Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Welcome back, Champions League, plus why Frances Tiafoe taking down Rafael Nadal is a big deal

Happy Tuesday morning, everyone! Hope you enjoyed a nice, relaxing long weekend.

Let’s get right to it.

Good morning to everyone but especially to…

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 05 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game - Clemson at Georgia Tech

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THE NO. 4 CLEMSON TIGERS

It wasn’t always pretty — in fact, it often wasn’t pretty — but No. 4 Clemson started 2022 in the win column with a 41-10 victory over Georgia Tech. After the Yellow Jackets cut the lead to 14-10 in the third quarter, the Tigers reeled off 27 straight points to win easily.

  • DJ Uiagalelei threw for 209 yards and a score and ran for 28 yards and another score, doing more than enough to make up for an early lost fumble.
  • Will Shipley ran for a couple of scores, and backup quarterback Cade Klubnik also threw for a touchdown.
  • The Clemson defense was ferocious as always: Andrew Mukuba intercepted Jeff Sims on the first play from scrimmage, and Georgia Tech had just 73 rushing yards on 30 rushes.
  • Clemson blocked two punts.

Still, the offensive performance was not nearly as impressive as the 41 points suggest. Uiagalelei was up-and-down and wasn’t afforded much time behind an iffy offensive line, the Tigers’ 127 rushing yards on 40 carries equated to an underwhelming 3.2 yards per attempt and there were plenty of drops from the receiving corps.

Listen, it’s important to not fault a team for winning. The Tigers took care of business, ultimately in straightforward fashion. It’s a much better start to the season than last year’s 10-3 loss to Georgia was. But Clemson will have to be better offensively if it wants to get back to the College Football Playoff. For now, the defense is still dominant, and so were the Tigers.

… AND ALSO A GOOD MORNING TO FRANCES TIAFOE

US Open 2022 Day 8

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Hello, Frances Tiafoe! The 24-year-old American, seeded 22nd at the US Open, upset No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to advance to the quarterfinal. After going down a break early in the fourth set, he reeled off five straight wins for arguably the biggest victory of his career.

  • It’s Tiafoe’s second career Grand Slam quarterfinal along with the 2019 Australian Open. It’s also the first time he’s beaten Nadal in three tries. In fact, he had never even taken a set off Nadal.
  • It ends a streak of 16 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals made for Nadal when he plays. It’s his first quarterfinal missed since Wimbledon in 2017. It also ends his 22-match winning streak at Slams.
  • Tiafoe hit 18 aces compared to just nine for Nadal and 49 winners compared to Nadal’s 33. Nadal also had nine double faults while Tiafoe had only four.
  • Tiafoe is the first American to beat Nadal at a major since 2005.

Tiafoe will take on No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev with a spot in the semifinal on the line. They have split their two career meetings, with Rublev winning earlier this year and Tiafoe winning in 2021.

And a quick reminder: No American man has won a Grand Slam since Andy Roddick’s 2003 US Open triumph. Tiafoe is three matches from ending that streak, and if he plays like he did against Nadal, he has a great chance.

Honorable mentions

Not so honorable mentions

UEFA Champions League starts today! Bold predictions and more ⚽

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The UEFA Champions League is back, it’s streaming on Paramount+, and it’s going to be awesome. Need I say more? Well, I will anyway.

There are eight matches today, including one that features defending champion Real Madrid.

  • Borussia Dortmund vs. FC Copenhagen, 12:30 p.m.
  • Dinamo Zagreb vs. Chelsea, 12:30 p.m.
  • PSG vs. Juventus, 2 p.m.
  • Celtic vs. Real Madrid, 2 p.m.
  • Salzburg vs. AC Milan, 2 p.m.
  • Benfica vs. Maccabi Haifa, 2 p.m.
  • Sevilla vs. Manchester City, 2 p.m.
  • RB Leipzig vs. Shakhtar Donetsk, 2 p.m.

Soccer expert James Benge has bold predictions for how things will play out, including his champion pick:

  • Benge: Manchester City feel like the natural choice. Yes they may seem to have their particular hang-ups around this competition, but they also have been one of the Champions League’s most consistent clubs. They’ve been quarterfinalists in each of the last five years, finalists in 2021 and a few seconds away from repeating that feat against Real Madrid. Erling Haaland has made an immediate impact, but could provide his most telling contributions in the sort of games like last season’s semifinal when the radar of Riyad Mahrez or Phil Foden go askew in front of goal.”

Meanwhile, there are 10 USMNT-eligible players playing, including Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) and Weston McKennie (Juventus). Speaking of Juventus, they have a tall task ahead of them in a potential match-of-the-day against PSG. Our soccer scribe Jonathan Johnson has everything you need to know for the match, and Chuck Booth has the most indispensable players in the group stage.

Predicting records for all 32 NFL teams 🏈

NFL: Denver Broncos Minicamp

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I hope you enjoyed your last NFL-free weekend of 2022. If you’re like me, you spent it watching college football, doing fantasy football drafts and just generally thinking about football.

You know what else I love? Predictions. Specifically our NFL guru John Breech’s NFL predictions. And I’m especially interested in the AFC West, where all four teams have legitimate playoff (and maybe even Super Bowl) hopes. Here’s how John sees it playing out.

  • 1. Chargers: 12-5 
  • 2. Chiefs: 11-6
  • 3. Broncos: 10-7
  • 4. Raiders: 9-8

And here’s his bold take:

  • Breech: “Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there has NEVER been a season where every single team in a division finished with a winning record. There have been several seasons where the last place team finished 8-8 (most recently in 2008 NFC East), but there’s never been an instance where every team finished ABOVE .500. With Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr at quarterback, it’s hard to imagine any team in this division finishing the year with a losing record.”

You can see all of John’s predictions — including his playoff picks and Super Bowl winnerhere. But what about the likely cellar-dwellers? Our NFL reporter Cody Benjamin has six teams that will have the toughest seasons.

MLB Power Rankings: Yankees slide, but here’s how they can wake up ⚾

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We’re officially inside one month until the MLB regular season ends, and if the Yankees would like to re-establish some rhythm before the postseason, they’re running out of time to do it.

The Pinstripes are down to eighth in MLB expert Matt Snyder’s latest Power Rankings, and Matt says, “If anything, I don’t have them low enough, I think, but this is uncharted territory.” Our Mike Axisa, meanwhile, has four things the Yankees need to do to snap out of their slump.

Anyway, here’s the top five in the Power Rankings:

  • 1. Dodgers (previous: 1)
  • 2. Astros (previous: 2)
  • 3. Braves (previous: 4)
  • 4. Cardinals (previous: 6)
  • 5. Mets (previous: 3)

With the final day of the regular season nearing, Matt has also ranked the best playoff races in baseball, and it’s no surprise the reigning World Series champs are featured.

  • Snyder: 1. NL East: The Mets had a 10 1/2 game lead at one point and it’s been dwindled down to one game. … This division becoming a race has more been a product of how great the Braves have played since that huge Mets lead. … Unfortunately, only three head-to-head games remain. Fortunately, those are the second-to-last series of the season and if it’s within three games, hoo boy that’ll be something to behold.”

What we’re watching Tuesday 📺

 UEFA Champions League, 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Paramount+

Twins at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. on TBS

🏀 Sky at Sun, 8 p.m. on ESPN 2

🏀 Aces at Storm, 10 p.m. on ESPN 2

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