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Ohio State Made The Committee Look Good — And Bad

We start by previewing the college football title game between Alabama and Ohio State, the latter of which swept in to save the playoff committee’s choices this year by decisively beating Clemson in the semifinals; it must also be said, of course, that Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina helped the committee out by losing their bowl games, too. We’re still left with a very broken system in which it’s hard to objectively judge the strength of individual conferences and easy to question the logic of the decisions made during the pandemic to play or not to play, to encourage safety or to look the other way. For better and for worse, roster talent was the factor perceived to be most valuable this year, and it’s hard to argue with that, given that Alabama and Ohio State are in the final. Until there’s an expanded playoff — and also probably until there are more checks on recruiting powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, LSU, Georgia and Texas — the College Football Playoff is going to look very similar, no matter how weird the year.

Next, we take a look at the NFL playoff picture, and we take a moment to celebrate the Cleveland Browns’ return to the postseason. In most cases, simply making the playoffs — especially playoffs that were expanded this year for … reasons? — isn’t enough of a cause for celebration. But the Browns are special. For much of their history, they’ve been special in a bad way. What coach Kevin Stefanski has done to turn the team around and help Baker Mayfield improve at quarterback is an accomplishment, no matter how things play out Sunday in their wild-card matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although, as we begin our Playoff Survivor Pool, Neil at least is banking on the Steelers’ rested starters to end Cleveland’s hopes of its first playoff win since 1994. The Browns are also in danger of regressing next year if they don’t improve on defense and if Mayfield doesn’t continue to develop. But at least they don’t have the Eagles’ problems at quarterback. The pleasures of improving to the sixth overall draft pick and annoying Giants fans can only go so far when it seems like your coach has no idea what to do with Jalen Hurts.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil takes advantage of Steph Curry dropping 62 points on the Trail Blazers to explore the history of 60-point games in the NBA. Unlike 50-point games, which we talked about in a previous Rabbit Hole, 60-point games are much rarer and have come comparatively late in certain stars’ careers. Curry played 704 games before he got one this year; LeBron James didn’t crack 60 until 2014 — he had played 820 games. Curry will have ample opportunities to rack up more 60-point performances this year, though. He doesn’t exactly need to share the ball with any other prolific scorers on the Warriors.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.