The Daily Briefing Thursday, August 31, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

The Commish may be serious about shortening preseason without demanding something back from the players association.

 

We’ll have a test as Houston is only playing three games this year.  Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com:

 

The NFL opted Wednesday to cancel Thursday’s preseason game between the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, because the Texans will be able to return home to their families in Houston sooner than anticipated.

 

The Texans said in a statement that they will drive home on Wednesday after finding a safe travel route, despite the effects of Hurricane Harvey.

 

“At this time, the priority of our organization is getting our players, coaches and staff back home to be reunited with their families, many of whom have been evacuated from their homes and are currently sheltered,” the team said. “The team feels it is imperative to get back home to help the Houston community recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.”

 

“… It was a shout of joy when we announced we were going home. I think everyone wants to get there.”

 

Texans general manager Rick Smith said the Texans’ Week 1 game will be played as scheduled at NRG Stadium.

 

“Nothing has to happen. The game is at NRG. It’s scheduled to be played in NRG, so it will be played in NRG,” he said.

 

Smith said there were shouts of joy when he told the players the game was cancelled and they were heading home.

 

“I’ve been increasingly impressed with them as we’ve dealt with all the things we’ve had to deal with over the last couple of days. And the way they have been resilient, and the way they have maintained their focus during practice and being pros. But it was a shout of joy when we announced we were going home. I think everyone wants to get there,” he said.

 

Defensive end J.J. Watt said: “It was subdued joy, because we’re obviously extremely sensitive to the situation.

 

“But I think guys just want to see their wives, guys just want to see their kids, guys want to see their families. So it’s going to be a very nice thing just to get back and be able to embrace their families and everybody can see that each other is safe. And then we can start that rebuilding process.”

 

Tickets for the Texans-Cowboys game went on sale Tuesday night, and more than 40,000 have been sold, with the proceeds going to the hurricane relief fund. Those who have purchased tickets to the game can get a refund; if not, the money will still go to the relief fund. The Texans said in their statement that the McNair family, which owns the team, “will make a donation equal to the money that would have been generated from ticket sales.”

 

Jaguars owner Shad Khan, unlike the management of the Texas Rangers, is willing to flip the Week 1 game.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Khan issued a statement saying he was prepared to follow the league’s lead on any decision regarding the Sept. 10 game currently scheduled for Houston.

 

“The Jacksonville Jaguars will support whatever scheduling decision the NFL makes,” Khan said. “What’s most important to me and everyone in Jacksonville isn’t where we’ll play the Texans on Week One, but that the City of Houston and its people recover quickly, safely and successfully.”

 

The two teams play each other in Jacksonville on Dec. 17, and swapping those dates seems like a reasonable proposal.

 

It might create some competitive advantage issues (giving the Texans three straight home games to close the season and three straight road games for the Jaguars), but Khan’s right in that that’s not a major concern.

 

With the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey causing widespread damage in Houston, local authorities will have much more important things to do than make sure 70,000 people get in and out of a football game safely.

 

But with the Astros returning to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, it looks more and more like the Texans will be staying home.

 

Back to the shorter preseason discussion we alluded to above.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell keeps going from town to town stumping for a shorter preseason.

 

This time it was at a Colts luncheon hosted by owner Jim Irsay, where Goodell spoke alongside Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, Colts General Manager Chris Ballard, coach Chuck Pagano and others.

 

When asked about the possibility of shortening the preseason, Goodell said he keeps hearing from people that four games is at least one too many.

 

“From my standpoint, we actually just talked about it, coach, Tony and Chris, I’ve asked every football guy, ‘How many preseason games do we really need to prepare your team and develop players and evaluate players and get yourself ready for the season?” Goodell said, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. “And I think that has shifted dramatically in the last three years. I think that coaches and football people think that you could do this in three [games], and I actually think that’s better for the fans. I actually don’t think the preseason games are of the quality that I’m really proud of. From my standpoint, I think that would be a really healthy shift.”

 

So there you go. He’s doing it for the people. Clearly.

 

It’s at least the third time he’s brought it up this preseason, and it should be equally clear that owners aren’t eager to give away the revenue that 10th home date creates — even if some of them have started playing Three Card Monte by cutting preseason prices and making up for it elsewhere.

 

With owners used to 20 units of product with which to wring money out of their customers, and repeated references to three preseason games, it seems clear the ultimate goal is a 17th regular season game, which could become neutral site or international and satisfy several league objectives.

 

– – –

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says someone, but not MATTHEW STAFFORD, is going to eventually be successful in tying their compensation into the growing salary cap.

 

Multiple players have tried, none have succeeded. Yet.

 

With the salary cap growing by 37 percent since 2013 and contracts negotiated in past years not aging well because of it, no player has been able to secure a clause in a long-term deal ensuring a certain cap percentage in the out years of a contract. Former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis tried to get it in 2010, and Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins tried to get it in 2016.

 

It’s unclear whether quarterback Matthew Stafford tried to get it. While he arguably will need it in 2021 and 2022, if the salary cap and the quarterback market continue to climb, Stafford will get $108.5 million over the next four years. If, after that, the market has gone haywire, the Lions could rip up the last two years of the deal and give him another.

 

So what will it take for a player to get protection from a guaranteed percentage of the cap? Most likely, it will take a franchise quarterback making it to the open market, with multiple teams chasing him and the quarterback playing one against the other. Even then, the Management Council likely will resist, because once one team does it other teams may follow suit.

 

For now, teams have resisted because it strips away the benefit of the back end of a long-term deal, where salary numbers that seemed fair to the player at signing become much more than fair to the teams over time. If a player is guaranteed a certain piece of the pie and the pie keeps growing, the piece keeps growing, too.

 

Under the current system, once a long-term deal gets past the first two or three years, the team hold a year-to-year option on whether to keep it going. If the numbers look good to the team, the team will “honor” the contract. If the numbers don’t, the team will either squeeze the player to take less or cut him. The player, having committed to the duration of the deal, has no real options.

 

Tying those later years to growth in the cap will make teams more inclined to think the player is getting too much, and in turn to lose the benefit of otherwise affordable years that remain after the front end of the deal has been paid out. Inevitably, someone else will try to get that term. Eventually, maybe someone will succeed.

 

Former agent Joel Corry, writing at CBS Sports.com, pointed out that while QBs are leapfrogging over each other, they still are not matching the growth of the overall cap.

 

Despite favorable circumstances, the top of the market has remained fairly stagnant since Aaron Rodgers became the NFL’s highest-paid player in April 2013 with a five-year, $110 million extension. It took nearly three years for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to surpass Rodgers as the highest-paid player by less than one percent in average yearly salary at $22,133,333. In less than half this time, Derek Carr has become the NFL’s first $25 million player with his five-year, $125.025 million contract extension from the Raiders. Overall, the top of the quarterback market has gone up 13.7 percent from when Rodgers signed four years ago.

 

However, high-end quarterback contracts have failed to keep up with the growth in the salary cap and franchise tags. The salary cap was $123 million at Rodgers’ signing. It has grown to $167 million this year, a 35.77 percent increase. The franchise tag, which is an accepted measure for high-end salaries at the respective positions, has increased even more. The quarterback non-exclusive franchise tag was $14.896 million in 2013. The current $21.268 million non-exclusive number is almost 43 percent greater. Adjusting Rodgers’ existing contract into the current salary cap environment and to reflect franchise tag growth puts him at approximately $29.85 million and almost $31.5 million per year.

– – –

NFL teams are fortunate high-caliber quarterbacks routinely sign extensions instead of playing out contracts. These types of quarterbacks would never hit the open market because of franchise tags. Nevertheless, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are excellent examples of the benefits teams receive with early deals.

 

Newton and Wilson joined the ranks of the highest-paid players with extensions from the Panthers and Seahawks averaging $20.76 million (including $60 million in guarantees) and $21.9 million (with $61.542 million in guarantees) during the 2015 offseason. Wilson showed dramatic improvement as a pocket passer while carrying Seattle’s offense for stretches of the 2015 season. He had an unprecedented five-game run from Week 11 to Week 15 where he threw 19 touchdown passes without an interception while completing 74.3 percent of his passes for a 143.6 rating. Newton won league MVP honors while leading the Panthers to a Super Bowl berth with the NFL’s best regular-season record at 15-1.

– – –

The Panthers might have been facing a similar predicament with Newton. It’s conceivable that his franchise tag when his contract expired after the 2016 season would have easily exceeded the exclusive quarterback number of $25.98 million since his figure probably would have been based off 120 percent of his 2016 cap number. Newton’s timing for an extension would not have come at a better time following his MVP and Super Bowl appearance. He likely would have been in a position to raise the salary bar for quarterbacks with an extension until Luck eclipsed it the following year, which would have been this offseason.

 

Quality quarterbacks almost never become unrestricted free agents. Cousins could be one next offseason if he plays under another franchise tag. The Redskins designating Cousins as a franchise player for a third and final time in 2018 at almost $34.5 million seems implausible. Another option would be using a transition tag for $28.73 million instead, which would only provide a right to match an offer sheet.

 

There has been speculation that Cousins could get $30 million per year on the open market given the shortage of good quarterbacks. Cousins signing in free agency would likely be a game changer for quarterback salaries even if he falls short of the mark. It would be the beginning of a dramatic shift at the top of quarterback market. Cousins’ contract would be the starting point for the new deal Rodgers is expected to sign with the Packers in 2018 when there are two years left on his current deal. The Falcons will likely extend reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan next year as well since he will be in a contract year.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

G LAKEN TOMLINSON, among the most obscure first round picks in history, has been shipped off to San Francisco.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Laken Tomlinson was a bust for the Lions. Now the 49ers will hope they can get something out of him.

 

Tomlinson, a guard drafted by the Lions with the 28th overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, has been traded to San Francisco for a 2019 fifth-round pick, according to NFL Media.

 

That’s a disappointing return on investment for the Lions: When you draft a player in the first round, you’re hoping he’ll be a starter in Year 3, not hoping you’ll trade him for a fifth-round pick in Year 3. But given Tomlinson’s lack of production, at this point the Lions may just feel fortunate they can get anything for him at all.

 

Tomlinson has played in every game since the Lions drafted him, with 24 starts. But he wasn’t expected to start this year and may not have even made the roster at all. Now San Francisco will see if it can get more out of his talents than Detroit did.

 

This from Mike Garofolo:

 

He was not even guaranteed to make it through final cuts, so the Lions did good work getting back a fifth for him. He will slot in behind LG Zane Beadles and RG Brandon Fusco in San Francisco.

 

We had to look it up, Tomlinson went to Duke.  Duke had a first round pick?

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

ESPN rumormonger Adam Schefter seems to be hearing that the forces of EZEKIEL ELLIOTT have made some headway with arbitrator Harold Henderson as he says this on Mike and Mike:

 

 “The more that I have heard, the more I think he has a real chance to have some games knocked off the suspension.”

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report gives letter grades for all 32 teams.

 

We have the grades at the bottom of today’s Briefing.  If you want to read his reasoning for every team go here:

 

As a sample, he loves the Cardinals in August:

 

Grizzled quarterback Carson Palmer had a healthy, turnover-free preseason. That’s the first thing you need to know about the Arizona Cardinals this month. Without a healthy and effective Palmer, Arizona isn’t going anywhere.

 

The 37-year-old posted a triple-digit passer rating in limited action, top weapons David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald were smartly preserved and the new-look defense was for the most part magnificent.

 

Superstar safety Tyrann Mathieu is also healthy again after a torn ACL derailed his 2016 campaign. As a result of all of this, the Cards appear to have their swagger back.

 

Grade: A+

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

The Rams are coming to the realization that DT AARON DONALD might not be there when the Indianapolis Colts come to town a week from Sunday.  Greg Beacham of the AP:

 

The Los Angeles Rams are almost out of time to end All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald’s holdout before it impacts their regular season.

 

General manager Les Snead acknowledged Tuesday that Donald probably couldn’t be ready to take most of the snaps in Los Angeles’ season opener if he doesn’t end his holdout by the weekend.

 

“That would be a safe assumption,” Snead said.

 

After their final preseason game Thursday at Green Bay, the Rams begin Sept. 10 at home against Indianapolis.

 

Donald has been away from the Rams since he skipped organized team activities in late May. He missed the Rams’ entire training camp while working on a new contract heading into his fourth professional season.

 

Snead has made little substantive public comment since Donald’s holdout began, preferring to maintain a positive, upbeat relationship with the Rams’ most dynamic player even while contract talks drag on. The Rams are in regular contact with Donald’s representatives, Snead confirmed.

 

“We still want Aaron,” Snead said. “We want him to be here as soon as possible. … Aaron Donald is on pace to be a Hall of Famer. We’re three years in, and Hall-of-Famers aren’t made three years in. But if there’s a race to the gold jacket, he’s started strong. Any time you’ve got that type of player, you definitely want them here short-term as well as long-term.”

 

Donald has been among the NFL’s most effective defensive players since entering the league in 2014, but the disruptive defensive lineman hasn’t been around to learn new coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme. The Rams also lost Dominique Easley to a knee injury early in camp, leaving Phillips without two of his three projected starters on the line.

 

Donald has been working out at home in Pittsburgh, but his teammates realize that not even Donald can get ready without real practice time.

 

“He’s going to be hurting,” running back Todd Gurley said with a laugh. “It doesn’t matter. I work out three times a day during the offseason. You come back, that first day of practice, it is what it is. That’s just football for you. It takes some time. I’m pretty sure he’s grinding, but it’s definitely different.”

 

Donald is due to make $1.8 million this season and $6.9 million next season. The Rams agree he is worth far more than his slot under the NFL’s rookie pay scale, but they haven’t been able to reach a mutually agreeable figure for the future.

 

Donald will start losing money next week when his game checks won’t arrive.

 

“We have definitely tried to come up with creative scenarios to get this done,” Snead said.

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks are signaling that they are willing to part ways with WR JEVON KEARSE.  Brady Henderson at ESPN.com:

 

The Seattle Seahawks are trying to trade wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, sources told ESPN’s Dianna Russini.

 

Kearse has been a starter for the Seahawks since 2014 but is coming off a down season in which he caught 41 passes for 510 yards and one touchdown. He was briefly supplanted as Seattle’s No. 2 receiver behind Doug Baldwin, but he reclaimed that role when Tyler Lockett suffered a season-ending leg injury in December.

 

Kearse’s role in Seattle’s offense has been up in the air this summer.

 

Lockett is coming back from the injury, and while he hasn’t played in the preseason, coach Pete Carroll has said he has a good chance to be ready for Week 1. Fourth-year pro Paul Richardson at times worked ahead of Kearse in Seattle’s receiver rotation during training camp. The team drafted Amara Darboh in the third round and also has Kasen Williams vying to make the roster after a strong preseason.

 

Kearse is set to make $2.2 million in base salary in 2017 as part of the three-year, $13.5 million deal he signed in March 2016.

 

And Ian Rapoport of NFL.com says CB JEREMY LANE and RB ALEX COLLINS can also be had for a song.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Former WR James Thrash thinks five games is a bit much for a play that probably wasn’t specifically against the rules.  But he does keep much of LB VONTAZE BURFICT’s five-game suspension intact.  Jim Owczarski in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

 

Vontaze Burfict, Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals were vindicated.

 

Sort of.

 

James Thrash, the NFL and NFL Players Association’s appeals officer for on-field discipline, ruled to reduce Burfict’s five-game suspension to three games on Wednesday, a league source confirmed to The Enquirer.

 

In a release from the NFL, it was stated that Thrash ruled the three games came down because of “repeated violations of player safety rules.” Burfict is considered a “repeat offender” for such violations.

 

The Bengals had no comment on the reduction.

 

In the letter notifying Burfict of his suspension, NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan wrote:

 

“This is not your first offense with respect to illegal hits to defenseless players; to the contrary, this incident is consistent with your pattern of egregious safety-related violations including your hit on a defenseless player during the 2015 Wild Card game and your hit against a Baltimore tight end away from the play on January 3, 2016…When players violate the rules intended to protect player safety on a repeated basis, and particularly when the violations carry with them a significant risk of injury to an opposing player…you must be held accountable for this continuing unacceptable conduct.”

 

Burfict was disciplined for breaking two rules for a hit on Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman on Aug. 19 – hitting a player in a defenseless posture and unnecessary roughness.

 

The defenseless posture rule specifically protects the head and neck area, and Burfict and the Bengals staunchly maintained that the linebacker hit Sherman in the chest – though Sherman’s head did snap back upon contact.

 

“I hit harder than most of the other linebackers,” Burfict said. “He kind of crunched up. I lowered my target, hit him straight in the chest. I talked to him the next series to see if he was alright and he said yeah, that’s a legal hit. You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel when you come across the middle and everybody knows that.”

 

After hearing Burfict’s appeal via conference call on Tuesday – a call that was fully supported by the team and its coaches – Thrash ruled that the five-game penalty was too severe.

 

One of the reasons the NFL gave for suspending Burfict for the first three games to start the 2016 season was because “Burfict’s action placed his opponent at unnecessary risk of injury and should have been avoided,” referencing his hit to the helmet of Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown in an AFC Wild Card game.

 

Before Thrash’s ruling came down, Burfict admitted his play is scrutinized at a different level than others at his position.

 

“It’s always like that. It’s always like that,” he said. “I see other linebackers do the same thing I do but obviously they don’t get called for it. It’s always like that. It’s been like that since I can remember.”

 

That said, when Burfict was asked flat-out if he was going to change the way he played, he didn’t blink.

 

“Nope.”

 

He won’t be able to play now until Oct. 1 – at Cleveland.

 

It is the third straight season in which the Bengals will be without the 2013 Pro Bowler to start the year. Burfict missed the first six games of the 2015 season due to his recovery from a knee injury, and he missed the first three games of last season due to a suspension.

 

Even three games is too much for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.  Here’s what he explained on Tuesday to Paul Dehner, Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

 

Marvin Lewis hesitated as the inevitable question of Vontaze Burfict’s suspension surfaced at his press conference Tuesday, his first since the potential five-game suspension of his star linebacker hit the news cycle.

 

But with feelings as strong as he holds on the topic, there would be no holding back. Lewis expounded both on technicalities of football, this particular play and defended the attitude of his linebacker, who had his appeal heard Tuesday by the NFL.

 

As questions were peppered wondering about the legality of the hit, he couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“You guys can come up here and sit, I’ll go sit there and ask you the questions,” Lewis said. “And you can tell how ridiculous it is.”

 

From that point forward, Lewis proceeded to explain why he feels the ruling on Burfict’s hit against Anthony Sherman in the second preseason game against the Chiefs was “ridiculous.”

 

Lewis, a long-standing member of the competition committee which oversaw the institution of the new rule giving defenseless player protection to a player out in a route away from the play, pointed specifically to Burfict not being away from the play. While the ball went well over his head, tight end Travis Kelce caught the pass which traveled along the same sight line as Sherman running his route.

 

“He pumps at the fullback and they are on the same parallel line,” Lewis said. “Sometimes in interpretation, things get lost. Hopefully, Vontaze will prevail on this.”

 

The new rule allows that a player can hit a receiver within five yards if he is facing him, but a hit from the side or back would be illegal. Lewis says the position of his helmet on the body proves the legality.

 

“Interpretation is it away from the play, does Vontaze hit him from back or side or does he put his shoulder into the number of the Kansas City Chiefs player?” Lewis said. “Because obviously, I’d have to be facing you to put my number there. That seems pretty obvious.

 

“His head was not part of the play. His head is out to the left as you can see. In every single angle. Behind, front, television, All-22, it’s always out to the side and in front of the player.”

 

Lewis went on to cite examples of similar plays and the lack of attention paid to those. Notably, the first play of the game against Washington involved the same route concept as used in the play against Kansas City. The tight end and fullback went out and Kirk Cousins checked it down to the fullback where Burfict made an instantaneous hit.

 

“Exact same play,” Lewis said. “Tight end and back are in the same lines and that’s what happens how many times in football? It happens a lot.”

 

Lewis was part of meetings between commissioner Roger Goodell and Burfict in the past and despite opinions swirling to contrary, Lewis said he believes Burfict has changed his style of play from the man who has been fined or suspended eight different times in his career, running through opportunities Burfict had on the same drive as the Sherman hit where the linebacker pulled up or avoided unnecessary contact.

 

 “In my opinion, Vontaze has changed,” Lewis said. “He’s changed, he’s learned. But he’s a 250-pound man that hits like dynamite. It’s like getting hit by a cement truck. And that’s just the way he plays. He’s got great hip explosion. That’s why he’s the player he is. He’s got great hip explosion and the dynamics of his body are such that he is like getting hit by a 300-pound person.”

 

If the ball had been out of the quarterback’s hands, it would have been an illegal hit and screenshots show as much when breaking down the play. But that was part of Lewis’ sales pitch, as well. The two officials watching the play did not throw a flag and the speed of the game doesn’t play out in screenshots.

 

“If we have to slow down things to high definition and go frame by frame and are still not sure I don’t think – we don’t officiate that way,” Lewis said. “We don’t put the officials at that thing. I don’t see how the players can be held to that standard as well.”

 

Clearly, the league has held Burfict to that standard. Lewis has not heard from league officials about a ruling at his moment but awaits to find out. He left little doubt his opinion on the matter Tuesday.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

So instead of a team in the NFL or another AFC division, CB JOE HADEN opts to meet the Browns twice per season.  Ed Bouchette in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

 

The Steelers have bolstered their cornerback position in a big way by signing Joe Haden to a three-year contract. It is worth $27 million, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has confirmed.

 

The Steelers announced that Haden had signed the three-year deal late Wednesday night.

 

How much he can help them is the next question, but he should be an upgrade to a position that long has been a sore spot for them on defense.

 

Cleveland released Haden on Tuesday — though the team did not announce the move until Wednesday — mainly because they would have had to pay him $11 million this season. Of that, $4 million was guaranteed by the Browns but Cleveland is now off the hook because the Steelers will pay him more than that in the first year. ESPN reported it as $7 million in 2017.

 

Haden, 28, chose the Steelers over a reported interest of a dozen NFL teams.

 

The Browns’ first-round draft pick and seventh overall in 2010 from Florida, he made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014. But injuries limited him to just 18 games over the past two years and he had surgery on both groins after the 2016 season.

 

With the reported money they will pay him, Haden will be ticketed for a starting role alongside Artie Burns, the Steelers first-round draft pick last year. Ross Cockrell started with Burns last season.

 

In 2012, the NFL suspended Haden for four games for violating its rules against performance enhancing drugs.

 

The Browns signed him to a six-year, $74.7 million contract in 2014 but he proceeded to play in just 18 games over the next two seasons. He became a free agent when the Browns released him, although teams had to wait until 4 p.m. to sign him. News broke of the Steelers’ agreement with Haden shortly after 4 p.m.

 

The Steelers have tried everything to improve their cornerback position — via trades, draft picks, free agents and by signing cuts from other teams. Little has worked. Burns, so far, has been their only true success. They drafted Senquez Golson in the second round of 2015 and he has barely practiced in three years and likely will not make the team.

– – –

Continued stability in Pittsburgh.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Steelers extended coach Mike Tomlin’s contract through the 2020 season earlier this summer and now they’ve extended General Manager Kevin Colbert’s pact as well.

 

The team announced on Thursday that Colbert’s deal has been extended through at least the 2020 NFL Draft.

 

“I am excited to announce we have extended Kevin Colbert’s contract for an additional two years,” Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement. “Kevin’s dedication and diligent work have played a major role in our success. We are pleased he will continue to lead our personnel efforts for at least the next three years.”

 

Colbert joined the Steelers in 2000 and spent 11 years as the director of football operations before getting the General Manager title. The Steelers have won one Super Bowl, made another and advanced to the playoffs 11 times during his time with the team.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Here is an update from NFL.com on J.J. WATT’s relief efforts, as well as other significant NFL donations:

 

J.J. Watt’s fundraising campaign to aid Hurricane Harvey relief efforts reached its $10 million goal Thursday, the Texans star defensive end confirmed in a video via Twitter.

 

JJ Watt @JJWatt

$10 MILLION!!!

 

Absolutely incredible.

 

The most difficult times bring out the best in humanity. http://YouCaring.com/JJWatt

 

“We started out on Sunday with a goal of raising $200,000. Just now, we’ve surpassed the $10 million mark. I’m going to leave the link open and see how much get it,” Watt said.

 

“I can’t say thank you enough — celebrities musicians, athletes, kids with their lemonade stands, people hosting fundraisers, business donating — I cannot thank everybody enough. What’s happening right now is my focus very much on getting this directly back to the people as I’ve said the whole time. We have the semi-trucks being filled up as we speak, coming down here to donate the supplies this weekend — that’s Phase One. It’ll be the first phase of our operation to get an immediate of an impact as we can. We have things like water, food, clothing, generators, baby supplies, cleaning supplies. If there’s something I’m not thinking of, please leave it in the comments because we want to make sure we get these people exactly what we need so we help rebuild as quickly as we can. Houston, we’re thinking of you. Thank you to everybody who’s donated.”

 

Watt isn’t the only one donating to hurricane relief efforts. The Texans have donated $1 million and the Titans gave $1 million to Watt’s drive. The New England Patriots and New York Jets and the Johnson family also are donating $1 million each to relief efforts. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank pledges to match fan contributions up to $1 million to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

 

The Green Bay Packers organization is donating $100,000 to J.J. Watt’s Houston Flood Relief Fund. The Baltimore Ravens are donating $1 million to United Way of Greater Houston, with the funds distributed to the United Way Relief Fund for Hurricane Harvey, the Salvation Army of Houston and the Red Cross. The Lions also announced a $1 million donation to the Red Cross’s relief efforts.

 

TV host Ellen DeGeneres surprised Watt with a $1 million donation to his fund on her show Wednesday. Pop star and actress Miley Cyrus announced she’d pledged $500,000 to hurricane relief efforts.

 

Click here to donate to Watt’s flood relief fund, and here to donate to the Red Cross to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Another vague update from the Colts owner Jim Irsay.  Zak Keefer in the Indianapolis Star:

 

Before a room packed with some of the most invested Indianapolis Colts fans out there – suite holders and corporate sponsors – owner Jim Irsay on Wednesday resisted divulging any new information on the uncertain status of his $140 million star quarterback, Andrew Luck, vowing only that Luck’s rehabilitation is “coming along well” and that he’ll “be back and have a very, very long and great career with us.”

 

What Irsay didn’t specify at the Colts 2017 Kickoff Luncheon, and what no one inside the building has specified since Luck went under the knife eight months ago, is when this franchise expects Luck to return to the field.

 

There was no mention of the team’s Sept. 10 regular season opener in Los Angeles. No mention of Week 2, or Week 3, or Week 4, for that matter. Luck’s status just 11 days shy of the opener remains one of the most well-guarded secrets in the NFL.

 

Coach Chuck Pagano professes to an astonishing lack of knowledge about the health of his starting QB:

 

A few weeks ago, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that Andrew Luck was progressing in his throwing program. From offseason surgery, it has been a long grind to reformulate his throwing motion and increase the strength in his throwing shoulder.

 

During the team’s Week 1 preseason game against the Lions, both owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard confirmed that Luck was at least throwing in some capacity.

 

But as we sit here, less than two weeks before the Colts’ season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, head coach Chuck Pagano has told reporters that he hasn’t seen Luck throw a pass yet.

 

“No,” Pagano said, via The Indianapolis Star. “Most of the time he’s in the training room, we’re in meetings, doing such. I kind of stay in my lane.”

 

When told by a reporter from the Star that it was hard to believe Pagano had not seen his quarterback throw, the coach had this:

 

“You’re entitled to whatever you want to believe.”

 

Video of the exchange is here. Pagano is smiling nearly the entire time which complicates any interpretation. There’s a good chance he’s simply tired of the Luck questions, which have been relentless since the quarterback’s surgery in January.

 

As difficult as it is for Colts fans to accept that they won’t see Luck until they see him, that might be their only option at this point. What other way is there to ask someone when he’ll be ready? As just about everyone around the organization has said publicly, this is about way more than the season opener, and when it comes to the muscles which your franchise quarterback uses to throw a football, one can never be too careful.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Yianni Kourakis, writing in Awful Announcing, talks about the rigors and rewards of a Bill Belichick press conference:

 

Bill Belichick walks into the Patriots media room wearing shorts, sneakers, and a light windbreaker adorned with a Patriots logo. It’s late August, still plenty of time for the New England weather to get cold and the famed “Hoody” to come out. TV and print reporters quiet their conversations as photographers hit record on their cameras. In 10 days, the Patriots will unveil their fifth Super Bowl banner at Gillette Stadium. That’s the least of Belichick’s concerns on this day. He has to figure out a way to get his roster down to 53 players by Saturday, while preparing for a fourth preseason game in just three days, but with the season opener against the Chiefs staring at him right in the face.

 

“Alright, another busy week,” he begins the press conference.

 

I’m a local TV anchor and reporter for WPRI-TV, the CBS and FOX affiliate in Providence, R.I. For some reason I decide to ask the first question following his monologue. Something about the different approach this year in the NFL to only having one cut down day.

 

His response: ‘It’s fine.”

 

To bookend the press conference, I ask the final question about he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels adjusting the offense now that Julian Edelman is done for the season with an ACL tear.

 

This response elicits a full two minute detailed reponse.

Welcome to a Bill Belichick press conference. A lot of short answers. A lot of long answers. Plenty of death stares and yes, even a few smiles. They’ve been played out on television for the last 17 years. Belichick is portrayed as a grumpy, curmudgeonly and surly. Much of the time he is just that. Other times he can be a joy.

 

“It depends on the day and it depends on his mood, says Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston, who has covered Belichick for his entire coaching tenure in New England. “He can have the best press conference in the NFL if he’s in a good mood or some of the worst if his mood isn’t right.”

 

Here are some rules to abide by if attending your first Bill Belichick press conference and want a reasonable answer.

 

-Never ask about injuries.

 

-Never ask about the past or the future (Belichick is always in the now).

 

-Try not to ask about anything that is not pertinent to this week’s opponent.

 

-Don’t ask a question that would compromise his team’s competitive advantage.

 

So what’s left, you ask?

 

Do your homework. If you ask a smart football question you will get a decent answer. And make sure you ask the question with confidence and be ready for a response if you get a two word answer or a blank stare. Also, there is a long almost uncomfortable silence in between questions, so there is plenty of time to jump in, unlike a Tom Brady presser where the questions come fast and furious. Be ready to dive in.

 

“If you ask a smart question, more often than not you will get a smart answer,” says Jeff Howe, the Patriots beat reporter for the Boston Herald. “You have to be prepared.”

 

In a standard regular season week, Belichick usually speaks to the media in person on Wednesdays and Fridays. Wednesday is the first day back with the team as he prepares the game plan for that week’s opponent. As Belichick is in full preparation mode, generally the last thing he wants to do is address the media.

 

“If in the team meeting he is not messing around, he wants to impart the same tenor with the players as with the media,” says Tom E. Curran of Comcast SportsNet New England. “He’s trying to send a message with his tenor.”

 

By Friday, the game plan is in and the team is wrapping up the final day of practice. Most of the work is done and that is where you find a more relaxed Belichick. On Friday mornings, most of the TV cameras are gone–the herd of media that was there on Wednesday is replaced by what Belichick calls his “hardcore” beat reporters left. This is where Belichick often times gives you a history of the game. Do you want to know about the evolution of the nickel defense, or how good Lawrence Taylor was with the Giants? Go to a Friday press conference. There is a lot of football talk.

 

See, Belichick is a football encyclopedia and historian. The son of a coach and a teacher, Curran says Belichick is one of the most inquisitive people he’s ever met. If you ask a question looking to learn more about football, whether it’s tactics or game planning, he will generally oblige. “He’s also self-deprecating with what he doesn’t know,” says Curran.

 

Belichick’s go-to joke revolves around social media, which he clearly isn’t into. “Insta-face” he calls it to a room full of laughter. The rare Belichick joke gets a lot of laughs because they are as rare as a Tom Brady interception.

 

Belichick’s approach with the media in New England is tolerated because of his five Super Bowl rings and the respect he’s earned. It was a different story at his previous stop in Cleveland, where he lacked the Super Bowl credentials as a head coach but was still tough with the media.

 

By in large, unless you are a football fanatic or a Patriots fanatic, the Belichick press conference can be boring. WEEI radio has made a comedy bit out of the whole process. On Friday mornings, the hosts of Kirk and Callahan will play the press conference in real time, while mocking the reporter’s boring questions and Belichick’s subsequent boring response.

 

Many print reporters who are trying to get quotes and information for the endless amount of content they are expected to produce in this age of 24/7 media coverage ask a lot of football-centric questions. After all, they are covering a football team; they are in fact “Doing Their Job.” “What have you seen from Trey Flowers?” “What have you seen from Marcus Cannon?” Meanwhile, TV reporters usually ask more big picture questions to fulfill the 15-20 second soundbite they are looking for.

 

Mark Dondero, my colleague at WPRI-TV, often times breaks up the monotony of a Belichick press conference with a question that tries to humanize the stone-faced football coach. When Belichick became a grandfather last year, Dondero asked him if he plans to tell his grandchild to “Do Your Job. Eat your carrots.” Belichick’s response? “Hopefully Not.” But with a smile. Dondero has asked Belichick about his Christmas list, favorite Halloween candy, Bruce Springsteen concerts, Nantucket Magazine covers and even his relationship with Donald Trump. Often, he gets a legitimate response. Other times, he is shut down. But that exchange is making the radio airwaves and headlines the next day.

 

“As a TV reporter, I feel like Bill’s press conference could use some livening up. I use the football stuff for my stories but you want something more colorful. It doesn’t matter what the answer to the question is, the viewer is sitting there and thinking how is this guy asking this question? They are captivated by the question.”

 

Regardless of where you land in the sports media pantheon, Belichick treats all reporters equally. Whether you are Sal Paolantonio or a summer intern, he will show you the same respect answering your question. And even if you’ve covered the team for the entirety of Belichick’s run in New England like Reiss and Curran have, he isn’t afraid to shoot you down too.

 

“He treats the media the same way he treats the players. There are no favorites,” says Reiss. “It’s a true meritocracy.”

 

Part of the reason the Patriots have been so successful is that Belichick keeps a consistent approach. He’ll chew out Tom Brady on the field just as fast as the 53rd man on the roster. When the national reporters come for the playoff runs, the inevitable “how great is Tom Brady” questions get asked and Belichick will praise the future Hall of Famer, but always includes the other quarterbacks or guys on the roster in his response.

 

And Belichick knows he can use these media sessions to send out a message. But that doesn’t mean he will ever lie or mislead the media. Even in a contract standoff with Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, he’ll still praise the play of the cornerback.

 

“He doesn’t say anything he doesn’t mean or doesn’t want to get back to the players. But he won’t blow smoke about a player and give him a good quote to make him feel good,” says Howe. As Belichick would say – It is what it is.

 

For a guy who speaks monotone, Belichick has illicited some memorable press conferences. Back in early 2014 when the Patriots were struggling and were blown out on national television on Monday Night Football to the Chiefs, he repeatedly said “On to Cincinnati,” as reporters tried to ask him about a quarterback controversy. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

 

Later that season, with Deflategate just a few days old, Belichick was fiery and passionate as he tried to defend the honor of his team and alleged deflation of footballs with a “My Cousin Vinny” reference. “I would not say I’m the Mona Lisa Vito of the football world like she was in the car expertise area, alright.”

 

Belichick also seems more relaxed on site of the Super Bowl. With daily media obligations he seems more at ease than during a regular season game. Prior to Super Bowl XLIX against the Seahawks he even told former linebacker Jerod Mayo’s daughter, what his favorite puppet was.

 

When the Patriots play the Giants in their preseason finale, the approach to the post game press conference is different. The game just happened. All the questions are football questions. And as the season moves along, there will be more hooded sweatshirts, short answers, and awkward silences in the media room. Reporters will ask questions, and Belichick will respond with either two word answers or long and insightful rambles that can enlighten even the most knowledgeable football fan.

 

He’s doing his job, and the media is doing ours.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

The battle of Los Angeles did not capture the imagination of the viewing public as telecast by CBS.  Ryan Phillips of TheBigLead.com is vicious:

 

More bad news for the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams. For nearly two decades we were told the NFL needed a team in LA to exploit the nation’s second-biggest television market. Well, on Saturday we got a chance to see how the league’s latest experiment would work, and the ratings were absolutely pathetic.

 

The Chargers and Rams faced off on CBS this weekend and was the lowest-rated nationally televised preseason game on a major network since 2004. I will repeat that, because it’s an utterly staggering fact. The Chargers and Rams played in Los Angeles on Saturday and it was watched by fewer people than any nationally-televised preseason game since the The New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts faced off in 2004.

 

Saturday night’s game, which had laughably low attendance, earned a 1.4 rating, with 2.2 million viewers on CBS. That number was down 42 percent from last year’s Tennessee Titans – Oakland Raiders game (2.4, 3.8 million). It was also down 53 and 55 percent respectively from the Seattle Seahawks – Chargers game from 2015 (3.0, 4.9 million).

 

For those who will claim the game suffered from the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight, it’s worth noting that Chargers-Rams kicked off at 8 p.m. ET, and McGregor and Mayweather didn’t even get in the ring until around midnight. Additionally, official pay-per-view buys aren’t officially in, but if Dana White is right, 6.5 million people watched the fight total.

 

While that’s a lot of PPV buys, 18.1 million people live in the Los Angeles area alone. The fact that no one tuned in is definitely an issue for both teams and the NFL.

 

The Rams-Chargers matchup even lost out to the Mayweather-McGregor prelims on FOX, which drew 2.4 million viewers.

 

There’s no way to spin this positively. Even in Los Angeles, no one cares enough about these teams to show up or watch them in person. The Rams had decent numbers in 2016, during their first season back in Los Angeles. But there is zero indication the Chargers have anyone paying attention to them.

 

The DB is certainly skeptical about the Chargers and their move to L.A.  We think they will be elsewhere by 2020 – London calling? 

 

That said, Phillips does not mention that much of the Chargers-Rams game overlapped with a Dodgers clash against the Brewers that was played at Dodger Stadium.  The Angels were also at home against Houston. 

– – –

This from Conor Orr at NFL.com on Tony Romo’s broadcasting boot camp:

 

This is Tony Romo’s new world: 19th floor of CBS’ headquarters in Manhattan, sitting at a round table next to broadcast partner Jim Nantz.

 

He’s wearing a grey sport jacket. His hands are resting comfortably on his knees. His back, so often a source of agony during his 13 years as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, is hunched only slightly as he leans in to a question about the difference between his old job and his new job as an NFL game analyst for CBS.

 

Basically every question he’s asked now takes on a similar form — you used to be the most prolific passer in Cowboys history, now you do this. Why is that? Each time, he gets a little better at answering it.

 

“You’re always trying to get better,” Romo said. “In six more weeks, I’ll be better than I am now. I’m anxious to get started.”

 

During the moments on Wednesday when he’s asked about the action on the field, Romo is a network president’s dream. He perks up. He flawlessly diagnoses one offense, which, almost certainly, will now run more bootlegs on first downs to buoy their rookie quarterback. He talks about Tom Brady’s calmness, which is a product of Julian Edelman almost always about to be open. He jokes about the Jets, who “can be less bad [than people think].” This will be his sweet spot, when the gig stops being about him and what he’s walked away from.

 

Until that time, the most high-profile career transition for an athlete in modern history will be a game of bumper bowling — smooth periods in the booth when he gets to be America’s best friend followed by the occasional clanging reminder of his recent past on top of the game and inside the locker room. The questions pointed at Tony Romo the former football player are many. Will he ever come back? But seriously, what if a team was 7-0 and their starting quarterback got injured and he knew the system so well? Can he fairly analyze the Cowboys? What about recent teammate Ezekiel Elliott?

 

“Well, first off, I don’t condone domestic violence, I think that we all agree that that’s just something that needs to — the NFL’s policy has now gotten stronger as it should be,” Romo said when asked about his opinion on Elliott’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Elliott is appealing the ruling. “But without knowing all the facts in that case, unless you’re privy to all the information — I haven’t been. You just don’t know how all of that [is going to go]. I think they have [appeal arbitrator] Harold Henderson now doing that. I’ll be anxious to see how he comes to a conclusion. Like everything, there’s always a lot of differing opinions on it but it’s mostly just about the facts.”

 

Nantz interjects several times during Romo’s meeting with various reporters and writers from both the NFL and television industries. It’s clear he’s taken Romo on as a sort of personal project, mentioning multiple times how many practice games Romo has done by himself (5) and with Nantz (3) in preparation for his first season in perhaps the most visible broadcasting job in America.

 

Nantz is projecting Romo’s improvement; worrying about how Tony will do for his season-opening game on Sept. 10 now that he has the benefit of a full week of meetings and network research. Will he try to fit too much information in? He speaks like a coach or, more accurately, the combination of coach and parent.

 

“If I had to earmark a game, as a guy who is trying to mentor Tony, who is a great student, it’s the first time he’s going to do a Cowboy game,” Nantz said. “It’s November the fifth, Kansas City at Dallas. And I’ll tell you what — for a multitude of reasons — first off, again, we’re going to get reps with live bullets. Live television. We’re going to get into that flow starting Sept. 10. Starting Week 4, we’re going to begin a prime-time package in addition to what we do on Sundays … our Thursday package in prime time is going to take us to the Thursday before the Dallas game. November the second, Bills at the Jets. By that time, he’s going to have a much larger understanding of the business than he does now. And he understands a lot.”

 

Nantz says he was struck by Romo’s knowledge of broadcasting and the personalities in the booth beyond the obvious names like John Madden and Pat Summerall. It was almost as if, Nantz says, Romo had his eye on the booth even though his focus was always on the field.

 

“It’s been different time wise,” Romo said about preparing for the season as a television color commentator instead of an NFL quarterback. “There’s still a level of excitement — you’re committed to a new craft you want to be good at. I understand where I’m at coming in, the fifth analyst in CBS history. You’re following one of the greats in Phil Simms. That’s something you want to come in and do a good job with, because everyone before me has been at a very high standard — a high level.”

 

Maybe that’s the one thing that makes Romo’s transition all the more intriguing. It’s clear how seriously he has taken the change — so much so that it would be nearly impossible to turn around and go back. He has the confidence of someone who has just graduated flight school but has yet to fly. In the absence of a sure thing, everyone is banking on Romo’s ability to drive himself and outwork his contemporaries.

 

One piece of advice provided by Phil Simms, the analyst Romo is replacing, seemed to stand out above the rest Romo has received. It also seems to perfectly sum up his situation right now

 

“I asked [Phil] a few times, one of the questions I had was did it ever get old? Did you feel like in year nine or seven or 11 when you felt like, OK,” Romo said. “Because when you play football you feel like every game is your first game, even though you know the game better you get the same feeling when you step on the field. And Phil said it never gets old. You’ll always be excited. The butterflies will always be there. The rush. The adrenaline. It’s a great thing. It’s a great job.

 

“It got me even more amped up. I genuinely feel lucky to be in this position.”

 

 

 

 

PRESEASON GRADES AND PREDICTED RECORDS

From Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report:

 

Arizona Cardinals

Grade: A+

 

Atlanta Falcons

Grade: C

 

Baltimore Ravens

Grade: B

 

Buffalo Bills

Grade: D

 

Carolina Panthers

Grade: B

 

Chicago Bears

Grade: A

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Grade: B+

 

Cleveland Browns

Grade: A

 

Dallas Cowboys

Grade: B-

 

Denver Broncos

Grade: C

 

Detroit Lions

Grade: A

 

Green Bay Packers

Grade: B+

 

Houston Texans

Grade: D+

 

Indianapolis Colts

Grade: D

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Grade: D

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Grade: A

 

Los Angeles Chargers

Grade: A-

 

Los Angeles Rams

Grade: B-

 

Miami Dolphins

Grade: A-

 

Minnesota Vikings

Grade: D

 

New England Patriots

Grade: B+

 

New Orleans Saints

Grade: A-

 

New York Giants

Grade: B-

 

New York Jets

Grade: B

 

Oakland Raiders

Grade: C

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Grade: A-

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Grade: A (And this is before Joe Haden signing)

 

San Francisco 49ers

Grade: B+

 

Seattle Seahawks

Grade: B+

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Grade: C+

 

Tennessee Titans

Grade: D-

 

Washington Redskins

Grade: D

– – –

And this at ESPN.com on the predicted records of the 32 member clubs with the Arizona Cardinals getting a lot of love:

 

After another injury-filled preseason, the 2017 NFL regular season will kick off on Sept. 7, with the defending champion New England Patriots taking on the Kansas City Chiefs.

 

How will each contest play out? Our NFL Nation reporters predict the results of every game of the 2017 season.

 

Teams predicted to go 12-4

 

New England Patriots

Ho hum. Another season, another division title for the Patriots. But it won’t be a cakewalk.

 

Green Bay Packers

In order to have the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau, the Pack will likely need a dozen wins, but that’s not out of the realm of possibility.

 

Teams predicted to go 11-5

 

Arizona Cardinals

It appeared the Cardinals had a tough stretch to open the season, but injuries (and suspensions) impacting opponents should result in a hot start.

 

Atlanta Falcons

A new stadium, a stacked offense and the best defense of Dan Quinn’s tenure have the Falcons hopeful of a return to the Super Bowl.

 

Carolina Panthers

Though concerns remain on Cam Newton’s shoulder, the offseason addition of Christian McCaffrey and homecoming for Julius Peppers should get the Panthers back in the playoff hunt.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

A 5-1 mark against AFC West foes has the Chiefs in the driver’s seat for a playoff return.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers enter 2017 as a trendy Super Bowl pick, but a dangerous back end of the schedule should temper expectations some.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s another step forward for Jameis Winston & Co., and a playoff appearance isn’t out of the question.

 

Tennessee Titans

Armed with added talent on both sides of the ball, a manageable schedule and a weak division, the Titans are in great position to score a two-game improvement over 2016.

 

Seattle Seahawks

With health issues seemingly mitigated, the Seahawks have a great shot at another NFC West crown.

 

Teams predicted to go 10-6

 

Denver Broncos

A slew of injuries in the defensive front seven overshadowed the QB competition this preseason, but that dominant D will carry the club once again.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

A late-season push results in a double-digit win total for the club’s initial season in L.A.

 

New York Giants

The pass-catching firepower is there, but a shaky offensive line will have trouble facing the NFC West and AFC West.

 

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders will have to solve the Chiefs to finish the penultimate season in Oakland with a division title. Read more.

 

Teams predicted to go 9-7

 

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens haven’t made the playoffs since 2014, and open with a brutal five-game stretch.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have the makings of an explosive offense, but the loss of Vontaze Burfict for three games and questions on the O-line may scuttle the chances for a playoff return.

 

 

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys’ chances at repeating as division champs will be influenced by Ezekiel Elliott’s availability, but they should remain in the playoff mix.

 

Houston Texans

The return of J.J. Watt will yield strong dividends as the Texans look to win a third straight division crown.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz, other young Eagles will make a serious push for the playoffs.

 

Teams predicted to go 8-8

 

Detroit Lions

An injury at a critical position on the offensive line may mean another mediocre season in the D.

 

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings changed their makeup on both sides of the ball this offseason, but the resulting record may well end up the same as 2016.

 

New Orleans Saints

The Saints will break their string of 7-9 seasons, but remain at arm’s length from the top teams in the division.

 

Washington Redskins

A tough stretch in the middle of the 2017 schedule will make or break the season for Washington.

 

Teams predicted to go 7-9

 

Indianapolis Colts

Uncertainty about Andrew Luck’s health has raised the chances of a losing record for the first time during his tenure in Indy.

 

Los Angeles Rams

A favorable early schedule means the Rams have a chance to take a big step forward.

 

Miami Dolphins

A slew of injuries to key players and a tough schedule may prevent a return to the playoffs for the Dolphins. Read more.

 

Team predicted to go 6-10

 

Chicago Bears

A daunting schedule may be too much to overcome for the Bears, despite an impressive rookie class.

 

Teams predicted to go 5-11

 

Buffalo Bills

It’ll likely be tough sledding as a new regime takes control, particularly after Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby were traded away in August.

 

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers will be more competitive than a season ago, but there’s too much to fix to put them in playoff contention right away.

 

Teams predicted to go 4-12

 

Cleveland Browns

With a strong rookie class — led by starting quarterback DeShone Kizer — the Browns will be better in 2017… but not by much.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Despite improvements on defense this offseason, quarterback and O-line play will doom the club to double-digit losses once again.

 

Team predicted to go 3-13

 

New York Jets

A historically bad offense sets the stage for a top-five draft slot next April.