AROUND THE NFL
Even as Colin Kaepernick is offering his opinion on U.S. foreign policy, the NFL’s TV ratings have finally recovered from a slump that coincided with his political activism. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The game ultimately wasn’t as exciting as it could have been, given the early exit of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz with a concussion. Still, the wild-card game between Seattle and Philadelphia, broadcast by NBC, generated the largest audience of any TV show since Super Bowl LIII.
Via Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily, an average audience of 35.8 million tuned in for the Seahawks-Eagles game. It was a slight drop from last year’s audience of 35.9 million for Eagles-Bears, which captured the much larger Chicago market and entailed a much more exciting game.
The Vikings-Saints game on FOX generated an audience of 29.9 million, a sharp increase over the 25.4 million who watched Chargers-Ravens in the early game from last year’s wild-card Sunday.
For the weekend, the games averaged 30.5 million viewers, a seven-percent bump over last year and the largest total audience in four years.
It will be interesting to see how the ratings perform the rest of the way, given the absence of big-market teams in New York, L.A., and Chicago, and national brands like the Cowboys, Steelers, and Patriots not qualifying for the round of eight.
– – –
Here are the NFL’s Strength of Schedule Rankings based on 2019 records (which might not be the best way to look at it a year from now):
Here is the strength of schedules across the NFL:
1. New England Patriots: 137-118-1 (.537)
2. New York Jets: 136-119-1 (.533)
3. Miami Dolphins: 135-120-1 (.529)
4. San Francisco 49ers: 134-120-2 (.528)
T5. Buffalo Bills: 134-121-1 (.525)
T5. Detroit Lions: 134-121-1 (.525)
T5. Atlanta Falcons: 134-121-1 (.525)
T8. Arizona Cardinals: 132-123-1 (.518)
T8. Houston Texans: 132-123-1 (.518)
T10. Los Angeles Rams: 131-123-2 (.516)
T10. Minnesota Vikings: 131-123-2 (.516)
12. Denver Broncos: 131-125 (.512)
T13. Seattle Seahawks: 129-125-2 (.508)
T13. Chicago Bears: 129-125-2 (.508)
15. Green Bay Packers: 128-126-2 (.504)
T16. Indianapolis Colts: 128-127-1 (.502)
T16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 128-127-1 (.502)
T18. Carolina Panthers: 127-127-2 (.500)
T18. Kansas City Chiefs: 128-128 (.500)
20. Tennessee Titans: 127-128-1 (.498)
21. Las Vegas Raiders: 127-129 (.496)
22. Jacksonville Jaguars: 126-129-1 (.494)
23. Los Angeles Chargers: 126-130 (.492)
24. New Orleans Saints: 125-130-1 (.490)
25. Philadelphia Eagles: 124-131-1 (.486)
26. New York Giants: 123-132-1 (.482)
27. Cincinnati Bengals: 122-134 (.477)
28. Washington Redskins: 118-136-2 (.465)
29. Cleveland Browns: 118-138 (.461)
30. Dallas Cowboys: 117-138-1 (.459)
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: 117-139 (.457)
32. Baltimore Ravens: 112-144 (.438)
The Patriots, who usually have an easy schedule have the NFL’s toughest? The AFC East plays both Wests in its cross-division matchups. So the Patriots have the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams, plus the Texans and Ravens which the other AFC East teams do not –
Patriots 2020 opponents
San Francisco 49ers
New York Jets
Las Vegas Raiders
Kansas City Chiefs
New York Jets
And why are the AFC North teams near the bottom? They get the AFC South and the NFC East. This is what the Ravens have:
RAVENS 2020 SCHEDULE
Home: Steelers, Browns, Bengals, Jaguars, Titans, Cowboys, Giants and Chiefs.
Away: Steelers, Browns, Bengals, Redskins, Eagles, Colts, Texans and Patriots.
The Cowboys waste no time replacing Jason Garrett with Mike McCarthy getting a five-year deal as head coach and Mike Nolan taking over the defense. Todd Archer of ESPN.com lays it out:
Mike McCarthy will be the ninth head coach in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, a source confirmed to ESPN.
McCarthy’s contract with the Cowboys will be for five years, according to a source.
New Orleans Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan will be the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator under McCarthy, a source told ESPN, confirming a report by NFL Network. McCarthy was the offensive coordinator on Nolan’s San Francisco 49ers staff in 2005 before being hired by the Green Bay Packers as head coach in 2006. Nolan, 60, has served as defensive coordinator for several NFL teams, most recently the Atlanta Falcons from 2012 to 2014.
McCarthy stayed at the home of Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones on Saturday night, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
“Once you stay at Jerry’s house, he doesn’t lose his guy,” the source said.
McCarthy replaces Jason Garrett, who went 85-67 as Dallas’ coach from 2010 to 2019, with the team hoping that McCarthy can do for the Cowboys what he did for another storied franchise — win a Super Bowl.
McCarthy compiled a 125-77-2 record with the Packers and made the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons. In addition to the Super Bowl season, the Packers made it to the NFC Championship Game two times, but his tenure ended sourly, missing the playoffs in 2017 and getting fired after 12 games in 2018.
McCarthy spent last season going through a study of trends across the league while also planning for his next job. He interviewed for the New York Jets’ vacancy after the 2018 season and turned down the chance to speak with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals.
Before interviewing with the Cowboys over the weekend, he spoke with the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants regarding their vacancies.
The approach by Jones and son Stephen, the Cowboys’ executive vice president, was far different from the last full-scale coaching search they had in 2007, after Bill Parcells’ retirement. They interviewed 10 coaches before settling on Wade Phillips, who was hired after Garrett was on board as offensive coordinator.
This time, the Cowboys interviewed just Marvin Lewis and McCarthy before making their decision.
McCarthy’s arrival will bring an entirely new offense to the Cowboys after running mostly a Garrett scheme since 2007, even though the team has had three different playcallers since 2013 — Bill Callahan (2013), Scott Linehan (2014 to 2018) and Kellen Moore (2019).
Moore, offensive line coach Marc Colombo, quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna and receivers coach Sanjay Lal are under contract. Most of the defensive staff, including coordinator Rod Marinelli and passing game coordinator Kris Richard, have expiring contracts.
Mike Florio’s thoughts on the hire:
Sometimes, the things said by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can be taken at face value.
Last month, Jones threw water on the perception that he’ll pursue Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley or some other college coach.
“College coaches coming directly into [NFL] head coach have the lowest percentage rate of success as opposed to coming from coordinators,” Jones said. “You pay a price for somebody to get up to date.”
The message was clear: Jones would be looking for a coach with NFL experience, and NFL success. And that’s what he got with Mike McCarthy, a former Packers coach who won a Super Bowl in the house that Jerry built. McCarthy also has a record of 7-3 against the Cowboys, beating Jason Garrett in a pair of division-round games.
McCarthy gets a job in which he’ll have something less than full input in the crafting of the roster, but how much input did he have in Green Bay? Former G.M. Ted Thompson gave McCarthy little help; the Cowboys will be far more willing to get McCarthy what he needs.
And even with Jerry and Stephen Jones running the show, the Dallas Cowboys are still The Dallas Cowboys. Despite 25 years and counting since the team’s last appearance in the NFC Championship game, they draw tens of thousands of fans, millions of viewers, and more attention than most teams.
More from Florio:
The slow divorce between Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett was followed by a Vegas wedding for Jones and Mike McCarthy.
“It was like love at first sight,” a source with knowledge of the dynamics between Jones and McCarthy said when explaining the quick move by the Cowboys to make McCarthy the new head coach.
McCarthy interviewed with the Cowboys on Saturday, and then McCarthy spent the night at Jones’ house, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.
So Jerry instantly knew who he wanted, pulling the plug on wherever else the search was going to go, firing Garrett, and hiring McCarthy in rapid succession. And, yes, sometimes multi-billion-dollar businesses move very quickly when it comes to making their biggest and most consequential decisions, even if that stunning speed follows a maddening week of inexplicable delay.
Maybe the explanation is hiding in plain sight. Maybe Garrett, who reportedly wanted desperately to remain the Cowboys coach, persuaded Jones to see if he could find a better option before officially parting ways with Garrett. Maybe Jones agreed to give it a try.
If so, it didn’t take much for Jones to come to the conclusion that he could finally release the bird in the hand, especially since he has found in the bush a coach who has achieved far more than Garrett over the course of the past decade, starting with a Super Bowl win in Jerry’s fortress of football to cap the season during which Garrett became the Cowboys’ head coach.
Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano of ESPN.com mull things over and end up liking the hire:
McCarthy’s background: 13 seasons as coach of the Packers (125-77-2 from 2006 to 2018), including a Super Bowl title in 2010; six seasons as offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints (2000-04) and San Francisco 49ers (2005)
Fowler: The Cowboys made a win-now hire for a coach with a .613 winning percentage, 10 playoff wins and a Super Bowl ring. Let’s see if McCarthy truly has learned from his final years in Green Bay, which featured a stale offensive attack. He has experience with navigating a storied franchise. But how does this address an underachieving defense, Dan?
Graziano: Well, it appears that responsibility will fall to Mike Nolan, who’s set to become McCarthy’s defensive coordinator in Dallas. I know management was interested in bringing in some new schemes and ideas on that side of the ball after they thought Rod Marinelli’s scheme failed to generate enough consistent QB pressure this season . I’m also interested to see what he does with the offensive coaching staff, since Cowboys ownership is enamored with Kellen Moore and might want him to get more of a chance to develop. Lot of questions still to answer there, but fundamentally, this hire does what most of these hires should do: ignores the old “offensive guy/defensive guy” debate and picks a capital H, capital C Head Coach. You had to figure teams would lean this way after everybody went with inexperienced guys last year, no?
Fowler: Yeah, and with a fairly weak coordinator pool, Ron Rivera and McCarthy were well-positioned to dominate the coaching cycle. Some teams simply don’t have the patience for a grooming job. Dallas’ culture is steeped in the Jerry Jones way, and no head coach is changing that. But the Cowboys do need some fresh ideas, a new voice in the building and more accountability. Some players believe the message got stale and some guys were overworked, contributing to bad late-season play. How do you like McCarthy’s chances to impact the locker room?
Graziano: Always helps when you can stand in front of players and show them a Super Bowl ring. Gets their attention. The biggest thing for a new coach is to get the buy-in, and McCarthy’s past success will help with that. Look, man, I can’t find anything wrong with this hire. Did McCarthy’s offense get stale in Green Bay at the end? Sure. It happens. At this point, I take the guy at his word that he has learned from how it ended there, and I see a team with a win-now roster hiring a coach who’s done a bunch of winning.
Grading McCarthy to Dallas:
Fowler: B+. Leaving some wiggle room here since McCarthy had his issues with in-game management, which doomed Jason Garrett. But every other box is checked here, assuming he gets the right assistants.
Graziano: A. I feel the same way I did about Rivera to Washington. Whether he brings in his own playcaller or stays with the guys who are in place, the point is that McCarthy knows how to do this job.
NEW YORK GIANTS
As Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com sees it, the Giants job is Matt Rhule’s to lose (or not want):
The net is cast. The New York Giants seem to have located their preferred marks. Now they will try to lure in one as the 19th head coach in franchise history.
It’s not going to be easy, given the state of the franchise. The Giants were looking for an “adult” in the room last time around when they found Pat Shurmur, who was fired last week after two seasons. The buzzword this time is “leadership.” The downtrodden franchise is looking for a CEO who can build a program from near-ground-up, given its struggles in recent years.
The Giants are an NFL-worst 12-36 since the start of the 2017 season.
“I’m really looking for leadership, that’s the big thing going forward,” co-owner John Mara said last week after firing Shurmur and retaining general manager Dave Gettleman. “Somebody who can come in and take control of this roster, help build a culture that is going to lead to winning. Somebody who is going to help us with our football re-organization during the process we’re undergoing right now. We’re looking for all those qualities from the next candidate.”
It has also become clear the Giants weren’t thrilled with the staff Shurmur assembled. When Gettleman was asked what the team needed, he began by pointing out a desire for a coach who can bring together a staff that’s enthusiastic.
The Giants are intent on being deliberate with this interview process but might be forced to move quickly.
Among the options:
Matt Rhule (Baylor coach)
He is believed to have been near the top of the Giants’ list and the Giants are at the top of his list as well. It’s as if they’re on a collision course. The interview is expected to take place Tuesday after he spends Monday with the Carolina Panthers, per a source. Rhule’s track record of success with turning around programs at Temple and Baylor and one year as an offensive line assistant with the Giants in 2012 make him an attractive choice. Speaking with former players, it’s clear he possesses the unique ability to both relate to everyone on the roster and be a disciplinarian.
Rhule is a smart, strong leader with great communication skills. He didn’t know anything about the offensive line at the beginning of his previous stint with the Giants but had the full respect of the veteran group by the end of the season. Look for ex-Giants assistant Sean Ryan (Lions’ QB coach) to be an option as the offensive coordinator if Rhule is hired.
Josh McDaniels (Patriots’ offensive coordinator)
The Giants requested an interview with McDaniels, according to a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The sides already met two years ago when the Giants were looking for a coach, but sources believe McDaniels would not have taken the job had it been offered. It’s believed Patriots coach Bill Belichick, while he has an affinity for the Giants organization, expressed concerns to McDaniels and Lions coach Matt Patricia about the Giants’ current executive structure and setup. Not much has changed in that regard since.
Still, the Giants liked McDaniels enough to circle back this time. He’s 43 and is a big-time assistant for a winning program. McDaniels led a top-five-scoring offense for seven straight years prior to this season, and it is believed he has learned from his previous stint as a coach in Denver (2009-10). He’s an interesting option considering he would likely shake up the entire organization and bring some of the Patriots’ Way to New York.
Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs’ offensive coordinator)
The former NFL running back doesn’t call plays, but he has helped develop star quarterback Patrick Mahomes — a key selling point with a young, talented quarterback (Daniel Jones) already on the Giants’ roster.
Bieniemy, who interviewed on Saturday morning, is known as a firm leader who demands respect from players.
Don “Wink” Martindale (Ravens’ defensive coordinator)
He guided the fourth-ranked defense in a season in which the unit was expected to take a step back because of personnel losses. Martindale is likely the most dynamic and charismatic personality of the Giants’ coaching candidates, with an approach that is known to get great buy-in from players.
One player who was with Martindale in recent years considered him one of the best coaches he has ever had at any level. Why? The 56-year-old, who has been an NFL assistant since 2004, is a model of consistency and extremely honest with everyone. His interview took place Saturday afternoon with the Ravens on a bye week as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Kris Richard (Cowboys’ defensive passing coordinator/DBs)
He came to the Cowboys after eight seasons with Seattle, which included a stint as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator. Richard, a top defensive assistant for the Cowboys who is known as a fiery coach and the architect of the Legion of Boom in Seattle, was the first to interview for the Giants’ job on Thursday. Gettleman said in a radio interview that Richard is an “impressive guy.”
It’s possible the Giants interviewed Richard with the thought he could be a potential defensive coordinator if the head coach they hire has a background in offense.
Joe Judge (Patriots’ special-teams coordinator/WRs)
This is a wild card. Judge, 39, is the youngest of the candidates and has been mentored by Alabama coach Nick Saban and Belichick. He is considered a no-nonsense guy who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers with players if necessary.
He’s looking to follow the John Harbaugh model to the top of the coaching profession, from special-teams coordinator — before adding a position-coach stint to his résumé — to NFL head coach. His bosses alone make him an intriguing candidate.
No longer available: Mike McCarthy
S MALCOLM JENKINS wants more Eagles green. Tim McManus of ESPN.com:
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins made it clear Monday that he’ll either be playing on a new contract in Philadelphia in 2020 or he’ll be playing elsewhere.
“I won’t be back on the same deal. That won’t happen,” Jenkins said as players cleaned out their lockers following Sunday’s 17-9 wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Jenkins, 32, is entering the final year of a four-year, $35 million deal and is scheduled to make a base salary of $7.6 million. The safety market has shifted considerably over the past year, with top-tier players like Earl Thomas and Landon Collins netting contracts that average around $14 million per season.
Jenkins’ desire for a pay bump came to light before the season. He uncharacteristically skipped voluntary workouts in the spring but was in attendance for mandatory activities and put all public contract-related talk aside as the season approached.
He played every defensive snap for the fifth time in six seasons in Philadelphia, finishing with 80 tackles, 2.5 sacks, eight passes defensed and four forced fumbles while serving as both a versatile piece in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s system and as a team leader.
He had a conversation with owner Jeffrey Lurie before the start of the season that made him feel valued, Jenkins said at the time, but to this point there hasn’t been any meaningful movement toward a new contract.
“I’m not one to beg,” Jenkins said. “I am a very prideful person, so I feel like what I put out there this year, what I put on tape, what I’ve given to this team is more than enough. I can’t do any more. So for me, I feel good about that; that it’ll be good enough for me to go into this offseason with certainty that I’ll be fine.”
Jenkins has been a part of two Super Bowl champion teams — the New Orleans Saints in 2009 and the Eagles in 2017. He hasn’t missed a game since signing with the Eagles in free agency in 2014.
“I want to be valued, I want to be compensated for what I’m worth, but I want to win, I want to be in a good locker room,” Jenkins said of his priorities. “I’m a prideful person who enjoys to compete and win, but I’m not a dummy either. So at this point in my career, I weigh all these things.”
Carolina canned Ron Rivera to get a jump on the hiring cycle, but Washington and Dallas have made their deals and the Panthers are in spin cycle. Alaina Getzenberg of the Charlotte Observer after McCarthy was hired:
What does this mean for the Panthers? Almost all of their remaining candidates, outside of Baylor coach Matt Rhule, as of now are current offensive coordinators with either limited or no head coaching experience in the NFL. This includes Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who are expected to interview this week.
LB KIKO ALONSO will be rehabbing an ACL yet again. Mike Triplett of ESPN.com:
Linebacker Kiko Alonso tore the ACL in his right knee during the New Orleans Saints’ playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings, a source confirmed to ESPN.
The news was first reported by the NFL Network.
Alonso, 29, has now suffered three torn ACLs dating to college. He tore the right ACL while at Oregon and the left ACL heading into his second NFL season with the Buffalo Bills in 2014. Alonso also sprained his knee during the 2015 season with the Philadelphia Eagles. But he obviously bounced back well enough from those injuries to have a productive career with the Bills, Eagles, Miami Dolphins and Saints.
He had at least 115 tackles in three straight seasons with Miami from 2016-2018. He played well this season in a part-time role with the Saints after being traded as part of the Dolphins’ youth movement and defensive scheme change in September.
Alonso became the Saints’ primary middle linebacker in base formations after they lost starter Alex Anzalone to a shoulder injury in Week 2. Alonso’s playing time increased to 33 snaps per game when he was healthy over the second half of the season.
The 6-foot-3, 239-pound linebacker had a total of 20 tackles and one batted pass over his final five games of the regular season while helping New Orleans finish with the NFL’s No. 4 run defense — though he also missed three games in December with a quadriceps injury.
Alonso still has one year remaining on his contract. But he and the Saints would likely have to agree on some form of paycut to keep him in New Orleans. He is due to make $7.85 million in 2020, including a $1.45 million roster bonus.
Win and they will come.
The DB remembers when no sane person would make the trek to Santa Clara. Chris Bengel at CBSSports.com:
The San Francisco 49ers qualified for the playoffs this year for the first time since the 2013 season. With that in mind, the team’s fanbase is obviously very excited for the franchise to begin what they hope will be a deep postseason run.
After securing the top seed in the NFC and a first-round bye, the 49ers are set to face the lowest remaining seed after this weekend’s Wild Card matchups, and that could be the Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles or Minnesota Vikings. If Bay Area fans want to obtain tickets to that divisional round contest, it’s going to cost them.
Ticketmaster, the NFL’s official ticketing partner, says the average price of a ticket on the secondary market is currently $506, according to Chris Biderman of The Sacramento Bee,
As far as the divisional round goes, the next highest average ticket price belongs to the Baltimore Ravens at $463.
In terms of the Wild Card round, the Eagles’ have the top average resale ticket price at $356 for their game against the Seahawks.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
As had been rumored, 73-year-old Wade Phillips will not be offered a contract to coordinate the Rams defense in 2020. Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com:
Wade Phillips will not return next season as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams.
Phillips signed a three-year contract with the Rams after Sean McVay was named coach in 2017. The 72-year-old coordinator said last month amid rumors he would not be retained that he wanted to continue coaching, something he reiterated Monday in confirming reports of his exit.
I have been informed by the Rams that my contract will not be renewed.
I want to thank them for the opportunity to be a part of their success the last 3years. Most of all I want to thank the players who I loved workings with. I still want to coach and feel I can contribute.
Running backs coach Skip Peete, who was hired in 2016 by Jeff Fisher and then retained by McVay, also was let go.
A season after winning the NFC championship and playing in Super Bowl LIII, the Rams were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 16 and finished 9-7.
The Rams’ defense ranked 17th in points allowed, giving up an average of 22.6 points per game. While often stout, the unit also suffered several lapses, evident in Week 16 when the San Francisco 49ers converted twice on third-and-16 to kick a game-winning field goal that eliminated the Rams from postseason contention. In losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, the defense experienced a total meltdown, allowing more than 40 points in each game.
McVay gave no specific explanation for his decision not to renew Phillips’ contract in a brief statement issued through the team.
“Coach Wade has been a veteran voice in heading our defense for the past three seasons,” McVay said. “His wealth of experience, sound advice, and helpful demeanor has been invaluable to our coaches and players, and also has set an example for me as a head coach and a leader of men.”
In mid-October, the Rams added cornerback Jalen Ramsey to Phillips’ defense, which already included two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Because of Ramsey’s addition, the secondary moved to playing more man coverage, which enabled the front to accumulate more quarterback sacks in its 3-4 scheme. The Rams’ 50 sacks ranked fourth in the league.
However, Phillips’ unit ultimately did not play with enough consistency.
Despite a lack of achievement for the Seattle running game on Sunday, Coach Pete Carroll pledges more of RB MARSHAWN LYNCH in Green Bay this week. Brady Henderson of ESPN.com:
The Seattle Seahawks’ game plan for this week’s divisional-round matchup with the Green Bay Packers will include more Beast Mode.
Coach Pete Carroll said as much Monday, first in his morning radio show on 710 ESPN Seattle and again in his afternoon news conference. Marshawn Lynch has backed up rookie Travis Homer in each of his first two games since rejoining the Seahawks in Week 17, playing a combined 41 offensive snaps, compared to 94 for Homer.
“He’s going to play more this week,” Carroll said. “He’s ready to, and he’s had enough time with us. He feels confident about what he’s doing and the plan. We can get him in and out of there and have those two guys really go at it.”
Lynch scored his second touchdown in as many games in the Seahawks’ wild-card win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. He also had a 20-yard reception that converted a third-and-1 two plays before DK Metcalf’s touchdown.
But Lynch (six carries, 7 yards) and Homer (11 carries, 12 yards) didn’t find much running room against Fletcher Cox and Philadelphia’s defensive front. Russell Wilson accounted for 45 of the team’s 64 rushing yards.
“They’re really good,” Carroll said of the Eagles’ run defense. “They did really well. They loaded it up. They took a lot of shots at us. They brought guys off the edge to try to stop the running game. They’ve been a real committed run team all year. They gave up 90 yards a game rushing all season long, so they’re really good at it. We weren’t able to counter it like we had thought. We thought we’d put the ball in the perimeter a little bit on them and try to balance them out, but we didn’t get much out of that, either. That’s just the way it went.”
THIS AND THAT
Matt Harmon of YahooSports.com has come to like, no love, what Booger McFarland brings to the ESPN booth:
To err is human. Who among us has not misjudged a person, or simply come around on them after an acceptable period of time? We’ve all changed our minds on the value someone brings to the table.
I’m here to admit my own personal transformation on a crucial reality in the football universe. Two months ago, I staunchly believed ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” color analyst Booger McFarland had to go. His brand of cliche-fueled commentary had driven me to the brink of madness. The removal of “The Booger Mobile,” a 2018 artifact that carried McFarland down the sideline for his complementary takes to Joe Tessitore and Jason Witten in the booth, was not enough. The experiment had failed. Change needed to take place.
Now, as the conclusion of the final ESPN game broadcast of the 2019 NFL season has come and gone, I am of a completely different mind. Not only do I believe that he should reprise his role on “MNF” in 2020 and beyond, I think the NFL straight-up needs Booger.
Nothing about the program changed. Booger has been the same guy throughout the season. Rather, I changed.
Let’s start with the facts: Calling a live NFL game is an impossibly hard job. It’s easy to sit on your ass at home and take shots at the folks in the booth when they say something off, but the reality is it’s just going to happen. You try talking for three straight hours and not offer up a peculiar bit of commentary. The odds are against you.
Honestly, I can’t go the course of our 90-minute episodes of “Fantasy Football Live” on Sunday mornings here at Yahoo without messing up a player’s name, getting a stat wrong, saying something weird or committing the unforgivable sin of defaulting to a cliche. In total, I probably talk a combined 15-20 minutes through the show. Put me in Booger’s shoes and I’d be an internet meme before the first quarter was over. Book it. By the way, so would you, my dear reader.
Booger makes mistakes. He offers up strange analysis. So what? Lighten up and get over it. This is entertainment, after all.
It’s in that vein that we come to the reason Booger shouldn’t just stay in the “Monday Night Football” booth but that we need him in our NFL universe. My personal transformation goes beyond just admitting the man has a challenging task on his plate.
I love this game. The NFL brings me joy to watch, and yet, let’s be real. The experience of being a football fan can be downright dull. There’s still a segment of the audience, the analysts who cover the game, and the teams themselves that take this whole thing way too seriously. Sanctimony is in no short supply. Levity is often put on the shelf as we prioritize repetitive debates between old school “Football Guys” and analytics.
Booger makes “MNF” fun. Perfect example: It was during a 34-7 Saints blowout win over the Colts that he drew this image on the screen.
Peak Booger tonight.
A game that was good for nothing except the overly dramatic plaudits Drew Brees was set to receive for breaking another passing record was suddenly interrupted by what the NFL should crave at a far deeper level. Fun. Booger drew an image on the screen that caught all of us by the eye. He offered up a moment that millions could enjoy.
I have often looked on in jealousy as my friends on NBA Twitter live a fully joy-immersive experience. There is no truer statement than this: On NBA Twitter they’re laughing and sharing memes with each other, while here on Football Twitter we’re too busy with an exhaustive 500th round of the running back value debate. They are having fun. From my outside perspective, it bleeds into the coverage of the sport. The analysts who cover basketball lean into the madness, especially on TV. I cannot tell you how desperately I want that attitude to seep into the NFL landscape.
What we need is someone to lead the revolution. Sitting at the top of one of the largest stages available, Booger McFarland is in prime position to lead us into a new decade where football is fun.
At times last year, I thought Booger’s former counterpart Jason Witten could be that figure. “Monday Night Football” suddenly had an extra layer of entertainment to it with Witten at the center, as the entire community gathered around the television with Twitter at the ready just waiting on what the then former Cowboys tight end would do next. Witten provided entertainment beyond the game and made the second-screen communal experience of watching the game along with social media outrageously enjoyable.
As time went on, it became apparent that Witten was not the entertaining prince who was promised. He was just legendarily bad at the gig. Witten often looked unprepared, out of his element and just not comfortable in this spotlight. When he broke the Pro Bowl trophy last season, the disaster was over.
Booger is nothing like Witten. You can clearly poke holes in his analysis (again, who among us) but you can never for a second assert Booger the man on TV isn’t 100 percent comfortable being Booger. He doesn’t back down. He has entered a role as a foil that the NFL audience needs. When he errs on the broadcast, he suddenly commands the attention of the NFL community. Whatever the moment, he drives the conversation.
My advice to Booger, not that he needs it, would be to totally lean into that. In the digital age, the rules to achieve the status of tastemaker has changed. To become forever immortalized as a meme, one must deny the ability to take oneself ultra-seriously. One must lean in. I would do it in a heartbeat if I could.
Consider Cris Collinsworth on “Sunday Night Football.” Collinsworth has drawn my ire for some flubs but is one of the better NFL color commentators in the business. However, for all his smarts and ability to tell a story in a big game, it was his strange “Collinsworth slide-in” that took him to another level to the point that the internet and the league’s own network dedicated space to coverage of the phenomenon. By literally leaning in, he had become a meme and we loved him further for it.
In his final act of the 2019 NFL season, Booger authored himself a masterpiece. A classic slip-up occurred when he suggested the Bills should run a draw play on third down and then spike the ball on fourth down with time expiring in regulation. At that moment, mind you a crucial period in the contest, Booger grabbed hold of the conversation and owned it. We all couldn’t help but talk about it, if just for a minute or two in the game.
I also noticed something in that moment. Booger paused. He took a full beat after offering his spike suggestion as if to acknowledge the mistake but allowing it to marinate. Also, recall that he did the exact same thing when he feverishly tried to erase the unfortunate telestration from the Saints and Colts game weeks prior. Oh, but he wasn’t done yet. Booger gave himself one more pause-worthy moment when he drew another impossible to miss design as the Texans were driving.
So far, it’s a strange coincidence he did it twice and it’s unlikely becoming a character artist of that particular body part is going to be his brand. However, it’s in the pause where Booger can find that truth. That’s his space to lean in, to own the hilarity of the moment and seal himself as a legend to the evolving football audience.
The football audience is not short on grand storytellers or folks ready to teach us something about the game. What we are absolutely starving for are national media members on television willing to lean into the madness and offer us a collective experience where we can have fun. No one is in a better position to do that, while not sacrificing their analysis than Booger McFarland. The NFL landscape needs him to remain right where he is in the booth and it’s us who has to come full circle to adore it.
The DB thought Tony Romo already exemplified “fun” in the booth.
THE BACHELOR CONTESTANT AND DRAFT KINGS
The DB is just starting to learn about the world of DraftKings:
A former contestant on “The Bachelor” won $1 million playing daily fantasy football over the weekend.
Now she’s under investigation after being accused of cheating with her husband.
Jade Roper-Tolbert wins $1M
Jade Roper-Tolbert won the DraftKings “Millionaire Maker” contest that consists of creating fantasy lineups from the NFL’s four wild card games. Her lineup included Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf and Minnnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, according to ESPN.
When she won on Sunday afternoon, her victory garnered attention outside of the daily fantasy community because of her celebrity status.
Jade Roper Tolbert
Hahaha that’s me! And Tanner told me I shouldn’t play DK Metcalf! 🤣🤪 https://twitter.com/awesemodfs/status/1213985917020594179 …
I’m pretty sure this girl was on The Bachelor. I only know this because my girlfriend forces me to watch it.
Roper-Tolbert was a contestant on the 19th season of “The Bachelor” 2015 and the second season of “Bachelor in Paradise” later that year. She met her husband Tanner Tolbert on “Bachelor in Paradise.” He was also a contestant in the 11th season of “The Bachelorette” in 2015.
Draft Kings rescinds congratulatory tweet
Draft Kings tweeted out a “Bachelor”-themed congratulations to Roper-Tolbert that has since been deleted amid accusations that the couple colluded to win the $1 million payday.
How the alleged collusion happened
After the victory gained attention, daily fantasy users noticed Roper-Tolbert and Tolbert each submitted the maximum 150 entries allowed into the “Millionaire Maker” contest at $20 per entry. That’s fine and within the Draft Kings rules.
What’s not allowed is collusion between two players to build lineups. Out of the 300 combined entries, 298 of them were unique, according to ESPN, a sign pointing to coordination between the married couple.
Further pointing to collusion is the fact that Tolbert rostered NFC quarterbacks Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz in 148 of his entries, while Roper-Tolbert used AFC quarterbacks Watson, Ryan Tannehill and Josh Allen in 143 of hers.
More unique rosters provide more chances to win, and the couple’s lineups point to circumventing rules prohibiting a maximum of 150 uncoordinated entries.
Draft Kings’ stance
After the accusations of collusion surfaced, Draft Kings released a statement that it was looking into the matter.
“We take the integrity and fairness of our contests very seriously and are looking into this matter,” the statement reads.
According to ESPN, Draft Kings has not yet made the $1 million payment as of Monday afternoon.
Tolbert, a frequent, high-volume daily fantasy player according to ESPN, told the network that his and his wife’s case of unique entries wasn’t a matter of collusion.
“We each put in our separate players, in our separate accounts and rooted for own players,” Tolbert said. “No one has ever said a peep about us when we lost for 17 straight weeks. Then, of course, somehow Jade picked the right lineup, got the million and the spotlight got shown on it. And people, especially since she’s a woman, assume that I do it all for her. If I had won, I bet no one would’ve raised a flag.”
Collusion a common concern for DFS
Concerns over collusion in daily fantasy are common. High-level players use advanced metrics and big bankrolls to submit multiple entries in contests to give themselves an edge over recreational players. While rules prohibit collusion, it’s difficult to police coordination over multiple accounts.
In the case of the Tolberts, their celebrity status and the public availability of daily fantasy lineups led to the revelation that they may have colluded to win the big payday.
300 times $20 is $6,000 invested. If they did that for 17 other weeks, that is $108,000.
Alabama QB TUA TAGAVIOLOA is heading to the NFL, backed by high praise from Coach Nick Saban. Alex Scarborough at ESPN.com:
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a projected top-10 pick who missed the Crimson Tide’s final three games while recovering from hip surgery, will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
The former Heisman Trophy runner-up made the announcement during a news conference on Monday at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility on campus, calling it a “difficult decision” he made after consulting with his parents, pastors, doctors and coaches.
Tagovailoa, who did not use crutches, as he had in recent weeks, said he met with Alabama coach Nick Saban five times in the past week and had conversations with multiple NFL executives.
“It’s a unique situation,” he said. “With my hip, a lot of the guys and general managers and owners that I’ve gotten to talk to have said the same thing. They kind of look at this injury as a knee injury almost, even though it’s not, in a way that, ‘Are we going to take a chance on this guy or would he be able to possibly do a pro day before the draft?’ The biggest thing they want to see is that we can move and be back to how we were playing prior to the injury.”
As to whether he’ll be physically fit enough to participate in a pro day, Tagovailoa said he would leave that up to the advice of doctors, citing a recheck of his hip surgery around the three-month mark.
“I don’t think any of the doctors can tell the foreseeable future,” he said. “None of the guys rehabbing me can tell that. From what they’ve seen in New York, everything looks good. But you can’t really tell until the three-month mark or the four-month mark. That’s the gauge.”
Despite those medical concerns, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had him rated third overall in his latest Big Board. The Miami Dolphins are expected to show great interest in Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in the draft if he slides that far.
Tagovailoa’s status as a draft prospect has been in question since he dislocated his hip during a Nov. 16 game against Mississippi State. He has surgery shortly thereafter and has been rehabbing with the team since. Alabama team orthopedic surgeon Lyle Cain told ESPN that Tagovailoa wouldn’t be able to resume athletic activity until around mid-February and won’t be ready to begin throwing until sometime in the spring.
Tagovailoa was still feeling the effects of a surgery to repair a high ankle sprain at the time of his hip injury. He had surgery to repair a similar high ankle sprain in his other foot the previous season.
Tagovailoa said he did not consider waiting and entering the supplemental drafts, which would have allowed him extra time to recover from surgery.
Saban, who spoke prior to Tagovailoa’s announcement, lauded the impact the quarterback has had on the entire program. Saban said Tagovailoa’s “spirit” has changed him in a positive way.
“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on the program here as any player we’ve ever had,” Saban said.
Tagovailoa burst onto the scene as a true freshman when he came off the bench and led Alabama to a win in the 2017 CFP National Championship Game against Georgia.
He went on to beat out Jalen Hurts for the starting job and throw a combined 76 touchdowns and nine interceptions the last two seasons. He was the runner-up to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray in the 2018 Heisman Trophy race.
A few weeks after undergoing hip surgery, Tagovailoa spoke with the media about his future, saying there would be “risk-reward” whether he returned to school or entered the draft. At the time, he said being a top-10 or top-15 would be “tough to pass up.” Regardless, he said his goal was to play football in 2020, wherever that might be.
“I’m optimistic I’ll be able to play this coming season,” Tagovailoa said on Monday.
Tagovailoa made a point to thank everyone within the organization, from coaches to trainers to the public relations staff to academic advisers, as well as athletic director Greg Byrne.
Speaking of his teammates, Tagovailoa said, “I’m going to miss you all, from the starting lineup to the scout team.”
Tagovailoa did make a point to tell everyone in attendance that despite him leaving, there will still be a Tagovailoa on campus. Younger brother Taulia, who played sparingly as a true freshman, will be part of the competition to replace Tagovailoa next season.