The Daily Briefing Friday, November 17, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

We have a lot of “Jerry vs. Roger” stuff below and it includes two newsy reports from ESPN.com.  Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen and Todd Archer have details on Roger Goodell’s huge contract demands ($49 million per, not $50, but we think Joe Lockhart’s “nonsense” description of last Sunday’s first story counts as disingenuous at best).  And Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham with more fly-on-the wall reporting including Jones’ fury over the extraordinarily lengthy EZEKIEL ELLIOTT investigation and his belief The Commish lied to him.  Also, Van Natta and Wickersham have an inside look at the NFL Office where they contend a massive layer of executives are being paid extraordinary sums to be dysfunctional.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

In the aftermath of a six-sack game, DE ADRIAN CLAYBORN reveals he thought he was at the end of the line earlier this year.  Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com:

 

Adrian Clayborn’s incredible six-sack performance in the Atlanta Falcons’ win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday only happened because his wife talked him out of retiring before the start of the season.

 

Clayborn told reporters Thursday he was seriously contemplating retirement before the start of the season, saying he was “tired of being hurt.”

 

“I gave it thought for about a month,” Clayborn said, per ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. “I shared it with my wife. I told Gerald [McCoy]. I told my agent, Blake [Baratz]. My wife talked me out of it.”

 

Clayborn, 29, was convinced his best years were behind him after sustaining ACL and MCL tears and tearing both biceps over the course of his career. He didn’t count on being healthy again.

 

His performance against the Cowboys activated a $750,000 incentive in his contract and has sparked his interest in potential future payouts. With eight sacks on the season, the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week could receive a $1.25 million bonus if he hits 10 sacks.

 

“You strive for that 10 sacks, not six or eight,” Clayborn said. “Getting that 10 means way more than getting the money to me because then you go in the books as a defensive end in the National Football League that had a 10-sack season. [Ten sacks] has always been my goal. I was never healthy enough to get to it.”

 

Thanks to a particularly dreadful performance by Chaz Green and the Cowboys’ offensive line, Clayborn’s career seems to have been reborn.

 

In 73 NFL games prior to Sunday, Clayborn had 22.5 sacks.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Can the 3-6 Buccaneers put together a win streak?  The quarterback of the moment, veteran RYAN FITZPATRICK, thinks so.  Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times:

 

Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will try to make it two wins in a row against AFC East teams when he faces the Miami Dolphins Sunday.

 

Fitzpatrick says he didn’t play as well as he can in a 15-10 win over the New York Jets last Sunday. But with receiver Mike Evans returning from a one-game suspension – and all the other talent on offense – he believes the Bucs (3-6) can begin to stack up a few wins.

 

“This league is kind of about getting on runs and unfortunately we went through a bad run for a little bit there,” Fitzpatrick said after helping the Bucs snap a five-game losing streak. “But if we can just continue to stack up some of these wins, you never know what’s going to happen. I know, I’m 100 percent positive, the belief in that locker room is that we can do it. We can continue to go out there and we’re talented enough to win these games. It’s not like we’re going into these games and we don’t have a shot at it. We’ve got some really good players here. It’s just a matter of me distributing the ball and getting them going and I think that confidence can turn into more wins.”

 

What gives Fitzpatrick confidence he can help the Bucs out of the hole they have dug for themselves? For starters, he expects to be better after shaking off the rustiness against the Jets last week.

 

Fitzpatrick completed 18 of 36 passes for 187 yards with a touchdown and interception vs. the Jets but says he could’ve played better.

 

“I think I left a lot out there just in terms of I think I could’ve made some better decisions, maybe some quicker decisions on some of the stuff that we had,” Fitzpatrick said. “I came away from watching that game obviously happy and excited that we won but kind of excited about the prospects of getting another shot at it and hopefully doing a better job. Because there was some plays out there that I could’ve made that would’ve made us a lot more effective.”

 

A year ago, the Dolphins began the season 1-4 under first-year coach Adam Gase but got hot and won seven straight games and nine of their last 10 to finish 10-6 and earn a wildcard playoff spot. Gase said it’s not that difficult to change momentum during the season.

 

“It’s really not that hard because if guys just focus on one week at a time, it swings so fast,” Gase said. “You know, you put one good game together, it’s really easy to kind of carry that over. The confidence can really pop for you just from one week to the next.”

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

WR LARRY FITZGERALD is close to re-upping for another season with the Cardinals.  Kent Somers in the Arizona Republic:

 

The Cardinals and receiver Larry Fitzgerald are close to reaching an agreement that would keep him in Arizona should Fitzgerald decide to play in 2018, NFL sources confirmed.

 

The news was first reported by profootballtalk.com. Fitzgerald, at Thursday night’s Suns-Rockets game, declined comment.

 

The new contract doesn’t necessarily mean Fitzgerald has decided to play in 2018. It does mean, however, that should he return for a 15th season, it will be as a Cardinal.

 

Last summer, Fitzgerald said he was taking his career year-by-year now, and he has declined to answer retirement questions this season.

 

Technically, Fitzgerald’s current contract runs through 2018. But that year automatically voids, a mechanism teams use to lower a player’s cap number if previous season.

 

Last week, Fitzgerald, 34, became the second youngest player to surpass the 15,000-yard receiving mark in his career. Jerry Rice did it at age 33.

 

Fitzgerald led the NFL in receptions a year ago and is tied for second this year with 60, one behind Jarvis Landry of the Dolphins. He is on pace to finish the season with more than 1,000 yards.

 

Fitzgerald is third all-time in receptions with 1,185, sixth in yardage with 15,066 and eighth in touchdowns receptions with 107.

 

The phrase “second-youngest player to surpass the 15,000-yard receiving mark” caught the DB’s attention.

 

For the record, Fitzgerald is the 6th player to reach 15,000.  Of the other five, only Rice at 22,895 got to 16,000.  So with another year, Fitz is likely to surpass Terrell Owens at 15,934 and slot into 2nd behind Rice. 

 

At 1,185, Fitzgerald is 140 behind Tony Gonzalez whose 1,325 is 2nd to Rice’s 1,549.  That too seems doable for Fitz by the end of 2018.

 

 

SEATTLE

Peter Prisco, who admittedly isn’t doing too well with his picks this year, like the Falcons chances to defeat the Seahawks:

 

Falcons +2.5 at Seahawks

Without Richard Sherman, the Seahawks have issues on defense, and he is the one guy who could match up with Falcons receiver Julio Jones if need be. The Saints have now lost their best edge rusher in Cliff Avril and best corner in Sherman. That’s hard to overcome, even at home, against an offense that seemed to get it going last week. Falcons take it in an upset.

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

At the moment, the best guess seems to be that PHILIP RIVERS will play Sunday despite some self-reported concussion symptoms.  Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com:

 

It appears the ironman of the Los Angeles Chargers will be playing Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

 

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Thursday he believes quarterback Philip Rivers will be out of the league’s concussion protocol before Sunday and eligible to play.

 

“We think he’ll play, but that’s up to the doctors,” Lynn said, per ESPN. “That’s not my decision.”

 

The veteran quarterback must be cleared by an independent neurologist before he’s allowed to play again.

 

Rivers was placed into concussion protocol Monday following the Chargers’ overtime loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s unclear on which play Rivers sustained the concussion, but he was listed as a full participant in practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday.

 

Rivers, 35, hasn’t missed a game since taking over the Chargers’ starting role from Drew Brees in 2006. He has started 185 consecutive games, the second-best active streak behind draft mate Eli Manning (208) and the fourth-best all-time.

 

If he can’t go, backup Kellen Clemens is set to get the start with former Bills signal-caller Cardale Jones also on the roster.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Chargers were encouraged by the progress Rivers had made under protocol and there was optimism he would play Sunday. For a 3-6 team on the edge of falling into the abyss of another failed playoff bid, having Rivers under center could be vital for preserving the Chargers’ postseason hopes.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

As the Queen City seeks an MLS franchise, as nearby Columbus is on the brink of losing one, the question of a possible Bengals re-location arises at a meeting of the Hamilton County Commissioners.

 

During yesterday’s Hamilton County Commissioners’ announcement regarding FC Cincinnati’s stadium situation, Commissioner Todd Portune mentioned the possibility of the Cincinnati Bengals moving to a different location.  This from Paul Dehner, Jr. in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

 

Here are the answers to the most pertinent questions regarding NFL relocation and the Bengals.

 

1. What did Portune actually say?

“What we don’t want to have, and I want to emphasize this for the people of Hamilton County, I’ve been approached as I know other members of the board have recently by people posing this question: they’ve said you’ve got to build, work with FC Cincinnati to build a new stadium, because the future of the Cincinnati Bengals staying in Hamilton County is very uncertain.  People have said we’ve got to go this route, because the Bengals might leave. Well, first of all, the Bengals haven’t told us they’re going to leave. We’re going to work very hard to make sure the Bengals stay in Cincinnati and continue to play at Paul Brown Stadium. In the event those naysayers, those downward looking individuals in terms of our future, that what they’re saying comes to pass, we cannot have, we should not have, a stadium on the riverfront, 65,000 seats, a half a billion dollars in cost, sitting empty without a tenant playing at that facility. When considering this issue, we as the public stewards of assets and resources, have to think of the short and long-term consequences of our decisions, and that’s a very serious and significant long term consequence that we work very hard to avoid, that we have a stadium without a tenant in the future.”

 

2. How does relocation work in the NFL?

Even in situations where a franchise moved, the league has always been involved with the original city attempting to fix what is almost always a stadium issue. Once the league feels they are at an impasse, any team must apply for relocation through the league and have the plan agreed upon by 75 percent of owners. Votes are taken at one of the regular league meetings and if 24 of the 32 owners approve, the move sets in motion immediately. Franchises that relocate, must pay a relocation fee. For example, the Chargers and Rams each paid approximately $645 million for their moves, according to reports.

 

3. How would the Bengals be able to leave?

The Bengals lease comes to an end in 2026. At that point, they would not have any contractual obligations to the county and Paul Brown Stadium. If another city showed interest or the team wanted to look at other options they would be free to explore those. However, once the original 30-year lease expires, a series of five rolling two-year extensions can be exercised by the club which could extend the lease to 2036.

 

4. What has Mike Brown said about relocation?

When asked by The Enquirer in March at the NFL owners’ meetings about the lease running out in 2026 and the future of the team, Brown offered this:

 

“Our situation is akin to the teams that were in the stadium development game at the same time we were: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Baltimore, every team in our division, to name a few. I don’t think they are all going to move. I hope none of them move. We want to stay in Cincinnati. We have done everything we can figure out to make that possible. The future is never altogether clear, but I don’t know what more we could have done to make it possible to stay rooted. We want to stay rooted in Cincinnati.”

 

5. Why would the Bengals leave?

Market size. The club sees the small markets of the NFL being pushed out by larger markets as they watch the differential in revenue collected by both sides of the spectrum growing. Brown admitted there’s no certainty in Cincinnati in the long range due to the dwindling market size. When the Bengals moved to Cincinnati, the city ranked in the mid-teens of market size. They have since dropped to 36th. Brown has not hidden from the fact at current trends, market revenue issues could push them out of Cincinnati eventually.

 

“When money becomes the determining factor at some point we won’t be able to maintain ourselves,” Brown said this year. “I don’t know that you’ll be able to maintain an NFL team in Cincinnati at some point. We fight within the league on a constant basis to try to avoid that predicament.”

 

6. Which teams have relocated?

A string of three relocations transpired in the last few years. The first saw St. Louis lose their team as billionaire owner Stan Kroenke took the team back to Los Angeles with a promise to build a billion-dollar, state-of-the-art stadium. This past year the San Diego Chargers followed Kroenke to Los Angeles. The Chargers couldn’t come to terms on a stadium fix in San Diego, so they currently play at the home of the Los Angeles Galaxy MLS team while waiting to share Kroenke’s mansion. In March, the NFL voted to allow the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas. Oakland also couldn’t come to terms on a new stadium, so they bolted for Sin City and $750 million in public money to house Mark Davis’ franchise.

 

7. Has the NFL hinted at any future relocations?

This flurry took the steam out of relocation chatter since the gap in the Los Angeles market filled. Always hovering will be the concept of London expansion. The NFL at one point set a goal of a team playing in London by 2022. The slate of games played in England in the International Series has grown to four this season, plus a fifth International game coming this weekend in Mexico City, Mexico. The logistics are a tough sell to the rest of the league, but the league keeps international expansion near the top of its priority list.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Browns coach Hue Jackson likes the new WR JOSH GORDON.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Browns receiver Josh Gordon‘s conditional reinstatement has allowed him to be in the facility for the last couple of weeks, but he hasn’t been allowed to practice. That will change on Monday, and coach Hue Jackson says he’s excited to get Gordon on the practice field.

 

“He’s doing well,” Jackson said of Gordon. “He’s here in the building every day, on time for everything, involved and big smile on his face. He’s a pleasure to be around.”

 

Gordon will practice the next two weeks and then be eligible to play for the first time on Sunday, December 3, when the Browns play the Chargers. From all indications, the Browns expect him to be ready to go.

 

It remains to be seen whether Gordon will be ready to be the kind of player he once was: He was one of the best players in the NFL in 2013, but he started the 2014 season with a 10-game suspension, didn’t play as well when he finally got on the field, and hasn’t played at all since 2014. If he can get back to 2013 form, the Browns have just added one of the best players in the NFL. But that’s a big “if.” Three years is a long time away.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The Texans are starting to realize that QB TOM SAVAGE is not the answer.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

For a guy they felt confident enough in this offseason to keep Deshaun Watson on the bench, the Texans are ready to see something from Tom Savage.

 

The opening week starter — who was quickly benched and only got the job back because of Watson’s season-ending injury — has been pretty bad since reclaiming the job.

 

Texans offensive coordinator Sean Ryan mentioned a relative lack of experience as an issue, but head coach Bill O’Brien is ready to see some results.

 

“Yeah, he doesn’t have a ton of experience, but it’s time,” O’Brien said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “It’s time. It’s time to get going.”

 

Savage is in his fourth season, but has started just five games. He’s lost all three of this seasons, and he’s completing less than half his passes (47.3 percent) and has a 62.2 passer rating. He turned the ball over four times in last week’s loss to the Rams.

 

“The quarterback’s judged on two things: how many times he gets his team in the end zone and wins,” O’Brien said. “That’s basically how it’s judged.”

 

Savage might get more latitude and time, since the Texans aren’t flush with other options. Backup T.J. Yates and Josh Johnson aren’t buttons the team wants to push, but they might have to if things don’t improve.

 

Especially since they’ve shown no inclination to sign that other guy.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Apparently CB JALEN RAMSEY studied vocabulary and elucidation at Florida State.  Robert Mays of The Ringer with an enormously long story you can read in its entirety here.  Excerpts:

 

 

t took only a couple of possessions for Jalen Ramsey to realize that he had won. As he tussled and jawed with Bengals superstar A.J. Green early in their Week 9 showdown, the Jaguars’ young corner didn’t expect much pushback. Over an illustrious seven-year career, Green has been known for two trademarks: 1,000-yard seasons and stoicism. That’s why Ramsey was shocked midway through the first quarter when the receiver responded to one of his barbs. “I kind of got him to play my game,” Ramsey says. “I was surprised, but at the same time, instantly in my head it was like, Boom, got him. He’s out.”

 

With 10 seconds remaining in the first half, Ramsey shoved Green at the end of a 1-yard run. Green sprang to his feet, made his way behind Ramsey, and wrapped both arms around the cornerback’s neck before slamming him to the turf. A pair of right crosses to the head followed. Both players were ejected. Ramsey remembers feeling shocked by the ruling. “I successfully did my job, taking him out of the game completely,” Ramsey says. “Even on a whole ’nother level, [I] literally [took] him out of the game.”

 

The scuffle was the latest — and most widely publicized — dustup for the fifth-overall pick of the 2016 draft. During his rookie campaign, Ramsey clashed with legendary receiver Steve Smith after a Week 3 loss to the Ravens. A month later, Ramsey was ejected from a game against the Raiders after taking part in a special teams kerfuffle with wideout Johnny Holton. And this spring, he took a shot at Texans star DeAndre Hopkins through a photo posted to Instagram. Two years into his career, the 23-year-old has already earned a reputation for pushing opponents to the edge, even those whom he privately admires. In the days leading up to Jacksonville’s matchup with Cincinnati, Ramsey told his father that he was looking forward to facing a receiver with Green’s résumé. “There’s a respect factor there,” Lamont Ramsey says, “but when you’re on the field, I taught him that you put your pads on just like he does. Don’t be in awe of anybody.”

 

After slinking into the locker room and taking a quick shower following his ejection in the Bengals game, Ramsey made the five-minute drive from EverBank Field to his Jacksonville home. He flipped on the TV but avoided watching the final minutes of the Jaguars’ 23–7 win. His father, girlfriend, and agent arrived shortly thereafter. The group went to a nearby Ruth’s Chris Steak House with fellow cornerback Aaron Colvin and his fiancée and largely avoided talking about the game. “I was hot,” Ramsey says. “I was just pissed, thinking in my head, ‘Man, if I knew I was gonna get kicked out, I would have beat his ass.’”

– – –

Ramsey’s trash-talk training may have started early, but he says it took more than a decade before he believed his own boasts. It wasn’t until his sophomore year at Florida State that he started to accept that he was the athlete and player he’d talked himself up to be. Even as he ascended to the top of recruiting lists, he watched his childhood friend, Corn Elder, win Tennessee’s Mr. Football award among Division II, Class AA backs in each of their final two high school seasons. “I always had doubts in my mind like, ‘Damn, maybe Corn is better than me,’” Ramsey says. “Maybe it’s just easy for me here.”

 

When Ramsey sealed the Seminoles’ 30–26 win at Miami in 2014 with a late interception — capping a performance in which he helped defeat Elder’s college team by deflecting four passes and forcing a fumble — those doubts finally faded for good. “I started believing, ‘All right, I’m that dude,’” Ramsey says. “‘I am who God wants me to be. I am who everybody thinks I am.’”

 

It was around that same time when Ramsey’s shit talking turned from a hobby into a full-blown obsession. Every week, he’d scour the internet, trying to learn everything that he could about the receivers he’d face the following Saturday. He dug through Wikipedia entries, Facebook pages, and Twitter timelines, searching for any tiny detail he could use to crawl under an opponent’s skin. “I would tell [a wideout] about his girlfriend, I would tell him about his mom. I would go personal, personal, personal,” Ramsey says. “I’d go as far as I needed to go to get him out of his game.”

 

He says that when he got to the NFL in 2016, that kind of studying stopped. Girlfriends had become wives. Photos of players’ children filled Instagram. Ramsey’s digs are simpler now — you’re trash; you won’t catch a pass; that was weak — but what makes them so effective is that they never stop. “I’m like a gnat,” Ramsey says. “I’m going to say something every single play. Literally every single play.”

 

Gnats thrive in humidity, and Jags teammate Allen Robinson says that Ramsey is most insufferable on those hot July days in training camp. Ramsey missed the early part of camp this year while recovering from abdominal surgery, but that didn’t prevent him from yapping on the sideline during entire practices. By his third day of listening to Ramsey’s incessant chatter, Robinson was fed up. “He was constantly chirping, nonstop, nonstop, nonstop,” Robinson says. “And for me, I’d kinda had it at that point.”

 

As the two talked afterward, tensions lessened. And Ramsey revealed the same motivations he and Robinson had discussed in the past. “Once you talk about it later, it’s like, ‘I’m going to let you know straight up, A-Rob, you will not play a corner like me,” Ramsey says. “If you can take what I do to you during practice, I can promise you’re going to be the best receiver in this league.”

 

Ramsey’s favorite NFL battles to date have come against DeAndre Hopkins. Ramsey adores matching up with physical receivers, and his three career games against the Texans have won Hopkins his unceasing respect. After their first matchup in 2016, Ramsey knew that he had to elevate his trash talk. So, rather than wait for their Week 15 game, he spent the days leading up to it dropping nuggets to reporters that he knew Hopkins would read on social media. “After one of his catches, [Hopkins] got up and said, ‘Don’t ever disrespect me again, saying that Amari Cooper is the best receiver you’ve played,’” Ramsey says. Matching wits with the best, Ramsey now understands his manipulation needs to involve the entire chessboard. He’s like Littlefinger — with a 42-inch vertical leap.

 

No one is spared from Ramsey’s web, even the people he cares about most. During team walkthroughs last season, he would knock down any pass thrown his way, much to the chagrin of then-Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley. “He would tell me to stop, and I would say, ‘No, I won’t stop,’” Ramsey says. “I’m not going to even get in the habit of letting somebody catch it. It was just a mind-set thing. It got to the point at the end of the year when Blake [Bortles] would just throw it the other way.”

– – –

True to form, Ramsey is quick to remind everyone that his time is coming — and soon. “I’m telling [A.J.], ‘Eventually, I won’t be saying this,’” Ramsey says. “I’m going to be letting people know that I am the best in the country.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

JERRY vs. ROGER

In today’s episode of As The League Turns, Jerry Jones, leader of and only known member of The Rebel Alliance asks for a meeting of all owners to discuss the mega-money extension for Emperor, er Commissioner, Goodell.  The Compensation Committee, presumably at the behest of Goodell, but also fueled with their own pride, says no and continues to threaten Jones with the Ultimate Sanction of having his team taken away from him.

 

But now there will be an owner’s only session as part of the December 13th winter meeting.  And presumably no Goodell Extension signed before then in the dark of night.

 

In addition, ESPN has the details of Goodell’s demands in which he may not have insisted on $50 million, but $49.05 mil is in the ballpark.

 

Here is the story at ESPN.com with Todd Archer pitching in with scoop-mongers Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen:

 

When the NFL convenes for its Dec. 13 meeting in Irving, Texas, there will be an owners-only session that will deal with the impending extension for commissioner Roger Goodell, sources said Thursday.

 

The session was scheduled after Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones requested a special meeting in front of the full ownership group on Nov. 28 in New York. The Wall Street Journal first reported Jones’ request. The request was denied, but owners will make time for a session in conjunction with the meeting in Irving, sources said.

 

Jones and the NFL have gone back and forth about the extension talks that have had both sides threatening legal action. He has said he has issues with compensation in the Goodell deal, along with concerns about the escalation of player protests involving the national anthem and how the league has handled them, and he has denied that his objections are tied to Goodell’s decision to suspend Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games over alleged domestic violence.

 

On Wednesday, The Associated Press obtained a letter sent to Jones from the compensation committee that accused him of “conduct detrimental to the league’s best interest.”

 

Jones set the table for the special session when, on Wednesday, he distributed the original contract negotiation document with all 32 teams. He acted on his own after his request of the committee to share the information was rejected Tuesday, sources told ESPN.

 

Jerry Jones sent a letter to ownership suggesting a Nov. 28 meeting to discuss the negotiations over Roger Goodell’s contract extension negotiations, but league owners currently don’t plan to act on the request, a source told ESPN.

 

The document, which the NFL has characterized as outdated, shows the compensation committee on July 25 first proposed a five-year extension for Goodell that included a pay cut of roughly $2.5 million in his average compensation package of $42 million over the past five years.

 

Goodell’s lawyer countered in early August with a request for an annual package of salary and bonuses totaling $49.05 million, almost $10 million more than the $39.5 million in salary and bonuses that was proposed by the compensation committee. The request drew the lines for the ongoing negotiations that have been unexpectedly contentious and thus far without an agreement, according to a 26-page analysis of the proposals by the committee’s legal and accounting advisers on Aug. 16 and obtained by ESPN.

 

There have been no additional formal written offers made by either side, sources told ESPN, but the two sides have had numerous discussions in an attempt to complete negotiations on a contract extension for Goodell that would run through March 2023.

 

Prior to this document being obtained by ESPN, it was believed Goodell currently makes about $30 million per year. An NFL owner told ESPN earlier this week that there are “several owners in this league who don’t make $40 million a year.”

 

Some owners have said the new pay package being sought by Goodell is “unseemly” and “offensive.” Goodell’s base salary is $3.5 million — and would remain the same under the new contract — but with bonuses from performance incentives, his total compensation package far exceeds the annual salary of the NFL’s highest-paid player.

 

According to the document, one of the negotiations’ sticking points is the amount of severance that would be paid to Goodell, who intends to retire early after a new collective bargaining agreement is met and new contracts are signed with the NFL’s TV network partners, the document shows. The committee proposes paying Goodell $40 million upon his resignation as commissioner, while he is seeking $62.5 million, according to the document.

 

The commissioner also has an agreement to serve as a consultant for five years after leaving the NFL for a lump-sum payment of $19 million, the document shows.

 

In a story Sunday by Peter King of MMQB.com, Goodell was said to be open to a contract with as much as 88 percent in bonuses, saying, “I’m willing to bet on myself.” But in the analysis of both sides’ initial proposals by Daniel J. Ryterband, the chief executive officer of F.W. Cook, Goodell’s counteroffer “includes language that could be interpreted to mitigate the ability of the committee to adjust pay downward (even if performance is poor).”

 

Chaired by Falcons owner Arthur Blank, members of the compensation committee met Monday via conference call to discuss the latest developments in their negotiations with Goodell. Sources say the contract is moving toward completion despite protestations from Jones, who has threatened to sue several owners and the NFL if Goodell’s contract is approved without the input and final approval of all 32 owners. At the league’s spring meetings in Chicago in May, all 32 owners voted to give the compensation committee the authority to extend Goodell’s deal beyond its expiration date of March 2019.

 

Under Goodell’s current contract, there is no provision for a non-disparagement clause. But under Goodell’s proposed contract, he asks for a mutual non-disparagement clause. In an analysis of Goodell’s request, the compensation committee’s lawyers wrote, “Is the NFL … willing to provide a mutual non-disparagement which would include owners and executives? Difficult to ‘police’ owners and executives, but could consider limiting it as a requirement to instruct owners and certain executives not to disparage” Goodell.

 

Goodell has also asked for an “early expiration” of his contract, after the completion of the CBA and media contract negotiations, which he would not exercise until sometime after March 31, 2022, but before the new contract’s expiration two years later. Goodell has asked for a full year’s bonus in the year he leaves early, which could cost the NFL an additional $21.5 million in bonuses, the documents show.

 

Among other bonuses that Goodell is seeking is a $25 million “performance bonus” for a new CBA with the players’ union and a new round of contracts with the league’s business partners.

 

Both Jones and the committee’s outside counsel have accused each side of misleading other owners. Sources say Jones believes Blank has not been entirely transparent in communicating the finite details of negotiations when it comes to the incentives and discretionary bonuses. Jones also has complained to other owners that Goodell’s advantage is that he reappointed Blank as the committee chairman to negotiate a contract that was already “one-sided” in favor of the commissioner. Blank has taken affront to the attack, sources said.

 

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com opines that the Papa John’s Gambit backfired and in the hands of a shark lawyer and inept judge will provide the vital arrow for an aggrieved Colin Kaepernick:

 

If the NFL-aimed criticisms of Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter weren’t already a problem for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, they may become one in the future.

 

Two sources familiar with Colin Kaepernick’s grievance against the NFL told Yahoo Sports that the quarterback’s legal camp is maneuvering for a deeper dive into the relationship between Jones and Schnatter. Jones owns a stake in 120 Papa John’s pizza stores, and the sources said Kaepernick’s legal team wants to know whether the Cowboys owner played a role in motivating Schnatter to take a thinly veiled shot at commissioner Roger Goodell on a Nov. 1 earnings call. During that call, Schnatter blamed sagging pizza sales on the NFL’s response to protests. He then pointed a finger at the commissioner’s office, stating “leadership starts at the top and this is an example of poor leadership.”

 

In the fallout, the Papa John’s Twitter account attempted to walk back Schnatter’s remarks Tuesday, issuing an apology to anyone who thought the remarks were “divisive.”

 

If Jones played any part in shaping that original message, it could put him in a precarious spot with other NFL team owners. Particularly after Wednesday, when Jones was sent a letter from the NFL’s compensation committee accusing him of “conduct detrimental to the league” and “damaging antics” while trying to halt a contract extension for Goodell. Under the NFL’s constitution and bylaws, Jones could be punished by the league for detrimental actions against the league, most likely in the form of a fine or possibly stripped draft choices.

 

The league hasn’t publicly connected Jones to the comments from Schnatter, although multiple reports have indicated that other NFL owners suspect the Cowboys owner had a hand in the critical remarks from the pizza CEO.

 

A deposition of Jones in the Kaepernick grievance could go a long way in clearing up suspicions, given the latitude the quarterback’s attorneys would have to question Jones under oath. Unlike Jones, Schnatter can’t be compelled to sit for a deposition in the Kapernick grievance. However, the Papa John’s CEO could be asked to voluntarily take part in some element of the proceedings.

 

To this point, Jones hasn’t distanced himself from Schnatter or the comments, suggesting to the team’s flagship radio station earlier this month that he agreed with the criticisms of NFL leadership and also calling Schnatter “one of the great Americans” and “the story of America.”

 

And Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com, who seem to have microphones and/or cameras on the desks at Park Avenue and elsewhere, weigh in with more inside dish.  Very long story here, some of its flavor below:

 

THERE WAS A PAUSE. It was Aug. 9, inside Roger Goodell’s sixth-floor office at the NFL’s Park Avenue headquarters in New York City — down the hall, past the executives’ offices and his assistant’s desk, and through a large, thick wooden door that is both imposing and usually left open to serve as a welcome. Goodell huddled over a speakerphone with general counsel Jeff Pash. On the other end was Jerry Jones. Adhering to the protocol of giving owners a 48-hour heads-up before a major disciplinary issue involving their team is announced, Goodell and Pash informed Jones that after a 13-month domestic violence inquiry, the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, would face punishment — a six-game suspension.

 

The line went quiet. Seconds passed. Goodell’s decision was an unconscionable violation of trust, Jones later told associates, because he believed that the commissioner had assured him this past spring that there would be no suspension. Jones saw in Elliott a genuine opportunity, a player so good that he had made Jones believe that this year he just might win a Super Bowl for the first time since 1996. His anger was palpable. Finally, according to sources with direct knowledge of the call, Jones broke the silence. He aimed his words not only at Goodell’s decision but also at his role as judge, jury and executioner in the case.

 

“I’m gonna come after you with everything I have,” Jones said. Then he mentioned Deflategate. “If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p—y compared to what I’m going to do.”

 

Nobody knows what Jones is going to do. But at the age of 58, Goodell is fighting to keep his job. In public, he looks fresh and energetic, and he is more resolute than ever to leave with a legacy of having come close to fixing football’s long-standing issues. Up close, though, his face has changed due to relentless stress; it is now sallow and lined and tired. Roger Goodell is in a battle few saw coming, with the league’s membership teetering on an all-out, unprecedented civil war.

– – –

It is a turmoil that seems new but actually began years ago in a shadow war waged inside the cloistered world of NFL offices, owners’ suites, private meetings and conference calls, rooted in very different visions, mostly by Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell, about what the NFL’s future should be.

 

BEFORE ENVISIONING AN NFL without Goodell, Jones needed him in it. More than a decade ago in a league meeting, Jones stood before his fellow owners and, in the words of an executive in the room, “all but begged” for a loan. The price tag had skyrocketed on his $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium, and he needed more cash from the league’s G3 loan program. Jones also knew that many owners were angry with him; years earlier, he had disposed of thousands of seats at Texas Stadium and replaced them with club suites, trading revenue shareable with visiting teams’ owners for money that went straight into his own pocket. So on this day, he told owners that he realized what he had done was unfair — but that he was building a stadium that would be a great showplace for the NFL and needed tens of millions in additional loans.

 

Goodell was silent during the meeting. Back then, he was the NFL’s chief operating officer, commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s No. 2 and the favorite of a clique of powerful owners to succeed Tagliabue. But after Jones’ speech, owners approved the loan, in no small part because Goodell helped muscle the proposal through in private conversations with owners, selling them on Jones’ vision of a football palace. In August 2006, Jones returned the favor. Goodell was elected commissioner, aided in part by Jones, who, along with others, twisted arms to put Goodell over his closest challenger, league attorney Gregg Levy. After Goodell won, the owners were deeply divided. Owners of the smaller-market clubs who had supported Levy worried that Goodell would leave them behind. Goodell had to find concepts that everyone could support, setting up the fight playing out today:

 

AT THE TIME, nobody saw those two agendas at odds. But almost as soon as Goodell took over, the NFL plunged into crisis, from Michael Vick’s dogfighting scandal to Spygate and Bountygate. The league’s flat-footed, obfuscating response to head injuries lingered over it all. Many called for Goodell to step down, but Jones was among the owners who always publicly backed Goodell — even when he was upset with him. Jones threatened to sue the league in 2012 after being penalized $10 million in salary cap room for manipulating a contract. But in 2014, Jones publicly supported Goodell after the Ray Rice domestic violence mismanagement, Goodell’s low point as commissioner. “He’s acknowledged that he’s mishandled this,” Jones said on his Dallas radio show at the time, “and he said that he’ll do better in the future.”

 

What troubled Jones more than the crises was the way Goodell had responded. In most cases, Goodell expanded the power of the league office and broadened its scope, adding executives, many of whom are paid seven-figure salaries and given generous operating budgets. Among others, Goodell named former lobbyist Jeff Miller to oversee the league’s health and safety policy in response to head injuries; former Manhattan prosecutor Lisa Friel to investigate criminal allegations in the wake of Rice; longtime sports executive Tod Leiweke in 2015 as chief operating officer to manage the new cabinet; and in 2016, former White House spokesman and league consultant Joe Lockhart to run public relations and attempt to rehabilitate Goodell’s image. Some owners, most notably Jones, quietly questioned the wisdom of such moves — especially the hiring of Friel. Before her position was established, Jones argued to owners in a closed-door meeting that creating its own law enforcement arm might not solve the problems of the NFL and would, more likely, create a new set of them. As Steelers owner Art Rooney II says, “We’ve expanded staff in areas that 10 or 20 years ago I probably would have never dreamt.”

 

“Roger was trying to solve two things,” former NFL attorney Jodi Balsam says. “One, cosmetic: Get people in there with the right credentials and diversity with experience to show that we are serious. It was also deeply substantive. The league needed to refresh its talent in some areas.”

 

Jones, though, was conditioned in the spirit of Raiders owner and mentor Al Davis to never allow the league office to amass too much power. And in recent years, Jones felt that owners were being relegated to the role of mere “suggesters.” One of the first times his anger over that power shift spilled out into plain view came during a league meeting in October 2015 in Manhattan. The owners were frustrated. The movie “Concussion” was about to be released, and they conceded that years of inaction and denials about football-related brain injuries had damaged the league. But more recently, owners had approved rule changes that they believed made the game safer. Some owners complained, “Why aren’t we perceived as being part of the solution?”

 

In his deep Arkansas drawl, Jones argued that everyone was overreacting, both about the film and the fallout over head injuries.

 

“This is a pimple on a baby’s ass,” Jones said, drawing an awkward silence from the room.

 

The frustration of Jones and other owners continued over issues big and small. Last year, TV ratings declined and anxiety mounted. Many owners concluded that former Pepsi executive Dawn Hudson, whom Goodell hired as the league’s chief marketing officer, was providing analysis that was too optimistic. At an October 2016 league meeting in Houston, Hudson and Lockhart presented a slide that showed different variables measuring the popularity of the major sports leagues. At the top was the NFL. Various others, including Major League Soccer, were labeled “up-and-coming.” At the bottom, under the category of “eroding,” was the NBA, which had just signed a $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and TNT and was coming off its most watched Finals since 1998.

 

“Do you buy this bulls–t?” one owner said to another.

 

Owners wanted to hear an insider’s state of the union, as the league’s future depended on whether the slide reflected a temporary blip or the beginning of an alarming long-term trend. Instead, they felt they were being spun. Jones, in particular, seemed eager for a fight. And the next day, an argument erupted between Jones and other owners and league executives over the league’s in-game video and social media policy. At the time, the league tightly controlled the posting of video highlights on social media and team sites. Jones blasted the policy.

 

“Why are you restricting this?” Jones asked. “We’re best suited to handle our content.”

 

Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, who co-chairs the digital media committee, walked to the front of the room and defended the policy, then returned to his seat. Jones dug in again, saying, “If the league can post highlights, we should be able to post highlights.”

– – –

Suspicions ran high. League officials who visited teams used to be given the red carpet treatment; now they often were left to wait in team lobbies and quickly ushered in and out of meetings. That tension flowed into the league’s Park Avenue headquarters. Despite Leiweke’s efforts to play peacemaker, many of the top executives didn’t, and don’t, trust one another. They felt they were in an impossible position, taking bullets for owners, who would turn around and complain about their performances and salaries. But owners also feel that Goodell hasn’t been served well, especially by Miller on player health, Lockhart on the league’s overall image and Pash on player discipline. Sensing that many of his executives are afraid of him and seem unwilling to offer objective counsel on vital issues, Goodell has become exhausted and distrusting — yet more determined to succeed. Owners grumble that, as a result, Goodell has marginalized many executive vice presidents, including Leiweke — and that they have even marginalized themselves, often leaving Goodell unsupported.

 

“The executives want to protect themselves by isolating Roger,” one owner says. “They don’t care if they burn the league down to keep their jobs.”

 

Another owner, though, pointed out that for as sincere as Goodell seemed in his 2006 speech to owners pitching himself for commissioner — that he would “hire a great team” and “make people accountable” — he has been too loyal to most top executives, no matter how badly an issue has been handled. “His strengths and his weaknesses are kind of the same,” Rooney says of Goodell. “He can be very firm in his positions, and at times that frustrates people who want to have somebody with more of an open mind.”

 

And so Jones and other owners began to quietly ask: Are we getting the right people for what we’re paying?

 

At the October 2016 meetings in Houston, the league was, as usual, enduring crisis. The NFL had recently suspended Giants kicker Josh Brown for only one game after domestic assault allegations, which made it appear that Goodell had not learned the hard lessons from the Ray Rice debacle. “The New York Daily News” had obtained incriminating evidence from Washington state law enforcement authorities that Friel, with her multimillion-dollar budget, had failed to gather. It all came to a head at the meetings. (The NFL would retroactively suspend Brown for six games the following season; the entire public relations mess was exactly what Jones and other owners and executives feared and predicted could occur from the beginning.)

 

On the first night of the meetings, Jones and a few other executives walked into the hotel bar shortly before midnight. Friel was there. In February and July 2016, Elliott’s former girlfriend had claimed that he assaulted her on six separate days in Ohio and Florida; he had been neither arrested nor charged with any wrongdoing by the authorities in both states. Jones believed there was no case. At the bar, Friel explained to Jones that the Elliott investigation was open and would be indefinitely as she finished her job.

 

Jones’ eyes widened, his brow furrowed. He raised his finger and wagged it in her face. “I’m saying this as an owner!” he yelled. “Your bread and butter is going to get both of us thrown out on the street!”

– – –

In May, Jones asked Goodell by phone for a status update on the Elliott investigation. Jones later told several people that he came away from their conversation with an assurance that there would be no suspension for Elliott and that Goodell felt the running back should enter counseling and perhaps issue a statement showing contrition for his behavior. Jones replied that Elliott wouldn’t be contrite about domestic violence because he hadn’t committed it. “[Jones] told me, ‘Roger told me there was nothing to worry about — the evidence just isn’t there,'” says a high-level source briefed on the call. “Jerry … was damn sure that Zeke was free and clear.”

 

Lockhart, the NFL spokesman, disputes that account: “Absolutely no assurances were given to Jerry by the commissioner that there would be no discipline, at any point in the process.”

 

Later that month, the owners were set to vote on granting the six-member compensation committee, led by Arthur Blank, authority to begin negotiating Goodell’s extension. To get the requisite 21 votes to move forward, Blank felt he needed the powerful Jones behind him. “I want you on the committee,” Blank said.

 

“I won’t go on the committee,” Jones replied. “I want to be an ombudsman. I want to literally represent the owners who are not on the committee.”

 

That position was approved. At the NFL’s spring meetings in Chicago, owners — including Jones — voted unanimously to extend Goodell’s contract, giving Blank, and Goodell, enormous leverage. Jones railed later that he and owners didn’t spend a single minute reviewing Goodell’s job performance.

 

Back at the league office, the Elliott investigation dragged on despite Goodell’s directive to have the case wrapped up by June. Friel’s 160-page report, listing Roberts as a co-author, was dated June 6. In a highly unusual move, Friel did not include a punishment recommendation for Goodell. The NFL’s chief investigator always concludes an investigative report with a recommendation for the commissioner.

 

It left some league executives and others close to the case baffled; some agreed with Roberts’ conclusion that there were credibility questions around the accuser, while others wondered whether Friel and other league executives sought a makeup call for the mishandled Josh Brown case.

 

AFTER THE REPORT was written, Goodell met with Friel, Pash and several other league executives. Roberts, however, did not attend. At Friel’s recommendation, Goodell convened a four-person panel of advisers to consider the evidence collected in the Elliott matter, hear from Elliott himself and make recommendations — proof, a league source says, that Goodell never had assured Jones that Elliott was in the clear. And so, on June 26 in the NFL offices, the advisory group reviewed witness statements, medical records and text messages exchanged by Elliott, his accuser and others. The panel questioned Friel, but again, Roberts was not invited and didn’t have a chance to express her opinion. Friel later testified that she did not know whose decision it was not to invite Roberts. “I’ve never seen a situation when a league office takes an official position in federal court that they are willfully blind to key facts in their own process and owners tolerate it,” says Jeffrey Kessler, the attorney for the players. “Everybody now knows that they suppressed the findings of their own investigation — and kept their chief investigator on the sidelines — to get the result that they wanted.”

 

During the session, former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White asked Friel what she had concluded about the credibility of Elliott’s accuser. Friel said she found the accuser not credible on one occasion but credible overall; however, Friel did not bring up the credibility concerns raised by her investigator, Roberts. Under questioning by Kessler, Friel described Roberts’ concerns about the accuser’s credibility.

 

For her part, Friel has privately told colleagues that despite the resources at her disposal — the Elliott case has cost an estimated $2 million and counting — she was hamstrung without subpoena power. Her worst fears, and Jones’, were coming true. Still, Goodell gave considerable weight to the opinions of the panelists, who unanimously concluded that Elliott deserved to be punished.

– – –

A LONG-HELD assumption has been that Goodell wants another long-term deal. Those who have discussed the contract situation with him have described him as “furious” and “emboldened” at the notion of accepting a deep pay cut after making the owners a lot of money over the years, watching their teams’ valuations skyrocket and taking many bullets for them. ESPN has reported that he asked in August for a compensation package of about $49 million a year, if every incentive is met, plus use of a private jet for life and health care for life for his family. But most owners expect him to land in the range of $40 million a year. If owners decide to squeeze him too hard, he might walk away. He knows that there’s no clear successor, which is both a failing on his part and a source of leverage.

 

The owners, though, have considered other successors. A confidant of one owner reached out to gauge whether Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, would be interested in running the NFL, to which Silver immediately said no. Owners have also considered looking to the International Olympic Committee for someone with global experience to grow the game — or even installing the 76-year-old Tagliabue for a year while a committee searched for the ideal successor. Jones has told confidants that he has his own candidate in mind, which Jones has publicly denied. Few owners are interested in allowing Jones to essentially handpick the next commissioner. Even so, Jones has vowed, sources say, to make Goodell’s life miserable. “Jerry’s message to Roger was ‘I run this league. You better get with it,'” a senior league executive says. “This is about power and control, not the contract. That’s all white noise.”

 

That’s why, no matter how often some team executives say not to underestimate Jones, and no matter how frustrated many owners are with the state of the league, the support to remove Goodell doesn’t seem to be there. Jones has the Redskins’ Dan Snyder and a handful of other owners on his side; there are a dozen or so owners who just want to extend Goodell and get the story out of the headlines; and the rest don’t approve of Goodell’s performance, not because they agree with Jones but because they believe Goodell has empowered him to a fault, especially given the ugly situation with two relocated franchises drawing small crowds in Los Angeles. “Switching commissioners is like switching from an iPhone to a Samsung,” one ownership source says. “Do my pictures transfer? Do my contacts? Does my music? In the end, why take the risk?”

 

It’s Goodell who now seems more willing to take risks, as if he realizes he has less to lose than before. He defied many owners, including Jones, and many league business executives by refusing to back a mandate that all players stand for the national anthem. His relationship with the union and some players has improved this fall; he is not merely serving as the puppet of the owners, as players have long suspected. A day after Outside the Lines reported that, in an owners-only meeting in New York, Texans owner Bob McNair said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” McNair released a statement insisting that he was referring to league executives as inmates, not the players, drawing skepticism. According to sources, McNair asked Goodell to publicly back him up. Goodell refused.

 

 

ODDS UPDATES

Kevin Skiver at CBSSports.com with an update on the current Super Bowl odds.

 

Super Bowl LII odds

Team

Vegas

SB%

CONF%

DIV%

PLAYOFF

New England Patriots

5/2

24.89%

40.48%

97.3%

99.0%

Pittsburgh Steelers

4/1

11.16%

22.01%

98%

99.0%

Philadelphia Eagles

5/1

15.56%

31.11%

96.4%

99.0%

New Orleans Saints

6/1

6.31%

14.21%

73.6%

91.7%

Kansas City Chiefs

10/1

11.77%

22.00%

96.5%

98.2%

Los Angeles Rams

12/1

10.47%

21.57%

68.6%

91.5%

Seattle Seahawks

14/1

2.53%

6.03%

31.2%

67.1%

Minnesota Vikings

14/1

7.42%

16.68%

83.7%

92.3%

Jacksonville Jaguars

25/1

3.59%

8.38%

59%

99%

Carolina Panthers

25/1

2.02%

5.25%

21.1%

64.6%

Tennessee Titans

30/1

1.40%

4.05%

41%

89.1%

Atlanta Falcons

30/1

0.63%

1.83%

5.3%

31.8%

Dallas Cowboys

40/1

0.48%

1.38%

3.6%

19.4%

Oakland Raiders

50/1

0.24%

0.56%

2.4%

10.7%

Detroit Lions

50/1

0.52%

1.56%

15.7%

31.8%

Green Bay Packers

80/1

0.11%

0.23%

0.6%

3.9%

Buffalo Bills

200/1

0.36%

1.14%

2.5%

37%

Baltimore Ravens

200/1

0.33%

0.89%

0.9%

42.2%

Washington Redskins

300/1

0.04%

0.11%

0.1%

4.8%

Los Angeles Chargers

300/1

0.05%

0.17%

1%

4.8%

Miami Dolphins

500/1

0.02%

0.11%

0.2%

3.8%

Arizona Cardinals

500/1

0.02%

0.04%

0.2%

1.2%

Denver Broncos

500/1

0.01%

0.03%

0.1%

2.1%

Chicago Bears

500/1

0.00%

0.00%

0.1%

0.1%

Houston Texans

500/1

0.1%

0.02%

0.1%

0.6%

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

500/1

0.00%

0.00%

0.1%

0.6%

Cincinnati Bengals

1,000/1

0.05%

0.1%

0.1%

5%

New York Jets

1,000/1

0.02%

0.11%

0.0%

5%

Indianapolis Colts

2,000/1

0.00%

0.02%

0.0%

1.9%

New York Giants

OFF

0.00%

0.00%

0.1%

0.1%

Cleveland Browns

OFF

0.00%

0.00%

0.1%

0.1%

San Francisco 49ers

OFF

0.00%

0.00%

0.0%

0.0%

 

The favorite

The Patriots remain in a class of their own, both in terms of Vegas odds, where a $100 bet would win you $250 if they take home the title, and by SportsLine, which at nearly 25 percent has New England as more than twice as likely to win the title than any other team, save for the Eagles.

The Patriots winning the AFC East is a foregone conclusion at this point, with SportsLine giving it a 97.3 percent chance of happening. Those odds only figure to go up if the Patriots take care of business in Mexico City against the Raiders next week.

 

The other contenders

The Eagles remain among the elite in the league, as they look continue their red-hot streak when they go to Dallas and face a beat-up Cowboys team on Sunday night. They remain the top NFC pick to reach the Super Bowl, with SportsLine giving them a 31.1 percent chance of reaching the big game.

 

Philly’s biggest challenger in terms of Vegas odds is now New Orleans, as the Saintsleap to 6/1 after putting together a seven-game winning streak. SportsLine doesn’t see much value in grabbing the Saints at those odds, as their 6.3 percent chance of winning it all ranks them seventh in the league, including behind one 14/1 team.

 

The Steelers, in spite of some strange inconsistencies, are close behind the Patriots at 4/1 odds, good for second overall according to Vegas. They’re also one of four teams to basically have their division wrapped up, with SportsLine giving them an NFL-best 98 percent chance of winning their division.

 

Throw the Chiefs in that “locked up the division” category as well, with a 96.5 percent chance of winning the AFC West. They also present great value at their current Vegas odds, as their 11.8 percent SportsLine projection outpaces the 10/1 odds you’d have to lay in Vegas on a Super Bowl bet.

 

The Rams and Vikings are making believers out of everyone by just continuing to win. Although there was trepidation around the Rams earlier in the season, they’ve shown week in and week out that they aren’t a fluke. The same goes for the Vikings, as Case Keenum has looked more than viable and Teddy Bridgewater is waiting in the wings. The Rams, like the Chiefs, make for a nice value bet to win the Super Bowl at 12/1 based on their SportsLine projection.

 

The Seahawks suffered a minimal hit with the loss of Richard Sherman for the year, but many bettors seems to believe in the team to overcome that adversity. SportsLine isn’t as optimistic, giving them just a 2.5 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl despite the Seahawks’ 14/1 odds in Vegas.

 

Still in the mix

The Jaguars and Titans are hanging around near the top of the AFC, with the Jaguars pulling out one of the uglier wins in recent memory against the Chargers. While Jacksonville is considered a longshot to win it all, their 99 percent playoff odds show that they’re a virtual lock to still be playing football when the postseason rolls around. The Titans also seem like a shoe-in to make the playoffs at 89.1 percent, leaving just one playoff spot up in the air for the AFC.

Right now the favorites for that spot according to Vegas’ odds look to be the Raiders, who at 50/1 are the only other AFC team with Super Bowl odds lower than 200/1 aside from the top five teams. But Oakland has just a 10.7 percent chance of making the playoffs, per SportsLine, well behind the Ravens (42.2 percent) and Bills (37 percent) for the final wild card. SportsLine doesn’t see much of a path to the tile for any of those three teams, giving them less than a 1 percent chance combined of winning it all. The Bills have managed to self-destruct spectacularly in the eyes of bettors, not only losing handily to the Saints but also benching starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman. 

 

The Panthers (25/1), Falcons (30/1), Cowboys (40/1), Lions (50/1) and Packers (80/1) are all battling for at least one playoff spot, and potentially more if the Seahawks or one of the NFC division leaders takes a stumble. The Cowboys took a hit by getting beat up by the Falcons without Ezekiel Elliott, and it doesn’t figure to get any easier for them going forward. Brett Hundley is giving some people hope, and the Packers’ 80/1 odds are obviously in hopes that they eke their way into a playoff spot and Aaron Rodgers comes back and leads them to victory.

 

The longshots

Right now, the league is largely divided into haves and have-nots, with everything after the Packers‘ 80/1 odds being a jumbled, longshot mess. It’s hard to say what’s crazier: seeing the Broncos topple down to 500/1 odds, or seeing the Bears still at 500/1 odds after a loss to the Packers. The Buccaneers have some people that are stubbornly continuing to be wrong about them being a breakout team this year, and with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm of that offense, they may jump the Raymond James ship soon. 

 

Between the Bucs, Broncos, TexansDolphins and Cardinals, five teams that drew at least some preseason buzz as having playoff potential sit at 500/1 odds to win the Super Bowl with seven weeks left in the regular season. It’s been a season to forget for those teams, as well as one that’s currently off the board.

 

The Giants, a team that won 11 games last year, and Browns have joined the 49ers as teams that are eliminated by bettors, although only the 49ers are officially eliminated from playoff contention. The Colts figure to be off the board pretty soon as well.