It has been three whole days without an NFL game. You’re just itching for more now, aren’t you? Well, the league offers up a compelling matchup Thursday night as the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers battle for sole possession of first place in the surprisingly competitive NFC West division (at least until Arizona plays on Sunday). The game features the league’s top defense in yards allowed (San Francisco) and the No. 4 defense (Seattle). And it’s always fun to see Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll renew their coaching rivalry. This one starts a week full of intriguing matchups. Peter Schrager breaks down the full slate in his weekly Cheat Sheet.
2. Matheny catching on
On one hand, the St. Louis Cardinals are a supremely confident team, having won an improbable World Series title last year and put themselves in position to repeat. On the other hand, they’re re-learning this whole postseason thing again with a rookie manager, Mike Matheny, and no Albert Pujols anchoring the lineup. Matheny has proved creative and adaptable throughout the playoffs, and that’s a big reason the Cardinals are up 2-1 on the Giants in the National League Championship Series. Ken Rosenthal explains.
3. A-Rod, A-Rod, A-Rod
Dude usually brings it on himself — tossing baseballs to pretty young things in the stands during a game, for instance — but sometimes Alex Rodriguez just can’t buy a break. Take Wednesday. His third benching of the playoffs would have been news, sure. But the American League Championship Series game itself normally would have been the big news of the day. Instead, the rainout of Game 4 between the Yankees and Tigers made the A-Rod saga the only news coming out of Detroit. Does he like manager Joe Girardi? Is he headed to home to play in Miami? Jon Paul Morosi chronicles all the A-Rod craziness amid the Game 4 reboot.
4. Brown out?
Texas’ embarrassing loss to Oklahoma last week has Longhorns coach Mack Brown on the hot seat. His national-championship credentials haven’t halted calls for his head. Others predict an early "retirement" after the season. Hear from Petros Papadakis.
5. Life without Love
The Minnesota Timberwolves will find out sooner than they thought whether they made a mistake drafting Derrick Williams with the No. 2 overall pick in 2011. With Kevin Love out six to eight weeks because of a broken hand, Williams figures to see increased playing time. For the moment, however, the T-Wolves aren’t guaranteeing he’ll absorb Love’s minutes. That can’t be a good sign. Love’s injury is a tough blow for a team already waiting on point guard Ricky Rubio to recover from a torn ACL. FOXSportsNorth.com has the inside look at the T-Wolves.
6. Not just the replacements
Remember the replacement ref who talked Fantasy Football with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy? Well, it’s not just the fill-in officials with a bit of hero worship. A soccer linesman asked to take a photo with superstar Lionel Messi during halftime of a World Cup qualifier. Yardbarker tells us if he got his wish.
7. The truth about Lance
Or is it the truth about Nike? The fallout from Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal came crashing hard Wednesday as he resigned as chairman of his Livestrong charity and Nike severed ties with him. Does Nike’s move mean the global athletic wear company no longer believes Armstrong’s protestations of innocent? Hardly. It means that Nike is adept at measuring public opinion and reacting accordingly. Dollars, not morality is driving Nike. After all, the company continues to do business with other scandal-tainted sports figures. It’s a business decision. Nothing more, nothing less. Greg Couch explains.
8. Another score for Kentucky
The Onion had a mock headline that said "Nation Just Going To Assume All Basketball Recruits Are Committing To Kentucky Unless They Say Otherwise." The Onion might have been closer to reality than it knew. Wildcats coach John Calipari has another star making a pit stop en route to the NBA after landing big man Marcus Lee. Scout.com has details.
9. Trash talking
And away they go. UFC didn’t waste much time getting to the Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen hypefest. The two MMA fighters are set to coach against each other for a season of "The Ultimate Fighter" before they fight in April. It’s a match made in marketing heaven, and Jones showed Wednesday that he’s not defenseless when it comes to trash talking. "He’s not much of a championship-level athlete at all," Jones said of Sonnen, who is a championship talker. Pretty good start to the war of words, but are they going to be able to keep this pace up for six months? Reid Forgrave has the details.
10. Pimp my ride
Kids, don’t use steroids. Unless you want to have enough money to throw around that you can spend $18,000 customizing your bike. That’s what home-run king Barry Bonds did. It includes his old No. 25 and the San Francisco Giants’ black-and-orange color scheme. See the bike on Yardbarker.