This is an article from the Dec. 22, 2008 issue
Sure, Sunday's win was ugly—but not as ugly as 1--15, Miami's record a year ago. Now they're 9--5 after stealing one from San Francisco. Linebacker Joey Porter (above, an AFC-high 17.5 sacks) is getting MVP buzz; Tony Sparano is looking like the Coach of the Year, and turnover-averse QB Chad Pennington has been officially reborn.
An approaching holiday to lift spirits in these parlous times, and a shooting guard to lift Temple basketball. Owls fans dreaming of a white-hot Christmas got it when co-captain Dionte Christmas sank seven three-pointers and scored 35 points in an upset of Tennessee. Christmas at Temple—what a melting pot we live in!
No stoppin' 'em. A 12-1-3 run included wins over good teams (take that, Pens) and bad (sorry, Isles) and pushed Philly into second place. Having the NHL's No. 2 goal scorer in Jeff Carter is nice; having playmaker Simon Gagne in high form in his comeback from concussions? That's a season-maker.
Back on the mountaintop. Last season's World Cup winner Lindsay Vonn surged to the lead again with some sweet slaloming in Spain. She could make history: No U.S. woman has won back-to-back season titles.
Sunday's game was ugly and costly. Dipping to 9--5 after a shoulda-won-it loss to Atlanta puts Tampa Bay in tough straits for the playoffs. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is a lame duck (he's agreed to coach at Tennessee), and QB Jeff Garcia is nursing a bum leg. As defensive end Kevin Carter (above) said, "We better get ourselves together."
Folks can't unload anything in these cash-poor times—unless you're the Redskins' Mike Sellers. A foot from the end zone, the fullback handed the ball (literally; he was trying to extend it past the goal line) to Cincinnati's Corey Mays. The gaffe sealed the Skins' fate in a 20--13 loss. Sellers to The Washington Post: "I'm just so speechless."
They just can't get in gear. Six straight losses through Sunday (close ones and blowouts, to good teams and to bad teams, you name it) had Indianapolis buried in last place. Does point guard T.J. Ford, shooting just 42% from the field, have a solution? "I don't know," he said. "It's tough."
Back on the mat. Fading heavyweight Hasim Rahman took it on the chin (and cheeks and forehead and ...) in getting TKO'd in the seventh round by Wladimir Klitschko. The Maryland native went all the way to Germany for that?
SI PLAYERS NBA POLL
Which team will win the NBA title this season?
Los Angeles Lakers 67%
Boston Celtics 20%
Cleveland Cavaliers 4%
San Antonio Spurs 2%
The Lakers' support was virtually equal among Eastern Conference and Western Conference voters.... At week's end the Celtics (22--2), Cavaliers (20--4) and Lakers (20--3) had the NBA's best records.... Aside from the Lakers' Kobe Bryant (fourth in the league, averaging 24.9 points), neither L.A. nor Boston had a player in the top 30 in scoring average.... A Celtics-Lakers finals would be the first rematch since the Bulls beat the Jazz in 1997 and '98.
[Based on a survey of 189 NBA players] • For more on the poll, and to comment on it, go to SI.com/players.