The Daily Briefing Wednesday, November 7, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Jason Lisk of The Big Lead on the battle between Oakland and others for the first overall pick.
With the contenders and pretenders sorting themselves out as we have hit the midway point of the season, the race for the worst record is clearing up some. But there are still several contenders. Here’s a breakdown of how it is likely to shake out.
#1 Oakland Raiders: Oakland still plays the Chiefs twice, the Chargers, the Steelers, and at the Ravens and Bengals. As hard is it to believe based on how awful they’ve looked, the toughest part of the schedule is still to come. The home game against Denver, and the key showdown at Arizona, are the only two games where they are likely to be an underdog of less than double digits. If the Raiders play like they have to this point, Jon Gruden is likely to have coached a team to the worst record in the league in his return from the broadcasting booth.
Current Record: 1-7
Projected Record: 2-14
#2 Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals have two wins over the 49ers and zero over the rest of the league. They play five of the last eight games on the road, and will be big underdogs in all five. The Rams are one of the remaining home games. That means the quest for the top pick likely comes down to a game against Detroit, and the home matchup against the Raiders. If the Cardinals beat the Raiders at home then the Raiders are the prohibitive favorite to get the first overall pick. If the Raiders win, then it’s going to be a race to the end.
Current Record: 2-6
Projected Record: 3-13
#3 Buffalo Bills: The offense has been an abomination, so much that you wonder how they won two games. But the future schedule isn’t as difficult as the Raiders and Cardinals are facing, as they only play one team currently in playoff position (the Patriots in Week 16). They get the Jets and Dolphins twice, and home games against teams not used to the cold in Jacksonville and Detroit. They’ll probably jump up and win a couple more.
Current Record: 2-7
Projected Record: 4-12
#4 New York Giants: The Giants are 1-5 in games decided by seven points or less, and that has them currently matching the Raiders for the fewest wins in the league. But unless that string of close game ineptness continues, they are likely to win a few more games down the stretch. If they win at San Francisco this week, they aren’t finishing with the worst record. They also have several games that are closer to toss-ups down the stretch, with home games against Tampa Bay, Tennessee, and Dallas, and a road game at the Colts.
Current Record: 1-7
Projected Record: 4-12
#5 San Francisco 49ers: If San Francisco didn’t have their struggles against the woeful Cardinals, they wouldn’t even be there. They’ve been competent even after the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo, but 1-4 in close games. Nick Mullens became the third quarterback to start a game this year and embarrassed the Raiders. They should be a plucky underdog and have several games they could pull an upset down the stretch. They get the Giants this week, have a three-game home stretch against the Broncos, Seahawks, and Bears, and go to Tampa Bay.
Current Record: 2-7
Projected Record; 4-12
#6 Cleveland Browns
The overtime Browns have improved, but that improvement still has them near the bottom of the league at the halfway point. They don’t have any games where they are likely to be favored down the stretch, and play four teams in playoff position (Cincinnati twice, Houston, and Carolina) plus games at Baltimore and Denver, and the home game against Atlanta this week. If things go downhill with Gregg Williams as interim coach, they are a sleeper pick to get in the Top 3, but they should pull a couple of upsets along the way.
Current Record: 2-6-1
Projected Record: 4-11-1
The Bears won the last two games, by a combined score of 65-19, without their best defender and best wide receiver. Now, they may be coming back. Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com is among those reporting that KHALIL MACK and WR ALLEN ROBINSON will be back at practice in some capacity today. Mack has missed the last two weeks because of an ankle injury, while Robinson has missed the last two with a groin problem.
As the Vikings go to bye, QB KIRK COUSINS is publicly thanking his lucky stars that he opted to sign with Minnesota. Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:
Nine games have not produced a verdict on the $84 million investment the Vikings made in Kirk Cousins, but there is ample evidence to appreciate the quarterback’s performance during his debut season in Minnesota.
Cousins has delivered five victories behind a battered offensive line and without much help from a running attack mostly grounded because second-year star Dalvin Cook has been hampered by a hamstring injury.
He ranks third in the NFL behind Chiefs rookie sensation Patrick Mahomes and Rams gunslinger Jared Goff with 2,685 passing yards. Cousins’ 71.3 completion percentage is third among starters and his 17 touchdowns are tied for eighth.
“I think he’s been phenomenal,” said general manager Rick Spielman, who staked his future on signing Cousins to the richest contract in team history.
“Kirk not only has done extremely well in how he’s performed, especially when he’s been getting pressured in the pocket, but you see some of the throws that he makes in games, those are some throws that are unique. There are not a lot of people who can make those types of throws.”
All quarterbacks are alpha males, but not every one can command total respect on the field, in the locker room or the film room. Veteran running back Latavius Murray said he is always learning something about the game from Cousins.
“Knowledge is power to me,” Murray said Tuesday as the Vikings scattered for their bye week. “The way he plays the game, the way he goes about it, I think he’s a special person, a special player, a leader. Just a really good dude and really good for this locker room.”
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After stumbling to a 1-2-1 start, the Vikings have rebounded nicely, winning four of their past five games to secure second place in the NFC North behind the surprising Chicago Bears — Minnesota’s next opponent Nov. 18 at Soldier Field.
“I think in a lot of ways, this experience has exceeded my expectations,” Cousins said. “I’m thrilled about our locker room, the chemistry we have on this team, the quality of teammates, the quality of leadership we have in this organization. Certainly would have loved to be better than 5-3-1, but I’m grateful we’re not 3-5-1.”
Cousins also is grateful he has been able to mesh seamlessly with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who also is in his first year with the Vikings.
“I’m pleased with the way we offensively didn’t have a slow start with a new coordinator, new quarterback,” he said. “There was a concern of mine that could lead to a slow start, where we’d have to really rely on defense and special teams for the first half of the season. I feel like offensively we have been able to start fast, and I think that’s a good sign, and we just have to start from there.”
Cousins plans to use the bye to rest physically and mentally from the relentless grind of a season that started at training camp in late July. He also will take some time to self-scout his play, focusing on situational football such as third downs, red zone play and clock management.
“I’ve sat in a couple of quarterback meetings, and just sitting there listening to him talk, and being critical of himself and how he can improve,” Spielman said. “He’s always looking to try and get better. It’s pretty fascinating to sit there and listen to him sitting there breaking down game tape, and how important this is to him.”
The jury is still out for the next seven games.
Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com says the Cowboys’ problems start at the top.
Steady as she goes, Dallas Cowboys. Right into that iceberg.
When I hear team owner Jerry Jones speak nowadays, that’s the message I’m interpreting. Same as it was nearly one month ago, when coming out of a troubling loss to the Houston Texans, Jones called head coach Jason Garrett “absolutely the real deal” and “an asset that I think will get us to where we want to go.”
If that destination was sailing deep into mediocrity without a compass, congratulations. They’ve arrived. If it wasn’t, maybe it’s finally time for Jones to permanently surrender the map to someone else. It’s been 22 years of sideswiping icebergs. Perhaps it’s time to begin that transition to the Stephen Jones era, starting with his first firing. Surely Stephen knows where to find Garrett’s office.
The only “absolute real deal” now in Dallas is the specter of another lost season. Just like every other one since 1996. Make no mistake, that’s what is coming. Not only is Dallas sitting at 3-5, but it is heading into a suddenly gnarly five-game stretch in the schedule: facing the rejuvenated Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons on the road, then hosting the tougher-than-expected Washington Redskins, the NFC-leading New Orleans Saints and the Eagles again. Currently, all four of those teams are fighting tooth and nail for a playoff berth while simultaneously looking down at the Cowboys in the NFC playoff picture.
If you believe this unexceptional Cowboys offense has a chance to claw back into the postseason forecast after those five games, then you’re either the current owner of the franchise (Hi, Jerry!) or you’re blind to the content of Garrett’s previous 131 games — a span that has produced exactly one more playoff win than the Cleveland Browns since they returned to the NFL. How’s that for perspective? The Browns barely showed up for the last decade and rarely did anything right as an organization, yet in the grand view of history Cleveland is only one playoff win short of the Cowboys during Garrett’s tenure.
But here we have Jerry Jones, once again saying that now is not the time to change course. That things can still get better – if only everyone would just do their jobs a little better … starting with him. Well, here’s a novel thought: What if Jones is already doing the best job he can as a final decision-maker? And what if Garrett is already doing the best job he can as a one-playoff-win-in-131-games head coach? What if the Cowboys are just a mediocre team built by a mediocre shot-caller and guided by a mediocre head coach?
That’s what the totality of the ledger since 2010 suggests. And that’s also precisely what should spur the significant change in thinking that Troy Aikman seemed to suggest this week, when he took an unambiguous shot at Jones.
“Go through the list [of coaches] and this team – over a long period of time – has been what it’s been,” Aikman told 1310 The Ticket. “It hasn’t always mattered who the head coach has been. So to me, I’d say there has to be a complete overhaul of the entire organization. You just can’t simply replace head coaches and say, ‘Now it’s going to be better.’ No, it’s been shown that it’s not better. And you have to address how everything is being done. … [T]here’s been times where I’ve heard Jerry say, ‘OK, look, we’re going to do it differently. I’m going to do it differently.’ But it’s the same.”
The subtext of what Aikman said is that Jones is at the top and he’s a significant part of the dysfunction and cycle of missteps. Yes, there have been a litany of stories of how the Cowboys have become a more collaborative operation – including some of them written by me – between Jerry, Garrett, Stephen Jones and personnel director Will McClay. But even in that more collaborative world, there has truly been only one guy who keeps repeatedly subsidizing the failure. And that man is Jerry Jones, who keeps feeding opportunities into Garrett and is still no closer to his coveted Super Bowl payoff.
If you think that’s not true, well, Jones said as much Monday, when he reiterated to 105.3 The Fan that nobody should mistake who is making the final call on this parade of catastrophe.
“This business of how we operate, what we do, how the decisions are made with the Dallas Cowboys – anybody that thinks that it’s any different, that ultimately I’m not making the decision has to think twice,” Jones said. “I do make the ultimate decisions there.”
Since we have that settled, let’s start there. We hold Jimmy Haslam responsible for the duplicative chaos inside the Browns. We’ve raked the Ford family for the generational failures of the Detroit Lions. We’ve scorched the York family for some embarrassing trials and tribulations inside the San Francisco 49ers.
Why on earth should Jerry Jones get a pass for his role with the Cowboys? Maybe we should just be honest about his successes and failures. When he’s running the financial affairs of the Cowboys and NFL at large, he has been the Amazon.com of owners. But when he’s making head-coaching decisions, he has the track record of Blockbuster Video. Backing Garrett now – maintaining the status-quo – only ensures another season ending in bankruptcy.
DE BRUCE IRVIN, cut by the Raiders, is signed by Atlanta. He says he passed up more money with bigger brand teams to play in his hometown.
Bruce Irvin found a home quickly.
The Atlanta Falcons announced Wednesday morning they’ve agreed to terms with the Ex-Oakland Raiders pass rusher to a one-year deal.
Irvin was cut by the Raiders over the weekend. With $3.8 million left on his contract, the defensive lineman cleared waivers on Tuesday and was a free agent.
The #Falcons are paying pass-rusher Bruce Irvin $3.2M prorated on a 1-year deal, source said. He’ll make $1.5M over 8 games, indicative of how strong his market was. He double-dips from the #Raiders. OAK pays the $3.8M left ($8.25M total), add in ATL’s $1.5M = $9.75M for 2018.
The 31-year-old is very familiar with Falcons coach Dan Quinn from their time together in Seattle, where the latter was defensive coordinator before moving to Atlanta. In two seasons playing under Quinn, Irvin compiled 88 tackles, 8.5 sacks, five passes defended, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and scored twice.
Born in Atlanta, Irvin’s return home could be mutually beneficial.
“We know exactly how Bruce will fit into our team on the field, and just as importantly into our locker room,” Quinn said. “He will add to our rotation along the defensive line, while adding to our pass rush. He is familiar with our scheme and we are familiar with his strengths, so we are looking forward to getting him on the field as soon as possible.”
The Falcons need oomph on defense after being decimated by injury early in the season. Atlanta has long lacked consistent pressure from the edge.
Irvin can help provide that pressure after an eight-sack season a year ago. However, he’s struggled with his own consistency this season. Motivation also seemed an issue while playing for the wayward Raiders. He compiled just six tackles and three sacks before being cut.
He should be plenty motivated heading home to Atlanta to play for Quinn.
“This was a dream [come] true,” Irvin told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. “The Patriots and Steelers offered more money, but being able to play for my city and my people, you just can’t put a price on that.”
If true, eschewing a chance to play for a division leader to join for the 4-4 Falcons is an interesting decision for the aging Irvin. Atlanta, however, isn’t out of the playoff picture despite a 1-4 start to the season.
Matt Ryan’s offense has been potent this season, but injuries on defense have sapped that side of the ball. Adding Irvin is a shot in the arm, and potentially getting Deion Jones back from IR down the road would be another big boost.
Atlanta has winnable games against the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys the next two weeks before heading to New Orleans and hosting the Baltimore Ravens. A winning record over that stretch could put them in a loser-goes-home Week 14 matchup with the Green Bay Packers for an NFC Wild Card spot.
After the disastrous start to the season, most left the Falcons for dead. Quinn’s team has battled back to put itself in the Wild Card discussion.
Adding Irvin is another sign Atlanta’s season isn’t over yet.
The headline said the Panthers had a breakthrough by hiring a team therapist and we thought, everyone has a therapist. But we were thinking physical therapists. David Newton of ESPN.com:
In early August, Steve Smith revealed he had had bouts of depression while an active player with the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens. He talked about feeling “trapped, inferior and alone.”
Carolina’s all-time leading receiver spoke out after the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. Smith also referred to Brian Dawkins’ battle with depression and thoughts of suicide the Pro Bowl safety discussed in late July as he was about to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The prevalence of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in people in all walks of life — including the NFL — led the Panthers to hire therapist Tish Guerin. She is one of the first — and currently believed to be the only — active in-house psychological clinicians in the league.
While most teams have a licensed mental health practitioner available for players and staff members on a contract basis, Guerin, 35, has an office at Bank of America Stadium. She is readily available to any player or staff member seeking help.
Being onsite also helps her observe any potential changes in the mood or behavior of a player that could be an early warning sign. It’s a step, Carolina coach Ron Rivera said, toward stressing that the mental and emotional welfare of an athlete is just as important as the physical welfare.
Safety Eric Reid is among several Carolina players who said the hire is long overdue.
“It’s something that hasn’t been taken seriously long enough,” Reid said. “We’re dealing with professionals … we bang a lot. We have to lower our guard and know saying something’s wrong isn’t a bad thing. You might not have to say it [to] somebody on the team, but you need to talk to somebody…
“It’s the right thing to do, to [hire] somebody with the education and background to know what to do when somebody is going through something.”
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, applauds the Panthers “for being forward-thinking in this area.” He said the NFL and NFLPA are working jointly on a proposal for clubs that would make behavioral and mental health issues a priority.
“One of the things you face in mental and behavioral health that you don’t face in other medicines is the concept of stigma,” Sills said. “We would like to see mental and behavioral health just as normalized so everyone recognizes the important of these issues to your overall well-being.
“Having someone that is visible and the main fabric of the organization, it really sends a message from the organization about how much they value these issues and this care.”
Nyaka NiiLampti, the director of wellness for the NFLPA, reminded that NFL teams aren’t much different from the general population in which 20 to 25 percent deal with some sort of mental health issue. She said Carolina’s hiring of Guerin is a “game-changer.”
Guerin, whose official title is director of player wellness, hopes the Panthers start a trend.
“In terms of thinking about mental wellness and making sure our warriors we see on Sunday are talking to someone, have access to be able to get things off their chest and relieve that stress in a positive way and not a negative way, that’s imperative,” she said.
“This is something I would hope to see for all teams.”
Why has it taken so long?
Steve Beuerlein was the quarterback of the Panthers in 1999 when Rae Carruth became the first NFL player charged with and ultimately convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Beuerlein was reminded with the recent release of Carruth from prison of how much having a mental health doctor in-house could have helped back then.
“Obviously it’s a very unique profession to be a professional athlete,” Beuerlein said. “To be that young and have those kind of pressures and resources and everything else, it’s very unique.
“Definitely, we all would have benefited from having someone like that with every organization I was a part of. You might think you’re invincible and you don’t need it. But now that you’re older you see there is some value to it.”
That it has taken this long speaks to the stigma associated with mental health issues.
“My goal in coming here was to drop that stigma that if you talk to somebody that is a clinician or psycho-therapist or psychologist or psychiatrist that means you’re ‘crazy,'” Guerin said. “Sometimes you just need to speak to someone.
“It doesn’t mean something is deeply wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It just [can be], ‘I have an issue. Hey, what do you think?'”
Rivera compared the NFL’s hesitancy to become fully involved in mental health issues to the lack of understanding people had about soldiers returning from World War I and II with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Now what’s happening is people are starting to understand more and more about mental health,” Rivera said. “People like [Smith] speaking out and creating an awareness has been very important for the professional athlete.”
New Panthers owner David Tepper played a significant role in the hiring of Guerin. He offered no resistance when Rivera, general manager Marty Hurney and Mark Carrier, who was working in player development, approached him about hiring an in-house clinician.
“It’s going to bring awareness, not just to football but to all other sports,” said Rivera, who was part of the interview process. “There are a lot of people out there and a lot of us need help.”
Dr. Chris Carr, a performance psychologist contracted by the Green Bay Packers and Indiana Pacers, said he was one of five full-time members of a Division I college athletics department in his role when he finished his Ph.D. at Washington State University in the early 1990s.
“Now over 50 to 60 schools have sports psychology and mental health provided in-house for athletes, but it’s really been the last five years where the NCAA has made it a priority,” he said. “In some ways this is a transitional shift in the culture of sports where we realize these are real issues and you need to have really good, competent providers to take care of those athletes.”
The first thing Rivera did when introducing Guerin was reassure his team. He made it clear Guerin wouldn’t come to him whenever she suspected a problem.
“She’s a professional and I know she’ll handle it the right way,” Rivera said.
Although Guerin is an employee of the team, her job falls under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects the privacy of individual health information.
So unless Guerin sees something that would make her believe the player is threatening bodily harm, everything she is told remains confidential.
“There’s a firewall, if you will,” Guerin said. “So if a player comes to me and tells me something that is going on in their home or if they’re having depression or anxiety or any other clinical diagnosis … I wouldn’t go tell that to a coach.”
For the player, that is key.
“If she did tell, I don’t think she would be employed here that long,” running back Fozzy Whittaker said. “It’s safe to say she’s looking at the player’s best interest at heart. She’s here truly to help us.”
Rookie wide receiver DJ Moore said that’s important for the players to understand.
“She’s a good getaway from getting trapped in your own mind,” he said. “It lets you get out of your own head at the end of the day.”
The Saints aren’t resting on their 7-game winning streak. Perhaps having taken notice of what the Patriots are doing in molding troubled WR JOSH GORDON for short-term gain, New Orleans is turning to WR DEZ BRYANT. NFL.com:
Dez Bryant might be heading to New Orleans.
After working out for the Saints, the All-Pro wideout left without a contract but the team liked what they saw and the sides are in negotiations on a deal, sources told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Jane Slater.
He’s been close before, so nothing’s done until it’s done, but all signs are pointing that way, Pelissero added.
Saints coach Sean Payton on WR workouts yesterday, which included Dez Bryant: “We worked out some players like we do every week. We may or may not sign one.” Payton said it had nothing to do with how the current WRs are playing.
Bryant has been team-less since the ‘Boys released him in April. He has visited multiple teams, including the Cleveland Browns in August, but has yet to sign.
The Saints also worked out former Seattle Seahawks receiver Brandon Marshall and former Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken.
If signed by the Super Bowl-contending Saints, Bryant (30 years old) would join a receivers’ room led by Michael Thomas and populated by Tre’Quan Smith, Austin Carr and Cameron Meredith.
The Saints play the Cowboys in Arlington on Nov. 29 in prime time. Get your popcorn ready if this deal takes place.
The new coaching regime in Cleveland is looking to do more with RB DUKE JOHNSON. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
One of the most inexplicable aspects of the Cleveland Browns’ offense before the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley had been the usage of Duke Johnson.
The pass-catching running back, who signed a four-year, $16.3 million contract this offseason, was an afterthought through the first eight weeks. Prior to the firings, Johnson never touched the ball more than six times in a single game and earned two or fewer catches five times.
Despite playing relatively the same amount of snaps in Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Johnson burst out, generating 86 total yards on 10 touches (nine receptions) with two receiving scores.
Johnson’s usage under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens provides optimism the rest of the season.
“It was good to see that with Duke,” interim coach Gregg Williams said, via the team’s official website. “Just like what we have talked about with other people, I think he can do more and he will. He had a good fire about him, and he will continue to improve too. We need him to improve.”
Getting Johnson the ball out of the backfield can help stem the pass rush on Baker Mayfield behind a porous offensive line and force defenders to account for the shifty playmaker. Johnson’s ability to make defenders miss in space provides a much-needed asset to the Browns’ offense.
“I guess give the other team someone to look at and spy on. It just opens for everyone else,” Johnson said. “I think that Nick Chubb went out and ran the ball very well. It opened up play action. It opened up a lot for this team. That is just something that I try to go out and do.”
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com draws a connection between the passing of a Florida constitutional amendment on Tuesday (apparently designed to support the Seminole tribes strong role in casino gambling in the Sunshine State) and the state of the Jaguars.
As the saying goes, elections have consequences. Both obvious and otherwise.
Of the three NFL franchises located in Florida, the Dolphins opted to take a public and vocal position regarding a constitutional amendment that requires any expansion of gambling (specifically sports wagering) to be approved by a 60-percent vote. The outcome may be far more relevant to another team headquartered in the state.
The Jaguars have been the subject of extensive speculation regarding a potential move to London, for various reasons. First, they play there every year. Second, owner Shad Khan has tried to buy Wembley Stadium. Third, the Jaguars make more money for each game they play in London.
The passage of the new amendment that, as a practical matter, will make it much harder to adopt sports wagering (and in turn create revenue streams like in-game prop bets) could make a relocation to London even more attractive to Khan.
As PFT recently reported, there’s a belief that ownership would support an effort by Khan to take his team to London, if he decides to do it. The pre-emptive death blow to sports betting in Florida could be one of the various factors that prompts Khan to make a decision that, given the dollars (or pounds) involved, would be an easy one, from a business standpoint.
The DB can remember a time when the NFL was fanatically opposed to any “gambling” on its product, even private fantasy leagues and weekly pick ‘em pools.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets may not be going with struggling rookie QB SAM DARNOLD this week. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Jets quarterback Sam Darnold might not be breaking any records in the near future.
The Jets announced that their rookie quarterback was in street clothes as practice started Wednesday, and that he was wearing a walking boot on his right foot.
Darnold came up limping after a sack last week, though there have been no details about his condition.
If he’s unable to bounce back, the Jets have Josh McCown in reserve, but they’re only carrying two quarterbacks on the active roster.
They have Davis Webb on the practice squad to help make up the practice reps.
Scott Kachsmar sends out this Tweet:
So all the QBs in the AFC East have been injured except the old one.
THIS AND THAT
ESPN’s correspondents have these thoughts on their respective teams:
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs’ only loss was on the road against the two-time defending AFC champion Patriots by a walk-off field goal. Otherwise, in their seven victories, the Chiefs have had leads of 19, 21, 28, 7, 23, 35 and 16 points, though their inability to always finish efficiently has forced them to sweat the end of some of those games.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are one of three one-loss teams in the NFL. Jared Goff has ascended the quarterback rankings and Todd Gurley is on pace to repeat as the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.
New Orleans Saints
Is there a more battle-tested team in the NFL? New Orleans has won seven straight games in a variety of ways. Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas have been two of the NFL’s best playmakers, and the offensive line is among the game’s best.
Quarterback Cam Newton adjusted smoothly to new coordinator Norv Turner’s offense and had the best first eight games of his career with 15 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. The defense is starting to play at a top-10 level, maybe top five.
Chicago’s offense has been reborn under coach Matt Nagy. The acquisition of all-world pass-rusher Khalil Mack from the Raiders prior to Week 1 by Bears general manager Ryan Pace also has helped. The Bears just wrapped up their most enjoyable first half of the season since Lovie Smith’s final year in 2012.
The Bengals’ record is certainly better at this point than it has been the past two seasons, and the offense has made a marked improvement from 2017. But the defense has given up at least 480 yards in each of the past three games. That’s a big problem.
Houston dug itself into a hole with an 0-3 start, quickly falling into last place in the AFC South. But thanks to an improved offense and a much easier schedule, the Texans have gone from worst to first.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have won five straight. Creating explosive plays on offense and figuring out how to generate pressure without the services of their best pass-rusher, Joey Bosa, have been the keys to their success during this stretch.
This season has stayed true to the Steelers’ identity, mixing brilliant moments with curious lapses. A four-game winning streak quelled concerns after a 1-2-1 start. The offensive line was tremendous in October, helping James Conner post three straight 100-yard rushing games while Ben Roethlisberger took one sack.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been quick to point out that stats, no matter how good they look on paper, don’t tell the whole story. Minnesota ranked top 10 in both total offense and defense during the first half of the season but experienced ups and downs along the way. Read more.
New England Patriots
After a 1-2 start, the Patriots have won six in a row and are well-positioned to make their annual charge at what they hope will be a deep run into January. It was almost like watching two different teams between the first three games and the past six.
The Seahawks have been a different team since their 0-2 start, winning four of the past six with one of the two losses during that stretch coming by two points to the then-unbeaten Rams. They’ve done it by playing Pete Carroll football — running the ball, taking care of it on offense and taking it away on defense.
In all fairness, the Falcons’ first half could be viewed as “incomplete” based on how injuries set them back. Six starters were placed on injured reserve, including Pro Bowlers Devonta Freeman, Keanu Neal and Deion Jones..
It’s all about finishing for the third straight year. Just like 2016 and 2017, the Ravens started off strong this season, only to falter into mediocrity by midseason. Baltimore has failed to make the postseason because of its inability to win critical games at the end of the season.
Andrew Luck silenced any doubts about his surgically repaired right shoulder when he attempted 121 passes in a four-day span over Weeks 3 and 4. Frank Reich has made most people forget about the debacle of the Josh McDaniels coaching situation with an aggressive style.
It started well, with a 3-0 record behind a ball-hawking defense and an efficient Ryan Tannehill. A blowout loss at New England, followed by a collapse in Cincinnati, took the wind out of their sails, and then Tannehill was injured.
If 2017 was like gliding on ice, the first half of this season was more like trudging through mud. The offense, which welcomed back quarterback Carson Wentz from offseason knee surgery in Week 3, has exceeded the 24-point mark once after doing it a league-high 12 times last season on the way to Super Bowl title.
Despite suffering nerve damage in his throwing hand, quarterback Marcus Mariota showed glimpses of how well he can play in coordinator Matt LaFleur’s offense. Losing tight end Delanie Walker was a major blow to the passing game, but the Titans are still in contention thanks to the defense.
The Redskins figured out with a strong defense, running game and fewer turnovers, you can control games and win. They have a top-10 rusher in Adrian Peterson and a top-five defense, but a rash of injuries, especially on the offensive line, threatens their second-half outlook.
The Cowboys finished 8-8 in Jason Garrett’s first three seasons from 2011 to 2013 and look as if they are heading down that path once again. That is, unless Amari Cooper can make an immediate impact.
The Broncos’ decisions during free agency haven’t panned out, including the biggest addition: quarterback Case Keenum. He has not come close to playing like he did in leading the the Vikings to the NFC title game in 2017.
Detroit rebounded from the season-opening blowout loss to the Jets to beat the Patriots and Packers. A running game led by Kerryon Johnson has been a surprise. Detroit’s defense has struggled and the special teams have been worse than expected. Overall, things are a little worse than anticipated.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers banged up his knee and expressed his unhappiness with the offense, all while the defense took longer than expected to adapt to new coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme. Had they been able to hold on and knock off the Rams or upset the Patriots this past week, the perspective at this point might be much different.
Injuries have decimated the offense, quarterback Blake Bortles has struggled, the offense line hasn’t played well even when healthy and there are no consistent outside playmakers. Despite all that, the Jaguars are still alive in a jumbled AFC South, and the season is not lost.
New York Jets
The Jets have been impressive at times, scoring at least 34 points in each of their three wins. Other times, it has been ugly, as they failed to crack 17 points in any of their six losses. Such is life with a rookie quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quarterback Jameis Winston, who sat out the first three games because of suspension, struggled in his return, throwing eight interceptions in three starts. It prompted coach Dirk Koetter to go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick, creating a whirlwind of speculation about Winston’s future, a future that is tied in with that of Koetter and general manager Jason Licht.
Bring on 2019
In short, Steve Wilks’ first season as a head coach has not started well and likely won’t get any better with Arizona’s schedule getting tougher. The Cardinals need to keep Josh Rosen healthy to help his progression as the quarterback of the future.
Josh Allen was forced into action before he was ready, and aside from a shocking, upset win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Bills have generally been in a tailspin all season. Health at the quarterback position, which has been put at risk because of the offensive line, is hampering development of other players and stunting the progress of Sean McDermott’s rebuild.
For the fifth time since 2010, the Browns need a head coach. The most important move they make will be to find a coach who can last, who can win, and who can develop a young quarterback in Baker Mayfield.
New York Giants
The Giants’ offense has been worse than even the wildest expectations. They can’t score points in a league when points are being scored at a record pace. The Giants have failed to top 20 points in five of eight games even with weapons such as Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard.
The Raiders are in deconstruction mode after attempting to put together a competitive roster of older veterans and untested newbies in the offseason. They’ve traded away edge-rusher Khalil Mack and wider receiver Amari Cooper as they look to the future.
San Francisco 49ers
The hope for a quick turnaround and shot at playoff contention evaporated the moment quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3. What’s left behind is a roster full of holes and lacking in big-time playmakers capable of finishing out close games with wins.
Two recent former players have joined the likes of Steve Largent, Heath Shuler and Jon Runyan in going to Washington.
Two former NFL players won seats in the House of Representatives.
Ex-Indianapolis Colts receiver Anthony Gonzalez earned a seat to represent the 16th district of Ohio. The Republican candidate defeated his Democratic challenger Susan Moran Palmer by winning more than 56 percent of the vote.
The former Ohio State Buckeye was a first-round pick of the Colts in 2007 (No. 32 overall), playing five seasons and generating 1,307 receiving yards on 99 catches in Indy. Injuries relegated Gonzalez to just 11 games and five catches in his final three NFL seasons.
In Texas, former Tennessee Titans linebacker Colin Allred, a Democrat, defeated 11-term incumbent Republican Pete Sessions in the 32nd congressional district. Allred won more than 52 percent of the vote.
Allred went undrafted in 2006 but played in four seasons for the Titans from 2007-2010. The linebacker earned 46 tackles in 32 career games, including two starts in 2009.
In local elections, three ex-NFL players took home victories.
Former linebacker Napoleon Harris, a Democrat, won a seat in the Illinois State Senate running unopposed. The Ex-Raiders, Vikings and Chiefs LB had 481 tackles in his 8-year NFL career.
Clint Didier, a Republican, won the Franklin County, Washington, Commissioner’s race. The former Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers tight end earned 141 career catches for 1,923 yards in an 8-year career from 1982-1989.
Former Packers and Giants safety Aaron Rouse earned a seat on the Virginia Beach city council. Rouse played in three NFL seasons earning 142 tackles in 41 career games, including 18 starts.
For what it’s worth, Jenna Gonzalez, the mother of Anthony Gonzalez was a close friend of the DB’s sister when the two went to high school together at Seton H.S. in Cincinnati. His father, Eddie, went from Elder H.S. to Michigan and now owns a metals company in Cleveland. Here is some stuff on Anthony from his days at The Ohio State University:
Gonzalez takes one phone call on game day. Every game day.
It comes from his grandmother, 84-year-old Lourdes Gonzalez, who lives in Miami. She gives Anthony a blessing in both Spanish and English.
Gonzalez’s grandparents wed in Cuba in the 1940s and honeymooned in America, touring the country. They ran out of money in Cincinnati and briefly settled there. They returned to Ohio in 1961 after fleeing Fidel Castro’s oppressive regime.
Gonzalez’s father, Eduardo, thrived on the football field and earned a scholarship to Michigan as a reserve tailback. But sports were not the emphasis in the Gonzalez home.
“My grandfather was real big on education,” says Gonzalez, one of four children. “He came home from work one day and had a giant map of the world. He threw it on our wall and every time he came over, he’d come back with new countries or landmarks for us to remember.”
Gonzalez knew he wanted to become a lawyer, like his grandfather, before settling on a major at Ohio State. His grandfather’s advice: Study English or philosophy. Nietzsche won out.
Gonzalez, a redshirt junior who is to graduate in the spring, has gotten straight A’s in four of his last five semesters. His lone blemish was a B-plus in a business management class.