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NFL MVP race matches ex-Alabama teammates Hurts, Tagovailoa

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/cleveland-browns-san-francisco-49ers-miami-dolphins-seattle-seahawks-philadelphia-eagles-d11240260e26f671edf051beed70697e

Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa competed for the starting job at Alabama. Now they’re battling each other for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

In a season filled with surprises, predicting the NFL awards at the halfway point is challenging. Barring a tremendous comeback in the second half, Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to three-peat as MVP.

The Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) are the only undefeated team, so Hurts and coach Nick Sirianni deserve strong consideration for MVP and Coach of the Year, respectively.

The Miami Dolphins (6-3) are 6-0 in games that Tagovailoa finishes and he leads the NFL in passer rating. His coincides with the arrival of Tyreek Hill — a candidate for Offensive Player of the Year and also has a case for MVP.

Here’s are a look at leading contenders for The Associated Press NFL awards at the midpoint of the season:

MVP

Hurts and Tagovailoa are fresh names in a field that includes past winners Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.

Mahomes, the 2018 MVP, leads the league with 21 touchdown passes and is fourth in passer rating (103.6). His Kansas City Chiefs lead the AFC West at 6-2.

Jackson, the 2019 MVP, has 16 TD passes, a 93.7 passer rating, 635 yards rushing and two scores. He has the Baltimore Ravens (6-3) leading the AFC North.

Geno Smith also deserves consideration for his impressive turnaround in Seattle, where the Seahawks are 6-3 and in first place in the NFC West. Smith is third behind Tagovailoa and Hurts with a 107.2 passer rating.

Hill, who leads the league with 76 catches and 1,104 yards, has the best odds among the non-quarterbacks.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Sirianni has to lead the field because the Eagles are unbeaten, but this will be a competitive race.

Pete Carroll has the Seahawks third in the NFC in a season they were expected to rebuild after trading Russell Wilson.

Two New York coaches who have their teams in the playoff mix could end up taking the award. Brian Daboll’s New York Giants (6-2) are in position for their first playoff appearance since 2016. Robert Saleh has led the New York Jets to a 6-3 start despite not having quarterback Zach Wilson for the first three weeks.

Minnesota’s Kevin O’Connell also has a real shot. He’s 7-1 in his first season with the Vikings.

COMEBACK PLAYER

It’ll be hard to top Smith. The 32-year-old QB has resurrected his career with his fourth team. Smith had started just five games in the previous six seasons before beating out Drew Lock for the starting job.

Running backs Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley and Travis Etienne will challenge for the award if Smith falters in the second half.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER

T.J. Watt, the 2021 winner, has only played one game because of injury. Aaron Donald, who has won three times, isn’t among the top 3.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons leads the pack. New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon, who leads the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks, is a top contender. So is San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa. Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett belongs in the conversation.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER

Cooper Kupp was the second wide receiver in three seasons to take home the award last season, but Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs are ahead of Kupp at this point.

The winner has been a non-quarterback the last three years but either Hurts or Jackson could snap that streak. If Josh Allen’s elbow doesn’t send him to the sidelines, he’s also a contender.

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb and Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry also have had excellent first halves.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE

Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III is the frontrunner with Texans RB Dameon Pierce right behind.

Walker has 570 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Pierce leads all rookies with 678 yards rushing. Saints WR Chris Olave leads all rookies with 43 catches and 618 yards receiving.

Steelers QB Kenny Pickett needs to excel in the second half to have a shot.

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE

Sauce Gardner is a heavy favorite after an outstanding first half for the Jets cornerback.

Seahawks CB Tariq Woolen and Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson are solidly in the top three of the race.

ASSISTANT COACH

Three assistants on Sirianni’s staff could end up taking votes away from each other.

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen each lead the league’s third-ranked unit on both sides. Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson has developed Hurts into an MVP candidate.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has the NFL’s No. 1 defense and a strong shot to take the award.

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Source: https://apnews.com/article/cleveland-browns-san-francisco-49ers-miami-dolphins-seattle-seahawks-philadelphia-eagles-d11240260e26f671edf051beed70697e

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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