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Tight games this weekend, with one upset projected

By Barry Wilner
AP Pro Football Writer

Aaron, meet Aaron. And Aaron.
Aaron Donald, the unanimous All-Pro defensive tackle who owns a couple of Defensive Player of the Year awards, certainly hopes to meet fellow All-Pro Aaron Rodgers on Saturday — in the Packers’ backfield. Donald hopes to put the star quarterback on the ground a few times, too.
Same for when Green Bay running back Aaron Jones comes in the vicinity of the Los Angeles Rams’ dynamic D-lineman.
For the Rams to have a strong chance of advancing to the NFC championship game, they need Donald and the top-rated defense he anchors to, well, sink the Pack.
“He’s a special, special player,” Rodgers says. “Obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Impact player every single year, a guy that you have to game-plan for, have to be aware of where he’s at at all times, and just one of those special talents that we haven’t seen a whole lot of in this game in the history of the game. A lot of credit to him, the way he takes care of himself, his motor and he’s somebody that you gotta be worried about.”
Naturally, the Rams should be worried about Rodgers and a four-pronged offense featuring the versatile Jones, All-Pro receiver Davante Adams in the midst of a career season, and breakout tight end Robert Tonyan. The LA offense also hasn’t been special. Jared Goff will start at quarterback with John Wolford inactive one week after incurring a neck injury against Seattle.
Los Angeles is a 7 1-2-point underdog at Green Bay. With about 6,500 fans in attendance, the home-field advantage will be less than it is normally, but frigid Lambeau for a team from SoCal? It will be close, but …
PACKERS, 23-19
KNOCKOUT POOL: For those with all options open, go with KANSAS CITY. But don’t expect a rout.
Baltimore (plus 3 1-2) at Buffalo, Saturday
John Harbaugh has a pretty amazing NFL record: eight road playoff victories. He snapped a tie with Hall of Famer Tom Landry and Tom Coughlin when the Ravens won at Tennessee.
This is a much bigger challenge. Buffalo has won seven straight, has a far better defense than the Titans, and a more dangerous passing attack. The Bills’ win against Indianapolis was tight, but also had to be a huge confidence boost for a franchise that last advanced in the playoffs in 1995.
Of course, the performance by Lamar Jackson in his first postseason win after two defeats, and Baltimore’s defense shutting down 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry, bodes well for the Ravens.
Just not quite well enough.
BUFFALO, 26-24
Cleveland (plus 10) at Kansas City, Sunday
Another team with a swell of confidence has to be the Browns. That they mauled the self-destructing Steelers should be taken into account, but that offense was impressive, and the defense was a takeaway machine.
One trouble for Cleveland is that the D showed some real vulnerability after building the big lead at Pittsburgh. Sure, the Browns were able to get conservative, but don’t try that against Patrick Mahomes and the reigning champions.
KC has been idle since the regular-season finale, when several important regulars were rested. So rustiness is a consideration. Losing probably isn’t, but this spread is too wide.
BEST BET: CHIEFS, 30-24
Tampa Bay (plus 3 1-2) at New Orleans, Sunday
Old-timers day at the Superdome. Tom Brady and Drew Brees are a collective 85 years old. They also are headed to Canton five years after they retire — if they ever do — and will take lots of records with them.
The Saints won both meetings between these NFC South rivals during the regular season. The team that swept the regular-season series has won 14 of the previous 22 matchups. And New Orleans was the previous team in such a situation, achieving the sweep by beating Carolina 31-26 in the wild-card round after sweeping the Panthers in the 2017 regular season.
We don’t have to pick an upset, but we’re not going against TB12.
UPSET SPECIAL: BUCCANEERS, 24-23

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AP source: LeMahieu, Yanks work on $90 million, 6-year deal

By Ronald Blum
AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Yankees and AL batting champion DJ LeMahieu worked Friday to put in place a six-year contract worth about $90 million, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement is subject to a successful physical.
LeMahieu, who turns 33 in July, became the first player to win undisputed batting titles in both leagues. He won his first AL batting title last year at .364, the highest average for an AL batting champion since Minnesota’s Joe Mauer hit .365 in 2009, after winning the NL championship with Colorado in 2016.
A three-time All-Star, LeMahieu signed a $24 million, two-year contract with the Yankees in January 2019. He had 10 homers and 27 RBIs in the shortened 2020 season after hitting .327 with 26 homers and 102 RBIs in his first season in New York.
LeMahieu started his big league career with the Chicago Cubs in 2011, then was traded to Colorado. He has a .305 average with 85 homers and 478 RBIs in 10 big league seasons, and he has won three Gold Gloves at second base.

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NBA fines Irving $50,000 for health, safety violations

By Brian Mahoney
AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving’s absence from the Brooklyn Nets has cost him nearly $1 million.
The NBA fined the point guard $50,000 on Friday for violating its health and safety protocols, and said he could return to team activities Saturday.
The league added that he would forfeit his salary for each game he misses during a five-day quarantine period that would end Saturday if he continues to test negative for the coronavirus. He’s already missed two, which means he has lost more than $900,000 of his $33.5 million salary.
Irving has missed the last five games while away from the Nets for personal reasons. He was seen in a video on social media during his absence at an indoor family party while not wearing a mask.
The league’s protocols prohibit attending indoor social gatherings of 15 or more people or entering bars, lounges, clubs or similar establishments.
Irving is the second player to be fined for that. The other is his new teammate, James Harden.
The Nets have not explained the reasons for Irving’s absence, leaving it to him to do when he returns. Their next game is Saturday against Orlando, though coach Steve Nash said Friday he had no update about when Irving would rejoin the team.
“Without a doubt, the organization’s disappointed with not having any one of our players, in this particular case Kyrie, not amongst us, not in the trenches with us and so forth,” general manager Sean Marks said Thursday during a news conference to discuss the trade for Harden.
“So I don’t want to speculate and say why he’s out and so forth. I’ve had conversations with him and I’ll continue to have conversations and we look forward to him being back in the gym, where he will address this,” he said.
In December, Irving was was fined $25,000 by the NBA for not speaking to the media during preseason.

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Judge, Yankees agree at to $10,175,000, 1-year contract

NEW YORK (AP) — Slugging outfielder Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a one-year contract worth $10,175,000.
Judge had his third straight injury-interrupted season since winning the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year award, hitting .257 with nine homers and 22 RBIs in 101 at-bats and 28 games. After homering in his first five games, he strained his right calf and played just once between Aug. 11 and Sept. 16.
The two-time All-Star was limited to 112 games in 2018 by a broken bone in his right wrist when by hit by a pitch from Kansas City’s Jakob Junis and to 102 games in 2019 by a strained oblique muscle.
He earned $3,148,148 in prorated pay last year from an $8.5 million salary. Judge is eligible for free agency after the 2022 season.

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Bills’ dynamic Allen-Diggs duo ‘just scratching the surface’

By John Wawrow
AP Sports Writer

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Receiver Stefon Diggs isn’t altogether content with how he and quarterback Josh Allen have teamed up to rewrite several pages of the Buffalo Bills’ single-season record book.
Acquired in a trade with Minnesota in March, Diggs likes to remind people this is only the dynamic duo’s first season together.
“I don’t know the past. I just know Josh right now, and he’s playing great football,” Diggs said. “I feel like we’re scratching the surface on the potential we have.”
Now there’s a scary thought.
The sixth-year player provided the sobering perspective after the AFC East champion Bills routed New England 38-9 on Monday to win their 12th game for the first time since 1993 and complete their first season sweep of the Patriots in 21 years.
Allen and Diggs put their chemistry on full display before a national prime-time audience.
Diggs earned his first AFC offensive player of the week honor with nine catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns. In the process, he upped his NFL-leading season totals to 120 catches, extending his Bills single-season record, and 1,459 yards, eclipsing the team record of 1,368 set by Eric Moulds in 1998.
Allen’s four touchdown passes gave him 34 this season, surpassing Hall of Famer Jim Kelly’s team record by one. And Allen needed to play just three snaps into the fourth quarter to top 300 yards passing for the eighth time and break the team record set by Drew Bledsoe in 2002.
It’s unclear whether the two can add to their production with coach Sean McDermott not revealing whether he’ll rest his starters Sunday when Buffalo hosts Miami. The Bills can fall no lower than the AFC’s third seed, and would clinch the No. 2 spot with a win or a Pittsburgh loss.
However things turn out, Diggs and Allen have already made a big impression on their teammates.
“I’m sorry, let me just say this, Diggs is a problem. Man. Woo! Him and Josh,” Hyde said, interrupting the first question posed to him following the game. “I got a free ticket to watch them play. Man, it’s impressive. To see them, it’s like they’re playing Madden out there.”

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A wearable tech defense vs COVID-19 in world juniors bubble

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — What looks like a thin pack of gum is attached to Braden Schneider’s event credential at the world junior hockey championship.
It’s a beacon providing both contact tracing capability should the Canadian defenseman test positive for COVID-19 and a warning if he stands too close to someone else for too long.
“It’s a mandatory thing to make sure we’re all safe in these times,” Schneider said. “If that’s one of the things we have to do, we’re very privileged and lucky to even get the chance to come here and play.”
TraceSafe’s wearable technology is Hockey Canada’s extra layer of defense against the spread of the virus at the 12-day, 10-nation tournament, in addition to the same cellphone app the NHL used in its Edmonton and Toronto playoff bubbles earlier this year.
That app, which includes facial recognition technology, is a self-assessment tool that provides a code for a temperature check.
The Bluetooth beacon on Schneider’s credential features a small red light that flashes if he’s less than 2 meters (6.6 feet) from another person, or if he’s in someone else’s presence for more than 15 minutes. Data is uploaded via an encrypted network to be used for contact tracing in the event of a positive test.
“What we wanted to do is be able to trace where people were relative to others and we wanted to be able to set a quarantine period where no one was allowed to leave,” Dean McIntosh, Hockey Canada’s vice president of events, told the Canadian Press. “The app didn’t do that for us and neither did the daily testing, so there was a need to find something different and new.”
The technology works in concert with other measures, including daily testing. Hockey Canada hired the same private Edmonton lab the NHL did to process tests.
Wearing masks is mandatory. They are removed when players and personnel are about to step on the ice, McIntosh said.
The trickiest part of managing the virus was when teams arrived in Edmonton on Dec. 13.
Everyone wore a wristband resembling a hospital bracelet while quarantined in their hotel rooms for five days. A device in their rooms and the wristbands created a geofence, so if a player left his room, the signal would break and indicate a breach of quarantine.
Those deemed free of the virus after quarantine discarded the wristbands and donned credentials with the beacons to enter the world junior bubble.
Nine German players continued wearing wristbands and isolating in their hotel rooms several more days because of positive tests during quarantine. One player will continue to do so until Jan. 4.
Who sees the data? An International Ice Hockey Federation official and a representative of the organizing committee can access it in real time. Any positive test is reported to Alberta Health Services for contact tracing to begin.
“We have not had a case since individuals came out of quarantine, so we haven’t had to utilize the TraceSafe technology to identify close contacts in a positive case in the bubble,” McIntosh said.
The credential beacon doesn’t create a geofence barrier. More traditional measures ensure no one leaves the hotel or arena, including security.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of trust, but there does come a point in the event where teams will be eliminated and maybe here for 24 hours before they leave, so we’re really trying to ensure the temptation of leaving the bubble isn’t there,” McIntosh said.

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Padres acquire Darvish in blockbuster trade with Cubs on Tuesday night

By Jay Cohen
AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller reunited with an old friend in another blockbuster move Tuesday night.
The aggressive Padres got Yu Darvish in a trade with the Chicago Cubs, adding another ace to their rotation after announcing a deal for Blake Snell earlier in the day. During his time in Texas’ front office, Preller scouted Darvish before the Rangers acquired the Japanese right-hander in 2012.
“His last season and a half has been as productive as anybody in the game. He’s a force,” Preller said Tuesday night. “So I think getting back on the phone with him, catching up for a few minutes, really looking forward to being around him every single day again.”
The Padres got Darvish, catcher Victor Caratini and $3 million from the Cubs for right-hander Zach Davies and four young minor leaguers. The switch-hitting Caratini caught Darvish in Chicago and batted .241 with 16 RBIs last season.
“We’ve had interest in Victor for a few years now,” Preller said. “I think he’s been a guy that, just on his own, we feel like is a quality catching option for us.”
Davies went 7-4 with a 2.73 ERA in 12 starts for San Diego this year. The package of prospects headed to Chicago includes Owen Caissie, an 18-year-old outfielder who was selected by the Padres in the second round of this year’s amateur draft.
The 34-year-old Darvish was 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts for Chicago during the pandemic-shortened season, finishing second in the NL Cy Young Award race. He has three years and $59 million left on the $126 million, six-year deal he signed with the Cubs before the 2018 season.
Chicago will send San Diego payments of $500,000 on the first day of each month from April through September in 2021, offsetting a portion of Darvish’s $22 million salary. He is owed $19 million in 2022 and $18 million in 2023.
San Diego also completed a big trade with Tampa Bay for Snell. The 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner was sent from the Rays to the Padres for a package of four players: right-handers Luis Patiño and Cole Wilcox, and catchers Francisco Mejía and Blake Hunt — all well-regarded youngsters from a San Diego system that’s been stocking the farm for years.
The Padres made the playoffs this year for the first time since 2006, but their injury-depleted rotation was in shambles when the postseason arrived. They beat St. Louis in the first round before getting swept in three Division Series games by their NL West rivals, the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mike Clevinger, acquired from Cleveland in August, isn’t expected back from Tommy John surgery until 2022, but the Padres have other quality starters in Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. Left-hander MacKenzie Gore is one of baseball’s top pitching prospects.
“Pretty much every trade conversation usually starts with MacKenzie Gore,” Preller said. “But again, I think we’re looking forward to Mack coming to camp and competing and being part of the organization here for a long time.”
Darvish is in the middle of a career renaissance after struggling upon arrival in Chicago. He was limited to eight starts and 40 innings in 2018 because of injuries. He started to regain his form in 2019, posting a 2.76 ERA with 118 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings over his final 13 starts.
He picked up this year right where he left off, helping the Cubs to the NL Central title. The right-hander attributed some of his turnaround to going back to a more deliberate style that he employed when he was a star pitcher in Japan. He also has developed a rapport with Caratini that should help his transition to San Diego.
Four years after a historic World Series championship, Chicago is retooling under Jed Hoyer, who was promoted to president of baseball operations after Theo Epstein stepped down in November. Veteran outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. were let go on Dec. 2, but the Darvish deal is the team’s biggest move since Hoyer took over.
There could be more trades on the horizon. All-Star sluggers Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo are eligible for free agency after next season. But the Cubs still might be able to contend while Hoyer reworks the roster due to the cost-cutting atmosphere around the NL Central.
Minor league infielders Reginald Preciado, 17, and Yeison Santana, 20, and outfielder Ismael Mena, 18, also were acquired by the Cubs in the Darvish trade.

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Florida-Oklahoma in Cotton Bowl dozen years after title game

By Stephen Hawkins
AP Sports Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dan Mullen has been part of two national championships with Florida, the last for the Gators coming in a win over Oklahoma in his final game as their offensive coordinator before leaving for his first head coaching job.
That BCS National Championship game 12 seasons ago was the only meeting between the No. 8 Sooners and No. 10 Florida before they play in the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday night. While outside of the College Football Playoff, it will be the first New Year’s Six bowl game played in this pandemic-affected season.
“This being our third straight New Year’s Six bowl game, I think the program’s right there and competing with all the top teams in the country,” said Mullen, in his third season as Florida’s head coach after nine seasons at Mississippi State. “And you look at that and as you talk about it, you look at the margin for error to go win championships is extremely small.”
Florida (8-3, No. 7 CFP), which will be without its top four receivers in the Cotton Bowl and has only about 60 scholarship players, lost 52-46 to No. 1 Alabama in the SEC championship game. Its other losses were both by three points — on a game-ending field goal at No. 5 Texas A&M, and when LSU kicked a field goal with 23 seconds left in the Gators’ home finale.
The Sooners (8-2, No. 6 CFP) are back in the NFL stadium where they won their sixth consecutive Big 12 championship earlier this month. They have a seven-game winning streak since losing their first two conference games, but coach Lincoln Riley said he will also look back at this season and be proud of what all of college football accomplished despite COVID-19.
“We have the worst possible setup to make it during a pandemic, with a lot of times community living, just the way our programs are set up, guys still having to go to school,” Riley said. “It’s not the ideal sport to survive during a pandemic, and we’ve found a way to do it.”
Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask is the nation’s top passer with 375 yards per game and 43 touchdowns. Florida’s All-American tight end Kyle Pitts opted out after the SEC title game before receivers Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney announced Monday they were skipping the game to prepare for their NFL futures. Then receiver Jacob Copeland didn’t make the trip after testing positive for COVID-19.
Oklahoma senior cornerback Tre Brown, who had the game-clinching interception in the 27-21 win over No. 12 Iowa State in the Big 12 title game on Dec. 19, opted out to focused on the NFL draft. Backup quarterback Tanner Mordecai and running back T.J. Pledger announced they are transferring.
“There’s a big percentage of both of our football teams that are going to be pretty excited to play this football game,” Riley said. “So I tend to go with the majority, and think these (bowl) games are still pretty darned important.”
FRESH QB
Spencer Rattler is the fourth different starting QB in as many seasons to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 title and New Year’s Six game. The redshirt freshman is the first to start his career with the Sooners instead of transferring into the program. Rattler was the first-team AP All-Big 12 quarterback after throwing for 2,784 yards and 25 TDs, the most nationally for a freshman.
BACK ON THE FIELD
Oklahoma defensive end Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson missed the Peach Bowl last year because of suspensions that carried over through the first five games of this season.
Stevenson is OU’s leading rusher, with 479 yards and six touchdowns in his five games, while Perkins has 9 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 quarterback sacks in that same span.
“That feeling last year is a feeling I almost never experienced before. Like, it hurt me, my family, my teammates, just not being able to do what I love,” Stevenson said. “So, yeah, it means a lot being able to play in this bowl game.”
LOTS OF SACKS
Florida is the SEC leader with 33 sacks. Oklahoma has 30 in its last seven games and is the Big 12 sacks leader with 36 overall.
NEW YEAR’S SIX
Oklahoma is in its sixth consecutive New Year’s Six game, the fourth in a row since Riley became head coach. The Sooners lost the last three, all College Football Playoff semifinal games against different SEC teams. … Florida is playing its third NY6 game in a row under Mullen, with wins in the Orange Bowl last year and the Peach Bowl in 2018.
FLASHBACK
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow threw two touchdowns in a 24-14 win over Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 8, 2009, in Miami. Bradford won the Heisman as a sophomore, the year after Tebow was the first sophomore winner.

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No preseason, no problem: NFL rookies shine in strange year

By Mark Long
AP Pro Football Writer

Facing fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams, the New York Jets turned to veteran Frank Gore — along with rookie Mekhi Becton.
The critical play called for Gore to run behind Becton, a 6-foot-7, 363-pound left tackle and the 11th overall pick in the 2020 draft. Becton stonewalled five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and created enough of a hole for Gore to power into the end zone for his 100th career touchdown. It gave the Jets a 20-3 lead and was instrumental in their first victory of the season.
“It was great because that’s what I strive for,” Becton said. “I want to have everything on my shoulders. I want the ball to be behind me in clutch situations like that.”
Becton is among dozens of rookies who have made significant impacts this season, disproving the notion that losing preseason games and organized team activities because of the coronavirus pandemic would negatively affect first-year players.
Instead, they broke records and raised eyebrows across the league. Washington’s Chase Young, Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert, Tampa Bay’s Tristan Wirfs and Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson are at the top of what’s shaping up to be a stellar rookie class, a group that features several franchise quarterbacks, playmakers on both sides of the ball and quite possibly the best collection of offensive tackles in decades.
Young and Jefferson made the Pro Bowl, and surely more rookies would have joined them as alternates at the league’s now-canceled all-star game.
Young has 42 tackles, including 61⁄2 sacks, and no play showcased his ability more than his 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown at San Francisco in Week 14. The defensive end scooped up the football as smoothly as a major league middle infielder, gripped it in his left hand as if it was a track baton and pulled away from everyone chasing him.
And that was only part of the big picture for the second overall pick.
“It’s crazy unusual for a rookie, I think, to have the type of leadership that Chase has, genuine leadership,” Washington quarterback Alex Smith said. “I think a lot of young guys, especially high picks, I think you feel pressure to do it some way or somehow. I think Chase is so comfortable in his own skin and being who he is.
“I think guys respect that, but it’s rare to have a guy that young step in and really affect his teammates as positively as he has. He’s definitely unique.”
Jefferson has 79 catches for 1,267 yards and seven touchdowns, helping the Vikings replace Stefon Diggs and build their most prolific offense since Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss shared the spotlight in 2004.
“Everything about that kid is special,” Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook said. “He’s got special written on him. … Carries himself like a five-year vet. You can’t tell the difference. If you put him in the locker room with the vets, you would think he’d fit right in.
“I haven’t seen him shy away from any big moment. I love being around him, that’s my brother. I think he’s just scratching the surface.”
Herbert has cooled off over the past five weeks, but he still has the Chargers believing they amply replaced Philip Rivers and found a staple at the all-important position for years to come. Cincinnati feels the same way about top pick Joe Burrow, who threw for at least 300 yards five times in 10 games and accounted for 16 touchdowns before tearing ligaments in his left knee in November.
Wirfs has been so good — aside from a Week 5 showing against Chicago star Khalil Mack — that he’s considered an outside candidate to become the first non-skill-position player to earn NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
“He’s playing at a Pro Bowl level, and that’s what we anticipated,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s doing it week in and week out, so that’s kind of what I expect every week now.”
Wirfs, Becton, Cleveland’s Jedrick Wills, Miami’s Austin Jackson and Andrew Thomas of the New York Giants have started a combined 67 games this season — Wirfs at right tackle and the others at left.
Wirfs and Wills have been the best of the bunch, but not by much.
“Talk about a rookie coming in, starting every game and just being focused,” Browns Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio said of Wills. “Has it been perfect? No, but the way he competes … a lot of the stuff he has done has been on an island one on one. It has been impressive.”
So have many of his rookie classmates.
Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfield, Baltimore linebacker Patrick Queen, Miami defensive tackle Raekwon Davis, Indianapolis safety Julian Blackmon and Carolina linebacker Jeremy Chinn look like budding NFL defensive stars.
Receivers CeeDee Lamb (Dallas), Brandon Aiyuk (San Francisco) and Chase Claypool (Pittsburgh), along with Jefferson, have outperformed higher picks and college teammates Henry Ruggs (Las Vegas) and Jerry Jeudy (Denver).
And a number of running backs have emerged as future fantasy football studs, most notably Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Detroit’s D’Andre Swift, Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor, Baltimore’s J.K. Dobbins, Washington’s Antonio Gibson and Jacksonville undrafted rookie James Robinson.
“We’re growing and we’re starting to get a hang of the game,” said Dolphins right tackle Robert Hunt, a second-round pick and one of six Miami rookies starting on offense.
“We’re starting to get better and understanding the game a little more. This is a game that you’ve got to grow, and I think we’re all growing. We’re rookies still, but we’re definitely growing.”

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Arizona men’s basketball self-imposes 1-year postseason ban

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona men’s basketball program has self-imposed a one-year postseason ban related to its long-running NCAA rules infractions case.
Arizona was accused of nine counts of misconduct, including five Level I violations, in a Notice of Allegations sent by the NCAA in October. The violations include a lack of institutional control and failure to monitor by the university, and lack of head coach control by basketball coach Sean Miller.
The school announced the one-year ban Tuesday.
“The decision is an acknowledgement that the NCAA’s investigation revealed that certain former members of the MBB staff displayed serious lapses in judgment and a departure from the University’s expectation of honest and ethical behavior,” the school said in a statement. “It is also in accord with the penalty guidelines of the NCAA for the type of violations involved.”
Arizona is off to a 7-1 start this season, including a 1-1 mark in the Pac-12, but won’t have the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have a revamped roster after freshmen stars Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji and Nico Mannion were all selected in the NBA draft.
“I understand and fully support the University’s decision to self-impose a one-year post season ban on our men’s basketball program,” Miller said in a statement. “Our team will remain united and aggressively compete to win a Pac-12 championship.”
Arizona had been in the NCAA’s crosshairs since 2017, when assistant coach Emanuel Richardson was among 10 people arrested as part of a federal corruption investigation into college basketball.
Richardson was fired by the university and later pleaded guilty to accepting $20,000 in bribes from aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins. He was sentenced to three months in prison in 2019.
Miller sat out a game in 2018 after ESPN reported that he was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to future No. 1 overall NBA pick Deandre Ayton. Miller vehemently denied the report and university President Robert C. Robbins announced a few days later that Miller would remain the Wildcats’ coach.
Arizona was one of several schools involved in the federal probe, including Oklahoma State, Kansas and Louisville.