The Sports Xchange
• NEW ORLEANS — Jalen Hurts threw two touchdown passes to complement a stifling defense as Alabama defeated Clemson, 24-6, in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Monday night, Jan. 1, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. • The No. 4 Crimson Tide (12-1) will face No. 3 Georgia, which beat No. 2 Oklahoma, 54-48, in the Rose Bowl, in an all-SEC CFP Championship on Jan. 8 in Atlanta. The defending CFP champion Tigers finished 13-2.
The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions rang in the New Year by firing their head coaches, while Arizona Cardinals' Bruce Arians ended a stellar career when he announced his retirement on Monday, Jan. 1, after five years at the helm. However, on what traditionally has become known as "Black Monday," the carnage was relatively light in the National Football League. John Fox was sent packing following three seasons at the Bears, while Detroit sacked Jim Caldwell after four campaigns, bringing to six the number of teams publicly searching for a new head coach.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The similarity to a prior game was recognized by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who remember well how they didn't have leading scorer Jimmy Butler and were embarrassed the last time they faced the Indiana Pacers. Not only did the Pacers take advantage of that injury absence in a 23-point road win on Oct. 24 in Minnesota, but they also set a franchise record for field-goal percentage (.667).
Oddsmakers expect the Patriots and a Super surprise at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII. As the playoff schedule was set Sunday night, Westgate Las Vegas Superbook released new Super Bowl odds with the New England Patriots as runaway favorites to win the game at 2/1. But the top NFC team on the list was the Minnesota Vikings, who would be the first team in NFL history to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium if they can win the conference title. Wild-card weekend could be a four-pack of lopsided games based on early lines.
MINNEAPOLIS -- While the Minnesota Vikings' defense remains rock-solid, there were a few flaws in their offense and special teams revealed during Sunday's 23-10 win over the Chicago Bears.
Head coach Chuck Pagano was fired Sunday as the Indianapolis Colts wrapped up the 2017 season with few bright spots. Pagano led the Colts to four wins but Indianapolis finished with its worst record since 2011, when Peyton Manning was sidelined to undergo fusion surgery on his neck. The Chicago Bears are expected to part ways with coach John Fox after this season, multiple outlets reported on Sunday.
Philadelphia Eagles punter Donnie Jones did his best to remain warm on a cold Sunday in the City of Brotherly Love. With kickoff at 17 degrees and wind chill much colder, Jones wisely wore his warm-up sweatpants over his uniform for an extra layer of protection.
MINNEAPOLIS—Jimmy Butler scored 12 of his game-high 39 points in overtime to help the Minnesota Timberwolves top Denver 128-125 on Wednesday night, Dec. 27, at sold-out Target Center. Butler picked up the slack in overtime after Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson fouled out, and point guard Jeff Teague exited with an injury. The Timberwolves held off a Nuggets team that surged in the second half after Minnesota led by as many as 19 points. The Timberwolves (22-13) have now won five in a row. Wednesday's loss halted the Nuggets' winning streak at three games.
ST. PAUL—Mikael Granlund's second-period goal stood up as the game-winner and Alex Stalock made 24 saves as the Minnesota Wild held on for a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Wednesday night, Dec. 27, at Xcel Energy Center. Jared Spurgeon and Eric Staal added goals for Minnesota (19-15-3) and Charlie Coyle had a pair of assists as the Wild won for just the second time in six games.
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Former Pittsburgh Steelers franchise sack leader James Harrison went unclaimed on waivers and is now a free agent. The Steelers released the 39-year-old Harrison on Saturday to provide room for the return of right tackle Marcus Gilbert from suspension.