1. Much like close scores or lots of points do not necessarily make good games, low-scoring games are not necessarily bad games. I’m not sure we’ve been subjected to a particularly worse quality of football in the traditionally scheduled games (the ones that don’t take place mid-week or on another continent). But there’s little doubt that Thursday Night Football, proudly aired in prime time, has produced some seriously unwatchable football.
Often in the case of TNF, it’s a result of forcing teams to play two professional football games in a short span, seriously limiting the abilities of players and coaches to prepare mentally and physically. That’s a self-inflicted wound for the NFL. And it brings us to Sunday night.
Seahawks-Patriots was one of the few “circle it” games on the schedule the moment it came out. It is two of the league’s best teams, plus a rematch of one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever played, plus a collection of huge personalities (Brady, Sherman, Gronk, Carroll, Belichick, Russ) in a league that is running low on them. Not to mention, in a season of sinking ratings, this is the first Sunday Night game coming post-election and post-World Series. It’s a chance for the NFL to put its best foot forward and basically send the message that they’re back and ready to dominate your free time for the next three months.
So why is the league getting these teams together on such a screwy schedule? The Seahawks are being forced to fly cross-country after playing Monday night, to face a Patriots team coming off a bye and playing at home. I think, come January, we’ll be saying Seattle is the best team in the NFC. But asking them to play Monday night and then go 3,000 miles to play the league’s best team on five day’s rest? That’s too tall an order. Howard Katz and Co. dropped the ball on this one. And the NFL is at risk of showing the public yet another primetime dud.
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2a. One other reason this one could get ugly that is out of the league’s hands: the Michael Bennett injury. Bennett was a dominant force in Super Bowl XLIX, even after Cliff Avril left that game (and for those of you box score-only viewers, Bennett had no sacks in that game but had four hits on Brady, who consistently got the ball out quickly). Ernie Adams had said that containing Bennett was the New England offense’s top priority in that game. The Patriots likely slept a little more soundly on Saturday night knowing Bennett was ruled out.
2b. One other note on this game: I’m very curious to see how the Patriots defend Jimmy Graham. When Graham came to Foxboro with the Saints in 2013, Aqib Talib took him out of the game. Graham had at least three catches in each of the other 15 games during that 2013 season. In Foxboro, he was shutout.
Talib is, obviously, not in New England anymore. And with Jamie Collins gone, none of the linebackers are an option to guard Graham. So will it be Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty? Or maybe a night for a physical corner in Logan Ryan or bigger-bodied Eric Rowe?
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3. I’d like to take a moment to address that oh-so-controversial play from the Seahawks-Bills Monday night game.
That would be a funnier bit if I was better at editing video (no that funny, but funnier).
So Walt Anderson’s crew made about a dozen mistakes in the final three seconds of the half, but here’s what stood out to me:
The justification for having nothing more than an offsides penalty was basically: Technically everything Sherman did was legal because he touched the ball. But when you’re that far offsides you can’t help but know it. And knowing he was absurdly far offsides, Sherman can’t make a play that reckless and dangerous (even if it’s to avoid giving up a free play). It so obviously warranted a catch-all “unnecessary roughness” flag. How no one among the seven-person crew could determine that is a shocking lack of judgment.
It’s why I’d support adding an eighth official to every crew, whose sole job would be this: When those interminably long conferences begin, he/she steps in before anyone speaks and says “Hey guys, let’s use some common sense here.” I think that could go a long way toward avoiding nights like Monday.
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4. Regular season, since 2014:
Ben Roethlisberger at home: 8.7 YPA, 341.5 YPG, 51 TD, 13 INT, 111.5 rating (Steelers 14-3, 32.6 PPG)
Ben Roethlisberger on the road: 7.4 YPA, 279.7 YPG, 19 TD, 19 INT, 85.4 rating (Steelers 9-9, 21.7 PPG)
Sure, the Steelers offense pooped its collective pants in Baltimore last week, as it does on an annual basis, but expect a bounceback at home against the Cowboys. And with the possible exception of a trip to Lambeau, this is the toughest test the Cowboys have had in 2016.
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5. The Jaguars looked better last week. Granted, the Chiefs ran out of healthy players and had to resort to filling out their depth chart with cardboard stand-ups. (If you look closely at the coaches’ film, you’ll see that “Frank Zombo” was actually a collection of toilet-paper rolls and red towels piled atop a handtruck that an intern would push forward at the snap before scurrying off the field.) But anyway, the Jags were better.
We hear all the time about how much everybody loves Gus Bradley. Current players. Former players. Media folks. My wife. My kids. Subliminally if you play certain Motörhead songs backward. Well, Sunday could be Bradley’s last stand. I’ve been sending periodic reminders of the Jaguars’ playoff hopes: Eight wins could realistically win the AFC South. A win over the Texans (who, remember, were sitting at 3-5 this time last year before winning the division) would bring the Jags to within two games of the division lead with a 2-1 record in the AFC South. They’d need to go into Houston on Week 15 and win, and they’d still need to find four other wins. But if they win this week, they’re not dead yet. And neither are Gus Bradley’s prospects for staying on.
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6. The Jared Goff takes are evolving. Now, a certain Hall of Fame receiver turned media agitator who, for anonymity’s sake, I will refer to only as “Cris C.”... wait that’s too obvious, “C. Carter,”*... is taking the position that, We’ve seen enough of Jared Goff, the guy we’ve yet to see.
So is he right that it’s time to give up on Goff based on his performance over zero NFL throws? Shall we declare him a surefire bust and likely ISIS sympathizer? Let’s take a look back at the rookie season “QB Wins!” from other quarterbacks of note over the past 18 years or so:
Ben Roethlisberger (2004): 13
Joe Flacco (2008): 11
Andrew Luck (2012): 11
Matt Ryan (2008): 11
Russell Wilson (2012): 11
Kyle Orton (2005): 10
Andy Dalton (2011): 9
Robert Griffin III (2012): 9
Mark Sanchez (2009): 8
Geno Smith (2013): 8
Vince Young (2006): 8
Cam Newton (2011): 6
Kyle Boller (2003): 5
Byron Leftwich (2003): 5
Brandon Weeden (2012): 5
David Carr (2002): 4
Derek Carr (2014): 3
Quincy Carter (2001): 3
Peyton Manning (1998): 3
Cade McNown (1999): 2
Christian Ponder (2011): 2
Patrick Ramsey (2002): 2
Eli Manning (2004): 1
Akili Smith (1999): 1
Troy Smith (2007): 1
Tim Tebow (2010): 1
Mike Vick (2001): 1
Chris Weinke (2001): 1
Tom Brady (2000): 0
Drew Brees (2001): 0
Brian Brohm (2008): 0
Tavaris Jackson (2006): 0
Jake Locker (2011): 0
J.P. Losman (2004): 0
Johnny Manziel (2014): 0
Carson Palmer (2003): 0
Chad Pennington (2000): 0
Brady Quinn (2007): 0
Philip Rivers (2004): 0
Aaron Rodgers (2005): 0
Tony Romo (2003): 0
JaMarcus Russell (2007): 0
Tyrod Taylor (2011): 0
* — You’re goddam right I stole that bit from Seymour Skinner.
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7. “He got ticked off in a good way, I think, because he’s a competitive young man.”
We’ve seen what angry (angry!) Tom Brady can do. Now, we have Blair Walsh on the verge of unleashing his fury.
I... I honestly have no idea how anger would possibly help a kicker with the yips. But it does give me a chance to re-run this clip: DAMMIT! I meant this one…
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8. One of the most fascinating free-agent situations of the upcoming offseason will be Terrelle Pryor. He’s essentially been a wide receiver for one season, but he has flashed the talent of a No. 1 receiver. He’s also entering a market that a year ago paid, for instance, Mohamed Sanu, an utterly fungible No. 3 receiver, $14 million in guarantees.
As Andrew Hawkins put it: “I’ve told [Pryor], ‘If you’d switched to receiver earlier, you’d be sitting on a hundred million dollars.’ ”
Pryor will be NFL middle aged (28) when next season kicks off, but considering the potential he’s shown and the pace at which he’s improved, if he gets on the open market, he’ll get paid. Will the Browns move aggressively to keep him, or will they use the same standard offer they gave to their free agents last offseason: course credit and Jimmy Haslam’s “Jimmy Bucks,” good at any Pilot Flying J.*
* — Not good for fuel or other goods and services, also not transferrable.
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9. Speaking of Terrelle Pryor, he’s the subject of The MMQB Read of the Week. SI’s Stephanie Apstein made a cameo appearance with The MMQB to profile Pryor, one of the season’s most unlikely (and most overlooked) stars:
Veteran receivers coach Al Saunders: “This is legitimate. This is an outstanding athlete who has made a transformation. You couldn’t find him on the depth chart when training camp started, and the first game he starts and the third game he does something that nobody’s done in 50 years? … We haven’t even scratched the surface of his capabilities. He’s just starting to write cursive. Pretty soon it’s going to get neater and nicer and faster. It goes from print to cursive to writing a book.”
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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…
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