This Weekend in Sports: NFL Playoffs and the Last Strikeforce Fight
NFL teams look to take the next step toward the Super Bowl, and a mixed martial arts promotion holds its final event. Here's what to watch this weekend:
Friday, Jan. 11
Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks
Madison Square Garden, New York; 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Chicago (19-14) trailed Indiana by a game in the Central Division standings heading into Thursday night. The Bulls missed an opportunity to draw even with the Pacers when they lost to Milwaukee on Wednesday. Guard Kirk Hinrich missed the game against the Bucks due to a right elbow injury. New York (23-10) will host the Bulls after playing at Indiana on Thursday night. Knicks' MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony is expected to be back in the lineup on Friday, but he was suspended for the game against the Pacers after waiting for Boston's Kevin Garnett at the Celtics' team bus after the two stars had an on-court fracas on Monday night.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers
Staples Center, Los Angeles; 10:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Oklahoma City (27-8) came into Thursday tied with the L.A. Clippers for the best record in the NBA. Led by Kevin Durant's 28.2 points per game, the Thunder are the NBA's second-highest scoring team, beating foes with a relentless offensive attack. The L.A. Lakers (15-20) extended their losing streak to five consecutive games by dropping a contest to the Spurs on Wednesday night. Lakers' superstar Kobe Bryant leads the NBA in scoring at 30.1 points per game. Los Angeles' big men Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill are all sidelined with injuries.
Saturday, Jan. 12
(1) Duke at (20) N.C. State
PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.; 12 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Top-ranked Duke (15-0; 2-0, ACC) visits No. 20 N.C. State (13-2; 2-0, ACC) in a battle of ranked teams. The Blue Devils will be without senior forward Ryan Kelly, who was ruled out indefinitely after suffering a right foot injury earlier this week. Guard Quinn Cook may take on an increased role in Kelly's absence. The Wolfpack is led by forwards C.J. Leslie, T.J. Warren and Richard Howell.
(8) Minnesota at (5) Indiana
Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.; 12 p.m. (ET) on Big Ten Network
Eighth-ranked Minnesota (15-1; 3-0, Big 10) faces a road test against No. 5 Indiana (14-1; 2-0, Big 10). The Golden Gophers beat No. 12 Illinois on Wednesday. Forward Trevor Mbakwe is a double-double threat off the bench, averaging 8.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The Hoosiers are led by forward Cody Zeller, who has averaged 16.5 points per game this season.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver; 4:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Baltimore will travel to top-seeded Denver for the right to play in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday. The Broncos beat the Ravens, 34-17, in Week 15 of the regular season, but Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Bernard Pollard both missed that game. They will play Saturday. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning will lead the Broncos' offense. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco was the NFL's highest rated passer in the first week of the postseason. The Denver defense ranked second-overall in the NFL in 2012.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Candlestick Park, San Francisco; 8 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Green Bay will face San Francisco for a berth in the NFC title game next Sunday. The Packers dropped a 30-22 decision to the 49ers in Week 1 of the regular season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads a Green Bay offense that scored 27.1 points per game during the regular season. San Francisco had the top-ranked total defense in the NFC. The Packers' defense had 18 interceptions in the regular season. They'll look to harass 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick into mistakes.
Strikeforce: Nate Marquardt vs. Tarec Saffiedine
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Okla.; 10 p.m. (ET) on Showtime
Nate Marquardt and Tarec Saffiedine will battle for the Strikeforce welterweight title in the last Strikeforce promotion before the organization is dissolved into the UFC. Champion Marquardt is the superior wrestler, but challenger Saffiedine is an accurate and powerful striker. Daniel Cormier vs. Dion Staring; Josh Barnett vs. Nandor Guelmino and Gegard Mousasi vs. Mike Kyle are among the fights on the undercard.
Sunday, Jan. 13
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome, Atlanta; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Seattle, the hottest team in the NFC, will head east to play top-seeded Atlanta for a spot in the NFC title game next Sunday. Seahawks' running back Marshawn Lynch ran for 132 yards in the win over the Redskins last weekend. The Falcons' defense allowed 123.2 yards rushing per game during the regular season. Seattle signed former Packers' kicker Ryan Longwell to replace the injured Steven Hauschka, who was placed on injured reserve with a strained calf muscle. Atlanta running back Michael Turner could be crucial in helping quarterback Matt Ryan keep drives alive by converting third downs. The Seahawks were fourth in the league in total defense in the regular season.
(2) Michigan at (15) Ohio St.
Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio; 1:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Second-ranked Michigan (16-0; 3-0, Big 10) will head to arch-rival No. 15 Ohio St. (12-3; 2-1, Big 10) in a Big 10 conference matchup of ranked teams. Guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. lead the Wolverines' attack, while forward Deshaun Thomas has been the Buckeyes most effective player this season.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.; 4:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS
AFC South champion Houston will play AFC East champ New England for the opportunity to advance to next Sunday's AFC title game. The Patriots beat the Texans, 42-14, in Week 14. New England quarterback Tom Brady threw four touchdowns against the Texans' pass defense in the earlier meeting. Houston running back Arian Foster faces a Patriots' defense that ranked ninth in the NFL against the run this season.