The Daily Briefing Monday, December 18, 2017

AROUND THE NFL 

If The Season Ended Today –

AFC STANDINGS

                                                        Overall       Division      Conference

xPittsburgh Steelers    ACN                11-3             5-0              8-2                @hou, CLV

xNew England Patriots ACN              11-3             3-1              8-2                BUF,   NYJ

xJacksonville Jaguars  ACS              10-4             4-1              9-2                @sf,    TEN

Kansas City Chiefs     ACW                 8-6             4-1              6-4                MIA,   @den

Tennessee Titans       WC                    8-6             4-1              7-4                LAR,   JAX

Baltimore Ravens       WC                    8-6             3-2              6-4                @ind,  CIN

Buffalo Bills                                           8-6             2-2              6-4                @ne,  @mia

Los Angeles Chargers                          7-7             2-3              4-6                @nyj,  OAK

x-clinched playoff berth, PIT and NE have clinched division.

The Jaguars have a magic number of one for the division.  And in a two-way tiebreaker at 12-4, they would jump either Pittsburgh who they beat or New England by conference record.

The Chiefs now have a sweep over the Chargers, so they are also one result (either a KC win or LAC loss) from taking the AFC West.

Among the three Wild Card candidates, Baltimore has the easier path, the Titans have the hardest one. 

The Chargers beat Buffalo.  They did not play Tennessee.  Buffalo has not played Tennessee either. 

The best hope for the Chargers?  Win both games which seems 75% or so doable.  Hope Tennessee loses both games, also 75% likely.  Hope the Bills lose one, also likely.  So don’t count out the Chargers.

– – –

The NFL’s two worst rules, correctly administered, gave victories to Bob Kraft and Jerry Jones on Sunday.

This tweet from Charean Williams on what the fates of TE JESSE JAMES and QB DEREK CARR had in common.

@NFLCharean

If today’s games have taught us anything, players needs to stop reaching for the goal line when a FG ties the game.

Peter King on what happened in Pittsburgh:

New England 27, Pittsburgh 24. Fifty-two seconds left. Ben Roethlisberger to Smith-Schuster for 69 yards up the left sideline, to the New England 10. Thirty-four seconds left. Ballgame, it seemed.

Roethlisberger, on the next play, found tight end Jesse James at the Patriots two. James caught it, pirouetted, lunged and reached over the goal line. Both officials on either side of the goal line ruled touchdown. The noise. The noise, noise, noise.

End of the schneid. Brady, on the other sideline, forlorn. Steelers rejoicing, on the sideline and in the stands. There is the cursory review, as there is for every touchdown …

“This is gonna stand,” said Tony Romo on CBS.

“There is no doubt it is going to hold up,” said Jim Nantz.

Time went by. Ten, 25, 30 seconds. Replay after replay after replay on CBS. Steelers on the sideline not rejoicing anymore, but wondering why this is taking so long.

“Does he maintain control?” Romo said after the ball appeared to hit the ground and move on the James lunge. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, this could go either way.” Nantz saw the same thing. Now what would Tony Corrente, turning on his mic to be heard in the suddenly quiet stadium.

“The receiver in the end zone did not survive the ground,” Corrente said, using an inside-officiating phrase. “It’s an incomplete pass.”

How huge a play this was. Did James catch the ball and make a football move and cross the plane of the goal line with the ball? Or, like Dez Bryant, did he fall to the ground with apparent possession and have the ball jostled perceptibly by the ground, thus negating the catch? It is ridiculously close. But by the letter of the law, Corrente probably did the right thing.

“I can’t comment on Dez Bryant,” Corrente told a pool reporter, “I can only tell you that in this case, he went to the ground and had lost control of the ball. The ball hit the ground, and that means at that point it’s an incomplete pass whether he was touched or not.”

Said a glum James, “I thought it was a touchdown for sure.”

Said Roethlisberger, “The rule is you must possess it all the way through.”

Said Tomlin, “I’m not going to cry over spilled milk.”

So no touchdown. Second and goal from the 10. Twenty-eight seconds left. Roethlisberger on a crossing route to Darrius Heyward-Bey—the same route injured megastar Antonio Brown probably would have run, but he was in a nearby hospital getting his lower leg examined after a first-half injury. (It was later reported he had a partially torn calf muscle and would be out until the playoffs.) Gain of three for Heyward-Bey, who could not get out of bounds.

Clock running. No timeouts. :20 … :19 … Roethlisberger hustling to the line, making the “spike it” gesture with his right hand. “We thought they’d spike it,’’ said Harmon. “We were ready for it.”

:18 … :17 … :16 … “I was yelling ‘Clock it!’” Roethlisberger said. “And it came from the sideline: ‘Don’t clock it, don’t clock it.’”

:15 … :14 … :13 … The Steelers lined up, wideout Eli Rogers wide right, set to be Roethlisberger’s target two yards deep in the end zone.

:12 … :11 … :10 … :09 Snap. Roethlisberger faked a clock-it at the line, then began looking for Rogers, trailed by big Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe. The throw was on target. Rowe used all of his 73 inches to lunge over Rogers’ shoulder and bat the ball away … and into teammate Harmon’s hands.

Steelers win, Steelers get overturned, Steelers have a slightly open guy in the end zone for a second win, Roethlisberger throws. Picked. Steelers lose. Patriots win. So fast, so cruel. So impactful.Thanks to one overturned touchdown and the most vital NFL goal-line interception since Malcolm Butler, the likely AFC playoff scenario went from: 1. Pittsburgh; 2. New England … to 1. New England; 2. Pittsburgh.

Will form hold in the last two weeks? It never does. All anyone in this heartsick city knows this morning is that the Grinch came early this year. And the Steelers still have a Patriots problem.

Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report is among many who know a TD when they see it:

Here we go again. What the hell is a catch?      

In what was the most exciting, gorgeous, wild, insane, unbelievable, staggering game of the year so far, featuring some of the greatest players in the sport’s history, it came down to the call of a game official and that question we ask all the time: What the hell is a catch?

If you want to understand why the NFL continues to thrive despite going through one of the ugliest times in its history, this game is why. It will spawn arguments and conspiracy theories for years to come. Controversy fuels the modern NFL the way hemoglobin fuels blood.

To be clear: It wasn’t a catch. It just wasn’t. In the final, soon-to-be infamous moments of Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Steelers—the top two teams in the AFC—Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James lost control of the football as he went to the ground. It wasn’t a touchdown by any definition of an NFL catch. The rule is as bright as a neon light.

A player going to the ground during the process of making a catch must control the ball through the fall. Officials believed (correctly) James lost control after hitting the ground.

That is the proper call. But facts won’t matter, and that’s the NFL’s fault.

The league has muddled what a catch is, and now few people fully understand it. Years ago, when a player had the football in his hands and crossed the goal line, it was a catch. Simple. Then came the Calvin Johnson rule. Then came Dez Caught It and a million other catch/non-catch controversies that have happened since. So now, no one has a clue what it means to catch a football.

The play came after the Patriots’ furious comeback—this is what Tom Brady does all the damn time—to take a 27-24 lead. The Steelers got the football with 52 seconds left, and on the first play, Ben Roethlisberger hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for 69 yards to the New England 10.

On the next play, Roethlisberger hit James, and the ball popped loose as he hit the ground.

“It was just trying to make a football play and win the game,” James said.

Replay official Terri Valenti verified the call, and the Steelers drive ended with Roethlisberger being intercepted by safety Duron Harmon after a Dan Marino-like fake spike. (Roethlisberger said it wasn’t a fake. He was going to spike it, but coaches on the sideline yelled for him not to as he took the snap, so he didn’t.)

The game was an intense, wild ride. But it’s the non-catch that will live forever.  

“You know, I don’t have HD [television] and all that stuff,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, when asked about the final play. “So it’s irrelevant how I feel about it, to be honest with you. It’s not going to change the outcome of the game. I’m not going to cry over spilled milk and all of that crap and talk about replay. I ain’t doing it.”

“I thought he crossed the plane before the ball hit the ground,” Roethlisberger said. “But the rule is you must possess it all the way through.”

It’s a stupid rule. But it is a rule.

Referee Tony Corrente, in remarks made to the game’s pool reporter, said the receiver must “survive the ground.” Which is incredibly NFL-ian.

Dean Blandino, the league’s former head of officiating and a current Fox rules analyst, explained further on Twitter:

@DeanBlandino

That’s the rule and it’s a bright line. If you are going to the ground to make the catch you have to hold onto the ball when you land. He isn’t a runner until he completes the catch so goal line is not a factor. It’s an incomplete pass.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys won when they were deemed to have “recovered” a fumble on a play where not one Dallas player so much as ever laid a finger on the ball.  But Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News defends the rule:

By the letter of the law, referee Gene Steratore and his officiating crew made exactly the right call. From the condensed version of the NFL rulebook:

“A fumble that goes forward and out of bounds will return to the fumbling team at the spot of the fumble unless the ball goes out of bounds in the opponent’s end zone. In this case, it is a touchback.”

This sort of play has happened in key spots more than usual this season — most notably to Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in a seven-point loss to the Patriots in Week 6. That, in turn, has brought more awareness to the rule and more public disdain toward it.

The logic goes: If Carr’s fumble goes out of bounds anywhere else on the field, then the Raiders retain possession. But we should also know the goal line isn’t like anywhere else on the field.

Sure, Carr made a gritty play scrambling and reaching the ball out in an attempt to break the plane, but Cowboys safety Jeff Heath made the greater play by chasing down Carr and preventing him from making it to the pylon with the ball in his hands.

Just as Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger was held accountable for making a shaky decision that led to an interception against New England, Carr should be held accountable for his mistake in the most crucial place and time on the field.

Does it stink for Raiders fans that Carr couldn’t quite go all the way? Yes. But had he protected the ball and gone out of bounds instead of riskily overextending, the Raiders would have had a first-and-goal inside the Cowboys’ 5-yard line with 32 seconds left plus their final timeout.

The Raiders won most of the gambles that Carr and coach Jack Del Rio made in ’16. The Cowboys and Jason Garrett made the better calculated decisions Sunday, as Dak Prescott’s fourth-down sneak was trumped only by the brilliant fake-punt run by Chris Jones that sparked a tiebreaking TD drive late in the third quarter.

The Carr play was a reminder why the touchback rule exists. There are consequences when you fumble near your own end zone: a safety that gives the opponent two points and the ball back on a free kick, or a touchdown by the defense. There should be consequences some 100 yards the other way, too.

Rewarding a team for something literally defined as a clumsy act is silly. Sure, the offense can recover its own fumble to save a possession elsewhere on the field and score in the end zone, but by definition, it is more rewarded for, you know, the recovery effort.

So the argument against the touchback rule is that the tie goes to the defense. When a fumble occurs in bounds in the end zone, it’s either recovered for a touchdown by the offense or a touchback for the defense.

To understand the rule, it comes down to this: Why, exactly, is the offense the one that gets screwed? Simple: In those situations, the offense carries more the burden of execution; it is the prosecution to the defense’s, well, defense.

The defense is innocent of giving up a touchdown until it is proven guilty by the offense. Evidence that isn’t undisputed (or incapable of being overturned) shouldn’t go in the offense’s favor. That’s true with not completing the process of the catch in Pittsburgh and that’s true with fumbling in Oakland.

It’s funny how everyone complains that holding, pass interference and unnecessary roughness make it “impossible” to play defense in the NFL, yet here are two not-so crazy challenges for offenses, and no one can stand it.

It’s only natural. We’re offense-first in this fantasy football era, and these are bang-bang plays with nuanced rules that decide games. It doesn’t really help when two teams hated by pretty much the rest of the NFL — the Patriots and Cowboys — are the beneficiaries in games with huge playoff implications.

There’s nothing wrong with the touchback rule. It’s totally right to hold the Raiders responsible for a big mistake in a big moment.

– – –

Steratore also presided over one of the most controversial measurements in NFL history on Sunday night leaving the Raiders fuming:

The Oakland Raiders took exception to a controversial measurement for a key first down in the Dallas Cowboys’ game-winning drive in a 20-17 victory Sunday night.

After Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott ran a QB keeper up the middle on fourth-and-1 from Dallas’ 39-yard line with about five minutes to play in a tied game, the ball was spotted just short of the 40-yard line.

The chains were called out and referee Gene Steratore folded up an index card to see if there was space between the nose of the football and the pole. There was space and yet Steratore signaled a first down for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys were upbeat Sunday night at the prospect of having Ezekiel Elliott in the fold after the running back’s suspension expires Monday morning. “Just seeing him back will make us play that much harder,” Dez Bryant said.

“I don’t want to get fined, OK?” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “I’m not happy with the way things were done in a lot of different situations throughout the night. They did the best that they could. I had a different viewpoint. I saw air. It was pretty obvious. Again, they do the best they can with a tough job.”

Said Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman: “There was still space between the ball and the stick.”

The Cowboys, buoyed by the first down, marched down and kicked a 19-yard field goal with 1 minute, 47 seconds to play.

“Yeah, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that one,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It seems like that’s the method they use to decide. One of my concerns was that it looked like the stick was kind of on an angle. We thought that was working against us but eventually they straightened it out, brought the card out and we made it by the thickness of the card. And it was certainly a big play.”

Still, Steratore was anything but clear in his conversation with a pool reporter.

Asked why he used the index card, Steratore said: “Didn’t use the card to make the final decision. The final decision was made visually. The card was used nothing more than a reaffirmation of what was visually done. My decision was visually done based on the look from the pole.”

How did it reaffirm?

“That was already finished,” Steratore said. “The ball was touching the pole. I put the card in there and as soon as it touched, it was nothing more than a reaffirmation. The decision was made based on my visual from the top looking down and the ball touching the front of the pole.”

Had the call gone the other way, the Cowboys would be fuming about why the end stick seemed to be pulled back away from the ball.  Maybe Steratore was using the card to determine where the tip of the ball line up to the chains lying on the ground – and the positioning of the stick was irrelevant?

An ex-NFL official was proclaiming that Steratore was not allowed to confirm his viewpoint by using the card, but ProFootballTalk.com gets pushback from the NFL that what Gene did was okay:

Referee Gene Steratore’s use of an index card while measuring for a first down in Sunday night’s game between the Cowboys and Raiders has generated a lot of response around the football world.

Former NFL official and supervisor of officials Jim Daopoulos told PFT that officials are “never allowed to use anything other than their eyes to make that decision,” although he acknowledges that there’s no specific rule preventing it from happening.

PFT confirmed with the league that there’s “no prohibition” on using an index card, a sheet of paper or other object in the course of making their ruling. Steratore said he didn’t use the card to make the measurement, but as a “reaffirmation” of seeing the ball reaching the sticks for a first down. Even so, Steratore’s decision has been met with a lot of head-scratching.

In his comments to a pool reporter, Steratore said it has “maybe been done at some point in someone’s career” when asked where got the idea of using the card. Referee Bill Vinovich did something similar during a Browns-Ravens game in 2013 and, as noted in the Akron Beacon Journal at the time, the NFL’s response was the same 

NFC NORTH

DETROIT

The New England-Pittsburgh finish was not the most excruciating of the year – and it only is likely to determine home filed advantage.  Jim Caldwell’s 8-6 Lions would be 9-5 with a tiebreaker advantage over the Falcons had Al Riveron and his replay crew not been so officious in Week 3.

In an article from the time, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free-Press reminds us:

Oh my.

What game. And what a way to lose.

The Detroit Lions fell from the ranks of the unbeaten Sunday in one of the wildest, wackiest finishes you’ll ever see.

The Lions appeared to score the go-ahead touchdown against the defending NFC champion Atlanta   Falcons with 8 seconds to play, but Golden Tate was ruled inches short of the goal line on review and the touchdown was nullified.

NFL rules call for a 10-second runoff during late stoppages of play with a running clock, and when referee Walt Coleman announced just that, the Falcons sprinted around Ford Field in celebration to boos from the home crowd with a dramatic 30-26 victory.

We certainly don’t fault the officials on the field for thinking it was a touchdown.  Like the play in Pittsburgh it sure looked like a TD.  But if they had been “correct” as to what Riveron and company saw about Tate’s knee, the Lions would have had something more than 8 seconds to snap the ball (a spike was not possible, it was 4th down, so it would have had to be a coherent play).  Possible maybe…  But instead the 10-second runoff triggered by an officiating “error” might well put Atlanta in the playoffs.

GREEN BAY

An illegal hit by Panthers LB THOMAS DAVIS concussed WR DAVANTE ADAMS on Sunday.  Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:

 First, the Danny Trevathan hit. Now this for Davante Adams.

The Green Bay Packers wide receiver was taken out by an illegal hit that led to a concussion for the second time this season.

Thomas Davis’ hit on Davante Adams is why a targeting rule is on the way

This season has demonstrated that the league’s current rules aren’t curbing dangerous hits to the head as well as they should.

On Sunday, it happened when Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis hit Adams with an illegal blindside hit during an interception return in the third quarter. Davis hit a defenseless Adams after Panthers safety Colin Jones picked off an Aaron Rodgers pass and returned it 34 yards.

This is Adams’ third concussion in the past two seasons.

He did not miss a game following either of his past two concussions. He was taken off the field on a gurney following Trevathan’s hit on Sept. 28. The Bears linebacker served a one-game suspension, but Adams returned for the next game 10 days later and caught two touchdown passes at Dallas.

In Green Bay’s 31-24 loss to the Panthers, Adams was able to walk off the field under his own power.

An NFL spokesman said that Davis’ hit will be reviewed for potential discipline.

The Packers were not happy about Davis’ hit, although Rodgers wouldn’t say what he and Davis talked about during an on-field exchange late in the game.

“I’m obviously concerned when he’s not out there and he goes in [the locker room],” Rodgers said of Adams. “He had the rough one at home against Chicago, came back in a week. Everybody’s brain responds differently to traumatic contact like that. I hope he’s able to respond favorably.” 

MINNESOTA

The Vikings let QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER finish up the win at Cincinnati.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

Sunday was a memorable day in Minnesota for multiple reasons as the Vikings clinched the NFC North title with a rout over the Bengals that allowed them to give Case Keenum some rest while Teddy Bridgewater closed out the day at quarterback.

Bridgewater had not played in a game since the 2015 season due to the major knee injury he suffered in the summer of 2016 and his appearance on the field was greeted by an ovation loud enough to force Bridgewater to put his hands over his ears to hear the play call on his helmet radio. Bridgewater called it “amazing hearing the crowd chanting” and to see his teammates, including Keenum, joining in the response.

“We have a group of men in this locker room who uplifted their brother throughout a hard time in his life,” Bridgewater said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Usually when you have a dream and you wake up, you don’t remember what happened in that dream,” he said. “I’m fortunate to pick up right where my dream left off. Nothing tops that.”

Bridgewater threw a couple of passes, one that was intercepted and one that went for an incompletion, but the results were less important on Sunday than the fact that Bridgewater was back on the field. 

NFC EAST

NEW YORK GIANTS

The Giants lost, but they did score a bunch of points against a playoff defense.  Does that mean that ELI MANNING will be back in 2018?  Jordan Raanan, now of ESPN.com:

Eli Manning showed, for one day at least, there is still something left in that right arm and soon-to-be 37-year-old body. He might not be done yet.

Manning threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns with one interception on Sunday, by far his best performance of the season. It was wasted in a 34-29 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium.

Interim coach Steve Spagnuolo said afterward it was a pretty good assumption Manning will start next week against the Arizona Cardinals. As long as he’s standing, the Giants appear destined to keep him as their starter this season.

It could be for even longer. Manning has two years remaining and a no-trade clause in his contract, and might not be going anywhere. Co-owner John Mara said last week he wants the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback to return next season.

“Yeah, I did see that,” Manning said after completing 37 of 57 passes as the Giants scored a season-high 29 points. “I want to be back next year as well. So again, I love playing for the New York Giants. I love this organization. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me and I try to give back everything that I have to this organization and this team. So I’d like to be back as well.”

There is a lot that factors into this complicated equation. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the Giants keeping Manning:

PROS

Veteran mentor: The Giants are going to have, at minimum, one young quarterback on the roster, with Davis Webb and/or a potential top draft pick. Manning has value as a lead-by-example veteran. He has seen every defensive look imaginable and can impart some wisdom on the young quarterbacks. His work ethic could also rub off.

The bridge: Manning makes sense if the Giants aren’t ready to turn over the franchise to one of the young quarterbacks. He can serve as the one-year bridge. If he struggles like he has this season, they also have already greased the skids to make the move to bench him. There is no streak to take into account and by now the veteran quarterback has to understand the situation if he returns. If he stays, it’s likely only for the short term.

Financially: The Giants would take a $12.4 million cap hit if Manning were cut or traded. Even though they would save almost $10 million against the cap if they moved on, they would then need to sign a veteran. The cap savings wouldn’t be overwhelming. The way the contract was designed the Giants would ideally have liked to keep Manning through the 2018 season, then move on if necessary. Anything after that could be strictly a personnel — not financial — decision.

One last run: Maybe Manning’s performance Sunday against the Eagles was a sign of things to come. Maybe he has enough left that the Giants can reshape their roster in the offseason and turn it around with an experienced quarterback. Manning’s arm doesn’t appear to be the problem. If anything, it’s his lack of mobility and the ability to thrive under pressure. With the right moves by the new general manager and Odell Beckham Jr. back as his safety blanket and top playmaker, maybe it’s possible for the Giants to put together a run with Manning in 2018.

CONS

Slim chance of success: Let’s be honest. The Giants haven’t been able to put it together for most of the past six years. What indicates they can do it in the next year or so while Manning has to learn another new system? It seems unlikely, given the roster and state of the locker room, that the Giants are close to making a real run. There is also a chance that Sunday against the Eagles was a mirage. Manning’s track record over the past two seasons isn’t particularly good. There have been significantly more duds than impressive performances.

Delaying the inevitable: The Giants are going to turn the team over to a young quarterback in the near future. Why wait? If they draft a quarterback with a top-three pick, it’s a matter of time before he gets into a game. The only way for him to learn is by playing and having Manning around might delay the inevitable. It already has pinned Webb to the bench this season. And will Manning be OK with playing the role of Kurt Warner with the Giants in 2004 if need be? He still thinks he can play at a high level.

Financial hit: Manning will cost $22.2 million against the salary cap next season. He’s not a $22 million player anymore. That isn’t even debatable. Cutting or trading him will result in some dead money, but even if it gives the Giants an extra $4 million or so to work with it could help in adding depth to a roster that is in desperate need of reinforcements — or help in re-signing Beckham. Every dollar could matter to the new general manager as he tries to rebuild this team.

Turning the page: There will be a new general manager and coach sometime early next year. It might benefit everyone involved for the new regime to start fresh with its own quarterback (preferably with the No. 2 overall pick). Why waste time investing in an aging quarterback learning a new system and being the leader of the team when the new GM and coach can make the change at the start, rather than sometime during the season or in the next few years? 

PHILADELPHIA

Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer tells Peter King about CARSON WENTZ’s acclamation to Philadelphia:

“I think the guiding force there is his belief in Christianity. He talks about it a lot with a lot of guys now. He’s got four or five close friends that go to church together on Sundays … I think he’s going to be a preacher when he is done with football. And he says that keeps him centered, and I think in terms of the big picture, he can look at that and say, ‘This is just a game.’ To him, it’s not the ultimate thing. If things are going bad for him, and they certainly are now—the season is over—he can step back and look at things from that perspective. I think that’s a big part of how he can approach the game, whether that is in North Dakota, or in Philadelphia, one of the most difficult places to play in pro sports … He kind of brought North Dakota to the Philadelphia area, and he bought a large plot of land where he can hunt and get away from it all in south Jersey. And his brother is there living nearby. That was important for him. I think he needs that as a reprieve from being in Philadelphia … He can go back to his property and hunt if he wants, hang out with his dog, do the things that he did in North Dakota.”

NFC SOUTH

CAROLINA

In one stunning weekend, Jerry Richardson went from being the respected founding owner of the Panthers into a pariah who must sell his team and then still get punished by the NFL   according to Peter King:

In a week, the NFL went from bystander in America’s sexual-harassment awakening to the front row. Current and former NFL Network employees, three with Super Bowl rings, were accused by a 10-year wardrobe stylist for the network of overt harassment, including a claim that Marshall Faulk exposed his genitals and demanded oral sex. Faulk, Ike Taylor and Heath Evans were suspended by the network, and former NFLN personalities Eric Davis and Donovan McNabb were suspended by ESPN, their current employer. And on Sunday, in a damning Sports Illustrated exposé, Jon Wertheim and Viv Bernstein reported that at least four former employees of the Carolina Panthers received settlement payments because of the workplace conduct of owner Jerry Richardson, including asking women if they would massage his feet and if he could shave their legs.

When Richardson stunned the league seven hours after the SI report by saying he would move to sell the team after the season, the prevailing sentiment in some corners of the NFL was Richardson was trying to beat the posse out of town. If he said he’d sell, the theory went, the league would not sic the investigative dogs on the 81-year-old sports fixture of the Carolinas. Richardson should not assume this, and, in fact, the league needs to make sure it investigates all of its employees and owners equally for this.

Why shouldn’t the league let Richardson walk into a quiet retirement? Simple. If a very rich and powerful man abuses his position of authority and power by taking advantage of the women who work for him, why should he get off scot-free just by choosing the easy path of selling the team a few years before it was to have been sold anyway? If he acted inappropriately while an NFL owner, Richardson should take the punishment an owner would have coming … even if that punishment comes after he sells.

I emphasize the word “if,” because Richardson should have the chance to defend himself. Maybe he’ll choose to do so; maybe he won’t. But when the top echelon of NFL officials meets in New York today to plot the league’s course on Richardson, the message should come back thusly: We have to seek the truth on one of our own. How can players trust the league to investigate players if it drops the ball on serious charges against one of its owners?

A flurry of other tributary issues on the week #MeToo hit the NFL:

• I don’t expect this to lead to the Panthers being candidates to move. Though the team has a short-term lease at Bank of America Stadium and there isn’t one obvious candidate to spend more than $1.5 billion to buy the team, it’s unlikely the business community—led by the gigantic banking concern Bank of America—will let the sporting crown jewel of the region leave town. I spoke to one prominent former Panthers employee who said it’s most likely BoA officials will find a group of people to buy the team and ensure that it stays in Charlotte.

• Richardson likely couldn’t have stayed as owner of the team even if he wanted. The Southern ethos Richardson imbued in his company, and the outwardly gentlemanly and formal way he ran his team, fits with the corporate and civic community in the Carolinas. The former Panthers employee said he wouldn’t have been surprised if Richardson stayed if, for instance, Bank of America would have fought to take its corporate name off the stadium. No corporate community likes scandal, obviously, and particularly no corporate community in the South. Richardson would have a difficult time continuing as the major impact player in the Carolinas sports scene with a whiff of scandal on him.

• Other owners, executives and likely even players will have microscopes on them now. As with the Hollywood scandal that began with Harvey Weinstein and quickly ensnared others, I don’t doubt that if there are some in the shadows in NFL circles who felt victimized, they could come out after seeing the results of the NFL Network and Richardson sagas.

Richardson has been mostly out of sight as an owner since losing a somewhat bitter battle over the NFL’s Los Angeles market. He wanted the Raiders and Chargers to combine forces and build a stadium in suburban Carson and play there; an uprising of other owners won the day and the Chargers joined the Rams’ downtown L.A. project while the Raiders prepared to move to Las Vegas. Formerly, Richardson was one of the most influential owners in the league. His influence and interest simply waned.

His legacy will take time to fathom. Pro football in the Carolinas may have come eventually, but Richardson was overwhelmingly the driver. No owner took more pride in his region, his stadium, his team. That should not be forgotten. He was so proud of his native area that, when building his prize stadium in Charlotte in the ’90s, Richardson directed a horticulturalist to plant flowers and flora on the north of the stadium that were indigenous to North Carolina, while planting similar flora native to South Carolina on the south side of the stadium. Panthers offices were always such a formal place when I visited that I was surprised to read in the SI story about “Jeans Day.” But as with so many of these 2017 stories, there are lots of surprises beneath the surface.

 We note that none of Richardson’s behavio,r while odd and creepy, seems to be criminal.

But, if the SI.com report by L. Don Wortham and Viv Bernstein is to be believed, odd and creepy it was:

 Friday was Jeans Day, when most staffers at the Carolina Panthers team offices would wear denim to work. The female employees knew what that meant. As the team’s owner, Jerry Richardson, made his rounds on the way to his spacious office, he would ask women to turn around so he could admire their backsides. Then, in his rolling Southern drawl, he’d offer comment, drawing from a store of one-liners he’d recycle each week. Among those in heaviest rotation: Show me how you wiggle to get those jeans up. I bet you had to lay down on your bed to fit into those jeans. Did you step into those jeans or did you have to jump into them?

Richardson’s conduct was treated as something of a running office joke, according to multiple former Panthers team employees, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Male employees would knowingly ask the women whether the Carolina owner had noticed them that day. Women subjected to Richardson’s comments would often dismiss them with a sheepish wave of a hand. “No one ever said anything, at least not that I heard,” says one former Panthers employee. “He was the boss. It was [viewed] more of a creepy-old-man thing than a threat.”

But to other Panthers employees, Richardson’s behavior on Jeans Day was consistent with a broader pattern of disturbing—and potentially actionable—office behavior. On Friday evening, the Panthers announced that they had commenced an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct against Richardson, to be led by the outside law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan LLP and overseen by former White House Chief of Staff and Panthers minority owner Erskine Bowles. On Sunday morning the NFL announced it was taking over the investigation.

– – –

SI has been made aware of at least four former Panthers employees who have received significant settlements from Richardson or from the team in exchange for what amounted to a vow of silence. One of the deals was confirmed by a recipient’s significant other, who had contemporaneous knowledge of Richardson’s conduct. On the condition that no potentially identifying details (such as dates or dollar figures) be revealed in this story, SI viewed the physical legal document—which included what appears to be Richardson’s signature—for one such settlement. No public documents or EEOC complaints have been found linking Richardson to workplace abuses, but a former Panthers employee tells SI that, while working for the team, she personally saw documents detailing sexual harassment claims against Richardson that were being investigated by the Panthers.

– – –

Richardson’s various accusers, speaking independently, describe a strikingly similar pattern of behavior that they say created a hostile work environment. Rather than making sudden bursts of lewd comments or committing isolated lapses in decorum, Richardson worked gradually, starting with kind gestures and pleasant interactions before pivoting to inappropriately intimate behavior. “Looking back,” says one former employee, “he was gaining our trust before doing things he shouldn’t be doing.”

A proud traditionalist who long resisted email and waited until later years to acquire a mobile phone—a flip phone at that—Richardson often sent employees handwritten notes. It was a gesture perceived as chivalrous and quaint. Recipients often felt obligated to send handwritten notes in return. Multiple female employees recall that their notes eventually came accompanied by small cash payments and encouragement to use the money to treat themselves to massages or dresses. The women would thank Richardson; when he responded with lines on the order of You won’t find another man to treat you the way I treat you, it was still viewed as flattery, if clumsily rendered, by an older man from an older era.

But multiple former female employees recount that Richardson’s behavior began to feel like a violation when he spoke of their bodies. He had a special interest in female grooming, they say. He would notice when their nails were not up to his standards, and pay for them to get manicures. Multiple female employees recalled to SI that Richardson asked them if he could personally shave their legs.

Former employees allege that in addition to verbal harassment, Richardson engaged in improper acts. According to sources, on multiple occasions Richardson requested female employees to visit him during a workday in his suite inside Bank of America Stadium. The women would be escorted by Richardson’s assistant, who would then depart, leaving the owner alone with a junior employee. One former female employee recalls Richardson, who stands 6’3″, arriving barefoot and asking for a foot massage. Says one such invitee: “The first time, you thought it was an important meeting with the owner. You [then] realized it was never anything that couldn’t be discussed over the phone.” Others talk of Richardson giving back rubs that lingered too long or went too low down the spine.

Richardson was also known for what multiple women call the “seatbelt maneuver.” He would invite female employees out to lunch, and in keeping with his reputation as a self-styled gentleman, he would open the car door for his guests. Once they were seated, however, he would insist on fastening their seatbelt for them, reaching across their lap and brushing his hand across their breasts before putting the belt in the clasp.

“You look back and it’s wackadoo,” says one former Carolina employee. “You felt preyed upon. You felt fear. You felt self-doubt. But when you’re in [that environment], everywhere you go, every family gathering, it’s, ‘Oh, you work in the NFL? That’s so cool.’ And you don’t want to lose your job.”

 The whole thing is here.

– – –

With Richardson on the run for creepy behavior, Sean “PDiddy” Combs thinks his personal life will pass muster with Roger Goodell’s NFL Office.  Des Bieler of the Washington Post:

Just a few weeks ago, Diddy was saying he wanted to buy the entire NFL. That, of course, was never realistic, but with the Carolina Panthers suddenly up for sale, you’d have to think the rapper/entrepreneur would be interested, right?

Right.

@Diddy

I would like to buy the @Panthers. Spread the word. Retweet!

8:50 PM – Dec 17, 2017

Actually, Diddy has a two-part plan in mind: Buy the Panthers, then sign Colin Kaepernick. Diddy has expressed support for the free agent quarterback in the past, and Sunday it appeared he wanted to use his eagerness to sign Kaepernick as a selling point for a potential bid for the team.

Less than an hour after the Panthers announced that owner Jerry Richardson, embroiled in an NFL investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct, was ready to “turn the franchise over to new ownership,” Diddy had a pair of tweets of his own. The first asked his 13.9 million followers to “spread the word” of his interest, with, as of this writing, over 40,000 Twitter users complying.

Diddy followed that with a tweet in which he said, “There are no majority African American NFL owners. Let’s make history.”

@Diddy

This picture was taken back in 2003. This is God’s work. It’s time!!

ATTN all @NFL owners, it’s time for diversity!! It’s time for Black ownership!!

The time is now. Let’s make it happen!!

The 47-year-old mogul has a point about the NFL’s lack of diversity among its ownership ranks, with   only Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, who was born in Pakistan, and Bills co-owner Kim Pegula, who was born in South Korea, counted among its non-white owners. In addition, in a report released in October, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport noted that “at the start of the 2017 season, there were no [team] Presidents who were women or people of color in the NFL.”

In October, Diddy said, “Facts,” in retweeting a post that stated, “Black players are 70% of the NFL. We have the power to defend Colin Kaepernick and Jemele Hill from the forces that would silence them.”

Diddy followed that with tweets in which he said, “I did have a dream to own a NFL team but now my dream is to own our own league! A league where you can be yourself. Have a retirement plan. Have freedom to be a great human and protest for your people without being demonized for your beliefs as a KING!!”

More recently, Diddy posted a photo of himself and Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who has filed a grievance against the NFL for what he claims is collusion by the owners to keep him out of the league. “I’m inspired by what he’s doing for our people,” Diddy said.

@Diddy

Thankful for this brother right here. Met with @Kaepernick7 the other day. I’m inspired by what he’s doing for our people. Times like this we need to be united. He’s out here changing the narrative representing this #BlackExcellence.

1:12 PM – Nov 23, 2017

In an Instagram video Sunday, Diddy said, “I need to send a message out to everybody in the beautiful state of North Carolina: I will be the best NFL owner that you can imagine. I will immediately address the Colin Kaepernick situation and put him in the running for next year’s starting quarterback.”

Diddy added, “It’s just competition, baby; it’s just competition,” possibly so as not to upset Cam Newton, the Panthers’ incumbent quarterback and the NFL’s 2015 MVP.

However, for Diddy to even make a credible bid for ownership of the Panthers, he would almost certainly need to line up some partners — and not just Mase, Lil’ Kim and the rest of “The Family.” Earlier this year, Forbes estimated Diddy’s net worth at $820 million, while the website put a value on the Panthers of $2.3 billion.

Among those offering to pitch in Sunday was Warriors star Stephen Curry, a North Carolina native and a huge fan of the Panthers. Former NFL players Maurice Jones-Drew, Greg Jennings and Shawn Merriman also threw their helmets into the ring.

We found this at the Daily Mail about Combs who has six acknowledged children with four different women:

A woman who worked as a personal chef to music mogul Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs claims that he and his pals exposed themselves to her and engaged in improper sexual behavior in her presence.

Cindy Rueda filed a sexual harassment lawsuit on Monday in which she details her experience working for the star from January 2015 to her termination in May 2016, Variety reported.

In the legal documents, according to Variety, Rueda alleges she was ‘regularly summoned by Mr. Combs to prepare and serve entrees and appetizers to him and his guests while Mr. Combs and/or his guests were engaged in or immediately following sexual activity.’

The professional cook detailed an incident in which a naked Diddy asked if she was attracted to his body after summoning her to prepare a meal for him following sex.

Rueda also claimed a naked male house guest also approached her as she was working and asked her admire his genitalia.

A spokesperson for Combs told TMZ Monday night: ‘This is a frivolous lawsuit by a disgruntled ex-employee who was fired for cause.’

The complaint states that Rueda started out working part-time on weekends for the music mogul, before being hired to be lead chef at his California home.

In addition sexual harassment, she is also seeking compensation for being required to work long hours for low pay, saying she often worked from 9 a.m. until midnight or later for $150 a day.

When she complained to the estate director for Combs about her working conditions and the inappropriate sexual activity, she claimed she was accused of stealing a watch and fired.

She claims that the watch was a gift from the housekeeper and the theft allegations were drummed up to justify her termination.

Or how about this:

Music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs was arrested Monday, accused of assaulting someone with a kettlebell at the university where his son plays football.

No one was seriously injured in the incident at the Acosta Athletic Training Complex on the University of California at Los Angeles campus, which took place around 12:30 p.m., said school spokesman Phil Hampton.

Officials did not disclose the alleged victim of the assault. But TMZ, which first reported the story, said Combs scuffled with a coach during a practice session.

Or this in the Huffington Post:

The Los Angeles Police Department has solved the murders of rappers Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace and Tupac Shakur, according to a documentary featuring retired LAPD detective Greg Kading, who once led a special task force that investigated those two-decade-old shootings.

Based on his three years working the cases, Kading claims that Sean “Diddy” Combs hired Crips gang member Duane Keith “Keffe D” Davis to kill Shakur and his manager, Marion Hugh “Suge” Knight, for $1 million. He alleges that on the night of Sept. 7, 1996, Keffe D’s nephew, Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, pulled the trigger. Only Shakur was killed.

But the Muhammad Ali Man Of The Year wants to partner with Combs per Mike Florio:

If you can’t join ’em, buy ’em.

With Sean “Diddy” Combs wants to buy the Panthers. And unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick is interested in joining the effort.

“I want in on the ownership group,” Kaepernick tweeted. “Let’s make it happen!”

Um, it won’t be. For the same reason the NFL has been able to successfully shun Kaepernick (subject to his collusion claim), the NFL likely wouldn’t be inclined to approve an ownership bid that includes Kaepernick.

Ultimately, however, money talks. And if Diddy and Kaepernick and the rest of their group is able to put together more of it than anyone else, it will be hard to say no.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced on Sunday that he’ll commence the process of selling the team after the season ends. The more potential bidders, the more it will cost to get the team.

NEW ORLEANS

WR MICHAEL THOMAS goes over 90 catches on the year as the Saints win.  Mike Triplett   of ESPN.com:

The guy known as “Can’t Guard Mike” couldn’t be denied for the entire day.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas had two touchdown passes overturned by inches on instant replay Sunday. And the Saints’ offense turned the ball over three times in a game that was threatening to go horribly awry for about two quarters. The offense had grown so sluggish and sloppy during the middle of Sunday’s 31-19 victory over the New York Jets (who came in as a 15½-point underdog) that the home fans started to boo during the third and fourth quarters.

So quarterback Drew Brees eventually just started firing away at Thomas.

A 17-yard pass on third-and-7. A 20-yard pass on the next play where he simply let Thomas go and fight for it at its highest point. A 9-yarder for another first down. Then a 4-yard slant for a touchdown that essentially put the Jets away.

“Enough became enough,” Thomas said. “I mean, the team needed me. I had gotten them excited a   couple times already when we thought I scored … so it became a time where they needed me. And just enough was enough, and I had to go make plays and get us down there and put points on the board.”

Thomas finished with nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. In the process, he became just the second receiver in NFL history with 90-plus catches in each of his first two seasons, joining Odell Beckham Jr.

When asked if he likes seeing Brees put that kind of trust in him, Thomas didn’t even wait for the question to finish.

“I love it. I love it,” Thomas said. “That’s what I want. That’s the situation I want to be in. That’s when I want to rise to the occasion.”

NFC WEST

SAN FRANCISCO

The great JIMMY GAROPPOLO is 3-0 as San Francisco’s starting QB – and he’s led the 49ers on 18 scoring drives.

The only problem is that only 3 of them were for TDs.  The other 15 ended in ROBBIE GOULD FGs.  So SF has scored 66 points or an average of 22 PPG in that span.

Imagine if the breakdown was 12 TDs and 6 FGs.  Then the Niners would have something more like 102 points and 34 PPG.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Pete King touches on the biggest moment for many Americans of the NFL weekend:

Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams. Four touchdowns and 180 total yards in the penultimate fantasy Sunday for most of America means a fair amount. Doing it against the rival Seahawks, on the road, in a blowout victory, to all but clinch the division and a playoff spot means a lot more. Gurley’s great, and so is his team and coach. Overlook these Rams next month at your peril.

SEATTLE

The NFL, in its infinite wisdom, handed out its version of justice for the brawl in Jacksonville – and the instigater, Walter Payton Man of the Year candidate DT MICHAEL BENNETT escaped as clean as the driven snow.

Among those outraged and flummoxed was Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

When the NFL fines or suspends a player, it issues a statement about what the player did to draw the fine or suspension. This week, the NFL needs to issue a statement to explain what a player did to avoid a fine or suspension.

The player in question is Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who was flagged for taking a shot at Jaguars center Brandon Linder‘s knee late in Seattle’s loss at Jacksonville on Sunday. It was Bennett who started an ugly chain of events that saw players on both teams flagged for personal fouls, two Seahawks ejected, and the potential for a crowd-control nightmare when Jaguars fans threw objects at Seattle’s Quinton Jefferson and Jefferson tried to go into the stands to confront them.

So why did Bennett, who started it all, get off scot-free?

NFL Media reported that the league bought Bennett’s explanation, as relayed by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, that Bennett was just trying to swipe the ball as Linder snapped it to Blake Bortles for the kneeldown at the end of the game.

That explanation is preposterous, and if the NFL actually accepted that explanation, then the NFL needs to say so — if for no other reason than so that the rest of us can understand, once and for all, that the people at the league office simply don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to finding any fair, reasonable and consistent standard for player discipline.

Bennett may have been initially attempting to swipe the ball the instant Linder snapped it to Bortles. But that doesn’t explain why Bennett then continued rolling into Linder’s knee, long after Bortles had taken the snap and kneeled down, as Linder attempted to get away from Bennett to protect himself from injury.

Two officials were standing on either side of Bennett as he rolled into Linder, and both of them threw their flags. If the NFL thinks Bennett was just trying to swipe the ball, then the NFL needs to explain what those two officials were looking at when they threw their flags.

The NFL also apparently thinks commentator Daryl Johnston was hallucinating when he described what Bennett did while FOX showed a replay. Johnston, a former NFL fullback who knows the difference between dirty play and clean play, was outraged as he described what Bennett was doing.

“Michael Bennett rolling into Brandon Linder — that’s what started everything, right there,” Johnston said. “And then he comes back and hits him again. So this tape is gonna be reviewed by the NFL. They didn’t get Michael Bennett out of the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s something from the league that comes down on Michael Bennett because that’s disrespect to an opponent on the field. There’s no place in this game for that.”

You know who else thinks it’s dirty to go after an opponent’s knee? Michael Bennett. Last year, after Bennett took a shot to the knee in a game against the Falcons, he was furious about it.

“Honestly, I think if you dive at someone else’s legs, you’re a little [expletive],” Bennett said. “If you are big in the NFL, you just line up and play — why you got to cut someone on the [expletive] play? I mean, I don’t know. That [expletive] is just stupid to me. Why cut somebody when you can just line up and win? I don’t know. I don’t come off the ball jumping at offensive linemen’s legs.’’

But now we know that Bennett does come off the ball jumping at offensive linemen’s legs. And the NFL lets him get away with it. The league needs to explain why.

Left unsaid by Smith is that after rolling into Linder’s knees at the line, Bennett rolled into him again long after the play was over.  He gets nothing.  The others get fines, deservedly, for little shoves.

Mike Pereira, in this video ignores Bennett’s actions post-“swipe”, but he does think the NFL should change the rule so that attempted swipes on kneeldowns are allowed.

– – –

Bennett’s Seahawks are now 0-2 since they beat the Eagles.  They performed horribly against the Rams at home on Sunday.  Jordan Schultz of Shutdown Corner declares the Seahawks window closed.

The changing of the guard.

That’s what the Los Angeles Rams’ 42-7 Week 15 demolition of the Seattle Seahawks represents.

Hoping to sustain their fading playoff hopes, the Seahawks entered Sunday’s game having won 11 of their previous 12 home games against the Rams, with nine of those wins by double digits. In what was the most lopsided loss of head coach Pete Carroll’s eight-year tenure however, we saw a Seahawks team that was undisciplined, unprepared, and most surprisingly, a team that quit.

The reality is that Seattle, in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2011, has been a poser all season long. Posing as a playoff team, posing as a shutdown defense, posing as an offense good enough to absorb its paper-mache offensive line – all while Russell Wilson has carried this team on his back. In the end, however, even the wizardry of No. 3’s talent could not overcome the mundane predictability of a stalled offensive scheme and an injury-ridden defense.

L.A. decimated the Seahawks on their storied home field Sunday afternoon and made a resounding declaration to the entire NFL with this reckoning: An undeniable changing of the guard.

And yet, this game was a much about the Rams’ growth as a championship caliber team as it was about the Seahawks’ ineptitude. Sean McVay’s young team announced itself as the new kid on the block. And for good reason.

The Rams have a coming of age quarterback, an otherworldly running back and a defense stout enough to handle even the most explosive of offenses. All of this to go with a take-charge offensive line – the only unit to start the same five players in every game this season.

Jared Goff’s rapid development in his second year has been a revelation, as has been McVay’s creative offensive concepts and play-calling. Mixing up-tempo patterns with a heavy dose of Todd Gurley, Los Angeles led Seattle 34-0 at the half, following a 57-yard touchdown run from Gurley on third-and-20 that was called only to set up a punt. Gurley, well on his way to a second All-Pro selection in his three NFL seasons, finished with 152 yards rushing (140 before the half), along with four total touchdowns.

The 10-4 victors didn’t so much as beat the 8-6 Seahawks as they embarrassed them. Things even got so bad that the home crowd, as loyal and fierce as any in pro football , booed its team off the field at halftime, only to shower it with more boos throughout the second half and following the game as well. In fact, a throng of 12s could be seen hitting the exits as early as halftime.

@TedLandK5

Crowds of @Seahawks fans leaving the stadium during 3rd quarter, as seen from my desk at @KING5Seattle. I’ve never seen this before.

The famed duo of coach Carroll and general manager John Schneider, who for years have created and sustained an elite team, will have much to ponder in the aftermath of this loss and in the upcoming offseason. One thing we know for certain is that the NFL is not a place for posers, something this roster is littered with.

AFC WEST

KANSAS CITY

Peter King points out that in retrospect, Kansas City’s crushing of the Chargers should have been expected:

There is no secret as to why the Chiefs, barring an 0-2 finish and a 2-0 Chargers finish—will win the AFC West for the second straight year, and make the playoffs for the third straight year. They have owned the teams in this division. Since opening day 2015, the division records of the four teams:

Team              AFC West W-L   

Chiefs              15-2      

Broncos            8-9      

Raiders              8-9     

Chargers           3-14    

That’s 6-0 for the Chiefs against the Chargers, 9-2 vs. OAK and DEN.

AFC NORTH

 CINCINNATI

Peter King with a deceptive stat:

 Exiting Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis is four games over .500 (123-119-3) as Bengals coach.

The Cincinnati founder and Hall of Fame coach, Paul Brown, was four games under .500 (55-59-1) as Bengals coach.

– – –

Could a coach who is 1-29 in the last two years be a sought-after trade commodity?  Only for the Bengals.  But Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com thinks it could happen:

The Browns have been sending out mixed signals regarding whether they want to keep coach Hue Jackson. With Marvin Lewis reportedly out in Cincinnati (although he denies that he’s leaving), a theory/hypothesis is emerging in some league circles.

What if the Browns try to trade Jackson to the Bengals?

Trades for head coaches remain permissible, although they don’t happen in the same way that player trades occur. First, the teams involved strike a deal regarding compensation in the event a contract can be negotiated between the new team and the coach. Second, the new team tries to work out a contract with the coach.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has twice said publicly that he wants Jackson to return in 2018. One league source told PFT that Haslam is saying the same thing privately. But new G.M. John Dorsey recently evaded during a radio interview a direct question about whether Jackson will be back.

So maybe the Browns are being inconsistent as a message of sorts to a team that would be inclined   to add to Cleveland’s current draft haul in order to get Jackson. And if Lewis, who is on the record as being willing to consider taking a role somewhere in personnel, decides to become the G.M. or something like it in Cincinnati (and if Cincinnati wants him in that role), the Bengals could make Hue the coach and move forward with both guys working together.

This isn’t a report that something like that will happen. But it’s definitely something to keep an eye on as the coaching carousel prepares to hit full speed. And as the Browns speed toward 0-16.

Peter King endorses the idea:

I think Mike Florio’s suggestion that the Bengals might try to trade for Cleveland coach Hue Jackson is really interesting. That would give Cleveland GM John Dorsey the chance to pick his own coach—which he’d probably rather do than simply accept the incumbent—and add a draft choice (a third-rounder, maybe?) to an already stocked draft. The Bengals know Jackson and like Jackson, and Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron would get back the coach who, as offensive coordinator, oversaw their most successful NFL play.

John Breech of CBSSports.com offers 7 candidates:

If the 82-year-old Brown is handling things, he may very well go with a familiar face. If Brown let’s his daughter, Katie Blackburn, who also happens to be the team’s executive vice president, handle things, then we might see an outside candidate get hired like we did with Lewis.

Remember, the Bengals don’t have a general manager, so that position won’t have any say in a potential new coach.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at five candidates (plus two bonus candidates). And keep in mind, we’re going offensive heavy with our coaching candidates because that’s what the Bengals need right now.

Internal candidates

Paul Guenther and Darrin Simmons

If the Bengals decide to go with someone who’s already on the coaching staff, it’s almost certainly going to be Guenther or Simmons. Guenther, who took over the Bengals defensive coordinator after Mike Zimmer left in 2014, has been with the organization since 2005. Guether is in his fourth season as the team’s defensive coordinator and under his watch, the Bengals defense has been one of the team’s most reliable units. The team has ranked in the top-10 of fewest points surrendered a total of two times over the past four years, which is always a good thing when you have an erratic offense like the Bengals do.

The other in-house candidate for the Bengals is special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. Simmons has been with the team since Lewis was hired in 2003 and if the Bengals want some continuity, then going with the 44-year-old Simmons would definitely accomplish that. One thing Simmons has going for him is that he’s well-liked by the players and the front office.

Outside candidates familiar with the Bengals

Hue Jackson and Jay Gruden

These might seem like two crazy options, but as I already mentioned, the Bengals loving hiring a familiar face and no one fits the bill more than Jackson and Gruden. Although Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has insisted that Jackson will be returning to Cleveland next season, there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen now that general manager John Dorsey is in charge. If Dorsey wants to bring in his own guy, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see him dump Jackson at the end of the year.

Although Jackson hasn’t worked out in Cleveland, he could be a great fit in Cincinnati. Remember that one year when Andy Dalton was somehow in the MVP conversation? That came in 2015 when Jackson was running the Bengals offense. Jackson was on the Bengals staff from 2004 to 2006 and then returned in 2012. He served as offensive coordinator for two seasons (2014-2015) and knows how to get the most out of Dalton.

Not surprisingly, the other guy on this list is also a former Bengals offensive coordinator. Although Gruden is currently under contract with the Redskins, no job is ever safe with Daniel Snyder running the show, and it’s not crazy to think that Gruden could be available if the Redskins finish 5-11 or 6-10.

Gruden was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator from 2011 to 2013 and is also the reason why Andy Dalton is even on the team. Brown had been thinking about selecting Colin Kaepernick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but Gruden was able to talk him into taking Andy Dalton.

After watching three coordinators leave over the past five years — Gruden, Zimmer and Jackson — and two of them having success in other places, Brown might feel that it’s time to bring one of them back.

Outside candidates

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels

McDaniels is going to be on everyone’s wish list this holiday season, so landing him won’t be easy. One reason McDaniels might actually like this job is because there’s a lot of offensive talent already in place. Also, he’s not necessarily tied to Dalton. If McDaniels likes Dalton, he can obviously keep him. However, if he doesn’t like Dalton, it would be pretty easy to move on from him since the Bengals can cut him after the 2017 season with a dead cap hit of just $2.4 million. Fans in Cincinnati would likely love this hire because of how much success McDaniels has had in New England.

Although he had a disastrous two-year stint as the Broncos head coach, that was seven years ago and he’s likely learned since then that drafting Tim Tebow in the first round probably wasn’t a great idea.

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley

Bengals fans might hate the idea of bringing in an assistant coach from their hated rival, but this move actually makes some sense on a lot of levels. For one, we’ve seen what Haley has done in Pittsburgh and there’s no reason to think he can’t do that in Cincinnati.

One thing to like about Haley is that the Steelers offense has been ranked in the top-10 in total offense and points scored in every season since 2014. Also, with Ben Roethlisberger seemingly contemplating retirement every offseason, Haley might view this offseason as the perfect time to move on.

Like McDaniels, Haley did have a rough time out during his last stint as a head coach. However, that mostly had to do with the fact that he was stuck in Kansas City with a quarterback in Matt Cassel that he didn’t love. Although he only lasted three seasons during his time with the Chiefs, he did lead them to the playoffs once.

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich

The newest name on the market this offseason might be Reich, who has been the Eagles OC since last season. Reich was hired the same year Carson Wentz was drafted and two have thrived together. With Wentz under center, the Eagles have the NFL’s top-scoring offense through 14 weeks and are also ranked third in total yards.

Reich served as an offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Chargers (2014-15) before joining the Eagles in 2016. One thing to like about Reich is that he’ll definitely be able to get in a quarterback’s head, which is likely going to be a good thing since he’ll be working with Dalton. Reich was an NFL quarterback from 1984 to 1998, so he has an understanding of what Dalton’s going through.

The bottom line is that the Bengals have a lot of talent and this could be a very attractive job. Sure, they haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, but it’s not often a job comes open where the team has made the playoffs in six of the past nine years. 

PITTSBURGH

QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER says his first instinct was to spike the ball – and then the sidelines interfered.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

There are plenty of things from the Patriots’ 27-24 win over the Steelers being dissected on Monday morning, but the biggest may be the Steelers’ final offensive play of the game.

After a short completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey on the Patriots’ 7-yard-line with seconds to play, the Steelers rushed to the line for what many expected would be a spike to stop the clock and set up a game-tying field goal. Ben Roethlisberger took the snap and the Steelers offensive line stood up as if a spike were coming, but Roethlisberger pumped the ball and then tried a pass to Eli Rogers on a slant.

Patriots corner Eric Rowe broke up the pass and safety Duron Harmon intercepted it to seal the win for New England. After the game, Roethlisberger explained what happened in the moments leading up to the fateful play.

“It wasn’t a fake spike,” Roethlisberger said, via Alex Marvez of Sporting News. “I was yelling, ‘Clock it!’ I felt like that was the thing to do — clock it and get yourself one play. … It came from the sideline: ‘Don’t clock it! Don’t clock it!’ Well, at that time, everyone thinks it’s a clock [play] so you don’t have time to get everyone lined up.”

Rogers was the only Steelers receiver running a route, something that led to several Patriots defenders bracketing him before Roethlisberger, who said the call to go came from offensive coordinator Todd Haley in his helmet, delivered the pass. That confusion likely contributed to the outcome, which knocked the Steelers out of the top spot in the AFC playoff picture with two games left to play.

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON

Peter King:

I think I can understand if the friction between Texans GM Rick Smith and coach Bill O’Brien will lead to a split, with Smith staying and O’Brien leaving; CBS’s Jason LaCanfora reported sources telling him a split is imminent. O’Brien is a strong-willed guy, and I have always believed the Deshaun Watson pick as mostly Smith on an island picking a player he really wanted—and denuding the top two picks in the 2018 Houston draft as a byproduct. But I will just say this, as someone who has been around O’Brien and Watson: They’ve got a very good thing going. Without the injury to Watson, Houston would be in the playoff chase right now, and Smith and O’Brien would live with their issues. Watson really respects O’Brien and I believe would be really disappointed if O’Brien leaves; he’s told people he doesn’t want to play for anyone else. Having said that, I also believe O’Brien would catapult close to the top of a few coaching searches if he gets dismissed at the end of the season. I don’t believe a split is certain, but…

• I doubt sincerely O’Brien would sign an extension with the exact current power structure of the Texans.

• It’s not inconceivable that O’Brien would coach out his final year in 2018 and walk away.

• It’s possible that if O’Brien forces the issue and insists on a revised front-office structure he could be fired.

JACKSONVILLE

Peter King on the rise of the Jaguars and QB BLAKE BORTLES:

What’s most amazing about this Jaguars team is the rise of Blake Bortles. Three months ago, Jags fans were bemoaning the fact that the team exercised its 2018 fifth-year option on the crushingly disappointing quarterback, the third pick of the 2014 draft. Two months ago, before the trading deadline, some fans dreamed of a deal for Eli Manning to push the stagnant passing game to proficiency. This month, Bortles is playing the best football—far and away—of his four-year NFL career. Maybe it’s so good that the Jags won’t look for a quarterback in 2018.

“I think all Blake needed to do was play his game and not put any pressure on himself,” longtime Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis told me after Sunday’s 45-7 rout of the Texans. “He knows the defense is so good he doesn’t have to carry us. He just has to play his game.”

In Jacksonville’s first three games of a bad December last year, the Jags averaged 15 points a game. The Jags are averaging 35 a game in the first three games this December. Bortles hasn’t thrown an interception this month. He looks more decisive and definitely is throwing with more assurance. “He’s just becoming more confident,” coach Doug Marrone said.

The way the playoffs are shaping up, Jacksonville could be the AFC’s three seed and face a divisional/championship gauntlet of Roethlisberger and Brady, in succession, on the road. It sounds absurd to think Jacksonville could hope to survive that. But what about this season is not absurd for Jacksonville? Clinching the division with two weeks left? Sweeping Indy by a combined 57-10, and Houston by 74-14? Who are these guys? They’re good, and the rest of the league is three weeks from finding out how good.

Some thoughts from the DB who has laid eyes on the Jaguars recently.

Bortles is probably playing, at least, at the current level of ELI MANNING – by which we mean somewhere in the middle of the pack.  We don’t see any reason for the Jags to add Manning, at great expense, for next year and think that would improve the team’s performance.

Now is that good enough to beat Roethlisberger’s Steelers and Brady’s Patriots?  Maybe.  The Jags have a deep roster filled with athleticism and talent.  If they play smart and don’t freeze in the moment, we think they have the ability to win the AFC.  But those are two big ifs.

– – –

The Jaguars rolled over Houston with their three top receivers (at least they are top for now) on the sidelines after WR MARQISE LEE left with an ankle injury (ALLEN HURNS who could be back soon and ALLEN ROBINSON out for the year are the other two).

But the youthful trio of DeDe WESTBROOK, KAYLEN COLE and JAYDON MICKENS looked great – especially Cole who had 7 catches for 186 yards, scored for the 3rd straight game and had a non-scoring 73-yard reception.  He is one of only four receivers this year with two catches of 70+ yards.

AFC EAST

 MIAMI

Peter King asks RB KENYAN DRAKE about his proudest possession:

Kenyan Drake, running back, Miami. “It’s my graduation ring from the University of Alabama. It’s called an ‘A Club’ ring. I had a great career at Alabama, but I’m pretty proud of the fact I got my degree [in communications] in three-and-a-half years. Seeing that ring, it epitomizes the struggle I had in college. At Alabama, you’ve got to work. From the time I walked on campus, ‘student-athlete’ was preached to us every day. To me, and to my parents, I can tell you that ring means more than any touchdown I scored.”

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets players seem to want Coach Todd Bowles back for another year.  Calvin Watkins in Newsday:

With the Jets officially eliminated from playoff contention after their 31-19 loss to the Saints on Sunday, one piece of business to talk about is the coaching status of Todd Bowles.

Although there were no front-office officials around to ask about Bowles’ status, several Jets players would like to see him return.

“He’s been great, he gets us prepared, he’s a good leader,” linebacker Darron Lee told Newsday. “I don’t have one bad thing to say about him. That’s how the league is. I hope he will be here next year. I foresee him being here next year and he’s a great leader, he’s a great head coach.”

Bowles is signed through 2018 and hasn’t engaged in any discussions with ownership about a contract extension. In three seasons, he has compiled a 20-26 record with no playoff appearances. The Jets won 10 games in his first season but have won only 10 in the last two seasons.

“He’s the Jets’ head coach,” safety Jamal Adams said. “He’s my head coach and he’s the team’s head coach. There shouldn’t be any discussion who is going to be the head coach. It should be Todd Bowles. There shouldn’t be any indecision about how our coach is coaching us. We got to finish ballgames.”

The Jets were projected by some to win fewer than three games, a point several players mentioned to reporters after the game. Most, if not all, of the players gave Bowles credit for what he has done to change the culture after a 5-11 finish last season.

The front office purged the roster of veteran players and is using younger and cheaper veterans from a financial standpoint this season. After an 0-2 start, the Jets won three straight games to get in the playoff conversation, but they have lost seven of their last nine.

“We’re going to keep fighting. Obviously, this is going to turn,” he said. “I believe we have a good core group. We just got to eliminate some of the mistakes and some situational football things, and we’re going to be OK.”

Whether Bowles will get the chance to lead the team in 2018 is uncertain. The Jets have two games   remaining in the regular season and will play them with quarterback Bryce Petty, who has made five career starts.

It appears the Jets will make a decision regarding Bowles’ future once the season is over. General manager Mike Maccagnan said earlier in the season that he and Bowles answer to ownership. The Jets’ CEO/chairman is Christopher Johnson, who has taken over for Woody Johnson, now the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Christopher Johnson has said he wants to see progress on the field and, while he says he hates losing, he does like Bowles. Before Sunday’s game, when the Jets locked arms during the national anthem, as a sign of unity, Johnson locked arms with Bowles.

“He does a good job as a head coach,” running back Matt Forte said. “People are going to criticize you. If you’re 9-4 or 10-3, then you would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But we’re mathematically out of the playoffs, and lost a couple of games in a row, then everything is worse.”

– – –

Peter King:

I think the Jets are either going to have to take a deep breath and see if they can mentally rehab a lost sheep of a player, Muhammad Wilkerson, who was suspended by the team for a game after being late to work one day last week. That’s not the type of suspension you make—banning one of your best players—if it’s a first-time thing, or a second-time thing. The Jets are sick of Wilkerson, who seems like the classic case of a guy who got the big money (five years, $86 million last year) and changed significantly. Now they have to decide if they’re so sick of him that they’d take a $20 million cap hit in 2018 to dump him.

THIS AND THAT

 BROADCAST NEWS

Peter King:

Many of you asked why the Pats-Steelers game was not flexed to Sunday night football in place of Raiders-Cowboys. The Sunday networks can protect a limited number of games per year from being flexed, and CBS chose the Pats-Steelers to protect.

That said, NBC did look at flexing away from Cowboys-Raiders for Rams at Seahawks.  This morning, they are very glad they did not.  The game in Oakland was epic, the game in Seattle was an all-time stinker.

– – –

John Skipper, the CEO of ESPN who recently received a big-money extension after lurching the Worldwide Leader leftward, has suddenly resigned, while revealing he is suffering from a “substance addiction.”  Here is how CNN.com is covering it:

ESPN president John Skipper resigned on Monday, citing a substance addiction.

“I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction,” Skipper said in a statement. “I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.”

He went on to say, “I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down.”

The resignation takes effect immediately. In a farewell email to staffers, Skipper said, “It has been my absolute privilege to serve as president of ESPN.”

Skipper was one of the most powerful people in both the media and sports worlds and managed ESPN’s hugely profitable portfolio at a time of tremendous stress on the cable business.

ESPN and other major media companies have scrambled to adapt as people increasingly consume media on their phones and online.

Skipper notified Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, ESPN’s parent company, within the past few days, according to an ESPN source with direct knowledge of the situation.

“I join John Skipper’s many friends and colleagues across the company in wishing him well during this challenging time,” Iger said in a statement. “I respect his candor and support his decision to focus on his health and his family.”

The source said the announcement was solely because of addiction, not related to last week’s announcement that Disney would acquire most of 21st Century Fox. That deal would bring 22 regional sports networks previously owned by Fox under ESPN’s control.

Skipper joined ESPN in 1997 and became president of the network in 2012. His tenure has included   enormous growth for the network, but it faces the increasing challenge of declining subscribers as people quit cable.

The resignation comes one month after Skipper’s contract renewal was made public. The contract was extended through 2021, according to a source familiar with the deal. Asked why Skipper was stepping down now, the source said, “Addiction doesn’t follow neat and orderly lines.”

Left unsaid is whether or not Skipper’s superiors know of his longtime addiction and continued to deem him capable of leading the network or whether the resignation comes as news of the previously secret addiction was about to break.

As you might imagine, Clay Travis of OutkickTheCoverage.com is not as sympathetic:

This morning ESPN announced that John Skipper, who has been the network president since 2012, is “resigning” because of “substance abuse issues.” The resignation comes just four days after the announcement of Disney’s purchase of substantial Fox assets and five days after Skipper addressed all the talent at ESPN in a meeting in Bristol, Connecticut.

It also comes two months after Skipper told all of his Los Angeles employees in a private meeting that I was “spreading misinformation designed to destroy ESPN.”

– – –

Skipper suddenly resigning and citing substance addiction makes zero sense.

The timing, at least to anyone with a shred of common sense, suggests something substantial happened behind the scenes in the past several days.

Meaning this excuse is complete and total bullshit.

Now most people in media won’t point out what complete and total bullshit this excuse is because they are afraid of being accused of not taking addiction seriously. (That’s not a problem here though because I’m on the record as hating addiction more than anyone else on the planet. I also hate cancer, death and racism more than anyone else on the planet too, by the way.) So ESPN is hoping no one asks questions here and let’s Skipper just disappear. And for most media that will be true.

But not here.

So what happened? If I had to guess I’d surmise it was something to do with sexual harassment or an internal investigation that discovered some inappropriate behavior on Skipper’s part. (Inappropriate behavior that can be blamed on substance abuse). We have lots of sources at ESPN, but for those of you who might be new to Outkick we offer full anonymity to anyone who wants to share the complete story. Email me at claytravis@gmail.com

This hypothesis makes even more sense when you consider the Boston Globe story that came out last week. Did ESPN’s forceful response against sexual harassment allegations in that story cause other women to come forward? How many nondisclosure agreements do you think John Skipper has signed during his tenure at ESPN? My guess is there is a major blockbuster story coming and this is ESPN’s attempt to beat that story to the punch and blame Skipper for everything.

Regardless, here’s John Skipper’s statement about his “resignation.” (I added the italics below).

“I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction. I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.

I have disclosed that decision to the company, and we mutually agreed that it was appropriate that I resign. I will always appreciate the human understanding and warmth that Bob displayed here and always.

I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down.

As I deal with this issue and what it means to me and my family, I ask for appropriate privacy and a little understanding.

To my colleagues at ESPN, it has been a privilege. I take great pride in your accomplishments and have complete confidence in your collective ability to continue ESPN’s success.”

Why did you mutually agree that it was appropriate that you resign? Especially, again, after you just agreed to a much ballyhooed four year contract extension a month ago? And five days after you addressed the entire company’s talent in Bristol? And four days after the purchase of substantial Fox assets by Disney? Again, nonsensical. (Unless one of the Murdoch sons is going to take over ESPN and this was a quid pro quo as part of the Disney-Fox deal.)

That “mutual” agreement only happens when you did something inappropriate and the company wants you to leave. This isn’t a resignation, it’s a firing, maybe accompanied by a payout.

Otherwise why couldn’t Skipper have just taken a six month leave of absence to get well like the head of another major Disney asset, Pixar’s John Lasseter, just did? If Skipper truly has an addiction issue, isn’t Disney being total assholes by firing him for trying to get help with that issue and not standing behind him? Of course they would be, which is why that isn’t happening.

The easy read here is that Skipper got caught doing something inappropriate and he’s going to blame substance abuse for his error in judgment when that story eventually goes public.

Stay tuned, this story’s not over.