The Daily Briefing Monday, November 13, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Peter King on the replay challenge that blew up on Bears coach John Fox:

 

Bears back Benny Cunningham was ruled down at the half-yard line in the first half against Green Bay after a 23-yard gain. Fox challenged the ruling on the field, claiming it should been a touchdown. Instead of having first-and-goal at the half-yard line, the Bears actually had a turnover. That’s because while Cunningham dove for the end zone, the ball was coming loose as he stretched for the pylon … and the ball was ruled a touchback for Green Bay. The Bears trailed by seven at the time and never tied or led thereafter. Tough decision for Fox to make, but it turns out actually throwing the challenge flag on the play likely cost the Bears a halftime lead—and quite possibly a win in this incredibly close series. Green Bay leads all-time, 95 wins to 93, with six ties. Bizarre to think of it … but without this challenge by Fox, it might have been 94-94 this morning. 

 

Some would say, why challenge when you have first-and-goal at the half-yard line?

 

 

MINNESOTA

Peter King on the CASE KEENUM-TEDDY BRIDGEWATER conundrum:

 

Case Keenum, with the hot breath of franchise favorite Teddy Bridgewater on the back of his neck, threw for four touchdowns for the first time in his life. Who’d have figured, in a game at a playoff contender, that Keenum would lead the Vikings to 35 points in the first 35 minutes? Vikes 38, Washington 30. Now Mike Zimmer has to carefully manage the return to play of Bridgewater, who is one of the biggest local heroes in recent Minnesota sports history. That’s going to be tricky, because you don’t know, whether a rusty quarterback will be better than an average one playing hot.

 

King also asked Keenum what’s going through his head – and Keenum sounds eminently reasonable and fair:

 

I asked Keenum, what was it like for you all week knowing that everyone in Minnesota, and many other places, want to see the Bridgewater return happen theatrically … and very soon.

 

“I have been preparing for this situation the whole year,” Keenum said. “I didn’t do an interview last year in L.A. without being asked about [rookie first-round pick] Jared Goff. So I get it. I am a huge Teddy fan. First, he’s just a beautiful thrower. I’ve got tremendous respect for him. He’s an instrumental part of our quarterback room, and all he’s been is helpful. A great teammate. I have had a serious knee injury. I know what he’s going through. But mostly, I’m able to compartmentalize it. I just figure, hey, it’s like I’ve got a buddy who owns a Ferrari, and he’s out of town, and he’s letting me drive it. So as long as they leave me the keys, I’m gonna keep driving this car.”

 

No one has said anything to Keenum about the future, except, “Get ready to go this week.” He doesn’t ask. “No one can predict the future,” he said, “and I’m not going to try.”

 

Rams at Vikings this week. Goff at Keenum … or Bridgewater. If Keenum plays, it will be an emotional day for him. “Someone’s gonna have to slap me before the game—hard,” Keenum said, and you could almost hear his wide smile through the phone from Maryland. “This game means something to me.”

 

They all do.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Conor Orr of TheMMQB.com explores whether or not Ben McAdoo will get a copy of the home game this week after a lackluster loss to the 49ers.

 

The Giants (1–8) lost to the previously winless 49ers on Sunday, marking the second time in the last month that they’ve been a team’s first win of the season (they fell to the 0–5 Chargers back on Oct. 8). After a week where head coach Ben McAdoo battled anonymous quotes suggesting he’s lost the locker room, the team’s defense was again perforated by deep passing plays (Marquise Goodwin scored in the second quarter on an 83-yard deep ball). The offense was punchless, making it 13 straight games that they have failed to score 24 or more points—the longest streak in the NFL right now.

 

While the Giants’ pragmatic ownership group would almost certainly not fire a coach mid-season—one person familiar with the team’s plans strongly refuted an errant, unconfirmed report about McAdoo losing his job last week—that doesn’t mean they do not experience those feelings. Co-owner John Mara, three years ago, said that he considered firing “everybody” on the team’s plane after a Tom Coughlin-led unit lost to the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

 

 

It’s likely he felt that way again on his way home from California on Sunday night. It’s likely Mara remains in the shadows until the end of the season, but from where we’re sitting, there are only a few options left.

 

Here are the three directions the Giants can go in now:

 

1. Come out and confront the situation head on this week, announce McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese will survive and use injuries as an excuse. They can utilize the additional time remaining as both a live case-study in how the breakdowns are happening and a moment of levity with a frustrated fan base. Instruct both the general manager and head coach to give a mid-season mea culpa and prepare them for a public relations spin cycle like the world has never seen. This would be an unsavory option for just about everyone, and it would take a miraculous series of public performances to pacify a fan base that has gone hoarse complaining about McAdoo and Reese on local talk radio.

 

2. Change head coaches now, and see if that’s the problem. One thing Giants ownership has going for them? A sea of loyal coaches working underneath McAdoo that they could trust to operate the ship for seven games. Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was with the Giants from 2004-11, and returned in ’15. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was the team’s defensive coordinator in 2007 and ’08, and returned in ’15. Kevin Gilbride, who was with the Giants from 2004 to ’13, has a son, Kevin Jr., on the staff. Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn has been with the franchise since 2006. This would be a shocking option, but has grown less so over the last few weeks. Three years ago, it would have been stunning to fathom the league’s most family-oriented team shifting coaches around Thanksgiving. But now? The Giants are 1–8 and staring down a remaining schedule that includes the 8–1 Eagles, the Cowboys, the Chiefs and Washington twice. Could they stomach the sight of an empty MetLife Stadium on New Years Eve?

 

3. Stick to the protocol and batten down the hatches. The Giants have always preferred to conduct a thorough evaluation of the season AFTER the season ends. They take their time, dissect every game, roster spot and coach, and emerge with sweeping decisions. If this is their charted course, it may be the ultimate test of Mara’s resolve. This team, despite suggestions from the coaching staff, appears to have given up. Nearly every club remaining on their schedule is in the playoff hunt and they were not effective enough to contain 49ers rookie third-round pick C.J. Beathard on Sunday.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

After beating the Cowboys who were without their best running back, the Falcons will be without their best running back this Monday in Seattle.

 

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is unlikely to play next Monday night at Seattle against the Seahawks after suffering his second concussion this season, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.

 

Freeman will be re-evaluated this week, but his concussion history and running style contribute to making it unlikely he will play in Week 11. It would not be a surprise if Freeman’s absence extended beyond this week and into multiple games, considering his history, according to sources.

 

Freeman exited in the first quarter of the Falcons’ 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys after taking a hit from linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

 

Sunday’s concussion was his third with the Falcons.

– – –

Buccaneers reject DE ADRIAN CLAYBORN overwhelmed a Cowboys back-up on Sunday.  Peter King:

 

With four major injuries requiring surgery in the previous five seasons, Clayborn seemed destined to be that guy who never would fulfill his NFL promise. The Bucs cut him loose after the 2014 season, and he landed in Atlanta. “God had a reason,” Clayborn said from Atlanta on Sunday night, after his six-sack dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys. “And I don’t really ask why. I just know today’s a good day, and I’m happy.” Clayborn took advantage of Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith being sidelined with an injury to abuse backup Chaz Green. Ugly for the Cowboys, beautiful for the Falcons.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

With what sounds like preparations for a post-Brees era, the Saints are thriving.  Peter King:

 

After the Saints went 7-9 in each of the past three seasons, Payton made a conscious decision to change his explosive offense. No longer would the team be dependent on Drew Brees to keep the Saints in every game; now Payton and GM Mickey Loomis would put more pressure on the running game and the offensive line, with a maturing defense, to carry the load. Well, with a defense keeping the Saints in every game, and Brees not the offensive crutch anymore, the Saints have won seven in a row. A bold preseason move by Payton continued to pay dividends Sunday in Buffalo.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Peter King went to Scotland with WR LARRY FITZGERALD (he played golf on The Old Course at St. Andrews) for his 97th country.  This quote from Fitzgerald:

 

“When I was younger, my parents, we used to travel a lot, not internationally, but to the Bahamas for the cruise or national park, Disneyland, Disney World, Staten Island, Statue of Liberty … My parents always thought, travel would give you exposure and opportunity to learn about history. That’s how my love for history developed, and kind of my passion for travel developed and we didn’t have the means to do a lot of international things, but the trips we did take were so much fun. I loved being with the family and being able to see new things, and try new foods, and all those things were really exciting to me. When I got to the NFL, my first trip I took, I went to Australia, and that was before I had any children, so I went for 40 days. The next year I went to China, Japan, Korea, went all through China down to Cambodia … to Thailand. I biked, so it was a few days on a bike, but I got a chance to see all the country and that was one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been.”

 

Fitzgerald says he thinks he has 20 or so more countries in him. He wants to see Scandinavia and Greece soon. He has eaten snake and monkey. One of his highlights: seeing the lake in Vietnam where John McCain—his friend and Arizona senator—went down, leading McCain to become a POW. Fitzgerald jumped into the frigid water off Antarctica. He has been to 48 of our 50 states, and he plans to get to Alaska and Maine one day.

 

“I like the off-the-beaten path, local vibe when I travel,” he said.

 

The DB is a 50-stater (if you count two airports in New Mexico) but we’re quite a bit older.

 

As for 97 countries, he still has some low hanging fruit to get over 100 with Greece, Sweden, Norway, etc.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

WR MARQISE GOODWIN starred for the 49ers in the wake of a family tragedy.  Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

With a heavy heart, San Francisco 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin played and produced the team’s biggest play of the year Sunday against the New York Giants.

 

After San Francisco’s 31-21 win, Goodwin posted to his Instagram account that he and wife Morgan’s baby boy died Sunday morning because of complications during her pregnancy.

 

“Unfortunately, we lost our baby boy due to some complications, and had to prematurely deliver him early this morning around 4 a.m.,” Goodwin wrote. “Although we are hurt, I am grateful for the experience and grateful that God blessed me with a wife as courageous and resilient as Morgan.

 

“The pain (physically, mentally & emotionally) that she has endured is unbelievable. Please pray for the Goodwin family.”

 

Despite the devastating loss, Goodwin managed to play Sunday and came up with an 83-yard touchdown pass from quarterback C.J. Beathard in the first quarter, the longest play from scrimmage by a 49er this season.

 

A clearly emotional Goodwin evaded New York cornerback Janoris Jenkins and then blew a kiss to the sky before he crossed the goal line. He then knelt in prayer in the end zone as his teammates surrounded him.

 

Goodwin quickly exited the locker room after the game to return to his family. The 49ers have a bye this week and won’t return to practice until Nov. 20.

– – –

This from Peter King:

 

Interesting thing about the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan marriage: Through the 0-9 start, I never heard one thing, not even a whisper, that one was remotely unhappy with the other. This is a solid group of coaches and front-office people (personnel veep Adam Peters is really good). The win over the Giants will be the first of many.

 

The DB thinks the Niners will do in 2018 something close to what the Rams are doing this year.  Buy stock.

– – –

Jay Glazer of FOX was among those proclaiming that QB C.J. BEATHARD would yield to JIMMY GAROPPOLO when the Niners return from bye against the Seahawks on the 26th.  Not so fast.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after Sunday’s game that speculation Garoppolo would start in two weeks, following this week’s bye, is incorrect.

 

“That’s not my plan,” Shanahan said. “I don’t have a plan yet. There’s no way anything you guys hear reported could be accurate, because I just told you guys our plan.”

 

After the bye would make sense because it would give the newcomer some extra time to prepare. But benching C.J. Beathard now wouldn’t make much sense: Beathard is coming off by far his best game, a 288-yard, two-touchdown effort in the 49ers’ first win of the season.

 

So it seems likely that Garoppolo will sit and wait. At some point the 49ers want to see what the guy they just spent a second-round pick on can do, but not at the cost of benching a rookie who’s playing well.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

DE DEREK WOLFE says it isn’t working for the Broncos right now.

 

The once mighy Denver defense looked ordinary in the defeat.  Defensive end Derek Wolfe was critical of his team’s effort.

 

“It’s just sad. It’s real sad,” Wolfe said Sunday. “It’s sad that we went from a championship-caliber team to a team that stinks and nobody respects us.”

 

“This is new,” said Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, trying to wipe off the stink of it all in the locker room. “It’s new. And it’s terrible.”

 

The Eagles dropped 51 on the defense a week ago, right? Well, it did. Denver had not given up more than 40 points in back-to-back games since December 2011.

 

“I think we stink,” said Wolfe, who punctuated his disgust with a word not fit for print in a family newspaper.

– – –

Peter King thinks John Elway will be going back into his bag of tricks and try to sign a Manning:

 

I think I bet Broncos VP John Elway goes quarterback-shopping again. It’s not just that the woeful Brock Osweiler is the quarterback for one of America’s great sports franchises. It’s the utter hopelessness of their quest over the past three weeks. The Broncos have a five-game losing streak, but, really, it’s the last 15 days that are particularly embarrassing. They’ve lost three games by 63 points. They’ve given up 40.3 points per game, which is the real stunner. On offense, Elway has to be mulling what to do to solidify his quarterback position for 2018. He won’t go into another season wishing and hoping at quarterback. Whoever’s the GM of the Giants will get a call about Eli Manning—and should listen.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

 

 

 

THE RAIDERS

 

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The San Diego Union-Tribune still sends a writer on the road with the Chargers, but Dan Woik doesn’t give the team a hometown discount in recounting another frustrating loss:

 

You don’t want to be a verb. Not like this. But Sunday, the Chargers, well, they sure got Chargered.

 

What’s that mean, you might ask?

 

It’s snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in new and inventive ways. It’s shooting yourself in the foot while knocking wobbly punts off of it. It’s making mind-numbingly unnecessary penalties. It’s still being good enough to be in position to win – but somehow stumble.

 

And the 20-17 overtime loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday was a real Chargering.

 

“We’ve lost some close games this year. But that’s the first time we’ve lost one like that,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “To me, that was inexcusable. We had opportunities to win that game on the road. And we didn’t finish plays. And we had a couple of guys do some dumb things.”

 

Leading by three points with less than two minutes left, the Chargers managed to intercept two Jacksonville Jaguars passes and still lose thanks to a combination of poor execution, horrible judgment and some cruel, bad luck.

 

Jacksonville kicker Josh Lambo, whom the Chargers cut during the preseason, pushed a game-winning 30-yard field goal over the crossbar in overtime even though the kick was partially blocked. Prior to the kick, officials flagged the Chargers for a rare defensive delay-of-game penalty for trying to draw the Jaguars into a false start.

 

The Chargers seemingly had the game won on two separate occasions inside the two-minute warning after safety Tre Boston intercepted two Blake Bortles passes with the visitors hanging onto a three-point lead.

 

But after the first interception, the Chargers immediately took a delay-of-game penalty, starting a potential game-ending drive by moving in the wrong direction. Then, on the very next play, rookie Austin Ekeler, who had been having a career day, fumbled when Malik Jackson managed to knock the ball loose.

 

The fumble looked like it’d be a game-deciding mistake – but there was still 108 seconds left for ineptitude.

 

Jacksonville, primed to complete the comeback, moved backward on its next drive thanks to a 15-yard penalty for taunting that came after the Jaguars thought the Chargers committed a personal foul. That original flag got picked up – the taunting penalty did not.

 

On third-and-25, Boston picked off Bortles again on a panicked throw down the field, but instead of catching the ball and gaining yardage, Boston celebrated and danced his way out of bounds.

 

“I thought we had it won,” Boston said.

 

They sure didn’t.

 

The Chargers promptly went three-and-out on the following possession, and because Jacksonville had all three timeouts, the Jaguars were able to get the ball back with 58 seconds left on the clock.

 

Lynn said Boston’s celebration was “one of the dumb things.”

 

“Instead of advancing the football because they’re still in the game with all three timeouts…I’ve never seen it before,” Lynn said.

 

Punter Drew Kaser, who had been having a solid season, punted three times in the fourth quarter from Chargers’ territory, and all were bad. He didn’t hit one more than 44 yards and after a bad final kick, he gave Jacksonville the ball near midfield with a minute left, setting up Lambo’s 34-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.

 

A roughing-the-passer penalty on Joey Bosa helped ensure the game-tying kick wouldn’t come from the edges of Lambo’s range.

 

The defense stopped Jacksonville on the Jaguars’ first possession, but Philip Rivers’ deep ball to Travis Benjamin was stolen away by A.J. Bouye, who returned it deep into Chargers territory to set up the win.

 

Before the glaring mistakes in the final minutes and overtime, the Chargers – and particularly their defense – were in control.

 

Jacksonville, one of the NFL’s best rushing teams, got completely smothered, forcing Bortles to pass 51 times. Leonard Fournette, the league’s sixth-leading rusher despite not playing in two games, ran for just 33 yards on 17 carries.

 

The Jaguars managed just one offensive touchdown after scoring first on a 56-yard run from Corey Grant on a fake punt near the end of the first quarter.

 

The Chargers, though, took the lead before halftime after Rivers found Ekeler for a 28-yard touchdown pass, with the rookie doing most of the work tiptoeing the sideline. Ekeler found the end zone again in the third quarter on a 22-yard pass from Rivers.

 

But the two touchdowns weren’t enough, dropping the team to the back of the pack in the AFC with six losses.

 

“We know how big this one was. This was a huge game,” Rivers said. “It really felt like we were in control all day, and we were all the way down to the end. Give them credit, they found a way to win the game. These are the games we talk about winning, close games, and we found another way today…

 

“Crazy. We had the ball twice – under two minutes with a lead – and didn’t end it. That’s the part that hurts the most.”

 

It’s because nothing hurts more than getting Chargered.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Peter King:

 

I think Vontaze Burfict has lost the benefit of the doubt with me, after yet another incident in yet another game. In the span of three plays, he got called for unnecessary roughness on a hit on Demarco Murray, then bumped an official to earn a disqualification from the game, and then, on the way off the field, he got into an argument with some emboldened female fans in the front row in Nashville. On top of being a hothead, Burfict’s got rabbit ears. Great.

 

What’s going to happen with Burfict next year when his great benefactor Marvin Lewis does not return?

 

Despite the ejection and his past history, Burfict is expected to be around when the Bengals meet Denver this week.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict found himself back in hot water on the field Sunday when he was ejected from the team’s loss to the Titans for making contact with an official.

 

PFT reported later on Sunday that the league would consider suspending Burfict, who has twice served three-game suspensions for violating the league’s player safety rules. The action and context of Sunday’s ejection as well as Burfict’s history of infractions were to be involved in the decision-making process.

 

The action consisted of Burfict pushing an official’s hand away from him while the official was keeping Burfict and Titans players away from each other during some post-play jawing. While there was contact, it wasn’t over the top and Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Media both reported on Monday that Burfict will not be suspended as a result.

 

Burfict will be subject to a fine if the league feels one is warranted for his behavior on that play or for an unnecessary roughness penalty he picked up shortly before his ejection.

 

ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter says Bengals teammates are claiming that Burfict is being goaded by officials:

 

Officials have provoked Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict at least three times in the past month, according to a teammate who came to Burfict’s defense Monday.

 

The Bengals player said he has heard officials cursing at Burfict on multiple occasions, and there is video that shows officials coming into contact with the linebacker three times in the past four games.

 

An NFL spokesman denied those charges Monday and said it is not unusual for officials to come into contact with players and that there has been nothing unusual with Burfict.

 

But over the past month, according to a source close to Burfict, the Bengals linebacker has grown increasingly upset with officials’ treatment of him and feels he is being singled out by officials.

 

Burfict has complained to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, a member of the league’s competition committee, but those complaints have not been brought to the league office, an NFL spokesman said Monday.

 

Officials contacted Burfict in an Oct. 22 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, again Nov. 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and then on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, a game in which Burfict was ejected for the first time in his career.

 

The league does not plan to suspend Burfict for contacting an official Sunday, a source confirmed to ESPN.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Hue Jackson with some positive words for his rookie QB DeSHONE KIZER after another defeat.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Nothing like a little failed trade for a veteran quarterback to bring out even more of the beast in DeShone Kizer.

 

In the rookie QB’s first game since Hue Jackson tried to trade for his old Bengals QB AJ McCarron last week, Kizer topped any other performance of his season.

 

“I thought DeShone played probably the best game he’s played,” said Jackson.

 

And if he hadn’t had to leave the game for awhile in the second half with a rib injury, who knows what may have happened? The score was tied 24-24 when he left late in the third quarter, and he had the offense rolling.

 

X-rays were negative, and he returned to the game for the final drive with 4:28 left. By then, Lions quarterback Matt Stafford had turned into a TD machine, throwing three straight in the second half to produce the final margin.

 

“Yeah, every game so far I’ve felt pretty confident that I was getting better,” Kizer said. “I was able to play the whole game, wasn’t benched, wasn’t in a situation in which I was turning the ball over earlier in the game. Got a little rhythm going, so yeah, I think this was my best outing yet.”

 

Before taking a hard shot to the ribs from cornerback Quandre Diggs with six seconds left in the third quarter, Kizer was the quarterback Jackson has been trying to coax out of him. He was passing and running well and putting points on the board.

 

 

At the time, he was 15-of-24 for 178 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a 99.0 rating. He had also run seven times for 57 yards and a TD. He protected the football, converted third downs and released the ball quickly.

 

“This about not only my confidence, but earning the respect and trust of my teammates,” said Kizer. “It’s obvious that in that bye week there was a potential acquisition of another quarterback, and that puts a little pressure on me and with the relationship with my guys.

 

“In order to prove to those guys that I’m the guy, that I’m going to be here for awhile, I have to have good play in practice, good play in games and I think this was an opportunity for me to come out here and prove to those guys that no matter what happens, this is who I am and this is how I’m going to play.”

 

With each blow to the psyche, including two mid-game benchings and that call for a veteran QB, Kizer has grown mentally tougher.

 

“There’s a method to my madness,” said Jackson. “Trust me, I know you guys don’t think so. Everybody else would probably do it differently, but everybody is not me and how I go about this. He’s getting there, and that’s what I’m looking for. He’s working at it and that’s all you can ask for, and I’m seeing the results of his work. And that’s what you have to do.”

 

Kizer also scored huge points with his teammates for coming back into the game despite getting drilled in the midsection by Diggs, with whom he had jawed with after a first-half run to the 2.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

CB JOE HADEN breaks his fibula.  Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

 

Joe Haden’s first season with the Steelers is on hold, but it might not be over.

 

Haden suffered a left fibula fracture late in the first quarter of the Steelers’ 20-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

 

Coach Mike Tomlin said the fracture was “high on the leg,” but he offered no timetable for how much time the veteran cornerback might miss.

 

Teammates, however, suggested Haden could return before the end of the season.

 

“He definitely will be back,” cornerback Artie Burns said. “I think he said he would be out for a couple of weeks or so, a few weeks or something like that.”

 

This is the third consecutive season Haden has been bothered by injuries. In 2015 with the Cleveland Browns, a pair of concussions limited him to five games. Last season, his final one in Cleveland, Haden played through two groin injuries that required surgery in January.

 

The Steelers signed Haden to a three-year, $27 million contract just hours after the Browns released him in late August when he refused to take a pay cut.

 

Haden was injured while covering wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The two plays made contact, and Haden remained on the ground for several moments clutching his knee. He walked off the field under his own power but was taken to the locker room before halftime.

 

– – –

This from Peter King as a Factoid That May Interest Only Me:

 

Regarding the Pittsburgh-Indianapolis game Sunday: After 10 minutes in his Week 10 game, Ben Roethlisberger, for the season, had 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and had taken 10 sacks.

 

We are interested – and that’s not a very good TD to INT ratio.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Like the Seahawks, the Colts are now under scrutiny for disobeying the NFL’s concussion protocol in the heat of battle.  Mike Wells of ESPN.com:

 

Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett entered the concussion protocol at the end of the team’s 20-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

 

Brissett was scheduled to meet with the media, but a team spokesman said the quarterback would not be talking because he entered the protocol after having concussion symptoms following the game.

 

Brissett had to go to the concussion tent on the sideline after he took a shot to the back of the head from Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt on a third-down scramble play with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Scott Tolzien took the field on the Colts’ next series, only to have Brissett run on at the last second.

 

Chris Nowinski, the founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, tweeted harsh criticism of the NFL’s concussion policy in how it handled Brissett during Sunday’s game.

 

@ChrisNowinski1

#NFL #concussion protocol is a fraud. QB Jacoby Brissett goes back in after showing the clearest concussions signs of the season. Helmet-to-helmet hit, holds head, then goes limp, then needs help up. You don’t need a protocol to hold this player out for the game. Check the tape:

 

Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who addressed the media prior to the Brissett announcement, said the doctors cleared him to return.

 

“He went through the proper procedures through the protocol and got back out there,” Pagano said.

 

Brissett, who was sacked three times and finished the game, was 14-of-24 for 222 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the Colts, who enter their bye with a 3-7 record.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Peter King with some thoughts on Bill Belichick:

 

At one point Sunday night during New England’s 41-16 dismantling of Denver, NBC flashed a graphic showing that Bill Belichick was about to tie Tom Landry for third place on the all-time coaching wins list. The cameras focused on Belichick on the sideline. As usual, he looked like a member of the grounds crew. A fairly unkempt one, with a gray Patriots hoodie, the hood askew over Belichick’s head and his headset, making the image even weirder.

 

I thought of Tom Landry on the sideline. Hart, Schaffner & Marx suit, white shirt with every button buttoned, conservative necktie, stylish fedora and spit-shined wing tips. He looked like a “Mad Men” senior exec.

 

Appearances aside, you know what Landry and Belichick had in common, don’t you? Both were extremely serious Giants defensive coordinators for six seasons, a generation apart: Landry from 1954 to ’59, Belichick from 1985 to ’90.

 

Fitting they are linked now on the all-time wins list, though not for long. Belichick has miles to go before he sleeps, and he may just catch George Halas (number two, 54 wins away), though likely not Don Shula (number one, 77 wins away). Belichick versus Landry, whose career record is different because, in part, he coached for 18 of his 29 seasons with a 14-game schedule, while Belichick has always coached 16 regular-season games:

 

                     Seasons  Games        W-L-T         Pct.

Belichick           23         397            270-127-0     .680

Landry               29        454            270-178-6     .603

 

The other thing I noticed Sunday night: These two coaches did it their way. Different ways. The Patriots demolished Denver with the same triggerman as always, Tom Brady, but so many fledgling pieces—first-year back Rex Burkhead scored a touchdown and blocked a punt, off-and-on factor Dion Lewis scored two touchdowns, vet tight end Martellus Bennett (who just arrived on campus Friday) caught three passes, and the Patriots made four game-changing plays on special teams. Dallas had a more solid base of players led by Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Roger Staubach (after Landry finally settled on his QB, following a few years of a Staubach-Craig Morton competition) and, later, Randy White. When New England got transient, the Patriots still won. When Dallas got transient, Landry began to struggle. Different styles, winning in different ways. Belichick almost seems to relish the roster churn, and with five Super Bowl victories, he’s had different stalwarts on each team. Only Brady stays the same.

 

Bennett, with a bum shoulder, got to New England late Thursday night, signed, and reported for duty Friday morning. You wouldn’t think of Belichick as a charmer, and he’s not. But players play for him, or they’re not going to play for him. “Bill was like, ‘Can you practice?’” Bennett said. “I said I just want to go to sleep right now.’ He said, ‘Oh, it’s Friday. Just go out there and get some snaps.’ I think he knows how to talk to me. So I’m like, ‘All right, I’ll go out there.’”

 

One other thing Landry and Belichick share: They’re taciturn, but it never looks like the game is eating them alive. Thus Landry can stay in one spot for 29 years. Who knows how long Belichick stays in New England, but he won’t leave because the game keeps him up at night. “He’s the same on a Sunday in May as he is on a game day in the fall,” said former quarterback and low-level Patriots assistant Chris Simms. Stress? Not them.

 

I like the fact that, for a week, Landry and Belichick, who share a lot in NFL history, will share number three on the all-time NFL coaching list. It’s cool.

– – –

We would think the Patriots are in the process of being the first team (other than the Broncos of course) to play consecutive games above 5,000 feet.  Peter King:

 

I think it’s cool to note that, between games in mile-high Denver on Sunday night and 1.4-mile-high Mexico City versus the Raiders next Sunday, the New England Patriots will work out this week in a city about halfway between the two in altitude: Colorado Springs, elevation: 6,035 feet. (Hat tip to Mike Reiss of ESPN for this note.)

 

The DB gets a total of 12,662 feet high for the two games (Mexico City listed at 7,382, not sure the exact altitude of the stadium).

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

JERRY vs. ROGER

Peter King tiptoes through the minefield of trying to explain why Jerry Jones wants to take Roger Goodell down:

 

I had a longtime football executive tell me something last week about this strange season that hit home with me. He said there’s so much newsy stuff happening around the league right now—the player protests during the anthem, the fight for the commissioner’s office, squabbling over what Roger Goodell’s salary should be, why TV ratings are tanking—that when Sunday afternoons come and the games come on, you say, Oh yeah … football!

 

My little role in this happened Sunday morning, when we published my story at The MMQB about Dallas owner Jerry Jones’s desire to overthrow the Goodell contract extension and perhaps Goodell himself. In the wake of that story, here are some pressing questions and answers about where the NFL stands on the state of Goodell, and my answers will be compiled from recent interviews and best guesses concerning an ever-evolving story:

 

WHY IS JERRY JONES TRYING TO SABOTAGE THE GOODELL CONTRACT EXTENSION?

I believe it’s because he thinks Goodell hasn’t performed like a great commissioner should. I believe it’s also because he thinks the fix is in on the proposed contract to the commissioner … that even though the contract offer to Goodell is 88 percent incentives, Goodell will still end up with compensation of at least $25 million a year even if the league has an awful year. And I believe Jones’s feeling is, if the fix isn’t in, let the owners see exactly how the annual compensation package will be structured, down to the precise formulas that will determine exactly what Goodell makes.

 

DOES JONES WANT TO BE COMMISSIONER? IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT?

I’ve heard this question from several people this week, and my answer: It would stun me. Jones does not want to be commissioner. He already has his dream job, and he’s had it for 28 years. He wants to make the Cowboys great, and he wants to keep the Cowboys as the most valuable sports franchise in the United States. I just would be stunned if Jones would want to spend 15 minutes trying to make the Bengals a more valuable franchise.

 

SO IF NOT JONES AS COMMISSIONER, WHO?

I don’t know. I believe he has one in mind, but I do not know who it is. I’ve heard Bill Polian’s name thrown around, and I know Polian is a Jones favorite because he’s tough, but I have no idea if he’s a legit name in Jones’s mind.

 

WHAT’S THE MOST LIKELY OUTCOME OF THE GOODELL CONTRACT TALKS?

After the smoke clears, and after Jones tries his best to find partners to scuttle the deal, I believe the commissioner will re-sign through 2024. It’s interesting. Someone who is well plugged-in and who spoke to Jones in the past week told me Sunday that Jones believes he has more support from ownership than he had when he successfully prevented owners from giving money back to networks when they were in financial straits 24 years ago. He might have more support, but I don’t know who these owners are (outside of Dan Snyder and possibly Jim Irsay and Stan Kroenke). I don’t put anything past Jones, but I can’t see how he musters enough ownership support to kill this Goodell deal … unless, and I use this asterisk advisedly … there are further developments such as the ESPN report Sunday that said Goodell’s final negotiation request was an annual compensation package of $49.5 million plus use of a private plane for life. League spokesman Joe Lockhart quickly denied that report, but Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen are eminently reliable reporters, and there’s no question they’re trusted by league owners and officials. So if a couple of reports like that get legs in the coming days, I could see some owners say, I’m not feeling very good about Goodell right now. which could give the Jones side some momentum.

 

IS THE COMPENSATION COMMITTEE UNANIMOUS IN ITS SUPPORT OF THE GOODELL CONTRACT?

Good question. Jones believes if it isn’t, chairman Arthur Blank has misled the ownership, and the deal should be reopened. The key member of the committee is Houston owner Bob McNair, who was outspoken in his criticism of the league office recently. Most people around the league think McNair’s criticism stems from Goodell’s refusal to back McNair’s explanation of “inmates running the prison,” when McNair claims he was referring to league office employees, not players in the league. Goodell reportedly would not speak out in support of McNair. But this weekend, I heard McNair supports Goodell and will vote to approve a new contract for him.

 

WITH GOODELL’S CONTRACT VALID THOUGH THE END OF THE 2018 LEAGUE YEAR, WHAT’S THE HURRY TO RE-UP?

Owners think it would send a message to the advertising world and all communities that the owners are solidly behind Goodell. But with the continued turbulence the league is facing, you can’t help but wonder—and Jones clearly does—what the hurry is. What if the league gets this deal done next week, and then finds it has Goodell in office for the next six-plus years, and more crises roil the league? It’s not dumb to hold off doing this deal until mid-2018. It’s pragmatic.

 

COULD GOODELL SIGN SOME FORM OF A DEAL TODAY?

I am told no—contrary to several reports, there is not a contract on his desk that he can sign right now.

 

As I wrote Sunday: Normally I’d say this is over. It’s a done deal; Jones can’t win. I still think it’s unlikely Jones has success, but this is not a normal owner.

 

Jones has taken the unpopular side on several occasions in his ownership career. A quarter-century ago he fought the NFL’s TV Committee as it proposed to give money back to the money-losing networks. Jones won, and the lucrative marriage between Fox and the NFL was born. In 1995, the NFL attempted to enforce its exclusive rights under the NFL Trust to prevent the Cowboys from pouring Pepsi in Texas Stadium instead of the league’s cola partner, Coca-Cola, among other sponsorship deals. Jones countersued, and he ended up settling with the NFL to maintain his deals with Pepsi and other non-NFL partners.

 

Do not underestimate Jones. He has won when it has appeared darkest before. Jones could find some kindred ownership souls in the coming days and weeks. But there is one difference between this fight and Jones’s previous ones: Despite how tarnished Goodell is, Jones doesn’t have many partners—at least now—in trying to overthrow the current way of doing business.

 

This from Nancy Armour of USA TODAY on the frost in Atlanta yesterday:

 

Anyone know a good mediator or marriage counselor? The NFL could use one.

 

More than one, probably.

 

The fissures in the league were on full display Sunday, with Jerry Jones and Arthur Blank standing on opposite sides of the field before the game and neither making a move to meet the other. It was a rare bit of frostiness, Jones acknowledged, one of the few times he hasn’t exchanged pleasantries with a fellow owner.

 

“That’s rare,” Jones said after his Dallas Cowboys got trounced by Blank’s Atlanta Falcons 27-7. “I’ve had games where I didn’t visit for whatever reasons. But it’s rare.”

 

Not a big surprise, either, given the boardroom soap opera that’s more must-see TV than the NFL’s games themselves.

 

The league is famous for keeping squabbles among owners out of the public view, loathe to having anything tarnish or smudge the beloved “shield.” But Jones is not only airing the dirty laundry, he’s hanging it in the front yard for everyone to see.

– – –

Jones said he didn’t want to add to the palace intrigue, though he passed on giving Goodell a vote of confidence.

 

“I’m not going to discuss that right now,” he said. “I’m going to give Arthur Blank an attaboy for a great game, the Falcons playing a good game tonight.”

 

But Jones did give an insight into his thinking, talking about how challenging times are an opportunity for change and improvement.

 

“Times like these are when you can really assess, look if you can, get better,” Jones said. “I look at the NFL that way. I’ve been here many years and seen times when we need to adjust. Sometimes we do a good job of that. This is one of those times.”

 

Sure. That’s going to mean they all have to start talking to each other again, though.

 

The DB has been trying to figure out exactly what legal arguments Jerry Jones might concoct to confound the new contract.  Michael McCann, SI’s legal eagle, wonders the same thing here.  It made the DB’s eyes glaze, but you can read it if you want. 

 

McCann spends a lot of time with arguments relating to EZEKIEL ELLIOTT – and we don’t see how that’s going to fly.

 

Here is a much-edited outline of his discussion: 

 

Realistically, a legal effort by any owner to block the continuation of Goodell’s tenure would face a steep climb. Such an attempt might even be regarded as quixotic.

 

For starters, Jones may have forfeited any potential claim in May. At the time, he and the 31 other owners unanimously voted to authorize the compensation committee—whose membership consists of Clark Hunt (Chiefs), Robert Kraft (Patriots), Bob McNair (Texans), John Mara (Giants) and Art Rooney II (Steelers)—to finalize an extension for Goodell. Once a vote is cast it normally can’t be undone. Jones might contend that circumstances changed so radically after May that he ought to be able to change his vote, but such a contention would likely face skepticism by a court.

 

Even if Jones could nullify his prior support of Goodell receiving an extension, he would still need to establish a legal theory that would empower merely one of 32 owners to block a pending extension of the commissioner. If Jones files a lawsuit, he would likely ask the court for an injunction that would thwart the continuation of Goodell’s services beyond the expiration of the commissioner’s existing contract. Jones might also insist that Goodell and owners (through their collaboration with Goodell and through their contemplation of Goodell’s continued services) have caused him financial harm. Jones would thus maintain that he is owed monetary damages from them.

 

What are the kinds of legal claims that Jones might raise in a complaint? Here are six possibilities:

 

1. Breach of Contract

Breach of contract would be an appealing claim for Jones since it requires less speculation than other potential claims. A breach of contract claim is exactly what it sounds like: Jones was owed a contractual right from the NFL and the NFL somehow broke it while negotiating a contract extension with Goodell.

 

For instance, Jones could cite Article VIII of the league constitution. Article VIII obligates the league to “select and employ a person of unquestioned integrity to serve as Commissioner.” Jones might contend that Goodell’s handling of the Elliott suspension proves that he fails to meet the standard of “unquestioned integrity.”

 

2. Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

With that covenant in mind, Jones could portray the league and other owners as abusing discretionary powers in the league constitution and the collective bargaining agreement. In doing so, Jones would assert, they inflicted harm on Jones and his team. Indeed, Jones could insist that owners are knowingly derelict in their obligation to select a capable and honest commissioner. Likewise, Jones would contend that Goodell willfully abused Article 46 of the CBA while reviewing allegations against Elliott and in ways that harm Jones and the Cowboys.

 

3. Breach of Fiduciary Duties

Jones could also assert that as members of a joint venture of independently owned NFL teams, team owners and league officials owe each other certain fiduciary duties. One such duty is the duty to supply full disclosure of important facts and to not conceal key information.

 

Jones could assert that Goodell’s handling of the Elliott matter indicates that he was not an honest broker with Elliott or with Elliott’s employer, the Cowboys.

 

4. Fraud and Unfair Business Practices

If Jones sues the NFL, expect to see him argue that the league engaged in fraud and unfair business practices.  Jones might insist that the league and owners have willfully deceived Jones by ignoring basic notions of justice regarding Elliott.

 

5. Illegal cartel under antitrust law

Like in 1996, Jones could assert that the NFL and owners have conspired through an illegal cartel to inflict harm on him and the Cowboys. Jones could assert that the league and owners are colluding not against Kaepernick but against him.

 

6. Illegal interference

Jones could portray the league’s handling of Elliott and national anthem protests as unlawfully interfering with his ownership of the Cowboys.

 

NFL’S LEGAL DEFENSES

 

The NFL would be armed with an impressive list of defenses in the event Jones sues. Those defenses include the following six:

 

1. Jones has contractually waived away any possible legal claims

 

2. Jones contractually accepts that Goodell has nearly unlimited authority in handling controversies

If Jones sues and if in the complaint Jones focuses on Goodell’s suspension of Elliott or the handling of player protests, the NFL would be poised to win.

 

Under Article VIII of the league constitution, the commissioner is charged with “full, complete, and final jurisdiction and authority to arbitrate [any dispute] involving any players . . . that in the opinion of the Commissioner constitutes conduct detrimental to the best interests of the League or professional football.”

 

3. Courts are very deferential to private associations

 

4. Jones might lack standing to sue over the extension of Goodell’s employment

 

5. The NFL doesn’t owe Jones any fiduciary duties

 

6. Jones can’t show he has been damaged in a way the law ought to remedy

– – –

Jones could pursue an alternative strategy: the vote of no confidence

While the legal system is unlikely to grant Jones’ wish that Goodell be exiled, Jones could pursue another option that might prove more effective. In any private association led by a commissioner, the association’s members can take a vote to measure whether they remain confident in the commissioner’s capacity to lead. Depending on the result of the vote, the vote is sometimes called a “vote of no confidence.”

 

In and of itself, a vote of no confidence has no legal effect: it doesn’t force the commissioner to step down or take any specific action. Such a vote, however, signals to the commissioner that he or she doesn’t have the support of those being led. The commissioner therefore knows that they could become a disruptive or inefficacious presence by remaining on the job. The commissioner is thus likely to step down.

 

A vote of no confidence occurred in Major League Baseball back in 1992. By a vote of 18 to 9, baseball owners expressed no confidence in commissioner Fay Vincent, whom had drawn criticism for his leadership on financial matters. Vincent then stepped down, saying “I cannot govern as Commissioner without the consent of owners to be governed . . . resignation — not litigation — should be my final act as Commissioner in the best interests’ of baseball.”

 

Although some reporting suggests that other owners agree with Jones that Goodell should be replaced, it’s unclear how many of them would actually vote no confidence. If Jones pursued this path and it failed badly, Jones—who chairs the NFL Network Committee and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee—would likely lose influence on league matters going forward.

 

The DB notes this statement from Joe Lockhart, who once put out similar statements in defense of Bill Clinton:

 

“Those trying to peddle that nonsense are profoundly misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead.”

 

—NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart, after ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that in his most recent proposal to the NFL’s Compensation Committee, Roger Goodell asked for a contract with about $49.5 million in compensation and a lifetime use of a private jet.

 

So did whoever fed the story to Schefter and Mortensen totally make something up?  We doubt it.  So if it’s slightly embellished, if Goodell only asked for 20 years of jet usage, is it really worth it to Lockhart to all but call the story a lie?

 

And someone (Lockhart?) plants a story with Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com insinuating that if Jones keeps pushing, Goodell will do to him what the NBA did to Donald Sterling:

 

A league source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that multiple owners already have been discussing the possibility, which flows from Article VIII of the NFL’s Constitution & Bylaws. Specifically, Section 8.13 authorizes the Commissioner to determine that an owner “has been or is guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football.” If the Commissioner believes the available sanction (a $500,000 fine) is “not adequate or sufficient,” the Commissioner may refer the issue to the NFL’s Executive Committee, which has the power to compel “[c]ancellation or forfeiture of the franchise in the League of any member club involved or implicated,” with a directive to sell the team.

 

It’s obviously an extreme outcome, and it surely would trigger years of litigation. But the possibility has emerged primarily because Jones has opted to take family business outside the family. As the source explained it, the primary affront comes from the belief among owners that Jones instigated Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter to disparage the NFL, blaming league leadership for ratings declines and, in turn, a reduction in Papa John’s revenues.

 

It’s unknown whether the NFL or any of its owners has warned Jones of a potential attack on his ownership of the Cowboys, and at this point it’s unlikely that any such effort will be made. However, the topic has emerged among owners, due directly to Jones’ recent threats of litigation and related efforts to disrupt the business of the league.

 

So, basically, if Jones’ ultimately doesn’t oust Goodell, Jones may need to worry about Goodell ousting Jones.

 

And this from Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com with more whispering against Jones:

 

Jones’ threat last week to potentially sue the league and other owners over Goodell getting a new contract extension — considered a foregone conclusion in league circles since the spring, when all 32 owners empowered the Compensation Committee to negotiate a deal without further approval required — has angered fellow owners and increasingly isolated Jones. The sources suggest that “at best” Jones has maybe three other owners in his corner that Goodell should go, but is nowhere close to the 24 votes required to derail a process that is in essence already completed (pending just a formal signing and announcement, sources said).

 

Furthermore, given some of the safeguards the NFL has put in place the last 20 years after repeated legal battles with now-deceased Raiders owner Al Davis, securing a lawyer is “an empty threat” as one team source put it. Indeed, no lawsuit had been filed by the close of business Friday, sources said.

 

“This is way over the top,” one league source said. “You don’t threaten to sue your business partners because you are pissed off that your running back got suspended. That’s not how business is conducted in the league. Jerry already had only a handful of guys backing him on this (calling for Goodell’s job), and he is isolating himself more and more by doing things this way. This isn’t how you try to get your way in the NFL. It’s not going to work.” 

 

Indeed, the league office said this week that Goodell’s contract, which will be worth over $200 million in total and run until 2024 and the owners will also include the fully subjective bonuses which they will determine each year, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, should be formally completed soon, and acknowledged that, in response to his unusual actions, Jones was no longer allowed to serve as an ad hoc member of the Compensation Committee.‎

 

 

SHORT TERM GAIN vs. LONG TERM SUSTAINABILITY

The DB notes that most of the discussion of The Commish seems to be all about his compensation and how it should relate to NFL revenues.  But we think, and Sean Cunningham of Real Clear Life elaborates, that the quest for constant, huge year-to-year monetary growth to justify Goodell’s salary and the massive league office expenditures is the enemy of the long term sustainability of the game.

 

Here’s something NFL owners and players agree on: they want more money. $14 billion in expected revenue for 2017 is nice, but that hasn’t stopped NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from boldly declaring they should generate $25 billion by 2027.

 

The attempt to reach that revenue level may eventually force everyone to confront two brutal questions:

 

What’s player health worth?

 

How much sloppy football can fans stand?

 

In theory, $25 billion is attainable. After all, the NFL was making a mere $6 billion in 2006 and they’ve more than doubled that. However, it’s not like the NFL hasn’t already done its best to maximize earnings. Among the league’s more aggressive measures:

 

-Charging full price for preseason games. (As every fan actually attending them can attest, the preseason is an exciting chance to watch star players chat on the sideline.)

 

-Selling personal seat licenses, so devoted fans can pay for the privilege of earning the right to pay for actual tickets.

 

-Only covering Super Bowl halftime performers’ expenses and production costs, meaning Lady Gaga technically jumped off the roof in Houston for free.

 

Of course, there’s always that sweet television money. The NFL first appeared on TV in 1939, reaching an estimated 500 homes or so. It’s been up, up, up ever since, even as the general TV audience has splintered into every smaller pieces. (The M*A*S*H finale drew 105.9 million viewers in 1983. The Friends finale drew 52.5 million viewers in 2004. The Big Bang Theory’s most recent season finale drew 12.6 million viewers.)

 

In 1990, the NFL TV contracts totaled $3.6 billion over four years. By 2014, the NFL had begun a nine-year deal that saw the networks pay roughly $3.1 billion combined per season, more than triple the rate in 1990.

 

Then NFL ratings declined in 2016.

 

And the drop has continued in 2017.

 

And this was all before the President of the United States started calling for a boycott. The battle over players protesting inequality and police violence during the national anthem is ulcer-inducing for the NFL because, as with so many things involving Donald Trump, the public is deeply split. Some polls show support growing for players and a majority of fans opposing a rule requiring fans to stand, meaning whatever the NFL does may alienate a large group of people. (It’s worth noting that the NFL did battle with Trump in the ’80s when he and the United States Football League took them to court for antirust violations: he sought $1.69 billion for antitrust violations and wound up “winning” $1, which was ultimately tripled to $3.)

 

There’s also the wildcard threat to the NFL: cord-cutting. How many people will eventually abandon TV even if it includes the NFL? Will the NFL figure out how to monetize the cutters, so they still get their TV loot (with a portion generated by the Internet) or will those epic hauls level off or even potentially decline?

 

For good measure, the NFL recently burned bridges with the fans of San Diego, St. Louis, and Oakland by letting three franchises relocate, including two moving back to the Los Angeles market they’d previously abandoned. Recently the USC Trojans outdrew both of L.A.’s new pro teams’ games combined: the moribund Chargers in particular have a gift for generating empty seats, which fill up only when visiting fans take over the stadium.

 

Throw in the decline in high school football enrollment over the previous decade and growing number of parents finding football unsafe at any age and once sunny skies look decidedly overcast. This may be why NFL is pushing some ideas to boost revenue that are, depending on your perspective, either boldly forward-thinking or downright insane. They include:

 

-Extending the regular season to 18 games.

 

-Playing a regular-season game in China. (The NFL has currently pushed this goal back from 2018 to 2019.)

 

–Establishing a franchise in London by 2022.

 

Dr. David Geier is an orthopedic surgeon and the author of That’s Gotta Hurt: The Injuries That Changes Sports Forever. He also spent a year with St. Louis Rams, working with the doctors who took care of the players. So, just how feasible are these ideas, according to Geier?

 

18-Game Season. Geier found this idea feasible… provided two steps are taken.

 

–More weeks off built into the season: “If it were 18 [weeks playing] out of 20, that would be easier to stomach.” (Currently, each NFL team only gets one bye week.) Indeed, he thought football might want to follow the lead of the other sports and have a mid-season break: “A week of no games wouldn’t hurt anyone and it would help players’ bodies immensely.”

 

–Expand the rosters. Geier recalled from his days with the Rams that they “were doing physicals on free agents basically every Tuesday. Get a couple guys hurt, bring a couple guys in.” He noted that NFL teams don’t waste roster spots—”Everybody but the second- and third-string quarterbacks play in every game”—which is necessary “because there are so many substitutions.” That’s why he has a modest proposal: “Why don’t they just make the rosters bigger?” Among the reasons to support this idea: It would likely make a longer season an easier sell to the NFL Players Association.

 

Okay, so the expanded season could be logistically challenging and potentially a little costly for owners, but manageable. What about…

 

The Regular-Season Game in China. Flying from Los Angeles to Beijing takes roughly 13 hours, with Beijing 15 hours ahead of the Pacific time zone. This gives teams two options:

 

Attempt to adjust to local time. Geier said sleep experts “usually say give your body a day to adjust per time zone.” Keep in mind that once players adjust, they have to return to the states and quickly adjust back.

 

Attempt to stay in your home time zone. The game would be scheduled for American TV and locals would just adapt to the bizarre start time. Geier pointed out this might be impossible: “The problem is you don’t just go and play a game. In London you do media all day. They turn it into this festival.” (The NFL wants to make the maximum impact on foreign markets, which is why they play the games there in the first place.)

 

Geier noted the real danger of the China trip might be “lingering effects.” After all, even people who carefully avoid alcohol and caffeine while drinking plenty of water and adhering to all those other tips veteran travelers urge still sometimes struggle. (As someone who faced the 12-hour time difference between New York and Taiwan in the last year, I found it deeply challenging and I was not required to block All-Pro Von Miller.)

 

So what’s the best approach? Geier’s answer isn’t encouraging: “Neither strategy would work real well.”

 

The biggest challenge still awaits.

 

A franchise in London. London is generally five hours ahead of New York. (There’s a window each year when our nations’ daylight savings times fall out of sync and it shrinks to four.)

 

Even if the NFL only sends teams from the Eastern time zone to play the London team—which would quickly make for a stale schedule—this is a jarring adjustment. And there’s a strong argument it would be an unfair imposition if the NFL didn’t spread the trip around; the Philadelphia Eagles having to take off for London each season would definitely give an edge to NFC North, South, and West teams that get to play all their games stateside.

 

Needless to say, the London team would have a beast of a home-field advantage. All those gains, however, would surely be lost once they hit the away games. Some road trips are easier than others: the Jets may not win in New England, but getting there is manageable. Every road trip for London would be epic—dwarfing the NFL’s longest current travel games, like Miami to Seattle or New England to Los Angeles—to the point it would almost seem logical for them to play multiple road games in a row and remain in America, rather than constantly hopping across the pond.

 

Of course, that approach has its own disadvantages. Geier recalled he used to serve as a “doctor at a women’s professional tennis tournament in Charleston. I would examine all these injured players and we would talk.” Charleston was the last tournament in a series of events held in North America: “A lot of [the players] would be away for about five straight weeks.” How did they find the trip? “They would say, ‘I’m just ready to be home for a few days.’ They’re tired, they’re depressed, they’re living in hotels.”

 

In summary: “That London team, they’re going to struggle.”

 

It’s easy to say, “Hey, players get a lot of money—they can handle some travel.” True enough, and teams don’t fly in cramped commercial seats and will doubtless invest in top experts and techniques to maximize player rest and recovery. But the fact remains: The NFL’s success is built on the belief that it is the only place to go to see the world’s best football players playing at their absolute highest level. So, the NFL’s global ambitions may be quickly undone if they result in teams being error- and injury-prone because they can’t quite kick jet lag.

 

This all leads to the potential nightmare scenario in the 2020s: NFL players look at their new 18-game season and see that their team opens in China… and later in the year hits London too.

 

As a physician focused primarily on athletes’ health, Geier did concede this globe-trotting schedule potentially had one great benefit: it would be the ultimate way to “punish the tanking teams.” Meaning in the not-so-distant future, the Cleveland Browns may be amassing some serious frequent flyer miles.

 

 

RANKING THE NFC PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

It’s a long piece by Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com here, excerpts to follow:

 

As we pass the season’s halfway point, the AFC looks like a top-heavy conference that is likely to produce some truly dreadful wild-card teams. One team out of a group led by the Ravens, Bills and Raiders is going to make the postseason and quite possibly end up facing Blake Bortles in the first round of the playoffs. Get your think pieces ready.

– – –

Because many of those teams or organizations on the fringes of contention won this past week. There are nine teams realistically competing for six playoff spots in the NFC. While there are four AFC teams that the Football Power Index assigns at least a 97 percent shot of making the playoffs, the Eagles are the only team in those rarefied heights in the NFC. It’s wide-open. Let’s run through the contenders and try to make sense of its clouded playoff picture:

 

The outsiders

 

Dallas Cowboys (5-4)

Chances of making the playoffs: 24.9 percent

 

Dallas’ loss to Atlanta suddenly pushes the Cowboys out of the immediate playoff picture — they were at 49.8 percent heading into Sunday. For all the talk about how different the offense would be without Ezekiel Elliott, losing left tackle Tyron Smith was a much bigger concern.

 

Atlanta Falcons (5-4)

Chances of making the playoffs: 25.8 percent

 

The Falcons probably saved their season by beating the Cowboys, given that their playoff odds would have dipped below 10 percent with a home loss. Even more than the numbers might indicate, though, Dan Quinn’s team showed its potential not just by winning but by how it won.

 

Namely, its defense finally showed up to play.

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Atlanta’s schedule is still pretty difficult, but with five of its six division games still to come, the Falcons could quickly rise up the NFC South ranks if they get hot. No team wants to travel to Seattle, but the Falcons might be catching the Seahawks at the right time with Richard Sherman out for the season, Earl Thomas still nursing a hamstring injury, and Duane Brown recovering from an ankle injury.

 

Detroit Lions (5-4)

Chances of making the playoffs: 32.5 percent

 

The Lions were a bad team last season — worse than the Bears and Jaguars, by DVOA — who sneaked into the playoffs by virtue of Matthew Stafford setting a league record for fourth-quarter comeback victories.

 

The Lions are a good team this season who might be kept out of the playoffs because they haven’t been lucky late in games.

 

Carolina Panthers (6-3)

Chances of making the playoffs: 54.4 percent

 

Ron Rivera’s team is a comfortable favorite to dispatch the Dolphins at home on Monday night, which would push the Panthers to 7-3 and leave them well-positioned to at least claim a wild-card berth. They will face the Jets after their Week 11 bye and still have home games against the Packers (who could theoretically have Aaron Rodgers back) and Buccaneers to come. FPI projects them at almost exactly 10-6, and they should be safe if they make it there.

 

There is a scenario in which Carolina doesn’t make the postseason, though, and it involves its two crucial road games to come. The Panthers have to play at both the Saints and Falcons, and those games could be important in a three-way race to what might be only two playoff spots. Even if the Panthers finish 10-6, The New York Times simulator notes that losses to the Falcons, Saints and Vikings would leave Carolina’s playoff odds right around 60 percent.

 

Carolina needs to win at least one of those NFC South road games.

 

Seattle Seahawks (6-3)

Chances of making the playoffs: 72.9 percent

 

FPI has a rosier view on the Seahawks than it should by virtue of injuries. Seattle’s victory over Arizona on Thursday night was a disaster, given that the Seahawks ended the game with Richard Sherman out for the year after rupturing his Achilles. The newly acquired Duane Brown left with an ankle injury, while star safety Earl Thomas sat out with a hamstring injury. The Seahawks basically turned into a different team after Thomas broke his leg last season, and it’s fair to wonder if the same thing will happen now that Sherman, a future Hall of Fame cornerback, is done for the season.

 

As long as Thomas is healthy, I think the Seahawks should be able to get by on defense, even if they’re not as productive as they would be with a healthy Sherman in the lineup.

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The schedule won’t do them any favors, either. After hosting the Falcons and traveling to play the 49ers, the Seahawks face one of the toughest four-game stretches any team in the league will play this season. Seattle will travel to play the Jaguars and Cowboys while hosting the Eagles and Rams.

 

The division favorites

 

Los Angeles Rams (7-2)

Chances of making the playoffs: 85.2 percent

 

You might not want to give the Rams too much credit for mopping the floor with the Cardinals, Giants and Texans over the past four weeks, but history tells us that blowing out bad teams can be a better indicator of future success than squeaking out wins over good teams. Throw in the Colts and 49ers and the Rams have gone 5-0 against the dregs of the league while outscoring their opposition by more than 26 points per game.

 

I’d argue that the Rams already proved they were real by beating the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 4, but if you’re looking to see how the Rams might fare against playoff competition, you’ll get your chance over the rest of the season. Los Angeles gets to travel to Arizona and has a home game against the 49ers to finish the season, but its other five games are against stiff competition.

 

Minnesota Vikings (7-2)

Chances of making the playoffs: 89 percent

 

What if Case Keenum is the best quarterback on Minnesota’s roster? The third-string quarterback from the perfect 53-man roster threw two ugly second-half interceptions to help make the Vikings’ 38-30 win over Washington look like more of a contest, but he also went 21-of-27 for 304 yards and four touchdowns on his other pass attempts. His big plays were inch-perfect throws 40 yards downfield to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Keenum picked on Josh Norman, the highest-paid cornerback in the league.

 

Keenum is 14th in passer rating, but Total QBR pegs him as the third-best quarterback in football on a rate basis, behind just Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott while ranking just ahead of Carson Wentz and Tom Brady. I wouldn’t use that as evidence that Keenum is actually better than the two favorites in the MVP race, but it is evidence of how Keenum’s skill set is underappreciated by traditional metrics.

 

New Orleans Saints (7-2)

Chances of making the playoffs: 94.8 percent

 

One of the strange ironies of this bizarre 2017 season is that the Saints look like one of the best teams in the league in a year in which Drew Brees is shouldering less of the workload than ever before. New Orleans scored 47 points during Sunday’s blowout win in Buffalo, and Brees threw for just 184 yards without any passing touchdowns, instead chipping in with an almost sheepish scramble for a score. In each of the Saints’ two 40-plus point outbursts against the Bills and Lions, Brees has failed to make it to 200 yards passing.

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In light of their stunning new defense and success running the ball, it seems tempting to suggest that this is a version of the Saints that is more likely to win in January. I’m not sure that’s true, given that we’re coming off a postseason in which the pass-happy, defense-light Falcons and Patriots competed in the Super Bowl.

 

I would instead argue that this is the most complete Saints team since the 13-3 Saints of 2011, who fell in an instant classic to the 49ers in Candlestick Park. They could still slip — New Orleans still has home-and-home matchups with the Falcons after hosting the Panthers in Week 13 — but the Saints have a much better shot of coming away with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (23.4 percent) than they do of missing the postseason altogether (5.2 percent).

 

The best team in football

 

Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)

Chances of making the playoffs: 98.3 percent

 

While the Eagles might have preferred to see their competition for the top seed in the NFC lose this weekend, they’ll have to settle for the nod of best team in football, given that the Steelers nearly laid an egg before squeaking out a victory against the Colts. I suspect the Eagles might already have been most observers’ pick for that title already, but with the Steelers scuffling against an organization with nothing to play for beyond pride, Doug Pederson and his team managed to further themselves from the rest of the league solely by sitting out and resting.

 

The schedule skews tough for the Eagles through mid-December. Four of their next five games are on the road, including Sunday’s critical matchup against the Cowboys in Dallas. The Eagles also face the Seahawks, Rams and Giants on the road, mixing in a game against the Bears at home. They finish with home matchups against the Raiders and Cowboys, although there’s a reasonable chance Philly might lock up the No. 1 seed before facing Dallas again in Week 17.

 

At this point, the Eagles’ priorities will mostly revolve around keeping their talent healthy for a postseason run while identifying and fixing the few weak spots in their lineup. Halapoulivaati Vaitai seems like a possible problem as he fills in for the injured Jason Peters at left tackle, and it will be interesting to see how Pederson chooses to give him help while still leaving Wentz with as many options as possible in the passing game.

 

There’s the least to say about Philadelphia, in part because both it and Wentz have been so heavily featured so far this season. The one thing worth noting is that the Eagles were secretly already good heading into the year. Philadelphia ranked fifth in DVOA last season despite a 7-9 record, thanks to some bad luck in close games.

 

While the Eagles have certainly improved this season, it’s not by quite as much as their win total indicates. Philly has improved by 14 percentage points of DVOA, but it has gone only from fifth to third in DVOA. The Eagles are 3-1 in one-score games after going 1-6 a year ago. If this sounds like a negative, it’s not. I’m not suggesting that the Eagles’ rise is being oversold; instead, I’m saying that the bandwagon should have been full a while ago, and that the Eagles having been playing about this well since Pederson took over last season. That length of consistency makes it more likely Philadelphia will keep this up the rest of the way.