The Daily Briefing Wednesday, September 6, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

The finest minds of the NFL, Dolphins and Buccaneers could only agree that the game between the two teams will not be played in Miami at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

 

With Hurricane Irma barreling towards Florida this weekend, the game between the Dolphins and Buccaneers will not be played Sunday afternoon in Miami, the NFL announced Tuesday.

 

Irma, now a Category 5 hurricane with winds increasing to 185 miles per hour, according to NOAA and Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft, is expected to make landfall in South Florida this weekend.

 

The NFL has not determined when or where the game between the Bucs and Dolphins will be played. There are currently two options being considered: Sunday at a neutral site, or playing the game later in the season in Miami.

 

The Dolphins and Buccaneers both have a bye Week 11 this season. Moving the game to Nov. 19 would require both teams to play 16 straight games this season.

 

The NFL has relocated games to neutral sites in the past (notably the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets playing in Detroit in 2014 after a huge snowstorm in upstate New York.)

 

There is also precedent for the NFL postponing the game until later in the season. In 2008, after Hurricane Ike damaged the stadium in Houston, the NFL re-worked the schedule giving the Ravens and Texans a Week 2 bye and played in the matchup in Week 9.

 

In a statement confirming the decision on Tuesday the NFL cited public safety as the primary factor in moving Sunday’s game.

 

“In the interest of public safety in light of the current state of emergency, the NFL, in consultation with the state and local officials as well as both clubs, has decided that playing an NFL game in South Florida this week is not appropriate,” the statement read.

 

The league added an update on the decision about when and where the game will take place would be decided “as soon as possible.”

 

The obvious solution is the move to November 19th, but the teams have whined about being the only NFL teams to play 16 straight weeks without a bye.  They would appear to prefer to play before a corporal’s guard in New Orleans or some other neutral site, but the League doesn’t like that look.

 

Some more clues from the Tampa Bay Times:

 

Shifting the game to November would mean both teams playing games on 16 straight weekends, which presents a competitive disadvantage. Also, the Bucs would face three straight games on the road — at Miami, at Atlanta and at Green Bay.

 

Orlando and Jacksonville would be available as neutral sites to host the game this weekend if it were deemed unsafe to keep any major event in Miami with a major storm approaching.

 

Tampa Sports Authority says it has not been contacted by the NFL about the possibility of using Raymond James Stadium to host the game. A Jaguars spokesman said Jacksonville has not heard from the league, either.

 

Florida Citrus Sports said it can’t speak to whether Orlando has been contacted.

 

The DB’s perusal of Irma’s possible path would say that the game could be played safely elsewhere in Florida on Friday night.  But the whole state would seem to be a no-go zone on Sunday.

 

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald campaigns for Monday night in Miami:

 

The best case scenario for the NFL and Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they monitor Hurricane Irma’s progress and threatened landfall in Florida? That the monster storm keeps heading west on its current track, and misses or merely grazes the state.

 

And if that happens late Saturday or early Sunday there can still be a regular-season opener for the Dolphins and Bucs played at Hard Rock Stadium on Monday night.

 

Simple as that.

 

That possibility has been discussed. That dream contingency is in play.

 

With Hurricane Irma approaching Florida, the NFL must decide how to reschedule Sunday’s matchup between the Dolphins and Buccaneers.

 

That’s why the NFL on Tuesday didn’t immediately announce rescheduling the game that was supposed to be played on Sunday at 1 p.m. and probably will not be doing so before Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest.

 

All the NFL did was announce the Sunday game won’t be played Sunday. And that makes absolute perfect sense. That is absolutely the right call.

 

For the sake of doing what is best for the community, which is clearly the top priority for the Dolphins in this matter, and not closing off avenues that might come available later when more information is known, the NFL risked seeming squeamish about its decision-making process on this matter.

 

It didn’t boldly change the venue. It didn’t absolutely postpone and delay the game until Nov. 19 when both teams were originally scheduled to have bye weeks.

 

The NFL is being wise. The Dolphins are being wise. The Buccaneers are being wise.

 

Their hope is we’re going to be watching football Monday night in the same place the game was supposed to be played Sunday afternoon.

 

That, I must repeat, is the absolute best-case scenario. That is the answer that would suit just about everyone — from the teams to the league to, most importantly, the community.

 

That said, since Salguero wrote this Irma’s path seems to have slowed a tad.  The eye is now projected to be over Lake Okeechobee on Monday a.m. and just past Orlando on Monday night.  Miami’s weather might be playable by Monday, but when and how exactly do the Buccaneers get to South Florida?

 

As we went to press, the NFL bowed to the inevitable.  James Walker at ESPN.com:

 

The Week 1 matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins has been rescheduled for Week 11 due to the threat of Hurricane Irma, the NFL announced Wednesday. Both teams share the same bye week, and the game will be played on Nov. 19.

 

Various options were discussed, including moving the game to a neutral site. However, the league and teams ultimately decided postponement was the best option. Both teams can now concentrate on safety and taking care of their families as Irma, which is currently a Category 5 hurricane, is expected to approach south Florida over the weekend.

 

Here is how the re-scheduled game slots in for Miami:

 

9          Sun, Nov 5                  vs Oakland

10        Mon, Nov 13               @ Carolina

11        Sun, Nov 19                Tampa Bay

12        Sun, Nov 26                 @ New England

13        Sun, Dec 3                   vs Denver

14        Mon, Dec 11                vs New England

 

Funny, it’s the New England games that look as if one of them flew in from earlier in the season, but that’s how they were scheduled.

 

For the Buccaneers, it is three straight weeks on the road:

 

9          Sun, Nov 5                   @ New Orleans

10        Sun, Nov 12                 vs New York Jets

11        Sun, Nov 19                 @ Miami

12        Sun, Nov 26                 @ Atlanta

13        Sun, Dec 3                   @ Green Bay

14        Sun, Dec 10                  vs Detroit

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

If you think AARON RODGERS is the GOAT, not TOM BRADY, you still don’t love Rodgers like Cian Fahey of the UK Guardian.

 

It’s long been acknowledged by NFL analysts, fans and coaches alike that quarterbacks take too much blame and too much of the credit. NFL statistics are usually created by the result of the play, which means they are decided by not only the quarterback but also by the receiver who catches – or drops – his passes. When Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees had their historic seasons, they played with great team-mates, players who didn’t need to be elevated by their quarterback to be productive. That wasn’t the case with Aaron Rodgers last season – and explains why many don’t realize how great the Green Bay Packers quarterback is as he prepares for his first game of the season this weekend.

 

Sixty-seven times last season Rodgers threw an accurate pass that was turned into an incompletion by his team-mate. Those 67 plays cost him at least 875 yards, the most in the league, and at least 11 touchdowns, again the most in the league. Explaining Rodgers’ struggles over the first five games of last season – when he came in for widespread criticism – is easy. Twenty of his 67 lost receptions came in those games, they cost him at least 273 yards and at least two touchdowns.

 

Take a play above from Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rodgers finished this game with 199 yards on 34 attempts. This play alone cost him 41 yards after Davante Adams dropped the ball. Not only that, Rodgers did everything perfectly. He bailed out of the pocket as pressure arrived before making an exceptional throw while moving to his left. The defender didn’t knock the ball away from Adams or hit his hands as the ball arrives. His presence alone is enough to make Adams fluff his responsibility.

 

Adams was a big problem throughout last season. His raw numbers were fine – he caught 12 touchdowns during the regular season – but no other quarterback in the league would have got those numbers from him. Adams cost Rodgers six touchdowns last year. Twenty-eight teams didn’t lose that many touchdowns to receiver error last year – Adams did it on his own. Rodgers can make a receiver like Adams productive because of his superhuman consistency making difficult plays.

 

When Rodgers’ receivers mess up, he simply creates another opportunity for a big play. This could be seen during the Packers’ thrilling victory over the Dallas Cowboys in last season’s playoffs. Rodgers set up the win with a brilliant throw (and a great catch from Jared Cook). But if we go back two plays before that incredible throw, we can see Cook ruining two more opportunities created by Rodgers’ outrageous skills. Most quarterbacks can’t make those throws once, never mind three times in a row when the game is on the line.

– – –

That precision Rodgers shows off making difficult throws translates to simpler throws too. I created the Pre-Snaps Quarterback Catalogue, part of which charts an accuracy percentage. It’s a relatively simple idea. Accuracy percentage doesn’t look at whether the receiver caught the ball or not, it only judges the play based on where the ball was placed. None of the throws shown so far in this article were caught, but all would go down as accurate passes for the purposes of accuracy percentage.

 

Rodgers ranked third in overall accuracy percentage but when you break the numbers down based on where each pass was thrown, it becomes clear that he was the most accurate passer in the league.

 

(In a chart that shows percentage by yard range) Rodgers ranks in the top five in four of the six categories and the lowest he drops in any category is seventh. That is astonishing consistency. Brees was the closest to matching Rodgers while the rest of the league looked more like Rivers, Brady and Roethlisberger: quarterbacks who had great strengths in some areas but major weaknesses in others.

 

With that accuracy it’s no surprise that Rodgers has avoided interceptions at an incredible rate over the course of his career.

 

Eleven quarterbacks have thrown as many, or more, touchdowns as Rodgers has in his career (297). Of those 11 Rodgers has not only thrown the fewest interceptions (72) but if you doubled his interception total he would still have fewer interceptions than the next-best quarterback. Rodgers has thrown 4,657 passes in his career. He has been intercepted on 1.55% of those throws. Brady has a 1.85 interception percentage, no other quarterback in history who has thrown at least 4,500 passes has an interception percentage below 2.18. Rodgers is by far the best quarterback in NFL history at taking care of the ball and the Quarterback Catalogue charting re-emphasizes that. In 2015 he threw a pass that should have been intercepted once every 70.2 attempts, almost twice as good as the second-best quarterback, Sam Bradford. In 2016 he threw an interceptable pass once every 40.89 attempts, fifth-best in the league. None of the quarterbacks ahead of him were as productive and none of them consistently threw into tight windows as regularly or with as much success.

 

That precision plays a big role in Rodgers’ ability to avoid turning the ball over but that’s only part of it. He’s also a very intelligent quarterback, something that is regularly discussed, and possesses rare ability to maximize his pass protection with his footwork, something that is never discussed.

 

Rodgers has had all this success while playing in a scheme that doesn’t use a lot of play action or create a lot of yards after the catch. Twenty-eight quarterbacks used play action more often than Rodgers last year while 17 gained a higher percentage of their yards after the catch. It’s not a scheme that creates easy reads or changes every week to attack the specific weaknesses of its opponents. The only reason the Packers offense works is because it boasts the best quarterback in the NFL. Quarterbacks in general don’t control as much as is suggested but those at the extremes — the Blake Bortles and Jared Goffs at the bottom, or the Tom Bradys and Aaron Rodgers at the top — can drag down or elevate everyone around them.

 

Because the NFL focuses more on counting Super Bowls and playoff victories when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, Rodgers – with his one championship so far – will always be regarded as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. That’s wrong: he’s the best quarterback of his generation.

 

Whether or not Rodgers is GOAT as the game is played, there is no doubt that he is GOAT for the NFL’s official quarterback rating.  His career mark of 104.1 is 4.5 points ahead of second place (Russell Wilson, 99.6).  If you go a similar distance south, to 95.1, you are in 8th place, passing Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Steve Young, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees – and just north of Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.

 

So, while you could quibble about whether certain QBs really belong there – the established level of excellence from Brady, Manning and Brees is in the upper 90s – and Rodgers is in a tier of his own in the mid 100s.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Harold Henderson stands with NFL Justice on the 6-game suspension of RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT, but does not deliver the goods until after 4 p.m., the NFL’s traditional deadline for issuing suspensions.  So at the moment, if NFL exec Linda Friel was plotting to keep Elliott from playing against her Giants, it failed.

 

So the plan of NFL Justice, at the moment, is that Elliott will play in the Sunday Night Football opener against the G-Men, then serve his 6-game suspension.

 

But a Federal judge in Texas is in line to still have something to say about it.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com with a summary of Tuesday’s activities:

 

Harold Henderson upheld Ezekiel Elliott‘s six-game suspension, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen first reported, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.

 

Elliott will play against the Giants on Sunday as the arbitrator’s decision came after the league’s own 4 p.m. deadline for implementation of suspensions. The NFL confirmed in court that Elliott would be on the field, per a source.

 

Elliott attended a more than two-hour hearing in a Sherman, Texas, courtroom Tuesday in an effort to block the suspension pending outcome of the lawsuit filed by Elliott on Friday.

 

Judge Amos L. Mazzaint III is expected to rule Friday on the preliminary injunction motion, per a source.

 

Henderson heard the appeal over three days last week, and rendered his decision during court.

 

Mike Florio reviews Henderson’s decision which says The Commissioner followed NFL policies and that’s okay, even if such policies are grossly flawed.

 

In the Ezekiel Elliott case, arbitrator Harold Henderson distilled hundreds of pages of transcripts and documents down to an eight-page ruling that was neither surprising nor unexpected.

 

The official decision can accurately be summarized as follows: The Commissioner reached his decision in compliance with the terms of the Personal Conduct Policy, so it’s affirmed.

 

It’s a simple, dot-connecting exercise that makes it easy to shrug at various procedural defects and irregularities. The Commissioner didn’t personally observe the credibility of the witnesses? He didn’t need to. The Commissioner didn’t invite to the person who interviewed the accuser six times to a meeting aimed at helping him reach a decision? He didn’t need to. The accuser wasn’t required to testify at the appeal hearing? She didn’t need to.

 

The ruling makes no real effort to deal with obvious irregularities and oddities in the situation, like Director of Investigations Kia Roberts (who doubted the accuser’s credibility and believed Elliott shouldn’t be suspended) being excluded from multiple key meetings. Instead, Henderson paints with a broad brush, displays no curiosity or skepticism about the circumstances demonstrated during the appeal hearing (including the dismantling of the notion that injuries could be characterized and dated only by photos), and ultimately applies the kind of rubber stamp that a truly independent arbitrator never would have banged onto the paper.

 

It now remains to be seen whether Elliott can get the suspension overturned in court. The first battle focuses on delaying the suspension while the litigation unfolds. Then will come the attack on the decision. The former will take a couple of days; the latter will take at least several months.

 

The NFL is not content to defend in Texas, they go on the attack in New York.  Mike Florio:

 

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott tried to get a head start on the race to the courthouse because he knew the NFL had an unfair advantage. It controls the internal appeals process, it knows when an appeals ruling is issued, and it can go straight to the court of its choosing before Elliott could, like the league did two years ago in Tom Brady‘s case.

 

Now that Elliott has filed a lawsuit in Texas — and amid concerns that Elliott’s chosen forum may result in a win for the player — the NFL has filed its own lawsuit, on its own turf.  I’ve yet to see the paperwork, but it’s safe to say the NFL contends that New York is the proper jurisdiction for the dispute, that Elliott started the process prematurely, and that the judge in New York should take control of the case from the judge in Texas.

 

When the league filed the first lawsuit in the Tom Brady case two years ago, it was a bang-bang move that consisted of announcing the ruling on his internal appeal and starting the legal process aimed at defending the ruling. Although the league lost before Judge Richard Berman, the NFL won a 2-1 ruling at the appeals level that created precedent that the league will now try to use against Elliott.

 

And so the legal maneuverings now span half of the country, with two different courts involved and both courts undoubtedly expected to issue quick rulings aimed at providing some semblance of order to a quickly-convoluted case. Expect clarity sooner than later.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals have shored up their offensive line with G ALEX BOONE, although the fact that he wasn’t good enough for the OL-challenged Vikings is not a good sign.  Darren Urban at AzCardinals.com:

 

The Cardinals had an open roster spot, and to fill it the general manager went with a very Keim time move.

 

The team added recently released guard Alex Boone, late of the Minnesota Vikings, on a one-year deal, bringing in a significant veteran presence to the offensive line.

Starting left guard Mike Iupati has been dealing with a right triceps injury, but he was back at practice Monday. The starting right guard is second-year man Evan Boehm. Whether Boone would be an option to  start or if he joins just to round out the offensive line depth is to be determined, but in a position group that had depth questions, it’s exactly what GM Steve Keim sought.

 

Boone, 30, went from undrafted rookie to long-time starter with the 49ers. A former teammate of Iupati in San Francisco, Boone signed a four-year contract free-agent last season with Minnesota, starting 14 games.

 

Scheduled to make $6.7 million with the Vikings, he was released after declining to take a pay cut in Minnesota. The Vikings had tried to trade him as well.

 

 

SEATTLE

Seahawks DT MICHAEL BENNETT now says he has a personal reason to stand (or kneel or sit) with Kaepernick.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has been one of the most vocal players in the NFL about the protests started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, began in opposition to the unequal treatment of minorities by law enforcement.

 

Bennett now has a personal reason to continue.

 

Bennett just posted an open letter to social media, detailing an incident in Las Vegas in which police there forced him to the ground and pointed a gun at his head, threatening to “blow my f—ing head off.”

 

Bennett described a chaotic scene as he was leaving the recent Mayweather-McGregor fight, when a loud sound was heard which sounded like gunshots. Bennett said he ran away from the sound for consideration of his own safety, a police officer pulled a gun on him, ordered him to the ground and threatened to shoot him if he moved. He said a second cop then came and put a knee in his back to detain him, and he was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car until they confirmed his identity.

 

“The Officers’ excessive use of force was unbearable,” Bennett wrote. “I felt helpless as I lay there on the ground handcuffed facing the real-life threat of being killed. All I could think of was “I’m going to die for no other reason than I am black and my skin color is somehow a threat.’ My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of my girls. Would I ever play with them again? Or watch them have kids? Or be able to kiss my wife again and tell her I love her.”

 

Bennett said treatment like this was why he has sat during the national anthem and will continue to, “because equality doesn’t live in this country and no matter how much money you make, what job title you have, or how much you give, when you are seen as a N—–, you will be treated that way.”

 

Bennett’s strong words demand a response from the authorities in Las Vegas, and a deeper examination of the attitudes that allow events like this to happen.

 

And perhaps, it will open some minds as to why Bennett has taken the stand he has, at a time when his status as an elite player allows him to.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

A giddy report from DE VON MILLER on the prowess of QB TREVOR SIEMIAN.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Broncos pass rusher Von Miller has already played with one great quarterback in Denver, and he thinks he’s now playing with another.

 

Miller said on PFT Live that he thinks Trevor Siemian is playing like Peyton Manning, whom Siemian backed up when the Broncos won the Super Bowl in the 2015 season.

 

“We’ve been saying it for a long time, we said it last year,” Miller said. “Him seeing the way it’s done, he just has that Peyton Manning vibe — he kind of looks like Peyton Manning too. It’s great to have that energy from Trevor in the locker room and on the football field. I trust him in everything, our whole organization trusts him. He’s looking 10 times better than he did last year and he did a lot of great stuff for us last year.”

 

That sounds like a bit of a stretch, but it points to the confidence Siemian’s teammates have in him. John Elway didn’t have much confidence in Siemian when he traded up in the first round of the draft to select Paxton Lynch, but now that Siemian has beaten Lynch out, the team is rallying around its starter.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

The saga of PK SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI now includes an injury.  Nick Shook of NFL.com:

 

Through all of the ups and downs in Oakland over most of the last two decades, there’s been one constant: Sebastian Janikowski.

 

The kicker, selected 17th overall in 2000 by the Raiders, has spent his entire career in Oakland, earning a reputation as a strong-legged, mostly dependable boot for the Silver and Black. It sounds like his long tenure in Oakland could be facing a serious threat, though, seemingly out of nowhere.

 

Janikowski has struggled with a back issue, which left him looking “awful” on Monday according to a source, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. As a result, Oakland worked out three kickers on Monday, including former Chargers kicker Josh Lambo.

 

@RapSheet

#Raiders are concerned about Sebastian Janikowski’s back, with his age. He’s been slow to bounce back. Josh Lambo stood out among tryouts

 

There’s been somewhat of a misconception over the last year or so that Janikowski has steadily declined as a kicker, but statistically in 2016, he finished slightly above his career field goal percentage (80.4), making 82.9 percent of his attempts (29 of 35) with a long of 56. Janikowski made 37 of 39 extra-point attempts, with one getting blocked. Nothing statistically from the last three seasons jumps out as a red flag.

 

But age is also a factor, as Rapoport noted. Janikowski is 39 years old, and is apparently starting to feel the effects of Father Time. There’s that, and there’s also his contract, a four-year, $15.1 million backloaded deal signed in 2013 that is set to pay him $4.05 million this season, per Spotrac. It’s the second-highest cap number for a kicker in the league, trailing only New England’s Stephen Gostkowski ($4.5 million, per Spotrac), a 33-year-old who made 84.4 percent of his field goal attempts last season and carries a career percentage of 87.1.

 

Janikowski’s contract also has a dead cap number of just $360,000 (again per Spotrac), offering the Raiders an easy out if they wanted to go down the route of divorce.

 

Should Janikowski have lingering back issues, it makes sense to get an idea of who could immediately replace him with one phone call. Considering his contract and age, though, this is a storyline to continue monitoring closely, especially for a team that is a favorite to contend deep into January and a kicker who recently said he wants to play “until they kick me out.”

 

Janikowski ranked 18th in the NFL with his 82.9% accuracy in 2016 with 26-27 under 50, 3-8 from 50+.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Ray Lewis, who might know, says the Ravens cooled on signing social activist Colin Kaepernick to play QB when his girlfriend sent out a nasty tweet.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Finally, the world knows why the Ravens didn’t sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick. According to former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, it was Kaepernick’s girlfriend’s fault.

 

“When me and Steve Bisciotti were talking, this is what we were talking about,” Lewis said on Showtime’s Inside The NFL. “We were talking about giving this kid an opportunity to get back in the National Football League. Look, this is what I wanted to share with people. I have been fighting for this kid behind the table like nobody has. . . . I’ve never been against Colin Kaepernick. But I am against the way he’s done it.”

 

But it’s not just Kaepernick who has contributed to his unemployment. According to Lewis, the last straw in Baltimore came from something Kaepernick’s girlfriend did.

 

“Then, his girl [Colin Kaepernick’s girlfriend] goes out and put out this racist gesture and doesn’t know we are in the back office about to try to get this guy signed,” Lewis said. “Steve Bisciotti has said it himself, ‘How can you crucify Ray Lewis when Ray Lewis is the one calling for Colin Kaepernick?’”

 

Lewis apparently is referring to the photo posted by Kaepernick’s girlfriend of Lewis embracing Bisciotti, with a photo of Samuel L. Jackson embracing Leonardo DiCaprio’s slave-owning character in Django Unchained.

 

“When they called me, it was to say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’” Lewis said. “We were going to close the deal to sign him. . . . Steve Bisciotti said, ‘I want to hear Colin Kaeperkick speak to let me know that he wants to play football.’ . . . And it never happens because that picture comes up the next day.”

 

Lewis made it clear that, absent that image posted by Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Kaepernick would have been a Ravens.

 

“Then he’s flying him to Baltimore,” Lewis said.

 

So to summarize, the Ravens had a chance to improve their quarterback situation, they crowdsourced the issue regarding the potential backlash against Kaepernick for his anthem protests of a year ago, and they ultimately didn’t sign him because his girlfriend — not his wife or mother or sister, his girlfriend — posted an image on Twitter in response to Ray’s nonsensical ramblings on FS1 about Kaepernick?

 

I suspect Ray thought his explanation would make the situation better. It actually makes the situation worse. If Lewis is telling the truth, an NFL franchise actually spurned a player not because of something he did but because of something his girlfriend did.

 

If it’s true, it’s lame. If it’s cover for the broader reluctance to risk riling up portions of the fan base, it’s even more lame — because it’s more evidence of the BS that has been propagated for months to justify Kaepernick’s unemployment.

 

Another MF, Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report, an ardent backer of Kaepernick is appalled by the contention of Lewis.  He tries his first Twitter thread, he’s so upset:

 

So, here we go on this bullsh– story Ray Lewis told on Inside the NFL about Kaepernick. I don’t know how to thread tweets but f– it. 1/

 

Lewis says on the show the Ravens were going to sign Kaepernick until they saw a tweet from Kaepernick’s girlfriend. 2/

 

They said the tweet was offensive so they decided not to sign Kaepernick based on the girlfriend’s tweet. This is complete garbage. 3/

 

How is the threading going? 4/

 

I challenge just the factual basis of this. Lewis makes it sound like the Ravens hierarchy were in a room and saw her tweet. Bullsh–. 5/

 

But say that’s true. I’m supposed to believe Ravens weren’t signing Kaepernick because of girlfriend’s tweet? Does Ray think I’m dumb? 6/

 

The owner didn’t want to sign Kaepernick and now Lewis is acting as their agent to lie about Kaepernick and his girl. I said it. Lie. 7/

 

If you don’t like Kaepernick, fine, whatever, but don’t lie about him. Or Nessa, his girlfriend, who is a class act. 8/

 

I get incredibly frustrated because people are just lying and feeding their own lazy narratives. 9/

 

The DB thinks there probably is some truth to Lewis’ tale.  Bisciotti, a self-made entrepreneur and not a member of the elite, had an aversion to Kaepernick’s over-the-top hostility to the United States.  Against his instincts, hee was being talked into it by his football people.  Then, an intimate of Kaepernick puts up a tweet calling him in a sense a plantation owner.  It’s not hard to see Bisciotti saying, “It’s not worth it. We’ll hope Flacco is okay.”

 

And we’re not sure how Freeman can be so sure that’s NOT what happened.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Do the Dolphins belong in the same tier as the Jaguars as longshots to win the Super Bowl?  From Bill Barnwell’s piece on why any of the 32 teams could take it all in Minnesota in February:

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Super Bowl odds: 0.8 percent (26th)

 

The 2000 Patriots had a Pythagorean Expectation of 6.1 wins. The 2016 Jaguars had a Pythagorean Expectation of 5.9 wins. Basically identical. There’s more to it than that, of course, but the Jags could easily sneak into the playoffs with some modest improvements. Given that they had the league’s third-youngest roster last season and upgraded with two key defensive contributors in free-agent signings Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye, it’s entirely plausible the team could take a step forward as a whole.

 

As for that turmoil at quarterback? It looks like Blake Bortles will start, and there’s little evidence he’s going to be very good. (A preseason game against backups shouldn’t convince you Bortles has turned things around.) Chad Henne isn’t much better. The Jaguars had a sixth-round compensatory pick in his second season on the roster in Brandon Allen, but they released the former Arkansas signal-caller on Sunday, and the Rams picked him up. Maybe Allen isn’t Tom Brady after all. The Jags will need to hope they can run the ball and play great defense to win the AFC South.

 

Miami Dolphins

Super Bowl odds: 1.1 percent (25th)

 

The powers of Adam Gase are being tested by a series of injuries, most notably the season-ending torn ACL suffered by Ryan Tannehill in August. Bring on Jay Cutler, who was benched in Chicago two of the past three seasons and couldn’t find a starting job before Tannehill went down.

 

If Gase can coax another above-average season out of Cutler and the interior of the offensive line coalesces around the returning Mike Pouncey at center, the Dolphins could be this year’s version of the Falcons on offense. A top-heavy defense built around genuine stars like Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh has already struggled with injuries, but if the critical components stay healthy and productive, the Dolphins have the offense and the pass rush to even give the Patriots a scare.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

“A Super Bowl Case For All 32 Teams” is the headline on a long, long piece by the always interesting Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.  You can read it here.

 

But we had to wonder, what could possibly be the case for the Jets if we are indeed talking about Super Bowl 52.  We are hard-pressed to make one for 8-8.  He’s basing it on the 1999 Rams, the longest shot to win it all.

 

Tier 1: The 1999 St. Louis Rams

 

The Rams were 300-1 underdogs to win the title before their fateful season. Anybody suggesting the Rams were about to produce one of the most dominant seasons in league history would have been written off as nuts. St. Louis had gone 4-12 during Dick Vermeil’s season in 1998, including a 1-6 record in games decided by seven points or less. They had added weapons during the offseason in Colts running back Marshall Faulk and first-round pick Torry Holt, but quarterback Trent Green tore his ACL during the preseason, turning things over to backup Kurt Warner, who had thrown 11 career passes and been left unprotected (and unselected) during the offseason expansion draft.

 

The Rams promptly went 13-3 and scored 526 points en route to Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner won league MVP. Faulk had one of the most productive seasons in league history.

 

Bovada lists three teams in the league with 300-1 odds to win the Super Bowl this season, but there’s a handful of teams that would qualify as utterly out-of-nowhere Super Bowl winners and need to look toward the Greatest Show on Turf for hope.

 

Cleveland Browns

Super Bowl odds: 0.3 percent (tied for 32nd)

 

The Browns will almost certainly be better than they were a year ago, when they went 1-15 in a relatively transparent attempt to bottom out and amass draft picks. They invested in veterans via trade and free agency, which should reduce the number of snaps Hue Jackson has to give replacement-level talent. And they should be luckier.

 

That should be enough to push the Browns back toward mediocrity, but to be great, they’ll need to improve exponentially. They could run out one of the best offensive lines in the league, which would allow them to hold onto leads late and make things easier for rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who will need to do his best Dak Prescott impersonation and bloom into a star overnight. If Myles Garrett and coordinator Gregg Williams are able to transform the defense, the Browns could be in business, although a division title would still probably require a serious injury to Ben Roethlisberger.

 

San Francisco 49ers

Super Bowl odds: 0.3 percent (tied for 32nd)

 

The Niners look buried in the NFC West, but like the Browns, they stand as statistically likely to improve and might have upgraded at several key positions after finally investing in free agents. New coach Kyle Shanahan has done great work with offenses in the past, and while his scheme usually takes a year to fully grasp, both Brian Hoyer and Pierre Garcon have played under Shanahan in the past. The defense could start as many as six first-round picks on rookie deals, so there’s plenty of (admittedly as-yet-unrealized) growth potential on that side of the ball. If the Niners can control both lines of scrimmage, there could be something here.

 

 

New York Jets

Super Bowl odds: 0.3 percent (tied for 32nd

 

Even after trading Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks, the Jets could plausibly be good on defense in 2017. They were the league’s top defense by DVOA against the run in 2016 and overhauled an aging, porous secondary with three new starters. With some better luck in the red zone, the Jets could produce a top-ten defense.

 

The offense … well, it’s hard to even dream up a world in which the offense is functional, let alone good. Josh McCown is 38 and fragile, but he put up MVP-caliber numbers for the Bears over half of a season in 2013. He’d have to do something like that over 16 games to push the Jets into the postseason. If McCown managed to pull it off once, though …

 

The DB can conceive, conceive not believe, that the Browns and 49ers will have Cinderella seasons.  A Jets Super Bowl win would be more unlikely than Leicester City winning the Premiereship.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

DEATH OF THE NFL INEVITABLE?

That’s the bold pronouncement placed in the headline by the Chicago Tribune by this rant by John Kass based on declining participation if youth football:

 

To witness the death of the multi-billion dollar National Football League, you really don’t need to see sportswriters wringing their hands over the moral dilemma of covering America’s Roman circus of brain trauma.

 

And you don’t need to watch multi-millionaire football stars, pampered for most of their lives, ostentatiously disrespecting the American national anthem, kneeling, their raised fists in the air.

 

You don’t need to see the desperation in the NFL’s television commercials: actresses in team gear, holding snack trays to feed their (virtual) extended team-gear-wearing families, as the NFL begs middle-class women to mother their game before it dies.

 

You don’t have to do any of that to see how football is dying.

 

All you have to do is go out to a youth football field, as I did on Sunday morning, and talk to parents and coaches.

 

“Just four years ago, we had so many boys signing up for football, we had five teams at this fourth-grade level,” says John Herrera, a dad, software engineer and football coach of the Wheaton Rams in the Bill George Youth Football League in the western suburbs of Chicago.

 

“And from five teams of fourth-graders four years ago, what do we have now? One team. Just one.”

 

Out on the field, the Wheaton Rams and the Lyons Tigers were going at it, having fun. Parents and grandparents watching, sipping lattes, a few dads nervously pacing the sidelines as dads always do, willing prowess on their sons.

 

But what do the numbers from the hometown of the “Wheaton Ice Man,” the great Red Grange, tell us about football in America?

 

“If dropping from five teams of fourth-graders to one doesn’t tell you what’s happening, nothing will,” Herrera said. “Football is such a great game, it teaches great lessons to young men. But I’ve got a sense of dread for this game of football that I love.”

 

Herrera cares about the lessons the game can teach. He and other coaches are deadly serious about instilling “heads up” tackling techniques to protect the heads of their players.

 

“But it’s the parents,” he said. “They’re worried about the brain.”

 

It is all about the brain. The brains that are injured in the game, yes, but also about how the human mind works, as the American middle class withdraws from football, a cultural trend that will cut the NFL away from American virtue.

 

What is virtuous about brain damage? I’d prefer to watch prizefighters. At least prizefighting is honest about its violence. It doesn’t wrap itself up in mom and apple pie.

 

Youth football participation declines as worries mount about concussions, CTE

Four years ago I wrote a column saying that football was dead in this country, as dead as the Marlboro Man, though it didn’t know it yet.

 

Putting your kids in football would be akin to giving them cigarettes, and leave you to face the withering judgment of your friends and neighbors.

 

I was hated for it, accused of wussifying American boys. Some even called me a liberal. Now though, years later, the water is warm and others have jumped in, as the feeding frenzy around the NFL becomes undeniable.

 

Without that feeder system to provide fresh meat and fresh brains for the NFL meat grinder, the NFL as we know it is doomed.

 

There is still enough talent and size to fill the ranks. And gambling drives the game along. But without its connection to the middle class, the NFL loses what it can’t afford to lose — market share.

 

You really think the NFL is worried about young athletes? If so, they’d have changed the rules years ago, abandoning face masks, enlarging the ball to make it difficult to throw, switching to one platoon football.

 

But they’re not worried about players. They’re worried about their money.

 

Parents read the news, they know about concussions and CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. While a recent study wasn’t random — brains were donated by concerned families — the analysis by Boston University of brains from dead players showed that of 111 brains from NFL players, 110 suffered CTE, a condition causing depression, psychosis, dementia, memory loss and death.

 

And what does science tell us?

 

It’s not the concussions that are killing football. Every sport has danger in it, and concussions can happen in basketball, soccer, perhaps even badminton, for all I know.

 

And as a soccer dad — with two sons playing in college — I’ve spent my share of nights in emergency rooms. Concussions happen when brave athletes collide at speed, and mostly, it’s the brave ones who get hurt.

 

There has been a pathetic and desperate spin by football to lump soccer and other contact sports into the discussion to save itself.

 

But it can’t. Because what makes football different from the others is the design of the game — sending bodies crashing in high speed, high impact collisions. It is what makes it awesome and dangerous and fun to play.

 

Heads get in the way. And football provides not only concussions, but by design, multiple hits to the head. There is no getting around this.

 

“Sure I’m concerned,” said one of the moms at the game, a lawyer who is no stranger to courtroom debates about liability. “But he loves the game so much. We haven’t made a decision as to how long he’ll play. At this level, they’re just learning, they’re not big enough to hurt each other. Later? I’m thinking about it.”

 

Parents of youth football players are already feeling pressure and social stigma.

 

“It’s not like smoking, yet,” said a dad. “But it’s getting there.”

 

It’s already there, dad. It’s there.

 

The DB would say there should be concern, but we suspect that most of the youths who are gifted at football will still find their way to the sport and eventually the NFL.  Decline of NFL?  Possible.  Death?  Don’t think so.