Panthers make jump in NFL Power Rankings, plus the best potential MLB Wild Card Game

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Happy Wednesday, newsletter friends! It’s Shanna McCarriston here to talk all things sports with you all. 

Last time I wrote the newsletter, I asked for your Super Bowl picks and said I’d share the most interesting one. Someone said Raiders, which I think is far fetched, but I love the optimism from the Vegas fan. I do think the Raiders will see more success this year than in years past.

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Next up, let’s switch gears to some other sports. Let me know on Twitter what some of your MLB postseason hot takes are and I’ll share my favorites.

Today we are going to discuss NFL Power Rankings, take a glance at the MLB Wild Card situation and more. Let’s get to it.

📰 What you need to know1. NFL Power Rankings: Rams move into top three 🏈

I know there’s no games tonight, but how can we not talk about the NFL? As always, after a week of exciting games we have to update the power rankings.

The Las Vegas Raiders, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos are all 2-0. Just as we all suspected, right?! Probably not, and if you guessed this, stop what you’re doing and go play the lottery because your luck is unmatched.

It’s only two games, but it is still surprising. There is some merit to a 2-0 start, with about 60% of teams with that record through the first two weeks making the playoffs. This season has 17 regular season games and 14 playoff teams rather than 12, so this percentage isn’t perfect for predicting the future, but it does put things in perspective. 

Last season, eight of the 11 teams that kicked off the year 2-0 extended their season to the playoffs. In summary: this is all good news if you’re a fan of any of those three teams I mentioned.

Our NFL scribe Pete Prisco was kind enough to give us his Week 3 Power Rankings so we could keep track of it all. Here are the top 5 teams and how many spots they moved:

No. 1: Buccaneers, didn’t moveNo. 2: 49ers, moved up one spotNo. 3: Rams, moved up one spotNo. 4: Cardinals, moved up one spot No. 5: Chiefs, moved down three spots

The team that took the biggest leap is the Panthers, who jumped 12 spots up to No. 11 following their 26-7 win over the Saints. And speaking of the Saints, they moved down the most, plummeting seven spots to No. 13.

The Packers finally won (I say “finally” as if it wasn’t just one loss, though that one loss was jarring) to jump up to No. 7, but I’m still not as impressed by the team as some are. I need to be convinced further that they’re actual contenders.

2. The best potential MLB Wild Card Game matchups ⚾
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There are less than two weeks left of the 2021 MLB regular season and if those two weeks go as fast as this season has felt, the postseason will be here before we know it. As we head to the start of the postseason, there is still a lot that has to be worked out, with close races throughout the league.

There’s even a good chance we get a Game 163 and a tiebreaker, which is always exciting (and nerve-wracking for those fanbases). Let’s take a look at the current wild card standings to get some insight on possible matchups down the road:

American League

No. 1: Red SoxNo. 2: Blue JaysNo. 3: YankeesNo. 4: AthleticsNo. 5: Mariners (tied with A’s)

National League

No. 1: DodgersNo. 2: CardinalsNo. 3: RedsNo. 4: PhilliesNo. 5: Padres

What is crystal clear is that either the Dodgers or Giants will be the NL West division champs and the other will host a Wild Card game. 

Other than that, it’s all up in the air, which I think makes things a little bit more fun. It means every game for these teams is crucial and things can change fast. With such mystery surrounding the Wild Card games, we wanted to take a look at what we want to see.

Here’s a look at the most interesting Wild Card Game matchups that could come out of these final two weeks of the season:

No. 1: Dodgers vs. Padres: This California battle would be high-energy and full of stars based on what these two teams bring to the table. Who wouldn’t want to see that type of matchup in October?No. 2: Red Sox vs. Yankees: Need I say more? One of the greatest rivalries in sports and two teams that have each had streaks of excellent and poor play this season.No. 3: Cardinals vs. Dodgers: Another Dodgers matchup, because they’re an interesting team. Add in the fact that these two teams have met three times in the postseason since 2009 and you have some great television.

For the full top 10 matchups list, click here.

It’s no surprise that I’d love to see a Red Sox vs. Yankees matchup and, if Boston wins, I’d have the extra bonus of being able to trash talk my boss. Who doesn’t want that?

3. What we learned in Week 2 of the NFL 🏈

Each week in the NFL is not just entertaining, or a chance to cheer on our favorite team. It is also a time for us all to learn a little something. We get to evaluate how each team’s defense, offense and special teams are doing, we see how certain teams matchup against opponents and we see who is breaking out as a star and who is fading into the mediocre crowd.

There’s a lot to take in each week.

We’re currently in the phase of the season where we are all still figuring out how each team will fare down the stretch of the season. We don’t have future-telling abilities, but we can break down what we learned. Our NFL scribe Cody Benjamin was kind enough to do just that. Here are his key points from Week 2, followed by some tidbits by yours truly:

Kyler Murray is an early MVP candidate: Not much to add here. I’m having a blast watching the Cardinals quarterback and I’m hoping it continues throughout the seasonSam Darnold has potential: The Panthers quarterback can tell the Jets, “it’s not me, it’s you,” after winning his first two games in Carolina. That’s as many games as the Jets won if you combine this season so far with last season.Baker Mayfield is the real deal: Browns fans (and I) have been telling you for ages, but the Cleveland quarterback is putting up numbers that are going to take this team far.We may have overreacted to Jameis Winston’s first game: OK, so he’s not going to throw five touchdowns every game, but going off and then having a bad game has been the Jameis Winston Experience for a while.The Giants are set to implode: We didn’t think the Giants would exactly be taking the league by storm this year, but their issues are worse than we may have thought and I can’t see it ending well.

My biggest takeaway so far? While the Patriots might not have an automatic ticket to the playoffs like they did with Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick still knows how to build a well-rounded defense and startle opponents, which could take them decently far.

4. Ben Simmons is reportedly done with the Sixers 🏀

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Ben Simmons is not happy with the Philadelphia 76ers. He is continuing to make that fact known. But now, it’s serious, as he will reportedly hold out on training camp and is adamant that he will not play for Philly ever again. He has also said he would sit during the season if it comes to that.

The Sixers would likely love to send him packing, but the team just has no leverage in the situation. 

Here’s a look at Simmons’ resume:

Three-time All-Star
Drafted in 2016 as the first overall pickNBA Rookie of the Year in 2018Two-time NBA All-Defensive First Team

The Sixers’ dream scenario would be to get an All-Star type player in return for Simmons, but sometimes dreams are just that. Giving him away for cheap would be frustrating, as Simmons is talented and trading him for younger players and drafts picks doesn’t help their chances of winning now.

This is what we call a difficult situation all around, and it is only going to turn worse, as our NBA scribe Michael Kaskey-Blomain explained.

📝 Odds & Ends
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📺 What to watch tonight
USATSI

⚾ Rangers vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. | NYY -260 | TV: MLB.TV

Cardinals vs. Brewers, 7:40 p.m. | MIL -116 | TV. MLB.TV

⚾ Mariners vs. Athletics, 9:40 p.m. | OAK -135 | TV: MLB.TV

🏅 Best thing I saw on the internet

We are once again changing best thing I saw on the internet, to something slightly different. This is now funniest/saddest/most unfortunate thing I saw on the internet, at least in the sports world.

Conor McGregor threw out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs home game against the Minnesota Twins last night and, well, let’s just say baseball is not in his future. At least not pitching. You’d think being an athlete he would be at least decent at throwing a ball, but the result was similar to when 50 Cent threw out a first pitch. Just a bit outside, Conor!

McGregor doesn’t lose often, but he looked defeated after that disaster of a throw.

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