Play it forward: Dec. 27-Jan. 2 on your sports calendar

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Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

MONDAY

NFL: New Orleans at Atlanta, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:

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The 12-2 Falcons hold a two-game lead over the 10-4 Saints in the AFC South but a New Orleans victory. Falcons QB Matt Ryan also has a 19-1 record at home — he was injured the last time the Saints came to town and left with a 26-23 victory on their way to the Super Bowl.

NHL: Kings at San Jose, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

The first of two games in one week against the surging Sharks, but each of them are in different calendar years. Weird.

NBA: Clippers at Sacramento, 7 p.m., Prime:

The Clippers’ two-game road winning streak could be the longest since Bob McAdoo was brave enough to be a Buffalo Brave.

College football: Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La.: Air Force vs. Georgia Tech, 2 p.m., ESPN:

Independent thinkers will find something else to do today.

TUESDAY

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NBA: Lakers at San Antonio, 5:30 p.m., Channel 9:

Obviously, scheduling the Heat on Christmas Day was set up as a trap game for the Lakers, who were looking ahead to their first meeting of the year with the Spurs. Tim Duncan’s guys have put together the best record in the league thus far by . . . we’d tell you, but it’d be boring. Even more strange, the Clippers actually handed them one of their three losses this year.

NHL: Ducks at Phoenix, 6 p.m., Prime:

In their last meeting, Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made 39 saves and handed his former team a 3-0 shutout.

College football: Champs Sports Bowl, Orlando: West Virginia vs. North Carolina State, 3:30 p.m., ESPN; Insight Bowl, Tempe, Ariz.: Missouri vs. Iowa, 7 p.m., ESPN:

The Hawkeyes geared up for their trip to Tempe by suspending receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos when police found out he had unlawful possession of perscription drugs and was “keeping a drug house.” He’s Iowa’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards, an All-Big Ten first-team pick with 10 TDs this year.

NFL: Minnesota at Philadelphia, 5 p.m., Channel 4:

Are you wusses ready to play yet?

WEDNESDAY

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College basketball: UCLA vs. Washington State, Pauley Pavilion, 8 p.m., FSW; USC vs. Washington, Galen Center, 7:30 p.m., USCTrojans.com:

So this time next year, the Bruins and Trojans could be opening the Pac-12 regular season against Utah and Colorado?

NBA: Lakers at New Orleans, 5 p.m., Channel 9:

The Hornets have enough problems just looking for an owner. The league runs the show now, with Jerry Buss technically funding a 1 / 31 share of it. But don’t beat yourself up over that.

NBA: Clippers vs. Utah, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:

Nope, not interested.

NHL: Kings at Phoenix, 6 p.m., Channel 13:

When they last met at the Coyotes place in late October, there was an announced crowd of only 6,706.

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College football: Military Bowl, Washington, DC: Maryland vs. East Carolina, 11:30 a.m., ESPN; Texas Bowl, Houston: Baylor vs. Illinois, 3 p.m., ESPN; Alamo Bowl, San Antonio: Oklahoma State vs. Arizona, 6:15 p.m., ESPN:

That game in San Antonio . . . shouldn’t USC be there? Illinois is back in the postseason action for the first time since the 2008 Rose Bowl against the Trojans.

THURSDAY

NHL: Kings vs. Philadelphia, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

FIrst of eight in a row at home through Jan. 15.

College football: Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Tex.: Army vs. SMU, 9 a.m., ESPN; Pinstripe Bowl, New York: Syracuse vs. Kansas State, 12:20 p.m., ESPN: Music City Bowl, Nashville: North Carolina vs. Tennessee, 3:40 p.m., ESPN; Holiday Bowl, San Diego: Washington vs. Nebraska, 7 p.m., ESPN:

Not enough bowl games here played in baseball stadiums. Try harder.

FRIDAY

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NBA: Lakers vs. Philadelphia, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

If this one goes into a couple of overtimes, it could spill into 2011, and Larry Brown will be waiting to replace Doug Collins.

College basketball: UCLA vs. Washington, Pauley Pavilion, 1 p.m., Prime; USC vs. Washington State, Galen Center, 3 p.m., FSW:

These four will meet again at the end of the regular season, with it matters for Pac-10 tournament seedings.

College football: Meineke Bowl, Charlotte, N.C.: Clemson vs. South Florida, 9 a.m., ESPN; Sun Bowl, El Paso, Tex.: Notre Dame vs. Miami, 11 a.m., Channel 2; Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.: Georgia vs. Central Florida, 12:30 p.m., ESPN; Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Atlanta: South Carolina vs. Florida State, 4:30 p.m., ESPN:

See, USC did make it to a bowl game.

SATURDAY

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NHL: Washington at Pittsburgh, 10 a.m., Channel 4:

The fourth year of a televised outdoor hockey game, this one inside the Steelers’ NFL home of Heinz Field, shows that things have snowballed. Even up against the day of college football. “New Year’s will never be what it once was when all the consequential bowls had greater cache,” said Bob Costas, the host for this event. “Each of them now is reduced somewhat by the presence of the BCS championship game. They all kind of fade a little. This might not have been possible 10 years ago to put anything against the lineup. Now the landscape has changed. Because the Winter Classic has worked out so well the first three years, it can more than hold its own.” So can the HBO “24/7″ series leading into this. All three previous episodes are played on the network from 7-to-10 a.m. Check ‘em out.

NHL: Kings vs. San Jose, Staples Center, 6 p.m., FSW:

There’s an outdoor sheet of ice at LA Live just waiting for a game to break out. Meanwhile, Jim Fox must break out his lucky loud New Year’s Day jacket.

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College football: TicketCity Bowl, Dallas: Texas Tech vs. Northwestern, 9 a.m., ESPNU; Capital One Bowl, Orlando: Florida vs. Penn State, 10 a.m., ESPN; Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla.: Alabama vs. Michigan State, 10 a.m., Channel 7; Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla.: Michigan vs. Mississippi State, 10:30 a.m., ESPN:

See what Costas was talking about?

College football: Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Texas Christian, 2 p.m., ESPN:

Refrain from being badgered into watching this affair between the Big Ten tri-champ (it lost to Michigan State) and the highest-ranked, non BCS-title team that the Rose Bowl had to take. Talk about ruining a tradition beyond repair.

College football: Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz.: Connecticut vs. Oklahoma, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:

How much Bailey’s Irish Cream does it take for a viewers to get through a UConn football game? That Outback Bowl out back in Tampa could have swapped out the participants and perhaps saved itself for some better prime-time-ish viewership.

Mixed martial arts: UFC 125 in Las Vegas:

Frankie “The Answer” Edgar, coming off back-to-back wins over BJ Penn, defends his title in a rematch against undefeated No. 1 contender Gray “The Bully” Maynard in the main event. They’re also throwing in a featherweight co-main between title holder Jose Aldo and Josh “The Fluke” Grispi. The local Appleby’s may be holding a UFC viewing party, so check it out.

SUNDAY

NFL: Tampa Bay at New Orleans, Channel 11, 10 a.m.; Miami at New England, Pittsburgh at Cleveland, Channel 2, 10 a.m.; Chicago at Green Bay, Channel 11, 1 p.m.; San Diego at Denver, Channel 2, 1 p.m.:

Really, after all that, we have to see the Chargers end the season? The NFL schedule (linked here) says that on the day both Fox and CBS get a doubleheader, the later could also have Indianapolis-Tennesse in the late window.

NFL: St. Louis at Seattle, Channel 4, 5:15 p.m.:

The game NBC picked this one off Fox’s schedule to see if it’s true that a sub-.500 team can actually qualify for the playoffs. Pete Carroll hasn’t ruled out Matt Hasselbeck, but Charlie Whitehurst may be the QB for his 6-9 team against the 7-8 Rams.

NBA: Clippers vs. Atlanta, Staples Center, 12:30 p.m., Prime: Lakers vs. Memphis, Staples Center, 6:30 p.m., FSW:

At least have the Jumbotron show NFL games to the fans in the stands that mean something.

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