The AFC North’s matchups against the AFC South and NFC North could lead to a better overall win total.

Oddsmakers expect a ditto of last season’s final AFC North standings, and we agree. Despite improvements throughout the division, Pittsburgh remains the class of the bunch.

The AFC North’s matchups against the AFC South and NFC North could lead to a better overall win total. That’s good news for the likes of Harbaugh and Lewis, who as noted need solid seasons to keep their names off the Black Monday watch list.

All these challenges would end a lesser franchise, but the Clippers have the advantage of having one of the best coaches in the NBA. Doc Rivers refuses to make excuses. His attitude permeates the locker room.

“We don’t change much about how we go about our business,” Rivers said. “We run the same sets, the same approach. Obviously, it’s a little different without Chris on the floor but we don’t do any major changes. Everything’s the same. We’re trying to pick off as many wins as we can and when everyone comes back, you hope that this makes you a better team.”

It also helps to have a veteran like Paul Pierce, who has won a title and been through the wars.

“I ain’t worried,” Pierce told Sporting News. “We are a championship-caliber team, I know it when I see it. We have everything we need to beat to anybody in the league and that includes Golden State. It sucks to have our stars hurting. But it gives other guys a chance to step up. That will only help us when the guys are back. Because now a bench guy will have confidence that he wouldn’t have otherwise had.”rangers_092-115x115

Packers beat Lions to win NFC North title

The Green Bay Packers have had an up-and-down season, but they ended it the way they usually do under Aaron Rodgers: NFC North champions. The Packers beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football, clinching the division and the fourth seed.

This is their sixth division title under head coach Mike McCarthy. They’ll host the New York Giants in the Wild Card round next week. The Lions, on the other hand, will travel to Seattle and face the Seahawks.

Rodgers was tremendous against the Lions, throwing for four touchdowns and 300 yards in the 31-24 win. He also extended plays with his legs, rushing for 42 yards.

He doesn’t play basketball aggressively or with violence, but with extreme savvy and utmost precision. Everything is calculated, somehow, even in the heat of the moment, dozens and dozens of times per game.

Saturday was a fattened, engorged version of Harden’s play all season. His game was the feeling you get after a huge Thanksgiving meal that forces you to slip into sweatpants by 7 p.m. No NBA player has ever recorded 50 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists in a game. Harden did all that plus a little, tying his career high in assists and setting one with his 53 points. The Knicks were even within three points with a few minutes to play, and Harden scored eight points with several more rebounds down the stretch to put them away for good.

Geovany Soto: Left the White Sox in 2015 for a chance to be a starter in Anaheim. Soto spent a lot of time on the disabled list in 2016 as he suffered inflammation in both knees.

The season finale against Green Bay will be for the division title and, for both teams

It’s not yet clear if the game will be flexed into either an afternoon time slot or the prime-time period, but based on other results this weekend, Lions-Packers might be the most attractive game on the Week 17 schedule.

A Lions win against the Packers would give the franchise its first division title since the 1993 season. A Detroit loss would give Green Bay the NFC North crown and leave the Lions hoping things fall right for a wild-card playoff spot — potentially at Lambeau Field against the Packers depending how things shake out.

If the Lions win Monday against the Cowboys and then tie the Packers in Week 17, the Lions would win the division because they would have a 10-5-1 record while Green Bay would have a 9-6-1 record.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he would not address his team any differently based on Green Bay’s result Saturday. Earlier this week, he also wouldn’t discuss what a potential NFC North title would mean to the Lions, a franchise that went the second half of the Barry Sanders era and Calvin Johnson’s entire career without winning one.

“I’m not concerned about any of that. I’m not concerned about looking, even if it’s another game ahead,” Caldwell said. “I’m looking right straight forward at the team that we have to face; that’s our focus. I think our guys understand that probably as well as anybody now. They have a real good sense of that.”

But the truth is there. The season finale against Green Bay will be for the division title and, for both teams, potentially a chance to continue their seasons.

After all the swings this season for both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, it’s still going to come down to one thing for the NFC North title, a home playoff game and potentially even a playoff berth.

Green Bay’s 38-25 win over Minnesota on Saturday guaranteed that next Sunday’s regular-season finale between the Lions and Packers at Ford Field will be for the division title no matter what happens for Detroit in Monday night’s game against Dallas.