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Good morning! Might want to make your offer to Yoshinobu Yamamoto about now.
Surprises: Good Russell Wilson? In this economy?
This is the time of the NFL season when playoff favorites truly separate themselves from the rest. This is also the time when teams need guys to step up, replacing injured superstars and fortifying weaknesses.
A nod to Sunday’s unheralded stars, from most surprising to least:
1. Browns QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson
The fill-in for Deshaun Watson won’t have yesterday’s performance enshrined anywhere, but the UCLA rookie was enough to beat the Steelers, 13-10. These 7-3 Browns can win the AFC North, even without the franchise quarterback. Cleveland’s defense might be the best single unit in the NFL and is at least the best in the division. This team has won games with Watson, Thompson-Robinson and PJ Walker at QB. I expect to see them in the playoffs. Joe Flacco’s even here to help.
2. Giants QB Tommy DeVito
A week after looking helpless, the 25-year-old rookie threw for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in an unexpected 31-19 win over the Commanders. New York’s season is done already at 3-8, but we shouldn’t question their pride. (Not surprising? The showers at FedEx Field breaking, leaving both teams unable to bathe postgame.)
3. Bills OC Joe Brady
Buffalo fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey last week, a sure sign the season was heading to the abyss. Quarterbacks coach Joe Brady found himself promoted and helped direct a 32-6 win over the Jets yesterday in which — of course — the Bills looked invincible again. I still have no idea what to do with them. Meanwhile, the Jets benched Zach Wilson, lost four turnovers, engaged in a tunnel scuffle and have never looked worse.
4. Broncos QB Russell Wilson
Yes, a real thing. Wilson has been largely awful the last two seasons, but late last night, it was the former superstar throwing a dart to Courtland Sutton to clinch a 21-20 win over the 6-5 Vikings. Denver has won four straight after starting 1-5.
5. 49ers QB Brock Purdy
OK, this isn’t shocking, but let’s zoom out a bit. For all the headlines Purdy has earned, this is still a guy who’s played 19 regular-season games in the NFL. Yet he has been a superstar for most of that time, never moreso than yesterday, when he threw three touchdowns in San Francisco’s 27-14 win over Tampa Bay and finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. No 49er has done that since Joe Montana. With two straight dominant wins, 7-3 San Francisco is all the way back, and Purdy is largely the reason.
We have full takeaways from Week 11 here, including a wild Lions win they probably didn’t deserve. And don’t miss Robert Mays and Nate Tice reacting live to all the action.
News to Know
An unexpected two-peat
North Carolina field hockey won the national title yesterday, which isn’t shocking for the powerhouse program. The way they did it is most stunning: with a 23-year-old head coach. Erin Matson wins four rings as a Tar Heels player, immediately takes over for program legend Karen Shelton, then wins another in her first year? Almost feels scripted.
Syracuse fired football coach Dino Babers yesterday, ending an eight-year tenure with one game left in the regular season. It was a frustrating tenure for Orange fans, who saw encouraging highs and depressing lows. He ends with a 41-55 record. Bruce Feldman has an interesting list of candidates here.
Hot Stove: The first free agency pitch is thrown
The last two days have been monumental for the starting pitcher market in MLB free agency. Let me explain:
- The Phillies agreed to a seven-year, $172 million contract with Aaron Nola, bringing back the homegrown talent who’s become one of the most durable starters in the majors. The two sides clearly wanted to get this done; many of these deals can drag into late December and January before putting pen to paper. Nola gets a chance to cement himself as one of the best players in franchise history, as Matt Gelb writes. This also means the Phillies are probably out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
- Wait, who? Yamamoto is the next incoming superstar from Japan, an ace-potential right-handed starter every contender covets. I thought Grant Brisbee’s Giants-focused breakdown of Yamamoto actually serves well for all readers. The dude allowed two home runs last season in 171 innings. Two! Also, he might enter MLB with the best splitter in baseball. Nippon Professional Baseball officially posts him today, so get ready for a flurry of reports this week.
We’ve updated our Top 40 Free Agents Big Board thusly. Worth a look for the sweet design alone. Yamamoto is the list’s highest-rated player not named Shohei Ohtani, now that Nola is signed. This is going to be fun.
Watch This Game
NFL: Eagles at Chiefs
8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Not much of a sell needed. Just a Super Bowl rematch from last year as both teams look headed for another meeting in the actual Big Game. Click.
Kelly Sheffield never played volleyball. So how did he build Wisconsin’s perennial national title contender? Brian Hamilton has the fantastic story of a self-described scientist who schemed his way to 559 career wins.
Yes, Milwaukee had some early struggles. But Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo are starting to gel, particularly late in games. That should terrify everyone else.
Mats Sundin is one of the best players in Maple Leafs history, but bitter feelings have lingered between player and team in the nearly 15 years since his retirement. Chris Johnston delves into the disconnect — and how a recent Maple Leaf trip to Sweden helped repair the relationship.
In Columbus, there is nothing but losses and chaos for the Blue Jackets. Aaron Portzline writes about a season already off the rails.
Jordan Bianchi has a searing column on F1, whose Las Vegas glamor race “shortchanged the fans who love the sport most.”
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(Photo: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)