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What to watch for in NFL Sunday: Division titles, wild-card races hang in balance – Sportsnet.ca

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With just two Sundays left in the 2020 NFL regular season, it’s all about the push for the playoffs over the next seven days.

The action on Christmas Day and Boxing Day has already delivered plenty of drama, and Sunday is gearing up for more of the same.

So from No. 1 seeds to wild-card races, here’s what we’re watching for in the NFL on Sunday.

Chiefs, Packers can lock up No. 1 seeds

Under the new playoff format that sees seven teams from each conference qualify for the post-season, the No. 1 seed is more vital than ever as it represents the only team that will get the first round of the playoffs to rest up.

The teams in the driver’s seat for those coveted seeds are currently the Chiefs and Packers, and both can lock up a first-round bye on Sunday.

For Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, it’s simple: a win for heavily favoured K.C. at home against the Falcons and the defending Super Bowl champions will secure a weekend off.

With both the Bills and Steelers two games behind the Chiefs, if Andy Reid’s team somehow doesn’t get it done this weekend against the Falcons, they’ll have another chance next weekend with a victory over the Chargers.

Unlike the Chiefs, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will need some help in order to clinch the top seed in the NFC.

A win over the Titans in a tough Sunday night matchup in Green Bay would not be enough, as the Pack need the Seahawks to drop their crucial NFC West clash against the Rams (more on that later).

With Seahawks-Rams scheduled to kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET, Rodgers and Co. will know before the Sunday nighter gets underway at Lambeau Field if they’ll have a chance to clinch the NFC’s top seed.

MVP watch continues

Speaking of the Chiefs and Packers, Mahomes and Rodgers are also the frontrunners in the 2020 MVP race. So as their teams battle to secure the No. 1 seeds in the NFL, keep an eye on how the two signal-callers are performing in what could end up being a pretty tight battle for MVP.

According to Odds Shark, Mahomes is the favourite heading into Week 16’s Sunday action at -300, while Rodgers trails as second-favourite at +260. Bills standout quarterback Josh Allen rounds out the top three at +900.


Via Odds Shark

Mahomes is undoubtedly in pole position to win the second MVP award of his short-yet-stellar career, but this race is far from finished.

Four division titles hang in the balance

The New Orleans Saints’ huge win over the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day, fuelled by a historic Alvin Kamara performance, wrapped up the NFC South title for the Saints and clinched the fourth division title of the season.

That means half of the division crowns still hang in the balance heading into Week 16’s Sunday action, and the day’s games will go a long way in deciding when or how the remainder of the divisions will be settled.

The matchup with the biggest divisional consequences on Sunday is a massive game between the Seahawks and Rams that could end with a champ being crowned at the final whistle: a win by Russell Wilson’s team would see the Seahawks capture the NFC West title for the first time since 2016. A win by Sean McVay’s Rams, however, would mean the fate of the division won’t be decided until next week.

The AFC North could be just as intriguing: as the Steelers slump, the Browns surge. Cleveland can clinch its first playoff berth since 2002 on Sunday, but a division title for the first time since 1989 isn’t out of the question. While a Steelers win Sunday would clinch the division for Pittsburgh, a Steelers loss to the Colts and a Cleveland win over the Jets – which they’ll have to do without four wide receivers due to COVID-19 – would mean Week 17’s game between the Steelers and Browns will be for the AFC North title.

On behalf of NFL fans all over the world: yes, please.

The NFC (L)East can be decided in Week 16, too, and finally put the other three teams out of their misery. If Washington can beat Carolina and the Giants lose to Baltimore, the Football Team will be division champions — and we can finally leave this terrible division behind us.

Finally, the AFC South. The Titans and Colts are in a dead heat through 15 weeks of the season, with both teams at 10-4. Tennessee, however, holds the tiebreaker over Indianapolis and can clinch the division with a win at Green Bay on Sunday night plus a Colts loss.

Depending on how things unfold on Sunday, all eight divisions could have champions come day’s end. More likely, though, is that at least one of the remaining division titles up for grabs will come down to the final weekend.

Wild card race living up to its name

The addition of a third wild-card spot has led to a pair of very tight races in both conferences that, thanks to some unexpected and insane results on Saturday night, will come down to the final week of the season.

In the AFC, the Dolphins still sit in the third wild-card spot after an unlikely last-second victory over Las Vegas on Boxing Day that eliminated the Raiders and would’ve left Jon Gruden fuming.

Miami now sits one game ahead of the 9-5 Ravens, who currently sit on the outside looking in, and the Dolphins hold the tiebreaker thanks to a better win percentage in conference games. Baltimore needs a win over the Giants on Sunday to keep pace with Miami for the final AFC post-season berth, and to push the race to a final and deciding weekend.

In the NFC, a Saturday evening upset loss to the 49ers by Kyler Murray and the Cardinals means the Bears could leapfrog Arizona into the conference’s final wild-card spot on Sunday with a win over the lowly Jaguars.

The Cardinals’ Week 16 loss could prove decisive: if Arizona and Chicago finish the season with an identical record, the Bears hold the tiebreaker (better record against common opponents) and would make the playoffs.

So keep an eye on the Bears and Ravens on Sunday – if they both win, it sets up what will undoubtedly be a dramatic climax in the race for the final wild-card spot in both conferences.

The battle for the top pick in 2021

And what a battle it is.

The Jets had the best road to the top pick in next spring’s draft until a shocking win over the Rams last week allowed the Jaguars to leapfrog Gang Green for the honour of picking the top 2021 NFL prospect, presumably Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Can the Jets be worse than the Jaguars over the next two weeks and get back into top position for the No. 1 pick before the season comes to an end?

If we were to wager, we’d bet no – neither of these teams look primed to win another game this season. But as last week showed all too well, anybody can win on Sundays – even the Jets or Jaguars – so we can’t always count on the seemingly improbable.

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Horvat, Canucks overcome Toffoli hat trick to beat Canadiens – TSN

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VANCOUVER — Bo Horvat scored the shootout winner to give the Vancouver Canucks a 6-5 victory over the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday.

The Canucks captain put a shot between the legs of Montreal goalie Carey Price to seal the win in Vancouver’s home opener.

Horvat and Brock Boeser each had two goals and an assist for Vancouver (2-3-0) in regulation. Tyler Motte also scored for the Canucks, and J.T. Miller notched three assists.

Canucks goalie Braden Holtby stopped 31-of-36 shots through regulation and overtime.

Carey Price had 23 saves for the Canadiens (2-0-2), who have yet to be beaten in regulation this season.

Former Canuck Tyler Toffoli scored a hat trick for Montreal in regulation, while Jesper Kotkaniemi had a goal and an assist and Brendan Gallagher scored his first goal of the year.

Boeser forced overtime 16:51 into the third period, blasting a snap shot past Price for his second goal of the game.

Toffoli had put the Canadiens up by one 32 seconds earlier, deflecting in a shot by Jeff Petry.

Toffoli spent the end of last season in Vancouver after the Canucks acquired him from the L.A. Kings at the trade deadline. He had 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 10 regular-season appearances for Vancouver, then signed a four-year deal, at US$4.25-million per season with Montreal in free agency.

Kotkaniemi had evened the score at 4-4- with a blast from the top of the slot 10:14 into the third period.

It was the first goal of the season for the 20-year-old Habs forward.

Horvat had previously broken a 3-3 deadlock with a power-play goal 3:24 into the final frame.

Miller sent the Canucks captain a slick pass from below the goal line and Horvat snapped a shot past Price from the slot.

After struggling through the first four games of the season and failing to convert on 15 opportunities with the man advantage, Vancouver’s power play found its groove Wednesday

The Canucks opened the scoring with a power-play marker 11:07 into the game after Montreal’s Ben Chiarot was called for holding.

Miller slid a short pass to Horvat who riffled it in past Price for the Canucks’ first power-play goal of the season.

The home team added another 12:13 into the second frame when Kotkaniemi was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after appearing to say something untoward to an official.

Vancouver’s power play looked strong from the start, with shots from Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes missing the target before Boeser hammered in a rebound.

Motte also scored for the Canucks in the second period, patiently skating deep into Montreal territory and assessing his options before sending a wrist shot past Price.

Vancouver suffered some breakdowns in the second frame, though, starting 1:37 in when the squad lost track of Toffoli during a Canadiens change.

Kotkaniemi sent Toffoli the puck and he waltzed deep into the Vancouver zone alone, putting a shot over Holtby’s blocker.

It was the 28-year-old centre’s first goal of the year.

Toffoli struck again with a power-play goal 5:27 into the second period after Antoine Roussell was called for interference.

Nick Suzuki sent the puck rocketing towards the Vancouver net and Toffoli tipped it in for his second goal of the game.

Gallagher added to the Canadiens goals to close out the period, deflecting a pass from Tomas Tatar into the net and ensuring the score was tied at 3-3 heading into the second intermission.

Wednesday’s game marked the first the Canucks played in Vancouver in 316 days.

Without fans in the stands, players from both sides could be heard vocally disputing the officials’ calls and cheering teammates on.

Simulated crowd noise pumped into the arena sounded similar to the background noise in videogames.

Midway through the second period, a video on the big screen over centre ice read “make some noise,” challenging the upper bowl to compete with the lower bowl as both sat empty.

Montreal won’t have to wait long to seek revenge for the loss — the Canadiens and Canucks will face off again in Vancouver on Thursday.

NOTES: Canucks defenceman Jalen Chatfield made his NHL debut. The 24-year-old from Ypsilanti, Mich., went undrafted before signing as a free agent with Vancouver in March 2017.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

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The Edmonton Oilers know that an ugly 3-1 win in Toronto is still a win – Edmonton Journal

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Article content continued

ADAM LARSSON. 7. Turned in a tremendous defensive effort, including 2 big shot blocks late with the Leaf’s net empty. A smart 2nd Period clear was just 1 of a half-dozen sharp plays he made with either his stick or his body. +1 with 5 blocks in a rock-solid 19:50. If Larsson can deliver this kind of effort consistently, what a boon it would be for this club in its own end.

SLATER KOEKKOEK. 7. This is fast looking like a terrific pickup. Koekkoek and Larsson formed a pretty effective shut-down pairing, allowing Barrie and Russell to see some softer minutes (in which they thrived). Koekkoek had 2 shots, a hit and 2 blocks against a lot of tough comp. A number of cycle busters and a couple clears at important times. Looking good.

KYLE TURRIS. 4. Nothing doing with the puck (0 points, 0 shots and weak shot shares). Turris did turn in an intelligent defensive effort. The most notable of those was an essential faceoff win in his own zone to relieve the pressure after he and his mates had been pinned deep. But as a 3C, they need more from him.

JOAKIM NYGARD. 4. Worked hard enough but came out on the short end of scoring chances by a 2-to-1 margin while he was on the ice. And committed a 1st Period turnover. Could be a candidate to be replaced on Friday.

JESSE PULJUJARVI. 6. Has a solid game in a lot of little but important ways. Good net front presence on the 3rd Period Power Play and was rewarded with an assist after a pass deflected off his skate. An extra effort diving play helped Ethan Bear clear the zone after pressure in the 2nd. Another good clear of the D-zone in the 3rd. Then finished his night with a solid body check on Marner.

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Canadiens @ Canucks: Game thread, rosters, lines, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Montreal Canadiens @ Vancouver Canucks

How to watch

Start time: 10:00 PM EST / 7:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Canucks region: Sportsnet Pacific
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live, RDS Direct, Sportsnet Now, TSN Direct

It was a difficult off-season for the Vancouver Canucks, losing their starting goaltender, Jacob Markstrom, and a key offensive player, Tyler Toffoli, from the roster — and to teams now within their own division, no less. The decisions by those free agents to move on has led to a watered-down lineup that has some proper weapons at the top, then some members who would have a difficult time cracking opposing rosters.

Vancouver’s loss was Montreal’s gain, adding Toffoli to play on a third line that has all the hallmarks of a second. He only has one point on the season so far, but that’s worse news for the Canucks than it is for the Canadiens because he has been getting his chances, and will be eager to start converting them versus his former team.

After getting a rare night of rest on Monday, Carey Price is back between the pipes for the first of what will probably be two games of this three-game series. He had an exceptional game versus the Oilers on Saturday, and will be called upon by the likes of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes as the Canucks try to put a 1-3 start behind them.

Montreal Canadiens projected lineup

Forwards

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
#90 Tomas Tatar #24 Phillip Danault #11 Brendan Gallagher
#92 Jonathan Drouin #14 Nick Suzuki #17 Josh Anderson
#73 Tyler Toffoli #15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi #40 Joel Armia
#41 Paul Byron #71 Jake Evans #62 Artturi Lehkonen

Defencemen

Left Defence Right Defence
Left Defence Right Defence
#8 Ben Chiarot #6 Shea Weber
#44 Joel Edmundson #26 Jeff Petry
#77 Brett Kulak #27 Alexander Romanov

Goaltenders

Starter Backup
Starter Backup
#31 Carey Price #34 Jake Allen

Vancouver Canucks projected lineup

Forwards

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
J.T. Miller Elias Pettersson Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson Bo Horvat Nils Hoglander
Antoine Roussel Adam Gaudette Jake Virtanen
Tyler Motte Jay Beagle Brandon Sutter

Defencemen

Left Defence Right Defence
Left Defence Right Defence
Quinn Hughes Travis Hamonic
Alexander Edler Jalen Chatfield
Nate Schmidt Tyler Myers

Goaltenders

Starter Backup
Starter Backup
Braden Holtby Thatcher Demko

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