The Daily Briefing Tuesday, December 12, 2017

AROUND THE NFL 

 If The Season Ended Today in the AFC:

                                                Overall        Division       Conference

Pittsburgh Steelers      ACN     11-2               5-0                8-1

New England Patriots  ACN     10-3               3-1                7-2

Jacksonville Jaguars   ACS       9-4              3-1                 8-2

Kansas City Chiefs     ACW       7-6               3-1                5-4

Tennessee Titans        WC        8-5               4-1                7-4

Buffalo Bills                  WC       7-6              1-2                 5-4

Baltimore Ravens                      7-6              2-2                 5-4

Los Angeles Chargers               7-6               2-2                4-5

Oakland Raiders                        6-7               2-3                5-6

Miami Dolphins                          6-7               2-2                5-4

The Jaguars now have the AFC South division lead, but since Tennessee won the first game between the teams, as long as the Titans are within a game of Jacksonville entering their Week 17 meeting in Nashville, that game will be a showdown for the division championship.

The Titans are still a game up for the first Wild Card spot, but Pittsburgh’s win knocked Baltimore out of playoffs.  The DB saw the Chargers slaughter the Bills with his own two eyes, but in a three-way tie with the Ravens that apparently counts for nothing as the NFL’s official tie-breaking site has the Bills in the playoffs at 7-6 and the Ravens and Chagers on the outside

New this week on our table are the Dolphins who we are surprised to see at 6-7.

If you ask, “who won the first meeting between Buffalo and the Dolphins?” you lose.

There hasn’t been a first meeting yet.  They go after each other in Orchard Park this week and in Miami in Week 17. 

Can the Dolphins take the 2nd Wild Card as they did last year?

Well at 9-7, they would have two win over the Bills who could not be better than 8-8.  Head-to-head wins over the Chiefs and Chargers, but they lost to the Ravens.  And with a finish of Cleveland, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, it is hard to see Baltimore going 1-2. 

Miami also lost to Tennessee, so rooting for 9-7 for the Titans doesn’t help the Dolphins. 

NFC NORTH

GREEN BAY

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on the issues involved with whether or not QB AARON RODGERS is going to return this week:

As the Packers wait for final word from team doctors as to whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers will receive clearance to play on Sunday against the Panthers, several factors will drive the final decision. Let’s consider them, shall we?

1. Rodgers’ health: When he broke his collarbone on the left side four years ago, Rodgers went eight weeks between games. This time, he will have had a nine-week gap between games, if he returns on Sunday. That’s encouraging in isolation, but hardly dispositive. The real question is whether the bone, with 13 screws and a couple of plates, sufficiently has healed to allow Rodgers to play without significant risk of re-injury.

2. Medical input: Dr. Pat McKenzie will have a major role in deciding whether Rodgers will play. And despite his very good reputation for caring about players, the conflict of interest for doctors paid by teams to treat players is very real, as evidenced by the move to independent neurologists to determine when players can return from concussions. Two years ago, Cowboys doctors cleared Tony Romo to return from a broken collarbone — and he re-broke his collarbone in his second game back. There’s a subtle pressure to get Rodgers back on the field, regardless of whether McKenzie is actually influenced by it. For most teams, the truth remains that, if their doctors won’t give players the green light to play, the teams eventually will find doctors who will.

3. The team’s playoff chances: Rodgers said in early November that he’d return if he’s healthy AND if “it would make sense to come back.” So does it make sense to come back? At 7-6 and currently ninth in the NFC playoff picture, they need help in the form of one or more losses by the Seahawks and the Falcons in the final three weeks.

4. Perceptions of toughness: Four years ago, ESPN reported that Rodgers’ perceived toughness was a factor in when he’d return from a broken collarbone, given comparisons to his never-miss-a-game predecessor in Green Bay. Will those ghosts of Favre drive Rodgers to come back even if he risks re-breaking the bone?

5. Rodgers’ contract: Nearly five years ago, Rodgers reached the top of the quarterback market, with a $22 million-per-year deal. He now trails the likes of Matthew Stafford ($27 million), Derek Carr ($25 million), Andrew Luck ($24.5 million), and Joe Flacco ($22.1 million). Rodgers is clearly and obviously better than each of them, and yet the Packers haven’t done the right thing and given him a new deal. So without the financial protection that a franchise with no owner to line his pockets with profits should have given to its franchise quarterback, why should he put his health at risk unnecessarily? While Rodgers is smart enough not to ever mention this dynamic privately or publicly, he’s plenty smart enough to be aware of it. If the Packers were smart, they’d have signed him to a new deal by now.

Regardless of those factors, the thinking remains that Rodgers will be back this weekend against the Panthers. If he’s not, one of more of these factors will have decisively influenced the delicate play-or-no-play balance.

NFC EAST

WASHINGTON

One of the considerable number of adversities the Redskins have confronted this year was the sudden “retirement” of S SU’A CRAVENS.  Now, his agent says he wants to play again.

Washington Redskins safety Su’a Cravens has been cleared to resume football activities and plans to play next season, his agent said Tuesday.

Fadde Mikhail said in a statement that Cravens suffered from post-concussion syndrome, was cleared Dec. 7 and no longer has symptoms. Cravens left the Redskins in early September as he mulled retirement.

Cravens underwent “targeted treatment and rehabilitation” at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, according to Mikhail, who said his client “is excited and looking forward to the 2018 NFL season and the many years to follow.”

Cravens, 22, was Washington’s second-round pick in 2016 and played 11 games during his rookie year. He was set to be a starter this season.

In mid-September, the Redskins put Cravens on the reserve/left squad list, making him ineligible to play the rest of the season.

“We are focused on the Arizona Cardinals,” Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said. “He is on reserve/left squad for the season.” 

NFC SOUTH

TAMPA BAY

Former NFL QB David Carr knows well what happens when a first overall passer goes flat, maybe trending downwards, late in his rookie contract.

Honestly, I get why there’s frustration in the building. While Winston has talent, leadership ability (although that is not always delivered well) and a desire to win, the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft lacks in decision-making, accuracy and knowledge of situational football. In his first two NFL seasons, Winston threw a total of 33 interceptions and didn’t complete more than 61 percent of his passes in either year. During “Hard Knocks” in the 2017 preseason, we saw this issue come to the fore once again when Koetter got after Winston on the sideline:

“Jameis, you’re f—–‘ playing a great game. You’re playing a great game. And then your greed takes over. If this is real football, that’s so f—–‘ stupid. … You’re so much better than that. You’re so much better.”

Four months later, nothing’s changed. The Bucs were one of the most hyped-up teams in the preseason. Now, Winston’s inconsistency has defined the Bucs’ 4-9 record. The quarterback — who also missed three weeks with a shoulder injury — is completing just 62.6 percent of his passes (19th in the NFL), with a 14:8 TD-to-INT ratio and a passer rating of 89.7 (18th). Even with all of the weapons at his disposal (Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard), the Bucs have struggled to get into the end zone (23rd in scoring).

Winston’s lack of on-field growth under Koetter might lead to an organizational makeover far before the Super Bowl is played in Tampa Bay in 2021. If Winston doesn’t show improvement over the final three weeks of this season, with both parties not seeing eye to eye, something’s got to change, and it’s likely Koetter will be the first to go (possibly after this season). Winston will get another chance to improve in these aspects under a new coach/mentor, but he must do it quickly.

Winston will be on his rookie contract through 2018 (with a fifth-year option in 2019). I think the Bucs will give him one year with a new coach to prove he’s their franchise quarterback for the long haul. For Winston to get rid of old habits and make the changes that’ll take him to the next level, he’ll need to work with someone whose offensive scheme is structured. Winston’s a solid quarterback, but he will never be great until his situational football is better than his physical play.

Winston’s running out of time. If there’s not a noticeable improvement, he could have a new home before too long. 

NFC WEST

SEATTLE

DT MALIK McDOWELL was acting up away from the Seahawks, even as other member of the team were acting up in Jacksonville.  Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:

Seattle Seahawks rookie Malik McDowell on Monday released an apology via social media for an incident that led to an arrest early Sunday morning for disorderly conduct.

McDowell was arrested after being thrown out the CL Lounge in a dispute over payment for a $600 he believed the club owed him and was thrown out after he poured out a couple of bottles of liquor.

He was booked for disorderly conducted and released on $325 bond.

In his statement, McDowell wrote “I am embarrassed by the situation and my actions on Saturday. I would like to apologize to the Atlanta Police Department, SL Lounge, the entire Seattle Seahawks organization and my teammates. I am a young man who made a mistake and am constantly working towards getting better.”

Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Monday afternoon that he had met with McDowell, as had general manager John Schneider.

“He was very remorseful,” Carroll said. “He got in a situation and made a mistake and hopefully this will be a learning experience for him. I don’t know much more than that about it. … I know he felt really bad representing in that manner.”

The arrest continued a tough rookie year for McDowell, who is on the Seahawks’ Non-Football Injury list and has been declared out for the season after suffering what the team has termed “a really bad concussion” suffered in an ATV accident in July.

Carroll had expressed optimism at midseason that McDowell might have a chance to return this season. But Carroll said in late November that McDowell no longer had a chance to return this season.

The Seahawks chose McDowell with the 35th overall pick in the draft last April hoping that the former Michigan State standout could add depth, if not an immediate impact, on the defensive line.

But McDowell has not participated in any official team activities since the ATV accident. He did some working out with trainers and has attended some practices.

TMZ had this version of the incident:

Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Malik McDowell was arrested this weekend after he allegedly flipped out at a club in a dispute over money.

McDowell was arrested early Sunday morning in Atlanta, GA after a cop says she saw him getting into a verbal altercation outside the front doors of a club called SL Lounge.

According to the incident report, obtained by TMZ Sports, McDowell was shouting at the head of security about $600 he believed he’d already paid … even though he was repeatedly told by staff and his own friend he hadn’t given them the cash he wanted back.

He was eventually allowed back in … but the arresting officer says he was kicked out again … still shouting about the money, and refusing to leave without it. The cop says she was told McDowell poured out a couple bottles of liquor inside and got booted.

During a profanity-laced tirade, the officer says she detained McDowell with the help of her partner. They tried getting him in the back of their patrol car when he allegedly said … “F*** both of ya’ll hoe ass n*****, p**** ass cops, I bet I get out, I got more money than ya’ll, ya’ll ain’t got enough money for me, p**** ass crackers, broke ass n*****.”

The arresting officer says she had to almost tase and pepper spray McDowell when he refused to comply with her orders, but adds she ultimately didn’t use either.

He was booked for disorderly conduct, and was released on a $325 bond. McDowell suffered a concussion this summer and is not on the active Seahawks roster. 

AFC WEST

KANSAS CITY

The Chiefs suspended talented but moody CB MARCUS PETERS for Sunday’s game with the Raiders.  And they played better than they had in weeks, especially on defense.

But Peters will be back Saturday for the Chargers.  Pete Sweeney of ArrowheadPride.com:

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters was suspended for Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders. There is no disputing that the Chiefs looked better than they have in a long time throughout the 26-15 win.

With that being the case, head coach Andy Reid was asked early Monday afternoon about whether or not he had given any thought or consideration to the fact that Peters was off the field for the team’s best game in recent memory.

“No. He’s back,” Reid said. “The suspension is over and now he’s back in and ready to roll. That’s the way I’m going to handle it and that’s the way he’ll handle it. For whatever wrong took place, he paid that price and now he’s back and I expect nothing but the best for him.”

Reid felt the defense played better because of alterations made by defensive coordinator Bob Sutton more so to the front seven of the offense rather than the secondary.

“They were subtle little things, but just moving people around a little bit on the front,” Reid said. “[Sutton] had a nice little scheme there going. It wasn’t as much on the back end as it was on the front end there, but it sure looked good. It worked well.”

Reid continued to take the same approach as last week, refusing to get into the details of the Peters situation, even when asked specifically about Mike Garafolo’s weekend report that Peters had an altercation with an assistant coach on the team bus.

“I don’t get into all that,” Reid added. “I’ve just stated what I stated. I’m not getting into all that. He’s back in and we’re ready to roll, man. Start from scratch.”

The Chiefs have apparently given Peters a clean slate, which is good to hear considering just how important this Saturday night’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers has become.

The game’s winner takes sole control of the AFC West.

This was some of what NFL Network reported:

Garafolo reported on Good Morning Football Weekend that Peters and a coach got into an argument on the way to the airport after the game against the Jets, which was listed as one of the reasons for his team-imposed suspension without pay. Peters was also fined $24,309 by the league for unsportsmanlike conduct, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Friday, per a league spokesman.

 Reid had alluded to an additional reason for the suspension earlier in the week, but refused to get into the details of it. We now know why.

NFL Network’s Michael Robinson spoke with Peters during the week and discussed the defender’s suspension.

“I spoke to him this week, very much apologetic,” Robinson said during Saturday’s show. “He hates the way this thing came out. … I think the loss of Eric Berry has done some damage to Marcus Peters on a personal note, just not being able to have that guy like an Ike Taylor in that locker room to be able to lean on when you’re going through something.”

Not that Ike Taylor is necessarily the guy you go to for advice as of this week. 

AFC NORTH

CLEVELAND

While owner Jimmy Haslam as said that 1-28 coach Hue Jackson will be back to add to his legacy next year, there are those who think new GM John Dorsey may have other ideas.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer with Jackson’s opinion on the matter:

Hue Jackson doesn’t believe a report that new Browns GM John Dorsey wants to hire his own head coach after the season.

NBC Sports’ profootballtalk.com reported on Thursday and again Sunday night that a belief persists in league circles that Dorsey will want his own man and not one who’s currently 1-28 in his second season and coaching the first team in NFL history to go 0-13 in back-to-back seasons.

The Browns have three more chances to avoid the 0-16 parade and joining the 2008 Lions as the only two teams in NFL history to lose all 16 games. But Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has made it clear that he attributes the record to a lack of talent on the team.

“I think it’s funny that you guys comment on that kind of stuff,” Jackson said on a conference call Monday to wrap up Sunday’s 27-21 overtime loss to the Packers, a game that saw the Browns blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead.

But when reminded that it came from NBC, Jackson said, “I respect that and I can understand why that would be said, but that’s not the feeling that I get at all. I’m focused on the task at hand, which is doing everything I can to work to win games here. I can’t really concern myself with those things, but I can honestly tell all of you, I don’t think that is the case at all.”

Jackson cited Jimmy Haslam’s statement on Thursday that Jackson will return in 2018 and his elaboration on Friday that he wants him here for a long time with fellow “football-lifer” Dorsey as the final word on the topic.

“I just think you have to trust in what he said,” said Jackson. “I know I do. I don’t see it any other way. What he said is what he meant. That’s what I believe and that’s what I know.”

Jackson reviewed the Packers game with Dorsey on Monday morning and found that they spoke the same football language, unlike his previous 28 wrap-ups with fired head of football operations Sashi Brown.

“It was much different,” Jackson said. “We got together early and really talked through the game and just continued to dialogue on what we need to continue to do better to get the team better and how we see the football team as we continue to move forward.”

He declined to share what Dorsey thought of how hard the team played or his impressions of the talent. Dorsey sat with Jimmy Haslam and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta in the owner’s suite during the game, and then sat in the locker room during postgame interviews, taking in the scene. He also sat with DeShone Kizer at his locker and offered words of encouragement, at one point clutching the distraught quarterback’s hand.

“I’m not going to get into all of those things,” Jackson said. “It was a real back-and-forth conversation, which was really good. He was able to tell me how he saw the team, and I was able to tell him how I saw the team, as well.

“Then obviously, we have those discussions on what we can do better and how we see it coming together here at the end, trying to find ways to improve over the next three weeks. That was really the dialogue that we had.”

He did say that the two were in sync with what they saw.

“Very much so,” said Jackson. “That’s what it’s all about. We’re having conversations about how we see football, which I think is really important, how we see winning evolving here and how we’re going to get to it. I think you have to be able to talk like that all of the time.”

Jackson wasn’t the only one who found the dialogue with Dorsey to be different.

“It’s obviously a unique situation to have a guy who’s been in this position to come and have a conversation with you from a general manager position,” said Kizer 

PITTSBURGH

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com likes the way that Coach Mike Tomlin is hyping Sunday’s game with the Patriots:

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin never backed away from hyping up their game with the Patriots.

If anything, he’s fanning the flames now.

Tomlin was embracing the build-up Tuesday, which is probably appropriate since he started it.

“It’s good to be in the kitchen. The kitchen’s in Pittsburgh, PA, this week in the National Football League, and at Heinz Field,” Tomlin said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “That’s where you want to be in the middle of December. We don’t take it for granted.”

The Steelers coach has been talking up this matchup for three weeks, so it’s hard to turn away from the chatter now.

The Steelers (11-2) can take a big step toward home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs with a win, but so can the Patriots (10-3). And while many coaches strive to make things as boring as possible before big games, Tomlin said he wasn’t going to shield his players from it, saying: “Man, I love it.”

“It’s good to be in big games. It’s better to be in big games than ones nobody’s watching,” Tomlin said. “We better be appreciative of this spot and not resistant in any way, but embrace it. This is what we’ve been fighting for since March, to be in these types of games against these types of people. Why would you fight that? It’s an awesome thing.”

It’s an interesting strategy, and frankly, one we wish more coaches would adopt. It beats chopping wood and controlling what you can control.

The Steelers would not quite clinch home field with a win – partly because Jacksonville is still in the equation at 9-4.

IF THE STEELERS BEAT THE PATRIOTS…

Here’s where it could get a little tricky. A loss at Pittsburgh would drop the Pats to 10-4. This would eliminate them from the No. 1 seed. They’d be two games behind the Steelers with two weeks remaining, and Pittsburgh would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

If the Patriots, Steelers, and Jaguars all finished tied at 12-4, the No. 1 seed would go to the Jaguars based on record within conference (the Pats and Steelers would each have three losses in the AFC, while the Jags would have two). The Steelers would then take the No. 2 seed based on the head-to-head tiebreaker

– – –

The DB was surprised to see that a wide receiver has never won the AP NFL Most Valuable Player Award.  Not Jerry Rice in 1987 (Elway) or 1995 (Favre), not Randy Moss in 2007 (his QB Tom Brady).

With many of the best QBs banged up and WR ANTONIO BROWN going off each week, is this the year that it changes?

Sam Quinn at 247Sports.com makes the case for Brown:

Antonio Brown has been doing the impossible all season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has lifted them to wins in games they had no right to even compete in, and last night’s battle with the Baltimore Ravens was a perfect example. The Steelers had not remotely figured out their defense without Ryan Shazier, and the team was too emotional to play a clear and coherent game. But Brown lifted them to a win with 213 receiving yards against the NFL’s No. 12 passing defense. He has been doing that all season, and it’s time he was rewarded for it. It’s time the NFL named their first ever wide receiver as the league’s MVP.

The case for Brown is obvious. He leads all NFL players in receptions by 11 (with 99). He leads all NFL players in receiving yards by 276 (with 1,509). He is tied for second in the NFL with nine touchdown catches, but first place DeAndre Hopkins is now likely down to his third string quarterback and has nothing to play for, so Brown has a chance to win the receiving triple crown.

He is the best player on an 11-2 team, and the typical argument of quarterbacks automatically getting MVP consideration over receivers doesn’t really apply to Brown with Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger has not looked like himself this season until the last month. He threw five interceptions against the Jaguars earlier in the season, and it wasn’t until the Titans game that he finally began playing like a star again. Even when the rest of the offense struggled, though, Brown starred. He gained 157 yards in that Jaguars game. He had 110 in their other loss to the Chicago Bears. Brown is the one constant for the Steelers on offense. He starred when Le’Veon Bell was working himself back into shape after a holdout, with Marcus Gilbert suspended, with Roethlisberger struggling, with Martavis Bryant asking for a trade and with JuJu Smith-Schuster suspended.

Those facts alone make Brown’s case extremely compelling, but it helps that there isn’t another ideal candidate in the field.

The previous leader for the award was Carson Wentz. He had the Philadelphia Eagles at 10-2 and ready to compete for the Super Bowl. But he tore his ACL against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, and is therefore likely out of consideration for the MVP award with three games to play.

The next man up, and likely the frontrunner, is Tom Brady. Having 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions is no doubt extremely impressive, but in context, is Brady really more valuable than Brown? The Patriots have the NFL’s No. 9 ranked rushing attack. The Steelers are No. 23. Yes, the Steelers were excellent on defense earlier in the season and the Patriots started out terribly, but that   is about to flip. Without Shazier, the Steelers fell apart on that side of the field against the Ravens. But the Patriots have had arguably the NFL’s best defense since their horrific four-game start. They have not allowed an opponent to score even 20 points in a game since. Even if Brady is as good as ever, his workload considering the recent performance of his teammates just isn’t as massive.

Besides, it’s relevant to note here that there was intense debate between Brady and Wentz as the favorite. There is not a shred of debate for any receiver to be ahead of Brown. There is absolutely no question that Brown is the best and most valuable player at his position. That guarantee doesn’t exist on the same level for Brady, and it certainly helps Brown’s case that Brady has won twice. That doesn’t make him less deserving, but voters like new stories. A wide receiver winning MVP would be the newest story they could come up with.

After Brady, pickings are pretty slim. Russell Wilson has earned some mentions, but the Seahawks are fading fast after a loss to Jacksonville. If they lose to the Rams or Cowboys in the next two weeks, they will likely miss the playoffs entirely. Wilson won’t win under those circumstances. The NFL’s rushing leader is Bell, and he’s 400 yards behind his Steelers teammate. Even he admitted to Tim Benz of Trib Live that Brown is not only the best player on the team, but the best player in the entire league.

To cap it all off, just think of everything the Steelers have been through this season. Think about all of the injuries, suspensions, holdouts and trade demands. Think about the national anthem controversy. Think about them losing their Defensive Player of the Year candidate to a potentially career-ending injury. If a team wins 13 or 14 games under those circumstances, and their best player challenges or even breaks records, doesn’t that player deserve to be the MVP?

The answer is unequivocally yes. All Brown needs now is a statement win over the Patriots. If the Steelers manage to beat their rivals and Brown puts up big numbers, then watch out. He’ll become the new MVP favorite.

Brown has 1,509 receiving yards.  The NFL record by Calvin Johnson in 2012 is 1,964.  Brown is on a flat pace for 1,857 yards with his season-long average of around 116 per game.

He enters the week 455 yards behind Johnson, so to top that mark, Brown will need 152 yards per game over the last three.  To become the first receiver to 2,000, Brown will need 164 per game.

Brown has 627 yards in the last four games.  That is an average of 156.8 per game. 

Charles Curtis of USA TODAY also favors Brown:

Tom Brady didn’t seem so MVP-like in Monday night’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, did he?

He completed 55.8 percent of his passes, tossed a pair of interceptions and posted a QB rating of 59.5.

That doesn’t take away from the incredible season he’s having. But that game opens the door for the man who deserves this year’s NFL MVP: Antonio Brown.

Let’s break down why:

1. Where would the Steelers be without him?

Everyone has a litmus test for awards and Hall of Fame eligibility, and here’s mine for MVP: Where would the team be if he wasn’t on the roster? Certainly not 11-2, tied for the league’s best record with the Eagles. Yes, Le’Veon Bell (who, by the way, is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry) helps, and the Steelers defense — sixth overall in the league, fifth in DVOA — deserves some love.

But without a receiver who continues to shred secondaries week after week, the Steelers wouldn’t be the fourth-most prodigious offense, especially when you consider that Ben Roethlisberger has struggled at times.

And if you’re arguing that Brady’s done everything on his own without that kind of support …

2. Brady’s got some help too

The Patriots have the 15th-best rushing attack, which isn’t great, but it certainly isn’t nothing. But his receiving corps — including bona fide stars like Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks, who deserves that title even if you don’t view him that way — are great and the Pats’ defense has actually improved since that putrid start to the 2017 season.

And, oh yeah, his head coach is Bill Belichick.

3. Brown is in line for the receiving “triple crown”

Back to Brown. He leads DeAndre Hopkins by 11 in receptions with 99, is up to 1,509 yards receiving (nearly 300 more than Hopkins), and is two touchdowns behind his Texans counterpart with three weeks to go. Do you know how many receivers since 1992 have led the league in all three categories? One. It was Steve Smith in 2005.

4. His game log is absurd

Five games of 10-plus receptions and 140-plus yards, and one game of 10 catches and 110.

 @JoshEberley

Wide Receivers with 1500+ Yards through 13 games..

Antonio Brown 2017

Calvin Johnson 2012

Charley Hennigan 1961

 Now, here’s an interesting exercise: What if Brown reaches 2,000 yards receiving, breaking Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964 in 2012? What would you say to that? I doubt it’s going to happen, but if he puts up three more contests with 150 yards each, he’ll be soooo close.

5. He makes the impossible seem routine

Guess who the Steelers and Patriots play this Sunday? Each other. If Brown burns the Pats’ secondary en route to a win, you can bet the volume will be turned up even louder on all this MVP talk.

It’s the hot topic of the day.  Jeremy Fowler at ESPN.com:

– The tweets started pouring in from NFL playmakers across the league late Sunday night.

Golden Tate, Todd Gurley II and DeAndre Hopkins marveled at electric Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown’s late-game heroics in sealing a win over the Ravens on Sunday with a 34-yard catch by the sideline. Heroics that have become routine.

@ShowtimeTate

Dear @AB84,

Can you take a night off?

Yours Truly,

ALL Other @nfl WR’s trying to catch you. 😤😒😂

 Todd Gurley II

@TG3II

@AB84 is unreal another game winning reception that’s like 4in a row!!!

 Deandre Hopkins

@DeAndreHopkins

@AB84 slow down, I’m trying to catch up sheesh!

 Brown replied to each one, and now he’s trying to affect the MVP race one yard and tweet at a time.

A receiver never has won the award, but Brown is on pace for more than 120 catches and 1,800 yards, and his prolific play might sway at least a few voters who are pivoting from the injured Carson Wentz. He has a prime stage to help sway them — Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET against the New England Patriots in Heinz Field.

“If there’s any receiver who could get MVP, it’s him,” Steelers tight end Jesse James said. “Plays that shouldn’t happen, he makes plays on. Balls that shouldn’t be caught, he gets his feet in. He makes the best play look like it’s easy for him. Best receiver in the game, there’s no doubt.”

Tom Brady’s 109.7 passer rating might be enough to ensure a quarterback wins the award for the fifth straight year and the 10th time since 2007, despite a lackluster outing in Monday’s loss in Miami. Even Brown himself seems resigned to that fate. But that won’t stop him from trying to make it interesting, as Brown leads the league in receiving by 276 yards and counting after his 213-yard explosion on Baltimore.

“I play with a lot of great peers around the NFL — to even be mentioned with those guys is something special,” Brown said. “Obviously, it’s a quarterback league.”

Perhaps the NFL’s first 2,000-yard receiving season would change the MVP outlook. Brown has produced 483 yards over the past three games, so duplicating that output over the final three would get Brown to 1,992. Calvin Johnson holds the NFL record for single-season receiving yards with 1,964.

Brown has done just about everything else a receiver can do. He’s one catch away from becoming the NFL’s first receiver with five 100-catch seasons. He’s nearing 8,000 yards over a five-year span, which hasn’t been done, either.

His three seasons with at least 1,500 yards are tied for second all time, behind Jerry Rice’s four.

Any quarterback who dominated his position in that way would have multiple MVPs. And with a league-high 160 targets (31.8 percent of Ben Roethlisberger’s attempts), Brown will get plenty of chances to chase records this season.

Roethlisberger is shameless in his reliance on Brown, no matter the coverage.

“I know some people out there say I abandon my reads and go right to AB,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s not always true, but sometimes, who wouldn’t?”

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND

Something happens to the amazing focus of the Patriots when they hit Miami.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

Coach Bill Belichick may not want to admit it, but his team currently has a Miami problem. How else can the team’s 1-4 record over the past five years in South Florida be explained?

“Every game is its own game, OK?” Belichick said when asked about why his team struggles on the road against the Dolphins. “I don’t think what happened five years ago has anything to do with tonight.”

Baloney. While the Dolphins have undergone dramatic changes over the past half-decade, the Patriots have the same head coach and quarterback, along with plenty of other key pieces that were common to teams that chronically can’t win in Miami.

So what’s the issue? Former NFL quarterback (and a Patriots coaching assistant in 2012, when the Patriots lost in Miami) Chris Simms explained on Tuesday’s PFT Live that a business trip to Miami can feel like a vacation, getting players out of the mindset necessary to focusing fully and completely on what it will take to win the game.

As it relates specifically to Monday night — and despite Belichick’s “give me a break” response to Tom Curran’s question on this topic — it’s possible that the Patriots were indeed looking past the Dolphins and toward the Steelers. The Patriots have now seen the Steelers play in four straight stand-alone, prime-time games (Thursday night vs. Titans, Sunday night vs. Packers, Monday night at Bengals, Sunday night vs. Ravens), and the Patriots have seen the Steelers escape from three of those games with narrow wins, despite the inferiority of the opposition.

After seeing the Steelers’ latest last-minute win on Sunday night over the Ravens, the Patriots may have become determined to show the Steelers what happens when an elite opponent comes to town — and the Patriots may have forgotten that the Dolphins needed to be taken care of before returning home to New England and heading to Pittsburgh.

Gregg Rosenthal of ESPN.com sees defensive issues for the Pats:

Losing to Miami is one thing. When two division opponents that know each other well play twice in three weeks, perhaps strange things can happen. Losing to Miami while getting thoroughly dominated on both sides of the ball should be cause for concern.

A Patriots defensive front seven already short on talent might have reached its breaking point when its two most important players, defensive end Trey Flowers and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, missed the game to injury and starting defensive tackle Alan Branch left too. Flowers and Van Noy should be back, but at some point a defense that is relying on so many undrafted rookies and untested players figuring out new roles was bound to struggle. The Patriots have virtually no edge rushing presence, a fact Bill Belichick has coached around all season.

The bigger concern is on offense, the group required to carry the team. Tom Brady continues to take   a weekly beating because of poor pass protection and he’s missed an entire practice in each of the last two weeks because of an Achilles injury. The Patriots have a short week before going on the road for the fifth time in six games, and they’ll have Rob Gronkowski back from suspension.

 

The team inevitably will problem solve and play better in Pittsburgh because they can’t play worse, because Monday night ranks as one of the worst December efforts of the Brady-Belichick era. But that might not be enough to beat the Steelers, and this game should be a reminder that the top teams in the AFC are far from infallible. The projected cakewalk path for New England to the Super Bowl was always an analytical crutch, a failure to recognize that every season is different, and anyone who says they know how this one will go is a charlatan. That unpredictability helps explain how Jay Cutler easily outshined Tom Brady in what was likely the last prime-time game of Cutler’s career, a raucous ending to what’s been a wild and entertaining ride. If that can happen, anything is possible.

THIS AND THAT

 

AIKMAN RATINGS thru Week 14

There are no changes among the leaders in the three main categories of the Aikman Ratings compiled by STATS after Week 14 of the NFL season, but the lead has tightened considerably in two, while it has widened in Aikman Defense.

The Eagles are atop the Aikman Combined Ratings for the seventh straight week, but the Jaguars have closed to 1.1 points from a gap of 2.6 after Week 13.  The top five remain the same with the Vikings, Patriots and Saints coming next, but the Chargers have shot up to 6th.  Before their win over the Redskins, they were 10th.

Despite their loss at Miami, the Patriots continue to lead in Aikman Offense, but the Eagles are just 0.6 points behind after trailing by 3.2 last week when they were in 3rd place. It is the third straight week that New England has held the lead in Aikman Offense.

The Eagles have also jumped into 2nd in Aikman Defense, but that is mainly because the Ravens and Vikings did not have very good weeks.  The Jaguars now hold a commanding lead of 7.3 on the defensive side of the ball after their win over Seattle, the eighth straight week Jacksonville has led in Aikman Defense.  The Eagles are now 2nd in Aikman Defense, the same position they have on Offense.

As the NFL measures things, by yards allowed only, the Broncos displaced the Jaguars as the NFL’s “top” defense with their win over the Jets.  Denver stands 8th in Aikman Defense which uses a combination of seven different statistics to rank its teams.  Of those seven, the Jaguars rank first in four – fewest points allowed per game, fewest yards allowed per pass play, best red zone defense and most takeaways.  In the fundamental responsibility of   defense, allowing points, the Jaguars are 1st with 15.5 points allowed while the Broncos and their top-rated defense as the NFL measures it have yielded 24.2 points per game which ranks 24th.

Aikman Combined Ratings Through Week 14, 2017

                                  ——— Aikman ——–       —— NFL ——–

 Rank  Record   Team             Combined     Off      Def       Off    Def Combined

   1    11-2    Eagles             169.7     91.7     77.9         3      4      7 

   2     9-4    Jaguars            168.6     83.4     85.2        11      2     13 

   3    10-3    Vikings            164.8     87.2     77.6         7      3     10 

   4    10-3    Patriots           163.3     92.3     71.0         2     29     31 

   5     9-4    Saints             160.5     90.1     70.4         1     15     16 

   6     7-6    Chargers           158.5     81.0     77.5         5     10     15 

   7     9-4    Rams               156.9     86.2     70.7         8     18     26 

   8     8-5    Seahawks           156.8     82.1     74.7        10     13     23 

   9     7-6    Ravens             156.4     79.1     77.3        27     14     41 

  10    11-2    Steelers           156.3     83.8     72.5         4      6     10 

  11     8-5    Falcons            155.7     85.4     70.3         9      7     16 

  12     7-6    Cowboys            154.8     85.7     69.1        15.5   17     32.5

  13     9-4    Panthers           153.1     82.2     70.9        18      5     23 

  14     8-5    Titans             151.9     79.6     72.3        21      9     30 

  15     7-6    Chiefs             150.6     86.0     64.6         6     28     34 

  16     4-9    Bears              150.0     75.9     74.1        30     11     41 

  17     5-8    Jets               148.3     79.1     69.2        23.5   21     44.5

  18     6-7    Raiders            147.7     81.7     65.9        19     22     41 

  19     7-6    Packers            147.3     83.5     63.7        25     26     51 

  20     7-6    Lions              146.3     79.4     66.9        14     27     41 

  21     7-6    Bills              146.2     77.1     69.1        26     23     49 

  22     4-9    Texans             145.9     77.6     68.3        13     20     33 

  23     4-9    Buccaneers         144.5     78.8     65.6        12     31     43 

  24     5-8    Redskins           142.9     78.2     64.7        15.5   24     39.5

  25     5-8    Bengals            141.1     72.6     68.5        32     19     51 

  26     4-9    Broncos            141.1     68.3     72.7        22      1     23 

  27     6-7    Cardinals          140.4     72.3     68.1        20      8     28 

  28     3-10   49ers              139.3     73.9     65.3        17     25     42 

  29     6-7    Dolphins           138.5     73.3     65.2        28     16     44 

  30     3-10   Colts              137.5     70.8     66.7        31     30     61 

  31     2-11   Giants             136.1     71.6     64.5        29     32     61 

  32     0-13   Browns             130.0     66.4     63.6        23.5   12     35.5

Aikman Offense Ratings Through Week 14, 2017

 

  Aik     NFL     Team                 AER

   1       2      Patriots            92.3

   2       3      Eagles              91.7

   3       1      Saints              90.1

   4       7      Vikings             87.2

   5       8      Rams                86.2

   6       6      Chiefs              86.0

   7      15.5    Cowboys             85.7

   8       9      Falcons             85.4

   9       4      Steelers            83.8

  10      25      Packers             83.5

  11      11      Jaguars             83.4

  12      18      Panthers            82.2

  13      10      Seahawks            82.1

  14      19      Raiders             81.7

  15       5      Chargers            81.0

  16      21      Titans              79.6

  17      14      Lions               79.4

  18      23.5    Jets                79.1

  19      27      Ravens              79.1

  20      12      Buccaneers          78.8

  21      15.5    Redskins            78.2

  22      13      Texans              77.6

  23      26      Bills               77.1

  24      30      Bears               75.9

  25      17      49ers               73.9

  26      28      Dolphins            73.3

  27      32      Bengals             72.6

  28      20      Cardinals           72.3

  29      29      Giants              71.6

  30      31      Colts               70.8

  31      22      Broncos             68.3

  32      23.5    Browns              66.4

 

NFL Average                           80.0

Aikman Defense Ratings Through Week 14, 2017

 Aik     NFL     Team                 AER

   1       2      Jaguars             85.2

   2       4      Eagles              77.9

   3       3      Vikings             77.6

   4      10      Chargers            77.5

   5      14      Ravens              77.3

   6      13      Seahawks            74.7

   7      11      Bears               74.1

   8       1      Broncos             72.7

   9       6      Steelers            72.5

  10       9      Titans              72.3

  11      29      Patriots            71.0

  12       5      Panthers            70.9

  13      18      Rams                70.7

  14      15      Saints              70.4

  15       7      Falcons             70.3

  16      21      Jets                69.2

  17      17      Cowboys             69.1

  18      23      Bills               69.1

  19      19      Bengals             68.5

  20      20      Texans              68.3

  21       8      Cardinals           68.1

  22      27      Lions               66.9

  23      30      Colts               66.7

  24      22      Raiders             65.9

  25      31      Buccaneers          65.6

  26      25      49ers               65.3

  27      16      Dolphins            65.2

  28      24      Redskins            64.7

  29      28      Chiefs              64.6

  30      32      Giants              64.5

  31      26      Packers             63.7

  32      12      Browns              63.6

NFL Average                           70.0

Ratings Courtesy of STATS

BROADCAST NEWS

The NFL Network is hit with a big sexual harassment suit that leads to a string of suspensions.

Three NFL Network analysts have been suspended. Jami Cantor, a former wardrobe stylist at the network, filed a complaint against NFL Enterprises alleging sexual harassment by several men during the time she was employed with the company. The suit names Eric Weinberger, a former executive producer at NFL Network and current president of Bill Simmons’s media group. The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, also names Marshall Faulk and Heath Evans, who are both retired football players and commentators on the network.

According to the suit, Weinberger pressed his crotch against Cantor’s shoulder and asked her to touch it, sent nude photos and sexually explicit texts, and told her she was “put on Earth to pleasure me.” Faulk asked her “deeply personal and invasive questions” about her sex life, and groped her butt and breasts. Ike Taylor and Donovan McNabb are also named. Cantor says she informed Marc Watts, who coordinates talent for the NFL, but he said it’s “part of the job when you look the way you do.”

It turns out that Cantor, who worked at NFL Network for a decade, was fired last year for allegedly “stealing clothes.”

 TheHeavy.com has more on Cantor (including a few head shot photos) here.  If the allegations she and her legal team have compiled are accurate, the amount of dirty talk she was subjected to is somewhat staggering even if it was over the course of a decade.