The Browns put the ‘super wild’ in Super Wild Card weekend


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The NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend got, well, super wild

The opening round of the playoffs sure went out with a bang last night. Here’s more on that and the other exciting stuff that happened in the NFL:

Cleveland pulled off a monumental upset. The Browns’ first playoff appearance in 18 years looked like it would be short-lived after head coach Kevin Stefanski, Pro Bowl tackle Joel Bitonio and several other team members were ruled out after positive coronavirus tests. But Cleveland shocked the world last night by racing out to a 28-0 lead before the end of the first quarter and holding on to beat Pittsburgh 48-37 for the franchise’s first playoff win in 26 years. This might be it for future Hall of Fame Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who finished with these goofy passing stats: 47-of-68 for 501 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Two of those TDs were caught by Canadian rookie Chase Claypool, who had 59 yards receiving.

Buffalo also snapped a very long drought. The Bills got their first playoff win in 25 years, surviving a 27-24 nailchewer vs. Indianapolis that came down to the final play (an unsuccessful Hail Mary by the Colts). Josh Allen (324 yards and two touchdowns passing, another 54 yards and a score rushing) and Stefon Diggs (six catches for 128 yards and a TD) came up big once again for Buffalo.

The Los Angeles Rams surprised Seattle. L.A. was a three-point underdog whose No. 1 quarterback couldn’t start as he continues to recover from thumb surgery. But Jared Goff was forced onto the field in the first quarter when backup John Wolford got knocked out of the game by a hit to the head. Later, the Rams also lost key receiver Cooper Kupp and perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aaron Donald to injuries. But L.A.’s strong defence still made life miserable for star Seattle QB Russell Wilson, and the Rams pulled off a 30-20 upset.

The favourites won the other three games. Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson got his first career playoff win by leading Baltimore over Tennessee 20-13; Tom Brady won his first playoff game as a Buccaneer, 31-23 over Washington; and New Orleans smothered the punchless Chicago Bears 21-9.

The top two teams — and top two quarterbacks — are back this weekend. Patrick Mahomes and defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City return from the bye they earned for finishing atop the AFC to face Cleveland on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET. Aaron Rodgers and the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers come off their bye to play the Rams on Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET. The other matchups are Baltimore vs. Buffalo on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET and Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans on Sunday at 6:40 p.m. ET. That last matchup features two of the greatest QBs of all time — Brady and Drew Brees — going head to head with a trip to the NFC title game on the line.

Bills players celebrate after beating the Colts on Saturday. (Adrian Kraus/The Associated Press)

Quickly…

The U.S. college football national championship game is tonight — and a Canadian will play a prominent role. Top-ranked Alabama is making its fifth title-game appearance in the last six years and looking for its third victory in that span. The Crimson Tide’s best player is wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy after making 105 catches for 1,641 and 20 touchdowns and added a rushing TD. Their No. 2 receiver is Canadian John Metchie III, who made 47 catches for 835 yards and six TDs. The Tide’s opponent tonight is third-ranked Ohio State, which is led by star quarterback Justin Fields. The presumptive No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL draft threw six TD passes in the Buckeyes’ 49-28 semifinal win over Clemson despite being hurt by a big hit to the ribs in the first half. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET and Alabama is favoured by nine points.

Four of the five Canadians involved in Australian Open qualifying won their opening-round matches. Genie Bouchard and Rebecca Marino advanced on the women’s side, while Peter Polansky and Steven Diez moved on in the men’s. Brayden Schnur lost. It takes three consecutive wins to clinch a spot in one of the main draws, which begin Feb. 8. Read more about how the Canadians did in the first round of qualifying here.

A Trump course was stripped of the 2022 PGA Championship in response to the U.S. Capitol siege. The PGA of America decided to take the major tournament away from Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., after the outgoing president of the United States helped fuel last week’s riot. Trump was reportedly “gutted” by the move. Read more about it here.

And in case you missed it…

Three things that happened over the weekend in the world of winter Olympic sports that you should know about:

Canada picked up its first World Cup bobsleigh medal of the season. The Canadian team elected to not send any athletes to the first few stops, in November and December, due to coronavirus- and travel-related concerns. So this weekend’s races in Germany were the first to include Canadians. Justin Kripps piloted his four-man sled to silver. Read more about the race and watch highlights here.

Canadian Max Parrot won the World Cup snowboard big air season opener. The competition in Austria was Parrot’s first since last March, at the 2020 Winter X Games Europe. Parrot fell on his second jump but was able to rebound for the gold Saturday by nailing his third. Read more about the event and watch highlights here.

American Jessie Diggins became the first non-European to win the prestigious Tour de Ski. Cross-country skiing’s answer to the Tour de France was held 14 times before this, and the closest anyone from outside Europe had come to winning it was in 2017-18, when Diggins finished third in the women’s event and Canadian Alex Harvey was third in the men’s. Diggins made history yesterday by finishing second in the eighth and final stage. That was enough to maintain her overall lead in the event, which began on New Year’s Day in Switzerland and ended in Italy. Canada didn’t send any athletes this year.

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