The Week In Sports: NFL, Bowls & Buckets

The city of New York opens the week in sports tonight, with the Jets playing Tennessee in Monday Night Football (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) and the Big Apple comes close to closing it as well, when it’s Giants-Ravens (4:25 PM ET, Fox) in the featured late afternoon game next Sunday. The Jets are unexpectedly in the playoff picture if they win tonight and the Giants are unexpectedly in danger of falling out, having lost control of their destiny in the NFC East and struggling to hold on for a wild-card.

In between Monday night and late Sunday afternoon, there’s NBA basketball action from New York, starting with tonight’s visit by Houston to Madison Square Garden to take on the Knicks. This game gets NBA-TV coverage starting at 7:30 PM ET, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why even New York TV demographics trump a Spurs-Thunder game going down in OkC tonight—the latter two only being the best two teams in the West. The Knicks continue to get love from national television, with their Wednesday tilt against Brooklyn going on ESPN at 7 PM ET, and then another home date with Chicago on Friday (7:30 PM ET, NBA-TV). If you love New York, you can spend the week in MSG and then around it sandwich big football games.

Cincinnati is another city with some prominence this week, although not quite at the same volume. The Bengals’ win at Philadelphia, coupled with Pittsburgh’s loss at Dallas, has given Cincy the lead on the AFC’s final playoff spot and their big battle in the Steel City will be the game CBS shows to most of the country at 1 PM ET on Sunday. The warmup for this game comes in college hoops on Wednesday when Xavier-Cincinnati play for bragging rights in the Queen City (7 PM ET, ESPN2). This game degenerated into a brawl last year and started a series of events that led Bearcats guard Mark Lyons to eventually transfer to Arizona, where he can be a difference-maker on a Final Four team. Looking for that kind of impact of this December’s game might be a stretch, but we can safely say the Bearcats and Musketeers keep things interesting.

TheSportsNotebook will delve deeper into the NFL playoff picture tomorrow when we do our weekly projections, but we do know that both Dallas and Washington control their destiny in the NFC East, where each is 8-6 and tied with the Giants, hold the tiebreaker on Big Blue and play head-to-head in Week 17. To set that up, Dallas has a home game with New Orleans (1 PM ET, Fox) that will go to most of the country as part of the doubleheader that sets the stage for Giants-Ravens. Washington has to take care of business in Philadelphia.

There’s no Monday Night game in the Week 16 schedule since a week from today is Christmas Eve, so it’s Saturday night that gets prime-time action in the NFL. That game is Atlanta-Detroit, a game that looked a lot more interesting in September, and even last week, before Atlanta’s 34-0 thrashing of the Giants yesterday eliminated any doubt about who would be the #1 seed in the NFC. The Sunday night game is another letdown. Had San Francisco simply lost at New England last night, their road trip to Seattle would have been for first place in the NFC West.

As it is, even if the Niners still lose, they still bail themselves out with a win over Arizona in the finale. It’s still important—San Francisco has to hold off Green Bay for the NFC’s #2 seed and first-round bye, but it’s no longer a title fight. TheSportsNotebook will preview all of NFL Week 16 on Friday.

We get a run of college football bowl games starting on Thursday night, although even as one who likes the midmajors, these games are pretty dry. The BYU-San Diego State game on Thursday (8 PM ET, ESPN) isn’t bad, and I’m interested in Washington-Boise State (3:30 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday, but games like Ball State-Central Florida (Friday, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN), East Carolina-UL Lafayette (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN) don’t represent the best the midmajors have to offer. Neither do the two games early next week of Fresno-SMU on Christmas Eve (8 PM ET, ESPN) and Western Kentucky-Central Michigan on Wednesday (7:30 PM ET, ESPN). TheSportsNotebook will preview all these games as a chunk on Thursday.

College basketball is fairly quiet throughout the week, with Stanford-N.C. State on Tuesday (9 PM ET, ESPN2) and North Carolina-Texas on Wednesday (9 PM ET, ESPN2) being the best on the board. College hoops will also be fairly quiet here at TheSportsNotebook. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been checking in on the eight top conferences, plus the mid-majors to examine the top teams. You can check those in the college basketball archive. Since I’ve been griping about top teams being overrated, I’ll get off the fence this week and give four teams I think are worth betting on as true national contenders. Then college hoops will briefly slide off the agenda at TheSportsNotebook, to return after Christmas, as we again return to each conference, this time in more depth, in anticipation of the conference schedules that begin in early January.

The NBA will fill the basketball void over the next several days here, as we build up to Christmas Day feast of five games. Check the pro basketball archive, and you can see that after a broad summary of each conference to start the season, we’ve been checking in on different contenders over the last seven weeks. That process accelerates this week, with 2-3 articles covering several teams. By Christmas, each team will have close to 25 games under its belt and it’s time for the season to begin in earnest.

The games to watch in earnest this week, besides the Knicks games referenced above and the Spurs-Thunder game that only those with a League Pass subscription can watch, will be surprising Milwaukee’s visit to Memphis on Wednesday (9:30 PM ET, ESPN) and the pesky Minnesota Timberwolves, who host Oklahoma City on Thursday (7 PM ET, TNT).