It's Wednesday! You're halfway through the workweek and cruising along. Look at you go! Don't forget to hydrate!
I'm happy to have you here, and I hope you're ready for some more Champions League today. It's the final day of the quarterfinals and we've got another pair of ties to play through.
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We've got plenty more for you as well -- including check-ins on the Patriots and Cubs, two franchises that could be hanging out in the "rebuilding" section of 2021. Today's also a mailbag day, so stick around 'til the end to catch me answering some weird questions. A big thank you to you if you happened to be one of those people that sent weird questions!
Let's have at it.
📰 What you need to know
1. Champions League takeaways: PSG survives ⚽
And just like that, half of the Champions League semifinal round is set. We had two second leg matches play out yesterday, and both teams that ended up on the losing side Tuesday still wound up advancing through in the UCL. PSG fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich but advancing through on away goals (3-3 on aggregate) and Chelsea lost 1-0 to Porto but got through 2-1 on aggregate thanks to their 2-0 win in the first leg.
So, what can we learn from yesterday's action? Our Roger Gonzalez has takeaways:
- PSG is deserving but they weren't sharp: PSG was arguably outplayed in the first leg but they were the better team on Tuesday, despite the score line. They generated plenty of chances but just lacked the finish, and that helped keep Bayern in it. Credit to Bayern for pushing PSG to the brink, but they missed Robert Lewandowski
- Don't be shocked if Pulisic gets rested this weekend: Christian Pulisic got the start for Chelsea and was punished physically all day. His 11 received fouls are the most for any player since Lionel Messi vs. Real Madrid in 2011, and that speaks to how much trouble Porto had with his speed and ability. Still, he's probably gonna need some R&R this weekend
So, PSG and Chelsea are through to the semis ... but who will join them? We've got Borussia Dortmund vs. Manchester City and Liverpool vs. Real Madrid to close out the quarters today. Do we have some more drama in store? I'm excited to find out, and our experts have made their picks. As always, those two games are available to watch on Paramount+.
2. How the Patriots can have a perfect 2021 draft 🏈
This has already been an incredibly eventful (and important) offseason for the Patriots. They got a number of players back following last year's COVID opt-outs. They re-signed Cam Newton. They signed a million players in free agency. Julian Edelman just retired.
And yet the work still isn't done. Bill Belichick has a big draft ahead of him, as the Patriots possess a first-round selection that is much higher than they're used to. Belichick has to make it count as he attempts to rebuild and reload in New England, but that might be easier said than done considering the Patriots have struggled at the draft in recent years.
On the off-chance that Belichick might come to this newsletter for help, our Tyler Sullivan has proposed a blueprint for the Pats' approach to the draft:
- Find the next franchise QB: Again, easier said than done, especially when the previous franchise QB was Tom Brady. But the Patriots still don't have a long-term solution in place at QB and that should be the main priority. There are a number of avenues New England can explore -- from trading up in the draft or waiting to see who might fall to them, or trading for another team's castoff (think Jimmy Garoppolo or Teddy Bridgewater). Either way, the time is now for the Patriots to address their future at QB
- Stabilize uncertainty at corner and offensive tackle: Trade rumors have surrounded Stephon Gilmore for a while now, and the star cornerback only has one year remaining on his contract. J.C. Jackson is also on a second-round tender, meaning both of these guys could be gone by this time next year. As such, the Pats need to build some insurance via the draft. They're also going to want to do the same thing at tackle
- Add wide receiver with high ceiling: The Patriots focused on adding pass-catching help at tight end and wide receiver this offseason, but they still need a legit No. 1 wide receiver. If they can't use that No. 15 pick to snag a QB, they may want to get a receiver that has the potential to become a top target -- perhaps Alabama's DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle
As a Pats fan myself, it feels like this is the most important draft that they've had in a long time. They're picking higher than usual and probably won't find themselves in this high of a position next year after the offseason they've had, so they need to make the most of this.
I'm nervous but I'm also excited about all of the possibilities. Aw, who am I kidding? There's a 90 percent chance Bill trades down and stocks up on future picks like he always does.
3. Are the Cubs headed for a complete rebuild? ⚾
How early is too early to press the panic button on a baseball team's season? How about pressing the panic button on an entire franchise's status? The Chicago Cubs are really testing us in regards to those questions.
Yes, we're only two weeks into a new season but the Cubs are steadily trending in a perilous direction. They started the season 3-1 but have lost five of their last six games and are looking terrible in the process. Some key things to keep in mind:
- The Cubs are 4-6 but they've also played six games against the Pirates -- one of the worst teams in the league
- Chicago went 3-3 and were outscored 26-19 by Pittsburgh in those six games
- For context: The Pirates are 0-4 and have been outscored 36-10 when they don't play the Cubs
To paint a clearer picture of just how grim things are for the Cubs right now, here's a glance at some of their dismal offensive numbers:
- .164 team batting average: Dead last in the majors, .28 points away from the 29th place team
- .264 team on-base percentage: Dead last in the majors
- .321 team slugging percentage: Dead last in the majors
- 28.8% strikeout rate: Last in the NL and 3rd worst in majors, behind the Orioles and Rangers
- 49 hits through 10 games: That's the fewest total hits over a 10-game span in a Cubs season since at least 1901 (any 10-game stretch, not just first 10 games of a season)
Still think it's too early to panic? Maybe not.
And when you consider the fact that Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are all set to hit free agency after this season, it seems like Chicago could be headed for a full-on rebuild (or at least a massive makeover) if things don't turn around very quickly. A few more abysmal weeks and it may be time to start working the phones and start planning for a transition into a new era.
Rebuilding since 2016, baby.
4. NBA's condensed season sparks injury concerns 🏀
After Jamal Murray went down with a non-contact knee injury on Monday night, our worst fears were confirmed yesterday: The Nuggets star has a torn ACL. It's horrible news for one of the game's best young players, and it's evoked a discussion around whether the NBA's condensed schedule may have played a factor in the injury.
There's a long list of star players -- including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, Gordon Hayward and Victor Oladipo -- who have had to miss significant time this season due to injuries. Of course, injuries happen every year and are largely inevitable ... but Murray's ACL tear is a devastating blow that has given flashbacks to 2012, when Derrick Rose suffered a torn ACL in a lockout-shortened season.
Several players have speculated that the condensed season could be responsible for more injuries, and we don't have a whole lot of reason to doubt them. But our Gabe Fernandez also pointed out that it's not necessarily obvious by the numbers.
- Fernandez: "Just as it was then, the league does seem to have a case in denying the connection between the schedule and the slate of injuries. For example, though the Nuggets did play five games in seven days, Murray played in zero of those first four, going eight days between outings. On a weekly basis, teams have been playing 3.6 games per week, and while that's up from 3.42 last season, the difference is marginal. Take that to a monthly level, and the difference between this year and last is an extra 48 minutes, or one game, for each team."
So, was Murray's injury an unavoidable freak accident, or is his knee a casualty of this meatgrinder season? That's up for you to debate. All I know is that the NBA is worse off today than it was at the beginning of the week and that sucks.
📝 Odds & Ends
- Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards when asked about new Wolves owner Alex Rodriguez: "I don't know who that is"
- MLB umpire Joe West has been awarded $500,000 in a defamation lawsuit against former catcher Paul Lo Duca
- Rob Gronkowski thinks there's a chance that Julian Edelman will eventually return to the NFL
📺 What to watch today
🏀 Nets vs. 76ers, 7 p.m. | PHI -6.5 | TV: ESPN
🏒 Avalanche vs. Blues, 7:30 p.m. | STL +160 | TV: NBCSN
🥇 The best thing I saw yesterday
It didn't mean a whole lot for Porto, but Mehdi Taremi scored what might be the best goal of Champions League with this gorgeous bicycle kick golazo.
Which of the four major sport trade deadlines is your favorite? -Paul G.
As a hockey guy, the NHL trade deadline is the one I'm most invested in ... and it usually brings quite a lot of entertainment value. (This year's was a bit disappointing due to a number of early trades.) That being said, I think the MLB trade deadline often packs the most punch, simply because there tends to be more volume. Baseball is probably the easiest sport to plug-and-play, so trades are pretty common. There's also no salary cap, so that helps make deadline dealing a bit easier as well. But let's be honest ... all trade deadlines are exciting because who doesn't love the buzz around a big trade?
What are you getting your mom for Mother's Day? What are some recommendations to keep moms happy? -Cindy
Did my mom put you up to this? Dammit, mom ... stop trying to figure out your gift already. Typically, I'll get my mom flowers and take her out to eat with my sister, but overall Mother's Day is really just an opportunity to spend some time with her, find ways to thank her for everything she's done for me and remind her I love her. I know my mom reads these every day, so ... hi mom! I love you!
What goal would you consider the best goal you've seen in the NHL so far this season, and why is it Kaprizov's slick short-side snipe vs the Blues on March 25th? -Sam P.
For me, it's Mat Barzal's through-the-legs goal scored last month. And, yes, it's still incredible even though it was scored against the Sabres, who haven't had a good thing happen to their franchise since Jim Carrey got God-like powers in "Bruce Almighty." Kaprizov's goal was awesome (and he's electric) but maybe Wild fans shouldn't go overboard just because they finally aren't the most boring team in hockey since ... forever?