News and notes to know heading into Week 6…
1. The NFL doesn’t have a team in London yet. But the league’s executive vice president of international, Mark Waller, believes the UK is ready for one now. Today’s Seahawks-Raiders game kicks off a run of three straight NFL Sundays at Wembley Stadium, and the 12th season of the league’s International Series. As Waller sees it, the growth is to the point where the pieces for a London team are in place. “With the one proviso that we’ve always referenced, which is that the travel component week-in, week-out is not tested,” Waller said from London, on Monday. “We feel the fan demand is here, we feel the stadium infrastructure and optionality is here, we feel the government support is here. We feel the logistics and training side of it are here. We feel very good. Like I’ve always said, the one we can never test for is how does it work week-in and week-out.”
That logistical part of it is a big one, of course. But checking off the rest of the boxes has been no small feat—the idea in the first place was to get a team to London 15 years after launching the project. And while there are four years left on that clock, and it’ll take a team moving or expansion (the former would be more likely than the latter) for the league to actually pull it off, Waller feels good about where the NFL is over there. “It feels great, and that’s why it’s taken 12 years, and that’s why we’ve always stayed focused on playing the games in London, because you need the games to grow the awareness, and grow the fan base,” Waller says. “And we didn’t move the games around, even within the UK, let alone playing in Germany or anywhere else, with exception of the recent addition of Mexico. And yeah, it does feel great. It feels great to be a legitimate part of a great sporting calendar.” We’ll have more with Waller in Monday’s column, including where the league stands on the Jaguars and owner Shad Khan moving to buy Wembley.
2. While we’re on the subject of league business, the NFL’s fall meeting is on Tuesday and Wednesday in New York. One interesting note from the agenda: The league actually voted to reduce the compensation committee, which determines the commissioner’s pay (and was in the news a lot last year), from six members to five in 2018. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt and Texans owner Bob McNair are set to rotate off the committee, I’m told, and the owners will pick a new fifth member in New York this week.
3. The Vikings expect to have Dalvin Cook back today, but will make sure he’s alright, working him out before their noon local kickoff against Arizona. There’s an acknowledgment there he’s not yet 100%, and will likely play his role by ear as the game goes on.
4. The Jets will be without Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine against Indy. While that’s not ideal, the brass is excited to see what Rashard Robinson—who had a big offseason prior to having to serve a four-game suspension to start the season—can do. They have high hopes for him. And while we’re there, keep an eye on tight end Neal Sterling, who should be good to go and who has earned a level of trust from Sam Darnold.
5. On the other sideline will be Andrew Luck, and the Colts quarterback is a lot closer to his pre-injury form than you may realize. At this point, what the coaches see is a player who needs to let it rip a little more consistently (they knew that would take time), but is well on his way back. That showed in how he played in Foxboro without T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle and Marlon Mack.
6. Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has drawn scrutiny this week, thanks in part to Allen Hurns’s comments. I’d say it’s fair to assume that his ability (or inability) to put together a creative, forward-thinking offense has been discussed inside the team’s facility. His unit gets a heck of a test today with the Jaguars coming to town.
7. Flying under the radar: The Panthers’ run game ranks first in the NFL behind Christian McCaffrey and a line that lost left tackle Matt Kalil at the start of September. How’s it happening? Cam Newton and the pass game have become more efficient, which is leading to the lighter boxes and more room for McCaffrey, the quarterback and the run game to roll.
8. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will start at NRG Stadium today, but I’d expect the staff to be judicious in limiting the damage he incurs against the Bills. That means playing differently than they did against Dallas.
9. Bucs QB Jameis Winston gets a soft landing this week, facing an injury-decimated Atlanta defense. And look for offensive coordinator Todd Monken to make him comfortable the same way he did Ryan Fitzpatrick, by being ultra aggressive on early downs and in run situations.
10. The relevant comp for Chiefs-Patriots might not be last year’s opener. It might actually be Super Bowl LII. Doug Pederson’s offense is, obviously, very similar to Andy Reid’s, and Pederson and his staff were able to effectively turn the big game into a track meet. K.C. knows its offense has a big edge speed-wise against New England’s defense—that much was apparent in last year’s opener. The difference this time around is that New England has tape on the spread concepts the Chiefs have unveiled.
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