The Daily Briefing Friday, September 22, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

After scoring just 7 points last week, Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com says the Bears are getting an offensive line reinforcement this week:

 

Bears guard Kyle Long hasn’t played in a game for a long time.

 

Long last saw game action in Week 10 of last season and was placed on injured reserve a short time later due to an ankle injury. Long would go on to have surgery on the ankle last December and undergo a long rehab period that stretched into training camp. There were additional issues with the ankle during the summer and Long sat out the first two games of this season while waiting to get right.

 

It looks like he’s finally there. Coach John Fox said Thursday that the team feels Long is ready for the final step in his return to action.

 

“Our medical people think he’s ready,” Fox said, via the Chicago Sun Times. “Our coaches think he’s ready. We’ll see how much he can endure, whether we have him on any kind of a pitch count. Right now it’s looking very promising.”

 

The Bears will host the Steleers this weekend as they look for their first win of the 2017 season.

 

 

DETROIT

Sunday’s match-up at Ford Field features a pair of regular guy MATT/MATTHEWs who are great friends.  Dave Birkett in the Detroit Free Press:

 

They’ve dined together and traveled together, and last spring they even joined forces on a church league basketball team, where surprisingly neither Matthew Stafford nor Matt Ryan — two Pro Bowl quarterbacks used to directing traffic on the football field — felt the need to run point guard.

 

“We just kind of stood in the corner and shoot threes,” Ryan told Atlanta reporters after practice Wednesday. “That was our game.”

 

On Sunday, Stafford and Ryan will be at the center of a much different game when the Lions host the Atlanta Falcons in a battle of undefeated teams at Ford Field.

 

Stafford has thrown six touchdown passes in the Lions’ 2-0 start, tied for most in the league, and just signed the richest contract in NFL history, one that pays him $27 million annually.

 

Ryan, who should be up for his own mega extension next year, is the reigning NFL MVP, fresh off a season in which he threw for nearly 5,000 yards and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl.

 

The two knew each other only casually early in their careers, but got to spend time together when they were teammates at the 2015 Pro Bowl.

 

Since then, they’ve become good friends who share “a lot of similar interests” and just so happen to push each other on the football field.

 

“I obviously have a lot of respect for him and how he plays the game,” Stafford said. “I think he does the same for me. As you married people know, when your wives get along, that helps, too. So our wives get along, which is nice. But I don’t know, he’s just a good guy. It’s kind of nice to have somebody in the league that you can talk ball with in the off-season, all that kind of stuff.”

 

Ryan, who’s three years Stafford’s senior, called Stafford “a special player” and said the “unique fraternity” they belong to as NFL quarterbacks has helped them bond.

 

“We go through a lot of the same thing,” Ryan said. “Quarterbacks throughout the league, there are a lot of things when you run into guys over the off-season you get the opportunity to pick their brains about different stuff. We certainly talk about some of those things.”

 

This summer, Stafford worked briefly with a private quarterback coach for the first time in his career. He said he got the idea from Ryan, who saw a dramatic rise in his play after he began working with the same 3DQB group.

 

Lions coach Jim Caldwell compared the Stafford-Ryan friendship to ones in the NBA between superstars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul.

 

“They hang out with each other. They compete against each other in very, very competitive situations, and I don’t think it’s any different in our league where they may be able to learn some things from one another during the off-season,” Caldwell said. “Maybe they trained together at some point in time. Maybe they talk about the nuances of the game. They have a lot in common that way. But I don’t think that it diminishes the rivalries, the competition in a particular ballgame.”

 

In some ways, it may enhance it, though neither Stafford nor Ryan said their motivation this week comes from wanting to outduel their friend.

 

“You want to beat everybody,” Ryan said. “That’s how it goes. Week to week, you’re doing everything you can to find a way to win.”

 

The DB thinks Sunday’s game might be a preview of the NFC Championship Game.  And it wouldn’t be surprising if Ryan and Stafford are in the top five MVP candidates at season’s end.

 

Certainly these two teams have accomplished QBs at the peak of their careers and the rest of their rosters aren’t too bad either.

 

 

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS has beaten 30 of the 31 other NFL teams.  He can make it 31 on Sunday.  Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:

 

Aaron Rodgers has done just about everything a quarterback can do in the NFL.

 

Except he’s never beaten the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

No, he’s not saving a place in his trophy case for a game ball from a win over Cincinnati to put alongside his two NFL MVPs, his Super Bowl MVP and the ball from his 300th career touchdown pass — a milestone he achieved last Sunday night in Atlanta.

 

But he wouldn’t mind a win against the only NFL team he’s never beaten — other than the Green Bay Packers, that is.

 

“I’ve beaten the Packers a few times,” Rodgers said, chuckling. “I had a couple of bad games.”

 

Whether or not you believe in quarterback wins as a legitimate stat, Rodgers would complete the league-wide sweep with a win over the Bengals on Sunday at Lambeau Field in what will be his third start against Cincinnati.

 

Packers coach Mike McCarthy also has never beaten the Bengals. Four years ago in Cincinnati, the Packers lost 34-30 when they blew a 16-point second-half lead, with the Bengals returning a fumble for a touchdown late in the game. Four years before that, Rodgers took a beating from Antwan Odom, who had five sacks (including four in the second half) during Green Bay’s 31-24 loss at Lambeau Field.

 

Helping the cause could be the return of WR JORDY NELSON.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson is trending towards playing in Sunday’s tilt versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

Nelson practiced in full on Wednesday and said afterward he expects to play after missing most of last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons with a quad injury.

 

“Today it feels a lot better than what it did on Sunday night, so everything is headed in the right direction,” Nelson said, via the team’s official website. “My expectations are to play, but you don’t know what can happen between now and then. That was my expectation when I came in here Monday morning as well.”

 

The news from Nelson is a pleasant surprise after it was reported earlier in the week that he could be a coin flip decision for Week 3.

 

Getting Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target back on the field would be a big boon for a banged-up Packers squad, even if the wideout isn’t 100 percent. Green Bay had 13 players on the injury report, a boatload for Week 3.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Somewhat surprisingly, RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT has reacted like a grownup to criticism of his effort in Denver last Sunday.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Ezekiel Elliott heard the criticism from NFL Network’s LaDainian Tomlinson regarding his lack of effort on an interception in the Dallas Cowboys’ 25-point loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

 

Tomlinson said Elliott “quit” on his team during the defeat. The second-year running back owned up to the critique in his first comments since the loss.

 

“I definitely heard it. I guess you could say it looked like that,” Elliott said Thursday. “I would say I was just very frustrated, but that’s no excuse for the lack of effort I showed on tape. And I just can’t do that. Being one of the leaders on the team and being a guy that people count on, I can’t put that type of stuff on film.”

 

 

Elliott added the team “addressed it in house” when asked if coach Jason Garrett talked to him about the lack of effort.

 

“It’s definitely not me,” he said. “It’s definitely not the type of player I am. It’s definitely not who I am for this team. I just can’t do that. I was frustrated and I wasn’t myself.”

 

Elliott earned a career-low 8 rushing yards on nine attempts in the 42-17 loss to Denver.

 

Despite the outside criticism, Elliott said he has support within the locker room.

 

“We really don’t care what you guys say,” he said. “We don’t care what the critics say. We don’t go out there and play for you guys. We don’t go out there and play for the talking heads. We don’t go out there to play for you guys to say we did well. We go out there and play for each other. We go out there to win ballgames. We go out there to have each other’s back. So that’s our motivation. We don’t need anything extra.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

C RYAN KALIL has sat out practice this week and may not play against the Saints due to a neck injury.  He was out last week against Buffalo.  TYLER LARSON is his replacement.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The DB fell asleep at 41-26 so it looks like we missed a controversial finish to a surprising high-scoring thriller.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It was one of the most competitive, intense, and unexpectedly entertaining Thursday night games since the NFL decided to turn short-week football into a franchise. And it ended with a questionable call that will make the 49ers and their fans justifiably salty for months to come.

 

After a late fumble resulted in a late touchdown followed by a late failure to convert the two-point conversion chased by a beautifully-executed onside kick, the 49ers seemed to convert a key third down to keep alive a chance at redemption for kicker Robbie Gould, whose shanked extra point try forced the 49ers to go for two in an effort to tie the game.

 

But it wasn’t to be. Receiver Trent Taylor was called for offensive pass interference by referee Jeff Triplette’s crew. Based on the only angle shown during the broadcast, the penalty l looked questionable at best — and definitely not like the kind of call that gets made late in a game, when flags supposedly slide deeper into the officials’ pockets.

 

It’s unclear whether Taylor pushed Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman with Taylor’s right arm. The TV angle doesn’t show the kind of extension that ordinarily constitutes pass interference at the top of a route. Indeed, far more blatant instances of pushing off go uncalled all the time.

 

Even if there was a push, Robey-Coleman wasn’t impeded. He was playing Taylor to the inside and simply didn’t react to the cut.

 

It will be interesting to hear whether coach Kyle Shanahan has anything to say about a call that swiped the 49ers of a potential win — and that also robbed the viewing audience of what could have been one of the most memorable finishes of the year.

 

While the ending doesn’t change the fact that the game was highly entertaining from start to finish, hinging the outcome on a ticky-tack call doesn’t do justice to the heart and soul both teams poured into this one. Both teams should be congratulated for mustering the will to play as hard as they did only four days after their most recent games, and both teams will need every hour of the extra days they’ll get until they play again.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

The Rams have put 107 points on the board behind JARED GOFF in the first three games.  Last year, Los Angeles scored a total of 85 points in the 7 games Goff quarterbacked.

 

JOHNNY HEKKER has punted 11 times in the first three games.  Last year, he punted 21 times in the first three games.

 

And this from Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on how RB TODD GURLEY has manned up in the first three games:

 

Rams running back Todd Gurley ran for 113 yards Thursday night, marking the first time that he’s crossed the 100-yard plateau since Week 14 of the 2015 season.

 

That’s reinforces the previous signs of Gurley getting back on track and so do the three touchdowns he scored during the 41-39 victory over the 49ers. Those touchdowns give Gurley six on the season and make him the first player with that many touchdowns in the first three games of a season since Calvin Johnson did it during the 2011 season.

 

By any metric, Gurley looks a lot more like the impressive rookie of 2015 than the player he was last year.

 

“I gave everybody what they’ve been waiting for,” Gurley said, via the Los Angeles Times.

 

– – –

The Rams may need their extra rest before Week 4 in Dallas to get a couple of their top weapons healthy.  ESPN.com:

 

Los Angeles Rams receivers Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin were both evaluated for possible concussions late in Thursday night’s 41-39 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, head coach Sean McVay said.

 

Watkins was having a big game, with six catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns, when he left with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

 

He appeared to take a hard hit as he barreled into the end zone for his second score, on a 13-yard reception that gave the Rams a 41-26 lead.

 

Watkins was evaluated in the medical tent on the Rams’ sideline before heading to the locker room and was placed in the concussion protocol, according to McVay.

 

Austin left the game shortly after and also was placed in concussion protocol, McVay said. Austin finished without a reception but had three carries for 14 yards.

 

 

SEATTLE

Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com says the Seahawks are contemplating an offensive line shakeup:

 

The Seattle Seahawks offensive line continues to be a work-in-progress.

 

Having scored just 21 points through the first two games of the season and not getting their first touchdown until the fourth quarter of last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers, the Seahawks have hinted a possible lineup change this week along their offensive line.

 

Offensive line coach Tom Cable indicated that the right guard spot held by Mark Glowinski the first two games of the season could be subject to change for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans.

 

“We will certainly find out in terms of competition where we go with that (position),” Cable said on Wednesday.

 

The replacement at that spot would be veteran Oday Aboushi, who battling with Glowinski throughout training camp for the starting job. Aboushi – having played the last two seasons with the Houston Texans – has seen Dick LeBeau’s defense multiple times and knows what to expect from their pressure packages. That familiarity with the Titans was cited by Cable as a big positive for the team this week.

 

“For him and Luke (Joeckel) both there’s great familiarity with this group playing them twice a year,” Cable said.

 

“It’s good for the room actually, talking to them about not only players but the scheme and all that I think has been really kind of a nice deal for us this week.”

 

While no one with the Seahawks is specifically confirming the change, Aboushi said he’s looking forward to the chance to play if called upon.

 

“Yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “I think every time you get a chance to go out there in this game, that’s never promised, I think it’s a blessing. You’ve just got to take it and have fun with it.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

More good news for the Broncos concerning T GARETT BOWLES.  Nikki Jhabvala in the Denver Post:

 

To the surprise of many, Broncos rookie left tackle Garett Bolles returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis and participated in early positional drills and some team drills with his left ankle heavily taped.

 

“Not surprised by it,” head coach Vance Joseph said. “Obviously, the initial injury we thought was more serious, but he’s treated and he’s getting better fast. He’s not there yet, so we’re not sure if he’s going to play on Sunday, but he’s getting better fast.”

 

Bolles was injured on a run play in the third quarter of the Broncos’ win over the Cowboys last Sunday and was carted off the field in tears. He left the stadium on crutches and with a boot on his left foot and, after undergoing further testing Monday, was determined to have a lower-leg bruise.

 

He was listed as week-to-week and did not attend practice Wednesday, leading many to believe he would miss at least the Broncos’ Week 3 game at Buffalo on Sunday, if not longer.

 

“It felt good today and I was grateful,” Bolles said. “When I came out here, it was definitely a blessing to be back out here with my brothers knowing this is the greatest sport that any man can play. Knowing that I’m back out here and feeling good, that’s all that matters right now.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The Ravens’ plane to London was 340 pounds lighter than expected.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Ravens will be without their best run-stuffing defensive lineman on Sunday against the Jaguars.

 

Brandon Williams didn’t make the trip to London because of a foot injury, according to Alex Flanagan of NFL Network.

 

The 340-pound Williams has started the Ravens’ first two games this year and started all 16 games each of the last two years. He’s been a big part of the Ravens’ success on defense, and now the Ravens will have to face the Jaguars without him.

 

Jacksonville’s offense is predicated around running the ball with Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory, and they’ll look for some big holes where Williams ordinarily would be.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Coach Hue Jackson is challenging WR KENNY BRITT to be better.  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

After Browns receiver Kenny Britt’s big drop in the opener against Pittsburgh, coach Hue Jackson brought him in and challenged him to be the big playmaker he needs him to be.

 

“Yeah, man-to-man,” said Britt. “I mean, he wants me to step up, bring more energy to practice and to the field, on and off the field and in the classroom. Because we’re leading down a path that we didn’t believe we were going to go.

 

“0-2 is not where we wanted to be, and it’s not where we’re going to stay and as long as do the little things and the small things that we’ve been missing the last two games, I believe that we can be a contender in this league.”

 

Instead of yanking Britt out of the starting lineup after the opener like he contemplated doing, Jackson gave him a chance to redeem himself. After all, what choice did he have? Britt is the only experienced veteran receiver on the roster and the one who was supposed to make folks forget about Terrelle Pryor this season.

 

“I’ve challenged him that he needs to step up and make plays, and I think he will,” Jackson said Thursday. “I really do. This is where we are. We’ve got to make some plays, and we understand that these are the guys we have. And Kenny is the elder statesman in that room, and I think he’ll raise up and help lead these young guys, and we’ll go play good this week.”

 

Britt, who caught one of only two targets in Baltimore for 2 yards, is eager for that breakout game. To date, he has two catches for 15 yards.

– – –

Are the favored Browns going to unleash DE MYLES GARRETT on the Colts?  Probably not, but Cabot says next week in the Battle of Ohio is a possibility:

 

Myles Garrett shed his walking boot Wednesday and joined the bike brigade at practice.

 

It wasn’t practice, but it was progress.

 

“Close,” Jackson said of Garrett’s status for returning to the playing field from his high right ankle sprain. But it doesn’t seem like it will be this week against the Colts.

 

“Now, I’m not going to say that,” said Jackson. “Let’s just see where he is, but he’s getting there. There’s huge progress that’s been made. Hopefully we’ll see where he is.”

 

Garrett suffered the injury in practice on Sept. 6 in a freak accident in which a teammate fell on it, and high ankle sprains are typically a four- to six-week injury.

 

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But Garrett is a fast healer and might not need that much time. He sat out only two games with his high ankle sprain last year at Texas A&M. If Garrett is that close, it means he could see action at home next week against the Bengals.

 

But he said he won’t rush back.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Kevin Patra on ascending RB DERRICK HENRY:

 

All aboard the Derrick Henry hype train. We will be pulling out shortly.

 

The Tennessee Titans running back barreled his way for a career-high 92 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown in Sunday’s victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The performance displayed just a hint of his workhorse ability.

 

The 6-foot-3, 247-pound former Heisman Trophy winner runs with a patient rage, slides through arm tackles, owns the speed to glide to the edge and power to bring the hammer down on defenders daring to attempt a tackle. The ease with which Henry strides to the second level is a marvel to watch for a man his size.

 

Speaking Thursday on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard said Henry’s power can weigh on defenses.

 

“D-Hen, he’s like an outside linebacker running the football,” Woodyard said. “And we always tell him, ‘hey bro, the first time you lower that shoulder and boom somebody in a game, they’re not going to want to tackle you in the fourth quarter.’

 

“And it shows, guys try to get out of their way when he’s coming, try to adjust the way they tackle him. He’s a big guy. He’s a Heisman … so it’s a lot of fun to see that power back out there on the football field running and controlling the game.”

 

Henry has looked much better than starter DeMarco Murray, who is dealing with hamstring injuries. Through two games, Henry has more rushing yards (117 to 69), touchdowns (1 to 0) and a higher yards-per-carry average (5.9 to 3.3) than his backfield mate. Of players with at least 20 carries, only Kareem Hunt and Carlos Hyde are averaging more yards per tote than Henry in 2017.

 

D-Hen.  We like that.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

Aaron Hernandez was shooting people he barely knew (probably) before he ever played for the Patriots, but his lawyers/family are going to try to get some cash from the NFL based on a recent diagnosis.  Will Levith of RealClearLife.com:

 

After granting an exclusive interview to Esquire a month ago—which featured some revealing facts about the late NFL star—Aaron Hernandez‘s lawyer Jose Baez has dropped three more bombshells.

 

According to The New York Times, after doctors researched Hernandez’s brain following his suicide, it was revealed that he had a severe case of CTE, a degenerative brain disease found in athletes like football and hockey players, who receive repeated blows to the head. In fact, it was the most severe case ever found in a 27-year-old—stage 3 of 4. (CTE was found in Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau’s brain; Seau also committed suicide, but at age 43.)

 

The other two bombshells? Baez has filed a pair of federal lawsuits against the New England Patriots and NFL in Hernandez’s daughter’s name.

 

Just before his suicide, Hernandez had been acquitted of murder charges (he was serving a life sentence for another murder, which his lawyer has had posthumously thrown out).

 

The Times notes that Hernandez’s family could have a shot at a major payout; players younger than 45 found to have CTE by the NFL have been awarded up to $4 million.

 

Michael Rosenberg of TheMMQB.com tries to put the brakes on the rush to equate the CTE with Hernandez’s awful behavior.

 

The dots are awfully close to each other, daring you to connect them. Aaron Hernandez had Stage 3 CTE when he committed suicide, after years of inexplicable violent behavior, including at least one murder. It would be simple and easy to blame football for what happened to him.

 

Dot: The hits to the head gave him brain damage. Dot: The brain damage made him paranoid. Dot: The paranoia made him violent. Dot: The brain damage eventually made him suicidal.

 

Maybe all the dots really do connect in this case. Maybe just some of them do. But the truth is that we don’t know, and we may never know.

 

There is so much—so much—we still don’t know about concussions. We know repeated head trauma can ruin a life, but not every brain reacts in the same way. We know there is a direct correlation between football and CTE. And we know that the NFL’s response to this issue, for many years, was to sweep it under the rug—and when that didn’t work, to buy bigger rugs.

 

The CTE problem in football is real, and it is enormous. But it has also led to facts-based hysteria. We take what we know about football and CTE, which is obviously significant, and we apply it to every single player, every case of dementia, every football life gone awry. And it’s just not that simple.

 

On the surface, the Hernandez case may seem like the clearest case of football-related head trauma causing a player to literally and figuratively lose his mind. After all, nobody went crazier than Aaron Hernandez, right?

 

I would argue the opposite: the extreme nature of Hernandez’s transformation, and the early age when it began, makes his story even foggier than most.

 

Hernandez’s widow is suing the NFL on behalf of his daughter. The suit claims that the NFL in general and the Patriots specifically were “fully aware of the damage that could be inflicted from repetitive impact injuries and failed to disclose, treat or protect him from the dangers of such damage.”

 

Maybe Shayanna Jenkins and her daughter Avielle will triumph in court. I’m not going to speculate on that; my colleague Michael McCann is far more qualified and capable of examining the lawsuit than I am.

 

I will say this, though: Pinning his suicide on the NFL makes for a good headline. It may be a winning legal strategy. But it’s a hard theory for me to buy in this case.

 

Aaron Hernandez played 40 games in the NFL. He also played 40 games at the University of Florida, and he played a lot of football before he arrived at Florida. Even if you do pin his suicide on football, can you really isolate his NFL career as the cause?

 

Hernandez’s behavior started to change radically when he was in high school, almost immediately after his father died. He showed signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, though it was never diagnosed. He hung out with a different crowd. At times he was distant, at others charming, and he seemed to go back and forth with frightening ease. We still don’t know the full extent of his drug use. He was investigated for a double shooting in Florida in 2007—when he was a college freshman. Character concerns caused him to fall in the NFL draft.

 

Nothing in that last paragraph can be pinned on the NFL. Nothing.

 

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Of course, the thrust of the lawsuit is that the CTE made Hernandez suicidal, not that it made him a violent criminal. But can you really separate the two that easily? Hernandez took his own life while serving a life sentence for murder. He did it just after being acquitted in another murder trial.

 

You can come up with a bunch of theories for Hernandez’s suicide that seem sensible on their own. He couldn’t stand to live the life ahead of him. He was filled with regret, though he didn’t show it publicly. Once he was acquitted, there were no battles left to win. He knew that dying while he was appealing his conviction would technically vacate his conviction, possibly shielding his wife and daughter from any civil suits. He had CTE.

 

Or: We don’t know. Maybe someday we will.

 

The link between football-related head trauma and CTE is a serious issue. The NFL deserves heavy scrutiny for its actions, both past and present. We should absolutely continue that conversation, but maybe it’s best, for now, to leave Aaron Hernandez out of it.

 

 

SOCIAL JUSTICE MONTH

More on the scheme of some NFL players to enlist the League and all its players in promoting a version of the Kaepernick Cause, positively presented at ESPN.com:

 

Three of the players whose names appeared on an August memo seeking a push from the NFL into social activism struck an amicable but businesslike tone Thursday, saying there was no bigger platform from which to achieve their goals.

 

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins called it an “opportunity for us, being a sport that brings people together naturally to also use that ability to actually effectuate some real change.”

 

“One of the main things for us is changing the narrative and controlling the narrative,” said Jenkins, who joined Eagles receiver Torrey Smith and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett in commenting a day after news broke of the memo, which outlined a series of goals it hoped to achieve in conjunction with the NFL, including designating November “a month of Unity” when individual teams would “engage and impact the community in their market.”

 

“I think one of the reasons you’ve seen players protesting is because there is no bigger platform than the NFL,” Jenkins said. “And to be able to use that exposure and educate people to what’s going on around the communities is huge. That can be even more amplified if the NFL actually steps in and helps aid that education to the public about what’s going on in these cities that NFL stadiums are in.”

 

Bennett said it “takes a lot for a business or an organization to get behind certain issues,” but that he felt he had the support of commissioner Roger Goodell “as a person and a player.”

 

“I’ve never had an issue with him,” Bennett said. “We’ve always had good conversations since I’ve known him.”

 

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, who was asked if there were any plans to make this upcoming November the “Month of Unity” as has been proposed, said the league continued to speak directly with the players but wouldn’t comment further.

 

“These conversations are private,” McCarthy said.

 

Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday night the letter was prepared shortly after Goodell spoke with several players who had protested on game day before the regular season kicked off.

 

“We haven’t gotten a reaction just yet,” Bennett said. “Hopefully we’ll have another meeting in the near future. Hopefully something comes out of it. But it’s just the thought of a lot of players coming together and having some ideas about how we can move forward and be able to impact the communities around the United States in cities that NFL teams are in, is just what it’s about.”

 

Earlier this month, Goodell and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie did agree to a “Listen and Learn” tour that gave them an up-close look at different parts of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. The group met with police commissioner Richard Ross, former inmates and community advocates of criminal justice reform and observed several bail hearings at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

 

“That came from those conversations,” Jenkins said. “That’s ongoing. We’re still working on the next steps. But obviously, there is at least interest to listen and see what players are doing and what’s going on in these communities around the NFL.”

 

The NFL stands to benefit from partnering up with the player movement, Smith explained. A lot of backlash the league faces is a result of people misunderstanding why some players are demonstrating during the singing of the national anthem prior to kickoff. Helping to educate the masses could lead to greater acceptance, Smith said.

 

“And guys are fighting for what’s right,” Smith said. “I think if it was something that put people in a bind, I would understand. I think it’s also important because the league catches a lot of heat for protests and things like that, so it’s important for people to know there’s work being done beyond the protest, just as it’s important for people to know that it’s not an anti-police or anti-military thing. It’s just about finding solutions to issues we’re having.”

 

Smith was asked if greater league involvement, in turn, would lead to fewer protests, as the issues they’re demonstrating for would be recognized.

 

“I can’t speak on that, but I know it would definitely go a long way towards it,” Smith said.

 

Former Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, who retired from the NFL in late August, was also named as a co-author of the memo.

 

Bennett, who said the memo’s writers hadn’t intended it to become public and that he wasn’t sure how it was leaked, described what the “Month of Unity” might entail.

 

“It would be like where people could wear different shirts about equality, including gender, race, different issues around the United States that we could bring awareness to pertaining to different communities around America,” Bennett said. “It would be like something like that, where you wear a shirt, you talk about it. It can bring awareness to different issues going on.”

 

Bennett also pointed to the NBA as a leader in fostering awareness of social issues.

 

“I think the NBA has done a great job of being able to continuously make money and play a great sport and still be socially aware,” Bennett said. “I think we have to be able to find that same balance in the NFL, be able to play great games, give the fans what they want, but also continuously be human beings and talk about the things that affect us on and off the court. And I think that’s what’s going to make us a unique league on top of all the great players that we have, is what kind of impact we can have in the community on top of what we do on the field.”

 

Count Bills PK STEPHEN HAUSCHKA as all-in.  ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka wasn’t looking to be the face of a movement.

 

But he does think the movement needs more faces which look like his.

 

Moved by the player memo to the league asking for help with awareness of issues of racial inequality and criminal justice reform, Hauschka said he wanted “to do more” to advance the discussion.

 

“I think a lot of white people don’t understand it and are afraid to be involved,” Hauschka said, via Kimberley Martin of the Buffalo News. “And I think it’s important for white people to see there is inequality everywhere in the country right now, and in the world.”

 

There has been some diversity in the protests which have draw so much attention in the last 13 months, but not a lot. Eagles defensive end Chris Long acknowledged that more white players should become involved, and stood with his arm around teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his fist during the national anthem. Browns tight end Seth DeValve, whose wife is black, became the first white player to kneel during the anthem as part of a group protest there, and and Seahawks center Justin Britt put a hand on the shoulder of teammate Michael Bennett, who was kneeling during the anthem.

 

Hauschka has been in enough locker rooms to know that they’re made of people from every corner of the country, and every background. And he hopes that players coming together can show people outside the world of sports that positive changes can be made when you work together.

 

“So that’s where it comes from: a place of love and caring and wanting to see the world a better place,” Haushcka said. “I don’t have all the answers, I don’t even pretend to. But I am open to talking about it and I am open to learning about it with the hopes that one day, either our generation or future generations, can improve racial inequality and how people are treated around the world.”

 

It seems like such a simple concept when he says it like that.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Andrew Wallenstein, co-editor of Variety, sees the story of Jemele Hill and her twitter’d hatred of Donald Trump as a missed opportunity by ESPN. 

 

Remember Jemele Hill?

 

Wipe the cobwebs from the darkest corner of your memory banks, and the name may sound vaguely familiar. She was well on her way to becoming a household name just last week, which in our hyper-speed news cycle, is about two or three eons ago. So you’re forgiven if you don’t remember.

 

ESPN is probably hoping you don’t recall Hill, whose tweets calling Donald Trump a white supremacist prompted condemnation from a White House spokeswoman and a demand from the president himself on social media that the network apologize. The sports network issued a few statements making clear she had run afoul of employee guidelines but stopped short of punishing her, which only fueled the outcry from conservatives.

 

But it’s actually a shame that Hill is already fading from our collective memories — for her and for ESPN itself. The network has mistaken what looked like adversity for what her controversy actually was: a big, honking opportunity.

 

At this juncture, parent company Disney’s M.O. is likely to continue studiously avoiding ESPN doing anything political lest eruptions like the Hill tweets perpetuate the problem. Suffering significant subscriber declines, the network can’t afford to lose any more audience, so risking alienating Republican viewers is a no-no.

 

ESPN is probably hoping the hubbub around Hill dies down, returning her to the semi-obscurity of co-hosting the 6 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter.”

 

But ESPN won’t leave the doghouse that easily. Far before Hill ever tweeted, ESPN has been piñata among conservative critics for its supposed liberal bias. That’s not going to change even if Hill stays mum on politics for the rest of her life.

 

So if ESPN’s perception problem remains the same regardless of what she does, why not explore the upside that could come if Hill was actually encouraged to continue to be publicly political?

 

She could find that Trump begins obsessing over her on social media much the same way he did Megyn Kelly, whose own career got a significant boost from all the attention. Playing the part of his foil would not only help build buzz and ratings for “SportsCenter” and ESPN, but potentially make Hill a very valuable asset even well beyond the network, from a syndicated talk show to a primetime newsmagazine—and all within Disney’s orbit.

 

Instead of giving Hill a gag order, book her on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where she can tell a fuller story. Get her more airtime on ESPN. Let her not only issue the occasional political tweet, but encourage her to go there on air. Turn her into a phenomenon.

 

When it comes to being political, ESPN is damned if it does or doesn’t. So why even bother trying to avoid the unavoidable?

 

“SportsCenter” may be hermetically sealed to be a politics-free zone, but a lot good that has done ESPN as its core franchise struggles to recapture its former glory. Maybe a little counterintuitive experimentation on air might actually help.

 

So let Hill get the Megyn Kelly treatment from the president. There’s no shorter short cut available for creating a star in our current crazy media environment than Trump choosing to hate you. Embrace it.

 

Whatever Hill and ESPN are doing, it’s not working if the goal is to have viewers of her shows.  Clay Travis tweets:

 

@ClayTravis 

 Last night @ESPN’s 6 PM @SportsCenter had 366k viewers. Down 40% from same time last year. 40%! MSESPN is dead.

 

 

 

 

BEST GAMES

ESPN.com has a system based on FPI that somehow says the 0-2 Chargers are playing in the co-best game of Week 3:

 

What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN’s matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN’s Football Power Index to rank games on a 1-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 3.

 

1. Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 77 out of 100

FPI win projection: Chiefs, 57 percent

FPI playoff leverage: Chiefs 13 percent, Chargers 8 percent

 

Expect a close, high-scoring game, as this matchup pits the third- and eighth-most efficient offenses in the league in the Chiefs and Chargers, respectively. The two teams combined for 124 points in their two matchups last season, both Chiefs wins. FPI sees Kansas City as a slight road favorite, winning the matchup 57 percent of the time.

 

Los Angeles may be 0-2, but is the only 0-2 team FPI sees as above average, having lost its games by a total of five points.

 

2. Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 77 out of 100

FPI win projection: Falcons, 51 percent

FPI playoff leverage: Lions 21 percent, Falcons 14 percent

 

The only matchup of 2-0 teams in Week 3 features the Falcons as slight road favorites over the Lions. FPI rates Atlanta as the top team in the NFC, but isn’t quite as sold on the Lions, who rank eighth in the conference. Atlanta’s offense, led by Total QBR leader Matt Ryan, has the second-strongest offense in the league (FPI of plus-6.4). FPI does see the Lions as a balanced squad, having all three units (offense, defense and special teams) rating above league average, one of only six teams to share that distinction, but no single unit ranking higher than their special teams at No. 7.

 

3. Oakland Raiders at Washington Redskins (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Matchup quality: 72 out of 100

FPI win projection: Raiders, 51 percent

FPI playoff leverage: Raiders 15 percent, Redskins 13 percent

 

Three games, three slight road favorites. Oakland continues the trend among our top games of the week as they travel east to take on Washington. Both teams moved up four spots in the FPI rankings based on their play last week, Washington from 21st to 17th and Oakland from seventh to fourth.

 

The Raiders’ offense has been the most efficient of any team thus far this year and will test the Redskins’ defense, which FPI rates as slightly below average (FPI of 0.6). It may be up to Kirk Cousins and his ability to exploit the Raiders’ defense, which is seen as slightly worse off than Washington’s (FPI of minus-1.0).

 

4. Seattle Seahawks at Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 70 out of 100

FPI win projection: Titans, 59 percent

FPI playoff leverage: Seahawks 13 percent, Titans 12 percent

 

It will be strength vs. strength when the Titans’ offense is on the field with the Seahawks’ defense, easily each team’s best unit. And when the Seahawks’ offense is on against the Titans’ defense? Well, let’s just say it won’t quite be the immovable object vs. the irresistible force. Keep an eye on Russell Wilson, who has struggled so far this year, ranking just 23rd in Total QBR in two games. FPI still rates the Seahawks’ offense as a tick above league average, but that is down nearly two points since the preseason. Add in a near-cross-country trip, and it’s no wonder why FPI and Vegas both have the Titans as slight favorites.

 

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 64 out of 100

FPI win projection: Vikings, 55 percent

FPI playoff leverage: Bucs 23 percent, Vikings 22 percent

 

The current win percentage incorporates some uncertainty for Sam Bradford, though the variance isn’t dramatic because FPI doesn’t think highly of the Vikings’ starting QBs. If Bradford does suit up for this one, the win percentage will jump to 57 percent; if he doesn’t, it will drop to 53 percent.

 

The Bucs impressed FPI in the team’s one game — a blowout victory over the Bears — and the model aggressively moved Tampa Bay up in its rankings to eighth overall. The NFC South is a tough division, but if the Bucs can’t win it they ought to have a good shot at a wild card. Their chance to make the playoffs currently sits at 48 percent.

 

 

 

 

UPDATED SUPER BOWL ODDS

 

It’s not 100% sure that Kevin Skiver of CBSSports.com is reporting real Vegas odds or giving his own personal updates, but here is how he says Super Bowl odds have moved in the first two weeks of the season.  Can the odds really have shrunk for the Patriots after their opening loss?  Edited below, full version here.

 

Three weeks into the NFL season, the waters are starting to become muddier on where teams belong in their quests for the Lombardi Trophy. The Patriots returned to form against the Saints, while the Lions look like they’ve put together their best squad in years. The Cowboys, meanwhile, sputtered against the Broncos, who showed why their defense is recognized as one of the most formidable in the NFL, stuffing Ezekiel Elliott all game.

 

In the middle of the pack, things are even harder to discern. The Texans came back and got a win, albeit an ugly one, against the Bengals, while the Cardinals did the same against the Colts. There were a lot of movers and shakers after Week 2, but this early in the season it’s still hard to weed out the flukes from the real deal.

 

1. New England Patriots (7/2); Previous: (9/2): New England wasn’t going to be kept down for long, and with Tom Brady having an absolute field day against a pitiful Saints defense it makes sense that people would recognize their rebound from a disastrous performance against the Chiefs. The Texans should prove to be a stiffer test on Sunday, as Tom Brady continues to try to silence his Week 1 doubters, particularly those that think the Saints — not the Chiefs — represent the fluke game.

 

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (8/1); Previous: (10/1): It isn’t surprising to see Pittsburgh jump after routing the Vikings on Sunday, even though it came against Case Keenum and the Vikings. Pittsburgh showed why it’s recognized as one of the most talented offenses in football. Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant should have a field day against Chicago on Sunday, although the “any given Sunday” mantra applies to a team like the Bears — there are few teams more susceptible to trap games than Mike Tomlin’s Steelers.

 

3. Green Bay Packers (10/1); Previous (7/1): The Falcons handled the vaunted Green Bay offense on Sunday night, with Aaron Rodgers struggling until the fourth quarter. Green Bay’s offense was hardly a world-beater against Seattle in Week 1, but it was Seattle. The Packers offense, however, is full of notoriously slow starts, so it isn’t time to panic in Green Bay. Losing to the defending NFC champions in Week 2 isn’t cause for alarm, and ever since Aaron Rodgers’ famous R-E-L-A-X conference in 2014, most Packers fans won’t be sweating the early speed bump.

 

4. Seattle Seahawks (10/1); Previous: (10/1): The Seahawks had a classic NFC West game that makes absolutely no sense against the 49ers on Sunday, so it’s not the near miss that has fans worried. The problem is an absolutely atrocious offensive line that, somehow, looks worse than ever. The Seahawks’ defense remains as stifling as ever, but they have no solutions on how to generate a consistent rushing attack or protect Russell Wilson. As they go up against teams with more consistent defenses, the Seahawks will find it very difficult to generate any type of momentum on offense.

 

5. Atlanta Falcons (12/1); Previous: (16/1): Atlanta is out here to remind everyone that they’re still the reigning NFC champs, and they did so by handling an extremely talented Green Bay offense. The win, however, came at a price. Pass rushing extraordinaire and 2016 sack king Vic Beasley will miss at least a month with a partially torn hamstring. The offense showed it can pick up some slack, moving the ball at will, but we’ll see what they’re made of Sunday when the face the surprising Detroit Lions.

 

6. Oakland Raiders (12/1); Previous: (14/1): The Raiders are steady climbing, as they eviscerated the Jets Sunday and hurt some feelings in the process. Marshawn Lynch danced on the Jets figuratively and literally, and the Raiders showed that they’re contenders in the AFC. The AFC West is shaping up to be one of the most fun divisions in the league, and no one embodies that fun spirit more than Oakland right now. They beat the upstart Titans in Week 1, and they’re looking to join the ranks of the elite in the AFC.

 

7. Dallas Cowboys (14/1); Previous: (10/1): Denver didn’t exactly provide a blueprint to beating the Cowboys outside of “have a stupidly talented defense, put your corners on islands and let them beat Dak Prescott,” but they did show that the Cowboys are very human. Dallas won’t stay down for long after the loss, and they’ll have a chance to redeem themselves in primetime against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football in the national spotlight (I know, the Cowboys playing a nationally televised game, crazy).

 

8. Denver Broncos (16/1); Previous: (25/1): Speaking of the Broncos, if you want to jump, beat Dallas. Easy. The Broncos stand among some of the biggest movers in futures odds, as their defeat of Dallas seemed to shake the football world. But more than the win itself, it’s how they did it. The defense smothered Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott had no answers for Denver’s secondary. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib remain two of the most talented lockdown corners in football right now, while C.J. Anderson is second in the league in rushing and Trevor Siemian is … serviceable. With six touchdowns and two interceptions through two games, he’s doing what Denver needs of him, and the Broncos defense is showing that they can beat anyone.

 

9. Kansas City Chiefs (16/1); Previous: (16/1): After beating the Eagles, the Chiefs are turning their sights to their first divisional matchup against the Chargers in Los Angeles. The Chargers have lost two heartbreakers so far in astoundingly Chargers fashion, but the Chiefs are looking like a fun offense with Alex Smith at the helm. Kareem Hunt is this year’s boom fantasy player, leading the league in rushing yards, and the Chiefs’ defense didn’t miss a beat without Eric Berry deep in Week 2. It’s hard to say which AFC West teams will keep their pace, but Denver and Kansas City’s early resumes definitely stand out.

 

10. Carolina Panthers (25/1); Previous: (25/1): File this one under “people really loving great defense.” Carolina’s defense dominated Buffalo in Week 2, winning a 9-3 game. Buffalo’s defense is no slouch, and Cam Newton may have a chance to air it out against a Saints defense that has proven to be pitiful in the early going of this season. Newton is clearly still looking for a rhythm, and once he finds it it’s entirely fair to think that the Panthers offense will catch up to their insanely stout defense.

 

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (25/1); Previous: (33/1): Tampa Bay apparently made the most of their late start to the season, crushing Chicago in their season opener. It’s been hard to get a read on Tampa, but their offense was as advertised and more in Week 2. Mike Evans was a monster, Jameis Winston wasn’t flashy but he was steady, and the Buccaneers’ defense flew to the ball with abandon. This team is a bit TBD at the moment, as Chicago isn’t the best opening test, but as they begin to play more competitive games we should be able to get a firmer grasp on where Tampa stands, starting against a tough Vikings defense (although the uncertainty around Sam Bradford does cast Minnesota’s status into question).

 

12. Baltimore Ravens (28/1); Previous: (33/1)

 

13. Tennessee Titans (28/1); Previous: (50/1)

 

14. Detroit Lions (33/1); Previous: (50/1): Beating a team on Monday Night Football the way the Lions beat the Giants tends to lead to some bias, and this game was no exception. That doesn’t, however, mean that the jump isn’t earned. The Lions look confident, and Matthew Stafford looks less reckless as a quarterback than he has in a while. There’s talent on both sides of the ball in Detroit, and the Lions clearly know it. Although the talk of the week has been around the Giants and their complete ineptitude, the Lions deserve credit for being one of the teams that shut them down.

 

15. Minnesota Vikings (33/1); Previous: (20/1): Losing Sam Bradford was a rough blow for the Vikings, and to make matters worse Mike Zimmer will only say he’s coming back at some point – unless he dies (Zimmer didn’t actually that, but it’s always implied with how he talks). The Vikings got stomped by the Steelers, and their defense didn’t look like itself. People were high on the Vikings after they absolutely crushed the Saints, but with the Saints proving to be an early bottom-feeder, that game doesn’t look quite as impressive — and as long as Bradford is out there will be questions about the Vikings from week to week.

 

16. New York Giants (33/1); Previous: (20/1)

.

17. Arizona Cardinals (40/1); Previous: (50/1)

 

18. Houston Texans (40/1); Previous: (50/1)

 

19. Philadelphia Eagles (40/1); Previous: (33/1)

 

20. Miami Dolphins (50/1); Previous: (66/1)

 

21. Jacksonville Jaguars (66/1); Previous: (50/1)

 

22. Washington Redskins (66/1); Previous: (100/1): How the Redskins fell so far after losing to a good Eagles team is anyone’s guess, but they’re back to their Week 1 number after righting the ship against the Rams. It was a pretty ugly win, but it feels like every win against the Rams is. Kirk Cousins was held to under 200 yards, but the defense and running game picked up the slack. The game was surprisingly high-scoring given the stat lines — 27-20 Redskins — but it showed that Washington doesn’t belong in the absolute lowest tier of the league.

 

23. Cincinnati Bengals (100/1); Previous: (66/1)

 

24. Los Angeles Chargers (100/1); Previous: (80/1)

 

25. Los Angeles Rams (100/1); Previous: (80/1)

 

26. New Orleans Saints (100/1); Previous: (80/1)

 

27. Buffalo Bills (125/1); Previous: (80/1)

 

28. Indianapolis Colts (125/1); Previous: (100/1)

 

30. Cleveland Browns (500/1); Previous: (250/1)

 

31. San Francisco 49ers (500/1); Previous: (250/1)

 

32. New York Jets (1,000/1), Previous: (500/1)