The Daily Briefing Monday, October 16, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

If The Season Ended Today in the NFL:

 

                                               Overall     Division       Conference

Philadelphia Eagles     NCE    5-1               2-0                 4-0

Minnesota Vikings      NCN    4-2               2-1                 4-1

Carolina Panthers      NCS     4-2              0-1                 2-2

Los Angeles Rams     NCW    4-2              1-1                2-2

Green Bay Packers    WC1    4-2              1-1                 3-2

Atlanta Falcons          WC2     3-2              0-0                3-0    

Seattle Seahawks                   3-2               2-0                 2-1

New Orleans Saints                3-2              1-0                 2-1

Washington Redskins             3-2                0-1               2-1             

Detroit Lions                            3-3              1-0                 3-3                                    

Arizona Cardinals                    3-3               1-0                2-3                                    

 

The Vikings and Rams jump into division leads and we have essentially a 4-way tie for the 2nd Wild Card.

 

Mike Sando of ESPN.com has some thoughts here, edited version below:

 

If you’ve ever seen X-rays from collarbone injuries, you know the unsightly images can look like a jagged Wall Street graph after the stock market takes a big tumble. The visual also applies to a suddenly volatile NFC race after the Green Bay Packers announced the terrible news that a broken right collarbone will sideline quarterback Aaron Rodgers, quite possibly for the season.

 

Packers might find it harder to survive Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone this time

This is 2013 all over — maybe worse. At least four years ago, Rodgers came back from a broken collarbone in time to get the Packers into the playoffs.

 

When Rodgers plays, the Packers are the one team in the NFC with a quarterback great enough for the team to contend without much help from the defense and/or conventional running game. With Rodgers out, we stacked all 16 NFC teams into one of four groupings in what was already looking like a pretty wide-open conference.

 

“This is as open as I can remember it in a lot of years, because it is hard to say who the top one or two teams are in the conference,” an evaluator said. “Usually, you would put the Packers and someone else — Seattle, maybe — that you feel strongly about. You just don’t feel as strongly about those teams this year.”

 

We start with the leading contenders, including three that have been to the Super Bowl recently with many of the same key players in place, including quarterbacks who have shown they can win playoff games with sufficient support. Every one of these teams is flawed enough to trade places with teams below them, which is why this NFC race will be a difficult one to handicap.

 

Leading contenders

 

These are the teams with either the pedigrees or upsides (or both) to factor in a wide-open conference. The Packers would be here with Rodgers.

 

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle’s winning formula includes a top-five defense, a quarterback whose resourcefulness shows up in two-minute situations and a strong running game that drives explosive plays. The running game has not been there and might not return now that Chris Carson is on injured reserve.

– – –

“They are built on defense and the run game,” a veteran coach said. “A lot of times, it takes more weeks for that run game to jell. They have a quarterback who can pull rabbits out of hats. They can still get it right, and if they play playoff games at home, they will be right there in the end.”

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz ranked 21st over the summer in our 2017 QB Tiers survey of 50 NFL coaches and evaluators, but there was every expectation he’d be climbing up the list in a hurry. One general manager even thought Wentz in 2017 could join the top tier, reserved this year for Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan (barely). A defensive coach said he thought that was tremendously premature.

 

“My eyes work better than my ears,” this coach said. “Philly is good because they have an offensive-oriented head coach [Doug Pederson] who turns the entire defense over to a really good defensive coordinator [Jim Schwartz], they pressure the passer, play nasty D and have a young quarterback who has really made some strides.”

 

It’s less ambitious to say Wentz is making the jump from the third tier into the second, which is generally reserved for quarterbacks who carry their teams some of the time but not consistently — guys who can contribute significantly to a championship formula.

 

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have already lost at home to Buffalo and Miami. They barely won at Chicago and Detroit. Matt Ryan has six touchdowns with six interceptions through five games. He had 12 TDs with two picks at the same point last season. This affirms fears that this offense would not be the same for various reasons, including Kyle Shanahan’s departure as coordinator.

 

The outlook could worsen in the short term, with Atlanta playing four of its next five on the road, including games against New England, Carolina and Seattle. But there’s enough talent (including young talent) in key spots for the Falcons to contend. They beat Green Bay when Rodgers was in the lineup.

 

“They have one of the better head coaches in the league coming into his prime, they play for each other, they fight and compete, they have a high-end quarterback and just need more time for [offensive coordinator Steve] Sarkisian to know all the weapons well,” said a coach who faced the Falcons this season. “They played [in a Week 6 home loss to Miami] without [Mohamed] Sanu, and Julio [Jones] is already hurt with a hip flexor [injury], so those are things to watch.”

 

Carolina Panthers

Carolina will be dangerous as long as the defense ranks near the top of the league and Cam Newton is at quarterback. However, Luke Kuechly’s concussion issues and Newton’s inconsistency can be season-altering flaws.

– – –

So you’re telling me there’s a chance

 

These five teams appear good enough to make some noise, but it’s a little early to start talking about a deeper run. Four of the five have quarterbacks with playoff experience.

 

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have won three times on the road and nearly pulled off home victories over Washington and Seattle. The upcoming schedule looks favorable enough for the Rams to fight their way into the 8-8 area this season — better if Jared Goff progresses further. But there is still debate over the Rams

 

“I would put the Rams before Dallas,” a GM said. “Then I would have New Orleans in that mix, too, because they are hot offensively.”

– – –

Washington Redskins

Games against Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, Minnesota and New Orleans over the next five weeks will reveal where the Redskins stand. Their defense appears improved. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has fared better than he could have after losing receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

 

“Washington has a good team,” said a GM who thought the Redskins belonged in the group with the Falcons, Eagles, Seahawks and Packers. “I watched them against Kansas City and they are physical up front — O-line and D-line. They are pretty good. Cousins is good. They are pretty good in the secondary.”

 

Dallas Cowboys

The drama swirling around the Cowboys has been consuming, even by Jerry Jones’ standards. While subtracting Ezekiel Elliott for six games hurts the offense, it also temporarily removes from the equation a leading source of that drama in Dallas.

– – –

Detroit Lions

If Rodgers does miss the season, Detroit will be the only team to play two games against Green Bay with a backup quarterback in the Packers’ lineup. –

– – –

The Lions could be more dependent on Stafford than the Packers are dependent on Rodgers. They won’t contend if he is diminished.

 

New Orleans Saints

The Drew Brees-era Saints have always won when their defense wasn’t terrible. They were 58-22 with a Super Bowl victory in the five full regular seasons in which they allowed no more than 21.3 points per game. They allowed at least 24 points per game in the six other Brees-era seasons, compiling a 43-53 record that would have been much worse with an average quarterback.

 

So far this season, the Saints’ defense has been all over the place — which is still better than the historically bad unit it has been in recent years — especially with the unit’s performance improving dramatically of late. The Saints’ three defensive touchdowns during their 52-38 victory over Detroit on Sunday set a franchise record. With any kind of sustained defensive improvement as the season progresses, New Orleans can become dangerous.

 

Stranger things have happened, but …

 

These teams have some of the pieces in place but enough question marks to keep them from the upper tiers.

 

Minnesota Vikings

They are good enough on defense to compete as long as their offense continues to overachieve. There are usually diminishing returns with a backup quarterback in the lineup over an extended period, and with running back Dalvin Cook on injured reserve, this offense will have a hard time being explosive enough.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Arizona Cardinals

“There is no protecting the line,” this coordinator said. “That is why sometimes they can blow people right out of the water and it’s not even close early in the game. But if it is close, it can be tough.”

 

Green Bay Packers (without Rodgers)

The Packers are built to win with Rodgers. It’s unfair to expect success with a backup such as Brett Hundley in the lineup, but multiple evaluators thought Green Bay could be better than expected with Hundley behind center. But, they weren’t betting on it.

 

“Most teams default to their defense and run game when their starting quarterback is hurt,” a dissenting coach with NFC North experience said. “That formula is not available in Green Bay. They haven’t squared away the run game. They threw the ball 118 times in the first two weeks of the season. The average pro game is 64 plays. That is how much they rely on Rodgers, and in this day and age, it’s not like the backup has been getting extensive snaps.”

 

An evaluator said he liked Hundley and wished his team had selected the former UCLA quarterback.

 

“I’m excited to see what he looks like,” this evaluator said. “Can they go 5-5 the rest of the way and then be 9-7 and in the hunt? That is reasonable.”

 

Not in the picture

 

New York Giants

They needed their receivers and tight ends to carry a pass-heavy offense. That didn’t happen early, and now their top receiving targets are injured. A surprising win over the Broncos on Sunday doesn’t change the long-term outlook.

 

“They are good enough to win some games, and they will win some games, but with their start, in that division, it’s probably too late,” a GM said.

 

Chicago Bears

It was obvious the Bears lacked the receiving talent to give themselves a chance even if Mitchell Trubisky impressed. They are a physical team that will try to win low-scoring games while Trubisky develops.

 

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are now 0-5 in games decided by three or fewer points, which is not terrible for them in the long term. They’ll draft early in 2018, and if the odds even out next season, they’ll win a few of the close ones to mark improvement in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s second year.

– –

Favorites of 10+ points almost always win outright, but two of them failed to do so on Sunday.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

In the last two years, only two teams have lost games in which they were favored by more than 10 points. Both of those games were yesterday.

 

Sunday afternoon’s action in the NFL saw the Falcons, as 14-point favorites, lose 20-17 to the Dolphins. And on Sunday night the Broncos, as 13.5-point favorites, lost 23-10 to the Giants. Those are the two biggest upsets in the NFL in the last two years.

 

Overall, teams favored by more than 10 points are 19-2 in the last two years, including two such games in last season’s playoffs. Until yesterday, this season’s biggest upset came when the Panthers beat the Patriots as nine-point underdogs in Week Four.

 

So if yesterday’s NFL action seemed even crazier than usual, it wasn’t just your imagination. It really was an incredible day of upsets.

 

David Purdhum of ESPN.com:

 

Las Vegas sportsbooks didn’t win every decision from Sunday’s 12-game NFL slate. Some bookmakers had to settle for coming out ahead in only 11 of them.

 

The Westgate SuperBook and Caesars Palace sportsbooks each went 11-1 on Sunday and enjoyed their best week of the season as 10 underdogs covered the spread, with eight pulling outright upsets.

 

“We didn’t run that hot,” said Jason Simbal, vice president at sportsbook operator CG Technology, who said his book lost two decisions, “but we got what we needed.”

 

A bettor at CG Technology placed two $200,000 wagers on the Broncos, laying 13 and 13.5 points. An hour before kickoff of the night game at MGM sportsbooks, 12 times as much money had been bet on the Denver Broncos as had been bet on the underdog Giants.

 

The Giants won 23-10, becoming the second 13-point underdog to win outright on Sunday. The Miami Dolphins upset the Atlanta Falcons as 13-point underdogs in the early slate. It’s the first time that multiple 13-point favorites lost in the same day since Dec. 9, 1973 (Week 13), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

 

The Minnesota Vikings’ upset of the Green Bay Packers produced the biggest win of the morning slate for the books, and the Pittsburgh Steelers sealed a winning day for the casinos by handing the favored Kansas City Chiefs their first loss of the season.

 

“The Packers and Chiefs losing, those two games dwarfed everything else,” Ed Salmons, assistant manager at the Westgate, said late Sunday afternoon. “Saints-Lions was the only one we lost.”

 

Just three weeks ago, underdogs also went on a hot streak, covering the spread in 10 of 13 games on Sept. 24 and leading the books to what some said was their best Sunday ever.

 

This Sunday was right there with it.

– – –

In a related note, a Survivor Pool with which the DB is familiar is down to just 15 out of nearly 300 entrants.  These two home losses, plus the Patriots home defeat last week have played a big part in that.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Like the Packers, the Lions suffered a significant shoulder injury Sunday – although it wasn’t to their quarterback.  WR GOLDEN TATE will be out for a few weeks with a shoulder reports Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

 

 

GREEN BAY

In the wake of the injury to QB AARON RODGERS, Peter King looks at the road ahead for the Packers and wonders whether or not there is a place on the bus for Colin Kaepernick:

 

If you want to look on the bright side after the devastating Aaron Rodgers broken collarbone, Packer Nation, think of this: Your team is 4-2, tied for first place in the NFC North with 10 games to play. The Packers are 3-0 at home, and the next five weeks are, relatively speaking, exceedingly kind: New Orleans at home, bye, Detroit at home, at Chicago, Baltimore at home. That takes you to Thanksgiving. Conceivably, the Packers can stay in it while Brett Hundley gets some experience and Mike McCarthy game-plans to hide the QB’s weaknesses.

 

Realistically, though, no very good team in the NFL is more reliant on its starting quarterback this season than the Packers are on Rodgers. New England could lose Tom Brady and win with Jimmy Garoppolo; the Patriots, briefly, did last year—with Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. The Chiefs, I believe, would have a better chance to keep winning with the totally untested Pat Mahomes if Alex Smith went down. Philadelphia has Nick Foles. Atlanta has Matt Schaub. Denver has Brock Osweiler (5-2 as a Broncos starter). Who makes that final drive in Dallas last week other than Rodgers, the frisky marksman? Who wins the playoff game in Dallas last year? Rodgers’ rare combination of elusiveness, running ability and precision is unmatched in football, now and maybe forever.

 

“It’s devastating, no question,” Packers wideout Randall Cobb said. “We still have to play football. We have a long season ahead of us to figure out what we’re going to do.”

 

My opinion: The Packers should call Colin Kaepernick on Monday morning. Not necessarily to sign him. If I were general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, I’d want to meet with Kaepernick to see if he’d be willing to come in as a backup to Hundley while he took a crash course in the offense. If they’re impressed enough with his approach and his conditioning, they could sign him and groom him to be Hundley’s backup—and, if Hundley struggles mightily (as he did Sunday at Minnesota) in the next game or two, then McCarthy can judge whether Kaepernick or number three quarterback Joe Callahan gives the Packers the best chance to win. With the bye week coming up after Sunday’s game against the Saints, that would give the staff 19 days between now and the game after New Orleans to see how much Kaepernick could absorb, and to see if he can be better than Hundley or Callahan.

 

Maybe Kaepernick can be a fit. Maybe he can’t. And this grievance Kaepernick filed could complicate things too. I just know that if I were the Packers, I would want to feel very good about my quarterback situation when the rest of my team is a solid playoff contender.

 

The injury to Rodgers is a rerun of the 2013 season, when, in the eighth game of the season, Rodgers broke his left collarbone, also in a key division game the Packers went on to lose. The Bears won that day at Lambeau Field. Rodgers returned exactly eight weeks later to beat the Bears at Soldier Field in the last game of the season, the NFC North title game as it turned out. Green Bay went 2-4-1 without Rodgers, using Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien.

 

This time it’s Week 6. Missing eight weeks would put Rodgers back in the lineup in time for the season’s last four games—though there’s no indication this is the exactly same injury with the same timetable for return, and because this injury is to his throwing side, it’s logical to think it will take longer for him to return. There’s no way to know how long Rodgers will miss, or whether he’ll be able to return this season at all.

 

Hundley is a fifth-round pick from UCLA with zero NFL starts. Callahan is an undrafted free-agent from Wesley College in Dover, Del., with zero NFL passes. And the line in front of Hundley is battered; both starting tackles—David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (possible concussion)—could be hampered when they’re needed most.

 

If you’re waiting for the Kaepernick cavalry, you’ll be waiting a long time. Probably forever. “Brett Hundley’s my quarterback,’’ coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “Joe Callahan is the backup.”

 

It’s hard to imagine the Packers surviving this blow and making the playoffs this year. If they do, it will be the best coaching job in McCarthy’s career.

 

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com thinks QBs should be treated like punters:

 

The hit that broke Aaron Rodgers‘ collarbone on Sunday wasn’t illegal. Maybe it should be.

 

Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr hit Rodgers just after Rodgers released a pass, and the two of them tumbled to the turf with Barr on top of Rodgers. That rather ordinary hit broke Rodgers’ collarbone and dramatically affected the entire NFL season, possibly knocking Rodgers out until 2018 and in the process ending realistic Super Bowl hopes for the Packers.

 

I think it may be time for a radical rule change, one that makes hits like Barr’s illegal. It may be time for the NFL to consider dramatically expand the roughing the passer rules, and treat quarterbacks like kickers and punters: Basically, you can’t hit them at all once they’ve thrown a pass.

 

I know, I know, you’re going to tell me I’m soft and weak and ruining the game of football, and that we might as well just play flag football if we’re going to do that. And I’m here to tell you I’ve heard it all before.

 

I heard the same thing when the NFL changed the roughing the passer rules to prohibit low hits on quarterbacks after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008: “How can defensive players possibly be expected to avoid those hits?” But defensive players adjusted, and it’s now unremarkable that those hits are penalized.

 

And I heard the same thing when the NFL implemented the horse-collar tackle rule: “How can any defensive player ever catch a runner from behind?” But defensive players adjusted, and now the horse-collar tackle rule has been adopted at every level of football and is completely noncontroversial.

 

I believe the same thing would happen if the NFL dramatically changed the roughing the passer rule. Yes, at first it would seem wrong to see defensive players penalized for putting a shoulder in a quarterback’s chest after he throws a pass. But defensive players would get used to it, coaches would get used to it, and fans would get used to it.

 

And it would make the game safer for the quarterbacks, the most important players on the field. Is it really a good thing for the NFL that Aaron Rodgers might miss the entire season? Are hits like Barr’s really so fundamental to football that we can’t outlaw them for the health of quarterbacks and the good of the sport? I don’t think so.

 

The NFL already protects quarterbacks far more than it did when I was growing up as a football fan in the 1980s. But the league can do more. Roughing the passer needs to be expanded.

 

How important is Rodgers to the Saints?  We now know what the oddsmakers think thanks to David Purdhum of the ESPN.com:

 

Aaron Rodgers’ fractured right collarbone caused the point spread on next week’s New Orleans Saints-Green Bay Packers game to move 10 points.

 

The Packers were 6.5-point favorites over the Saints last week in an early line available at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. When the Westgate reposted the line Sunday night, after Rodgers’ injury, New Orleans was a 3.5-point favorite.

– – –

Heading into the weekend, the Packers were the favorites to win the NFC at the Westgate and were behind only the New England Patriots in the book’s odds to win the Super Bowl at 5-1.

 

Westgate head football oddsmaker Ed Salmons said he was waiting for an official timetable on Rodgers, but went ahead and moved the Packers’ Super Bowl odds to 12-1 after the injury.

 

“If they say he’s done for the year, they’re going to go a lot higher,” Salmons said.

 

If Rodgers is ruled out for the season, Las Vegas sportsbook operator CG Technology said it would likely move the Packers to around 30-1.

 

 

MINNESOTA

The question in Minnesota prior to the season was “Is the Vikings QB of the future A) Sam Bradford or B) Teddy Bridgewater?”  Peter King is starting to wonder if it isn’t C) None of the Above:

 

Case Keenum is playing the best football of his life—and looks so confident doing it. His inside shovel pass to Kyle Rudolph for seven yards near the Green Bay goal line was a thing of beauty.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Is RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT suspended or not?  Kate Hairopoulos in the Dallas Morning News:

 

With the Cowboys’ bye week over, players will report to The Star on Tuesday afternoon dealing with a new reality: Ezekiel Elliott won’t be among them.

 

While legal maneuvering continues in the running back’s fight against his six-game suspension by the NFL, he is indeed suspended, no matter the contradictory reports that came out over the weekend. Elliott needs a new legal victory to reinstate his eligibility for Sunday’s game at San Francisco and beyond. The NFL has confirmed that Elliott’s suspension remains in place.

A panel of judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Thursday to vacate the preliminary injunction that had allowed Elliott to remain on the field. It also ordered the lower court in the Eastern District of Texas to dismiss Elliott’s lawsuit altogether because it said he filed it too early there.

 

The NFL is enforcing the suspension immediately, which means Elliott cannot return to the team facility or have contact with Cowboys coaches until his situation is resolved.

 

So what does Elliott need to do to postpone the suspension again?

 

*His representatives have made it known they intend to request a rehearing by the entire 5th Circuit Court. If this is granted — and such reviews are very rare — Elliott would be allowed to play until the hearing happens. Legal experts have said it would be a surprise if Elliott is granted the “en banc” hearing. First, Elliott’s representatives have asked that the Court’s mandate, which puts its ruling into effect, be removed while the court decides on whether to grant the rehearing.

 

*The 5th Circuit should rule on this early this week. If Elliott is unsuccessful, it would then push Elliott’s representatives toward the place they’ve been trying so hard to avoid: the Southern District of New York. They would need to seek an injunction there to replace the vacated one that had been issued in Texas.

 

This would also allow Elliott to keep playing.

 

The case is likely headed to New York because the NFL filed a motion there to affirm its discipline against Elliott after an arbitrator ruled to uphold the suspension. That would make it the next venue for the case if the Texas lawsuit is indeed dismissed. The NFL is headquartered in New York and the arbitration took place there. The NFL also has previous victories in the 2nd Circuit, which includes the Lower Manhattan court, that could give it an edge.

 

Judge Katherine Polk Failla, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013, is overseeing the case in New York.

 

The NFL announced on Aug. 11 that its year-long investigation found that Elliott used physical force against a former girlfriend on three occasions. Elliott has denied and fought the findings.

 

 

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Ben McAdoo did more by doing less Sunday night according to Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Before Sunday night, every button Ben McAdoo pushed this year was the wrong one.

 

For a night at least, his decisions turned out to be the right ones.

 

The Giants stunned the Broncos, winning 23-10 on the road to improve to 1-5 on the season.

 

That result of one game shouldn’t obscure the mess the Giants have become this year, but with some factors out of his control. McAdoo made the most of the decisions he could make Sunday.

 

Without his top three wide receivers because of injury, McAdoo walked into the game with a collection of guys with 19 NFL receptions between them, and an offensive line that has been a mess all year. So naturally, he let someone else call the plays (offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan), and shuffled his starting line again (his call this time), and the results followed.

 

They gained 266 yards (still under their 326.4-yard average), so it wasn’t an avalanche or anything, but they had set the bar pretty low this year and were still playing the best defense in the league.

 

While this may have been a perfect-storm night and the Broncos were caught unaware and with injuries of their own, it was a much-needed win for McAdoo. With an aging team with high expectations in a high-pressure market, it would have been easy for him to lose control of this team. And it’s far too soon to say he has control of it. He still has the same flawed offensive personnel, and he’s still 1-5 and facing a long season.

 

But going into this week, it was reasonable to argue that the head coaching job fit him as well as the jacket he wore to his introductory press conference. Letting his offensive coordinator call plays after hesitating to do so earlier this year might have been desperate, and it might have been forced on him from above. But at least it worked.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Peter King sees the Eagles remaining atop the NFC at least until Thanksgiving:

 

I think it’s only mid-October, and it’s starting to be hard to fathom how the Eagles won’t win the NFC East, with this schedule over the next four weeks: Washington, San Francisco and Denver, all at home, followed by the bye. The Eagles don’t play a road game until the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Good week for the Saints.  Not only did they beat Detroit (a win that could come in handy in the case of a Wild Card tie beyond its other value), all of the other teams in the NFC South lost.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com hears that QB JAMEIS WINSTON may not be done in by a sprain of his AC joint:

 

There was a moment yesterday after he left with a shoulder injury that Jameis Winston was throwing on the sidelines.

 

And he may be ready to get back on the field soon.

 

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Buccaneers quarterback was diagnosed with an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, and may be able to return to the field this week.

 

The Bucs were down a pile when Winston was pulled yesterday, but Ryan Fitzpatrick made it vaguely interesting late. Winston played on after being knocked onto his throwing shoulder by Chandler Jones on the first series, but was obviously in discomfort.

 

Winston hasn’t missed a start in his two-plus seasons.

 

The Buccaneers (2-3) travel to Buffalo next week.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers are now the first team in NFL history to drop five straight games by 3 points or less after falling 24-26 at Washington.  The five losses are by a total of 13 points.

– – –

QB C.J. BEATHARD passed his audition on Sunday, sparking a 49ers comeback that nearly beat the Redskins.  He is rewarded with the title “starting quarterback” by Coach Kyle Shanahan.  Chris Biderman of USA TODAY:

 

Rookie C.J. Beathard is the 49ers’ new starting quarterback.

 

That’s what coach Kyle Shanahan announced after their latest heartbreaking defeat in Washington Sunday after the rookie replaced Brian Hoyer in the second quarter.

 

“C.J.’s had a good week of practice, he’s put two good weeks together,” Shanahan told reporters afterward. “And I had feeling going in, if it went like that, I had to make a move to give us a chance to win.”

 

Beathard took over for Hoyer in the second quarter after the 49ers fell behind 14-0 and the offense managed just two first downs during the first four possessions. They were outgained by Washington 109 to 11 yards in the first quarter and appeared on the brink of getting blown out.

 

Beathard, a third-round selection from Iowa, helped San Francisco get 17 unanswered points to tie the game at the second half. He threw a 45-yard touchdown to Aldrick Robinson at the 2-minute mark and had the 49ers in position to kick a game-winning field goal in the final moments.

 

But wideout Pierre Garçon was called for an offensive pass interference that put San Francisco 10 yards back to the 50 and out of range for a last-ditch field-goal attempt. Beathard threw an interception to cornerback Kendall Fuller three players later to end the comeback attempt and seal the victory for Washington, 26-24.

 

“I thought (Beathard) came in and competed,” Shanahan said. “By no means were things perfect, but the game’s not too big for the guy. He comes in, doesn’t hesitate, he’s extremely tough. He came in, gave us a little spark, made some off schedule plays, which was nice. And the main thing is, we’ll watch the film, it wasn’t perfect, but when you got a tough guy that hangs in there, competes, I think he’ll learn from it.”

– – –

The 49ers parted ways with LB NOVARRO BOWMAN on Saturday, allowing him to seek a deal with any of the 31 other teams (rather than trading him to one team, rumored to be New Orleans).  But they deny that anything is afoot with RB CARLOS HYDE who was a big part of Sunday’s game plan at Washington.  Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

On the heels of the San Francisco 49ers’ decision to release linebacker NaVorro Bowman on Friday, speculation immediately turned to running back Carlos Hyde.

 

After all, much like Bowman, Hyde had his playing time reduced last week against the Indianapolis Colts and also let it be known he wasn’t thrilled about it in his postgame media session.

 

Reports soon surfaced that the Niners were attempting to deal Hyde as well. Following Sunday’s loss to the Washington Redskins, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan adamantly shot down those reports.

 

“That is absolutely, absolutely 100 percent false,” Shanahan said. “There is nothing true about that.”

 

Rookie running back Matt Breida played two more snaps than Hyde against the Colts, fueling the belief that perhaps Hyde was being phased out like Bowman was. But that didn’t seem to be the case Sunday when Hyde was on the field more than Breida and got more opportunities to carry the ball, though Breida again seemed to have more success in limited attempts.

 

Against the Redskins, Hyde finished with 13 carries for 28 yards with two touchdowns and five catches for 47 yards while Breida had four carries for 21 yards and two catches for 15 yards.

 

Hyde didn’t seem too concerned with any trade rumors centering on his name.

 

“That’s out of my control,” Hyde said. “All I can do is go out here and help my team get a win. So that’s all I worry about.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on injuries in Denver:

 

The Broncos are going to be busy today. Not dissecting the film from last night’s loss to the Giants, but running players back and forth from their MRIs.

 

According to Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, there are a number of tests coming today for key offensive players.

 

X-rays last night on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas came back negative, and he returned to the game.

 

That put him ahead of Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie, who were carted off late last night. They also had negative X-rays last night, and will have MRIs today.

 

While their opponent last night wasn’t feeling sorry for them, that left the Broncos woefully thin at the position as they tried to rally.

 

Complicating matters will be the fact that quarterback Trevor Siemian might share a ride with them. Coach Vance Joseph said Siemian would “probably” have an MRI.

 

He went down on his left shoulder (the same one he had offseason surgery on) while attempting a tackle on a pick-six, and missed the last minute of the first half. He came back to finish the game.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Peter King with a praise for a turn of phrase by former NFL WR Nate Burleson:

 

I have never heard what CBS analyst Nate Burleson said about rookie running back Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs: “He’s the carpet that brings the room together.” How did I miss that?

– – –

Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star on Andy Reid eschewing a 4th quarter field goal down by 9.

 

The game within the game also pivoted on a decision gone awry by coach Andy Reid, one that reiterates the remarkably thin and blurry line between success and defeat and perceived genius and dunce in the NFL.

 

Reid is, in fact, an excellent coach who sometimes makes wrong decisions.

 

That’s what this one was, even if it’s also easy to understand and sympathize with what he was thinking and even if sometimes the wrong choices work and the right ones don’t.

 

His adamant detractors will put this in the file of why they think he’ll never win the big one.

 

Others of us will just remember he isn’t perfect and, gasp, sometimes makes decisions on instinct more than pure pragmatism.

 

If the real world is anything like the press box, the moment was one of those where everyone had an opinion before the gambit.

 

No fair to change your mind after the play … even though its outcome, of course, is what you’ll remember most.

 

With the Chiefs trailing 12-3 early in the fourth quarter and facing fourth and 4 at the Pittsburgh 2-yard-line, astute colleagues on the left and right of me were equally divided on the cost-benefit analysis of going for it vs. kicking to cut it to a one-score game.

 

But admirable as the audacity of going for it might be, the practical, logical thing to do absolutely was to kick.

 

Because if you need two more scores on a day you’ve had one in 45 minutes, best take the more sure thing.

 

It still would have been the right way to go even if Demetrius Harris actually hung on to the ball long enough for it to be ruled a touchdown — as he thought it was but Reid didn’t.

 

So since this is largely in the eye of the beholder, let’s turn to the root source for a notion of how he saw it. While Reid was somewhat cryptic, he also offered some worthy and persuasive insight.

 

For one thing, he noted that the Chiefs had had a mostly futile afternoon on offense, and seemed to question whether they’d be able to get that close again.

 

“We hadn’t been down there; we hadn’t done much throughout the afternoon,” he said.

 

For another, Reid liked a few plays they had concocted for the situation, although it was hard to like seeing him run Kareem Hunt up the middle for a yard on the previous play given that he said all along he was thinking four-down territory.

 

“It didn’t work out, so hindsight ends up being that you wish you would have kicked it,” he said.

 

That’s something coaches often say in these situations, but it’s also generally true: No one’s complaining if a gamble works.

 

As for foresight, Reid offered a broader philosophical look at how he balances the line between being aggressive and practical.

 

“I don’t worry about the questions that will be asked afterwards; I do what my gut tells me to do,” he said. “I thought that was the right thing to do. Again, we hadn’t been down there or really moved the ball too much.

 

“If nothing else it backs them up and gives us an opportunity to come back and win the game. Which we did. We had an opportunity there to win the game.

 

“So these are the things I’m thinking about. I’m preaching to the team to stay aggressive without being stupid.”

 

In fact, the Chiefs did force a Steeler punt and produced the next touchdown to cut it to 12-10 on Smith’s 57-yard pass to De’Anthony Thomas.

 

But the dynamics of the game and subsequent decisions also changed without the field goal, which left the Chiefs still needing two scores after Brown’s touchdown with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left made it 19-10.

 

There’s a lot to like about the message going for it in that situation sends the team, a lot of adrenalin that flows on the field and in the stands when you do that.

 

“Big opportunity if you can convert there,” Smith said.

 

Said Harris: “I mean, it’s fourth down. It’s all or nothing.”

 

But … it didn’t have to be.

 

“It stings when you don’t get it because it’s all for nothing,” Smith said.

 

All of which is to say that even if the decision seemed ill-considered, Reid had his reasons that almost paid off, anyway.

 

It doesn’t make him a coach who can’t win the big one, just another human factor on a team with great upside … but that had its share of the other side of that capacity on Sunday.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

QB KEVIN HOGAN may be one and done as Hue Jackson talks about turning back to DeSHONE KIZER as his starter next week against Tennessee.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Kevin Hogan wasn’t the hero Hue Jackson was hoping he’d be in a 33-17 rout by the Texans, and he’s leaning toward reinstating DeShone Kizer as the starter for Sunday’s game against the Titans.

 

He also made it clear that he’s not even considering Cody Kessler, who’s been inactive and in streetclothes as the third quarterback for the first six games.

 

“No, if I change quarterback, I’m going back to DeShone,” said Jackson, after dropping to 0-6 for the second straight season and third time since 1999. “That was never a different type of thought that way. I told you guys I wanted to him to see the game from a different lens.”

 

Jackson indicated that one game on the sidelines was enough to clear the fog for Kizer, who’s buried at the bottom of the NFL with a 49.5 rating.

 

“Between almost every series, I had conversations with DeShone,” said Jackson. “I wanted to make sure he was learning and growing in what he saw. We went back and forth on things.  He was really into it. I thought he saw some things that he can grow from. I heard growth out of him. I think that’s what matters.”

 

Kizer, who exchanged jerseys after the game with good buddy Deshaun Watson, declined to talk about his possible reinstatement.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

The surprising Jets might have beaten New England but for a replay decision from Park Avenue that took a TD away from Gang Green.  Will Brinson of CBSSports.com is among the many longtime NFL observers who were outraged:

 

The Jets were supposed to go 0-16 this season, but they don’t care for your terrible predictions. They want to win, and they almost took down the mighty Patriots to own first place in the AFC East after six weeks.

 

One could argue were it not for a questionable overturned call by the referees in the game, they would have ended up winning. Or at least had a better shot.

 

On the play in question, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is really emerging as a dangerous red zone weapon, was running into the end zone after making a catch and he was hit by a defender, at which point he may have bobbled the ball a bit.

 

Now, you can watch the clip of the play and say, “Yeah, maybe he lost control of the ball.” But you can’t look at it and say, “He definitely lost control.” And you definitely can’t watch it say anything other than, “OK, that’s a touchdown based on the eye test.”

 

Unless you’re head ref Tony Corrente anyway.  Corrente said after the game it was “pretty obvious” they should overturn the call, which they did, making it a touchback and taking possession from the Jets after what looked like a touchdown.

 

“We went through two or three primary looks,” Corrente said, per pool reporter Bob Glauber. “and then this other shot came up. When the other shot came up, it was just ‘boom, boom, booom.’ It was a pretty quick determination. It was pretty obvious.”

 

@JasonLaCanfora

How can someone fumble out of endzone if the ball is in his hands? The call wiping out a TD for the Jets among the most bizarre I’ve seen

 

AlbertBreer

Wow that call at the Meadowlands … Was questionable.

 

@RVacchianoSNY

I’ve seen a lot of bad calls and a lot of terrible decisions by a replay official, but that one was incomprehensible. … Again: What?!?

 

This includes former NFL VPs of officiating Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, who believed it should have been a touchdown.

 

 @NFLonFOX

Former VPs of NFL officiating @MikePereira & @DeanBlandino think that the Jets late TD against the Patriots should have stood as called.

 

Blandino believes that there is a case for Seferian-Jenkins losing the ball and then needing to maintain control again, but didn’t believe there was any conclusive evidence to overturn the call, which was ruled a touchdown.

 

“If it has to be clear and obvious, it just didn’t seem to me that it was,” Pereira said.

– – –

The Jets had opportunities to win before this game. And it didn’t cost them the win. But it does stink that the refs are making these calls from New York with seemingly no real consistency, which was precisely what moving to centralized replay was supposed to establish.

 

Manish Mehta in the New York Daily News:

 

They were screwed by the bigwigs at the Hall of Justice. They were screwed by modern technology. Most of all, they were screwed by a fugazi rule in a rulebook filled with nonsensical hogwash.

 

When the Jets walked off “losers” in a 24-17 heartbreaker to the Patriots Sunday, there was a sickening feeling shared among players, coaches and every green-and-white clad dreamer leaving Met Life Stadium: We were royally jobbed.

– – –

The football Gods evidently enjoy torturing this group of no-names. Moments after the Jets seemingly capped a 75-yard drive with Seferian-Jenkins’ score to draw within 24-20 with 8:31 left in regulation, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron ripped the joy from Bowles& Co. by overturning the touchdown call on the field in the worst imaginable way: Riveron and the rest of the brainiacs on 345 Park Ave concluded that the Jets tight end had fumbled the ball out of bounds in the end zone before ruling it a touchback for the Patriots.

 

Three letters crossed everyone’s lips at that point: W.T.F.

 

Josh McCown: “It’s a difficult rule to understand.”

 

Buster Skrine: “I don’t know how somebody can fumble the ball with the ball still in their hands.”

 

Jeremy Kerley: “I was pissed off at the initial call like everybody else.” Even the members of the Evil Empire were, uh, miffed.

 

 “It was a little shocking,” Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks said. “I never knew that rule, but now I know.”

 

Pardon my French, but the rule, frankly, sucks. It makes little or no sense. I haven’t decided which yet.

 

Sure, one more loss means that general manager Mike Maccagnan gets to keep one more future premium draft pick in his pocket should he need ammo to move up to select a franchise quarterback in the upcoming draft, but that shouldn’t make Jets faithful any less outraged in the moment.

 

This is a brutal rule that needed to be changed yesterday. Referee Tony Corrente told a pool reporter after this disgrace that Seferian-Jenkins’ initial catch was not in question. No, no, no. This absurd overrule was about Seferian-Jenkins, the runner.

 

“Nothing to do with the catch,” Corrente said. “It was all dealing with goal line and going to the ground.”

 

Replays clearly showed Seferian-Jenkins cradling the ball in his left arm as he dragged safety Duron Harmon closer to the goal line. Cornerback Malcolm Butler rushed at the tight end and briefly jarred the ball loose with his right hand. It was a split second before Seferian-Jenkins re-gained possession with both hands, landing on his back and moving the ball safely to his right arm.

 

The replay officials believed that the brief bobble occurred as the tight end crossed the goal line and hit the pylon with his left elbow. Seferian-Jenkins regained possession and control after he landed out of bounds, they believed. Mind you, none of this was conclusive on any replay angles.

 

More from Corrente: “We’ll call him a runner at that point, with the football starting to go toward the ground. He lost the ball. It came out of his control as he was almost to the ground. Now he re-grasps the ball and by rule, now he has to complete the process of a recovery, which means he has to survive the ground again. So, in recovering it, he recovered, hit the knee, started to roll and the ball came out a second time. So, the ball started to move in his hands this way… he’s now out of bounds in the end zone, which now created a touchback. So, he didn’t survive the recovery and didn’t survive the ground during the recovery is what happened here.”

 

All the words in the English language can’t sufficiently explain what everyone blessed with sight knows: It should have been a touchdown.

 

“I have to have better ball security,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “If I take care of the ball the way I’m supposed to – and I don’t let it move or anything like that, we don’t have this discussion.”

 

Added Bowles: “I’m not going to blame this game on one play.”

 

Fine. I will.

 

Although it’s true that the Jets had opportunities to grab a spot alone atop the AFC East six weeks in for the first time since 2010, the overturned call was absolutely a sucker punch to the gut. The Jets forced a punt on the Patriots ensuing drive before Chandler Catanzaro’s 28-yard field goal got Bowles’ team to within one score, but the lost touchdown was too much to overcome.

 

To pour more salt on the wound, this is the first year when the centralized replay whizzes at league headquarters make the final call. (Full disclosure: Former NFL officiating guru Dean Blandino consulted with field refs on replays in the past). “We got the call,” Butler said. “And that’s all that matters.”

 

It’s challenging enough trying to beat the greatest head coach and greatest quarterback in the history of professional football. The margin of error always is small for anyone going up against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Now sprinkle in some replay/rulebook hooey into the equation and you got no earthly shot to win.

 

“It’s that much more frustrating,” Kearse said.

 

Ya think? 

 

The DB is not so sure the problem is the rule, it is the replay folks convincing themselves that something might have happened (the possible second bobble by Seferian-Jenkins as he rolled over the pylon.  Much like the MLB replay officials thought they might have seen the underneath foot of Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton off the base in a recent baseball replay controversy.  Some how the nature of the evidence necessary to get a reversal has devolved from “incontrovertible” to somewhere between “probable” and “possible”.

 

Mark Maske of the Washington Post:

 

For a number of years now, no one has seemed to know what is a legal catch and what isn’t in the NFL.

 

And now, it appears no one knows what is a fumble through the end zone and what isn’t, either.

– – –

The replay showed Seferian-Jenkins lost control of the football near the end of his run, as he was being tackled and going out of bounds. Under NFL rules, once he lost possession, he had to reestablish it with two feet or one knee in bounds, and he needed to maintain possession of the ball while on the ground – as with the sport’s basically indecipherable catch rule. If Seferian-Jenkins failed to reestablish legal control of the football in bounds, the Patriots could be awarded possession and a touchback as with a fumble lost out of bounds through the end zone.

 

Two former NFL officiating czars, Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, said in a video for Fox, for which they now work as rules analysts, that the replay did not appear sufficiently clear-cut, to them, to warrant such a reversal.

 

“There were a lot of ifs and mights as you and I were looking at it,” Blandino said. “And usually that means the call on the field should stand.”

 

Pereira expressed a similar view, saying: “Ultimately I would say if it has to be clear and obvious, it just didn’t seem to me that it was.”

 

On Monday morning, the man who made the call, Alberto Riveron, doubles down.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

NFL head of officiating Al Riveron is standing by his decision to overturn a Jets touchdown and award the ball to the Patriots on Sunday, even as two of his predecessors in the job are saying he got it wrong.

 

Riveron told reporters today that Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins fumbled the ball before crossing the goal line, and then failed to control it again until after the ball had traveled across the goal line and out of bounds.

 

“By rule, he has to re-establish possession. He must regain control of the football again before he hits out of bounds,” Riveron said. “He has not regained control of the football before he hits out of bounds.”

 

Riveron added that he was relying on the same replays that the TV audience saw.

 

“Anything that we get in the command center we get directly from the TV feed,” Riveron said. “That’s what we base our decision on.”

 

Riveron acknowledged that former heads of officiating Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira have said publicly that he got the replay wrong, but he thinks he was correct and they were incorrect.

 

“I really have no comment on that, that’s really just their judgment,” Riveron said.

 

That won’t satisfy Jets fans, but Riveron’s mind is made up, and he says he got it right.

 

This was a controversy that Riverson and crew didn’t need.  It wasn’t like it was an agonizingly close call that obviously needed to be made.  If the play had stood after a short delay, no one would have remembered it.  The Patriots and their fans would not be claiming that the Jets had scored a tainted TD.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM

As Peter King sees it, Roger Goodell faces a vital week as he tries to get control of the social justice movement among some of his players, publicly exhibited by their failure to stand respectfully for the Anthem.  Can they be cajoled, perhaps with the promise of league support and cash, to literally toe the line during The Anthem?

 

The NFL meets every fall for a day and a half to discuss league business. This week, on Tuesday in New York, owners will gather and hear from players and NFL Players Association representatives on the contentious matter of players standing at attention for the national anthem. The league has said it will try to devise a plan that would build a bridge with players and assist on their social-justice causes so they’ll stand as one. Advertisers getting major guff from their customers don’t want to continue to take a hailstorm of criticism from those who don’t like anything but what they perceive to be a show of total loyalty toward the flag.

 

What I learned in the past few days:

 

1. This could be a seminal moment for the tenure of commissioner Roger Goodell. There’s no sense his job will be in trouble if he doesn’t come out of this meeting with a strong proposal that the players and clubs will adopt. But if there is no significant progress toward an endgame here, I believe some owners could ask by meeting’s end, Are we sure we want to extend Goodell’s contract five years?  That’s the current length of the extension Goodell is discussing with the league’s compensation committee—and they’re far down the road in the contract talks.

 

2. Goodell doesn’t have the kind of political capital with the players, or the players union, to call in any favors to get a deal done that will compel every player in the league either to stand for the national anthem or to not protest while it’s being played.

 

3. It’s a fractious issue with both owners and players. Usually, Goodell can get the owners at least mostly on the same page. Not this time. You’ve got Niners CEO Jed York telling players he won’t force them to stand, Chargers owner Dean Spanos telling players he’s got their backs, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones saying if players don’t stand for the anthem they won’t play for Dallas. So how can Goodell get some universal policy when said policy would force owners to go back to their teams—some of them, at least—and renounce what they recently told them?

 

4. The general feeling among club owners and executives seems to be this, voiced by one strong ownership influencer: “The players have to buy into something as a group, or else we’re going to be stuck in this muck and mire. That will be awful for the game.”

 

5. The league was taking advice and proposals from players as late as Friday night on this issue. Many players want the league to partner with them to work on inner-city problems, particularly in civil rights and relations with police. But the fear in the league office is there will be no universal buy-in from the players, because no one as of yet has a widely shared idea for a league policy.

 

6. It’s likely that part of the league’s offer to the players would be giving them a week or two this year for their social-justice causes to get the league spotlight—to be part of an ad campaign or social-media campaign. Similar to what the league does with breast cancer, for instance.

 

7. Christine Brennan of USA Today wrote that players should stay in the locker room during the anthem, and some in the league really like that idea. But others think it could cause blowback from those who would think the players are being disrespectful by being on the field when the anthem is being played.

 

8. There are differing views among top club officials and owners about how teams should proceed. There is some sentiment for allowing all 32 teams to control their own player activism campaigns, because the issues in Cincinnati might be different from those in Los Angeles. But there’s no clear consensus on it.

 

9. The solution has to be either driven by the players or widely perceived to be driven by the players, or it could give the impression that the league is being good and generous about this issue just to mollify the players. The players can’t be sellouts.

 

10. This is the time when a top commissioner has the chops to get a deal done and stop the bleeding on an issue that was nearly forgotten before the President spoke three weeks ago. But building a consensus in the two days allotted for the meeting will be very hard.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Richard Dietsch of SI.com wonders what will become of Jemele Hill when her suspension ends.

 

Jemele Hill’s two-week suspension is scheduled to end on Oct. 23. The likelihood is she will come to work that day in Bristol, CT. and continue to co-anchor the 6 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter for the foreseeable future.

 

But I believe her tenure as a SportsCenter anchor is effectively over. I also think her time as an ESPN employee is down to months rather than years. Hill cannot feel that she has management’s unwavering support given the events of the last month—and ESPN management clearly has limits to the speech it will allow from front-facing talent on social media, and particularly those representing the SportsCenter brand.

 

Then there is the show itself, dubbed SC6. What Hill and co-host Michael Smith envisioned, what made their chemistry honest and unique on the ESPN2 show His and Hers and their podcasts together, is being slowly chopped away by the addition of segments you see on traditional SportsCenter shows. Those include interviews with reporters in the field and blocks that feature the kind of short, bite-sized takes viewers get on shows such as Around The Horn. Multiple people told me last week that there is an effort to bring in ESPN talent as guests with opinions counter to the hosts. If I had to bet, I would bet that at this time next year the 6 p.m. ET slot is either a standard version of SportsCenter or some sort of PTI-extension. I would also bet that Hill is elsewhere.

 

What do the parties say? I’ve reached out repeatedly to ESPN to speak with the senior management who made the decision on Hill. That includes ESPN president John Skipper and ESPN executive vice president Connor Schell. I’ve been repeatedly declined. Hill is also declining comment. The end of SC6 is simply my prediction from observing ESPN for years. I have no specific reporting that says it is done. That opinion is shared—and was first posited long before I came to it—by James Andrew Miller, the author of a best-selling oral history on ESPN Those Guys Have All The Fun. He was one of the guests this week on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast along with Brooklyn Nets analyst Sarah Kustok.

 

Miller said he believes there is a fundamental flaw in assigning opinion-first talent to SportsCenter.

 

“I don’t think it is going to make it,” Miller said. “I think it was an experiment where the [SportsCenter] brand is being challenged technologically and by a host of other challenges in the marketplace, and they were trying to figure out ways to rescue it in a different way. You know what? That is great. That is what networks and executives are supposed to do. You try things and you don’t necessarily bat 1.000%. I think in this case, I think there is enough evidence and minds along the road to say we tried and we are going to figure out something different. If there is one takeaway from this whole SC6 experiment it is to make sure that if you are going to have someone with bold opinions and lot of gumption that you put them in an environment do that.”

 

It was interesting to look back this week at the Jan. 30, 2017 press release when Hill and Smith were announced as the hosts of a re-imagined version of SportsCenter. This was when management was touting boldly that ESPN had made a strategic shift in thinking to rebuild the SportsCenter franchise around what one of its executives termed “personalities and conceits that work for specific audiences.”

 

 “With a format geared to fit Smith and Hill’s personalities, along with a specially-designed set and its own music, The Six will be different from any other SportsCenter produced since ESPN’s first telecast of its signature news and information program in 1979. Debuting on the day after the Super Bowl, the premiere episode of the weekday offering will be hailed with an hour-long simulcast on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS. Smith and Hill, who previously co-hosted ESPN2’s His & Hers and will be the first African-American duo to host SportsCenter on a regular basis, will combine some of the best elements of their previous program with SportsCenter for the new show, including a deliberate and well-paced conversational format in which they discuss sports topics, news, culture and social issues. The program will continue SportsCenter’s focus on news of the day and breaking news as warranted.

 

“I’m most excited for the viewers to see how much freedom we are going to have,” said Smith, who’s been with ESPN since 2004.

 

That was only eight months ago, but it feels like a lifetime given the news cycles since Hill’s series of tweets on President Donald Trump last month, and another series of tweets following Dallas Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones saying his players will stand for the national anthem and not disrespect the flag, and if they don’t, the player or players will not play.

 

Of all its selective discipline for on-air talent over the years, ESPN management has made it very clear that the subject where it offers little flexibility for employees is when management believes an employee has said something that could impact the company’s bottom line. Skipper said as much in his statement to employees following Hill’s series of tweets on Trump. He never publicly supported Hill in the statement. He did, however, sound like Triple H of the WWE in one of his sentences. “We had a violation of those standards in recent days and our handling of this is a private matter,” Skipper wrote. “As always, in each circumstance we look to do what is best for our business.”

 

The moment I read that statement is the moment I believed Hill’s ESPN tenure was coming to an end.

 

As far as the viewership of the show, management knows that any replacement for SC6 will not produce a magic bullet. Douglas Pucci of Programming Insider and Awful Announcing has charted ESPN studio shows over the past couple of years. What he found was that ratings movements (ups or downs) are generally parallel to those of its PTI lead-in. I’ve said this repeatedly: ESPN’s studio shows in the afternoon are only trending one way long-term and that is down. That will be the case long after whenever Hill and Smith depart too.

 

For the week of Sept. 26-29, 2017, Pucci’s last post on ESPN ratings, SC6 averaged 508,000 viewers including 277,000 adults 18-49. One year earlier in the same week (Sep. 27-30 & Oct. 2), the SportsCenter 6:00 p.m. show averaged 475,000 and 245,000 adults 18-49. That is a 6.9 percent increase in overall viewership.

 

You can also find weeks where the show is down: For example: For Sep. 12-15, 2017, SC6 averaged 448,000 viewers, down 20.2 percent from the 562,000 viewers for the corresponding week in 2016 when Hill and Smith were not hosts. The show averaged 408,000 viewers (and 215,000 adults 18-49) from Oct. 3-6, 2017. That was down from 477,000 from Oct. 4-7, 2016, per Pucci. Then there are the weeks that are flat: The 6:00 p.m. SportsCenter averaged 469,000 viewers for Oct 11-13, 2016. Last week, from Oct. 10-12, it averaged 463,000 viewers.

 

 

KAEP AGGRIEVED

Colin Kaepernick has filed a grievance in federal court.  If everything goes his way, he could conceivably bring down the entire CBA.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick has filed a grievance against the NFL alleging collusion in relation to his ongoing unemployment. Eventually, we’ll explain what he needs to prove, and what he doesn’t need to prove, in order to show that collusion occurred. For now, let’s focus on what he wants to do.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Kaepernick wants to trigger termination of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

 

Article 69, Section 2 of the CBA allows for the agreement to be terminated prematurely in the event of proof of collusion. Under Article 17, Section 16(c) of the CBA, termination can arise from only one incident of collusion involving only one player if there is clear and convincing evidence of a violation.

 

The ramifications would be enormous, and historical. Kaepernick could give all players a tremendous piece of leverage, moving up the expiration of the contract by more than three years and forcing the owners back to the bargaining table.

 

Former NFL player Sean Gilbert proposed, in connection with his effort to become the NFLPA’s executive director, the potential termination of the CBA in early 2015, based on collusion arising from the funding rule applicable to guaranteed contracts. Gilbert did not win, and the collusion case was never filed.

 

But Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com thinks Kaep has a tough job ahead of him, absent some unknown smoking gun:

 

Colin Kaepernick and his representatives face a high bar to prove that NFL owners have colluded to keep him out of the league this season, as alleged in a grievance filed Sunday.

 

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, which governs such disputes, makes clear that the failure to sign a player is not in itself enough to prove collusion. Instead, it must be combined with evidence that teams entered into an agreement, express or implied, to bar the player’s employment.

 

Here’s the relevant wording of the CBA’s “burden of proof” for collusion:

 

“The failure by a club or clubs to negotiate, to submit offer sheets, or to sign contracts with restricted free agents or transition players, or to negotiate, make offers, or sign contracts for the playing services of such players or unrestricted free agents, shall not, by itself or in combination only with evidence about the playing skills of the player(s) not receiving any such offer or contract, satisfy the burden of proof set forth …”

 

Kaepernick began sitting or kneeling during the national anthem while with the San Francisco 49ers in August 2016, protesting what he said was police brutality and racism. He has remained unemployed since opting out of his contract in March. The Seattle Seahawks worked him out in May, and the Baltimore Ravens considered signing him this summer, but there have been no reported contract offers.

 

But his grievance, filed by attorney Mark Geragos, does not provide any specific evidence of an agreement to collude. It vaguely references NFL general managers who have cited “directives from NFL owners to not let Kaepernick so much as practice with an NFL team.” It also accuses owners of submitting to the demands of President Donald Trump, whom it terms “an organizing force” in squashing what has become a weekly protest among at least some NFL players.

 

In the end, however, Geragos asserts that “the mere suspicion of collusion against Mr. Kaepernick has risen to the level of concrete and actual collusion. It is no longer a statistical anomaly but instead a statistical impossibility that Mr. Kaepernick has not been employed or permitted to try out for any NFL team since the initiation of his free agency period.”

 

Reasonable people can debate Kaepernick’s skill and ability level. But it would be impossible to rank him below the 89 quarterbacks on NFL rosters as of last Friday. There is no question that he is a better quarterback than some who have jobs, and perhaps some who have starting jobs as well.

 

But that fact — and yes, I’m comfortable calling it a fact — doesn’t seem to satisfy the burden of proof required by the CBA. It seems clear that all 32 teams have reached the same conclusion on Kaepernick, if for different reasons. If that’s the result of a coordinated league effort, however, we haven’t seen the evidence required for an arbitrator to agree.

 

To be clear, none of this is going to accelerate Kaepernick’s return to the NFL. Even if he wins this grievance, the CBA doesn’t require a team to give him a job. Instead, it spells out a process for awarding compensatory damages, at a value to be determined by the arbitrator. The real damage to the NFL could be an exposure of its inner workings via public discovery.

 

There will be more to come from this story, for sure. NFL owners will gather this week, in fact, to discuss how to address the player protests in a way that alleviates public scrutiny while also providing players a fair working environment. Kaepernick’s filing will add a new level of intensity to those proceedings, but its path to success is unclear at best.

 

While Peter King thinks there still is a chance someone will woo Kaepernick (see GREEN BAY above), Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com thinks a line in the sand was crossed with the filing of the grievance:

 

For months, some close to Colin Kaepernick debated whether he should cross the ultimate line. The one you don’t come back from in the NFL. The one that casts a person into football exile permanently. No matter how much it felt like Kaepernick was being blackballed or that team owners might have been conspiring against him, there was a well-defined line between thinking it and saying it. A line between faint hope and career-ending finality. To breach it, and effectively speak out against the shield, was to concede that the league’s door had closed forever.

 

Today, Kaepernick is there.

 

By all accounts, his NFL career is over. But his opportunity to challenge the league, and to step far over the line that few have gone near, has just arrived. That’s what the grievance he has filed against the NFL represents: an end, a beginning and a stronger position than before.

 

It will cost him any faint chance he might have had of getting back on an NFL field. His grievance is loaded with monster allegations and seeks to dig deep under the nails of franchises. That all but assures that no team will ever take a look at him again. Not a call. Not a workout. And most definitely not a paycheck. While some (or many) owners see taking a knee during the national anthem as disrespectful, all of them feel that way about a litigious kick in the ass.

– – –

 If he was indeed facing an orchestrated freeze-out before this moment, it’s a safe bet his accusations of collusion and conspiracy will deliver his career only into the deepest of nuclear winters.

 

Of course, that’s not an earth-shattering outcome to some around Kaepernick, who have long-believed he has been on the league’s blacklist. They’ve suspected as much since the summer, after months of the NFL efficiently sending the message that he wasn’t wanted. As reporters asked why he wasn’t getting a chance, Kaepernick’s supporters saw only what they believed to be a litany of anonymous and wholly fabricated lies: that Kaepernick wanted too much money; that he wouldn’t sign to be a backup; that he was too poor of a player; that he cared more about social activism than being an NFL player. And then there was the reasoning that left Kaepernick’s camp absolutely flabbergasted – that he was too good to sign for a backup position when interested teams already had a defined starter.

 

In the end, every one of those justifications pushed Kaepernick closer to his belief that the past seven months were all a choreographed show. That behind the scenes, NFL owners had come to a collective decision that he was no good for their game. And that each time someone debunked the reasons why he wasn’t on a team, the NFL came up with something new to feed the masses and denounce him.

 

Deep down, what Kaepernick and some around him have long believed is what is now laid out in his grievance: That the NFL wanted to be rid of him because of his outspoken voice and the wave of social activism that he triggered. That he was too dangerous to a brand that craves power, control and muted obedient labor. By putting those accusations out there, Kaepernick will strike his career down. And in doing so, he may become a more powerful voice in how the NFL handles outspoken players.

 

That’s where the beginning lies in all of this. For months, Kaepernick has shunned interviews. Primarily for two reasons: He didn’t want to be seen as begging some NFL team for a job; and keeping quiet limited the ability of others to twist his voice into controversy, and destroy any chance he had of playing in the league.

 

There was a consequence of that duality. The vast majority of NFL teams simply never called and he never got close to signing anywhere. Also, others were left to speculate about Kaepernick’s thoughts and feelings while the league’s social activism moved forward without him.

 

Now? All of that is poised to change. With the grievance filed and Kaepernick well-aware that he has crossed a boundary of no return, there is no incentive to remaining silent. He no longer has anything to lose. If he chooses, his life’s work can now become two things: proving the NFL has been operating with a hidden agenda against him; and vocally re-entering the social activism realm that largely hasn’t heard his voice for more than a year.

 

If none of that suits Kaepernick, the very least he can do now is defend himself. Against the NFL. Against the hatred of some fans. And against a president who has invoked his name and turned his efforts into a viable political platform.

 

The line has been crossed and the league’s door has closed. But other portals are ready to be opened. Now Kaepernick finds himself with a voice again – with nothing to lose and no need to hold back. He’s standing at a new line, between the end of his career and the beginning of something else. All he needs to do now is choose where he goes next.