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The Bengals Climb In Final NFL Power Rankings

By this time next week, the 102nd NFL regular season will have already come to a close. Beyond the novelty of being the first Week 18 in NFL history, this final slate of regular season games will be the final chapter of what’s been the most exciting playoff race the NFL has had in a long time. Below are our latest power rankings before we enter the last week of this NFL season.

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)

Another Sunday means another win for the Packers. Because of their 37-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, they’ve officially clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, giving them bye week during the Wild Card Round and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)

In order to regain the AFC’s No. 1 seed that they lost Sunday, the Chiefs’ defense has to rediscover its previous success after consecutive shaky outings against the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals.

3. Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

At this point, the Rams have proven both their toughness and their talent. Riding a five-game winning streak, the Rams are fresh off a road win against a hungry Baltimore Ravens team that’s fighting for a playoff spot.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)

Despite the bizarre mid-game departure of wide receiver Antonio Brown, during an unexpectedly close game against New York Jets, Tom Brady and Co. avoided all distractions by producing a last-minute game-winning drive.

5. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)

While it’s tempting to say “same old Cowboys” immediately after their 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, that response would be a mistake. The newly-crowned NFC East champion is closer to being the team we watched win their previous four games than the lackluster unit that took the field on Sunday .

6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

Every year, a dark horse makes a deep playoff run and emerges as a serious Super Bowl contender. This year, the Bengals seem poised to become that team. The young AFC North upstart just won their first division title in seven years and Joe Burrow and JaMarr Chase are already arguably the league’s most dynamic quarterback-wide receiver duo.

7. Buffalo Bills (10-6)

The Bills deserve a lot of credit for taking care of business during a snowstorm and defeating the pesky Atlanta Falcons. With a win this week, the Bills would clinch their second consecutive division title, which is essential for a chance at an extended postseason run.

8. Tennessee Titans (11-5)

For the first time in franchise history, the Titans have won the AFC South in consecutive seasons. Even better news: superstar running back Derrick Henry could be returning sooner rather than later.

9. New England Patriots (10-6)

Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t the most imposing opponent, but the Patriots deserve some style points for beating them so thoroughly. Over the course of their 50-10 romp, the Pats offered a reminder that they’re still a dangerous squad, especially in the cold, hostile Gillette Stadium.

10. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)

The Colts may have blown their first chance to punch their ticket to the postseason, but they’re still in a good spot, having won six of their last eight games. One minor hurdles remains between them and the playoffs: a road date in Jacksonville, a place the Colts haven’t won a game since 2014.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From December 27th-January 2nd

The last week of 2021 gave NBA teams a unique opportunity to finish strong before aiming for a strong start in the New Year of 2022. As we approach the halfway point of this regular season in a matter of weeks, the action will intensify amongst teams determined to build their momentum further or drastically improve their situation. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action.

DeMar DeRozan should be on your MVP ballot

Even with fans and media members quick to name the usual candidates for this year’s MVP award (I.E., Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry, to name a couple), their dialogue lacks something if DeRozan isn’t mentioned. The multi-time All-Star has not only led the Chicago Bulls to the first seed in the Eastern Conference, but he’s easily the NBA’s most clutch player right now.

During the same week, DeRozan became the first player in league history to make game-winners on consecutive days; he averaged 28 points, six assists, and four rebounds per game during the Bulls’ ongoing seven-game winning streak.

Ja Morant’s leap into superstardom is happening

While some may have expected this to happen, it doesn’t make it less exciting than it is. In Morant’s third NBA season, he is taking that leap into superstardom which consists of a career-best production, team success, and signature moments that could make him a dark-horse MVP candidate this season.

To conclude 2021, we watched the former second overall pick outduel LeBron James two days after making a game-winning shot against the 28-8 Phoenix Suns on the road.

To say Jalen Smith has potential is an understatement

Even though the Phoenix Suns found a successful big man in Deandre Ayton (Selected first in the 2018 Draft), it was a rare bit of success for a team who has failed multiple times when looking for high-quality big men. But that could change again with the pending emergence of Jalen Smith.

The second-year power forward, who is thriving as a center at the moment, gives the Suns another very athletic and flexible big man to play regardless of Ayton’s availability. Over his past four games, Smith has averaged 16 points and ten rebounds per game while playing less than 30 minutes each game.

Kevin Love is turning back the hands of time

After months of hearing about a potential breakup with the Cleveland Cavaliers and having a slow start to this season, Love is back to playing at the level one would expect from a multi-time All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist. Throughout December, Love averaged 17 points and over seven rebounds per game, but he’s entering the new year amid his best stretch in a long time.

Over his last five games, Love averaged 25 points and eight rebounds per game, including his 35-point and 11 rebounds performance against the Atlanta Hawks on New Year’s Eve. Love’s reemergence is a welcomed sight for a Cavs team that needs all contributions as they compete for a playoff berth.

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Sports Strength

Five Random NBA Predictions In 2022

In its 75-year history, 2021 will go down as one of the most transformative years in the NBA. Several franchises saw their fortunes change overnight. A once-mediocre franchise became an NBA champion and was led by a player many didn’t expect to become the best in the world. And lastly, the league continued to navigate through a global pandemic. As 2022 is mere hours away from happening, I have five predictions for what could happen in the NBA next year.

Ja Morant will win the MVP

As crazy as this sounds, it will only be accurate when it happens. The former second overall pick is taking that “superstar leap,” that consists of producing a career-best stat line (24 PPG, 5 RPG, 6 APG, and nearly two steals per game), team success (The Grizzles are 22-14), and MVP-like moments— Morant outdueled LeBron James two nights after making a game-winning shot on the road against the 27-7 Phoenix Suns.

Even if Morant doesn’t win the MVP this season, you can expect his name to pop up in the conversation, and he will probably begin the 2022-’23 season on the shortlist of viable candidates who can win the award.

The league’s interest in expansion will come to fruition

For years, the NBA’s reported interest in expansion sparked conversations that have only gotten hotter due to the number of potential teams growing. But with significant support from the general public, especially when it comes to giving the city of Seattle a team again, the NBA could make expansion a reality by the end of next year.

And besides Seattle getting a team, cities such as Las Vegas, NV, and Kansas City, MO have been mentioned as the following locations to receive an NBA team, specifically the former.

Ben Simmons will be traded… in February

Since last summer, the former first overall pick has been in a stalemate with the Philadelphia 76ers, and there have been few indications of when he’ll play for them again. As much as 76ers general manager Daryl Morey wants to get his “bang for the buck” in any deal for Simmons, there’s a reported expectation that the team will trade him by this coming February’s trade deadline.

With a sizable list of teams interested in the three-time All-Star point forward, most notably the Portland Trail Blazers, there will be a loud reaction on the day Simmons gets traded and how much the 76ers received in exchange for him.

Everyone will love an in-season NBA tournament

Even though some people, including a few teams themselves, are still against the NBA’s play-in tournament, the truth is it’s a massive success from both a competitive and entertainment standpoint. The league has been motivated to find a way to make their regular seasons more critical, and they believe a mid-season tournament can help make that happen.

Fueled by several financial and competitive incentives, as well as European soccer’s ability to hold tournaments seasonally within their schedule, commissioner Adam Silver has championed this cause, with hopes it happens between next season and 2024-’25.

LeBron James will retire after the 2022-’23 season

It’s insane to believe that LeBron James and retirement hasn’t been realistic to us NBA fans because of his insanely-high level of play, but as the man himself said on Tuesday, “he is on the other side of that hill.” So given what it takes to play at the level the four-time NBA champion and MVP is required to play at, it wouldn’t be a surprise if James made the 2022-’23 season his last one.

Other than what is happening with the Los Angeles Lakers and their title chances, James will be playing in his twentieth season and could surpass Kareem Abdul Jabbar for most points scored by a player in league history. And minus the historic chance to play alongside his oldest son, Bronny James (who’s currently draft-eligible in 2024), King James doesn’t have much to play for at this point of his career.