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Mets vs. Reds prediction: Justin Dunn faces former team in New York



Welcome! Migrants, unwanted in Texas, have made their way to New Dodge City. A quick primer on how to survive your first week in the Rotten Apple. Outdoor dining is preferred, but if you’re having a late meal, don’t stay for dessert. The dining shed is also used as a late-night love shack. No bail in NYC, so if you’re arrested for shoplifting or a misdemeanor, you will be released faster than you can say “de Blasio.” The Yankees, Mets and Stitches are all in first place, but the last place you want to be is the subway or Times Square. I hear they’re murder at this time of year. Run. Duck. Be safe. You’re welcome!

The Mets did their job beating up the Bravos. The Reds move in, and we hope the letdown proves profitable. Chris Bassitt (2-5 at home) starts for the Amazin’s. Justin Dunn makes his first start as a Red. Play 10 units on the road dog Reds.

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Kut! Kut! Kutter Crawford allowed five runs, Brad Keller had his best start since high school, and the Royals crowned the Dead Sox, 13-5. MJ Melendez homered and had six RBIs. Back-to-back losses. Up +1,991 carltonfisks.

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A Beer Run in Qatar, and an Oasis That Isn’t Open to All



DOHA, Qatar — The questions spilled out almost as soon as the car doors closed.

Was it crowded? How was the selection? And what about the prices?

The taxi driver, who went by Shaj, then peered into the rearview mirror and politely asked to see my receipt. I passed it forward, and he scanned it up and down as we swayed through traffic.

Shaj had picked me up along a side street on the southern fringes of Doha, inside the razor-wire-topped walls of the Qatar Distribution Company. The Q.D.C., as it is widely known, is the sole importer and distributor of alcohol in Qatar, a Muslim country where the sale and consumption of booze is heavily regulated. Cocktails, wine and beer are served at a smattering of luxury hotels in the country, but the Q.D.C.’s two branches are the only places that sell alcohol for home consumption.

“It’s probably one of the happiest places in Doha,” said Rachel Harris, who is originally from Australia but has lived in Qatar for 15 years.

The Q.D.C. has stood for years as a colorful example of a broader, delicate dance within Qatari society that predated the World Cup: The country’s effort to balance its conservative values — including, in this case, a religion that forbids alcohol consumption — with its desire to open itself to the world. That line between tradition and accommodation rarely seems fixed in place.

“Everyone is welcome to come to Qatar,” Hassan al-Thawadi, the head of the World Cup’s local organizing committee, said in an interview during the long run up to the tournament. “What we ask is that when people come, just to respect that we’re a relatively conservative nation.”

For international residents looking for a taste of home, then, the Q.D.C. offers a boozy lifeline. Access to the store is granted through a state-run application process. The privilege was extended in recent weeks to teams, sponsors and news media organizations here for the World Cup. (Fans were not allowed to apply.)

On a visit one recent morning, three employees of the United States national soccer team were pushing around three shopping carts piled high with bottles and cases of beer — and wondering aloud if they should grab a fourth.

They were presented with an international selection of drink options: aperitifs from France, sake from Japan, wines from Chile and Australia, beers from Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines. There was even a separate room stuffed with freezers and devoted entirely to pork products, which are otherwise unavailable in restaurants and grocery stores around the country: frozen pepperoni pizzas and shrink-wrapped pork chops, cans of Spam and cocktail wieners, overstuffed packs of bacon. A sign above the door was both a label and a warning: “Pork Shop,” it read, “For non-Muslims.”

Signs around the building announced special deals tied to the World Cup. Artificial stadium crowd noise filtered out through speakers near the entrance. A German journalist in loafers examined a bottle of Italian wine.

But the U.S. Soccer staff members had to be sensible. Each individual permit holder is granted a monthly quota of 2,000 Qatari riyals, roughly $550. And the Americans were on what amounted to a supply mission: They needed enough alcohol not only for their colleagues traveling with the team but also to meet the needs of the large group of players’ family and friends. That group, one of the staff members said, had been peppering them with desperate requests. Even with multiple permits, the Americans were hunting for bargains.

“This isn’t, like, sipping wine,” one of the U.S. team staff members said. “This is survival wine.”

It soon became clear, though, that the happiest place in Doha (for those inclined to drink) was also one of the most exclusive.

In the car, Shaj, who is Muslim and from Sri Lanka, told me he had never been inside the Q.D.C. despite living in Qatar for 12 years. The store’s permit requirements include a minimum salary of 3,000 Qatari riyals a month (about $825) to even apply for entry. That puts legal alcohol essentially out of reach for the hundreds of thousands of immigrant laborers who make up nearly 90 percent of Qatar’s population; many of them make close to the minimum wage of $275 a month.

While the Q.D.C. has been hailed as an oasis for thirsty visitors, others, including Shaj, see its strict restrictions — and its limits on access — as unfair. To them, the rules are merely another example of the sort of structural inequalities that are part and parcel of daily life for them in Qatar.

Unable to access alcohol in the same way as white-collar residents and high-end visitors, he and others instead rely on a black market for it. His beverage of choice, he said, is vodka, which he buys at a considerable markup and only drinks inside the room he shares with three other workers. “This double standard,” Shaj said, “I don’t like.”

His sentiments were echoed on a recent Friday night in Asian Town, an area of Doha populated by tens of thousands of foreign workers from countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The neighborhood is only two miles from the hidden bounty of the Q.D.C., but it feels in some ways like a universe apart.

“Muslim, Hindu, who doesn’t drink here?” said Hari, a heavy goods vehicle driver from Kathmandu, Nepal, who was headed to a World Cup fan zone after having a few glasses of whiskey at home. Like Shaj, he asked that his full name not be revealed out of fear of running afoul of the authorities or potential employers. “Everyone is scared to talk about it because it is forbidden here.”

After nine years in Qatar, Hari said that he has eked out enough money to purchase brand name alcohol on the secondary market. But he knows most other workers do not have that luxury. Some in Asian Town buy amateur brews made from fermented fruit. Others turn to homemade, chemically enhanced, hard spirits.

One popular variety of local moonshine, nicknamed Sri Lanka, is sold in plastic water bottles for around $8, Hari said. It is potent and possibly dangerous: Medical officials in Nepal believe such concoctions might have resulted in the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf.

The scene in Asian Town was a far cry from the state-sanctioned bonhomie of the Q.D.C.

Shoppers last week were weaving their carts around pyramids of stacked beer cans. A 24-pack of Budweiser was selling for 188 Qatari riyals, or roughly $52. Nearby, a bottle of Cristal Champagne was listed for about $489.

There are strict rules for people allowed inside. Aside from income restrictions, customers cannot come from member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Regular customers pay membership fees but cannot resell the alcohol or even give it to someone as a gift. And upon leaving, buyers must keep their purchases concealed until they make it home.

Overall, though, the government in recent years has been making the Q.D.C. experience more customer friendly. During the pandemic, the store has introduced perks like online ordering and home delivery. Customers these days get text messages advertising special sales.

As the U.S. team members shopped, a Q.D.C. employee sidled over to let them know that their individual quotas had been doubled for the World Cup. That would certainly make their lives a lot easier.

They thanked her and rolled their jangling caravan toward the cash registers.

Tariq Panja contributed reporting.

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Tom Brady had two very different F-bombs in wild Buccaneers win



Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady was caught on camera letting an F-bomb fly after a record-setting comeback win against the Saints on “Monday Night Football.”

While on his way to tunnel, a smiling Brady put a dirty twist on his famous tagline, yelling, “Let’s f–king go” as fans celebrated at Raymond James Stadium.

Brady’s reaction came after Tampa Bay rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat their NFC South rivals, 17-16.

With just three seconds left to play, the 45-year-old threw a touchdown pass to Rachaad White for the win — passing Peyton Manning for the most career fourth-quarter comebacks (44) in the history of the NFL. It marked the largest regular-season fourth-quarter comeback in Brady’s career, according to ESPN.

After the game, Brady drew laughs from reporters while reflecting on the phenomenal comeback sequence.

“Just like we drew it up,” he said all smiles at the podium.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady reacts to the fans as he runs off the field after a win over the Saints in Tampa, Fla., Dec. 5, 2022.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady reacts to the fans as he runs off the field after a win against the Saints in Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 5, 2022.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady reacts to the fans as he runs off the field after a win against the Saints in Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 5, 2022.

Brady finished 36 of 54 passing for 281 yards. He also dedicated the win to his daughter Vivian, who celebrated her 10th birthday on Monday.

Earlier in the game, Brady was in a far less joyous mood as Tampa Bay’s offense sputtered for three-plus quarters. He appeared to drop another F-bomb in an angry rant on the sidelines when the Saints led the Bucs, 13-3, in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Manning and his brother Eli Manning were trying to figure out exactly what the quarterback was yelling about on ESPN’s “Manningcast”

“He’s yelling at somebody,” Eli said. “Oh, there you go. What’s he saying? Can you read lips, Dana?” he asked UFC president Dana White, a guest on the show.

“He’s not happy,” White replied. “He’s saying things you can’t say on ESPN.”

Peyton chimed in, adding, “He’s mad at the punter for punting it into the end zone, that’s what he’s mad at.”

The Buccaneers visit the 49ers on Sunday.

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College Football Playoff predictions: Georgia vs. Ohio State, Michigan vs. TCU



And then there were four. 

After a dramatic conference championship weekend that saw two of the nation’s top four teams suffer losses, the committee finalized one of the least controversial fields in the history of the College Football Playoff: Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and Ohio State. 

There was little drama heading into Sunday’s selections, but there’s plenty of intrigue within the matchups themselves. Can Georgia maintain its title defense against a talented and hungry Ohio State squad? And will Michigan stay undefeated against this plucky TCU squad? 

Here are the odds at BetMGM for the two semifinal matchups and our early lean on each:

Warren Brinson #97 and Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins #93 of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrate
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College Football playoff predictions and picks 

No. 1 Georgia (-6.5, 60.5) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

When I first saw the odds for this game, I was surprised that Georgia wasn’t dealing as a touchdown favorite or bigger. Sure enough, bettors have already pushed this line to 6.5, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see this one cross the key number before kickoff later this month. 

That’s no disrespect to Ohio State, which clearly owns one of the three best rosters in the country. In fact, the argument for the underdog here is simple: These teams were seen as near-equals when the season began, and the Buckeyes lost one game all year to one of the other playoff finalists. 

Clearly, that’s an oversimplification. That loss came on the heels of a tricky win at Maryland, which came two weeks after a near-stumble at one-win Northwestern. Compare that to Georgia, which made quick work of LSU in last week’s SEC final — flashing elite offensive upside with a 50-piece to go alongside the most dominant defense in the country. 

Emeka Egbuka #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes
Emeka Egbuka #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes
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Yes, there’s plenty of talent on this Ohio State roster. That wasn’t enough to hold up against Michigan’s offense, which gashed this unit with four touchdowns of 69-plus yards even with superstar Blake Corum (knee) on the sidelines for most of it — a somewhat predictable result for a Buckeyes secondary that hadn’t truly been tested all year. 

I’m skeptical of that unit holding up against Stetson Bennett and this resurgent Bulldogs offense, while C.J. Stroud and Co. have their toughest test yet against this monstrous Georgia front. Kirby Smart’s team blew out Michigan in a similar spot in last year’s semifinals, and I don’t expect this one to be all that much closer. 

Pick: Georgia -6.5 (BetMGM)

Members of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate with Donovan Edwards #7 of the Michigan Wolverines
Members of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate with Donovan Edwards #7 of the Michigan Wolverines
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No. 2 Michigan (-9, 59.5) vs. No. 3 TCU (Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

The biggest question heading into this year’s playoff selection wasn’t really whether TCU deserved to be one of the top four teams in the country. Its résumé answered that. The bigger issue at hand: are the Horned Frogs any good? 

Obviously, that’s a bit hyperbolic. This team had to be good to survive a sneakingly loaded Big 12 unscathed before losing in the conference title game to a team it had already beat earlier this season. It also ranked in the top 10 by most advanced metrics with a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback in Max Duggan. 

Did this group ever really look the part of a playoff team, though? The Horned Frogs won seven straight games by 10 or fewer points at one point, regularly falling behind before relying on late-game heroics. That came back to bite them last week, when their second big deficit of the year against Kansas State was too big to overcome. 

There was rarely a doubt for Michigan, which led the country in average scoring margin (+26.7) and won nine of its 12 games by at least 20 points. That includes the best win by any team this season: a 22-point romp over the very Ohio State team that most consider to be better than TCU, rankings aside 

Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs
Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs
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Losing Corum late in the season was a tough blow on paper, but quarterback J.J. McCarthy has come alive late in the year to round out one of the most complete teams in football. TCU deserves credit for its phenomenal season to date, but that should end in convincing fashion on the big stage. 

Pick: Michigan -9 (BetMGM)

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