The Week Ahead In Sports

After a weekend of intense college football, with conference championship, debates over the BCS and the final settling of the national title matchup, the time has come for the NFL to take center stage and basketball to get some increased prominence, as TheSportsNotebook takes its Monday morning look at the week in sports ahead.

The Redskins-Giants Monday night battle (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) represents New York’s chance to finally put away the NFC East and that game was looked at as a part of TheSportsNotebook’s overall NFL Week 13 preview on Friday. If we look ahead, Denver and Peyton Manning will be in the Thursday night spotlight when they visit Oakland (8:20 PM ET, NFL). The Broncos are in a three-way tie with New England and Baltimore for the #2 seed in the AFC playoff race.

We’ll look at this more closely in TheSportsNotebook in Tuesday’s NFL playoff projections, but just looking ahead, we see Baltimore with a tough visit to Washington on Sunday and New England hosting a monster Monday night game against Houston (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) on a week from tonight.

Fox has the doubleheader this week in the NFL and the 4:25 PM ET game of Saints-Giants has taken a hit with New Orleans falling to 5-7 and it gets worse if the Giants win tonight and remove any pressure in the division race. But even given that, New Orleans would still be trying to make their last desperate stand and the Giants would join the Packers in being a half-game back of San Francisco for the #2 slot in the NFC bracket and accompanying first-round bye.

Speaking of Green Bay, they’ll be on Sunday night, at home against Detroit (8:20 PM ET, NBC). The Packers are 8-4 and tied with the Bears in the NFC North, with Chicago playing Minnesota in a key game in Sunday’s early window. TheSportsNotebook’s going to take a closer look at the Bears’ slide in recent weeks and see what we can expect of this team down the stretch and into January. You can look for that feature in the middle of the week.  Also of note on Fox’s early Sunday coverage is Dallas’ visit to Cincinnati, with both teams fighting for the playoffs. As always, TheSportsNotebook will do a complete preview of NFL Sunday that will run on Friday afternoon.

The college basketball week starts in earnest on Tuesday with an interesting ESPN doubleheader of Texas-Georgetown and N.C. State-UConn that starts at 7 PM ET. On Wednesday, highly regarded Florida pays a visit to Florida State (7 PM ET, ESPN2). The SEC—Florida and Kentucky in particular—are one of the conferences TheSportsNotebook has not yet done an early season look-in on, and that omission will be fixed in the early part of this week. You can also look for Pac-12 basketball coverage to run over the next few days.

With Saturdays finally open for hoops, there’s a series of intriguing college basketball games on the TV docket. I do say “intriguing”, not “dynamite”, because it’s nothing that should keep you from finishing up Christmas shopping (or starting it). But if you want to catch a game, the best ones on the board are a midafternoon ESPN2 twinbill of Temple-Duke and UCLA-Texas that begins at 3:15 PM ET. Earlier in the day on the same network is Illinois-Gonzaga. My podcasting colleague, Greg DePalma over at Prime Sports Network firmly believes this the best Gonzaga team in some time and has a real shot at the Final Four. Greg and I will be on the air again on Monday afternoon at 4 PM ET.

And in the NBA, I think it’s safe to say the nationally televised games will be taken seriously by the competing teams after David Stern hit the San Antonio Spurs with a $250,000 fine for sitting all their key players in a Thursday night TNT game at Miami last week. I understand where the commissioner is coming from, but it’s more than a little arrogant to sanction a team out of the blue. A fairer approach would have been to put a rule in place going forward that would cover situations like this. But David Stern, like Roger Goodell in the NFL, has never chosen fairness when arrogance was within his grasp.

The NBA’s Central Division is stacked right now, with Milwaukee, Chicago and Indiana all hovering around .500 and the Bucks are on NBA-TV tonight against Anthony Davis and New Orleans (8 PM ET). Then it’s Pacers-Bulls tomorrow in a non-televised game. The showcase game of Tuesday is Oklahoma City-Brooklyn (8 PM ET, NBA-TV). The Nets are playing well in their new home and TheSportsNotebook will take a closer look at this team this week.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are the big TV nights in the NBA, and ESPN’s Wednesday coverage is Denver-Atlanta & Dallas-LA Clippers starting at 8 PM ET. Dallas again gets coverage on Thursday when their game at Phoenix is the back end of TNT’s doubleheader that starts with Knicks-Heat at 8 PM ET. After what happened to the Spurs, I think it’s fair to say Dirk Nowitzki will play both games, even if they are back-to-back early in the season and he’s an older player. Friday’s doubleheader on ESPN is Celtics-Sixers followed by Lakers-Thunder, and it all starts at 7 PM ET.

And don’t think college football is forgotten. Later today, we’ll have a complete breakdown of the bowl schedule and then later in the week—likely Friday—TheSportsNotebook will break down the Heisman race, going conference-by-conference, in anticipation of the awards ceremony in New York City on Saturday night (8 PM ET, ESPN). There’s also one more football game, with Navy-Army at 3 PM ET on CBS.