It’s a wide-ranging mailbag today, with some thoughts on the league’s power conference, Richard Sherman’s surprising take on his injury and its relation to Thursday night football, the end of another ironman streak, Adrian Clayborn’s rebirth, and your mail. Let’s go.
The NFC is far and away the NFL’s power conference with seven weeks to play
Point differential is not the tell-all stat in football, but it’s interesting, and it’s recently been a great indicator of NFL power. The top three teams in point differential through 10 weeks:
Eight of the best 12 teams in point differential reside in the NFC this year. Only Jacksonville (fourth), New England (fifth), Kansas City (eighth) and Pittsburgh (12th) from the AFC crack the top dozen.
Check out how the point-differential leaders in the past four seasons turned out:
• 2016: New England 1, Atlanta 2. They met in the Super Bowl, and the top-scoring Pats won.
• 2015: Carolina 1, Arizona 2, New England 3, Denver 10. Ten beat one in the Super Bowl.
• 2014: New England 1, Seattle 2. They met in the Super Bowl, and the top-scoring Pats won.
• 2013: Denver 1, Seattle 2. They met in the Super Bowl, and the number two team won.
It’s not a perfect indicator. In 2012, 11 (Baltimore) beat four (San Francisco) in the Super Bowl. In 2011, 19 (New York Giants) beat three (New England) in the Super Bowl. But it’s interesting to note how spot-on it’s been over the past four seasons.
If I were picking the order of teams this morning, the NFC would have four of the top five teams. In order: Philadelphia, New England, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans, Carolina. Miami’s a psycho team, and I have no clue what a totally decisive win over the Dolphins means these days, but the Panthers’ stifling defense and adolescent-but-scary offense (with Greg Olsen likely returning for the last six regular-season games) is such a lethal combination right now that they easily could be a January power team.
Think of a possible NFC playoff seeding: 1. Philadelphia, 2. L.A. Rams, 3. New Orleans, 4. Minnesota, 5. Carolina, 6. Seattle or Detroit.
How about this for a divisional-round scenario—one of the best in years: Saints at Rams, Panthers at Eagles.
I know we’re not talking about football much in these days of anthems and Goodell-Jones, but if we ever get by the off-field flotsam and look at the potential for the home stretch of the 2017, it could be pretty great.
Hard to not be happy for Adrian Clayborn
Maybe it’s because the Cowboys suck the air out of most rooms they play in, but I found it interesting that the headline from Atlanta’s domination of Dallas last Sunday was more CRISIS ON THE DALLAS O-LINE than ADRIAN CLAYBORN, RE-BORN. And that is unfortunate. The former Tampa Bay first-round pick, a major disappointment after missing 28 of 64 Buc games due to injury, migrated to Atlanta in 2015 and had just 22.5 sacks in six-and-a-half years entering Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. Clayborn had six sacks and two forced fumbles against backup Dallas left tackles. He simply wrecked the game, and Atlanta got a season-saving 27-7 win.
“It’s cool,” Clayborn told me, “especially after what I’ve been through. I’ve had four major surgeries. It’s not a good sign when you go in for surgery and the nurses all remember your name, but that actually happened last year with my second surgery in New York [at the Hospital for Special Surgery].”
Clayborn had major knee surgery and right biceps surgery while a Buc, wrecking two seasons. Last year, as a rotational pass-rusher for Atlanta, he tore his MCL and meniscus, came back, and then, on the third play of the Falcons’ playoff game against Seattle, he tore his left biceps chasing and grabbing Russell Wilson.
“I went to a dark place,” Clayborn said. “It was so hard, because I’d worked so hard to come back and we had a chance to do something great last year. I didn’t know if I’d even keep playing. But I battled back. This is what I do—it’s what I love to do.”
Clayborn is 29, but his speed is still there from when the Bucs picked him 20th overall in 2011. Though five of his sacks came against overmatched backup Chaz Green, Clayborn said he wished he could have faced Tyron Smith. “He’s the best, and I want to play the best,” Clayborn said. Seriously? “Seriously. It sucked because I was looking forward to testing myself against him. I like playing against great players.” The way Clayborn played Sunday, he’ll be held up as one by his foes down the stretch.
The Richard Sherman Chronicles
Three questions for the injured Seattle corner, who was lost for the season last Thursday with a torn Achilles against Arizona:
Was this a sudden injury, or something that you felt coming?
Sherman: “It’s been hurting for a while. It hurt during training camp, on and off, and flared up when we played the Rams. You just deal with it. I knew it would be a matter of time. Every week I stayed away from making drastic cuts, but in this game, I saw there was a play to be made covering John Brown, so I went for it. I knew right away. I knew it was an inevitability from training camp on, honestly, but I didn’t want my teammates to know. I didn’t want them to worry. I didn’t want it to be a distraction every week.”
So the short week didn’t cause this, right?
Sherman: “Not necessarily. It was gonna happen regardless. Maybe it happened earlier than it should have. But I still don’t like the Thursday night games. The turnaround is so quick, and this is so violent a game, two games in four days. This should be the last year of these games in the current format. It’s great to get that extra rest after the game before your next game, but as you can see, some guys don’t make it to the next game.”
Your first game missed in the NFL—ever. You played 117 straight games since you game into the league. You’re Joe Thomas Jr.! Will you be the same player coming back at 30?
Sherman: (Laughs) “I will come back bigger and faster and stronger. The game is played above the shoulder, and I will continue to do that. I was never the most athletic guy anyway. I want to catch Charles Woodson. I’ve got 33 more interceptions to go to do that. He put the blueprint out there for guys to play well late into their careers. I have so much respect for him. We’ll probably be talking soon. He’s been a great mentor for me. I probably will move to safety at some point, but not now.”
Now for your email of the week:
YOU DON’T GIVE CASE KEENUM ENOUGH CREDIT
This week, you list the Vikings at the bottom of the 7-2 squads, which is okay, but your reasoning seems to rest on the fact that they're being led at present by journeyman Case Keenum. I feel the need to quibble with you on two points. First, while everyone realizes Keenum is a fill-in who's no Tom Brady, why do you disparage him with the phrase "threw for four touchdowns for the first time in his life"? This guy was a prolific college quarterback who set NCAA records for passing yards, TDs, and completions. He threw NINE TDs in one game. It's uncharacteristically lazy to dismiss the possibility that the Vikings have built a well-rounded offensive team, even with their No. 3 quarterback. Thanks.
—Bud R., Minneapolis
Well, okay, Bud. I did name Keenum offensive player of the week. I did write: “Keenum was not just a facilitator Sunday—not just a quarterback along for the ride with a excellent 1-2 receiver punch in Stefon Diggs and emerging star Adam Thielen...” and several hundred more glowing words about Keenum. I’m not sure how exactly I dissed him, but I appreciate you reading and checking in.
ON MARTELLUS BENNETT
I was surprised you didn’t discuss the whole Martellus Bennett situation a little more. He accused the Packers of trying to play him while injured, rips on the Packers medical staff, said he was unable to play and basically worked his way to getting cut. Then he can miraculously play the next Sunday. Something doesn’t add up.
—Mike H., De Pere, Wisc.
My reasoning: I did not speak with Bennett, I did not speak with the Packers (who likely would have no-commented the whole thing for legal reasons), and was hung up for two days on the Goodell-Jones-Blank thing almost exclusively. This is one of those stories that is interesting and merits a follow. I should have made more effort to get into an odd but newsworthy story once Bennett made an impact and spoke Sunday night.
JONES VS. GOODELL
I understand the personal ax Jerry Jones has to grind with Roger Goodell, but what I don't get is why he or any of the other owners would care how much Goodell makes. If they could cut the rumored salary of $50 million Goodell is asking for to, say, $30 million, is that $20 million going in the owners' pockets?
Yes it is. But I think it’s more the principle of the thing. Just because Goodell can make, say, $40 million, should he? And why not $80 million? Or $100 million? Jones’ point, especially in a turbulent time for the league, I believe is valid: With Goodell having more than a year left on his contract, and the league in as much turmoil as in any time of Goodell’s 11-year reign, what’s the hurry?
ON TOM LANDRY AND BILL BELICHICK
Good article giving credit to both coaches. A couple notes: Both coaches were good at bringing in veterans at the end of their careers and using them to their fullest. Belichick's history is well known, but Landry brought in players like Mike Ditka, Lance Allworth, others to cap off Super Bowl runs. Landry should receive credit for finding players in other sports and bringing them to the Cowboys. Quite innovative at the time. I know Bob Hayes was the 1964 Olympic gold medalist who became a great wide receiver for them. Cornell Green was a basketball star converted to defensive back (not positive, just recalling commentary heard during games as a kid). Interesting to check out.
There’s a difference, Paco. Gil Brandt probably deserves more credit than Landry for those personnel finds, honestly. I know that’s the case with Cornell Green. Whereas with Belichick, he’s responsible for all personnel calls from soup to nuts with the Patriots.
SAINTS OVER VIKINGS?
Can please explain why you rank the Saints higher than the Vikings when they have the exact same record and yet the Vikings beat the Saints (decidedly) in head-to-head competition. Logic would dictate when the records are the same, move on the tiebreakers to determine rank...and the most logical and telling tie-breaker is head to head competition.
Teams change from Week 1 to week 11, Carter. Kansas City beat New England on opening night. The Chiefs have lost three of four, and the Patriots have won four in a row. Who would you take now head to head?
ELI’S NO TRADE CONTRACT
I was surprised to see you repeat the idea of Eli Manning being traded in the offseason to Denver. Eli has a no-trade contract and would therefore have to agree, right?
—Richard, New Jersey
All I wrote was I would expect John Elway to inquire about Eli Manning, not that Manning would be traded. I doubt he will be, but it’s worth asking for Elway.
NATE BOYER’S CHALLENGE
While I always enjoy reading Nate Boyer's thoughtful words when speaking about his friend Colin Kaepernick, it often seems that much of what he says is in essence a directive for Colin to do more, to step up more, to change his approach to protest or actions in small ways, and sometimes larger ways. My question to Nate would be what are you doing to change, adjust and lead on the issues that Mr. Kaepernick has helped bring to the forefront? So often people of color are asked adjust their approach while others, even allies such as Mr. Boyer, are rarely asked to do the same. I do think it is the job of good journalists like Tim Rohan to challenge Nate Boyer on his own response to such issues.
I disagree. It’s not Nate Boyer who is in the middle of an American debate over the anthem, and it’s not Nate Boyer who was the NFL star who now can’t get an NFL sniff because he kneeled for the anthem, and it’s not Nate Boyer being held up as the modern-day Ali for his brave stand on civil rights. Kaepernick is on the cover of magazines. No matter what Boyer did for this issue, he would never be.
Whose responsibility is it to take the helmet from the player? It seems like that was part of the problem with Russell Wilson getting back into the game so quickly—he still had his helmet. It seems like it's the same conflict of interest to have a coach be responsible for that part, but I can only imagine a tiny doctor trying to take, say, James Harrison's helmet. By the way, Jacoby Brissett getting back on the field after clearly being knocked silly was even worse than Wilson's non-exam.
—Mike, Baton Rouge, La.
You’re about Brissett, Mike, and good for long-time brain crusader Chris Nowinski for pointing that out. Regarding Wilson’s helmet, you’re right. But it all could have and should have been short-circuited by the independent medic on the sideline stopping this charade.
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