The Raptors are going to the NBA Finals and 20 other bold playoff predictions

The 2017 NBA Playoffs begin Saturday. They will end sometime in the distant future. While it is impossible to foretell what magic the playoffs will bring, let’s try anyway. (It worked out pretty well when I picked a Cavaliers title win a year ago!)

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer introduced Belichick and talked about a conversation the two had backstage.

“(Belichick) said, ‘At this point in my career I want to coach guys I like. I want to coach guys I want to be around. I won’t coach anybody else,'” Meyer said.

The high school and college coaches in attendance recorded every minute of Belichick’s 45-minute speech on their cell phones and video cameras; looking for the secret to Belichick’s success. That success is easy to see on the field: Belichick followed up an incredible 34-28 comeback victory over the Falcons in Super Bowl 51 by giving Tom Brady another weapon in acquiring receiver Brandin Cooks from the Saints. Yet Belichick lit up when talking about the off-the-field-process.

This is where Belichick appears comfortable. Dare we say Belichick, who turns 65 next week, is having fun? If you want to see that side, then find him at one of these coaching clinics. He built his speech around his No. 1 philosophy with players and coaches.

At that point, Chad was just getting his bearings as the starting quarterback, after leaving Clemson and spending a year in the Last Chance U junior college. Kelly’s issues before Ole Miss weren’t about talent, but about behavior.

Asante Samuel’s son is a top recruit, and he just picked FSU

Asante Samuel patrolled NFL defensive backfields from 2003 to 2013, winning Super Bowls in his first two seasons with the Patriots. He intercepted 51 passes in 157 games, made four Pro Bowls, and was a first-team All-Pro at cornerback in 2007.

Maybe this’ll make you feel old: Asante Samuel Jr. is now an elite cornerback recruit, and he verbally committed to Florida State on Thursday.

Samuel Jr. is a much more heralded recruit than his 36-year-old father was before playing three seasons at UCF. Samuel Jr. had offers from dozens of college teams, including almost all of the nation’s best. He picked FSU over Miami, Alabama, and scores of others.

Samuel plays his high school football in Florida, at Fort Lauderdale powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. He can’t officially sign with the Seminoles until the winter, but barring a decommitment, he’ll bring his considerable talent to the Noles’ secondary.

At 5 ft 9.5” 166 pounds (measured at the Nike camp in Miami), Samuel Jr. isn’t the biggest CB in the world, but he is very talented. Florida State is extremely picky about cornerback height, and is rarely willing to take a corner who lacks elite length. But occasional exceptions have been made for special recruits like Greg Reid, Lamarcus Joyner, and Levonta Taylor.

As the son of former All-Pro cornerback and a St. Thomas Aquinas product, his technique is near flawless, effortlessly changing direction to mirror receivers. He’s very good in off-coverage; recognizing what routes are in front of him and driving on the ball to make a play. Lightning quick with exceptional feet and hips, Samuel Jr. would be a welcome addition to any secondary.

Samuel is the class of 2018’s No. 14 cornerback and No. 114 player overall, according to the 247Sports Composite. He’s been on the national recruiting radar for a couple of years now, and his profile has only grown throughout his junior year.

Rams exercise fifth-year option on DT Aaron Donald

The Rams became the first team to officially exercise their option Wednesday when they signed defensive tackle Aaron Donald for the fifth year of his rookie contract, according to ESPN.

Donald will make $6.89 million in 2018. New England sent Minnesota the 29th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, where the Vikings took All-Pro kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. In exchange, they received four selections: Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Josh Boyce, and a seventh-rounder who would later be packaged with Jeff Demps in exchange for LeGarrette Blount. Everyone but Boyce would go on to be a key contributor to a Super Bowl winning team — in Ryan and Blount’s cases, twice.

It was an easy decision for the Rams considering Donald has become one of the most dangerous interior defensive linemen in the game.

Selected with the No. 13 overall pick in 2014, Donald has 28 sacks through three years and has never missed a game. Donald will make $1.8 million next season before the pay raise in 2018.

Donald, who has played in a 4-3 formation in each of his three seasons, will have to adjust to new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 system this season.

Leonard Floyd looks like an exciting young player for Chicago, but the Bears need to keep adding more defensive pieces to build around. Defensive back may be the bigger need, but there are plenty of positions Chicago has to address, and Thomas is the best player on the board.

The 2017 Final Four has star power even without ‘one-and-dones’

Last the fall, the 2017-17 college basketball season was predicted and dubbed by many to be “the year of the freshman.” The title was understandable given the strength of the 2017 recruiting class, and in a lot of ways it held up over the succeeding five months.

The 2017 NBA draft has fans of the professional game across the country buzzing already about it being potentially the most loaded draft in a decade. The reason is the youngsters.

Players like Howard and Trubisky going in the top six is good news for the Chargers. That means Hooker or Adams should fall to the seventh pick. I like either for the Chargers, but with Hooker gone, Adams is the pick. He can come down and work near the line of scrimmage and has enough range to drop.

It must be confusing for casual NBA fans to look at NBA mock drafts and see De’Aaron Fox as the third or fourth point guard off the board. Two of the guys often ahead of him — Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr. — didn’t even make the tournament, and nearly everyone watched Fox cut apart Lonzo Ball and UCLA for 39 points in the Sweet 16.

Fox saved his best basketball for last, and his averages in the NCAA and SEC tournaments paint an impressive picture.

The Arizona Cardinals had won two in a row and were facing the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars without Luke Joekel

‘I don’t know why you can’t take an umbrella into the stadium, but you can take loaded guns,’ he said.

At his news conference, Hutchinson said, ‘A bad guy could get a gun into Razorback Stadium now. Under this current law, if you have got the enhanced training, then you would be able to go into that facility.’

Arkansas isn’t the first state to discuss guns in stadiums. Washington recently had a similar proposed bill that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, several Alabama schools revised their policies to maintain campus gun bans after a state public-places law passed, Ohio State bans firearms in its stadium despite a state law that allows them, FSU’s been sued for requiring guns to remain locked in cars, and the NFL’s blanket gun ban has so far only been surpassed by a Texas state law allowing off-duty law enforcement to carry.

The Arizona Cardinals had won two in a row and were facing the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars without Luke Joekel, Blaine Gabbert, Justin Blackmon, Paul Posluzny and Will Rackley. Jacksonville was last in rushing defense and scoring offense. They hadn’t scored a touchdown at home all season. They deserved their last place ranking and it looked to be an easy victory for Arizona.

But then they played the game.

The Cardinals overcame a 14 point first period from the home team and Carson Palmer had over 400 yards (30-42 419 yards, 2TDs) and Micheal Floyd (coming in with a sprained shoulder) a 91-yard touchdown with Arizona, making second-half adjustments again, defeated the Jaguars 27-14 on Sunday.

The Jaguars will travel to Houston to face the Texans in Week 12, while the Cardinals will host the Colts.nike_colts_1462

Cardinals vs. Jaguars 2017: Arizona in the playoff hunt after win in Jacksonville

Quarterback Chad Henne is the usual suspect for the Jaguars when it comes to offensive struggles, but it’s tough to blame him for the Week 11 loss, although he was far from perfect. Henne threw two fourth-quarter interception that put an end to any rally chances and didn’t move the ball after the first quarter, but the real struggle was the running game of the Jaguars.

AndyStandsUp of Revenge of the Birds thinks the Cardinals should have dominated this game but is happy with the win:

Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably attractive. The bronze statue of his bust that made the internet lose its minds this week? Hilariously terrible. It didn’t look like the soccer star at all!

This reminded us of the time we here at SB Nation tried (and failed) to draw Tom Brady like a courtroom reporter, and wondered if we could make an even better representation of Ronaldo. It’s really the only way to honor one of the best soccer players in the world.

“So, here’s the thing. The only thing I ever really learned how to do from second grade art class was make muppet-lookin’ faces, so this interpretation of Ronaldo has a massive mouth, agape in wonder, which hey, might be how he looks if he’s upset about a call. I do feel like this particular model really captures the full majesty of Ronaldo’s magnificent hair, though.”

Oakland will always be a part of the Raiders’ DNA.

The Bills have ended their three-game losing streak with a win over the Jets. Buffalo dominated New York and ended with an impressive 37-14 victory at home. The Jets continued their up-and-down ways with a shaky performance by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who has struggled to maintain momentum throughout the entire season.

Buffalo’s rookie quarterback, E.J. Manuel, had a great game with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His performance was important, as the Bills running game failed to make any ground. The Jets did get 98 yards on the ground by Chris Ivory, but were unable to sustain his success while down by double-digits late in the game.

Matt Warren of Buffalo Rumblings believes the Bills coordinators deserve a lot of credit:

The Raiders left, they returned, and now they bolt again. See ya, Oakland. It’s a long goodbye. Davis said his team will play there this season and next season and maybe even one more after that.

Mark Davis said that no matter what, Oakland will always be a part of the Raiders’ DNA.

That’s cheeky. Blocked from Los Angeles, he spun the wheel, it landed Vegas and he’ll brazenly take a piece of Oakland with him.

Vegas is giving the Saints 9.5 points to beat the Falcons on the road in Week 12.

The Atlanta Falcons host the New Orleans Saints in an NFC South game that doesn’t look nearly as good as it did in August. Vegas bookies agree, giving the Saints a 9.5-point spread in the game, according to OddsShark.

Walden will now miss Indianapolis’ away game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12. He signed a four-year contract with the Colts this summer and has served as a starter throughout the season. The suspension means that rookie Bjoern Werner may see a big increase in playing time. Another option for Indianapolis is Cam Johnson.

The Colts currently have a strong hold on first place in the AFC South but could be looking to get home-field advantage for a longer period of time by moving up the standings. This trip out west will not be easy, as the Cardinals are currently on a three-game winning streak.

I think that defensively, that was probably the closest that it came, Babers said in his office about the win. I would say offensively, I’d probably go more to the Pittsburgh game [a 76-61 loss]. I think [the VT game] was a fabulous defensive game by us. We did some things on offense and we made some plays, but I really believe that game was a defensive win.

I want [my team] to be loose, he said. I want them to be freewheeling, and I want there to be interaction between them and their coaches. Now that being said, there’s a discipline to this game, and that’s where all that stuff kicks in.

Pryor looked on his way to putting the stigma of the number two well in the past

Sunday night was the third 4th quarter comeback of the season for Luck, and the seventh of his already brilliant young career. He’s also logged ten game-winning drives, the most by any quarterback in the entire league over a two-year stretch. To say Luck is “clutch” is like saying fire kinda burns a little. Right now, Luck defines clutch in the modern NFL. No one is performing better in the big moments than No. 12 for the Colts.

Over weeks 3-5 of this season, Pryor looked on his way to putting the stigma of the number two well in the past. He showed great progress in his pocket passing, and showed enough flashes to help lead the Raiders to a win over the Chargers in week 5. But since then, he has had numbers that the Raiders have not seen since the former number two took the field.

Over the past four games, Terrelle Pryor has had a passer rating of 42.0 (45.7, 25.7, 55.7, and 40.9) with 1 passing touchdown to 8 interceptions. The last quarterback to have a four-game stretch that bad was JaMarcus Russell who had a passer rating of 41.2 (47.6, 46.0, 22.6, and 48.5) over the first four games of the 2009 season.

During those four games, Russell threw for just one touchdown to four interceptions. That’s half the interceptions Pryor has had over these past four games. And like Pryor’s last four games, the Raiders actually won one of those games as well — 13-10 win over the Chiefs.

Not only is that the worst passer rating over four games since Russell, those two instances were the only ones in nearly 50 years in which a Raiders quarterback had a passer rating that low over a four-game stretch.

AFC playoff picture 2017: Broncos, Chiefs battling for conference, division supremacy

With over half of the NFL schedule in the books, the 2017 AFC playoff picture is beginning to take solid form. Parts of that picture are what we expected to see — the Broncos are a one-loss team after eight games; the Patriots sit atop the AFC East — while others are a bit more surprising — the Chiefs remain the NFL’s lone unbeaten; the Texans are on life support at 2-6.

Five teams currently have a 4-5 record, all of which are in the AFC, which will be the easier conference in which to sneak into the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers are all one game under the .500 mark. Of the five, the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens appear most likely to crack the postseason, but it’s been the Browns that are trending upward in the AFC North. The Chargers, Dolphins and Titans have all cooled considerably after hot starts.

Remember, though, the Redskins also made the playoffs a year ago after starting the season 3-6. It would take quite the run, but currently four NFL teams hold the same 3-6 record.

Over in the NFC, the two 3-6 both reside in the NFC East. Washington has a 3-6 record for the second year in a row, and the New York Giants also have a 3-6 record after a disastrous start. The fun thing about the NFC East is a 3-6 record puts those teams only two games out of the division lead. The Giants have won three straight games, play against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers in Week 11 and still have three division games on the schedule. Could this be another late season run from the Giants?

With the amount of scenarios outlined above, it stands to reason we could see a team which currently has a losing record make a surprising run to the postseason. After all, it has happened before.