The Daily Briefing Tuesday, October 2, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
If The Season Ended Today, Kansas City sits atop the AFC with Cincinnati, yes Cincinnati, getting the other bye.
Kansas City West 4-0 2-0 3-0
Cincinnati North 3-1 1-0 2-0
Miami East 3-1 1-1 3-1
Tennessee South 3-1 2-0 2-1
Baltimore WC 3-1 1-1 3-1
Jacksonville WC 3-1 0-1 2-1
New England 2-2 1-0 2-1
Denver 2-2 1-1 1-2
LA Chargers 2-2 0-1 1-1
Cleveland 1-2-1 0-0-1 1-1-1
Pittsburgh 1-2-1 0-1-1 0-2-1
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This Tweet from Andrew Siciliano lists the key returnees this week from suspensions issued by NFL Justice:
Players returning from @NFL suspension Week 5:
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Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com with some notes on the high-scoring, closely-contested games in the NFL this year:
If it seems like teams have scored a lot of points this season, well, that’s because they have. The league is on a record pace for scoring.
Through four games, the NFL has seen 3,030 points scored. That breaks the previous record of 2,986 points in 2012, according to the NFL.
The 344 touchdowns scored are the most through four weeks in NFL history, too, breaking the old mark of 332 set in 2015.
Of those 344 touchdowns, 288 were touchdown passes. That shatters the old Week Four mark of 205 set in 2013.
The games are the closest in history, too, with an average margin of victory at 9.90 points per game. The lowest for a full season was set in 1932 when the average margin of victory was 9.13 points.
The league has had 38 games decided by one score, the most in NFL history through four weeks.
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Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com with the update on the state of roughing the passer in Week 4:
After the NFL issued a statement about the roughing the passer rule last week and released a video “illustrating clear examples of permissible and impermissible contact on the quarterback,” many wondered how officials would call games during Week Four.
The Chiefs and Broncos played the final game of the week on Monday night and the answer was that they threw flags for roughing less often than they did in the first three weeks. There were five roughing the passer penalties over 15 games after 34 of them were called in the first 48 games of the year.
NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said that the league did not tell officials to call fewer penalties, but did ask them “to see the whole play” when assessing whether a flag should be thrown. Vincent said he believed there were multiple reasons for the change.
“Some people would say, ‘What’s the reason?’” Vincent said to Mark Maske of the Washington Post. “I would say it’s a combination of coaching points, officiating mechanics and player adjustments. It was all of those. I don’t think it was any one thing.”
The drop in flags and absence of controversy about defenders putting body weight on quarterbacks doesn’t mean the weekend was without questionable roughing calls. Raiders defensive end Arden Key was flagged after making minimal contact with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, but Vincent said Key made contact with Mayfield’s helmet and that made the call “okay” with him.
If you haven’t seen it, take a look at the Arden Key play here. Key’s upraised helmet initially hits Mayfield in the shoulder pads, then bounces up and make minimal contact with a small part of Mayfield’s lower helmet. The velocity of Key and his helmet is minimal at time of arrival.
Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on the use of running backs by the Lions so far:
The Lions don’t seem to have an apparent need. If anything, they’ve got too many, or aren’t using them the way you might think.
Rookie Kerryon Johnson is their leading rusher, with 38 carries for 216 yards and a touchdown, for a 5.7 yards per carry average. Veteran LeGarrette Blount has 35 carries for 95 yards, a much-less robust 2.7 yards per carry. Then there’s passing-down back Theo Riddick, who has just five rushing attempts but 21 receptions.
The weird thing is their snap counts, as Riddick leads with 115 of their 274 offensive snaps, while Johnson has 104, and Blount 70.
Perhaps they’re worried about overworking the rookie, but it’s fairly obvious he’s their most effective runner.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com senses renewed tension between the coach of the Packers and his quarterback:
Two years ago, evidence emerged of palpable dysfunction in the Aaron Rodgers-Mike McCarthy relationship, with Rodgers openly questioning the energy level on the sideline (something for which the coach is primarily responsible) and separately lamenting the absence of a sense of fear that chronic poor performance will result in a loss of employment (something for which the coach is primarily responsible). Rodgers bristled at the suggestion that his words represent proof of a problem between him and McCarthy, dubbing my effort to connect the dots “crap” not worth reading.
Well, get ready for some more crap.
On Sunday, Rodgers shared concerns about an attack that doesn’t sufficiently feature key weapons like receiver Davante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham. The quotes point clearly and unmistakably to the game plan. Something for which the coach is primarily responsible.
This time, McCarthy opted to engage Rodgers, fighting passive-aggressive fire with passive-aggressive fire.
“Aaron’s given a lot of responsibility, and rightfully so,” McCarthy said Monday. “He’s earned that, at the line of scrimmage and during the preparation process.”
Translation: If Aaron has a problem with the game plan, he should say something about it during the week; and if Aaron has a problem with the plays that are called, he should do something about it by changing the play before the snap.
The next questions for Rodgers should thus be these: What is his role in the game-planning process, and is he speaking up? What freedom does he have to call audibles, if he sees Adams or Graham in a favorable matchup?
Some will say we’re making too much of it. The truth may be that we’re not making nearly enough of it. Regardless, the 13-season relationship continues to show signs of wear and tear, and if push ever came to shove Rodgers probably isn’t the one who would be pushed or shoved out the door.
Thoughts from Arthur Blank about the 1-3 start.
Things obviously haven’t gone the way the Falcons anticipated this year, as injuries and inconsistency have left them 1-3.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn insisted they’re still a good team, and owner Arthur Blank likewise said you can’t dismiss the impact of injuries that have taken linebacker Deion Jones and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen off the field.
“Well, I am concerned about a 1-3 start,” Blank said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “I don’t know anyone who would say that’s where we had planned on being or that’s where we had hoped to be, but we are 1-3.”
Jones could still come back from a foot injury by Week 11, but Neal is out for the year with a torn ACL, and Allen tore his Achilles. That has left the Falcons seemingly incapable of stopping anyone, allowing 30.5 points per game (30th in the league).
“This is not excuses, but reality is reality,” Blank said. “We’ve had some very difficult injuries to really good players. All three of the players, people talk in baseball when the middle has to be good: your catch, your pitcher, your second baseman, and then the center fielder. So when you lose Allen and Neal and Deion Jones, those are kind of the middle of that defense. So that hurts.
“And all three of those guys are really good communicators. They not only play at a very high level in their own right, but they get everybody else in the right positions. They make everybody else better. . . . We have plenty of talent on defense to play well. It’s trying to put people in the positions where they can maximize their strengths and not expose any lack of experience that they may have. And that’s what the coaches are in the process of doing.”
How well they’re able to patch the holes in the boat will determine how successful they can be, but at least Blank understands why they’re sinking.
Interesting game Sunday in the Burgh with the Steelers, the Disappointment Bowl between two teams with slow starts, strong recent pedigrees, veteran QBs playing at a high level and defenses that can’t seem to stop anyone (Atlanta has reasons). And one them will be declared to be on the comeback trail while the other wallows in more misery.
The Falcons have dealt with a slew of injuries to their starting defensive players over the first month of the season and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was added to the list last Sunday.
Jarrett hurt his ankle in the 37-36 loss to the Bengals and the team is making a move to bolster the interior of their line in response. Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports they will sign former Jaguars defensive tackle Michael Bennett.
This is not the Michael Bennett who nearly started a riot in Jacksonville last year (while going unpunished by NFL Justice). That Bennett plays for the Eagles.
The Panthers have signed P MICHAEL PALLARDY to a 3-year extension, through 2021.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
As PK GREG ZEURLEIN continues to mend, the Rams give the boot to Kickin’ SAM FICKEN. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Rams are waiving kicker Sam Ficken and signing Cairo Santos, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports. The job is temporary until Greg Zuerlein is ready to return, and the veteran kicker appears close to returning.
Zuerlein went 4-for-5 on his field-goal attempts and made all three PATs in the season opener before injuring his groin in pregame warmups in Week Two. Punter Johnny Hekker handled kickoffs and kicked a 20-yard field goal and an extra point for the Rams against the Cardinals.
Ficken, 25, kicked for the Rams the past two games but made only one of three field-goal attempts and all 10 of his extra points.
Ficken originally signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State in 2016. He also had a stint with the Chiefs.
But Ficken had never kicked in a regular-season game until replacing Zuerlein last season after Zuerlein went on injured reserve. Ficken made two of three field goals and four of five extra points in two regular-season games before making both field-goal attempts and an extra point in the postseason.
Zuerlein went 4-for-5 on his field-goal attempts in the season opener and made all three PATs.
In 51 games with the Chiefs and two with the Bears, Santos has made 127 of 132 extra points and 90-of-107 field goals.
Chiefs QB PATRICK MAHOMES apparently made time stop – at least in the eyes of the back judge on a pivotal play Monday night. Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com:
The Broncos believe time ran out on the Kansas City Chiefs on a pivotal play in Kansas City’s game-winning drive Monday night.
“It definitely was at zero. The replay showed that,” Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “The ref told us that the ref that was supposed to be watching it just missed it. … He told us that. The ref told us the guy that was supposed to be watching the clock just missed it.
“So maybe he got caught up in watching the game because it was a good game, but you’ve got to do your job. Come on, that was huge. That was big.”
The Chiefs overcame a 10-point Broncos lead in the fourth quarter with back-to-back touchdown drives in the final 12 minutes, 46 seconds in a 27-23 victory. Kansas City scored the game-winning touchdown on a 4-yard run by Kareem Hunt with 1:43 to play.
However, four plays before the scoring run, the Broncos say the play clock ran out on the Chiefs on what was a 35-yard completion from Patrick Mahomes to tight end Demetrius Harris on a third-and-7. The play moved the ball from the Broncos’ 46-yard line to the 11-yard line just before the two-minute warning.
Replays, including those shown on the stadium’s video boards, seemed to show the play clock was at zero before the ball had been snapped.
“My opinion, the clock was on zero,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “But that’s not my job. … And he said he looked up and it was zero and the ball was gone. I disagree. I disagree.”
Marshall said he and several other Broncos players, including several of the team’s defensive linemen, were told by referee Craig Wrolstad that officials had missed the play.
Asked again if it was the referee — Wrolstad — who told the players that, Marshall said, “He told us. There are several guys that will vouch for that. … We all heard him. That was the explanation, that he just missed it. Come on.”
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said that was the explanation he received as well. Harris added that he asked the officials to review the play with replay and was told it was not a reviewable play under the current rules.
“That was crazy, man,” Harris said. “It was zero seconds on the clock forever. … [You] can’t review it. I asked everything. If a ref messed up on a call, you should be able to fix it. Dude, look how long the clock was on zero. That’s not why we lost the game — but that was a huge, huge no-call.”
As the DB understands the mechanics, the official watches the clock all the way to zero, then looks to the snap. If not snapped, blow the whistle. The DB just did that on a replay, and thinks the play was just started in time,
Jon Gruden appreciates that RB MARSHAWN LYNCH has bought into Gruden’s program. Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:
Fears that Jon Gruden and Marshawn Lynch could not co-exist with the Oakland Raiders are dissipating with every Beast Mode moment.
That’s especially true after Lynch’s hard-charging performance in the Raiders’ 45-42 overtime victory against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, a game in which Lynch rushed for 130 yards, his highest output since going for 140 yards for the Seattle Seahawks against the New York Giants on Nov. 9, 2014.
“If that’s not a Hall of Fame back, I don’t know what is, honestly,” Gruden said Monday in his weekly media conference. “I mean, what he did yesterday, what he’s done since he’s been here, it’s incredible. He wants the ball more, and more, and more.
“We’ve got a good back over there, Doug Martin, who’s ready to roll. And Doug can’t get on the field. This guy (Lynch) does not want to come off the field. He picked up six or seven blitzes yesterday, too, that no one’s talking about. But some of the runs? Good night.”
Lynch forced 11 missed tackled by the Browns, per Pro Football Focus, and leads the NFL with 22 missed tackles. He is third in the NFL with 3.74 yards after contact per attempt among running backs with 40 or more touches.
His 300 rushing yards on the season are fourth-most in the NFL, though he no doubt leads in the unofficial category of most violent runs after he had a potential 75-yard TD run taken away by an early whistle when his legs were still churning.
Lynch seemed to run angrier than usual after being ruled down in the second quarter.
“Why would you have a quick whistle, with Marshawn Lynch?” Gruden asked. “I don’t understand how you can blow a whistle like you did yesterday. But some of the runs he’s making, some of the finishes that he’s putting on tape, it’s unbelievable. I don’t see many guys run like this.”
Marshawn Lynch had his biggest rushing output since 2014 against the Browns on Sunday. AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron
Lynch is doing this at age 32, in his second year back from a one-year retirement in 2016.
Through the first half-season of his return last year, Lynch seemed more problematic for then-coach Jack Del Rio, especially when he ran on the field to protect then-Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, his cousin, from other Raiders players after a hit on quarterback Derek Carr.
Lynch had to serve a one-game suspension for making contact with a game official in the ensuing melee and then practiced with a high school football team during the week away, to Del Rio’s chagrin.
But when Lynch returned, he was the Raiders’ best offensive player the last half of the 2017 season and has been a leader under Gruden. Late in the first half of the Browns game, Lynch gave an impassioned speech to Oakland’s offensive line on the sidelines.
He also made a rare media appearance following last week’s loss at the Miami Dolphins.
“I think what’s most important is that we rally behind each other, more than anything,” Lynch said at the time. “If you are on the outside looking in, it looks terrible. But we know what we have in this locker room. So if we get behind each other, I think we’ll be able to turn this around.”
This on WR ANTONIO CALLOWAY from Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The size of rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway‘s role in the Browns offense may be smaller in the coming weeks.
Callaway dropped several passes and had an offensive pass interference penalty while playing 70 percent of the snaps against the Raiders in last Sunday’s loss. Browns head coach Hue Jackson suggested that Callaway might benefit from playing less in the future.
“Maybe not playing as many plays as he plays in a game will help him get to step back, take a look, take a blow, come back and do it again,” Jackson said, via Cleveland.com. “I like him. Obviously, he needs to start faster in games.”
Callaway pleaded not guilty to marijuana possession last week. After he was arrested in training camp, Jackson said he played Callaway a lot in the next preseason game as a punishment.
The Steelers may be trying, at last, to trade RB Le’VEON BELL, but there may not be as long a line of teams trying to get their hands on him as you might think. Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:
It’s cool that Le’Veon Bell plans to report to the Pittsburgh Steelers during their Week 7 bye and play the final 10 games of the season for them. But are we sure the Steelers support his plan?
Until Jeremy Fowler’s Monday night report on Bell’s timetable for return, the Steelers had been spending the past week or so exploring the trade market for Bell. This was the week, without indications that a thaw was imminent, when it started to feel as though the relationship was broken and the Steelers would end up moving on.
We know it won’t be easy. If they’re doing a deal before Week 7, Bell would have to sign off on any trade, since he’d have to sign his tender before the Steelers could execute one. And because his concerns — as articulated by his agent — seem to be workload-related, you’d have to think the teams with the best chance to acquire him are teams that wouldn’t have to work him as hard as the Steelers do.
So, just in case the Steelers have decided they’re better off trading Bell than welcoming him back, here are my five not-so-crazy Le’Veon Bell destinations, including a couple you might not have thought of yet.
Los Angeles Rams
Before we get started here, yes, I am aware that the Rams have basically no cap room and couldn’t absorb even Bell’s deflating-by-the-week cap number without moving money around. But you can always move money around as long as you’re willing to push cap troubles down the road a couple of years, and who’s more all-in on 2018 than the Rams are? They apparently tried to trade for Khalil Mack, and that would have required some fresh cap room. So you know they’ve thought about how to do it.
Where would he play? Oh, you know Sean McVay would love to give you 500 answers to that question. He could line up Bell and Todd Gurley together in the backfield, direct-snap it to one or both of them, put Bell in the slot or line him up out wide, switch off series between the two to preserve them both for the playoffs, design any number of things he can imagine and I never could. … No one can stop the Rams as it already is. Adding an all-around weapon like this would take it to an even crazier level. Bell would have no workload concerns with Gurley there, and he could go his own way after the season with no hard feelings — especially if they won a Super Bowl together in the meantime. Ultimate mercenary midseason pickup. This is the best idea there is.
Leonard Fournette, in case you don’t have him on your fantasy team and haven’t noticed, is not exactly the picture of reliable health. But he’s also not out for the season, as far as we know. And with him and T.J. Yeldon there, the Jags have enough in the backfield that they wouldn’t have to wear out Bell as a runner. And he could invigorate the passing game as well with some safe, close-to-the-line Blake Bortles throws. The Jags are a win-now team too, ya know. And they have the cap room for Bell right now.
Problem with them and any other AFC contender (Tennessee, Houston and even New England make some sense for various reasons) is that the Steelers might not want to trade Bell to a team they could see in the playoffs. So the rest of my list will be NFC teams.
The “Adrian Peterssance” story is a fun one, but do you really think first-place Washington wouldn’t kick Peterson to the curb (or at least cut back his role) if it had a chance to add Bell? This is another passing game that hasn’t taken off yet, and based on the way Chris Thompson is used, it’s clear Jay Gruden has a bunch of plays whose purpose is to throw the ball to a running back. Washington has enough capable dudes in the backfield that Bell wouldn’t have to worry about overuse. Bell’s salary would fit under its cap if he sits out one more week. Which it feels pretty safe to assume he will.
The Packers are an obvious choice, but they don’t make moves like this, so what about the fast-fading Vikings? Second-year back Dalvin Cook is struggling to get all the way healthy, and even if Cook can play, he and Latavius Murray offer enough cover that the Vikings could promise to go easy on Bell. The Vikings are having pass-protection issues as well, and Bell can help there as a blocker and a receiver. And since he’s only there for the remainder of this season, he wouldn’t stand in the way of Cook developing into the Vikings’ workhorse back of the future. Sadly, he cannot play defense. But the Vikings have to fix that either way. Like the Rams, they’d need to clear cap space.
The champs are 2-2 and all kinds of banged up. Their run through the Super Bowl last season showed an ability to design winning game plans without overworking any one back. Seems like they could use some kind of jolt, and Doug Pederson is another bright offensive playcaller and play-designer who could come up with cool ways to use Bell that we haven’t thought of yet. Another team that would need to move money around, but again, the whole premise here was that you can do that.
Now, one problem with this idea that you can bring on Bell and promise not to overwork him is that, to a large extent, Bell’s value is tied to his workload. Part of what has made him a difference-maker in Pittsburgh is that the Steelers have run the offense through him and he can play on all three downs. Is he worth enough as a complementary piece to convince a team to pony up a price worthwhile to Pittsburgh? Some team likely thinks so, especially as the weeks peel away and Bell’s salary keeps dropping.
The Steelers still could have some interesting leverage on Bell
Let’s say the Steelers don’t trade Bell, and he comes back and plays the final six to eight games of the season for them. They still wouldn’t be able to place a franchise tag on him for a third year in a row at a cost of roughly $24 million, but the transition tag comes into play in a potentially fascinating way. The transition tag would be 120 percent of his 2018 salary. So if he comes back in Week 7, he spends 11 weeks on the roster and gets 11/17ths of his original $14.544 million franchise tag. That comes out to about $9.41 million, and 120 percent of that is $11.3 million.
Of course, if they use the transition tag on him, another team could offer him the contract he wants and the Steelers would have only right of first refusal — and wouldn’t be entitled to draft-pick compensation if Bell left. The tag number doesn’t change anything about that.
And it’s possible, if the team took the stance that the tag is only 120 percent of what he actually made (as opposed to what he’d have made for a full season), that Bell and the NFL Players Association could file a grievance and argue for the full amount. But it’s another wrinkle to this situation that could come into play, depending on whether Pittsburgh can trade him.
WR JULIAN EDELMAN is back with the Patriots. How much he plays Thursday night on FOX against the Colts remains to be seen. Nora Princiotti of the Boston Globe:
Mostly, the big news that Brady answered questions about was the return of Edelman. Edelman didn’t speak with reporters Monday but did walk through the Patriots locker room, stopping briefly to pat cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the back.
“I think we’ve played so much football together,’’ Brady said. “I really have no doubt where he’s going to be at, what he’s capable of. He’s been a great player for our team.”
The Patriots are only recently removed from a stretch in which they scored 30 points in two weeks combined, but appear headed in the right direction after a good day against the Dolphins and with Edelman returning from his suspension.
Brady explained one reason for his confidence in Edelman: Both players know each other’s body language so well from years of playing together, but another big factor is Edelman’s speed getting in and out of his breaks. Because Edelman is more quick than speedy, he gets open early in his routes.
“It’s very comforting for a quarterback to see a guy get open really early in a route,” Brady said. “Julian — we ask a lot of him. He plays a lot of different spots. I think he’s capable of moving in and out of different locations, and it’s kind of specialty-type plays. There’s a lot that he does well, and hopefully it’s a smooth transition. Got to prepare this week — it’s going to be a big week of prep and then we’ll go out there and play Thursday night and see where we’re at.”
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With the short week, TE ROB GRONKOWSKI may not be able to go on Thursday. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The ankle injury that knocked Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski out of Sunday’s 38-7 win over the Dolphins has been downplayed, with no obvious indication that he’ll potentially miss Thursday night’s game against the Colts. But he could, as evidenced by the fact that he missed practice on Tuesday.
Via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Gronkowski was not seen at the outset of Tuesday’s walk-through practice, two days before the short-week visit from the Colts.
Playing time and performance is important for Gronkowski this year, given that he has $1 million in per-game roster bonuses ($62,500 per game) and $3.3 million in incentives tied to playing time, catches, yards, and touchdowns.
THIS AND THAT
Thru Week 4
The overwhelming offensive success of the Rams and Chiefs, both unbeaten, has not yet translated to the top spot in the Aikman Combined Ratings. After Week 4, that honor goes to the 3-1 Ravens who are just 0.3 ahead of the Rams. And fresh off their thrashing of the Buccaneers, the Bears jump from 11th to 3rd.
No team has ever topped the 100 mark for the season in Aikman Offense, but through nearly a quarter of the season both the Chiefs (106.2) and Rams (99.7) are performing at that level.
However, the Chiefs defense is one of three defenses (also Tampa Bay and Atlanta) below 50 on the defensive side of things and Kansas City only sits 8th in the Aikman Combined. The addition of the NFL’s offensive and defensive rankings for the Chiefs is 40. There are 22 teams that have a lower total.
Even ESPN has joined the NFL’s good news regarding ratings. Joe Lucia of AwfulAnnouncing.com:
The Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-23 comeback win over the Denver Broncos scored for ESPN. The Monday Night Football matchup drew a 9.1 overnight rating (according to ESPN), up 8% from last year’s Redskins-Chiefs Week 4 MNF game (a 29-20 Chiefs win that finished with an incredible bad beat).
Furthermore, the Week 4 game this season was not only up from Week 4 last year, it was also the best MNF overnight rating since Week 3 of 2017, which was a 9.3 for the Cowboys’ 28-17 win over the Cardinals.
This ratings news finishes off a strong Week 4 for the NFL, which was up in all but one window (including Thursday Night Football). The strong viewership seems likely to continue into Week 5 – the TNF game this week is Colts-Patriots, the SNF game is Cowboys-Texans (even though the Texans stink and the Cowboys haven’t looked great this year, Dallas is always a huge draw for the league), and the Redskins-Saints MNF matchup has the added allure of Drew Brees being poised to overtake Peyton Manning’s all-time passing yardage record.
It looks like we’ve finally hit the low point of the NFL’s ratings woes, and this season will be a year of mild viewership increases and relieved exhales from the league’s owners and executives.