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What teams could preempt Odell Beckham Jr.-Giants reunion

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It would be fitting for Odell Beckham Jr. to rejoin the Giants, where his star was born during a remarkable five-season stretch to open his professional career. It is a romantic idea, bringing the most exciting and gifted offensive talent in franchise history back to the team that drafted him.

It would be a sensible move to add the three-time Pro Bowler to the league’s 29th-ranked passing offense, to attract attention away from the league’s third-leading rusher (Saquon Barkley). There’s enough smoke — 1) the injured free agent visited former teammates at the Giants facility this season, 2) Giants general manager Joe Schoen acknowledged being in contact with Beckham’s representatives and 3) Beckham mentioned returning to New York as a possibility — to envision fireworks.

It could happen. It might happen. But it looks even more likely that Beckham lands elsewhere in the NFC East.

Beckham, who has spent most of the past year recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in last season’s Super Bowl, is expected to be fully cleared to play by the end of the week, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, and the Dallas Cowboys — currently tied with the Giants at 6-2 — have emerged as the front-runner to land the 30-year-old wide receiver, according to multiple reports. FOX Bet is giving Dallas the best odds (+200) to sign Beckham, followed by the Bills (+350) and Giants (+450).

Odell Beckham Jr. catches a pass during the Rams' Super Bowl win in Feb. 2022.
Odell Beckham Jr. has drawn the attention of a number of contenders looking to give their passing games a boost.
Getty Images

Though numerous other teams — including the Rams, Chiefs, Packers and 49ers — also reportedly have interest in Beckham, the Cowboys have made the most aggressive pitches for his services.

“Odell is someone that we have all the appreciation in the world for what he is as a competitor,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said recently. “I know the Cowboys star on that helmet when he puts it on could look pretty good.”

The Cowboys — whose scoring defense ranks third in the league, allowing 16.6 points per game — could use the boost on an offense ranked 14th in scoring (22.9). Though some of their issues can be attributed to Dak Prescott playing in just three games, the quarterback is averaging just 197 passing yards per game this season.

“We know how explosive he can be and what he could bring to this offense,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said of Beckham. “It would be great to get him down here in Dallas … He would definitely fit in this locker room. We want OBJ.”

Teammate Micah Parsons joined the campaign.

“S—, we can use him,” Parsons said. “I think he’s a great player. He’ll expand this offense. He’s a guy you want on the team beside all the other critics stuff that people make up and s— about him. He can add real value to the team and help us do what we want to do.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke highly of Odell Beckham Jr. during a radio appearance on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
Jerry Jones has spearheaded a campaign that includes Cowboys players to convince Beckham to sign in Dallas once he has been cleared to play.
AP

Beckham was a magnet for drama during his time in New York, but his baggage was always overblown. He’s consistently been praised by numerous coaching staffs for his work ethic, and has been a popular presence in multiple locker rooms. At 29 — following trades from the Giants and Browns — his explosiveness was still evident during the Rams’ championship run last season. He caught 27 passes for 305 yards and five touchdowns in eight games with Los Angeles, then added 288 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in four playoff games — including the Super Bowl’s first score — before suffering another devastating injury. His third surgery in a three-year span represents the greatest risk for any interested team, but Beckham holds all the cards in the wake of the NFL trade deadline, content to see which contender will meet his price and desire for a long-term deal.

“Whether it’s Buffalo, Green Bay calling, the Cowboys, reunion with the Giants, I want to be able to [spend] … these next three or four years into something where I can buy a home, I can call this place home,” Beckham said in an interview with Complex Sports. “I’m tired of living out of suitcases. I’ve done the rock-and-roll life.”

Buffalo offers the best opportunity to return to the Super Bowl, but the Bills currently have the least cap space in the league, according to Over the Cap. The Giants offer a homecoming, familiarity, a chance at redemption.

But a star on the side of his helmet? It’s almost too apropos.

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Hitting all the right notes

SALT LAKE CITY UT- NOVEMBER 7: Lauri Markkanen #23 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of their game at the Vivint Arena November 7, 2022 in Salt Lake City Utah.
Lauri Markkanen is averaging 22.7 points per game on almost 53 percent shooting, both career highs.
Getty Images

The NBA is filled with teams, theoretically, built to win now. But nearly half of the 13 teams with the best championship odds in the preseason — the Warriors (4-7), Nets (5-7), 76ers (5-6), Heat (4-7), Lakers (2-9), Timberwolves (5-7) — are failing to meet that mandate. Other teams — Knicks (5-6), Wizards (5-6) — handed out nine-figure contracts in the offseason to contend for the postseason.

Of the eight teams with the lowest title odds, seven of them — the Thunder, Spurs, Pacers, Rockets, Magic, Pistons and Kings — have combined to go 26-58, with none better than two games below .500.

Then there are the Utah Jazz, in the midst of perhaps the most stunning three-week start to an NBA season.

Jazz CEO Danny Ainge waved the white flag this past offseason on a successful yet ultimately disappointing era — trading four starters, including stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for a combined haul featuring six unprotected first-round picks, three pick swaps and a top-five protected pick — and longtime coach Quin Snyder resigned. The Jazz clearly signaled their intentions to tank in hopes of landing generational French prospect Victor Wembanyama.

The only problem is the players, and their first-year head coach, weren’t in on the plan.

Will Hardy head coach of the Utah Jazz watches play against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of their game at the Vivint Arena November 7, 2022 in Salt Lake City Utah.
Taking over a team many expected to be among the NBA’s worst, first-year head coach Will Hardy has the Jazz ranked among in the top 10 in offense and defense.
Getty Images

Despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the league, Utah (10-3) is off to its best start in 16 years and sports the best record in the Western Conference. The no-name roster has claimed wins over star-filled teams such as the Nuggets, Grizzlies, Clippers, Mavericks, Pelicans and Timberwolves.

Led by 34-year-old Will Hardy, a former assistant coach with the Spurs and Celtics, the Jazz currently feature an offense and defense ranked among the league’s top 10, utilizing a hard-working, selfless style that has helped defy the league’s long-established logic that success requires All-Star talent.

The Jazz’s roster is filled with players fighting for second chances, third chances and last chances. The scoring is led by former lottery pick Lauri Markkanen, who was part of the collection of players sent from Cleveland in exchange for Mitchell and who is playing for his third team in three years. Markkanen’s frontcourt mate, Kelly Olynyk, is with his fourth team in four years.

The ship is steadied by 35-year-old point guard Mike Conley, who is four months older than Hardy, the early Coach of the Year front-runner.

“This was tough at first because I’m 35 and I’m so used to having championship aspirations,” Conley told The Athletic. “I came to the Jazz to play for championships. So I was wondering what would end up happening. But once we got a new coach in here and he started laying things out, I knew that I wanted to be here. We are building and developing.

Mike Conley #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on November 9, 2022 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
Mike Conley said Utah’s players looked at each other before the season and determined “we have too many good players to tank.”
NBAE via Getty Images

“We just kind of looked around and said we’re not anything what they say we are. We have too many good players to tank. We knew from Day 1 this wasn’t a rebuild. We told ourselves that we aren’t that bad, and the guys locked in on that.”

At best, the recently disincentivized tanking structure would have given the Jazz a 14 percent chance to land Wembanyama in the NBA Draft. Instead, Utah has given the league a team unlike any it has showcased in recent memory, a culture and collective effort worthy of admiration from afar, worthy of replication.

It doesn’t matter how long it lasts. Enjoy it while it does.

Sizing up the College Football Playoff candidates

In just over three weeks, on Dec. 4, the College Football Playoff field will be announced. Last week’s games gave us a greater understanding of which teams could qualify with losses by Alabama and Clemson essentially eliminating the former juggernauts from contention.

Only nine true candidates remain. Here’s a ranking of the teams most likely to finish ranked in the top four and the biggest hurdles ahead for each team:

1. Georgia (9-0): Barring an unprecedented collapse, the Bulldogs will get the chance to become the first back-to-back national champion of the playoff era. Georgia will be a double-digit favorite in its final three games of the regular season (Mississippi State, Kentucky, Georgia Tech), and an upset loss in the SEC title game would only affect their postseason seeding.

Stetson Bennett threw two touchdowns and ran for another in Georgia's 27-13 win over Tennessee.
After getting by Tennessee, Stetson Bennett and Georgia should have a low-stress final three games of the regular season before heading into the SEC Championship Game.
Getty Images

2. Tennessee (8-1): The second-highest-scoring team in the nation will be massive favorites in their final three regular-season games (Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt) and will avoid a potential pitfall by not playing in the SEC Championship. Losing a road game to the top-ranked team in the nation won’t keep out the Vols, who boast two of the best wins in the country (Alabama, at LSU).

3. Ohio State (9-0): Heisman Trophy front-runner C.J. Stroud will lead the Buckeyes to blowouts of Indiana and Maryland before looking for revenge against Michigan on Nov. 26. This year, “The Game,” will be held in Columbus. After that comes the Big Ten title game. No Big Ten West team has ever won the championship, and this year’s battle could be among the most lopsided on paper.

4. Michigan (9-0): After an easy matchup with Nebraska, the Wolverines face a tougher challenge against Big Ten West leader Illinois. Still, the Wolverines likely will remain undefeated heading to Columbus, where Michigan hasn’t won since 2000. An embarrassingly soft non-conference schedule makes a win there a prerequisite to making the playoff.

5. Oregon (8-1): The Ducks are in if they win out, but it won’t be easy. Oregon hosts No. 25 Washington on Saturday and No. 13 Utah the following week before traveling to Corvallis for the Civil War against Oregon State. After that, Oregon needs to beat No. 8 USC or No. 12 UCLA in the Pac-12 title game.

6. USC (8-1): The Trojans’ lone loss — a one-point defeat at Utah — doesn’t hurt them as much as their lack of a win against a ranked team. USC has the chance to solve that problem in a pair of rivalry games — next week vs. UCLA at the Rose Bowl and the following week against Notre Dame — and in a potential Pac-12 title matchup with Oregon.

USC head coach Lincoln Riley applauds during a win over Oregon State on Sept. 24, 2022.
Lincoln Riley will need to get USC past UCLA and Notre Dame in the next two weeks to put the Trojans in position to get into the College Football Playoff.
AP

7. UCLA (8-1): Sandwiched between non-threatening matchups against Arizona and Cal, the Bruins host USC in one of the most anticipated games in the schools’ history. With a win, UCLA could seal a spot by avenging its lone loss of the season (at Oregon) in the conference championship.

8. TCU (9-0): The Horned Frogs likely aren’t breaking the Big 12’s playoff drought without a perfect record. Their unlikely run has involved five straight near-losses and is unlikely to continue. TCU is a 7-point underdog at Texas on Saturday, and may be counted out again next week when it travels to defending Big 12 champion Baylor.

9. LSU (7-2): No two-loss team ever has reached the playoff. Chances are that won’t change. Even if the Tigers close the regular season with wins at Arkansas and Texas A&M and then upset No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship, LSU won’t vault ahead of Tennessee, which won 40-13 in Baton Rouge. (In 2016, Penn State won the Big Ten title and held a head-to-head win over Ohio State, but the one-loss Buckeyes were chosen over the two-loss Nittany Lions.) Unprecedented chaos would have to take place for the committee to put three SEC teams in the four-team field.

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