The Morning Huddle: Football's Back, Finally!
You can almost hear NBC’s drums and trumpets now. In a matter of hours, I will be off to Gillette Stadium—where I’ll be composing tomorrow’s newsletter—and soon the 2017 football season will be underway. Until then, here are three things to watch for tonight.
1. Roger Goodell on the Big Screen
At some point on Thursday night, the NFL commissioner’s visage will appear on the stadium Jumbotron. This is his first legitimate appearance at Gillette Stadium since the 2014 AFC Championship Game that spawned Deflategate. (He showed up for one preseason game last month; afterwards, diehards wanted a lifetime ban for three fans who took a photo with Goodell.) The crowd’s reaction will go exactly as expected: poorly, with fans waving towels featuring Roger as a clown. I’m sure NFL employees will make sure Goodell isn’t involved in other viral moments during the night, but that clip has a good chance of being the most talked-about takeaway if the game isn’t thrilling.
2. Tom Brady and His Newest Weapons
New England has been tight-lipped regarding Thursday’s banner-raising ceremony (one detail that has come out: the Patriots remodeled their stadium so it can accommodate six more championship banners to go with the current five), but the reveals I’m most excited about will come later. Can Brandin Cooks really be a “Randy Moss-like threat”? What will Bill Belichick do with Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead—and what do their additions mean for the incumbent running backs? Above all, how will a 40-year-old Tom Brady look?
3. Andy Reid’s Revenge?
Here’s an interesting subplot this year (maybe just to me). There seems to be a consensus quartet of challengers to the Pats’ AFC hegemony—Pittsburgh, Oakland, Kansas City, and Tennessee—and each is coached by someone with an extensive history facing Belichick. Mike Tomlin failed once again to get past New England in last year’s playoffs, while Jack Del Rio, Mike Mularkey and Andy Reid have struggled against him going back to the mid-2000s. Mularkey coached AFC East rival Buffalo; Reid was outfoxed in Super Bowl XXXIX; and Del Rio’s two best Jags teams were both bounced by Belichick and Brady. So will any of them flip this script?
Probably not. The Chiefs enter this game a nearly double-digit underdog, and they are 0-6 this century in Foxborough. But Kansas City brings with them a four-part plan on defense and an X-factor on offense. Can they prove the old adage: New year, new you?
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Michael McCann has more on Ezekiel Elliott’s legal saga … Richard Deitsch finds out how NFL broadcasters plan to cover anthem protests … Albert Breer explains why the read-option has fallen out of favor… and more in our archive.
LATER TODAY AT THE MMQB: Andy Benoit produces scouting reports on all 32 teams … Peter King discovers how America feels about the Patriots … Chris Burke picks the winner of tonight’s game. Keep coming back for these stories, and more, through the day.
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1. Michael Bennett says that Las Vegas police roughly apprehended him and put a gun to his face outside of a nightclub last month, threatening that they would “blow my f****** head off.” “My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of my girls,” Bennett wrote on Twitter. “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? I kept asking the officers ‘What did I do?’” TMZ released footage of the event soon after.
At The MMQB, Jonathan Jones broke down the video and its significance while Ben Baskin got Michael Bennett Sr.’s reaction to the story. Elsewhere, Colin Kaepernick called the officers’ alleged actions “disgusting and unjust,” and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll tweeted his support for Bennett, writing that he hoped the incident would inspire people “to stand for change.” On Instagram, Bennett’s brother, Martellus, revealed that the night’s events left him “in one of the saddest places ever.” In the afternoon, Bennett spoke during a five-minute press conference at the team facility, saying, “I hate to be up here at this moment . . . I didn’t ask for this.”
2. A lot is expected of the Oakland Raiders this year, and of the man leading them, East Bay high school legend Jack Del Rio, who is hoping to bring a championship home before his team moves to Las Vegas. Plus, an odd Raiders news tidbit: on ESPN Radio, Justin Tuck said that Derek Carr took time away from the team as a rookie “because he wanted to minister to people . . . He was going to quit football to go become a minister.”
3. As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, the NFL has announced that, rather than playing in Miami on Sunday, the Buccaneers and Dolphins will play during Week 11—which, coincidentally, had been the scheduled bye week for both teams—meaning they will each play 16 consecutive games. Given that, The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero argues that the NFL should at least let the Dolphins play the Saints at home rather than in London in October.
4. As we exit NFL Preview Season, several outlets published broader stories on football in 2017.
—At Bleacher Report, Mike Tanier has the story of the race for a ‘concussion pill.’
—The Washington Post ran stories on declining youth participation numbers and on poll results that indicate that anthem protests might be playing a larger role than head injuries among declining fan interest in the NFL.
—“The more you talk about the NFL, the harder it becomes to disguise and conceal its flaws,” Will Leitch writes at Sports On Earth. “In fact, it becomes impossible, eventually, not to just talk about those flaws.”
5. The Steelers expect their four best weapons to start Sunday for the first time since November 2015. The team hopes Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, and Antonio Brown finish the game together too, which would be a first since December 2014. I’ve got Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl this year and Roethlisberger winning MVP honors, but if this foursome can’t stay on the field, that will all be moot.
6. Eight days after his first practice of the summer, Joe Flacco says his back is healthy enough to play on Sunday. “It is not ideal,” the QB said, “but I feel good now, and I’m ready to go.”
7. Don’t sleep on Seattle. “After all the doom of 2016, the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom is reloaded and ready to dominate.” Nice work by The Seattle Times on the past, present, and future for three of the best defenders in the league.
8. It remains to be seen whether Kyle Shanahan can turn around the 49ers, but after reading this story by Eric Branch, I’m convinced that the 37-year-old could help me manage my stress (though his first piece of advice would probably to be stop producing early morning newsletters!). ESPN has more on how Shanahan is reshaping the franchise’s culture.
9. Week 1 is a time for optimism around the league, and the Detroit Free Press is writing about how the Lions are probably jinxed, and have been for 50 years. Fitting.
10. Love oral histories? Then you are going to love this collection of some of the best from the NFL.
Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let me know here.
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