The Daily Briefing Thursday, January 25, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The DB heard yesterday that if you had blindly bet the underdog so far in the playoffs, you would have won 9 out of 10 (or maybe, depending on your odds, 8 of 9 with a push on Minnesota’s 5-point 29-24 win over New Orleans).  The Patriots, against the Titans in the Divisionals, are the only team to cover.

 

The DB finds this especially amazing since the Super Bowl is a matchup between the two number one seeds. 

 

Obviously, the Eagles winning as underdogs at home twice has something to do with it.

 

As for Super Bowl 52, R.J. White of CBSSports.com has this:

 

When the odds for Super Bowl LII came out Sunday night following the Eagles’ blowout win over the Vikings, the Patriots were favored by 5.5 points. Less than 24 hours later, the line had made a move toward the underdog.

 

By Monday evening, the Patriots were favored by five points over the Eagles in the Super Bowl, per SportsLine, and that’s where the line remained as of Tuesday evening. Most offshore sportsbooks tracked by Sports Insights also had the line as New England -5 on Monday evening, while some 5.5s could still be found around Las Vegas late Monday afternoon, per Vegas Insider.

 

According to SportsLine’s Micah Roberts, the line should continue to move toward the underdog Eagles over the coming days. Public bettors are looking to play the underdog when making Super Bowl wagers, and they’re heavily influenced by the Eagles pounding the Vikings in Philadelphia less than 24 hours ago.

 

In fact, per Roberts, the public could drive the line down all the way to New England -4 by the weekend.

 

Sports Insights, which tracks the percentage of tickets that have been wagered on each side of a line, had the Eagles with 55 percent of the tickets on Monday evening.

– – –

Not only did the NFL clear the Panthers of misfeasance or malfeasance in the treatment of QB CAM NEWTON’s injury in the Wild Card Round, they issued a statement that challenged media medicos for Fake News.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com got his back up when he read it:

 

The fox that is guarding the henhouse would very much like any non-poultry experts on the farm to refrain from questioning the accuracy of the chicken count.

 

That’s the clear takeaway from the NFL’s surprisingly strident statement regarding the Cam Newton concussion evaluation controversy. Strongly worded with the kind of condescension that typically appears only in modern political discourse, the league wants the rest of us to know that only the league knows what is best for players who may or may not have suffered a head injury.

 

Here’s the final paragraph from the league’s statement, a finger wag to those of us who have the temerity to trust our lyin’ eyes: “We urge restraint among those who attempt to make medical diagnoses based upon the broadcast video alone. Evaluation for a concussion requires not only an analysis of the broadcast video but an examination performed by a medical team familiar with the player and the relevant medical history. Review of this case confirmed again the vigilance, professionalism and conservative approach that is used by our NFL team medical staffs and independent medical providers. Each of these medical professionals is committed to the best care of our NFL players and is not influenced by game situation or the player’s role on the field. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible and not supported by the medical facts.”

 

Added NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills in an EXCLUSIVE! phone call with league employee Ian Rapoport: “This points out something important. That armchair doctors at home cannot make a concussion diagnosis on video alone. . . . I think this shows how irresponsible people can be in offering an opinion without the facts.”

 

They could have saved time and effort by boiling the message down to three words: “How dare you.”

 

Oh, we dare. And this kind of attitude from the league and Dr. Sills will serve only to embolden members of the media to be even more vigilant when it comes to giving meaning to the words that the NFL proudly wears on its sleeve.

 

The league cares deeply about player health and safety. Until it doesn’t.

 

As noted in the aftermath of the Newton situation, the league has made the choice, consciously or not,  to accept media and fan criticism for allowing a player to keep playing when he possibly has a concussion over possibly more widespread criticism for removing a player from play for 10-15 minutes of real time in crunch time of a playoff game so that he can be checked in the locker room for a concussion that he doesn’t have. The league now hopes to minimize the criticism arising from not conducting a full-blown evaluation by playing the “you’re not a real doctor” card (it’s too bad they didn’t use that standard with Elliot Pellman when forming the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee in 1994) and essentially intimidating members of the media into not raising fair questions about whether a player should have been evaluated for a concussion not briefly in a collapsible sideline pup tent but more extensively in the slightly less chaotic confines of the locker room.

 

The revised concussion protocol (in the wake of the Tom Savage debacle) requires a locker-room “for all players demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand).” Newton stumbled to the ground while walking to the sideline. The NFL can excuse it after the fact by pointing out that the Panthers were simply manipulating the rules to give backup quarterback Derek Anderson more time to get ready to enter the game (which is not much different than defensive players faking injuries to take the steam out of a no-huddle offense, but those kinds of glitches are “cheating” only when the league wants them to be). At the time the events are unfolding, however, it’s more than fair for media and fans to point out the possibility that the obvious evidence supports an examination of the player-patient far more aggressive and extensive than asking, “How many fingers?”

 

Seven years ago, Hall of Famer John Madden advocated a “when in doubt, leave them out” approach, via a memo that said this: “If you have any suspicion about a player being concussed, remove him from the game. Always err on the side of caution.” Although the provisions of that memo were never fully embraced by the league (#shocker), the most important word used in the memo is “suspicion.”

 

This isn’t about armchair doctors making an official concussion “diagnosis.” This is about human beings with functioning brains who are able to see that something isn’t right, and who are willing to say so.

 

The league’s deliberately aggressive reaction underscores the fact that something definitely isn’t right with the league’s approach to diagnosing concussions, and that the league’s chosen strategy at this point is to use tough talk to get media and fans to shrug in the face of obvious visual evidence and say, “What do we know?”

 

Here’s what I know: It won’t work.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

The NFL’s Randall Liu throws out this number:

 

@RLiuNFL

Nick Foles is the only player in NFL history to record a 100+ passer rating in each of his 1st 3 career postseason games (min. 20 attempts/game)

 

The DB’s not sure that first game with the Falcons this year felt like a 100-point game (23-30, 246 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) for 100.1.  Sure, the way the formula sets up 0 INTs skews things high, but we thought 0 TDs would countervale it lower.

– – –

We haven’t mentioned it, and that is to our regret, but it appears that fueled by the extra time provided by a night game, the fans of the Eagles reverted to the mob of the 90s that booed Santa Claus and worse.

 

Here’s a sad tale for Henry Bushnell of Shutdown Corner:

 

Philadelphia sports fans are notorious. So, naturally, with their Eagles going to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years, for every story about Nick Foles or a dominant defensive line, there is a headline about the fans themselves. And mostly, of course, about their raucous or appalling behavior.

 

Minnesotans, coping not only with defeat but also the prospect of hosting those fans for the Super Bowl, are particularly peeved. They’re alleging hat thievery, urine-related incidents and “random acts of violence.” They’re not going to let the storyline die. And in that regard, their quarterback is helping them out.

 

Case Keenum appeared on the Dan Barreiro Show on KFAN in Minneapolis on Tuesday, and when asked about Vikings fans, he went out of his way to mention some “other fans that we may have dealt with recently – that even our girls had to deal with recently.” Of course, he meant Eagles fans.

 

A few minutes later, when asked to follow up on the treatment of family members in Philadelphia, he declined to get specific, but hinted at some ugliness:

 

“It was tough, man. I’m not gonna tell you any stories, but there were some situations that were not good. I’m glad I had some of my friends that were there to intercede in some situations. But it was tough for everybody involved, not just us on the field.”

 

On one hand, it’s difficult to get too worked up about comments that are so vague. On the other, there’s precedent here. We know that verbal abuse and beer-bottle throwing were features of the Viking fan experience in Philadelphia on Sunday. We know that some Eagles fans pelted the Vikings’ team bus with eggs and containers of all kinds.

 

We also know that Eagles fans have a history of crossing the line with their treatment of opposing players’ family members.

 

“I heard that’s the one stadium you keep your family from going to,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said earlier this season. “I was told that right away my rookie year: Keep your family away.”

 

Keenum’s comments, therefore, aren’t all that surprising. Which is exactly the problem.

 

Philadelphians would surely like us to point out that most NFL cities are home to unruly, rude, and at times abusive fans. Philly isn’t unique. They’d also probably like us to point out that the fans who did dole out “tough” treatment to Keenum’s family are in the minority. The majority of Eagles followers just wanted to celebrate by driving dune buggies up the Art Museum steps and climbing light poles.

 

But for the first NFC championship game in Philly in 13 years, it does seem like the treatment of opposing fans was especially harsh. And apparently the Keenums weren’t immune to it.

– – –

Hard to believe, but DT FLETCHER COX claims to have never watched a Super Bowl game in his entire life.  Matt Lombardo at NJ.com:

 

When Eagles All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox takes the field in Minneapolis on Super Bowl Sunday, it will be his first experience of any kind with the NFL’s showcase event.

 

During a press conference Wednesday, Cox revealed that he has never even watched the Super Bowl.

 

“I don’t watch football,” Cox said, when asked to recall his favorite Super Bowl memory. “I don’t watch sports … I’ve told you that before. I don’t watch sports. You know that”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

There seems to be an understanding between the Saints and DREW BREES.  Josh Katzenstein in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

 

Drew Brees has said he wants to re-sign with the New Orleans Saints.

 

On Wednesday, General Manager Mickey Loomis confirmed the feeling is mutual for the team.

 

The Saints’ desire to re-sign Brees comes as no surprise, of course, after he had another excellent performance in 2017. Brees led an efficient Saints offense and helped the team finish 11-5 to win the NFC South.

 

In a meeting with New Orleans reporters Wednesday at the Senior Bowl, Loomis provided a few thoughts about Brees’ contract situation, though Loomis was cautious not to give away any of the team’s leverage in the pending negotiations.

 

“We want him to be our quarterback, and we’ll get going on that at some point,” Loomis said.

 

Loomis said there haven’t been any negotiations to this point as the season ended less than two weeks ago, but he doesn’t foresee any problems once the team discusses a Brees deal with his agent Tom Condon.

 

“We’ll get to it,” Loomis said. “I’m not anticipating any big issues, so we’ll see.”

 

NFL free agency begins March 14, and the Saints are the only team that can sign Brees to a deal before then.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

GM John Lynch has not been coy about his team’s willingness to give QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO some big bucks.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

San Francisco’s offseason to-do list is topped by one painfully obvious task: Find a way to keep Jimmy Garoppolo around for years to come.

 

Set to become a free agent, the traded-for quarterback transformed the 49ers down the stretch, guiding a floundering squad to five straight wins while shining as a rare talent under center.

 

While the 49ers hold the option to slap Garoppolo with the franchise tag, second-year general manager John Lynch made it clear that a long-term deal looms as the franchise-wide goal:

 

“When you find the right guy at that position, it’s really good for your franchise. We believe we’ve found the right guy,” Lynch told NFL Network’s Alex Flanagan from the Senior Bowl. “Now the challenge is getting Jimmy signed. We’re working hard toward that. We’ll see. I think he wants to be with us and we want him there. I think it makes too much sense not to happen. So, it’s just a matter of getting it done.”

 

Lynch opened his remarks by calling Garoppolo a “great addition to our team” and a “game changer,” making it clear San Francisco isn’t about to let this gem of a passer get away.

 

The contract will be tricky, but Lynch went out of his way to suggest that Garoppolo wants to stick around — and why not? Paired with mastermind head coach Kyle Shanahan, the ceiling in San Francisco has been blown to bits.

 

Yes, it was just five starts — five marvelous starts — but Garoppolo’s presence served as a raging quickening agent for Lynch’s team-building process. Instead of having to spend a sky-high draft pick on a college quarterback, the 49ers can simply build around Jimmy G, who was nabbed from New England for nothing more than a second-round pick.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

With Matt Nagy now the head coach in Chicago, Andy Reid takes back the full reins of the offense.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

“I’m going to go back to doing that; I’ll do that,” Reid said, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star. “I did it at Denver, against Denver. And I was very happy with Matt, but we’ve had some change, and whatever I think is best for the team, I’ll go from there.”

 

The regular-season finale was the first start for rookie Patrick Mahomes, so obviously Reid was preparing for Nagy’s departure and Mahomes’ accession by taking over the play-calling duties. Mahomes completed 22 of 35 passes for 284 yards and an interception in the 27-24 victory and could become the team’s starting quarterback in 2018 depending on what the Chiefs do with Alex Smith.

 

No matter the quarterback, Reid will take charge of the offense again.

 

He ceded play-calling duties to Doug Pederson in 2015 and Nagy last season, and both went on to become head coaches.

 

Reid replaced Nagy by promoting Eric Bieniemy, who Reid said has head coaching potential. He expects to groom Bieniemy rather than handing him the keys to the offense now.

 

“I love Eric Bieniemy,” Reid said. “He’s a real good football coach. Someday he’s going to be sitting in the same position as some of these other guys that have sat in that chair. And he’s got a great feel for the whole game, so that’s where we’re at.”

– – –

Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star seems miffed that there won’t be a change to Kansas City’s defensive leadership in 2018:

 

After the Chiefs ended the 2017 season with another frustrating playoff loss — a 22-21 home defeat to Tennessee in the Wild Card Round — there was no shortage of blame.

 

One of the most prominent goats, at least in the eyes of some, was defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, whose defense blew an 18-point second-half lead against the Titans and has surrendered an average of 186 rushing yards in the Chiefs’ last two playoff games, both losses.

 

But on Wednesday at the Senior Bowl, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he plans to keep Sutton in his role for the 2018 season.

 

 “There’s nothing going on there,” Reid said when asked directly if Sutton will return as defensive coordinator. “I know everybody has their opinion on everything, just like they did when they wanted me to bench Alex (Smith). That turned out pretty good.

 

“So (replacing Sutton) is not where I’m at or have ever been. I don’t listen to any of that. I do what I think is right for the Kansas City Chiefs.”

 

Since Sutton arrived in Kansas City with Reid in 2013, the Chiefs have ranked 24th, seventh, seventh, 24th and 28th in total defense. In 2017, they also ranked 29th in pass defense and 25th in rushing defense.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

To ask about Jon Gruden, Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com tracks down QB DEREK CARR – and quite frankly it never occurred to us that Gutierrez would find Carr in Orlando at the Pro Bowl after the sub-par reviews for his 2017 season.

 

– Derek Carr is looking forward to not only being reunited with new Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, but also being pushed by the notoriously hard-to-please quarterback guru.

 

“I want him to be really hard on me because I want to win,” Carr told ESPN at a Pro Bowl practice on Wednesday. “He can pat me on the back and tell me he loves me, which he does, and he will. But at the same time, I want him to be hard on me and let’s talk about, ‘Hey, if we grade out at 90 percent, let’s talk about the 10 percent I didn’t do well.'”

 

Carr went through Gruden’s QB Camp show on ESPN in 2014 before the Raiders drafted him out of Fresno State in the second round. Carr has played for Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano and Jack Del Rio in Oakland and he has been the Raiders’ starter since his rookie season.

 

He has only missed two games, both to injury, and regressed last season; his Total QBR dropped from 54.6 in 2016 to 47.2 in 2017.

 

“Three broken bones in your back,” Gruden said in his introductory media conference on Jan. 9. “I think that is a reasonable reason why you might not have the same season you had a year ago.”

 

Carr, meanwhile, said he found out about Gruden officially replacing Del Rio on the Internet.

 

“Obviously it’s hard to lose a coach; that’s not fun for anybody because you care about him and you have a relationship with him,” Carr said. “But as players, we just have to keep moving on. And now that we have coach Gruden, we’re fired up, we’re excited. Especially as a quarterback, to have a guy like that, his mindset. I spent time around him, I’ve known him for years now. We have a pre-existing relationship, so that’s nice to have. I’m just really looking forward to growing under him.

 

“It’s a good thing that me and Coach Gruden think the same way. Him and I are more similar than people even know. We just are … him and I think the same way, we watch, we study the same way and all those kind of things.”

 

Gruden, though, is famous for waking up at 3:17 a.m.

 

Carr?

 

“No, I get a little more sleep than he does,” he said. “I get a little bit. Not much more, but I get a little bit more. I’m up early. I like to be the first one in there to have some quiet time and to study and do things a certain way, and he’s kind of the same way.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Hue Jackson claims he voluntarily turned his offense over to Todd Haley.  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Hue Jackson stressed Wednesday that hiring Todd Haley as his offensive coordinator and handing over playcalling duties to him was entirely his idea and not Jimmy Haslam’s or GM John Dorsey’s.

 

“No, let me say this and let me go on record and you guys can write this: No one ever told me I needed to hire an offensive coordinator,” he told cleveland.com and a small group of Browns writers here at the Senior Bowl. “I could still be calling the plays for the Cleveland Browns. That is what I thought was best for us.

 

“I made a decision that I thought the best thing for me to do was to become the CEO of this organization in that way. No one forced me, no one asked me and no one told me I had to. This was my decision and what I thought was best for us moving forward. Did I lean on people to ask them advice? Yes, I did. Was John Dorsey one of those people? Yes, he was. Was Jimmy Haslam one of those people? Yes, he was. That is what you do. You use your resources, but nobody, no one, whether it is John or Jimmy (Haslam), ever told me that this is what I needed to do. Nobody.”

 

Jackson turns playcalling duties over to Todd Haley

 

It’s been speculated over the past week, including on profootballtalk.com that perhaps Jackson, who went 1-31 in his two seasons, was strong-armed into the decision. But he insists that’s not the case, and that he was ready for an accomplished coordinator like Haley, the former Steelers offensive boss, to take over and put his stamp on the unit — one that finished last in the NFL in points scored in 2017.

 

“First of all, very thrilled to have Todd,” he said. “I called Todd immediately after he was let go at Pittsburgh. Obviously I’ve said I was really going to take some time and contemplate putting the [offensive] coordinator on staff that I thought he had experience, had a winning pedigree, had a real desire to move an offense forward and somebody, honestly, that I thought could do the job at a high level. I talked to so many people going through this process, interviewed a lot of people.

 

“When somebody like Todd Haley becomes available, immediately your antennas go up. I called him right away, talked to him on the phone several times and set up a meeting for him to come to Berea and sit down and have a conversation, and I was even more impressed with the person and that we have similar beliefs on how to play offensive football. I’ve seen his work, coaching in the AFC North, competing against him when I was the head coach of the Raiders and he was the head coach of Kansas City.”

 

Jackson, who’s spent the past six seasons in the AFC North with Haley, has always admired Haley’s work.

 

“I just wanted to make sure it was the right fit for myself, for him, for our staff and the football team,” he said. “Like I said in the meeting, he blew me away. It was the right fit and the right time. How fortunate that I am to find somebody like Todd Haley. That doesn’t happen every day. I think it’s a win-win for myself and for the organization and also for our football team.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

RB LeVEON BELL with some optimistic words about the state of negotiations.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell didn’t agree on a long-term contract last offseason, which left Bell to play out the year on the franchise tag and start the process over again this offseason.

 

Bell said Wednesday that the ball has started rolling on that front. Bell said, via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, that he has already received a contract offer from the team.

 

The details of the offer aren’t known, but they appear to be to Bell’s liking. He said that the two sides are closer to agreeing on a deal than they were while talking about a contract in 2017. Bell said recently that he would consider sitting out the 2018 season if he’s tagged again at a salary around $14.5 million, but probably won’t have to put that to the test if conversations with the Steelers continue to go well.

 

Bell also addressed a report that he was late to the Steelers’ final walkthrough practice of the year. Bell said he was late due to a personal issue and that the coaching staff was aware ahead of time.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Miami GM Mike Tannenbaum is non-committal about the team’s ongoing relationship with WR JARVIS LANDRY.  Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald takes a look at the Fins’ options:

 

If you want to get to Pepe’s apartment a block away and it’s snowing really hard and you don’t want to walk, all you have to do is get in your car, drive up the block, and park outside his door, right? Simple.

 

Yeah, except you don’t know the rules. That sign pointing in the opposite direction you want to drive may be foreign to you, but it means you can’t drive the wrong way up a one-way street. That other thing that prohibits anyone from parking on the street during a snowstorm is called a law and, once again, your idea for making this trip to Pepe’s house an easy one is really bad.

 

And that, of course, leads me to Jarvis Landry:

 

For weeks now, Twitter general managers and even some members of the press corps have been suggesting that one way to handle the looming Jarvis Landry contract situation is to place a transition tag on him.

 

That will give the Dolphins the right of first refusal, meaning if another team offers him a contract when he hits free agency, the Dolphins are guaranteed the right to match and retain their wide receiver.

 

Reporters in Mobile, Alabama, covering the Dolphins during the Senior Bowl practices on Wednesday asked club executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum about this possibility.

 

“Yes, that’s obviously just one possibility that a team could use,” Tannenbaum said. “Again, every situation is going to be different. Usually you have the right to match, I think it’s the player average of the top 10 at his position. Again, we’ll see what happens. We have some time until any of these deadlines come up.”

 

But if the Dolphins were to, you know, actually place a transition tag on Landry, a bunch of pesky rules would start getting in the way. And those rules would be very much to the Dolphins’ detriment.

 

Firstly, the transition tag numbers for 2018 are not out yet so no number is official. But they are indeed calculated based on the top 10 salaries at any given position. And the smart folks at overthecap.com have formulated that the 2018 transition tag for a wide receiver will be $14.2 million.

 

That means if the Dolphins place the transition tag on Landry, they don’t necessarily have him signed as free agency begins. But he counts approximately $14.2 million against their cap.

 

 And why, you ask, would a team that will have to get rid of a lot of heavy baggage this offseason to create cap space want to take on a $14 million cap burden to start free agency? Especially when that offers no certainty?

 

I don’t know. I don’t think the Dolphins want that.

 

Moreover, teams interested in players carrying a transition tag typically front-load the deals so as to make matching those deals a burden. That’s exactly what happened with the Dolphins years ago when they placed the transition tag on Charles Clay and the Bills wrote a deal for the tight end that the Dolphins found wholly unpalatable.

 

So the Dolphins lost the player despite the tag.

 

Another reason the transition tag doesn’t make sense? The Dolphins already know Landry wants to be paid like Davante Adams, who is averaging $14.5 million per year from the Green Bay Packers. The Dolphins don’t want to pay that, folks.

 

When the sides exchanged contract ideas in December, the Dolphins were several million dollars per year under what Landry wanted. So why would they simply tag Landry at precisely the number he’s expecting to reach?

 

What sense does that make?

 

How is it logical to give the player exactly what he wants on a one-year annual basis but not really benefit by locking him up long term on that annual basis — something that typically makes the cap number much lower because it includes guaranteed monies that are prorated?

 

All right, this is a lot of math for the salary cap scientists.

 

 Me? I’m a words guy. And so here’s the key reason, in simple to understand terms, why the Dolphins would be foolish to use the transition tag on Jarvis Landry: Compensatory draft picks.

 

The NFL, you see, has a formula whereby it rewards teams that lose free agents with draft pick compensation the following year. If a big contract free agent signs with another team, that loss becomes part of the formula used to reward the original team with more and higher compensatory picks.

 

These are often valuable picks.

 

And as Landry is expected to get a sizable contract in free agency, the Dolphins could receive as much as a third- or fourth-round pick in 2019 in return for his free agency departure.

 

But … if the Dolphins use the transition tag on Landry, and he leaves, he does not count at all in the compensatory draft pick formula. So the Dolphins would get zilch for Landry leaving.

 

That’s the rule.

 

It’s important to know the rules.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report takes on the conspiracy theories surrounding the Patriots.

 

1. The Patriots, Crackpot Ideas and the Truth

 

This is the age of conspiracy theories, and in the NFL, there is no bigger tin foil hat than the one worn by those who espouse the conspiracy that everyone from the refs to the league office to the media is in on the New England Patriots.

 

Each time I write about the Patriots, or tweet about them, there are thousands of conspiracy theorists who respond that the league is rigged in favor of the Patriots.

 

These are people with jobs and fully functioning brains. And yet they believe game officials, urged on by the league office, don’t call penalties on the Patriots, which helps the Patriots win games. The league office, the thinking goes, gives the orders to the refs. And the media, hungry for big ratings and page views, ignore the strings apparently being pulled by the refs and league office.

 

These conspiracy theories intensified a thousand fold after the Patriots’ title game win against Jacksonville. As evidence, fingers were pointed to an image of an official seen laughing with the Patriots after they scored a touchdown.

 

Then, after the game, cameras caught game official Clete Blakeman congratulating Tom Brady as if the official were a kid about to ask for an autograph.

 

@OurStateCSU

First guy to congratulate Brady? Number 34. What a teammate!

 

As if those weren’t enough, the conspiracy contingent offered its final piece of evidence: The Patriots were called for just one penalty for 10 yards.

 

Log on to YouTube, and you can’t help but stumble on numerous videos about the Patriots, cheating and conspiracies. One carries the subtle title “Patriots cheating in AFC Championship vs Jaguars.” Some of the conspiracy chatter is even going mainstream. I watched one of the smartest people in sports journalism, Max Kellerman, an Ivy Leaguer, say the refs gave the Patriots a crucial pass interference call because the Patriots needed help after Rob Gronkowski was knocked out of the contest earlier. C’mon.

 

Why does all this matter? Numbers, that’s why.

 

There are team and league officials who believe the conspiracies are becoming so prevalent, and thick, it is affecting ratings outside New England. These same people also feel these theories are draining the popularity of the Patriots. (Though they acknowledge the Patriots’ constant winning may cause many to turn the television off when they’re on.)

 

Still, there’s no proof these theories affect ratings. The SportsBusiness Daily reported the AFC title game drew a 27.3 rating, down 0.1 from last year’s Packers-Falcons game on Fox in the same late afternoon spot.

 

But once one conspiracy gains legs, it’s only a matter of time before it intersects with other conspiracy theories. And then that gives birth to another conspiracy theory. And then you get a conspiracy theory. And she gets a conspiracy theory. And he gets a conspiracy theory. We all get a conspiracy theory.

 

Let’s take a quick minute, however, to debunk these theories, one by one:

 

The refs want the Patriots to win. This is stupid. Why? The officials just don’t care. It’s also virtually impossible to rig a game with replays and so many eyeballs watching every move.

 

Officials are graded tougher than any other group in football. Tougher than players, even. If there was some conspiratorial group of them, or just one of them, it would be rooted out by the league or someone else.

 

The Patriots don’t get flagged as much as other teams because they’re good, they’re disciplined.

 

The league office wants the Patriots to win for good ratings. No. The league genuinely hates the Patriots—despises them. Remember, the NFL launched Spygate and Deflategate. The latter was one of the most divisive and ugly moments in league history. Why would it want to reward the source of all that trouble?

 

The media wants the Patriots to win. Hahahahaha.

 

(Takes a deep breath.)

 

Hahahahaha.

 

The majority of the media dislikes the Patriots because the team is slightly paranoid and sometimes hostile to the media. Not all of us feel that way (the team has always been incredibly good to me), but many do. There are media members who would rather eat Tide pods than see the Patriots in the Super Bowl again.

 

In truth, there’s only one reason the Patriots win so much, and it’s not because of rigged games or mysterious directives from the league office.

 

They win because they are damn good.

– – –

The Patriots provided an injury report today as if it were Wednesday of game week, and TE ROB GRONKOWSKI appears to still be in the concussion protocol.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

As Bill Belichick promised, the Patriots issued their first injury report of the Super Bowl bye week but it wasn’t based on actual practice participation.

 

The Patriots didn’t practice on Wednesday, so the report is a projection of what players would have done if the team was working on the field. In the case of tight end Rob Gronkowski, he would have been on the sideline and not participating due to the concussion he suffered in the AFC Championship Game.

 

That’s not particularly surprising and Gronkowski being listed as a non-participant for this entire week wouldn’t rule him out of playing in Minneapolis with another week to go before he needs to clear the concussion protocol to be eligible to play in the Super Bowl.

 

Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise would have joined Gronkowski as a non-participant on Wednesday. He’s also dealing with a concussion.

 

Defensive lineman Malcom Brown (foot), running back Mike Gillislee (knee) and right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (knee) would have all been limited participants in practice. Brown was the only one of the three to play against the Jaguars last Sunday.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Rick Dennison, out as OC in Buffalo, could land half a loaf with the Jets.  Manish Mehta in the New York Daily News:

 

The Jets are re-shaping their offensive staff in the wake of firing coordinator John Morton. The Daily News has learned that Gang Green has reached out to former Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison to be their offensive line coach/run-game coordinator to assist Jeremy Bates, who is in line to be the new offensive play caller.

 

Bates and Dennison worked together in Denver for three seasons. Although Dennison was the Broncos offensive coordinator in 2008, Bates was the play caller. The Jets fired offensive line coach Steve Marshall on Wednesday, creating a void that Dennison, who was the Broncos offensive line coach from 2006-08, could fill.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Clay Travis at OutkickTheCoverage.com looks at the NFL’s Championship Game ratings and draws some conclusions:

 

I believe the NFL’s incompetent response to the anthem controversy and its refusal to mandate players stand — as the NBA has done without a single issue all year long — has led to a significant decline in TV viewership. Indeed, that TV viewership decline is costing the NFL’s TV partners over $500 million off projected budgets this year.

 

So what happened last weekend with the AFC and NFC title games?

 

The AFC and NFC title games hit a nine year low when you combine total viewers for both games. More alarmingly for the NFL, the ratings have declined nearly 20% for those games since 2014.

 

Here are those numbers of total viewers:

 

2018 86.4 million viewers

 

2017 94.3 million viewers

 

2016 91.9 million viewers

 

2015 91.9 million viewers

 

2014 107.2 million viewers

 

2013 89.7 million viewers

 

2012 106.3 million viewers

 

2011 106.8 million viewers

 

2010 104.8 million viewers

 

2009 79 million viewers

 

2008 98.7 million viewers

 

2007 90 million viewers

 

The NFL’s overall ratings were down 8.4% this year for the AFC and NFC title games. That follows a 16% decline for the divisional round playoff games, a 13% decline for the NFL wild card playoff games, and a 9.7% decline for the regular season in general.

 

Now you can argue, as many NFL ratings apologists wish to do, that the reason for the NFL’s ratings decline is larger societal trends — cord cutting, illegal streaming, a decline in traditional TV viewership, poor match ups in the playoffs, you name it — and not the politicization of football which has alienated the core football audience. But if all that is true, why were college football playoff ratings up double digits on cable this year? And it’s not like the college football match up was a ratings goldmine, the title game was an intraconference game between two SEC teams and the other two schools in the playoff, Clemson and Oklahoma, were Southern teams too. There was no Big Ten or Pac 12 playoff team at all. This was far from a perfect ratings match up for the college football playoff.

 

If the cord cutting and illegal streaming headwinds are difficult to overcome, shouldn’t a cable network like ESPN have even more difficulty bringing in a double digit audience increase for the college football playoff on cable with less than ideal teams playing than the NFL should for its playoff games on broadcast television? And why would NBA regular season ratings be up, with most of the games on cable, while the NFL ratings are down too?

 

Audiences aren’t abandoning all of sports this year, they’re just abandoning the NFL.

 

And I think that’s because the NFL’s audience, many of whom are conservative, are upset with the NFL’s left wing political tilt and failure to address the anthem controversy for the past two years.

 

This alienation of conservative viewers is going to be even more exacerbated by the idiotic decision of the league to reject this ad from a veteran’s group.

 

Look, I love football and I’m never going to stop watching no matter what the league or players do to voice their politics, but it’s clear that millions of NFL fans don’t believe the league has done a very good job protecting the shield and will choose to find other ways to spend their time and money until the league remedies this issue.

 

At some point the NFL needs to admit that it blew it responding to the anthem controversy and mandate all players stand for the national anthem.

 

The DB was struck that, at the championship game level, there may be a trend of a rise, then a fall, the progression is not direct.  Let’s look again, and to try to figure out what was going on we added the matchups. 

 

And just for an exercise, let’s break the NFL brands into 3 tiers – – –

 

Tier 4 – as in 4 points – NE, PIT, GB, DAL

Tier 3 – OAK, DEN, Manning IND, SF, SEA, CHI, NYG, PHI, WAS, Brees NO

Tier 2 –  KC, HOU, BAL, MIA, NYJ, LAR, ARZ, MIN, DET, ATL, CAR

Tier 1 – BUF, SD, TEN, JAX, non-Manning IND, CIN, CLV, TB 

 

Now, you might disagree, but we doubt it would be by more than 1 tier – are the Redskins a Tier 3 or Tier 2 brand, were Manning’s Colts a 4?– but just for curiosity, let’s give out points based on tiers for the total amount of brand in the matchups –

 

Millions of viewers

 

2017-188    86.4         JAX-NE       MIN-PHI       1+4+2+3                 10

2016-17      94.3         PIT-NE        GB-ATL        4+4+4+2                14

2015-16      91.9         NE-DEN      ARZ-CAR      4+3+2+2                11

2014-15      91.9         IND-NE       GB-SEA         1+4+4+3                12

2013-14    107.2         NE-DEN      SF-SEA         4+3+3+3                13

2012-13      89.7         BAL-NE       SF-ATL          2+4+3+2               11

2011-12    106.3         BAL-NE        NYG-SF        2+4+3+3               12

2010-11    106.8         NYJ-PIT       GB-CHI         2+4+4+3               13

2009-10    104.8         NYJ-IND      MIN-NO         2+3+2+3               10  (but Favre)

2008-09      79            BAL-PIT       PHI-ARZ       2+4+3+2                11

2007-08      98.7         SD-NE         NYG-GB       1+4+3+4                12

2006-07      90            NE-IND        NO-CHI        4+3+3+3                13

 

Not sure what this shows.  We do get only 10 Tier Points in this year’s match-ups equaling the lowest of the span (and we would contend that the Brett Favre Vikings probably were more like a “3”) in the other year with 10.

 

Last year, with three of the four Tier 4 teams, was the highest with 14 Tier Points, so a dropoff would be expected.  In retrospect, the first sign of trouble may have been last year when the ratings didn’t top 100 million viewers like it did in ’13-14 and ‘10-11 with 13-point matchups.

 

Look at how low the ratings fell in ’08-09, then bounced right back up.  Maybe it happens next year if the Cowboys are in their first championship game in eons (or since 1995-96).

– – –

Bob Costas offers an explanation for the fact that he won’t be found anywhere in NBC’s Super Bowl coverage.  Bryan DeArdo of CBSSports.com:

 

Bob Costas said that his conflicting feelings towards football is the reason why he won’t be covering Super Bowl LII.

 

In e-mail to SportsBusinessDaily.com, the legendary broadcaster explained why he has decided to give up his assignment as NBC’s on-air host for the NFL’s biggest game. Dan Patrick and Liam McHugh will replace Costas on the broadcast.

 

“The decision was mutually agreeable, and not only do I not have a problem with it, I am actually happy about it,” said Costas, who has been with NBC since 1979. “I have long had ambivalent feelings about football, so at this point, it’s better to leave the hosting to those who are more enthusiastic about it.

 

“I have been making the same points for several years, often on NBC. In halftime commentaries, interviews with Roger Goodell and other prominent NFL figures, appearances on CNN and elsewhere, I have addressed the issue of football and its undeniable connection to brain trauma many times. Why? Because the evidence is overwhelming and the effects are often devastating. It’s the elephant in the stadium at every game whether others choose to acknowledge it or not. And it’s not going away.”

 

The 65-year-old Costas has won eight National Sportcaster of the Year awards from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He was inducted into that organization’s Hall of Fame in 2012.

 

A year ago, it was announced that Costas will no longer be NBC’s Olympics host, turning those duties over to Mike Tirico.  Apparently, he will not be in South Korea in any role – and since he won’t be at the Super Bowl, it is fair to wonder exactly what his status might be with NBC.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

EX-NFL GM Charlie Casserly makes some comparisons to QB BAKER MAYFIELD that go beyond Johnny Manziel.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield shrugged off comparisons to Johnny Manziel on Tuesday, suggesting to reporters that “everybody wants to portray the bad boy … stuff.”

 

Well, not everybody, Baker. NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly offered a different comparison on Wednesday, one more to Mayfield’s liking.

 

“He’s better than [Jared] Goff coming out of college. That’s Baker Mayfield,” Casserly said on NFL Network. “And [Patrick] Mahomes, same system a little bit. He’s got more discipline than Mahomes. Mahomes has a better arm but this guy can be successful too in the right system.”

 

Casserly also likes Mayfield’s quick feet and “an arm that’s good enough to make all the throws.”

 

Goff was selected first overall out of Cal by the Los Angeles Rams in the 2016 draft. Mahomes was scooped up out of Texas Tech by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 10th pick in 2017. Neither of them won or were finalists for the Heisman Trophy. Mayfield is a two-time finalist and won the trophy this season.

 

NFL scouts see Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Saints quarterback Drew Bress as more apt comparisons to Mayfield than Manziel, based on size and on-field ability. Mayfield measured 6-feet 3/8 and 216 pounds on Wednesday, well below Goff’s larger frame.

 

As Casserly said, “Get outta here [with the Manziel comparisons]! … This guy’s a player. He don’t have half the problems Manziel had, off the field.”

 

That settles it.