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  • Also, veterans to watch today, what knocks the Bills off that tightrope, Ben McAdoo has a nice haircut and the Giants need to look at 2018 draft QBs, and Russell Wilson’s farcical concussion test. Plus, musical guest Guns N' Roses!
By Gary Gramling
November 11, 2017

1a. It will likely be belated by the time you read this, but a happy Veterans Day to all who served our country. There are many worthwhile ways to help veterans with the support they deserve, and if you have the means I strongly encourage you to donate. If you’re interested in one with a football connection, Nate Boyer and Jay Glazer have a wonderful program—MVP (Merging Vets & Players)—that helps vets and former athletes cope with the common problem of adjusting to civilian life.

1b. Apologies if I’m missing anyone, but we should see at least three veterans on the field today: U.S. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Joe Cardona will long-snap for the Patriots in the Sunday nighter in Denver, former U.S. Air Force First Lieutenant and Colorado Air National Guard captain Ben Garland will likely play some special teams snaps as a utility man when the Falcons host Dallas, and of course, former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva will start at left tackle for the Steelers in Indianapolis.

1c. One more thing about Villanueva’s proud past: He was a 6' 9" wide receiver at West Point. Here’s some footage of him being very unfairly tall.

2. I think we can all agree that Tom Brady has two feats left to accomplish before he can truly be at peace with his career. One is to finally finish authoring that next great YA franchise, about a teenage vampire quarterback who solves mysteries in a dystopian future. (His working title is Tom the Vampire Solves Mysteries in a Scary Future World. We’ll see if that sticks.) The other is to defeat Brock Osweiler in a venue located approximately one mile above sea level.

The fact that Osweiler will quarterback his opponent tonight (in a Broncos offense with a sieve offensive line and no run game) works in Brady’s favor. But the question is whether the Broncos defense can get the best of him again. We knew there was a chance that the Broncos would stink again on the offensive side of the ball. The real surprise in their 2017 collapse has been their middling play on defense. Their pass rush ranks 16th in Stats Inc.’s pressure index—they ranked first each of the last two seasons. That’s especially upsetting because, along with their talent up front, their corners often force opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball a little longer.

But Sunday night is the perfect opportunity for the Broncos pass rush to get back on track. As mentioned earlier this season (and still true, though the O-line has been better of late), Brady is absorbing a ton of hits this year. Part of it is mediocre pass protection, and part of it is the Patriots tweaking their offense to move away from the quick-strike passing game and more toward a vertical attack, meaning Brady has to hang in a beat or two longer than he used to.

The Broncos have gotten the better of Brady and this offense time and time again in Denver because of that pressure. New England has dropped three of their last four in Denver, averaging 18.5 points and topping 20 points only once in those four games. That, of course, includes Osweiler’s fourth-quarter comeback in an overtime victory on a Sunday night two years ago (a game in which the Patriots were without Julian Edelman then lost Rob Gronkowski mid-game).

The most likely scenario is that this game plays out like the one last December in Denver, when the Broncos held New England to 16 points and Brady to 188 passing yards but still lost 16-3 with Trevor Siemian under center. There’s a path to victory for the Broncos though. And, considering they start the second half of the season two games back of a wild-card spot, it’s a victory they need.

3. I don’t want to be the guy who makes a bunch of excuses for the Atlanta Falcons, so instead let me offer a number of semi-legitimate reasons as to why they’re better than their record suggests.

Last week in Carolina was a perfect illustration of all the breaks going against Atlanta. The Panthers played that game like it was the seventh game of the World Series of Super Bowls at Wimbledon, rolling out a series of gadget plays that put the Falcons on their heels for just long enough (Carolina’s three fourth-quarter possessions resulted in three punts). The difference was bad situational football during a 20-minute span, with the Falcons getting stopped on a fourth-and-inches and a third-and-inches, and Ryan turning a second-and-1 into a third-and-6 by taking yet another unforgivable sack. Then there were the Julio Jones designer deep shots—everyone saw the second one, the kind of drop that makes you lose faith in humanity. But the Falcons won with that play twice, getting Kurt Coleman (not some rookie mark) to bite on the dig route because Julio Jones on a dig route is typically the last thing a defensive back sees before he dies. In the first quarter, Ryan overthrew Julio by about a foot.

For all the ups and downs Steve Sarkisian has had this season, those are two masterful playcalls that were inches away from turning into two long touchdowns. And that’s the way it’s gone for the Falcons this season. They got away with one in Chicago to open the season. Since then, they’ve really only played two truly bad games (the home loss to Miami and the Sunday nighter in New England; the home loss to Buffalo involved a Julio Jones injury and a scoop-and-score fumble against them that ranged somewhere in between a missed call and the crime of the century).

Atlanta’s luck might be swinging back the other way. Sunday afternoon, they catch the Cowboys for the first game of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension. Next week, they’ll go to Seattle and face a Seahawks team that will be without Richard Sherman for the first time since the Matt Hasselbeck era. If they can steal a couple of wins, they wrap things up with four home games and a total of five division games in their final six. That’s a recipe for a big finish.

4. Three other teams I like for a potential second-half run: The Titans, because they underachieved on both sides of the ball so far and are still 5-3. Now, they have Marcus Mariota back at 100% health, the young secondary should continue to rise as the year goes on, and their four remaining road games include trips to Indianapolis, Arizona and San Francisco. Stir that goulash and you’ve got 11 wins.

Similarly, the Lions’ second-half schedule is sponsored by our good friends at Charmin’, especially if Aaron Rodgers isn’t back for the regular-season finale at Ford Field. Detroit gets the Bears twice, winnable road trips to Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati and, of course, this Sunday they host Cleveland. They host the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate getting that Vikings D on short rest. Matthew Stafford has been absolutely magnificent for a second straight season despite the mediocre-at-best supporting cast, and he gets blindside protector Taylor Decker back for the stretch run (I still insist they should have played a one-armed Taylor Decker over Greg Robinson). And you’d like to think they’ve learned their lesson in the red zone—for goodness sake, Ameer Abdullah is not the answer down there.

I’m also picking the Chargers to go to the playoffs because I will always pick the Chargers to go to the playoffs every day until die. It makes no sense that they don’t win more games. They have the quarterback, the running game and the best pass-rushing tandem in football. They just have to stop doing stuff like turning punt returns into two points for the other team.

5. Mike Zimmer is smarter, wealthier and better looking than me, but I do not envy him on one count: He has to figure out what in the world to do with Teddy Bridgewater right now.

If this was August it wouldn’t even be a competition; Bridgewater would be the starter. But the Vikings have a pretty good thing going with Case Keenum under center right now. It’s not exactly because of Keenum, of course, but with the exception of the Detroit loss he’s been sharp and has kept the offense running on-time. And that’s really all you need with what the Vikings have on the other side of the ball.

In theory, Bridgewater could do that too, but he’s also coming off of a catastrophic knee injury and hasn’t taken a meaningful snap in 22 months and two days. Mid-November is not the time to be kicking off rust. I love Bridgewater (it’s an unrequited platonic love) and will be thrilled to see him back on the field, but if Keenum doesn’t open up the door with some poor play, I’m not sure I’d make any big, sudden move like a QB change if I was Zimmer.

6. The Bills did not enjoy their Thursday evening in Bergen County and let anyone who was willing to listen know all about it. But watching that game, I’m not sure it was drastically different than any game they’ve played this season.

The Bills are game flow-dependent, because they’re going to have a tough time scoring a lot of points in a short period of time. Their come-from-behind wins have been assisted by opponent turnovers. The first half against the Jets got away from them in large part because two plays that have usually gone their way went against them. First, there was Leonard Johnson letting this gift from Josh McCown bounce off his hands:

And then there was the Jordan Matthews fumble at the end of the half that cost them a chance for three points and a tie game heading into halftime:

Those are things that can happen to any team on any given week, but until last week they’re things that Buffalo’s opponents were doing on a weekly basis. Sean McDermott has done an unbelievable job in the season’s first half, but the tightrope the Bills have to walk on a weekly basis is tough to maintain. And with a second-half schedule that includes two Patriots games, a trip to Kansas City and a matchup with Drew Brees (who has spent many years carving up that Sean McDermott zone D), the climb to the postseason is still quite steep.

7. There are two universal truths about the New York Giants right now: (1) Ben McAdoo’s haircut is a good haircut. (A little too much product for my taste, but to each his own. It works.) And (2) It would be outright negligence if they didn’t take a look at the top 2018 draft quarterbacks.

There’s really nothing controversial about what Jerry Reese is saying. Eli Manning is an older quarterback. He hasn’t fallen off yet, but he’s 36 and it’s likely right around the corner because, unlike Tom Brady, he doesn’t eat avocado ice cream, and instead of TB12 sleepwear Eli wears Paw Patrol pajamas to bed (he’s a big Marshall guy).

The Giants have picked in the top-10 once since Manning came aboard (2015 when they selected ninth and drafted . . . [audible sigh] Ereck Flowers). If everyone is healthy, they might not return to Super Bowl contention next year, but they certainly won’t be sitting near the top of the draft again. They have no choice but to see what’s out there in the 2018 QB class. And if they can get their hands on a guy who can be a franchise quarterback for the next 10-15 years, they probably have to take him. Or, at the very least, they have to do their homework and then decide how sentimental they want to be.

8. I went in for my annual physical last Tuesday. I got to my doctor’s office, the receptionist told me which exam room I could go to, and at that point I yelled, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” dropped my $30 co-pay and headed back out to the car.

The Seahawks blowing off concussion protocol on Thursday night is problematic. And it’s not really on Russell Wilson, especially in the heat of the moment. He did what 99.7% of players would do there, which is why there are people in place who are supposed to be enforcing the rules. The obvious way to fix this: Once a player is taken off the field for concussion protocol, the independent neurologist has to confirm his examination with an official before that player is let back on the field. (In the meantime, the Seahawks will owe the league a few bucks.)

9. The holiday season is coming up, and all those years of sending my wishlist to Pan the goat god has finally paid off. We talked about this on the 10 Things Podcast a couple of times this offseason, and skycam—or, as it should be known, “Madden camera”— should be the primary camera angle for all NFL broadcasts. It’s not just because people play a lot of video games and are therefore used to it. Madden camera adds a whole new dimension to watching the run game because you can actually see the splits between offensive linemen and the resulting running lanes. And you really don’t lose much in the passing game because any receiver going downfield disappears off the screen on the 50-yard-line angle anyway. And now, NBC is going to go ahead and use Madden camera as its primary view for the TNF broadcast of Steelers-Titans. So rejoice, because Madden camera is awesome and will make watching traditional angles feel like watching a game on the radio.

10. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Guns N’ Roses!


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