What's currently happening in the hyper-competitive AFC North and the sorrowful NFC South is mind-boggling. Plus, answering questions about Odell Beckham's gloves, the Rams' silent owner and Bill Belichick's penchant for punishment
In the wake of the Ravens' 34-27 win at New Orleans on Monday night, here are my five fascinating factoids heading into Week 13:
1. No division this late in the season has had every team at least two games over .500—until now, when the AFC North has all four teams at least three games over .500.
2. Every team in the AFC North has three road wins, two division wins and seven wins overall.
3. Justin Forsett has a starting job because Ray Rice was suspended by the league and later cut by the Ravens. Rice rushed for 660 yards, a 3.1-yards-per-carry average last year, and was due to make $4 million this year. Forsett has rushed for 903 yards (with five games to play), a 5.8-yard average. He's making $730,000 this year, and clearly has the moves and speed Rice had lost.
4. The Bucs, 2-9, winless at home this year and winless in division games, are two games out of first place in the NFC South. The Jets, 2-9, are seven games out of first place in the AFC East and eliminated from playoff consideration.
5. The Saints, finishing their first three-game home losing streak since 2007 Monday night, will still be favored to win the NFC South, the worst division in NFL history—after 12 weeks at least. But here's why no one should think home-field will be much of an advantage if the Saints win the South and host a playoff game (laughable, but the rules): In the last five home games, New Orleans has allowed 34, 27, 27, 23 and 31 points. When you give up 31 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, well, it's time to prepare for the 2015 draft.
Now onto your emails…
LOVE THE GLOVE. Let’s talk about Odell Beckham’s gloves and the catch. Without the rubberized gloves—which is like a sticky rubber—he never makes that catch. I want to see him catch that ball barehanded. Kudos to him if he can. To me it is no different than when guys used Stickum to help them catch balls. Stickum was then banned and so should the use of these rubberized gloves receivers now wear. This catch needs an asterisk by it.
—Mike M., Oxford, Ohio
I think most people who have a problem with Beckham’s catch being so celebrated is that they feel the gloves give him too much of an advantage over a player who would play without gloves. But my question to you would be this: if all receivers are wearing gloves now, and the vast majority of them do, have you seen many or any catches in recent years to rival this one? Yes, Beckham had an advantage over Raymond Berry and Dante Lavelli and Don Hutson, three of the greats from the first 40 years of football who played glove-free. So a great catch in the 40’s, for example, would have to be judged differently than a great catch today because of equipment. However, judging apples to apples today, I still think it’s an absolutely remarkable play that we will be talking about for years.
JUST BILL BEING BILL. I may be way off base on this, so feel free to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. But there's something about Bill Belichick's disciplining of Jonas Gray that rubs me the wrong way. I understand Gray was late for a team meeting, and Belichick certainly had a right to hold him out of the Lions game to teach him a lesson. But I just get the feeling Belichick was looking for any excuse to knock Gray down a notch and show him who's boss. It's not like the kid was a spoiled brat, No. 1 overall draft pick. As you pointed out last week in MMQB, he had a long and winding road just to make it on the field against the Colts. He seems plenty humble already. I know Belichick is a great coach and all, but I think in this case he was looking to stroke his own ego and prove to everyone he could win without the guy who rushed for four touchdowns and 201 yards the week before. Thoughts?
—Paul, West Palm Beach, Fla.
That’s an interesting point. You might be right. But I will say this about Belichick and discipline. He’s pretty consistent. Now, if Tom Brady were 10 minutes late, Belichick might bench him for the opening series, but he certainly wouldn’t bench him for the game. So it was easier for him to make an example of Gray especially after signing LeGarrette Blount during the week, because Blount and Gray are very similar backs. Plus, this was a week that the Patriots weren’t going to be running very much. I think the banishment of Gray for a week—unless his relatively mild tardiness is not his only miscue—is a good reason why there are those who really don’t like Belichick, and who feel that at times he’s just too imperious.
TALK TO THE RAMS FANS, STAN. I've been a Rams season-ticket holder since they arrived in St. Louis in 1995. Besides the obvious responsibility of investing to build the best team possible on the field, how much do you think an owner owes the fans? I realize this stadium situation in St. Louis is a process, but as a fan of the team who has supported it financially for 20 years, it would be appreciated to just hear ONE statement from "Silent Stan" indicating he recognizes we exist, appreciates our support and hopes to work something out here. But maybe he doesn't and that's what stinks, along with all the losing seasons we've endured. Be careful what you wish for, L.A.
—Chris, St. Louis
Stan Kroenke absolutely owes his ticket-buying public some explanation about the future of the franchise. I agree 100% that Kroenke’s silence is bothersome and disrespectful to the fans who have supported the team for 20 years. He owes you at least some explanation of the process and where it stands.
BEST DIVISION EVER? The AFC North has been getting a ton of credit for having every team at the top of the division to this point in the season. All teams have looked solid in some games, but how much of their record has been inflated by getting matched up with the AWFUL NFC South this year? They only have 1 inexplicable loss (Bucs over Steelers) and 1 random tie (Bengals vs. Panthers). Every other game to date has been a win with most of them being extremely dominant. Would we be talking the same way about this division if they had been matched up with any other NFC division that boasts at least two, if not three, legitimate teams? Or am I just being a defeatist Bucs fan? Thanks!
—Brad, Washington, D.C.
That’s an interesting question. They clearly have had an edge because they have played the NFC South. But for Cleveland to be 7-4 against the Mid American Conference right now would still be a feat. I think you might be seeing this a little too much from the prism of the horsecrap NFC South, but you raise an interesting point and we probably should wait to see a few more quality wins out of the AFC North before we anoint it as one of the great divisions in football this year.
REVERSED PRIORITIES? Tom Benson’s generous gift to the Hall of Fame is impressive but the priorities seem reversed. Why not use $10 million for the Legend’s Landing and $1 million for stadium renovations in Canton? It seems more important to take care of the people that actually played the game (a fantastic idea) than make “needed renovations” in a stadium that host one NFL preseason game per year.
—Mike M., Detroit
A really good point, and I am glad you made it. Let me correct you on a couple of things. Two local high schools use that stadium for their home football games and it’s used for other local events as well. The stadium is 76 years old and in disrepair. It needs to be renovated. So playing one game a year there is not really the focus of the renovations. It is bringing a ramshackle place back to respectability.
Now, this Legends Landing is a really important part of the NFL’s future in my opinion. It will be a shame if the other owners in the NFL do not step up the way Benson has to support such a worthy cause. I expect most of the owners to make a donation and then I expect the NFL as an organization to support this as well. All along, the private hope of those who advanced this idea was that the NFL would make up whatever shortfall there was after fundraising was held. I got one great idea from a Twitter follower on Monday. I hope someone in the NFL reads this and acts on it. The suggestion: Have John Madden mobilize a group of respected retired players to organize a major fundraiser for Legends Landing. I could imagine a series of events around the country sponsored by NFL teams with Madden, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and other legends interacting with the public and doing things like silent auctions. That certainly could raise the money needed for the facility in Canton.
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