NHL veteran Andrew Ference on Hayley Wickenheiser: ‘Qualities valuable far beyond sport’

Five Olympic medals, more than she has room for on the mantel. Hayley’s success in life is born of being one of the hardest working people that I have known. She would give you a chop of the stick as equal as the next guy on the ice. Widely considered the best female hockey player in the world, Hayley spent 23 years playing for Team Canada. She has been a trailblazer for future generations of female athletes by being the first woman to play and score in a professional men’s league. Her competitiveness even in the off season was awesome. We would be insulting her if we didn’t play her physically and just as hard as we played against each other. I celebrate what Hayley has done so far and look forward to seeing what’s next for her. In 2003 she became the first woman to score a goal while playing in a professional men’s league as a member of Kirkkonummi Salamat in Finland’s division II league.I point to Hayley when speaking to my own two daughters about role models, and these sporting accomplishments are not always the highlight of those conversations.Ava is 11 and Stella is seven, and we are fortunate to call Hayley a friend and to have spent time in the off season together. In 276 games for Team Canada, she scored 168 goals and had 379 points. I’m convinced she could have probably made a run for a Summer Olympics in cycling as well as she would be breathing down my neck on the toughest hills in the Okanagan.In celebrating Hayley’s career, our family applauds the medals, trophies and awards but we also focus on the path that got her there.Gold medals at the Olympics are not an obtainable goal for most of us, but trying to emulate Hayley’s hard work, positivity and determination is. The humbleness, kindness and drive that Hayley possesses, and we have witnessed, make it easy to understand how she accomplished what she did. He lives in Edmonton.Hayley Wickenheiser has one of the most impressive sports resumes you will find. Andrew Ference played 16 seasons in the NHL. Of course, qualities like stubbornness, pride and incredible sportsmanship supplement her success, but it’s the hard work that I always come back to when talking to my girls.Hayley’s ability to have committed to goals in her life and then work her butt off to achieve them has also made her an incredible mother and student. I imagine Hayley will deflect most of the praise in her retirement ceremonies and speak about how she just feels fortunate to have played and represented Canada so many times — that she’s lucky.I assure you that it is not luck or fortune that we should celebrate. The qualities that drive her are valuable far beyond sport. How many people knew she has also attended medical school?During the summers, Hayley would join guys like myself, Jarome Iginla and Chuck Kobasew to skate to prepare for the upcoming seasons. With the news of her retirement on Friday, many people will celebrate these athletic achievements and aim to be just like Hayley in their own pursuit of greatness. In the course of her career, the 38-year-old Saskatchewan native won four gold medals and a silver, and was twice named the tournament’s most valuable player. I liked bringing my girls down to watch because Hayley was usually the one leading us through skating and skills drills that she had thought up to fine tune her own game.As we scrimmaged we understood that she wanted zero preferential treatment. I could fill a page with her accomplishments and the reasons they should be celebrated.

Palmieri scores, sets up another as Devils hold on to beat Flames

The Flames’ four-game home winning streak was snapped.After a lethargic opening 20 minutes in which they were outplayed, outskated and outshot 14-7, the Flames came out flying in the second.Kris Versteeg’s re-direction slipped just wide of the net. The 25-year-old has five goals in his last 12 games after scoring just four times in the first 30.New Jersey made it 2-0 at 18:31 on the power play. Johnson falls to 15-10-1. New Jersey right winger Kyle Palmieri had a goal and an assist as the Devils jumped out to a two-goal first-period lead and hung on for a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Friday.Palmieri opened the scoring at 6:22. Kinkaid made a pad stop off Dougie Hamilton but Monahan was right there at the top of the crease to bury the rebound.Monahan’s 11th goal ended an 11-game goalless drought and was his first even-strength goal since Dec. His 34 saves included a breakaway by Miles Wood halfway through the third that kept Calgary within striking distance. It was the ninth goal for Palmieri, who recorded a career-high 30 goals a year ago to lead the Devils. He finished with 31 stops to improve to 5-4-2.Johnson was very good also in his fourth consecutive start. Instead of Johnny Gaudreau and Alex Chiasson, he was reunited with Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer (broken finger), who returned to Calgary’s line-up after missing eight games.With Cory Schneider getting the night off, Kinkaid was excellent. Palmieri zipped a pass across the slot to Taylor Hall, who fired a wrist shot into the top corner from 30 feet out.The Devils (17-18-9) snapped a four-game winless streak and improved to 1-1-0 on its four-game road trip.Sean Monahan scored for Calgary (23-20-2). Mark Giordano got caught pinching, and New Jersey broke out on a 3-on-2 with Palmeiri keeping the puck and whipping a shot past Chad Johnson high on his blocker side. 4.The slumping Flames centre found himself with new wingers on this night. Sam Bennett was turned away by Keith Kinkaid on a dangerous chance from in-close, and Giordano was thwarted when he jumped into the rush and had a great chance to score.Calgary kept up the pressure, finally getting on the scoreboard at 14:04.

Late surge lifts Raptors over lowly Nets

They finished with a flourish to take a nervous 90-89 lead into the final frame. The Raptors lost both of those.The fact that the team is continuing to challenge the Cavaliers for the best record in the East is a testament to the Raptors’ intestinal fortitude – not to mention the deadly dynamic duel of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan.Beginning with the Brooklyn tilt, the Raptors are heading into a bit of a lull with their next five games also against teams of dubious distinction, beginning on Sunday at home against a New York Knicks outfit that started play on Friday four games below .500.After that the schedule takes Toronto into Brooklyn for a return engagement against the Nets on Tuesday.That will mark the start of a three-game trip in which they play a woeful Philadelphia 76ers outfit before heading intoCharlotte to meet the Hornets, who at least are contesting for a playoff spot in the East.Then it is back home on Jan. We’ve got to look at what is in it for us?”The sad-sack Brooklyn Nets, who have won just eight times and lost five in a row heading into Toronto, were the first of the bottom-feeders to meet the Raptors during this supposed down time, Friday night at Air Canada Centre.It took some doing but the Raptors (26-13) finally came around after three rather lacklustre quarters, parlaying a solid final frame into a 132-113 victory over the Nets (8-31).It was anything but easy as the Nets utilized a solid outside shooting game – hitting 13 of their first 27 three pointers – to keep the Raptors within their sights with Toronto leading just 90-89 heading into the fourth.The Raptors responded with a rapid-fire attack, exploding on an 11-0 run to start the final frame.It was capped with back-to-back-to-back three pointers by DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross that lifted the Raptors into a sudden 101-89 stranglehold before two minutes had elapsed and Toronto never looked back. DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 28 points but had to work for it, knocking down 11 of his 22 shots in Toronto’s highest-scoring game this season.In fact, the 132-point outburst set a franchise record for points in a non-overtime game, surpassing the 131 points the team scored against the New York Knicks on April 14, 2010.The schedule maker dealt the Raptors a cruel beginning to the 2016-17 NBA schedule. Even Dwane Casey, the cagy Toronto coach who is loath to admit anything that would constitute bulletin-board material for the opposition, will admit that the next segment of the schedule might represent a good opportunity to string a few wins together.“It’s really important,” Casey said on Friday, quickly adding: “You can’t look at teams records; you can’t look at what they’ve done in the last five games. 22 to play the Phoenix Suns, vying for the worst record in the West this season.The Raptors received some good news earlier on Friday when they got word from their medical team that Jared Sullinger and Delon Wright have been cleared to begin practising.The pair has been out all season recovering from surgeries – Sullinger, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward, to his left foot, and Wright, a 6-foot-5 guard, to his right shoulder.Now the big task will be getting the two back into game shape, no easy feat with the Raptors having to play 10 more games until the end of the month, putting practice time at a premium.It was a herky-jerky opening half Friday night with a lot of offence in which the Raptors emerged with a 54-53 lead.The Nets connected on eight of their 17 three-point attempts, the primary reason for the close score.The Nets would extend their lead to as many as six at 77-71 in the third quarter and that caught the attention of the Raptors. After a steady diet contesting the league’s upper echelon, the Toronto Raptors are moving into a seemingly more palatable portion of their schedule, where they will be the hunted instead of the hunter.It should represent a bit of a break for the Raptors, whose motor has been churning at a higher clip than the cartoon Road Runner in the first 10 weeks of the NBA season. The team has already slogged through two rugged road swings over the first two months – one of five games and the other six – that took them though all the high-rent districts of the Western Conference.The Raptors also had to endure one of the most brutal back-to-back affairs in recent memory in mid-November, starting with the NBA champion Cavaliers in Cleveland before hightailing it back home to Toronto to greet NBA finalist Golden StateWarriors.

Brown, Nylander score early as Leafs beat Rangers

Miller scored for the Rangers, and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 23 saves. New York had won five of six overall, and four in row against Toronto.Toronto, which came in sixth in the league on the power play at 22 per cent, were 2 for 4 and held the Rangers to 0 for 6.Both teams were playing for the first time since last Saturday. Chris Kreider and J.T. The Rangers were coming off a 5-4 win at Columbus, and the Maple Leafs lost 5-3 at home to Montreal.Trailing 3-1 after two periods, the Rangers pressed in the third, outshooting the Maple Leafs 14-7.With Kevin Klein off for slashing, Carrick gave the Maple Leafs a 4-1 lead with 6:40 left, knocking in the rebound of a shot by Bozak for his second of the season.Miller pulled the Rangers within two again, scoring his 13th off a pass from Pavel Buchnevich with 1:25 remaining.Kreider gave New York a 2-1 lead at 9:05 of the second. Toronto moved four points behind Philadelphia for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. The attempt was stopped by Andersen, but the puck came back to Kreider, who turned and was still down on one knee as he backhanded it in for his team-leading 17th.Brown restored the Maple Leafs’ two-goal lead as he fired a long shot from beyond the left faceoff circle that deflected in off the back end of the stick of Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh. With about 9 seconds remaining on a hooking penalty on the Rangers’ Brandon Pirri, van Riemsdyk got a pass from Marner in front, moved the puck to his left and sent it through the five-hole of Lundqvist down on his knees for his 15th. It was Brown’s 10th goal and gave rookie Auston Mathews his team-leading 36th point.Nylander got Toronto on the scoreboard 4:49 into the game, taking a pass from Nazem Kadri, skating into the right faceoff circle and firing a shot from the dot through Lundqivst’s five-hole for his ninth.The Maple Leafs doubled their lead with 2:32 left in the opening period. During a scramble in front of Toronto’s goal, Kreider was down on the ice as he tried to swipe the puck in from the right side. Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner had two assists each. Connor Brown and William Nylander scored in the first period, Frederik Andersen stopped 34 shots and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the New York Rangers 4-2 on Friday night.James van Riemsdyk and Connor Carrick also scored to help the Maple Leafs win for the seventh time in nine games (7-1-1).

Revenge motivates Kansas City Chiefs’ rematch with Pittsburgh Steelers

“So you can use verbal cadence, you can use different signals and talk on the field which is a huge advantage as an offence.“The energy in the stadium and noise I think are a nightmare for every quarterback visiting Arrowhead because it’s just hard to get the play out. He feels a fast start versus the Steelers would not only give the Chiefs early momentum but get their rabid fans into the game.“I think it will be important for us to make a statement right away and start the game fast like we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks whether it’s against San Diego [37-27 win Jan. In turn, they give the Chiefs a decided home-field advantage.“From an offensive standpoint the whole crowd is quiet when you’re on the field,” Duvernay-Tardif said. For us it creates a rhythm and kind of motivates everybody.”Kansas City comes into the contest well rested after a bye last week. “I think it’s our chance, our opportunity, to show we’re a really good football team and that we’re not the same team we were during our first go-around with them.“I think it’s going to be in the back of our minds but in a positive way. That’s quite an accomplishment for the 25-year-old Montreal native who was selected in the sixth round, 200th overall, in the 2014 NFL draft out of McGill.Duvernay-Tardif, who continues to study to become a doctor while playing football, hadn’t yet celebrated his second birthday the last time Kansas City won a home playoff game. The Chiefs will not only be looking for their first home playoff win in over 20 years but also to avenge a lopsided 43-14 loss to the Steelers on Oct. “Strategy-wise they do a lot to create pressure but, at the same time, I think when you’re able to stop that pressure it creates some huge lanes.” “When we first heard we were going to play the Steelers I think everybody was kind of happy because nobody likes to get beat the way we got beat,” Duvernay-Tardif said during a conference call. 8, 1994, the legendary Joe Montana led the Chiefs to a 27-24 overtime win over Pittsburgh.Since then, Kansas City is 0-4 at home in the playoffs and 1-8 overall in the postseason.Sunday’s game will be Duvernay-Tardif’s first NFL postseason contest at home. 1] or Denver [33-10 win Dec. Personally and collectively as a team everybody is really looking forward to that game.”The 6-foot-5, 321-pound Duvernay-Tardif is completing his third season with Kansas City and second as its starting right guard. Kelce was third overall and tops among tight ends in yards after the catch (653) while Hill has the speed and elusiveness to turn a short reception into a big play.Hill is also a threat on special teams.“Pittsburgh creates a lot of turnovers so we’ve got to make sure we protect the ball well,” Duvernay-Tardif said. 2 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh advanced with a 30-12 wild-card win last weekend over Miami.The Chiefs’ offence faces a stiff challenge. “For us this week, the points of emphasis are to reduce turnovers and score when we have the opportunity because we know how the Steelers’ offence can be explosive.”Kansas City’s raucous supporters make Arrowhead one of the toughest places for an opposing team to play. Pittsburgh’s defence was ranked 12th in yards allowed (342.6 per game), 16th against the pass (242.6 yards) and tied for ninth in sacks (39) and fewest TDs allowed (36).Kansas City was 20th in total yards (343 per game), 15th in rushing (109.2 yards) and 11th in fewest sacks (32).But Pittsburgh favours more of a zone defence, which should allow quarterback Alex Smith to throw underneath to tight end Travis Kelce and rookie receiver Tyreek Hill. On Jan. Canadian Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and the Kansas City Chiefs will get a second shot at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.Kansas City hosts Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. 25],” he said.

Is Brent Burns the NHL’s most valuable player?

You don’t want to play against him in practice because he’s so big and strong. It’s for what he’s accomplishing on the ice.“He’s different, like something you’ve never seen before,” Thornton said, “but he’s also the hardest player in the league to play against. For me, when the puck drops, I know what I’m getting from them. I don’t know about everybody else, but he’s different – and definitely a lot of fun to be around.” And I think you’re finally seeing a breakthrough now. He was pitching Burns for MVP – and making a good case for his bearded, tattooed friend, who is in the midst of an exceptional breakout season. He’s off the wall – and I appreciate that. Few players in NHL history have made such a demonstrative improvement in their games at so late an age. He’s not like the rest of your buddies. Hall-of-famer Ray Bourque was twice a runner-up – the closest anyone else has come in almost 40 years – but usually, voters opt for forwards or goaltenders when casting their Hart ballots.So here we are, just past the midpoint of the 2016-17 season and while there have been a number of excellent individual performances, no cut-clear MVP candidate has emerged. Joe Thornton was making a stump speech on behalf of his San Jose Sharks’ teammate Brent Burns, the mid-season favourite to win the NHL’s Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman.But Thornton wasn’t just talking Norris. “With the amount of minutes he plays and the way our offence goes around him, he isn’t just the best defenceman in the game, he’s the most dominant player,” Thornton said.Thornton raises an interesting point, if only because, historically, defencemen have rarely factored into discussion about the Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s most valuable player. San Jose’s coach at the time was Todd McLellan, who’d previously coached Burns in Houston (AHL), where he was frequently deployed up front early in his career. But I like it. I like hanging with him. Coaching someone such as Burns, the last of the NHL’s rugged individualists, has been no issue for DeBoer.“The beauty of our group is, it’s a loose group that likes to have fun, that enjoys the game, but also knows that when the puck drops, it’s time to compete,” DeBoer said. Burns fit the prototype of the power forward, and three years ago, San Jose was desperately searching for extra scoring and muscle up front. He has one of the best shots in the league. Last year, he was nominated for the Norris, and this year, he’s obviously getting some recognition, which has been deserved for the last two years.“Sure, he doesn’t fit into the box of what an NHL player should be. They are a good match, one of those rare times that a plan mapped out on paper actually translated perfectly well onto the ice.Now in his ninth NHL season, DeBoer also spent 15 years coaching in the OHL, which is where he first crossed paths with Burns. The 20th overall pick in the 2003 entry draft, with the full beard, all the tattoos, someone mostly known for the menagerie of reptiles in his personal zoo, is finally drawing attention for more than the quirkiness of his looks, or personality, or hobbies. With nine points in his past four games, he’s also edged into fifth place in the overall league scoring race and is just a single point out of second.Last week, Burns was chosen to play in the NHL’s all-star game for the fourth time. Thornton, who won the league MVP award in 2006, does not believe there is a voting bias against players in the Pacific Time zone, but says people need to see Burns in person to appreciate how good he is.“A lot of people don’t see him first hand until he comes to their city and then they see this guy and they’re like ‘wow.’ He is that good. A convincing argument can be made for everyone from Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby to Columbus’s Sergei Bobrovsky and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk.But do any of them mean more to their team’s success than Burns does to San Jose’s?Entering Friday’s games, Burns was leading all NHL defencemen in points (44) and in goals (17), well ahead of the competition. Personally, I think it’s refreshing. I think because the group accepts him and has accepted him so much, it’s easy on the coaches. He’s one of the best skaters in the league. They are second in a closely contested Pacific Division, and have been transitioning to a younger team, while still getting contributions from the likes of Thornton and Patrick Marleau.What’s all the more remarkable about Burns’s development into an elite defenceman is that it wasn’t so long ago (March of 2013) that the Sharks converted Burns to forward because they felt it was too risky to play him on defence. He really has everything you want in your franchise player.”The Sharks unexpectedly advanced to the Stanley Cup final last spring, losing to Pittsburgh, and are having a better regular season now than a year ago. To DeBoer, Martin has provided the sort of defensive stability in the pairing that permits Burns to freewheel. Before that, it was Bobby Orr in 1972.Even Nicklas Lidstrom, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner and the dominant defenceman of his generation, never finished either first or second in the final Hart balloting. “I think everything came from improved confidence.”Soon after Peter DeBoer took over as the Sharks’ coach in May of 2015, San Jose signed defenceman Paul Martin, who’d previously played for DeBoer in New Jersey, primarily to play as Burns’s partner in five-on-five situations. The last defenceman to win the Hart was Chris Pronger in 2000. But according to Thornton, it took time for Burns to get comfortable playing in his own end and once that happened, it made him a more complete player.“Maybe his confidence was a little off in the past,” he said. Burns played the 2013-14 season on the wing, mostly alongside Thornton, and then was permanently shifted back to defence the following year.Even now, Burns plays something of a rambling-gambling style, but the risk-to-reward ratio has been so positive for the Sharks, that they don’t want to pull the reins in on him, for fear of undermining the catalyst he’s become to their offensive game.Burns is 31. “That starts with Thornton, [Joe] Pavelski, [Marc-Édouard] Vlasic, all those guys. He’s intimidating. He is that dominant. What their hair looks like, or their beards, or whether they shower that day or get a new tattoo, I could care less.”Slowly, the notoriety for Burns’s playing ability is starting to build.

Toronto Blue Jays to find ways to win without sluggers in 2017

“We still have three or four guys that can hit 20-plus homers, but we’re going to have to do the little things right, too. [Dickey] but we have [Francisco] Liriano stepping in and he was filthy for us down the stretch last year. The lineup still boasts some thump with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and free-agent signing, Kendrys Morales, but a power reduction is expected.“I think we’re still capable of scoring runs, but it may not be with the long ball as much as it has been,” Travis said. “He’s going to be a tough guy to replace. The additions of Donaldson and Tulowitzki in recent years have only added to that production as Toronto finished in the top 10 in the American League in runs and home runs the past seven seasons.As it stands now, the Jays would be missing 88 homers and close to 260 RBIs from a season ago should Bautista and fellow free agent Michael Saunders follow Encarnacio and sign elsewhere for 2017.“It’s always tough to see a guy with Edwin’s talents leave, even more so the type of guy and teammate he was not just to me but everyone,” Pillar said. We’re going to have to get on base any way we can, maybe bunting guys over and manufacturing runs as best we can.”With the departure of Encarnacion and his 42 home runs and league-leading 127 RBIs to Cleveland and Bautista still to decide where he’ll play this season, there’s some uncertainty as to whether the Jays can slug it out as they have in the past.Bautista and Encarnacion were front and centre as the Jays became one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball since 2009. Scoring runs has rarely been an issue for the Toronto Blue Jays the past several seasons, as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have slugged it out with the best power hitters in the game and blasted a couple of the most memorable home runs in franchise history.But with at least one, perhaps both, of those marquee names playing elsewhere this season, the team’s recipe for success in 2017 may switch to preventing runs scored against them. “We lost R.A. If we can keep our five starters healthy, then I think there’s a good chance we get back to where we were last year.”And Pillar felt the ultracompetitive American League East has shifted somewhat to a pitching-dominant division with Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello in Boston to square off against the Jays’ solid quintet.“But you’re still going to have to score runs because Baltimore still has a good lineup, Boston still has a very good lineup, we still have a good lineup I feel like we have the starting pitching to shut down some really good offensive teams,” Pillar said.Travis suggested the team will have to score its runs in a variety of ways rather than through the long ball. Four of the five starters who spent the entire 2016 campaign with the team are expected to return, led by a solid one-two punch of ace Aaron Sanchez and 20-game winner J.A. Happ.Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano will likely round out the starting five.“We have one of the best starting rotations in baseball,” said outfielder Kevin Pillar, who was in Regina with teammates Devon Travis, Sanchez and Estrada as part of the Blue Jays’ Winter Tour.Perhaps overshadowed by the heavy hitters in the Jays’ lineup, the rotation was among the best in the major leagues in 2016 with the sixth-best combined earned-run average (3.92) and fourth-lowest opponents’ batting average (.242).“There was so much speculation last year of that group being the question mark for the team. 14. I think we surpassed that and then some,” said Sanchez, who helped lead the Jays to an 89-73 record and a second consecutive appearance in the American League Championship Series. There’s not one person you can ask to come in and have replace the type of impact Eddy had.“We’re all going to have to step up and do our part in filling the void, and maybe that brings the best out of everyone.”Blue Jays pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Feb.

Intriguing matchups ahead in divisional round of NFL playoffs

That game, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was played on a field with altered dimensions – 80 yards long, instead of 100, and 10 yards narrower.Reuters, The New York Times The worst of the freezing rain is expected to start late Saturday night and continue into Sunday morning and early afternoon.Although snowstorms in the past have prompted the league to change the site and days of regular-season games – the Minnesota Vikings had three games affected in 2010 alone – the NFL says it believes this is the first time a postseason game has been shifted since 1932.That year, a blizzard forced the first playoff game, between the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans, to move indoors, to Chicago Stadium from Wrigley Field. Eastern start.The league said in a statement that changing the game time, which was originally 1:05 p.m., would allow authorities to clear roads and improve driving conditions. When it comes together we’re a really tough team.”The Cowboys, aiming to reach their first Super Bowl in 21 years, will pit their balanced attack and sound defence against an aerial show triggered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose Packers have won seven straight games.Rodgers will be without top target Jordy Nelson, sidelined by broken ribs, but even without him they outscored the New York Giants 24-7 in the second half of last week’s 38-13 victory.The Packers-Cowboys winner meets the survivor of Saturday’s game between the Atlanta Falcons (11-5) and Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1), who are five-point underdogs.In a game contrasting a potent offence and a hard-hitting defence, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan will try to pierce a Seattle defence dubbed “The Legion of Boom,” which is missing perennial Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to injury.In a virtual toss-up, AFC West champions Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) are one-point favourites against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) on Sunday.The Chiefs defence, with a league-leading 33 turnovers, will face two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.Roethlisberger, dealing with an injured right foot, runs an explosive attack featuring running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown.Citing public safety concerns in the face of a potentially crippling ice storm in Kansas City this weekend, the NFL moved Sunday’s playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium to an 8:20 p.m. “Just be ourselves. “There’s a lot of focus and attention and you’re putting a lot of concentration into each play because you’re not promised next week,” Brady, a four-time Super Bowl winner, told reporters about preparing for the defensive-minded Texans.“We have to go earn that,” added Brady, who has been on a mission after missing the first four games of the season on a suspension stemming from the Deflategate flap of two years ago.Houston will start backup quarterback Brock Osweiler.Dallas (13-3), whose success and popularity from the 1960s through the 1990s earned them the nickname of “America’s Team,” will rely on a one-two rookie punch of running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott against the Green Bay Packers (10-6) on Sunday.“It’s a big game, win or go home,” said Prescott, whose team is favoured by 4 1/2 points. The top-seeded New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys join the Super Bowl tournament with a golden veteran and surprising rookie leading their respective offences into the divisional round of the playoffs.The Patriots (14-2) play host to the Houston Texans (9-7) on Saturday favoured by a whopping 16 points, but quarterback Tom Brady is taking nothing for granted with a trip to the AFC Championship on the line. Run the ball well, pass the ball well.

Two Canadian soccer players picked in first round of MLS SuperDraft

Shome’s appeal is the ability to connect teammates and his experience – he logged 1,729 minutes in 29 appearances in all competitions for Edmonton and captained the Canadian under-20 team.Friday marked the first two rounds of the draft. New York City FC traded up to No. Rounds 3 and 4 will take place Tuesday by conference call.The top of the draft went largely as expected with UCLA forward Abu Danladi taken first overall by Minnesota United FC. 16 to get Awuah, a versatile UConn product it plans to use as a left fullback. 21. But each of the four brings something attractive to the table. New England used the 20th pick to take Wright, a talented frontman who left the University of Vermont as its second-leading career scorer.FC Dallas selected Reid, a 17-year-old forward from the Toronto-area ANB Futbol Academy, in the second round (40th overall). 19.Toronto FC took Notre Dame centre back Brandon Aubrey at No. The youngest player available in the draft, Reid is seen as a project with a lot of attacking upside.Shome, who played last season with FC Edmonton of the NASL, was taken 41st overall by the Montreal Impact. Fellow expansion team Atlanta United then selected Syracuse’s Miles Robinson, seen as the best defender in the draft.New York City FC traded for the third pick, sending $250,000 (U.S.) of general allocation money – which MLS teams can use to pay down salary cap costs – to select Akron forward Jonathan Lewis.The Portland Timbers then moved up six places to pick Duke forward Jeremy Ebobisse at No. 4, sending Portland $100,000 in general allocation money, a 2017 international roster spot and the 10th overall pick.Danladi, Robinson and Lewis were part of the Generation Adidas class – a select group of top underclassmen signed to MLS contracts that don’t count against the salary cap.Reid and Shome came with a similar deal, as the first Generation Adidas Canada class.New league rules affecting young Canadian talent mean Wright and Awuah will not be considered internationals south of the border.Wright and Ebobisse, meanwhile, were among the 11 college seniors signed to contracts prior to the draft On the Canadian team front, the Vancouver Whitecaps took UConn defender Jake Nerwinski with the seventh overall pick. Toronto said it did not expect him to be around when they picked.Toronto traded its two second-round picks to Chicago for $75,000 in targeted allocation money, funds it may use to bring in an attacking midfielder.There was a Ghanaian feel to the top of the draft. The move gives Vancouver depth behind newly acquired Sheanon Williams at the troublesome right back position.The 22-year-old from New Jersey played 81 games in four seasons for the Huskies.“This is pretty awesome,” Nerwinski said at the podium.The Whitecaps took lanky New Zealand centre back Francis DeVries (Saint Francis University) in the second round (29th overall).Montreal used its first-round pick to take UC Santa Barbara forward Nick DePuy, a target man hard to miss at six foot five and 205 pounds, at No. The highly touted defender dropped down the board a little after a poor showing at the MLS Combine. After Danlada went first, Ghana under-20 defender Lalas Abubakar was taken fifth by Columbus.Danladi delivered a series of heart-felt thank-you’s at the Los Angeles Convention Center podium, ranging from his family back in Africa to “my host mom and my host dad [Helena and Cris Avery in California].”“When I came from Ghana, they took me in, treated me as their own … They didn’t expect anything back,” he said. Canadians Kwame Awuah and Brian Wright went in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft on Friday, followed by teenagers Adonijah Reid and Shamit Shome in the second round.The haul was in part due to new league initiatives making young talent from north of the border more accessible to American teams.

Australian Open could see Federer facing Murray in quarter-final

Organizers confirmed Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis withdrew because of injury, leaving an extra place open for a qualifier.Djokovic and Kerber attended the draw as defending champions, carrying their trophies into the revamped entry to Melbourne Park. “For Roger, because he’s been here so often, knows how to prepare, I don’t see it being a huge issue.”Nishikori, speaking on the eve of the draw, said having Federer sitting lower in the list of seeds than usual was daunting for his rivals but was a promotional bonanza for the tournament.“It’s not the best news for us, for sure. Raonic has won the only previous meeting between the players in the opening round of the 2016 U.S. Open to finish the year at No. 5 Kei Nishikori and No. “And I put myself in that position.”Kerber saved a match point in her opener against Misaki Doi of Japan last year, when she was seeded seventh, and knows better than to take the first round lightly when the Australian Open starts Monday.“It was just one point that changed everything,” Kerber said. Verdasco had an upset win over fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal in the first round here last year, and had five match points before losing to Djokovic in the semi-final at Doha last week.Third-ranked Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., will open against Germany’s Dustin Brown. 4 Dominic Thiem, No. 1, is set to play Lesia Tsurenko in the first round. 17 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 11 David Goffin and Dimitrov in his quarter.Nadal, the 14-time major winner who is returning from two months off with a left wrist injury, and Raonic are in the top quarter on that side of the draw. 1 ranking.He will play Illya Marchenko in the first round and has a potential third round against No. She said she hoped to be okay for the Australian Open.Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., coming off a semi-final appearance at the Sydney Open, faces American Louisa Chirico. 9 Johanna Konta, No. 31 Sam Querrey, who upset Djokovic at the same stage last year at Wimbledon.U.S. 16 in the year-end rankings, and dropped a further spot this week to be seeded 17th after Grigor Dimitrov beat Nishikori in the Brisbane International final last Sunday and moved up to No. 15.Federer was drawn to play qualifiers in the first two rounds, then potentially former Wimbledon finalist Berdych in the third round, 2014 U.S. Tsurenko withdrew from her semi-final later Friday in Hobart, citing a viral problem which forced her to pull out of the Brisbane tournament the previous week. Open.Six-time women’s champion Serena Williams, aiming for an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles title, drew a challenging first-round opponent in Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic – who was seeded 12th last year – and also had No. Open finalist Nishikori in the fourth and five-time Australian Open runner-up Murray in the quarter-final.Paul Annacone, Federer’s former coach, was at the draw in a commentary role and said the 35-year-old Swiss star had enough experience at Melbourne Park – where he has won four titles and reached the semi-final or better in 12 of the last 13 years – to make another charge at the title.“Very strange seeing 17 next to Roger’s name,” he said. 6 Dominika Cibulkova in her quarter.Top-ranked Angelique Kerber, who beat Williams in the final here last year to win her first Grand Slam title, and also won the U.S. “It’s not the best if you play, but it’s great for the fans.”After leaving Australia quickly after a fifth-final loss, Murray won nine titles in 2016 – including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the season-ending ATP Finals to replace Djokovic in the year-end No. Djokovic equaled Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian titles last year – he has won five of the last six – and Kerber won her first.“Everyone else is here, not to defend, but to chase a title, try to win it,” Djokovic said. 10 Tomas Berdych. Open champion Stan Wawrinka is on the bottom of the same half of the draw.No. It’s a bit tough,” he said. It will be their first meeting.Federer had surgery on his left knee last February after reaching the Australian Open semi-final and, after ending his record run of 65 consecutive majors by skipping the French Open, spent the second half of 2016 on the sidelines recovering after a semi-final exit at Wimbledon.The 17-time Grand Slam winner slipped to No. Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic drew a difficult first-round opponent in Fernando Verdasco, and Roger Federer’s fall in the rankings complicated his chances at Melbourne Park after he ended up in the same quarter as top-ranked Andy Murray, No. The official draw for the season’s first major was held Friday and delivered an awkward opponent for second-seeded Djokovic. “It was an amazing two weeks, starting with the first round where I was match point down, then playing the best player in the world in Serena in the final.“To be here now, top seed, it’s very special.” 2-ranked Djokovic is in the other half and has No.

Women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser announces retirement

“Any little girl in this country can walk into a hockey rink and no one is going to think twice or look twice. Some female teammates believed she should stay in Canada and help grow women’s leagues here.But Wickenheiser made choices she felt would make her a better player, which meant leaving her comfort zones.She trained in her off-seasons with NHL players, making headlines skating in Philadelphia Flyers rookie camps when she was in her early 20s.“I’m comfortable being uncomfortable,” Wickenheiser said.Danielle Goyette said Wickenheiser was a driven woman when they were linemates on the national team and when Goyette coached her at the University of Calgary.“She’s the kind of athlete that never took ‘no’ for an answer,” Goyette said. “The more I thought about it, it would have been too long to wait.“It’s a tough decision, but it’s going to be the right one.”Wickenheiser underwent surgery in 2015 to have a plate and eight screws inserted in her left foot.Her playing minutes reduced in her 13th world championship last year in Kamloops, B.C., she still drew the loudest cheers during player introductions.Her body of work in hockey is broad, deep and unique.A five-foot-10, 171-pound forward with a heavy shot and creative hands, No. I don’t know a lot of girls who would put themselves through that.”Hockey isn’t done with Wickenheiser. Wickenheiser, who has lived in Calgary since she was 12, will be honoured in a pre-game ceremony Saturday in Edmonton before the Oilers host the Calgary Flames.“It’s a celebration and of course it’s really emotional,” she said. When Hayley Wickenheiser sees girls dragging hockey bags into arenas, she feels a sense of accomplishment.The normalcy of girls playing hockey is what she sweated for, fought for, and shed tears for.When Wickenheiser started playing 33 years ago, there were no girls’ teams. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Thank you!” Wickenheiser posted on her Twitter account.Not only was Wickenheiser a star in women’s hockey when the game desperately needed one, she changed perceptions of what women are capable of in sport.The 38-year-old from Shaunavon, Sask., told The Canadian Press in a sometimes tearful interview she didn’t want to postpone her entrance into medical school any longer.“It has been the greatest honour of my life to play for Canada,” Wickenheiser said. Girls don’t have to go through hell anymore to play hockey.”The fact that female hockey has arrived at this stage puts some soothing balm on the difficult decision to end her playing career.The country’s all-time leading scorer announced her retirement Friday after 23 years on the Canadian women’s team and almost a dozen Olympic and world championship gold medals.“Dear Canada. She’s now committing through her annual international female hockey festival Wickfest to fund 22 girls who otherwise couldn’t afford to play.Wickenheiser is confident there will be a women’s pro hockey league some day, with the NHL’s help.She’s been a mom since 2001 when she adopted the infant son of her then-partner Tomas Pacina. I just went through hell really, to play. Wickenheiser continued to co-parent Noah, now in high school, after the relationship ended.Hockey is precious in Canada so Wickenheiser’s message to the next generation is to take care of it.“Don’t ask ‘What can I get out of the game?’ Ask ‘What can I give to the game?“’ she said. She played a combined 65 men’s pro games in Europe.Her decision to play with and against men wasn’t unanimously supported at home. There’s female hockey change rooms in a lot of rinks now.“I remember when I was a kid, I hid in the bathroom and tucked my hair up so no one would know I was a girl. “I’ll miss it.”The number of registered female players in Canada went from 16,000 in her first year on the national team to almost 87,000 today.Bob Nicholson, who was Hockey Canada’s president and chief executive officer during most of Wickenheiser’s career, said she played a big role in giving “girls the dreams that boys had.”“Her record speaks for itself winning so many gold medals, but in years to come, the biggest memory will be how she inspired so many girls to play the game,” said Nicholson, now CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group. She played with boys and wasn’t always welcomed by players or their parents. “It’s sad in some ways because you’re leaving a part of your life behind, but it’s also exciting in other ways.“There are other things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Time to hang em up!! There will be opportunities for her to work in the game. I just didn’t want to wait to do that.”But there have been sleepless nights coming to that conclusion.Just six months ago, Wickenheiser said she wanted to wear the Maple Leaf at a sixth Winter Games in 2018 and pursue a fifth gold medal. “What I mean by that is she wants to push the limits of women’s hockey.“She didn’t have to (train) with guys, but she always tried to train with somebody stronger than her to make sure that she’s pushing herself to the max.“She went to Europe and played hockey with the men, full-body contact. She said she’s had discussions with people in the NHL, but there are no concrete plans yet.“I have to see how that all fits in with where I’m going in medicine and the rest of my life,” Wickenheiser said.She was an Oilers fan idolizing Mark Messier as a young girl. 22 was the dominant female player in the world in this century’s first decade.Named MVP of the 2002 and 2006 Olympic women’s hockey tournaments, Wickenheiser’s 379 career points for Canada — 168 goals and 211 assists in 276 games — will be difficult to match.The active player with most points is Meghan Agosta at 155 in 155 games.Wickenheiser is one of just five athletes in the world — joined by retired teammates Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette — to win gold at four consecutive Winter Games.Wickenheiser intends to continue getting girls into hockey. It would have been Wickenheiser’s seventh Olympic Games as she also played softball for Canada in 2000.“It would have been great to play in one more,” she said. I have other opportunities within the game and in medicine to pursue. “She always was harder on herself than any of her teammates and pushed herself to excellence.”Her forays into men’s professional hockey in Finland and Sweden set new standards on how much a woman can be pushed physically. “Take everything you can from the game and give everything you can back to it and it will reward you well.” “The greatest stride’s been made in the acceptance of girls playing the game,” says Wickenheiser.

Giroux’s shootout goal propels Flyers over Canucks

It was the fourth goal combined between the teams over a 3:25 stretch.Philadelphia started the onslaught with 10:39 left in the period when Bellemare ripped a slap shot past Miller’s glove side after Matt Read stripped Christopher Tanev in the circle and fed Bellemare in the high slot.Couturier gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead 18 seconds later when he finished a 2-on-1 after a deft pass through the crease from Voracek that set up an easy tap-in.Granlund registered his second goal of the night 1:22 later to tie it at 3 when he capitalized off a faceoff by getting behind Brandon Manning and shooting through Mason’s five-hole.Granlund got the first tally of the five-goal period when he scored on a power play off a rebound 1:51 into the period.Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol replaced Mason to start the third period.The Canucks spent 8:37 on the power play in the first period thanks in part to consecutive double-minor high sticking penalties to Manning and Michael Del Zotto. Sutter took Megna’s pass and beat Mason with a forehand shot from in close. Vancouver capitalized midway through the period when Sedin shot a wrister over Mason’s glove from the slot on a 5-on-3.Philadelphia tied it at 1 with 5:30 left in the period on its own power play after Konecny finished off a nifty assist by Dale Weise, who kicked the puck before batting it out of the air to Konecny right in front of the crease. Markus Granlund scored twice in regulation, and Daniel Sedin and Brandon Sutter each had a goal for Vancouver, which lost its third straight – all on the road.Michal Neuvirth made 11 saves in the third period and overtime and stopped all three shots in the shootout in relief of Steve Mason, who was lifted after allowing four goals on 24 shots through two periods.Neuvirth denied Granlund, Bo Horvat and Loui Eriksson in the tiebreaker.Jayson Megna and Troy Stecher had two assists each for the Canucks, who have lost 16 of 21 on the road.Schenn tied it at 4 just 57 seconds into the third period with his 14th goal of the season and 10th on the power play when he took Giroux’s pass from behind the net and shot the puck off Ryan Miller and into the net.Sutter put the Canucks in front 4-3 with 7:14 left in the second period to cap a high-scoring 3 1/2 minutes. Claude Giroux scored the only goal in the shootout to lift the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-4 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Brayden Schenn scored in regulation for the Flyers, who won for just the third time in their last 10 games.

Condon makes 29 saves, leads Senators win over Penguins

14-19, 2015.The Senators hadn’t played since Sunday and had plenty of incentive for wanting to come out hard against the Penguins. This marked the first time the Penguins, coming off a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals Wednesday, lost back-to-back games in regulation since Dec. The last time the two teams met on Dec. He also got a little help when Scott Wilson rang a shot off the post.Leading 2-0, Ottawa was able to extend its lead midway through the period as Pyatt re-directed Erik Karlsson’s shot over Murray’s right leg.The only blemish for Condon was giving up a goal with 6.4 seconds remaining in the second when Sheary tipped Evgeni Malkin’s shot to get the Penguins on the board.The Senators couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game.Ottawa opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 5:29 as Ryan scored his eighth of the season, beating Murray through the legs. 28, made 29 saves. 5 Ottawa allowed a season-high eight goals against and 46 shots.Holding a 3-1 lead to start the third, Ottawa held off the Penguins and midway through the period put the game out of reach as Stone scored his 13th of the season in front of 17,769 at Canadian Tire Centre.Frustration was clearly setting in for the Penguins as head coach Mike Sullivan was given a bench minor and thrown out of the game with just over two minutes remaining.Condon was at his best in the second, making a number of big saves, including one on Phil Kessel and another on Nick Bonino. Less than four minutes later the Senators made it 2-0 as Hoffman had a perfect re-direct on Karlsson’s point shot. Mike Condon made 29 saves Thursday night as the Ottawa Senators defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1.Condon, who was making his eighth consecutive start, had offensive support as Bobby Ryan, Mike Hoffman, Tom Pyatt and Mark Stone all scored for the Senators (22-14-4).Conor Sheary scored the lone goal for the Penguins (26-10-5) as Matt Murray, playing for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury Dec.

Wild overwhelm Price en route to 7-1 win over Canadiens

11, Staal has eight goals and 12 assists for the most points in the NHL during that span.This was a season-high score for the Wild, but the Canadiens, believe it or not, lost 10-0 to the Blue Jackets on Nov. Staal, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund are each averaging one point per game during that span.After Columbus stopped the Wild’s 12-game winning streak here on Dec. Eric Staal and Jordan Schroeder scored 39 seconds apart in the second period, Nino Niederreiter had two goals, and the Minnesota Wild overwhelmed Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens on their way to a 7-1 victory Thursday night.Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots, missing the shutout by 9 seconds on Tomas Plekanec’s power-play rebound, but he beat Price for the second time in three weeks. Over his last 14 games since Dec. With Zach Parise finally getting in a groove and Charlie Coyle settling in on the other wing, Staal’s line has been stellar of late.The 32-year-old, in his first season with Minnesota, has already topped his 2015-16 goal total with 14. He fell to 9-7-3 in his last 19 starts and has allowed 26 goals over his last seven appearances.The Wild improved to 17-2-4 over their last 23 games, outscoring their opponents 86-54 with four-plus goals in 10 of those games. Price, who made 17 saves, was taunted by the “Sieve!” chant after Niederreiter’s second score.The last time Price allowed seven goals was against Pittsburgh on March 2, 2013. What began as a matchup of two All-Star goalies became an all-out blitz by the surging Wild. 4.Dubnyk, the league leader in goals against average and save percentage, improved to 5-1-1 in his career against the Canadiens without having to sweat.The Canadiens romped past Winnipeg the night before, with Al Montoya backstopping a 7-4 victory over the Jets to put Price in line for the rematch with despite Montoya’s 5-0 career record against the Wild. Christian Folin, Jason Zucker and Ryan Suter also scored, Matt Dumba had three assists and Staal and Jared Spurgeon each set up a pair of goals. 31, they’ve responded remarkably by picking up five points on a three-game California road trip and roaring to a 14-4 home record with this romp past the Canadiens.

Despite mismatch of skill, Texans eager to face off against Patriots

It’s tempting to pick that score, but we’ll go with the average of those results.Best bet: PATRIOTS, 38-12Pittsburgh (plus 2) at Kansas City, SundayThat boot being worn by Ben Roethlisberger after Pittsburgh’s win against Miami is very worrisome. The players and coaches have no interest in such things, of course, reasoning that betting lines have no impact on what happens on the field Saturday night.They are right. Talent makes the difference, and there rarely has been such a mismatch in skill as in this one.Not that the Texans, fresh off a rout of the injury-wrecked Raiders, will simply forfeit. But will Andy Reid turn the reins loose a bit when the Chiefs have the ball?A matchup we can’t wait to see is Brown vs. They recognize the challenge and sound eager to face it.“You have to make sure that, No. They’re the type of team that if you make too many mistakes, they’re going to bury you.”Let the romping begin.New England has won its past four meetings with Houston at Gillette Stadium by a combined 150-49. The money started flowing in, and the line moved up to 15 1/2. Straight up: (3-1)Season totals: Against spread (125-124-8). All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters.The feeling is that only the Steelers could derail another trip to the Super Bowl for New England. “That your players understand what their role in the game is and how they’re supposed to perform on every single play.“They’re going to make their share of plays. Hey, the guy even connects regularly on desperation passes.The big issue here is the health of Jordy Nelson, who got a helmet to the ribs from the Giants in the wild-card game and was sidelined. But Roethlisberger tends to always show up in the playoffs and perform superbly much of the time.The Steelers eased past the Chiefs on Oct. It’s not likely he will be on the field Sunday, and even if he is, Nelson probably will be limited.Still, the Packers will play loose and A-Rod will be dynamic. I think one of the big things for us is we have to play good, sound, fundamental football. Pro Picks would like to see if Pittsburgh can do that, so …Upset special: STEELERS, 23-21Seattle (plus 4 1/2) at Atlanta, SaturdayExperience, coaching and swagger – they all are on the side of the visitors.Seattle is as accomplished as any NFC playoff team, and many of the key contributors to its recent success remain on the scene: Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin.Now that Thomas Rawls seems healthy, there’s a running game to complement Wilson, Baldwin and tight end Jimmy Graham.But this is one of those prove-it games for Atlanta’s All-Pros, quarterback Matt Ryan and wideout Julio Jones. They figure to do their share of scoring against a Dallas defence that ranked 26th against the pass.Then again, sensational rookies Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott, operating behind the best line in the NFL and complemented by Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, also should supply points.In a shootout …PACKERS, 37-33Last week: Against spread (1-3). Kansas City is better now than it was back then, although so are the Steelers.If KC can get pressure on Big Ben and somewhat control Antonio Brown, the league’s most dangerous receiver (and non-quarterback), and running back Le’Veon Bell, it can use its relatively conservative offence to its advantage. Straight up: (159-99-2)Best bet: 11-7 against spread, 13-5 straight up.Upset special: 6-11-1 against spread, 6-12 straight up. 2, but that was in Pittsburgh. Which opponent to better prove that your offence, and an improving defence, are capable of a long post-season run than against the big kid on the NFC block?Falcons coach Dan Quinn gets the better of his mentor, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, in a squeaker.FALCONS, 27-26Green Bay (plus 4) at Dallas, SundayWho isn’t in awe of Aaron Rodgers, the league’s best quarterback over the past two months? 1, that you do your job,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. When the point spreads came out for the divisional playoff round, the line getting the most attention was for the game at Foxborough, the one projected blowout.While all four teams coming off byes are favoured, the Patriots (14-2) opened as a 13 1/2-point choice against the Texans (10-7).