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Seattle tries to keep playoff momentum vs. Rams

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Seattle tries to keep playoff momentum vs. Rams

SEATTLE (AP) No matter how unlikely, Pete Carroll is grasping at the slim chance his Seattle Seahawks still have of winning the NFC West.

Sure the Seahawks would need a win over St. Louis on Sunday and help from Arizona to make playing at home early in the postseason a reality. But as long as there remains the chance of Seattle getting a home playoff game, and with it a division title, Carroll is going to try and grab it.

``It's been great playing at home during the season, and if this is our last chance at it then we want to make the most of it,'' Carroll said. ``If we can put ourselves in position to come back again, there would be nothing sweeter than that.''

The Seahawks (10-5) close out the regular season hosting improving St. Louis. The Seahawks are already in the postseason thanks to a four-game win streak - the longest of Carroll's tenure - that was capped by a 42-13 thumping of San Francisco last Sunday night. Unless they get a lot of help, the Seahawks will likely be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs and will face the NFC East winner - either Washington or Dallas - in the first round of the playoffs.

There remains one hope for Seattle to win the division: beat the improving Rams (7-7-1) and get a shocking upset of San Francisco by Arizona. How unlikely is that scenario? The 49ers are more than two-touchdown favorites at home against the Cardinals and are undefeated the past two seasons coming off a loss.

At the very least, a victory would get Seattle to the 11-win plateau for the third time in franchise history, the most wins for the Seahawks since 2005 when they made their only Super Bowl appearance.

No matter how unlikely the chances of getting the division, that slight possibility is a rallying point for Carroll this week to make sure his team doesn't have a lull after last week's emotional win over the 49ers.

``It feels good to have 10 wins,'' Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. ``We definitely want to have 11.''

Seattle is drastically different from the squad that floundered through a 19-13 loss in St. Louis in Week 4, and no one more so than quarterback Russell Wilson. At that time in late September, the Seahawks were still in the infancy of learning the unique qualities of their new quarterback. That was before Wilson's running became a true threat as a complement to running back Marshawn Lynch.

And it was before Seattle's offense became the efficient machine it's been the past three weeks. The whopping 150 points the Seahawks have scored the last three games stole the attention. But within that points eruption was a stunning run of offensive prowess led by Wilson.

``He's just an athletic guy. He's been playing very well, as a rookie, as a young guy,'' Rams defensive end Robert Quinn said. ``You've got the combo of being a premier quarterback, but the athleticism of some of the best out there as well.''

Whether running with his legs, using his dynamic arm, or a combo of both, the Seattle QB has led the offense to 15 touchdowns and six field goals during its blowout wins of Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco. Those numbers become even more impressive when considering in the first 11 games, Seattle had 23 offensive touchdowns.

``He's grown so much just from the first game,'' Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. ``You would even say that in terms of the plays that we have, where to go with the ball, what's the answer, where's the quick throws, and then the things that we change up each week, I think he understands why we do that.''

With the franchise already on an upward swing, the Seahawks got even better news Thursday when cornerback Richard Sherman's four-game suspension for performance enhancing substances was overturned on appeal. Suddenly, the Seahawks went from possibly being without both starting cornerbacks for the season finale - Brandon Browner is missing the final game of his four-game PED suspension - to having Sherman available against the Rams and, more importantly, both available in the playoffs.

``It was just great to get it over with and get the win and just have that burden off your shoulders and move on and try to make this playoff run with my guys,'' Sherman said.

Coach Jeff Fisher has engineered an impressive turnaround in his first season with the Rams, taking the franchise from 2-14 last season to the chance at St. Louis' first winning season in nearly a decade. The Rams have not finished above .500 since 2003, when they went 12-4 and last won the NFC West.

The Rams are the only undefeated team within the division this season, going 4-0-1 with a sweep of Arizona, wins over San Francisco and Seattle and a tie against the 49ers. And they are closing the season with a flourish, winning four of five, with the only loss coming to Minnesota when Adrian Peterson went off for 212 yards rushing.

St. Louis has also won three straight on the road for the first time since the 2003 season.

``Sometimes things are just coincidence. Sometimes you play really well and then one or two plays don't go your way or you don't finish. That's how we were earlier in the season,'' Rams defensive end Chris Long said. ``I think we played well on the road, we played toe to toe with some good football teams, but we just didn't finish. We've done a better job of finishing at times, we've gotten turnovers and we've also jumped out ahead a little bit earlier.''

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Why the Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager

Why the Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager

The process took nearly four months, yet the Wizards ultimately didn't look far for their new general manager, as the team is removing the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard. The longtime NBA executive will now finally get a chance to run his own operation.

Sheppard may not have been the first choice among fans initially when it was announced he would fill in for Ernie Grunfeld, who was dismissed from his post as team president on April 2, but over the past few months he has acclimated himself well, showing in many ways he is prepared to lead a team as the top person in charge. He cleaned up the Wizards' salary cap situation as best he could, giving them some newfound financial flexibility beyond next season.

Sheppard did that while flooding the roster with young, cheap and high-upside players. And he did so by making some tough decisions, ones that helped demonstrate he can provide an organizational reset despite his role in the previous regime. 

Sheppard allowed Tomas Satoransky to walk in free agency despite being central in bringing him to the Wizards, first by scouting him overseas and then by convincing him to join the NBA ranks. He let Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker leave even though he was part of the braintrust that traded for them. And he traded Dwight Howard, again despite playing a role in bringing him to Washington.

Sheppard has operated with impartiality when the team needed him to. What he has done this offseason looks a lot like it probably would have if the Wizards had hired someone from the outside.

How Sheppard navigated the Wizards through the draft and free agency was central in why managing partner Ted Leonsis decided to elevate him to the long-term post. The last several weeks were treated as a "trial run," according to a person familiar with the process.

Sheppard worked closely with the team's ownership group, giving them written proposals for his plans that addressed goals, budget and contingencies. It was a collaborative effort to make the Wizards' roster younger, cheaper and harder working. They also set out to add more international players and accomplished that by drafting Rui Hachimura and by trading for Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga.

Sheppard impressed Leonsis especially during the effort to re-sign Thomas Bryant. Bryant has become a favorite of Leonsis' for his consistent effort, character and enthusiasm. Sheppard and the Wizards were able to agree with Bryant on a new contract the night free agency began. It was quick and painless.

Sheppard himself will be signing a new contract, NBC Sports Washington was told. And there will be major changes to the organizational structure announced this coming week. In the basketball operations side, the team will heavily expand their investment in analytics, by "triple" according to a person familiar with their plans. They will also beef up their scouting department with an eye on Africa and Latin America.

Sheppard has done a nice job for the Wizards but the real work in many ways about to begin. Dismantling an NBA roster is not as difficult as building a contender. Now he has to find pieces to build around John Wall and Bradley Beal that can help the team win something of substance. 

Sheppard will have to do that within the constraints of Wall's supermax contract. And he will have to sort out Beal's future, which could take a turn later this month. 

On July 26, the Wizards can officially offer Beal a contract extension worth approximately $111 million over three years. But there is a long list of clues that suggest he will not take the offer.

How Sheppard, Beal and the Wizards handle the fallout in the event he turns them down would be a test in itself. Maybe they spin it simply as Beal betting on himself. If he makes All-NBA next season, he could make well over $200 million with a five-year supermax.

For Sheppard, the hard work is about to start. He is set to guide the Wizards into a new era, one he and the team hope can reach a higher peak than the last.

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NASCAR at New Hampshire: everything you need to know about racing this weekend

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NASCAR at New Hampshire: everything you need to know about racing this weekend

Still not over that finish from Kentucky Speedway? Good, us either. NASCAR is right back after it this weekend in the Granite State and New Hampshire Motor Speedway for some short-track summer action.

Here's what we're watching for on Sunday afternoon in the Foxwoods Resort 301 (3 p.m. EST on NBCSN).

NEW HAMPSHIRE STATISTICS
New Hampshire Motor Speedway: 1.058-mile oval in Loudon, N.H.
Race information: 318.46 miles, 301 laps
Stage lengths: 75 laps, 75 laps, 151 laps
Defending winner: Kevin Harvick
Most wins: Jeff Burton (4)

WEEKEND SCHEDULE

NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Friday, July 19

12:05 – 12:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

3:35 – 4:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4:35 p.m. – Cup qualifying (single vehicle/two laps all positions) (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network)

Saturday, July 20

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. – Cup practice (CNBC)

11:15 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying (single vehicle/two laps all positions) (NBCSN)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN)

4 p.m. – Roxor 200 Xfinity race (stages 45/90/200 laps = 211.6 miles) (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, July 21

3 p.m. – Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (stages 75/150/301 laps = 318.46 miles) (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Is It Time For SHR To Panic?

Past the halfway point in the 2019 season, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports (!) have visited Victory Lane.

Notably absent is Stewart-Haas Racing.

2014 Monster Energy Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick had five wins at this point last season, Clint Bowyer had two, and the duo of Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch had been running consistently inside the top five and top 10. This season, they're a step behind.

Whether it's the adjustment to the new Ford Mustang or the new aerodynamic rules package for this season, SHR is behind, there's no sugarcoating it.

Although Harvick is safely in the playoffs, Almirola is in but does not have a large buffer, Bowyer is on the bubble and Daniel Suarez is on the outside looking in.

Harvick did win this race last season, and another checkered flag for the No. 4 camp this weekend would go a long way confidence wise for the organization.

More Sticky Stuff

PJ1 is back, and it seems here to stay.

The sticky adhesive that was put down last weekend in Kentucky, as well as multiple times last season, has been applied at NHMS and will be applied next weekend at Pocono Raceway as well. The adhesive is in hopes to create more racing lines and in turn, a better on track product.

With temparatures this weekend reaching upwards of triple digits, the PJ1 will become more active earlier on. The hotter it is, the more grip the substance has.

Lobstah

New England NASCAR trips and somewhat cringeworthy New England NASCAR accents go hand in hand. Like it or not, that's part of it, right?

The winner of each NHMS race gets a big ole lobster to celebrate with. But don't give one to Denny Hamlin. We remember what happened to him a couple years back, right?

2019 NASCAR STANDINGS

Next week, NASCAR heads to the Pocono Raceway for the second time this season for the Gander Outdoors 400 on Sunday, July 28 at 3:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN.