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PITTSBURGH — Ryan Shazier received widespread support from around the NFL after suffering a severe spine injury in December. Opposing players prayed for him. The Pittsburgh Steelers honored him with Shazier-inspired shirts and cleats and pregame salutes.

Meanwhile, the Ohio State football team has been paying its own tributes to Shazier, who developed into a first-round pick as a Buckeyes linebacker from 2011-13.

Coach Urban Meyer has remained in steady communication with Shazier, who got a personal visit from team strength coach Mickey Marotti.

As part of Ohio State’s workouts during the 2017 season, players wore a black “Buckeye Tough” T-shirt with a number on each sleeve — Shazier’s NFL No. 50 on the left and his Ohio State No. 10 on the right.

“I think they were great,” said Shazier via text about the shirts. “And thankful that they are thinking of me.”

This week, Shazier delivered a surprise video message to fans aboard the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer. “[I want to get] back out there on the field and be able to run around with my family,” said Shazier, via Buckeye Sports. “Right now that’s my main goal. I just want to say thank you for everything you’ve done and everything you’re doing and all the support you’re doing.”

Shazier, 25, underwent spinal stabilization surgery Dec. 6 after a tackling attempt on Monday Night Football in Cincinnati left him clutching his lower back. He was rushed to a local hospital and eventually transported to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Shazier has used a wheelchair but is making progress in his rehab. He was cleared for outpatient care Feb. 1.

Shazier’s positive outlook aligns well with the “Buckeye Tough” theme.

“I really feel I’m the best linebacker ever,” Shazier told teammate Roosevelt Nix in a podcast last week. “I just have to be back out there so everybody can see it. You know what I’m saying?”

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Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, still in concussion protocol, at practice again Friday



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes was with the Kansas City Chiefs as they began Friday’s practice session, their last one before Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium.

His participation on Friday would appear to put Mahomes on a path to play Sunday. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Mahomes took all of the snaps in Wednesday’s practice and a majority of them on Thursday.

Mahomes was knocked out of last week’s divisional-round playoff win over the Browns with symptoms of a concussion after he was tackled hard on a running play. He has been in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Three other key Chiefs players who have been fighting injuries were also present for the start of Friday’s practice: wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf), running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (hip, ankle) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (concussion, shoulder).

Coach Sean McDermott said the Bills were preparing for Mahomes to play.

“I guess at the beginning of the week we weren’t quite sure, and we really won’t know, I guess,” McDermott said. “It’s probably trending in that direction, so that’s what we’re anticipating.”

ESPN’s Mike Reiss contributed to this report.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown ruled out for NFC title game vs. Green Bay Packers



TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not have wide receiver Antonio Brown for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at the Green Bay Packers, coach Bruce Arians announced Friday.

“I just talked to him this morning, and to put him on the plane and fly up there and have it swell more doesn’t any sense,” Arians said. “He wasn’t as close as we’d hoped, so we’ll get him ready for the next one.”

Brown suffered a knee injury in the divisional playoff game at the New Orleans Saints and played only 27 snaps. He did not practice this week.

Arians had described him as “day to day,” but Brown wasn’t able to progress quickly enough in his healing.

The former All-Pro led the Buccaneers in receiving targets the final five weeks of the regular season and had a 36-yard touchdown catch in their wild-card win over Washington. Brown also has experience playing in two league championship games and a Super Bowl, something few other players have on this roster outside of Tom Brady.

“It obviously sucks for Antonio. We wish he could be out there with us,” Brady said. “Other guys are gonna have to step up and do the job. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys that haven’t been out there as much when AB’s been in there.”

Arians said he believes Scotty Miller and rookie Tyler Johnson will be able to step up. Johnson made a key third-down catch for 15 yards against the Saints. Miller had one catch for 29 yards against New Orleans, but he has been on the receiving end of some of Brady’s best deep pass plays this season — a 33-yard touchdown grab against the Las Vegas Raiders and a 48-yard touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

“I think if you just look to last week, when Scotty and Tyler made those huge plays in the fourth quarter, the amount of trust that the coaches and Tom have in those guys just because they’ve earned it. Their performances have earned it,” Arians said. “Antonio will be missed, but we’ve got capable people stepping in.”

Arians said there is a possibility that defensive tackle Vita Vea will play after returning to practice this week for the first time since fracturing his ankle in Week 5.

“He’s looked real good. He’s been running around for almost three weeks and had a real good practice yesterday and a good one today,” Arians said. “We haven’t made that determination yet, but we’ll see if we want to activate him or not. There is a chance.”

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Behind the Bets, Odds and Ends



We have a special weekend on tap as the AFC and NFC will decide who goes to Tampa for Super Bowl LV, The Notorious One is back in the octagon and the NBA/NHL seasons are in full swing. Here are some betting thoughts for the notable events this weekend.

Mahomes effect

Much like in life, sports betting questions are extremely nuanced. Nothing is simple and that theory is crystallized with the giant question mark of Patrick Mahomes‘ status in the AFC Championship Game. In the NFL’s version of “Panda Watch”, football fans have been closely monitoring the superstar’s concussion protocol every day this week, trying to read between the lines of basic updates. However, bold and confident oddsmakers posted a point spread Sunday night and the number has not really moved.

Based on the line of KC -3, the market assumes Mahomes will suit up on Sunday. I spoke with a couple of oddsmakers who do not anticipate any line change, if and when Mahomes is officially cleared. First of all, three is the most key number in NFL oddsmaking, since it is the most common margin of victory in NFL history. Since the league moved back PAT distance in 2015, we have seen 14.1% of games decided by exactly three points. Thus, it takes a significant occurrence to move off that number. Additionally, most books are reporting a majority of this game’s public action is on the Bills so oddsmakers see no reason to give those backers a better number.

However, if Mahomes fails to receive clearance, we could see the Bills favored at Arrowhead Stadium by as many as six points. Westgate Superbook Las Vegas head NFL oddsmaker Ed Salmons acutely reminded me that the Chiefs were 5.5-point home underdogs to both the Vikings and Packers in the 2019 regular season, while Mahomes missed time with an injury. “This Bills team is much better than either of those two teams,” Salmons told ESPN.

It would also mean Chad Henne is an underdog for the 29th straight start. Archie Manning and Blaine Gabbert hold the all-time mark at 34, which is a random stat that only a bettor could appreciate.

Chilling performances

Lambeau Field forecasts call for 29 degrees without snow, so it’s highly unlikely NFL Films is assigning extra cameras to capture Sunday’s NFC Championship Game for a frozen tundra piece. However, it’s hard not to ignore the weather in January when the Packers host a team from Florida; that could prove to be a deciding factor. Aaron Rodgers is 27-7 overall and 24-9-1 ATS when the temperature is 32 degrees or below.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s foe, Tom Brady, has also thrived, winning 14 of 16 playoff games when the temperature is freezing or below. Overall, Brady is 24-15-3 ATS in such conditions. At the end of the day, those are just fun facts. Quarterback is arguably the most important position in all of sports but QB records do have flaws. For example. some of Brady’s wins and covers are connected to Bill Belichick’s defenses.

The Notorious

There is no bigger UFC draw than Conor McGregor. “Notorious” has starred in six of the organization’s eight largest gates, and the betting needle mirrors that trend. The Westgate SuperBook Las Vegas says its largest betting handles all involve cards that include McGregor. Additionally, his exhibition bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr. broke a Nevada boxing handle record. And given growing state legalization, Saturday’s UFC 257 card could set a UFC all-time mark.

“They flock to him. My ticket count is already four-to-one on Conor,” Golden Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller told ESPN. “We went up to -330, which is the highest downtown. That’s pretty steep, considering he’s -300 or -310 other places but they keep playing him in parlays and straight bets.”

Over-whelming trend

We all want easy winners, and I wish winning money was as simple as blindly betting trends. However, I would not fault anyone for continuing to back the latest NBA streak. The Brooklyn Nets have hit the over in 10 straight games. Unfortunately, oddsmakers are aware of the offensive firepower and defensive issues. Four NBA games have featured a total of at least 240 this season, and all four have involved the Nets.

“For the most part, bettors look at it and say ‘this is easy. I’m betting them to go over again tonight,” Sunset Station Race and Sportsbook Director and Chuck Esposito told ESPN. “We have to adjust sometimes when you’re looking at a team that scores like the Nets do. So you are going to see some totals inflated but we’re not going to get too carried away because we still want to post a total that will get good two-way action.”

Essentially, you’re paying a tax to back the newest Big Three to light it up – but it’s certainly been worth it lately.

LeBron’s Turn…Again?

It’s actually been eight years since LeBron James won an NBA MVP award. That is hard to fathom, given he’s won three Finals MVP trophies since then and has been widely considered the league’s best player for more than a decade. But sometimes narratives can hamper your status and other superstars have certainly emerged. However, it is starting to feel like this might be the year he captures a fifth MVP.

Following LeBron’s 36 points and the Lakers’ high-profile road win on Thursday, I wagered on James at 8/1 odds at Caesars William Hill. Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450) has demonstrated three-point and free-throw deficiencies and ultimately voter fatigue will likely prevent a third straight MVP. Luka Doncic (+400) is the favorite and while he’s spectacular, LeBron has led the Lakers to the league’s best record. The 36-year-old still continues to dominate games statistically, reminding fans, voters and bettors that he still belongs in the conversation. Kevin Durant (+650), Nikola Jokic (7-1) or Joel Embiid (10-1) might prevail, but to me, it just feels like LeBron will get deference from voters who narrowly chose Giannis over him last year. Buyer’s remorse can be a powerful emotion.

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