SI:AM | Five NFL Games to Look Forward to This Season
Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. All credit to the NFL for finding a way to remain relevant throughout the year.
In today’s SI:AM:
Just five months to go
I’m frankly pretty sick of the NFL’s schedule release spectacle. I don’t get the whole song and dance of announcing a game here and there all week long leading up to the full release last night, especially when every team’s opponents have been set since January. And yet! I do love learning when the games will be played. (I just wish the schedule came out as a press release on a Monday morning instead of the NFL trying to turn it into an entire news cycle.)
I’m most thankful for the fact that the Giants have only one primetime game (against the Cowboys on Monday night in Week 3), because the league has been subjecting national audiences to my terrible team too often in recent years. Let me watch them in shame in the 1 p.m. ET window in a game that’s only being shown in the local markets.
But there are a bunch of games that I’m actually excited about. Let’s take a look at some of them:
- Week 17: Rams at Chargers on Sunday Night Football: Remember, Week 17 isn’t the final week of the season anymore, but this is still a tantalizing late-season matchup between crosstown rivals. It also pits the defending Super Bowl champions against a team on the rise that a lot of people like as a 2022 contender.
- Week 1: Broncos at Seahawks on Monday Night Football: You have to hand it to the NFL’s schedule makers for making Russell Wilson play his first game with his new team against his old team in his old stadium—and in prime time, no less.
- Week 3 and 4: Packers at Buccaneers on Fox and Chiefs at Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football: Tom Brady against Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes for what could be the final time ever. What more do I have to say?
- Week 11: Titans at Packers on Thursday Night Football: It’s rare to get a game this good on Thursday night but this one features the No. 1 seed in each conference last year. If things shake out similarly this year, it could have big playoff implications. Plus, you know you’re going to want to watch as much of Derrick Henry as you can.
- Week 12: Bills at Lions (Thanksgiving Day): Thanks to Conor Orr for putting this game on my radar. The Lions are going to stink, which is why they don’t have any prime-time games this season. That means that their traditional 12:30 p.m. ET game on Thanksgiving will be the only nationally televised game for No. 2 pick Aidan Hutchinson. And it comes in a matchup against one of the most difficult quarterbacks to sack in the entire league.
The NFL is so unpredictable that it’s difficult to look at the schedule in the second week of May and project with any degree of certainty which games are going to be the ones worth paying attention to, but it’s still fun to start speculating.
Game 7s galore, but not for the Sixers
Meanwhile, in games that have already been played, four teams staved off elimination last night to force Game 7s in the NHL and NBA playoffs. The 76ers were not one of those teams.
Philly lost to the Heat, 99–90, but the Miami lead had ballooned to 20 in the fourth quarter before the Sixers closed the gap in garbage time. James Harden was nearly invisible, attempting just two shots in the second half, and now the question is whether he is the right guy for Philly to pair with Joel Embiid in pursuit of a championship, as Chris Mannix writes:
“How Philadelphia deals with Harden this summer will define the future of the franchise. The Sixers mortgaged the future to acquire Harden. They traded Ben Simmons, their most appealing trade chip. They included Seth Curry, a 31-year-old sharp-shooting guard who Joel Embiid really liked playing with. They threw in a pair of first round picks. Team president Daryl Morey believed Harden was the missing piece, and he hitched Philadelphia’s wagon to him.”
The Mavericks, on the other hand, appear to have the right pieces around their superstar, Luka Dončić. They wallopped the Suns, 113–86, to force a Game 7 back in Phoenix on Sunday.
And in the NHL, four teams entered last night with a chance to win and advance—only the Blues (who beat the Wild) did so. That sets up three Game 7s tomorrow:
- Bruins at Hurricanes – 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
- Lightning at Maple Leafs – 7 p.m. ET (TNT)
- Kings at Oilers – 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
There could be another three Game 7s on Sunday, depending on how tonight’s games shake out.
The best of Sports Illustrated
In today’s Daily Cover, Stephanie Apstein offers a look at the personality of everyone’s favorite baseball player, Shohei Ohtani:
“Ohtani rarely speaks to the media—he declined through the team to be interviewed one-on-one for this story—so some elements of his personality have been slow to penetrate the public consciousness. But in recent weeks, cameras have caught him dramatically collapsing on first base coach Benji Gil’s chest; jokingly firing a ball at a fence behind which a White Sox fan was watching him; and, after going 3-for-24 to start the season, pretending to perform CPR on his bat in the dugout. Fans who pay close attention are beginning to learn what his teammates already know: Ohtani, who can throw the ball 100 mph and hit it 400 feet, is perhaps the most talented player in the history of the sport. He’s also pretty funny.”
Albert Breer went inside the NFL’s schedule-building process. … Michael Rosenberg took Gregg Norman to task for his stupid comments about Saudi Arabia and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. … Pat Forde weighs in on Rich Strike’s owners’ decision not to run the Kentucky Derby winner in the Preakness. … Emma Baccellieri examines the big issue affecting hitters in baseball this season: a ball that seems to die on contact.
Around the sports world
Brittney Griner appeared in court today in Russia and her detention was extended by one month. … Joel Embiid said James Harden isn’t the same player he was in Houston, but it didn’t exactly sound like an insult. … Bryce Harper will be relegated to DH duty for the time being after he was diagnosed with a “small tear” in the UCL in his throwing elbow. … Maria Taylor will replace Mike Tirico as the host of NBC’s Football Night in America. … Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is engaged in a war of words with Astros owner Jim Crane over the sign-stealing scandal.
The top five...
… things I saw yesterday:
5. This hilariously botched play in the National-Mets game
4. Mets announcer Gary Cohen’s imitation of Mike Francesa and Chris Russo reviewing the NFL schedule
3. Giancarlo Stanton’s home run with a 116 mph exit velocity
2. The Chargers’ anime-style schedule release video
1. Brayden Point’s overtime game-winner for the Lightning to force a Game 7
This seems like a good follow-up to both yesterday’s SIQ (see the answer below) and yesterday’s From the Vault on Roger Clemens’s 20-strikeout game: On this day in 1952, Pirates minor leaguer Ron Necciai struck out how many batters during a nine-inning no-hitter?
Yesterday’s SIQ: Why was Ernie Shore not credited with a perfect game in 1917 despite being on the mound for all 27 outs and retiring every batter he faced in order?
Answer: Because Babe Ruth started the game, walked the first hitter, got ejected and was replaced by Shore.
After walking Washington’s Ray Morgan, Ruth took issue with umpire Brick Owens’s ball-four call and charged the plate. Here’s how The Boston Globe recounted what happened next:
“Then in rushed Ruth. Chester Thomas tried to prevent him from reaching Owens, who had not removed his mask, but Babe started swinging both hands. The left missed the arbiter, but the right struck him behind the left ear.
“Manager [Jack] Barry and several policemen had to drag Ruth off the field. All season Babe has been fussing a lot. Nothing has seemed to satisfy him.”
Barry, a player-manager, called upon Shore, who was Ruth’s teammate with the International League’s Baltimore Orioles and would be reunited with the “Sultan of Swat” in New York, to take over in relief of Ruth.
Morgan was thrown out trying to steal second, and Shore retired all 26 batters he faced in order. Shore’s performance was considered at the time to be a perfect game but is now in record books as a combined no-hitter after MLB established an eight-man “committee of statistical accuracy” to rule on other divisive achievements in 1991.
The reason Shore’s game came up in my research into Reid Detmers’s no-hitter is that, like Detmers, Shore had only two strikeouts.
“I just threw it up there,” he later said, according to his SABR biography, “and they hit it to the outfield or the infield.”
Shore had taught math at his alma mater, Guilford College in North Carolina, during the offseasons and went on to become a sheriff after retiring from baseball. When he died in 1980, the headline of his New York Times obituary referenced his “rare perfect game.”
From the Vault: May 13, 1991
I know I just featured a cover with Roger Clemens in yesterday’s newsletter but I think discussing this cover from five years later is a good way to illustrate how dominant he was at that time.
Clemens started the 1991 season on a tear, even with a lingering battle over an impending suspension dangling over his head. Clemens had been fined $10,000 and suspended five games for cursing out home plate umpire Terry Cooney and shoving crew chief Jim Evans after Cooney ejected him for arguing balls and strikes in Game 4 of the ’90 ALCS against the A’s. His second appeal was denied at the end of April and he served his suspension.
Clemens was also part of a police investigation following an incident that offseason at a Houston bar. Here’s how Steve Rushin described it in his cover story:
“[O]n Jan. 18, Clemens and his brother Gary, 39, attended an Andrew Dice Clay performance at the Houston Summit and then repaired to Bayou Mama’s. There, Roger allegedly scuffled with a policeman who was attempting to arrest Gary, who had become involved in a disturbance at a nearby table. Roger spent 12 hours in jail that night. The Houston case has not yet been assigned a court date, which will probably be scheduled for the offseason.
“‘I come into play because of who I am or what my name is,’ says Clemens. ‘For basically being a public figure. But my situation there [with the nightclub allegations] doesn't need to be talked about, either. Because, like I said, it’s overblown. What was reported that happened never did happen. We'll take care of that as it comes. But I won’t make it a distraction to my teammates.’”
Clemens didn’t let either issue detract from his performance on the mound. Through his first five starts (when Rushin’s article went to press), Clemens had a miniscule 0.66 ERA in 40 innings. He wasn’t quite as unhittable for the rest of the season, but it was close. Clemens posted an AL-best 2.62 ERA for the season (Pedro Martinez’s 2.39 was the best in the majors) and led the big leagues with 241 strikeouts. He won the AL Cy Young award.
The season came near the end of what you might call Clemens’s first prime. Between 1986 and ’92, he won three Cy Young awards and finished in the top three in Cy voting two more times. Over those seven seasons, his cumulative ERA was 2.66. And he was remarkably durable. He made at least 31 starts in all of those seasons, throwing 81 complete games in his 237 starts (more than a third of all starts) and averaged more than seven innings per start.
Numbers like that are why Rushin wrote that it was “at least conceivable that Clemens will become the greatest righthander ever to play the game.” Little did Rushin know, he would go on to have another almost equally impressive period later in his career. In the nine seasons between 1997 and 2005, Clemens won four more Cy Youngs. But it’s what else Clemens did during that time that’ll keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
Check out more of SI’s archives and historic images at vault.si.com.