Belichick’s Popovich Moment
1. I’m going to start the Week 1 NFL column with the NBA, in part because I’m my own editor, but also because it will eventually make sense, so stick with me.
The NBA regular season is a slog, a blatant money grab with no real consideration for what it does to the on-court product (think Thursday Night Football to the extreme). It is impossible to enjoy. Except, that is, for when the Spurs are slated for one of those premier Thursday night games, and head coach Gregg Popovich decides he’s going to have Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in street clothes, trotting trot out Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Patty Mills for 40 minutes apiece in front of the national audience. It’s all very logical, trading a small percentage of meaningless games in order to have your roster optimized for a championship run. But you just know Popovich loves how huffy the league gets about it.
And that’s all I can think of as I pore over the Patriots’ injury list for the Sunday Night Football opener. Now, for all I know, Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder might truly be too injured to get on the field. But Bill Belichick was already going to be without Tom Brady and Sebastian Vollmer. So why risk Gronkowski and Solder (hamstring and hamstring, respectively) when they’re at less than 100%? New England can give away a game they probably weren’t going to win anyway, while resting two players they need in advance of a three-game home stand that includes three very winnable games. From a long-term standpoint, this all makes perfect sense. I don’t necessarily think Belichick would go out of his way to turn the headlining game of Week 1 into Preseason Week 5. But I’m sure he doesn’t mind that the side effect of sitting a couple stars is a metaphorical kick in the crotch for the folks at Park Avenue who took out his Hall of Fame QB.
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2. Apologies if you’ve heard me say this on the podcast, but Jimmy Garoppolo is terrifyingly handsome. I’m perfectly comfortable with my placement on the Kinsey Scale, but my God… if I’m a marketing consultant for the NFL, I’m recommending a rules loophole that allows Garoppolo to play without a helmet. Y’know, like the veteran hockey players in the 80s. (Plus, if Thursday night was any indication, the NFL has pretty much given up on the whole concussion protocol thing anyway.)
But yeesh, those exotic Cardinals blitzes against that shorthanded New England O-line? That poor, upsettingly handsome young man is set up to, well...
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3. I’m not sure what the Cowboys have defensively, but I think they’ll be O.K. offensively, at least early in the year. It’s not because Dak Prescott is a franchise quarterback in the making; we won’t know that for another two or three years. But he has the physical ability, and the Cowboys had two weeks to tweak their offensive to fit the rookie, probably adding some more spread concepts that he and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott are familiar with. It will be at least a couple of weeks before teams really know what to expect from the Cowboys offense.
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4. Congratulations to Trevor Siemian for winning his first career start. Perhaps it’s just the jaded, pessimistic Gen-Xer in me, but when I look back on Siemian’s win on Thursday night, I can’t help but think of another under-armed QB from a second-tier college program: Max Hall. Six seasons ago, Hall made his first career start, and game-managed the Cardinals to a victory over the New Orleans Saints. Arizona had 194 yards of offense that day; their defense dominated, even scoring two defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Hall made two more starts, sharing time with Derek Anderson, and completed a total of 12 passes in those two games, both losses. Less than two years after winning his first career start, he was out of the league.
Now, Siemian was better than Hall ever was on Thursday night, but you see the lack of any threat downfield, and the reliance of big plays from the backfield, and you wonder how long this can last.
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5. I know he might not play today, but I want to take this opportunity to make my semi-annual pledge of belief in Sam Bradford. He is a good quarterback. He can be the quarterback of a team with Super Bowl hopes. And also, I don’t really care for him as a person.
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6. So has anyone written about the Kaepernick thing? Yes? Well, I didn’t see it.
Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to add that hasn’t already been said, or written, or yelled. So I’ll just say this as everyone frantically scrambles to figure out the overarching meaning of every act of a movement that is still playing out. (Because what are you gonna do, like, not tweet something?)
The obvious historical comparison for all of this is Tommie Smith, John Carlos and the black power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Games. They were booed out of the stadium. Avery Brundage, then the IOC president (as well as a vehement racist and Nazi sympathizer), ordered Smith and Carlos suspended from the U.S. team, and when the USOC refused he threatened to ban the entire American track team. Peter Norman was the Australian runner who wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badge on the medal stand with Smith and Carlos. It was Norman who suggested that, since Smith and Carlos had only one pair of black gloves between them, that one wear the right and one wear the left. For his actions, Norman was ostracized in Australia and blackballed from the 1972 Australian Olympic team.
I’m not sure where this current movement heads next or what the long-term effect will be. But forty-eight years later, history remembers Smith, Carlos and Norman fondly.
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FOOTBALL! GET BACK TO THE FOOTBALL YOU HACK!
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7. Oh, I see The MMQB staff did preseason predictions and didn’t invite me to participate. That’s cool. My feelings are fully intact. I’ll just share my predictions here, I guess. And not invite any of you to my birthday party:
a. I predict Andrew Luck will win MVP after leading the Colts to an AFC South title, as the world realizes any mortal man would have his insides liquefied playing behind that Colts line.
b. I predict Adrian Peterson will be Offensive Player of the Year, as the Vikings give him close to 400 touches.
c. Offensive Player of the Year will continue to be a dumb award because how could the MVP, who will surely be a quarterback, not also be the Offensive Player of the Year? I’d suggest they just rebrand this the Jim Brown Award, but it would feel a bit too much like those lame-o’s over at Major League Baseball.
d. God, I’m a turd. It’s Week 1 and I’m just here offering a criticism but not a solution.
e. I predict Defensive Player of the Year will be Patrick Peterson, because I’m worried about J.J. Watt’s spine.
f. To be honest though, I worry about most people’s spines. Especially mine. I have terrible posture.
g. I predict Carson Wentz will be Offensive Rookie of the Year, because it gives me a chance to point out that my colleague, podcast co-host and contractually mandated best friend Andy Benoit wrote in April that Wentz, despite coming out of an FCS school, was the most pro-ready quarterback to come into the draft since Andrew Luck. And then so many of you filled up our inbox and Twitter mentions with taunts and barbs aimed at Andy. But he was right, and you were wrong, and it’s time to accept that he knows more about football than you. (If you didn’t write in to criticize Andy, please disregard the previous two sentences, and thanks for reading.)
h. I really wanted to predict that Keanu Neal would be Defensive Rookie of the Year, but his injury probably knocks him out of the running. So I’ll go Darron Lee.
i. I predict Reggie McKenzie will be Executive of the Year, because I want to take the opportunity to pat myself on the back for being first on the Reggie McKenzie bandwagon.
j. I predict, during this year’s NFL Honors show, I will once again sit on my couch and mock anyone who wears a tuxedo to a program that includes an honor called the “NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year.” I’ll look around my basement to see if anyone is appreciating my witty rejoinders, only to realize that there is no one else there. It is Saturday night, I am watching a professional sports league’s overwrought awards presentation, and I will come to the acute realization that I am—physically and spiritually—alone.
k. I predict the Bengals will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI. It just seems like the football gods played a series of elaborate practical jokes on them last season, and now it’s just a tired act. Plus, I think their helmets are really neat.
l. I predict the Seahawks will represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI. The Russell Wilson-led spread is for real. However, their helmets are trash. They should go back to the old silver ones immediately.
m. I predict the final score of Super Bowl LI will be Seahawks 26, Bengals 13.
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8. This is usually the portion of the show when I give you The MMQB Read of the Week that you crave like the salivating dogs that you are. But instead of promoting the excellent work of my talented colleagues, I’m going to spend a couple dozen words telling you what I’ll be doing this season, as a service to the seven of you who enjoy this column and want to see more of me. Well, not see more of me, but the words I write and speak:
I’ll be writing The MMQB’s new fantasy column every Tuesday: The Fantasy 40. (Actually, I already did a couple during the preseason. Thanks for noticing, jerks.)
I’m told I shouldn’t refer to the audience as jerks. I apologize to anyone I offended.
I’ve been co-hosting The MMQB Podcast along with Andy Benoit for a few months (ever since Robert Mays left us for another man). And I’ll continue to host the rebranded show, The MMQB: 10 Things podcast, prepared for your ear buds every Monday morning (maiden voyage coming tomorrow!). Andy and I will be running down 10 Sunday storylines like only we can: Andy’s sharp analysis and my tenuous grasp of the English language. For the love of God, subscribe, and start your Mondays off with my weirdly effeminate voice in your head.
I might have something coming up on Wednesday afternoons, but I’m really not sure yet. (There’s a lot of good TV these days; do I really want to work?)
I’m also, at some point, hoping to have a headshot over my byline on the upper right side of these things. I’d prefer my head, but I’ll take whatever.
The entire team at The MMQB has been working ridiculous hours for the past month on a project that’s going to finish this week. But you won’t see it on the site. That’s all I can say.
We finally got the boss to do some “podding,” as the kids call it. I like Peter, which is why I work for him, but I was skeptical of an interview show. But goddam, the first three shows are phenomenal: Bruce Arians, John Elway, but the Michael Bennett show was the best. And with that, I present this exchange, quite possibly my favorite podcasting moment ever, without context:
Peter King: Wait, Martha Ford is 90 years old, she owns the Detroit Lions…
Michael Bennett: She needs to take a hit! She needs to take a hit, or somebody in her family. It doesn’t have to be her, it has to be one of her grandsons, whoever it is, they need to take a hit!
(At the 27:05 mark here...)
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10. I think, at 12:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…