Lamar Jackson has MVP buzz after Ravens defeat 49ers; Chiefs’ problems are mounting

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🏈 Good morning to everyone but especially …

THE BALTIMORE RAVENS

Disrespect the Ravens at your own will. They will make your MVP-candidate quarterback look like a disaster and show the world their own quarterback deserves more MVP love himself. The Ravens rolled into San Francisco and demolished the 49ers, 33-19, to become the NFL’s best team and stake their claim to having the league’s best player.

  • Brock Purdy entered the night with the best passer rating in the league. He left with no touchdowns and four interceptions as Kyle Hamilton (two), Patrick Queen and Marlon Humphrey all got in on the pick party.
  • After Purdy suffered a stinger late (and was cleared to return), Marcus Williams picked Sam Darnold off to seal the win. The five interceptions tied a franchise record for the Ravens.
  • On the other side of the ball, Lamar Jackson was magnificent, with 252 yards passing, two touchdowns and 45 yards rushing. There were several MVP moments on the night, but the 30-yard scramble on third-and-16 stands out.

What more could you want? In a matchup of 11-3 teams, the Ravens just walloped the NFL’s supposed “best” team by 14 points. Baltimore was a considerable underdog, much to its players’ chagrin. The Ravens played 12 games against teams with at least eight wins this season. In those games, they are 9-3 with a +148 point differential, both tops in the NFL.

We can talk about inconsistencies closing out games and nitpick other issues. No team is perfect, but right now, the Ravens are the league’s best.

Credit the coaches. After Jackson won MVP in 2019 and then seemingly plateaued, first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken has brought out a new level in him. Second-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald might be just as good. And John Harbaugh continues to lead one of the best, most consistent organizations in sports. Merry Christmas, Ravens fans.

👍 Honorable mentions

  • The Eagles held on for a 33-25 win over the Giants, Philadelphia’s first win of December. The defense and the turnovers are worrisome, but wins are wins.
  • Shohei Ohtani gifted Joe Kelly‘s wife a Porsche.
  • The Mariners signed Mitch Garver.
  • The Padres signed Yuki Matsui.
  • The Jets will retain Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas.
  • Purdue stayed No. 1 in the men’s AP Top 25 while FAU jumped to No. 7 after beating Arizona, 96-95, in double overtime.
  • South Carolina remained atop the women’s AP Top 25.
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😟 And not such a good morning for …

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THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Thanks to their latest loss on Christmas, the Chiefs have now given to us … five losses on the season, four Patrick Mahomes sacks, three straight home losses, two defensive touchdowns allowed and a Travis Kelce sideline tantrum. How about that for a lyrics change?

Kansas City fell, 20-14, to Las Vegas after another dispiriting performance from the reigning champs. The Raiders won despite completing zero passes over the final three quarters, the first team to do so since 2000. Here’s how:

  • The Raiders scored 14 points in a seven-second span: Isiah Pacheco fumbled a trick play handoff to Mahomes, and Bilal Nichols scooped and scored. One play later, Jack Jones had a pick six.
  • The Raiders joined the 1983 Steelers as the only teams since the 1970 merger to have a pick six and a fumble return touchdown in consecutive games.
  • Zamir White ran for 145 yards, the most by any player against the Chiefs this season.

The Chiefs will have their first losing December since 2013. They will fail to win 12 games for the first time since 2017. The loss guaranteed the Chiefs will not be the No. 1 seed in the AFC – and even looking ahead to the playoffs seems overly optimistic. Why?

This offense is lost.

  • Mahomes averaged 3.82 seconds to throw, the second-highest of his career, and is averaging the highest time to throw (3.10 seconds) of his career this season. The quick game – traditionally a great balance to Mahomes’ improvisation – is nonexistent. Mahomes doesn’t look confident or trusting in his supporting cast. To be fair, the supporting cast hasn’t inspired much confidence.
  • As a result, Mahomes had a career-high nine scrambles – hero ball all afternoon.
  • The Chiefs managed just 14 points on four red-zone drives. From 2018-22, the Chiefs ranked second in red-zone touchdown percentage. This year they are 14th.

The wide receivers are what they are. The linemen are what they are. The Chiefs look shockingly average – at best – and there are no easy answers.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

  • Kevin Durant is reportedly frustrated with the Suns‘ supporting cast.
  • This umpire tripping and gifting the 49ers a safety was … not great!
  • The Giants benched Tommy DeVito for Tyrod Taylor.
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🏈 NFL Week 16 recap and updated playoff picture

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Week 16 spanned Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, so there’s a lot to recap and a lot of moving pieces with just two weeks left in the regular season.

We have to start in Detroit, where the Lions are division champions for the first time since 1993 – back when it was the NFC Central – after a 30-24 win over the Vikings. Jahmyr Gibbs scored twice, Amon-Ra St. Brown went over the century mark receiving, and the Lions picked off Nick Mullens four times.

The game also had huge implications in the NFC Wild Card picture, where …

  • The Packers survived a meeting with the Panthers, 33-30, after time ran out on Carolina.
  • The Seahawks had yet another game-winning drive and beat the Titans, 20-17. Geno Smith found Colby Parkinson for the game-winning score.
  • Baker Mayfield led the Buccaneers to a 30-12 thumping of the Jaguars. Jeff Kerr says Tampa Bay will win a playoff game, and Jordan Dajani named Mayfield one of the week’s winners … again.

Here’s what the NFC playoff picture looks like:

  1. 49ers (11-4, clinched NFC West)
  2. Eagles (11-4, clinched playoff berth)
  3. Lions (11-4, clinched NFC North)
  4. Buccaneers (8-7)
  5. Cowboys (10-5, clinched playoff berth)
  6. Rams (8-7)
  7. Seahawks (8-7)
  8. Vikings (7-8)
  9. Falcons (7-8)
  10. Packers (7-8)
  11. Saints (7-8)
  12. Bears (6-9)

If you thought Mayfield was a surprise, how about Joe Flacco?! The ageless wonder threw for 368 yards, with Amari Cooper on the receiving end of a franchise-record 265 and two touchdowns, in a 36-22 win over the Texans. Cooper joined Terrell Owens as the only players in NFL history with 200+ yards receiving in a game for three different teams.

One of those three teams surely wished it still had him Sunday: The Cowboys fell to the Dolphins, 22-20, with Jason Sanders knocking through a 29-yarder – his fifth field goal of the day – as time expired. Miami lost Jaylen Waddle to a high ankle sprain, but Raheem Mostert seems to have avoided major injury. Elsewhere around the AFC …

  • The Colts fell, 29-10, to the Falcons in a game Shane Steichen said “wasn’t us.”
  • It was a brutal week for the AFC South, with all four teams losing. Making matters even worse, Trevor Lawrence – who barely made it out of concussion protocol in time to play – sprained his shoulder.
  • The Broncos lost to the Patriots, 26-23, a huge hit to Denver’s playoff hopes.
  • That benefited the Bills and Steelers after both won Saturday. Buffalo scraped past the Chargers, 24-22, and Pittsburgh blasted the Bengals, 34-11. Mason Rudolph lived up to his last name, coming up clutch Saturday.
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Pittsburgh’s season sweep of Cincinnati could be key in the playoff race, which looks like this …

  1. Ravens (12-3, clinched playoff berth)
  2. Dolphins (11-4, clinched playoff berth)
  3. Chiefs (9-6)
  4. Jaguars (8-7)
  5. Browns (10-5)
  6. Bills (9-6)
  7. Colts (8-7)
  8. Texans (8-7)
  9. Steelers (8-7)
  10. Bengals (8-7)
  11. Raiders (7-8)
  12. Broncos (7-8)

🏀 NBA on Christmas takeaways: Celtics, Knicks impress

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The Celtics and Lakers are the NBA’s greatest rivalry, with 17 championships apiece (tied for most all time) and 12 NBA Finals meetings (most all time). But Monday marked just the second time they’ve met on Christmas, and one team looked much closer to its 18th Larry O’Brien Trophy than the other. Boston raced past Los Angeles, 126-115, for its 12th win in its last 14 games.

The Celtics are awesome. All five starters had at least 18 points, with Kristaps Porzingis‘ 28 leading the way. Boston is an NBA-best 23-6 and a deserving No. 1 in Colin Ward-Henninger’s NBA Power Rankings.

Elsewhere on Christmas …

  • Knicks 129. Bucks 122 | Jalen Brunson‘s 38 points is the most by a Knick on Christmas since 1984.
  • Nuggets 120, Warriors 114 | Steve Kerr was “disgusted” by the officiating.
  • Heat 119, 76ers 113 | Philly falls to 0-4 without Joel Embiid.
  • Mavericks 128, Suns 114 | Luka Doncic scored 50 points and reached 10,000 for his career.

Here are our experts’ takeaways from the holiday action.

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📺 What we’re watching Tuesday

🏈 Quick Lane Bowl: Bowling Green vs. Minnesota, 2 p.m. on ESPN 🏈 First Responder Bowl: Texas State vs. Rice, 5:30 p.m. on ESPN 🏀 Pacers at Rockets, 8 p.m. on NBA TV 🏈 Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Kansas vs. UNLV, 9 p.m. on ESPN 🏀 Hornets at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV

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