, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Network
* Wednesday: Oklahoma at Kansas, 6 p.m., ESPN2; Harvard at North Carolina, 4 p.m., ESPN2
* Thursday: Penn State at Michigan, 4 p.m., ESPN; Illinois at Indiana, 4 p.m., FS1; Utah at Arizona State, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Net; Colorado at Arizona, 6 p.m., FS1
* Saturday: Clemson at Duke, TBA, ESPN; Michigan State at Ohio State, 9 a.m., Channel 11; Kentucky at Alabama, 10 a.m., ESPN; Utah at Arizona, 11 a.m., Pac-12 Net; Florida State at Virginia, noon, ESPN2; Colorado at Arizona State, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Net; Oregon State at Oregon, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Net; Santa Clara at Gonzaga, 6 p.m.; Washington State at Washington, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net.
* Sunday: Indiana at Michigan, TBA, Channel 2
It’s one of 1,271 NHL regular season games, but the one that the Bruins and Blackhawks will play on New Year’s Day in Notre Dame Stadium (Tuesday, 10 a.m., Channel 4) should be among the most spectacular of the league’s outdoor games that go back to 2008. Maybe Garth Brooks will even come back and do a concert or two between periods.
Also this week for the Kings:
* At Colorado, Monday at 5 p.m., FSW
* At Vegas, Tuesday at 6 p.m., FSW
* Vs. Tampa Bay, at Staples Center, Thursday at 7:30 p.m., FSW
* Vs. Edmonton, at Staples Center, Saturday at 7 p.m., FSW
Also this week for the Ducks:
* Vs. Tampa Bay, at Honda Center, Monday at 5 p.m., Prime Ticket
* Vs. Vegas, at Honda Center, Friday at 7 p.m., Fox Sports West
* Vs. Edmonton, at Honda Center, Sunday at 5 p.m., Prime Ticket
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio’s Alamodome (Saturday, 10 a.m., Channel 4) is a high school All Star exhibition on one hand, but mostly a place for more players to announce their college intentions on national TV. That will include Mater Dei receiver Bru McCoy (the L.A. Times high school player of the year), Orange Lutheran receiver Kyle Ford and St. John Bosco cornerback Chris Steele. They are among the few who didn’t sign a national letter of intent a couple weeks ago. According to the 247Sports recruiting site, only five of the 32 five-star prospects are not signed up yet – including McCoy (USC, Texas) and Ford (USC, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Michigan). Steele was an early commit to USC but recently backed off after visiting Florida, Oregon and Oklahoma. Can this save USC’s recruiting class? We shall see, apparently.