Greetings, Big Blue Nation! With the conclusion of the college football season also came the conclusion of my 5 biggest winners column. While I considered doing a new one for college basketball, I decided to take this column up a notch and extend it to all sports until college football returns in September.
A few ground-rules apply: the winners have to be winners of actual games (not winners of offseason or midseason trades for example, so the Nets won’t be here after the Harden deal), and they as usual must win their game. Also, I’m limiting the sports that can appear to three because give-me-a-break-I can’t-keep-up-with-20-something-leagues!
So for now we’re rolling with NFL, NBA, and CBB, and after the Super Bowl we’ll add hockey briefly before installing MLB after Opening Day and the end of CBB. You get the idea. Also if you’ve read this column before you know I lean towards the unusual and upset-style wins more than the ho-hum Alabama wins another championship kind of win. With that said, let’s get started!
5. Maryland Terrapins (1/10)
The Terps came into Illinois’s stadium 6-6 with their tournament hopes evaporating fast. Then two hours later they’d pulled off the shocker, toppling the Final 4 contenders in orange 66-63. This just goes to show you how loaded the Big Ten is in basketball this year. A .500 team can hang with a Final 4-worthy squad on any given night.
4. L.A. Rams (1/9)
Ravens fans, you came close to making it in here, but you were favored and the Rams were not. With very limited options at quarterback, the Rams beat Seattle with field goals and a pick-six for good measure. Congrats, Rams, but bundle up because your horns are going to freeze off in Green Bay this Sunday.
3. Buffalo Bills (1/9)
Everyone knew the story. The Bills hadn’t won a playoff game since ‘95. This was their best team in years, but everyone had them on upset alert against the scrappy 11-5 Colts. In the end, they held on with just enough juice from Josh Allen and the defense to escape with a 27-24 victory. When it mattered, their defense stepped up and kept the Colts from tying it in the final minutes. Perhaps they can win another one against the Ravens this Sunday to reach the AFC championship game.
2. Texas Tech Red Raiders (1/13)
This one’s pretty fresh, having happened only last night in the late hours. The Red Raiders are always good, but they were facing the best Longhorns team I’ve ever seen, and on the road too. But thanks to Mac McClung’s go-ahead jumper with less than three seconds left, they’re partying in Lubbock right now and staying in the Big 12 title race. This Saturday they host the undefeated #2 Baylor Bears. Can they pull off another big one? We’ll find out.
1. Cleveland Browns (1/10)
Who else? It’s been a dream season for a long-suffering Browns fan, watching their team make the playoffs for the first time in 18 years after beating the Steelers’ backups by two in Week 17 in a win-you’re-in game. Pretty much everyone outside Ohio wrote them off after that, since they’d be facing the real Steelers at Heinz Field (where they’d lost 17 straight) without head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Welp, they were wrong. The Browns were still better.
That’s the simple fact. For four quarters of football unlike any other, the Browns torched Pittsburgh for 48 points, picking Big Ben off four times and scoring 28 points in the 1st quarter. While the Steelers tried to come back late with Roethlisberger (wow that was hard to type)’s arm, the Browns were too much and too ready to get over that gigantic hump that had hindered them for a quarter of a century. Pittsburgh has a busy offseason in front of them, as a great team couldn’t string wins together down the stretch, and the Browns will face the Chiefs this Sunday in their first divisional round playoff game since 1995.
That’s why the Cleveland Browns are the biggest winners of last week and the entire NFL season.