Christmas Week Sports: What’s Under The Tree For Fans

Christmas Week sports is always led by the NBA, with the NFL coming in at the end, and then a mix of a few college basketball games and the start of the glut of minor bowls in college football. TheSportsNotebook is here on Christmas Eve morning to sort out what the fans have on tap…

ESPN & ABC have their now-traditional five-game marathon NBA-fest on Christmas Day, and the games are all worthwhile. We start with Celtics-Nets (Noon ET, ESPN), with Boston having dug itself an early hole and needing to turn things around quickly. Then ABC picks up at 3 PM ET with a doubleheader of Knicks-Lakers and Thunder-Heat. We get the league’s two surprise teams (both good and bad) in the first one and the league’s two best teams—with due apologies to San Antonio—in the latter. Then ESPN picks it back up at night with Houston-Chicago and LA Clippers-Denver, a prime-time doubleheader that starts at 8 PM ET.

I know I sort of dissed the Spurs by not including them with Oklahoma City and Miami and a title discussion, but that’s nothing compared to what ABC/ESPN did. How are the Spurs not a part of this marquee? Then again, maybe David Stern was worried that head coach Gregg Popovich would choose this day to rest his starters.

Dallas isn’t on Christmas Day, nor should they be, but they get a lot of TV love the rest of the week, with a Thursday night trip to Oklahoma City (8 PM ET, TNT), a home date with Denver on Friday (8:30 PM ET, NBA-TV), and then cap it off with a non-national TV game against San Antonio on Sunday night.

The exposure to the Mavericks is just the warmup in a week where the city of Dallas is going to be in the sports media spotlight, because the Cowboys’ game with the Redskins has been flexed to Sunday night (8:20 PM ET, NBC) and will be winner-take-all for the NFC East. For the Cowboys, it’s win or go home, even for the wild-card, and will likely be the same for the ‘Skins by the time kickoff arrives. Washington would need Chicago to lose to Detroit (unlikely) and Minnesota to lose at home to Green Bay (slightly probable, but hardly a lock) to survive a Sunday night loss and qualify as a wild-card.

Unless you’ve got a favorite NFL team playing early on Sunday, the best action will start late afternoon. The Packers-Vikings game at 4:25 PM ET will likely be in the Fox showcase. Minnesota needs to win to make the playoffs, while Green Bay needs to win to wrap up the #2 seed in the NFC and first-round bye. The NFC West will also be settled in this window, with San Francisco able to clinch if they take care of Arizona t home—and the Niners can pass the Packers for the bye, should Green Bay lose to Minnesota.

If, by some miracle, Arizona beats San Fran, then Seattle can take the division if they win a home game with feisty St. Louis, and the Seahawks could also take the bye in the event of a Green Bay loss. If that’s the scenario that unfolds, it would be an 11-5 Seahawk team getting the drop on an 11-5 Packer team because of a certain head-to-head win on a Monday night back in September. I live in Wisconsin and let’s just say the sadist in me almost wants that to happen, so I can watch a state explode in fury.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have what should be easy wins in the 4:25 PM ET window, with the Denver hosting Kansas City and New England hosting Miami. Right now, Denver has the edge on New England for the AFC #2 seed and first-round bye, but the ante could be upped considerably by kickoff if Indianapolis wins a home game with Houston at 1 PM ET. A Texans loss means Peyton and Brady would be playing for the 1-2 spots in the bracket. That makes Houston-Indianapolis the best game on the early part of the Sunday card, with some early intrigue also on Chicago-Detroit, where the Bears need to win and then root for a Vikings loss. The Giants are also alive in a home game with the Eagles, but a lot needs to go right for Eli Manning to get another chance at January magic.  There are no Monday and Thursday night games in Week 17, as the league ensures everyone is on equal footing rest-wise for both these games and the playoffs.

It’s a quiet week on the college sports front. There’s Christmas Eve action from Honolulu with Fresno State-SMU and a Wednesday night game with Central Michigan-Western Kentucky. I’m guessing there won’t be too much tension in households caused by sports fans rushing for the remote. Both of those games were part of TheSportsNotebook’s preview of the bowl season’s first movement that we ran last week.

The volume kicks up in college football on Thursday, with a three-day run involving 11 games. We’ll have previews of all 11 posted here that morning, and the games you should circle are Baylor-UCLA on Thursday (9:45 PM ET, ESPN) and Texas-Oregon State on Saturday (6:45 PM ET, ESPN). And if you like, or are open to liking the midmajors, the UL-Monroe-Ohio game on Friday afternoon (2 PM ET, ESPN) features two great quarterbacks in Kolton Browning and Tyler Tettleton.

College basketball goes for quality rather than quantity, with two Top 20 teams meeting on Thursday night in New Mexico-Cincinnati (9 PM ET, ESPN2) and then the Kentucky-Louisville game on Saturday (4 PM ET, CBS).

Here at TheSportsNotebook we’ll aim for quality and quantity in college basketball, by doing complete previews of the Big East, Big Ten & Pac-12, the three leagues that are the first to begin conference play in the early part of next week. You can look for those previews to appear in the latter part of this week. The post-Christmas part of the week will also include the aforementioned college bowl previews, and our usual Friday look at the entire NFL schedule.

Other features here at TheSportsNotebook that will be up today and Christmas Day include a look back on the NFL futures. In August and early September we went through every team’s Over/Under win total and made a pick on whether they would exceed expectations. With one game left it’s time look at how the teams—and myself—did. And we’ll also complete what’s been a seven-week warmup on the NBA by taking a look at the Miami Heat. You can expect that article, along with links to several other NBA columns, posted on Tuesday morning as part of the Christmas extravaganza.

Everybody have a Merry Christmas, and to our friends in the Jewish tradition, TheSportsNotebook offers a Happy Hanukkah.