Editor’s note: This is the Sunday, January 8, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
Good morning. The Chargers, Rams and other NFL teams conclude the regular season today with even more drama than usual. Let’s look at what’s at stake, after a glance at other sports news.
- The Lakers have won five in a row after a victory in Sacramento.
- Kevin Fiala’s hat trick helped the Kings beat the Golden Knights again.
- Monday night’s college football championship game at SoFi Stadium is “almost like it’s scripted” for TCU running back Emari Demercado, a Downey High alum who grew up in Inglewood.
- Georgia gains extra incentive from trying to be the first repeat national champion of the playoff era.
- Columnist Jim Alexander brings encouraging words from playoff executive director Bill Hancock about preserving at least one piece of Rose Bowl tradition.
The climactic weekend of the NFL’s regular season is like no other league’s. The NFL went into its final round of games yesterday and today with playoff berths or seedings on the line for 18 of its 32 teams (with two other teams locked into seedings). In 2022, the number of teams with something to play for on the last day in the NBA was 11, in the NHL was eight and in MLB was zero; they have much longer schedules to settle things.
In all, 11 of the 14 games today can affect the playoff lineup in some way, and New England Patriots at Buffalo-Bills, Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers could affect both teams’ playoff spots.
Emotions are turned up higher because the Bills and Bengals are playing for the first time since the on-field cardiac arrest of Bills safety Damar Hamlin forced cancellation of their Monday night game. Hamlin is recovering in a Cincinnati hospital and has been in touch with teammates.
A Bills win would clinch the No. 2 seeding in the AFC and leave the Bengals at No. 3, both behind the Kansas City Chiefs, who clinched No. 1 by winning yesterday.
Either way, a Bengals win would have the effect of helping the Chargers.
Assured of at least the No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Chargers will clinch the No. 5 seed if the Ravens lose to the Bengals in a 10 a.m. game (Pacific time) or the Chargers beat the Denver Broncos in a 1: 25 p.m. team. At No. 5, they would face the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the playoffs; at No. 6, they’d have to face the Bills or Bengals.
Chargers beat writer Elliott Teaford says the Chargers’ defense, which got edge rusher Joey Bosa back last week, is getting healthy and sharper at the right time. Elliott analyzes the matchup with the Broncos here.
It’s different for the Rams, who long ago fell out of contention to defend their Super Bowl championship and can only hope to play spoiler in their 1: 25 p.m. game at Seattle. The Seahawks can make the playoffs as the No. 7 – last – seed in the NFC if they beat the Rams and the Packers lose to the Lions tonight.
Rams beat writer Gilbert Manzano said the game will be especially meaningful for linebacker Bobby Wagner, who plays in Seattle for the first time since the Seahawks let him go and the Rams signed him in the offseason. Gilbert ‘s matchup analysis is here.
The Rams have to hope the game isn’t significant in another way. Coach Sean McVay said little this week to discourage speculation that this could be his last Rams game. McVay considered leaving to take a TV analyst’s job after winning the Super Bowl last February, and little if anything about coaching got more pleasant during a losing, injury-ravaged season.
While the playoffs won’t include the Rams, they will include at least five and as many as seven teams that didn’t make it last season. And they’ll include as many as three teams (the Jaguars, maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers, maybe the Lions or Packers) that were four or more games under .500 at one point this season.
The NFL has stats showing this season’s games featured more close finishes than ever. The season itself is about to feature a tense finish as usual.
- Chargers visit Denver (1: 25 p.m., Ch. 2) hoping to run their winning streak to five games going into the playoffs.
- Rams finish their season at Seattle (1: 25 p.m., Ch. 11) by trying to spoil things for the Seahawks, who can make the playoffs with a win and a Packers loss.
- Clippers and Hawks are both struggling going into the game at Crypto.com Arena (6 p.m.,BSSC).
- Ducks try again for their first three-game win streak of the season when they face the NHL-leading Bruins (5: 30 p.m., BSW). Ducks update.
- UCLA’s women’s basketball team, No. 12 in the nation, faces USC at Pauley Pavilion with the availability of both teams’ leading scorers up in the air (2 p.m., Pac12N). Preview.
- Santa Anita’s nine races (noon, FanDuel TV) feature the Swaps Stakes, start of the western road to the Kentucky Derby.
- Los Alamitos runs a nine-race card (5 p.m.).
Do you have a message for Sean McVay amid speculation he could step down as Rams coach to accept a TV offer or take a break from the stresses of his job? Share your thoughts by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).
“Welcome to the track meet.” – Kyle Goon (@KyleGoon) watching the Lakers and Kings sprint to a 73-73 tie at halftime of L.A.’s 136-134 win in Sacramento.
Launch angle: Chase Sexton takes a jump on his way to winning a 450SX heat at the 2023 Monster Energy AMA Supercross at Angel Stadium in Anaheim last night. Photo is by Will Lester of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and SCNG.
Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti.
Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.