How Washington ended the Steelers\' bid for a perfect season | The state of the NHL

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Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Happy two weeks until NBA season! If the quickly approaching season caught you by surprise and you don't feel quite ready for NBA basketball just yet, don't feel too bad ... apparently James Harden is in the same boat. And if you're a hockey fan, you can wake up feeling a little better about the prospects of a new season coming soon, though you should probably stay cautiously optimistic (I'll explain in just a bit.)
Also, today is a huge day for Champions League as it marks the beginning of the final matchday in the group stage. Over the next couple of days, we'll see the knockout stage finalized as 16 teams get ready to battle for soccer glory. 
With today being Tuesday, that means my email inbox is once again open and I'm asking for submissions for tomorrow's mailbag. Send any question you'd like (sports, pop culture, video games, quarantine, etc.) to and feel free to get as weird as you'd like. I'll pick some of the best for a mailbag section tomorrow. 
OK, enough chitter chatter. On to the good stuff!

📰 What you need to know
1. Steelers finally lose, Bills thrive on MNF 🏈
I'm pretty sure I've said this already but I'm going to say it again: I can really get used to a double dose of football on Mondays. We had two games on the slate yesterday, starting with a Happy Hour matchup between the Steelers and Washington Football Team. Considering the Steelers entered the contest unbeaten on the season and Washington was stuck trailing the Giants in the pathetic NFC East, well ... it seemed like an easy game to pick.
Except ... PLOT TWIST: Washington ended the Steelers' run of perfection with a stunning 23-17 victory in Pittsburgh.
Let's get Bryan DeArdo and Tyler Sullivan in here to help explain how the heck that happened.
  • Why Washington won: It certainly wasn't a perfect performance from Washington but Ron Rivera's squad made significantly more adjustments coming out of the half. Alex Smith nullified the Pittsburgh pass rush with short passes. Washington also made two huge red zone stops -- including a goal line stand -- to keep the Steelers out of the end zone
  • Why Pittsburgh lost: The Steelers hate catching passes. Whenever they find an opportunity make a brutal drop, they just can't pass it up. Their running game was also nonexistent, as they gained just 21 yards on 14 carries.
With that, the '72 Dolphins get to have another one of their annual parties celebrating the fact that no NFL team will go undefeated this season (except probably not because the '72 Dolphins are pretty old at this point and it's NOT a good time for old people to be throwing parties.)
In the nightcap, the Bills rolled to a 34-24 win over the 49ers and, man, Josh Allen looked awesome. The young gunslinger had 375 yards passing to pair with four touchdowns, giving him one of the best games of his career so far. I'll tell ya, the Bills are looking like a real legit contender at 9-3 right now. It's a bad time to be a folding table.
2. Where the NHL stands with plans for new season 🏒
As mentioned off the top, the NBA season is set to begin two weeks from today, which is quite exciting. It also brings up the question: What the heck is going on with the NHL? Scheduling-wise, the NHL typically operates in near-lockstep with the NBA, but right now the NHL is still stuck trying to navigate through negotiations in order to set up a new season.
There's apparently been some movement in the right direction -- the league and players are both targeting a January 13th start date with a 56-game schedule. However, the pandemic has put the league in a tough spot and there are still some challenging hurdles that the league has to clear before they can start a new season:
  • Scheduling crunch: The NHL reportedly wants to hold a 50-60 game schedule but they're quickly running out of time for that to be possible. The Stanley Cup Playoffs likely won't be able to be played past mid-July because NBC has broadcasting rights to both the NHL and the Olympics. The league will need to get a deal done in the next few weeks or be forced to start cutting games
  • CBA disagreements: Like MLB's situation earlier in the year, the two sides reached an agreement on financial terms but then the owners tried to push for players to give up more concessions. The players weren't thrilled about that idea. According to reports last night, the two sides are no longer discussing financials. That means owners will likely either relent and move forward with the agreement that was already made, or the league could use the pandemic to invoke a force majeure and cancel the season
  • Realignment and border complications: The NHL was able to finish last season thanks to an effective bubble comprised of two hub cities in Canada, but it's unlikely that they'll utilize a bubble scenario again. With so many teams north of a closed border, the league will likely have a temporary all-Canadian division while realigning the 24 U.S. teams based on geographical proximity.
There's going to need to be movement very quickly or else the league's intended start date of mid-January seems really optimistic. With each passing day, a viable and respectable 2020-21 season becomes less and less likely. As a massive hockey fan it pains me to say it, but If an agreement isn't reached in the next week or two, we may have to start talking about punting to 2021-22.
Two and a half lost seasons since 2004? That would be an incredibly bad look for the NHL.
3. Predictions for MLB's Winter Meetings ⚾
I remember a time when the MLB Winter Meetings brought chaos as GMs scrambled to recruit top free agents and negotiate blockbuster trades. Back in the day, it felt like most of MLB's offseason action was born from the Winter Meetings. But with the uncertainty and financial implications of the pandemic hanging over the (virtual) meetings this year, it's hard to know what to expect. 
That hasn't stopped our baseball expert Mike Axisa from taking his best guess at what will happen with the meetings underway this week, though. Here are a few predictions:
  • There will be a big free agent signing: Only seven of our top 60 free agents have signed so far and the slow pace will probably continue through the Winter Meetings, but Axisa says he expects the first big name to come off the board. Unfortunately, it's not a wildly exciting prediction. He thinks DJ LeMahieu will re-sign with the Yankees for four years and $80 million
  • Cleveland will make a big-name trade: Here's the twist, though: it won't be Francisco Lindor. Axisa thinks the Indians will take their time moving Lindor, but Carlos Carrasco could be moved this week. Cleveland has pitching depth, wants to save money and could take advantage of the fact that there's a weak high-end pitching market in free agency
  • Ha-Seong Kim will sign: The star shortstop of the Kiwoon Heroes in Korea is open to sign with MLB teams and he has 30 days to sign a contract. Axisa predicts that he'll sign a four-year, $36 million deal with the Oakland Athletics
We already got one significant trade late last night -- the Rangers dealt Lance Lynn to the Chicago White Sox -- so hopefully that'll set the tone and kick off an eventful week of wheeling and dealing.
4. UNLV quarterback apologizes for reality TV appearance 🏈
It's impossible to guess what each new day will bring, especially in 2020, but I was thoroughly unprepared to read the following headline yesterday: "UNLV quarterback Max Gilliam apologizes for eating sushi off nude model on reality TV episode." 
First question: Huh? Second question: What? Third question: Why?
  • Gilliam was filmed for an episode of BravoTV's "Below Deck" in February and, while renting a private yacht with friends, ate sushi off a naked model
  • The model was apparently hired at the request of the TV show's producers and was picked up from shore for the scene 
  • The episode aired last month and there were no NCAA violations, but UNLV apparently took issue with the it all.
  • Gilliam: "I would like to apologize for my poor judgement while on the TV show Below Deck and acknowledge that I have made a mistake that I will learn from ... This is not a reflection of my character or the way I was raised nor a reflection of the culture of UNLV Football"
Alright, I'm just gonna come out and say it here: I don't really know what the heck this kid is apologizing for. If all parties were consenting, which seems to be the case, and no NCAA rules were broken then, uh, what's the problem? I guess I could maybe understand the school being like "hey, man ... maybe cool it with the antics on reality television until after graduation" but this is also UNLV we're talking about. This kind of story seems rather on-brand for the program, doesn't it? 
In any case, it feels like this one could have been handled in-house and without an unnecessary public apology. That being said, the absurdity of it all sort of made my day yesterday so I want to thank Max, BravoTV and whoever at UNLV forced him to apologize.
📝 Odds & Ends
  • The Jets parted ways with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams after a questionable call vs. Raiders 
  • Michigan State now gives the Big Ten two teams in college basketball's Top 25
  • Dick Allen, seven-time MLB All-Star slugger and 1972 AL MVP, died at 78
  • The man arrested for allegedly breaking into Tom Brady's mansion has a history of Patriots-related crimes
  • Competitive breakdancing will be part of the 2024 Olympics

📺 What to watch today
RB Leipzig vs. Manchester United, 3 p.m. | TV: CBS All-Access
Barcelona vs. Juventus, 3 p.m. | TV: CBS All-Access
🏀 No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 5 Kansas, 5 p.m. | KAN -3.5 | TV: ESPN
🏀 No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 10 Duke, 9:30 p.m. | DUKE -3.5 | TV: ESPN
📝 Top scores from last night
🏈 Washington 23, Steelers 17
Washington rallied to outscore Pittsburgh 20-3 over the final two quarters and hand the Steelers their first loss of the season.
💵 Winning wagers: WAS +260, Under (43.5)
🏈 Bills 34, 49ers 24
Josh Allen threw for 375 yards and tied a career high with four TD passes to keep the Bills in first place in the AFC East.
💵 Winning wagers: BUF -2.5, Over (48)
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