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NEW ORLEANS — The Superdome is known for its noise level, and New Orleans Saints fans are known for their passion.

But the vibe — and the sheer volume — on Sunday was something this place hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

“I felt like, man, this was top-three loudest atmospheres,” quarterback Drew Brees said after the Saints’ 23-13, playoff-clinching victory over the Atlanta Falcons. “[The fans] deserved this one. This was all about them. They willed this to happen. So this was phenomenal.”

I’m not going to nitpick with Brees’ ranking or accuse him of hyperbole (even though I can think of at least two playoff wins and one Superdome reopener that should rank higher), because I can’t blame him if he forgot just how loud this place can get when the good times are really rolling.
The Superdome fans really got into the action Sunday, especially after Mark Ingram scored a touchdown to help the Saints pull away. Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports
This was definitely the most raucous atmosphere I can remember since at least 2011 — which was the last season when New Orleans won the NFC South and hosted a playoff game.

And now that everybody is back in sync again, it sure looks like the Saints (11-4) are primed to host another playoff game in two weeks. To do that, they’ll have to either win at Tampa Bay next Sunday or have the Carolina Panthers (11-4) lose at Atlanta.

“That was probably as loud as you’re gonna get here. I think maybe one time I’ve heard it louder than this — maybe,” said Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who was a rookie in 2011 and who fed off that noise with two sacks on Sunday. “When you talk about the energy, we were able to feed off each other, feed off the fans. That’s a hell of a win.”

Credit Sunday’s opponent, first and foremost. The hated Falcons bring out the best in Saints fans when it comes to decibel levels — and this was one of the most meaningful games in the history of a rivalry that spans nearly 50 years, since both teams were in position to win the division entering Sunday.

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Credit also the Saints’ own playoff drought. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2013, so fans have been waiting a long time for something to get this excited for.

But most of all, credit the Saints themselves for living up to the hype.

As we’ve learned over the past three years of 7-9 seasons, crowds go quiet when the team doesn’t give the fans something to cheer for. But this time, the Saints gave them big moments throughout a convincing victory that really put an exclamation point on their breakout season.

“Listen, it all works together,” Brees said. “It all works hand in hand. You know those moments when the momentum in these games becomes so much bigger at home — the big play or the big stop on defense or the big hit. … You keep that crowd engaged, and you see the results. [The opponent] may jump offsides in a critical situation. It’s just remarkable how that can change a game.”

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The Saints had hit a bit of a lull over the past month, losing two of the past four games and playing sloppy in last week’s 31-19 home victory over the Jets.

But this was a strong performance filled with big moments from every unit — from cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s incredible “butt pick” interception that came to a rest on his backside before he secured it against his thigh; to Brees’ 54-yard TD pass to Ted Ginn Jr. three plays later; to a pair of goal-line stands by New Orleans’ defense in the second half; to Mark Ingram’s 26-yard TD run; to Alvin Kamara’s 49-yard kickoff return and more.
As I wrote Sunday, the Saints’ defense especially rose to the challenge — in a week in which they lost both starting linebacker A.J. Klein and starting safety Kenny Vaccaro to injured reserve. The revitalized young defense has been one of the stories of this season, and they proved just how legit they are against a dangerous offense led by Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Matt Ryan.

This Saints team doesn’t feel like as much of a Super Bowl favorite or front-runner as those peak teams of 2009 and 2011 did. But it can win in a lot of ways with a defense and run game that are thriving even more than their downfield passing game.

And if Sunday’s game was an indication, the Saints sure look poised to peak at the right time.

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The Baltimore Orioles probably haven’t received enough credit for what they’ve done the past six seasons. They’ve reached the playoffs three times in that span, the same as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. They’re sixth in the majors in total wins, just seven behind the Yankees and 18 ahead of the Red Sox. With that track record of success, it’s understandable why Orioles owner Peter Angelos and general manager Dan Duquette are reluctant to trade Manny Machado, their three-time All-Star third baseman who has twice finished in the top five of the MVP voting.

It’s also understandable why the Orioles are finally engaging other front offices in trade talks for Machado. Sure, they could give it one more run with this group. Like Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton and Brad Brach are impending free agents. After all, the Minnesota Twins went from 59 wins to 85 wins to earn a wild-card berth. Anything is possible! On the other hand, the Orioles are coming off a 75-87 season in which they were outscored by 98 runs. The current projections at FanGraphs have the Yankees and Red Sox at 91 wins and the Orioles way below that at 75. The odds of keeping Machado and winning the division appear slim. The odds of re-signing Machado as a free agent are even slimmer.
Which team’s fans could Manny Machado be greeting next year? Josh Holmberg/Icon Sportswire
So, there are trade rumors. Buster Olney said the Yankees and White Sox are interested. Other reports have mentioned the Phillies and Cardinals, although the Cardinals acquired the big bat they desired in Marcell Ozuna. Machado’s stated desire to play shortstop in 2018, however, opens up a wide range of trade possibilities. Let’s take a look.

Indians: Make it happen, Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff!

This idea has me so excited, I’m considering moving to Cleveland and buying season tickets. The Indians loved the way Jose Ramirez played second base in 2017, which is why they’re shopping Jason Kipnis. That leaves an opening at third base; nothing against Yandy Diaz or Giovanny Urshela. Machado essentially replaces Carlos Santana’s bat, and he gives the team excellent defense at third base — and maybe this lineup:

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SS Francisco Lindor

3B Manny Machado

2B Jose Ramirez

DH Edwin Encarnacion

LF Michael Brantley

1B Lonnie Chisenhall

CF Bradley Zimmer

RF Greg Allen / Brandon Guyer

C Yan Gomes / Roberto Perez

So, can the Indians make the money work? Machado should receive $17-18 million in arbitration, which is a big contract for the Indians to take on; but if they trade Kipnis to the Mets — one rumor that’s out there — that’s only a $4 million increase. Any team can afford $4 million.

The time is now for the Indians. The lineup needs another hitter. The pitching is arguably the best in baseball, and more importantly, it will enter 2018 in good health. We all know what can happen with pitchers, and maybe in 12 months you’re looking at three guys needing Tommy John surgery. You’re not hoping to keep Machado long term, but you might win it all in 2018.

The Orioles reportedly want young arms, so this trade will probably cost you top pitching prospect Triston McKenzie. It will be worth it.

Yankees: It makes sense, but it’s not going to happen

The Yankees could use a third baseman for 2018, giving prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar a little more time in the minors. They have some highly rated pitching prospects, including Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield and Domingo Acevedo. From a personnel standpoint, it’s a perfect match. But if you’re the Orioles, why help your division rival? Sure, maybe you hurt the Yanks by extracting a couple of prospects, but if you give Machado a season in the Bronx, maybe he loves it so much that it becomes more likely that he signs with the Yankees as a free agent. If I’m Duquette, I don’t want to see Machado in pinstripes. At least not of my own volition.

White Sox and Phillies: Trade and sign

This would be the White Sox’s or Phillies’ scenario: Trade for Machado, get him acclimated to your organization and city, convince him of the bright future of the club and sign him to an extension. Stranger things have happened. The Phillies don’t seem to be as interested in this idea, according to reports. While you will no doubt be going after Machado as a free agent, why give up prospects in a year you’re very unlikely to contend for the playoffs? The odds of Machado signing any kind of extension before hitting free agency are slim. Just wait until next offseason and make your pitch.

Giants: The obvious candidate

The Giants have a gaping hole at third base, unless you believe in some rejuvenation of Pablo Sandoval. They missed out on Giancarlo Stanton. They intend to make a playoff push. The trouble is, they don’t look like a good match for the Orioles. Tyler Beede is their top pitching prospect — the only pitcher in their top 10, according to MLB.com’s list — and he had a 4.79 ERA at Triple-A, with poor peripherals. If the Orioles do trade Machado, they can find better prospects from another team.

Teams that could use him at shortstop

Here’s the weird thing: The good teams, or the teams we think we know are good, already are set at shortstop. Here are the teams with the highest projected WAR at shortstop, according to FanGraphs:

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Astros: 6.1 (Carlos Correa)

Indians: 5.9 (Francisco Lindor)

Dodgers: 5.4 (Corey Seager)

Nationals: 3.9 (Trea Turner)

Angels: 3.7 (Andrelton Simmons)

Cubs: 3.6 (Addison Russell)

Red Sox: 3.6 (Xander Bogaerts)

Yankees: 2.9 (Didi Gregorius)

Giants: 2.9 (Brandon Crawford)

A list of teams with less than 2.0 projected WAR that made or contended for the playoffs last season includes the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Brewers. The Rockies and Brewers would have to punt on Trevor Story and Orlando Arcia, respectively, at least for one season; that’s possible but not likely. The Diamondbacks have Ketel Marte and could certainly use a bat to replace J.D. Martinez, but their system is also thin in pitching prospects. As fun as it is to think of Machado playing shortstop, there isn’t an obvious match here.

Cubs: The challenge trade

Well, here’s an idea. Would you trade four years of Addison Russell for one year of Machado? The Cubs love their infield defense, but Machado would be a big upgrade at the plate — and the Cubs could potentially re-sign him if they’re comfortable with his defense at shortstop. The Orioles wouldn’t get a premium pitching prospect back in the deal, but getting four years of a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who can pop 20-plus home runs would be a nice return.

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Then we have the Angels. They’ve already signed Shohei Ohtani and re-signed Justin Upton. They picked up Ian Kinsler. They still have a hole at third base. There appears to be room in the payroll. Like some of the other teams here, however, they’re a little thin in the pitching prospect department, as their top prospects are outfielders Jahmai Jones and Jo Adell.

Maybe there’s a sleeper team out there. After all, if you can get Manny Machado, you make room for him. Maybe the Twins make a surprise move. Maybe the Cardinals still aren’t done. Maybe he does go to the Yankees.

Or maybe Machado just stays in Baltimore and the Orioles see where they are in July.

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It has been over two years since T.J. Yates has thrown a touchdown pass in the NFL. The last time he did, Yates threw two touchdown passes to DeAndre Hopkins when the Texans faced the New York Jets on Nov. 22, 2015.

Some things never change.

Yates once again stepped up as a backup quarterback, something the veteran quarterback has done often for Houston since his 2011 NFL debut. During Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, Tom Savage left the game with a concussion and Yates took over with 2:32 left in the second quarter.

On his first series, Yates was 4-of-6 for 54 yards, adding a 15-yard scramble for a first down. Hopkins had a catch-and-run for a 25-yard gain deep in San Francisco territory. On the next play, Yates found Hopkins for a 7-yard touchdown pass to cap off the nine-play, 75-yard drive.

“Obviously, getting into the game that’s the guy I am going to be looking for,” Yates said. “That’s a guy I’ve been throwing to before in my career. I’ve worked with him before so I have a good rapport with him. It’s a good idea to get him the ball as much as possible. That was the main focus just trying to get me comfortable and just get me going by trying to find him.”

On the Texans opening drive of the second half, Yates connected with Hopkins on a 29-yard touchdown pass to give Houston a 16-13 lead in the third quarter. Despite orchestrating scoring drives on his first two offensive series, Yates was unable to maintain his early success with Hopkins as the Texans fell 26-16 to San Francisco.

“Obviously, they started to take DeAndre away as much as possible,” Yates said. “We got back to making those mistakes that were killing us whether it was passes dropped, turnovers, stuff just kind of not going our way. We’ve got to do a better job of keeping that momentum we had at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half just to keep it rolling.”

Yates completed 14-of-26 passes (53.8%) for 175 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 100.6 passer rating. He also ran for 31 yards on three carries (10.3 avg.).

With the loss, the Texans fall to 4-9 on the season and will next face the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road in Week 15.

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Game: Texans vs. 49ers

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker was carried off the floor in the fourth quarter of the team’s 126-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night after suffering a strained left adductor, the team announced.

Booker was coming back down the court when he pulled up and appeared to clutch at his groin area. Trainers came out to attend to him and he needed to be helped back to the locker room for evaluation.

Booker, who scored 46 points to lift the Suns past the 76ers on Monday night and once scored 70 points in a game, had 19 points and eight assists in 39 minutes.

Interim Suns coach Jay Triano said he’s unsure of the severity of Booker’s injury.

“I’ve seen guys get carried off and play the next day and guys not,” Triano said. “I’ll let the doctors figure out the severity of it. I’m sure they’ll have to do an MRI or something to see and make sure we take care of him the right way.”