The NFL is officially back tonight. Welcome back, NFL.
Tonight we get a rematch from last year’s NFC playoffs and a what very well could be a preview of another meeting in January 2019 between the Eagles and Falcons. The MMQB’s Andy Benoit will be breaking down the on-field matchup between the last two NFC champs, so let me fill in the rest with what I’m looking forward to seeing tonight.
Welcome back … Philly Special. NBC had its turn at broadcasting the Super Bowl last season, so you know the network will take every chance it gets to flash back to the defining Super Bowl play against the Patriots. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth also called the Eagles’ 15-10 playoff win against Atlanta, and that’s sure to get plenty of replays, too.
Welcome back … Julio Jones’ red-zone targets. We didn’t get to see Jones at all during the preseason, and the last time he played a competitive snap, the ball was going through his hands in the end zone on fourth down of the divisional-round loss to the Eagles. Last year Jones caught just five of his 19 red-zone targets for one touchdown during the regular season. Second-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian knows his squad must do a better job of feeding Jones inside the 20 if the Falcons hope to play at home in February.
Welcome back … sideline shots of Carson Wentz with an earpiece in, while we all wonder whether he plays next week in Tampa Bay or the following week at home against the Colts in the Quarterback Injury Comeback Bowl.
Welcome back … more sideline shots of protests by players during the national anthem. It’s unlikely any Falcons player will protest after their Protest to Progress campaign. Meanwhile, the Eagles traded for Michael Bennett in the offseason, and Malcolm Jenkins resumed raising his fist during the anthem during the preseason.
Welcome back … our friends at Pro Football Focus getting a huge national stage as Collinsworth, a part-owner of the advanced stats site, references it any chance he gets.
Finally, welcome, and just welcome … grumbling about the new lowering-the-helmet/tackling-the-quarterback rule that enraged us all during the preseason. Wait until Devonta Freeman collides with Jenkins in the open field. Or when Vic Beasley sacks Nick Foles. Even though the officials threw fewer flags as the preseason went on, you’ve got to still be expecting something tonight.
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Conor Orr looks at the Le’Veon Bell situation, and why it’s unusual for players to call out teammates about money … Robert Klemko goes long on John Elway’s search for a franchise quarterback ... while Andy Benoit asks—and answers—the question: How many teams really have a franchise QB? … ... and more.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: Andrew Brandt says these massive NFL contracts are big in numbers but lacking in creativity … Former Texans GM Rick Smith talks about his year away from football … Jenny Vrentas got in touch with the real star of Hard Knocks, offensive line coach Bob Wylie … The MMQB staff’s Super Bowl picks and award predictions for 2018 ... and more.
1. The Indy Star’s Zak Keefer got Andrew Luck to be as open, and as vulnerable, as we’ve seen him in his return from injury.
2. SB Nation’s Tyler Tynes says Nike’s Kaepernick ad seeks praise and profits, but not justice.
3. Blake Bortles turned the ball over a career-low 16 times last season. Jags head coach Doug Marrone says he wants to see zero turnovers from Bortles this week against the Giants.
4. It doesn’t look like the Falcons will be able to lock up defensive tackle Grady Jarrett by kickoff tonight after taking care of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Ricardo Allen and Jake Matthews this offseason.
5. Nielsen says a fully mature sports gambling market will be worth $2.3 billion annually to the NFL. Everyone will want a cut.
6. Former Colts punter Pat McAfee says an Instagram post led to his retirement after a blowup in former GM Ryan Grigson’s office.
7. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas reported to the team, ending his long holdout. The news comes just after a report that Dallas had upped its offer to a second-round pick in exchange for Thomas, but Seattle didn’t bite.
Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let us know here.
The essential thing to understand in the Nike-Kaepernick saga is that, while Nike clearly did its research as to whether this would be a money-making enterprise for the company, it also is in the enviable position of being wrong and still being OK. In short, Nike is bigger than the NFL and doesn’t have to have the NFL’s business to remain the sports apparel giant. We can talk about Nike’s ethics, or the ethics of a brand profiting off the strife of black and brown people when convenient for them. But once you realize that Nike doesn’t need the NFL like so many others do, the rest becomes clear.
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