It’s way too early for the proverbial power rankings. So let’s do them anyway! Let’s overreact after two weeks and look stupid a fortnight down the road!
The top 10 after the season’s first 30 games:
1. Dallas (2-0). The offense is mostly on fire, and the D has allowed 10 points in eight quarters. BTW: I covered the Giants for four prime Lawrence Taylor seasons. Micah Parsons is the closest thing I’ve seen to Taylor in terms of being able to collapse the pocket with a bull-rush and turnstile a tackle with unblockable speed.
2. San Francisco (2-0). Flip a coin for Niners or Eagles as number two. San Francisco’s got an efficient quarterback, a team of offensive weapons as good as any team has, and a brutish defense. What a difference Christian McCaffrey makes. Plus, two big road wins to start.
3. Philadelphia (2-0). I chortled at an Eagle-fan friend who was verbally wringing his hands to me Friday. Told him his team is running it great, has a top-five quarterback who will soon strafe foes, has young road-graders on the defensive front who are the envy of the league, and has the best 1-to-53 roster in football. What’s to worry about, other than holding off Dallas in the NFC East?
4. Miami (2-0). Survive and advance. That’s the moral of the story on a crazy Sunday night in Foxboro. Nothing’s changed since Labor Day: If Tua plays 16 or 17 games, this team’s going to be a very tough out in the postseason. He drops passes into tight windows as pretty as any quarterback today, like the throw just before halftime Sunday night to River Cracraft.
5. Kansas City (1-1). Things I do not expect to last in the 2023 NFL season: Arizona, Indianapolis, and Washington outscoring Kansas City. But it’s happening now. I grade on the reality that I’ve seen in two weeks, not what I project a month down the road. And Kansas City is struggling on offense.
6. Baltimore (2-0). Injuries are biting already—they always do for the Ravens—and Odell Beckham (ankle) may be the latest. But the Ravens had lost their last three in Cincinnati by an average of 13 points and made big plays when big plays were needed all afternoon Sunday.
7. Buffalo (1-1). I thought the Josh Allen turnover-fest last Monday was an outlier. For a week, it was. Sunday was the Buffalo I thought 2023 would produce.
8. Los Angeles Rams (1-1). In the first two weeks, the Rams have outgained the best two teams in the division (or so we thought), Niners and Seahawks, by 133 yards a game. I thought this was a rebuilding year for the McVays. But this is a tough, tough team.
9. Seattle (1-1). Heck of a rebound week. Lions unveil the Barry Sanders statue and get more fired up for a home game than for any game in years—and the ‘Hawks put up 37 on them.
10. (tie) Detroit (1-1). I’m seeing the Jared Goff endgame as a one-off. The Lions are good, but the first two weeks show us they’ve got to bring their best game weekly to be a double-digit-win team in 2023.
10. (tie) Tampa Bay (2-0). Biggest deal about the Bucs so far: They’ve held two teams to 17 points apiece, and they have zero turnovers. Keep that up, or close to it, and a Wild Card home playoff game awaits.
The first two weeks have had very few stunners. Dallas is terrific. Did you see Micah Parsons bull-rush and speed-rush his way to two sacks and four pressures in the 30-10 win over the Jets? Not exactly the way Robert Saleh wanted to soup-up Zach Wilson’s confidence level. Tua Tagovailoa’s wowed us. What touch. What a symphonic relationship he has with Mike McDaniel. The Bucs might be better than the best team in an awful division. The Rams are far better than even Stan Kroenke thought. And the Bengals. The poor, 0-2 Bengals. Something’s missing here, and it might be the health of the quarterback.
Rodgers will try to make history with his Achilles rehabilitation. I expect he may employ a rehab method — “may,” I stress, because I do not know — involving a tourniquet that some Wounded Warriors have used in rehab. It would be very much like Mr. Darkness Retreat to do something new.
Baker Mayfield is on fire, as is Tampa Bay. What a great start for Mayfield, playing for his fourth team in the last 21 months. No quarterback is his peer through two weeks on third downs (20 of 23 for 201 yards and three touchdowns). So much for geniuses like me who thought the Bucs would be in for a total rebuild this year.
Cincinnati’s in trouble. Not only are the Bengals winless, with San Francisco, Buffalo, Kansas City, Baltimore and two Pittsburghs left to play, but there was this uh-oh quote from Joe Burrow post-game, re: his troublesome calf: “I tweaked it a little bit. We’ll see where it is tomorrow. It’s pretty sore right now.” Yikes.
Who is Puka Nacua? Only the leading receiver in the NFL through two weeks. The Rams’ fifth-round rookie from Brigham Young leads all NFL receivers in targets (35!) and catches (25) through two weeks. He dropped to the 177th pick in the draft for much the same reason Cooper Kupp dropped to the 69th seven years ago: speed. Or lack thereof. Both run slower than 4.50. Luckily, Rams scouts don’t live and die on 40 times.
Miami’s big edge. After the Sunday night win at Foxboro, Miami’s in good shape in the highly competitive AFC—and it’s not just because the Dolphins are 2-0. They’re the only team with just six road games remaining.
Grass v Turf. Seventeen teams play on artificial surfaces, with an 18th, Green Bay, using a combined grass/turf field. Players want to make that number zero. Owners will fight it. One significant factor: To get loans to finance new mega-stadia, some owners had to guarantee income from non-NFL events, like Taylor Swift and Beyonce concerts.
Who’ll stop the Cowboys? Lots of raised eyebrows when Kellen Moore walked after last season, but Mike McCarthy coaching Dak Prescott and orchestrating the offense is working great so far. Prescott completed his first 13 passes in beating the Jets Sunday, and credited McCarthy’s emphasis on his footwork for his comfort in the pocket and 71-percent passing in Dallas’ 2-0 start.
The Jim Trotter lawsuit. Was Trotter fired from NFL Media because he made the league uncomfortable with his emphasizing its minority-hiring record? And did Terry Pegula and Jerry Jones say racially insensitive things—and, more importantly to the case at hand, can that be proven?
How the networks can mitigate the ratings damage post-Rodgers if the Jets crash. I point out two very flex-ible games.
The Colorado Deions. What television. What drama. What a comeback to beat Colorado State 43-35. One Sanders son pick-sixing an 80-yard TD, the other son driving the Buffaloes 98 yards to force OT, The Rock on the sidelines, Lil Wayne doing an impromptu pregame concert, non-football-fan Giannis Antetokounmpo entranced. No better story in sports today.
Did you hear Rodgers the other day post-Achilles surgery, with Pat McAfee, when the Jets’ QB said: “There’s a lot of different ideas about the overall length of the rehab. Just because nobody’s ever done it in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”
That’s a significant statement. It also led me to think Rodgers might consider a rehab method used by wounded veterans called Blood Flow Resistance Rehabilitation. More about that in a moment.
Even in a news cycle that changes headlines more often than we change underwear, the Rodgers story is still a mega-thing a week after he tore his Achilles on national TV in his first game with the Jets. One other thing from the Rodgers quotebook, from my chat with him in training camp, on the skepticism over his darkness retreat: “I think there’s too many people who are judgmental without being curious. For me, I feel at my best when I’m open and being vulnerable.”
It may be physically impossible for Rodgers to return from the injury this season. But he’s going to drive himself to try. And he might be the best patient noted Achilles surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache has had because he’s so open-minded and willing to try new rehab stratagems. Rodgers had his surgery Wednesday, and the NFL playoffs begin exactly four months from that day. (Wild Card Weekend is Jan. 13 through 15.) Two notable Achilles cases with the same surgeon: Rams running back Cam Akers was cleared to play four months and three weeks after his 2021 surgery. Kobe Bryant played seven months and 26 days after surgery in 2013. Would the Jets even consider playing franchise-guy Rodgers, with less rehab time than Akers or Bryant, if they make the playoffs? Seems hugely risky.
But, I’m told, Rodgers and the medical professionals will not be ruled by emotion. If he’s cleared, it’ll be because the Achilles is fully healed and prepared for the stress of a football game. ElAttrache’s reputation is if the patient is not fully ready, the doctor won’t succumb to pressure to clear him.
As Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported Saturday, ElAttrache used a surgical procedure called “SpeedBridge” in the operation Wednesday. Instead of re-attaching the Achilles with two fasteners, the SpeedBridge procedure uses an hourglass method, with four fasteners in an X formation. Theoretically, that promotes quicker healing by accelerating the range-of-motion in the area without stretching the repaired tendon.
But it’s only quicker, I’m told, if the patient is diligent and dedicated to the daily grind of the rehab process. You think Rodgers won’t be an active participant in his own rehab program?
That’s why I think one method of rehab used to speed healing after some devastating injuries to both soldiers and athletes—Blood Flow Resistance Rehabilitation—could well be in the Rodgers playbook now. The Blood Flow Resistance method applies a tourniquet to the injured area to partially restrict the flow of blood during strength training. Per Johnny Owens, a therapist and CEO of Houston-based Owens Recovery Science, the brain then triggers a rush of hormones and other strengthening modes to the affected area, promoting accelerated metabolism and healing. Owens has used this with wounded soldiers at the Brooke Army Medical Center near San Antonio.
One other envelope-pushing modality could be in play too. Traditionally, Achilles patients don’t do any range-of-motion in the ankle/Achilles area for three weeks after surgery. But now some physicians, while closely monitoring the wound for healing and infection, think light range-of-motion can start after 10 days if all signs are positive. That, in turn, hastens recovery in most cases.
Will those be used? I don’t know. But I suspect Rodgers will be listening to smart people about all rehab modes, and he won’t be afraid to try some that aren’t common. BFR seems the most likely.
As one NFL doctor told me Friday: “Therapy is as important as the surgery in Achilles cases. And the willingness of the patient to be all-in with the process is really important if you want to try to get back sooner.” The fact is, it’s unlikely anyone can come back from an Achilles tear in four months, and no one knows today if Rodgers will be the first. Who knows if the Jets will even be playing in four months? But I can tell you Rodgers is thinking like that old philosopher Jim Carrey this morning: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
Mayfield’s best start ever. In Baker Mayfield’s first five years in the NFL, his accuracy was mediocre (61.4 percent), and he’d taken 79 sacks in his last 26 games. Too many. Now he’s off to the best start in his career. He’s gotten rid of the ball on time (one sack in two games, despite a lot of pressure), and even when he’s had people in his face, he’s had the presence to throw accurately. Per NFL NextGen Stats, Mayfield was 14 of 17 for 223 yards and a TD when pressured by the Bears Sunday in the 27-17 Tampa Bay win. NextGen had this pro-Mayfield factoid: No NFL quarterback has thrown for more yards than Mayfield’s under-pressure 223 in the past four years. “Great decisions by Mayfield,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He has a good feel for the game and what’s around him.” When Tom Brady retired, the Bucs weren’t sure what they had with Mayfield, and thus signed him for a year and $4 million. But Tampa Bay doesn’t have a quarterback of the future, and this spot is shaping up nicely for a guy who’d gotten beat up a lot in his last two seasons. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Harbaugh gets emotional. This is John Harbaugh’s 16th year coaching the Ravens. Entering Sunday’s game at the Bengals, he had 159 victories; only 24 coaches had more. That’s a lot of wins; one was a Super Bowl victory over his brother. But I haven’t seen many wins that produced this much emotion in Harbaugh. He hugged coaches, slapped and shook hands with coaches and players, and wore a grin he just couldn’t wipe off his face. Why such glee? “What a tough question,” Harbaugh said from his office in Paycor Stadium after the 27-24 win. “I think it’s because these players love each other. And this was an important game. Very important. We lost a playoff game here [in January], and people see that and they move on. Not us. We’ve lived with it all offseason. And so today, we win, and you could just feel the joy. In the locker room, I saw euphoria, and I saw love.” Two other points: Baltimore’s not only 2-0, but 2-0 in the AFC, with a two-game edge (plus the tiebreaker) over the favorite to win the division, Cincinnati. And they did it with five starters missing. This could be a brutal division, top to bottom, and this morning, Baltimore’s got the edge.
Geno Smith is the right quarterback for Seattle at this moment in his life—and in this franchise’s existence. Lower in this column, you’ll read about what Pete Carroll learned from Geno Smith. It’s insightful and shows an unselfish person who knows how to lead a team. That’s all well and good—but can the guy play? Sunday’s 37-31 victory in Detroit was Smith’s 20th start in Seattle since taking over for Russell Wilson, and I find it fairly amazing that Smith is every bit the player in his first 20 games that Wilson was in his last 20 in Seattle.
Wilson’s last 20: 11-9, 99.8 rating, .649 completion rate, 4,339 yards, 35 TD, 9 Int.
Smith’s first 20: 10-10, 101.1 rating, .700 completion rate, 4,722 yards, 33 TD, 11 Int.
After a poor season-opening loss to the Rams, Smith said he and Bobby Wagner spoke to the team. Have fun and play with swagger, Wagner said. Stay connected and play for each other, Smith said. Team things. “This is only our second game together, because teams change every year,” Smith said after the game Sunday. “We’re finding out about each other and we’re learning about each other. One of my messages is to keep our composure all the way through the game. Like, my message in the huddle when we get across the 50 and the drive is getting toward the goal line, I tell the guys, ‘Take a deep breath. Calm down. Relax. Just execute.’ I try to be the thermometer in the huddle. Make sure everyone’s cool, so we can get our jobs done. On the [game-winning] drive in overtime, I could feel it—everyone knew we’d score. It’s the confidence you gotta have. That’s super fun, right? You get the ball in your hands at the end of a game. That’s what you live for and you dream about as a kid, the opportunity to go win the game. It’s so much fun.” And that’s the guy you want in your huddle, piloting your team.
So let’s hear what you’d have called in this situation:
Green Bay 24, Atlanta 22, 2:08 remaining, fourth quarter, in Atlanta … Falcons with a fourth-and-one at the Packers’ 23-yard line … Green Bay, two timeouts left … A nearly automatic field-goal kicker in Younghoe Koo, indoors, with a 41-yard try to take a one-point lead.
What do you do? Kick it, right? Getting stopped there means Green Bay wins the game with one first down—and may win it going three-and-out.
Interesting: NFL NextGen Stats had the Falcons’ probability of winning increase by 6.5 percent by going for it. Which Falcons coach Arthur Smith did.
“One, I liked the call that we had,” he told me from the Falcons’ locker room an hour after he made the call. “Two, I thought, okay, worst-case scenario we don’t get it. We’ll have the two-minute warning and I still have two timeouts. Three, I knew if we converted that it would be heavily in our favor to win because Green Bay would have to use their two timeouts. We could milk the clock down and I was hoping to milk it all the way down to two seconds to end it on a field goal.”
One other factor here: If the Packers did make the stop, they’d be asking Jordan Love to win the game with, say, two very clutch plays in a noisy road place. He’d been poised and much better than expected in his first two games post-Aaron Rodgers, but Smith probably liked his chances to stop Green Bay if his fourth-and-one call didn’t work.
Having Bijan Robinson helps a coach make a call like this. The play was disguised, with quarterback Desmond Ridder appearing to line up behind center to take the snap; and he did take the snap, but flipped it quickly to the multi-purpose weapon, Bijan Robinson, who immediately sprinted around the right end. He split two onrushing Packers—safety Darnell Savage, linebacker Kingsley Enagbare—and made seven yards fairly easily.
What I loved about the play-call: It looked like any other play. Looked like Ridder would take the snap or try to draw the Packers offside. But then it accelerated, and Ridder got rid of the ball like it was a hot potato. Robinson looked like he was running at a different speed than everyone else. That’s why the Falcons used the eighth overall pick on a player they truly did not need. He won the game for them Sunday.
“As the game wore down,” Smith said, “we felt that we weren’t out of anything in our playbook. When you have explosive players—whether it’s in the rushing attack or the passing attack, you try not to become obvious. It allowed us to stay in our normal offense and we felt good about it how we could attack the defense there.”
Two more stories on the NFL radar:
The grass-versus-turf debate. No one knows if the artificial turf at MetLife Stadium was a factor in Aaron Rodgers’ injury; a day earlier, Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins tore his Achilles on a grass field. But it’s an emotional issue for players, who renewed their calls after the Rodgers injury for all-grass fields in the NFL. They’re certain the game is safer when played on grass. It’s a big ask; only 14 of 32 teams play home games on grass fields. Anything’s possible, but to turn 15 stadiums from fake to real grass permanently would be a huge undertaking.
Players are right to complain that owners are quick to change stadia to grass to attract World Cup and international soccer games. But changing a place to grass for two to five weeks, as happens during a World Cup, is different than changing it permanently. In domed stadiums, it would require tray systems so the grass could get natural light outside the dome in between games. In some places, particularly when the weather turns cold, as in Minnesota and Detroit, the field quality would be iffy.
Also, this is a business issue for owners. When SoFi Stadium was built by Stan Kroenke for $5.5 billion, part of the stadium was financed by loans secured in part with the assurance that money from other events would help cover the loans. The nine Taylor Swift and Beyonce concerts at SoFi this summer are part of the bargain—they reportedly brought in more than $10 million total to the Kroenke company. There’s also the community element. In Georgia, some 36,000 high school students play football and flag football. This year the Falcons will host 11 state championship games (eight boys’ football games, three girls’ flag games) on the artificial turf of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Could those games be played elsewhere? Certainly. But civic-minded owner Arthur Blank would be loath to move them.
For the league to go all-grass, I’m convinced it has to be a collectively bargained issue, even though there is evidence that in non-contact injuries, grass is overall a safer surface. The owners won’t voluntarily go to all-grass.
The Jim Trotter lawsuit. In a 53-page lawsuit against the NFL, the former NFL.com writer and NFL Network TV analyst said he was not kept by the NFL media group because of his public questioning of commissioner Roger Goodell on diversity in the media group and in football positions. In a statement, Trotter said, “The NFL has claimed it wants to be held accountable regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. I tried to do so, and it cost me my job.”
Part of Trotter’s complaint is he wasn’t allowed to report negative comments allegedly made by NFL owners. Trotter said he challenged Dallas owner Jerry Jones on the number of Black decision-makers in NFL front offices, and he claims Jones said: “If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire.” Jones denied saying that. Trotter’s lawsuit said his NFL media group supervisors told him not to use Jones’ comment in his reporting.
Also in the suit: Trotter said in a September 2020 videoconference in the wake of the George Floyd murder, one NFL media member reported Bills owner Terry Pegula saying, “If the Black players don’t like it here, they should go back to Africa and see how bad it is.” In denying that, Pegula said he was “horrified” by the allegation and called it “absolutely false.”
“They’re allegations,” Goodell said to Stephen A. Smith on ESPN. “Our job is to make sure they’re factual. These are not new charges. They’re actually a couple of years old. They’ve been looked into.” Now that Trotter and his two attorneys have filed the complaint in a federal court in New York, we’ll see what “looked into” means, and we’ll see how seriously, if at all, the NFL ever investigated these alleged statements. The discovery process will force those issues to have light shone on them.
As shown in phases of the “investigations” into former Washington owner Daniel Snyder, the league can release whatever information it chooses when disciplining one of their own. The hope here is that Trotter’s attorneys force the truth, whatever it is, to come out.
It’s not always the players who learn from coaches. Sometimes it’s vice versa, as with the NFL’s oldest coach, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, who turned 72 last week. Carroll on what he’s learned from his quarterback Geno Smith, who spent most of seven seasons as a backup before ascending to the starting job last season:
“I didn’t realize it was happening in Geno’s first couple years here, how well he was commanding the backup situation. He was really improving. Really working. He thought of himself as a starter. When he wound up going in, there was not a transition. Geno’s the example I preach about to our players. He maintained a starter’s mentality throughout four years of sitting … But he never didn’t believe. It was a teachable moment for the rest of the team. I wound up telling the whole team about it because it’s the perfect illustration of how every backup should prepare—when you get in there, it’s not a shock to you. It’s not unexpected. We call it G prep.”
(‘G prep,’ as in Geno Smith prep.)
“That’s what we all hope for when we’re coaching but I’d never seen it so clearly illustrated. It’s a fascinating realization. I’ve been coaching for a million years. Never figured it out, never saw it like I saw with Geno. Having the discipline as a player when there’s a guy ahead of you, that’s the hard part. Where do you find a guy disciplined enough that he can make himself ignore the reality? So he became a clear example to every player in our locker room. He’s not just playing—he’s teaching as he’s doing this.
“You know, Kobe Bryant talked about the curiosity that he had to maintain as his career went on. Always being curious. That’s what Geno has.”
A recurring element in the column this year: a video memory of one of my favorite memories of 40 years covering pro football.
This week, I come to you from the side of Interstate 80 in Iowa. In 1990, I got to do one of my favorite stories in my Sports Illustrated career—riding the bus with John Madden from the San Francisco Bay Area to his apartment at the Dakota on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Madden, as you probably know, had a fear of flying and so traveled in a tricked-out bus, with the back 40 percent of the vehicle a glorious, luxurious bedroom with a king bed. For this memory, I picked Des Moines, because it showed how Madden was able to live such an efficient life, week after week, sleeping while his two drivers alternated piloting his bus on the highways of the United States:
Offensive players of the week
Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Tampa Bay. Football’s a funny game. Go figure, after stints with Cleveland, Carolina and the Rams over the past two years, that Mayfield would be the hottest quarterback in the league out of the gate in 2023. He’s a 69-percent passer through two games, and turnover-free, after Tampa’s 27-17 home-opening win over the Bears.
D’Andre Swift, running back, Philadelphia. After rushing just once in the Eagles’ narrow opening win at Foxboro, Swift, in his first home game as an Eagle in his native Philadelphia, was the best player on the field Thursday night against Minnesota. He rushed 28 times for 175 yards and helped the Eagles to 39 minutes in time of possession.
Defensive players of the week
Geno Stone, safety, Baltimore. With the Ravens ravaged by injury (sound familiar?), Stone stepped into his ninth NFL start Sunday in Cincinnati for injured safety Marcus Williams and made the play of the game. On the first series of the third quarter, with Baltimore up 13-10, Joe Burrow was driving for the go-ahead TD. From the Baltimore 17-yard line, he threw for Tee Higgins in the end zone—and Stone stepped in the path of the throw and picked it off at the two-yard line. His 36-yard return helped set up a Baltimore touchdown. So instead of being down 17-13, the pick helped the Ravens go up 20-10. Burrow’s take afterward: “Really good play by him. Good disguise.”
Shaq Barrett, linebacker, Tampa Bay. Five months after losing his 2-year-old daughter Arrayah, who drowned in April, Barrett made the play that clinched Tampa’s 27-17 win over the Bears in Tampa. Barrett picked off Justin Fields and returned it four yards for a TD. He then blew a kiss to the sky, a tribute to Arrayah.
Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Kansas City. In his first game after a long holdout, Jones had his fingerprints all over the 17-9 KC win. When the Jags chose to go for it in the second quarter on fourth-and-five from the Kansas City 45, Jones sacked Trevor Lawrence to set up KC’s first TD drive of the game. On a third-and-14 late in the third quarter, he batted down a Lawrence pass, forcing Jacksonville to punt. And in the closing minutes, he shared a sack on a third-and-10 play on the Jags’ last legitimate chance to tie it. The Super Bowl champs, on their flight home, must have been thinking, “Man, wish we had you last week for the Detroit game.”
Special Teams player of the week
Marvin Mims, wide receiver/punt-returner, Denver. No one breaks punt returns anymore, but Mims, a second-round rookie from Oklahoma, juked and scampered 45 yards with one in the second quarter of Denver’s close loss to Washington. Add his 60-yard TD catch from Russell Wilson and another 54-yard reception and young man, you’ve had a day.
Coach of the week
Todd Bowles, head coach, Tampa Bay. Tremendous job by Bowles and his staff, getting the Bucs to 2-0 without a running game and with a quarterback new to the system and playing for his fourth team in three seasons. Having a defense that keeps the team in narrow games is a huge help, and the Tampa defense is Bowles’.
--Dallas pass-rusher Micah Parsons, after a tremendous game in Dallas’ 30-10 sacking of the Jets Sunday.
--Alex Kemp, referee in the Seattle-Detroit game, to Seahawks QB Geno Smith when he tried to argue an intentional-grounding call while Kemp was announcing it at Ford Field Sunday.
--Aaron Rodgers, post-Achilles surgery, on “The Pat McAfee Show,” on how fast he thinks he can recover from the injury.
--Colorado coach Deion Sanders, asked by Rich Eisen on “The Rich Eisen Show” if he would entertain future offers to coach in the NFL.
--Peyton Manning, on the “Manningcast” last Monday, speculating about what Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was doing at halftime of the Jets-Bills game, after Aaron Rodgers was kayoed with a torn Achilles.
First six quarters of 2023:
Dallas 58, Foes 10.
Foes 60, Giants 0.
Minnesota has lost six fumbles in the first two games of the season.
In 17 games in 2022, Pittsburgh and Dallas lost five fumbles. Las Vegas lost four.
D’Andre Swift was the biggest single offensive weapon for Philadelphia in the 34-27 win over Minnesota Thursday night. He rushed 28 times for 175 yards.
The Eagles traded a fourth-round pick in 2025 to acquire Swift last spring. It’s generally considered among NFL GMs that the value of draft picks is devalued by one round per season into the future. Considering the draft pick is more than a year down the road, and considering the Eagles are likely to pick low in the draft in the near future, let’s look at the value of the Eagles’ fifth-round pick in 2025.
The Eagles won a game Thursday night, and they won with their best player having the value, roughly, of the 165th pick in a draft.
This is what smart teams do—acquire stressed assets at a low value. Swift was the 35th pick in the 2020 draft, and he averaged 4.6 yards per rush for Detroit in parts of three seasons. Getting him for the equivalent of a low fifth-round pick 20 months from now is a great deal for Philadelphia.
Not to mention this factoid:
Cash owed to D’Andre Swift in 2023 by the Eagles: $1.77 million.
Cash owed to Miles Sanders (who Swift replaced after Sanders signed in free agency with Carolina) in 2023 by the Panthers: $6.98 million.
The Rams have a Zach Thomas and a Jason Taylor on their 53-man roster.
Thomas is a tackle from San Diego State, Taylor a safety from Oklahoma State. Neither has south Florida roots, unfortunately.
(H/T Bill Brown of Vancouver for pointing this out.)
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Another happy customer. From Tony Gravato: “Good to see you are in mid-season ‘ignore what Dallas does’ mode already.”
Fair. I truly do not know how much the abomination that was the New York team meant in that 40-0 Dallas victory.
Disagrees with me about the Hall of Fame. From Paul: “Your take on the number of Pro Football Hall of Famers recently elected is disappointing. Plenty of deserving candidates are still waiting decades because previous voters simply ignored them. You should be praising voters for righting those wrongs instead of criticizing them.”
No argument with you about so many of the old-timers who got left by the wayside, Paul. The argument is about two things.
One: The Centennial Class of 2020 was supposed to address the overlooked players from the first 40 years of the NFL; but only four of the 15 Centennial Class members (including two coaches, three contributors and 10 players) played all or the majority of their careers pre-1960.
Two: The recent coach elections make it likely that Tom Coughlin, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll, Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton and John Harbaugh—in addition to slam-dunkers Bill Belichick and Andy Reid—will be enshrined one day. Do you think 13 coaches in roughly a 30-year span should all be in? To me it’s a bit much.
Han’s a fan of the Peyton Manning 40-for-40. From Han Chuan Ong, of Bristol, Tenn: “Great reporting on how important it was for Peyton Manning to pre-condition his footballs before the Super Bowl against the Bears. An important piece of information you left out: The game was played in torrential rain which undoubtedly added to the slickness of the footballs. Was it all worth it, with the weather in mind? One hundred percent. Chance favors the prepared mind. Thank you for always starting my week right with FMIA.”
That’s a fantastic point to make, Han. Thank you. You’re absolutely right. There’s no question Manning benefited from working on the 128 footballs for well over an hour two days before the game, taking the waxy and slippery sheen off the footballs.
Ditka to Deion. From Chris Heinrich, of Austin, Texas: “The Bears appear to be even worse than they were last year. I’m going on the record to say that after they start 0-6 or 0-7, I would dismiss Matt Eberflus and place a call to the agent for Deion Sanders and ask if he would be interested in being interviewed to be the Bears head coach.”
I don’t know. Let’s let the Colorado season breathe a bit, let’s find out if Sanders would even be interested in coaching in the NFL, and let’s find out if he’d leave Colorado after one year. I doubt he would.
1. I think I’ve got this half-century-old theme music and intro for you to watch before I make my point about Aaron Rodgers. ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” is the show that a sports-starved junior-high and high-school kid watched every weekend on Channel 40 out of Springfield, Mass. Cliff diving in Acapulco, soccer in Argentina, hurling in Ireland, boxing anywhere, ski jumping from Norway. I ate it all up. Ninety minutes, if I’m not mistaken. The host, Jim McKay, took us all over the world to see all kinds of sports. Winners in triumph, losers often bloody, shaky, tear-streaked. Each week, McKay with his famous voiceover:
The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.
The human drama of athletic competition …
2. I think my point is, this is sports. For you to love it, you’ve got to accept that a soul-crushing injury like the one to Rodgers is going to be a part of it.
3. I think someone called sports the ultimate reality show, and it’s true. The great thing about football weekends is we can turn on the TV and have our jaws drop when Joe Burrow has the worst game of his pro career and is mercy-yanked by his head coach, and when the Cowboys murdelize the Giants by 40 … and, of course, when Rodgers goes down on the fourth play of his Jets career with a sudden Achilles tear. If we’re going to get invested in the season, we’ve got to be invested knowing anything can happen—even a brutal, seismic injury like the one that happened to Rodgers. It’s part of the allure of the game. Always has been. We don’t know what’s going to happen on any play, and compellingly, disastrously, it’s part of what makes us sit in front of the TV every Sunday from Labor Day to Groundhog Day, and beyond.
And so now we lose five straight games of great allure: Rodgers at his old coach, Mike McCarthy, in Dallas … Rodgers at home against the great Bill Belichick … Rodgers-Patrick Mahomes, on a Sunday night … Rodgers playing to defend his close friend and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett at Sean Payton and Denver … and Jalen Hurts-Rodgers in a match against the defending NFC champs.
I feel awful for Jets fans, and for football fans who were all locked-in to see Rodgers with his first new team in 18 years. We’ve been robbed of a huge part of the human drama of athletic competition, and it’s a bummer. But I take you back to another great American athlete who tore his Achilles 10 years ago. After spending some time howling at the moon (figuratively), 34-year-old Kobe Bryant took to Facebook to say: “There are far greater issues/challenges in the world then [sic] a torn Achilles. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with the same belief, same drive and same conviction as ever. One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence. Today is NOT that day.”
4. I think that’s Rodgers this morning. He was already talking like a multi-year player when I met him in training camp in New Jersey in late July. It was clear he’d found a new love of the game, which he’d lost late in his Green Bay life. It was clear he’s been impacted by the longevity of Tom Brady. What he told me that day:
“When the trade went down, I came out here and started having a lot of fun. I got to know the guys. Everything was so new and different, I felt kind of a rejuvenation. It doesn’t feel like one year anymore. I think when you get older, you gotta be smart about diet and training and every year I’m tweaking things. But, when you’re older – and I bet Tom [Brady] would say the same thing – if you can have years without a lot of injuries, it makes it way more enjoyable. When this stops being fun, like what we saw with some younger quarterbacks … like Andrew Luck, yeah, he was just tired of being banged up. So, if I could string together a few seasons of good health, then I don’t want to put a cap on it. But I feel good about this not being just a one-year thing.”
Of course, that quote included “if I could string together a few seasons of good health.” I get it. But he invested too much mental and physical effort, and he bought into the New York (and New Jersey) State of Mind. This is going to be a Willis Reed story. I don’t know if he’ll be as great with a sutured Achilles at 40 as he would have been with a pure one at 39. But Aaron Rodgers is not going out like this.
5. I think, not to pile on the Jets, but let’s look at what could happen to the schedule of the 1-1 team in the final 15 games, per NFL schedule and flexing rules:
6. I think I think there’s no sentiment other than outrage for those who said on social media that Vikings running back Alexander Mattison should commit suicide after his performance in the Vikings’ Thursday night loss to the Eagles. The story should see the light of day, absolutely, because we need to see what lurks in the shadows of this society. “Under my helmet, I am a human, a father, a son. This is sick,” Mattison wrote on Instagram. Keep posting, Alexander. Keep illustrating the hate out there, in the hopes we can see under the rocks.
7. I think congrats are in order for Houston receiver John Metchie III, who returned from a bout with leukemia last year to play his first game in the pros on Sunday—and to make his first catch, a 17-yarder in the fourth quarter against Indianapolis. “It was an amazing feeling, something I thought about every day in the hospital,” said Metchie. Good for him. Great for him.
8. I think Sean Payton’s not going to make it comfortable for the Broncos in practice this week. Going 0-2 against the Raiders and Commanders, both at home, both winnable games, will fry Payton. And it should.
9. I think the good sign for Zach Wilson is he’s playing less frenetically than he did last season—maybe due to the zen QB approach he saw in Aaron Rodgers. The bad news is his 54-percent accuracy and 2-to-4 TD-to-pick ratio are nowhere near winning numbers. It doesn’t help to play Dallas. But the Patriots come to New Jersey Sunday, and Wilson’s got to show better or the fans will lay it on him.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I made it only to halftime of Colorado-Colorado State as the clock struck 12 on the East Coast. But what football that was. And then, to see when I woke up that Shedeur Sanders, down eight with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, drove Colorado 98 yards for the touchdown and passed for the two-point conversion, then threw for touchdowns twice in OT for the 43-35 win. At 2:28, Giannis Antetokounmpo said on social media: “I don’t watch football but that was a heck of a game.”
b. Best theater in sports today: Colorado football.
c. Imagine thinking that nine months ago, when the Buffaloes ended a 1-11 season with consecutive losses of 39, 38, 47 and 42 points. It is incredible what Deion Sanders has created in Boulder.
d. Interview of the Week: Rich Eisen, on “The Rich Eisen Show,” with Sanders.
e. Good note from Sanders, on how he makes sure his players don’t get big heads with their stunning early success for the 3-0 Buffaloes: “The morning message is, ‘If you’re a person that’s willing to change because of the attention, that means you’ve never had attention, and you ain’t built for this. You’re built to be on a seesaw.’”
f. I can see why players want to play for Sanders.
g. Great sign behind Sanders, for the interview with Eisen, in his office in Boulder: “You play good, they pay good!”
h. Are you like me, and you wonder how an escaped convict could elude hundreds of police officers and a team of trained dogs for 13 days in Pennsylvania? I thought this story, from Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs of The New York Times, covered the nitty-gritty of the chase and capture of escapee Danelo Cavalcante quite well.
i. Cavalcante, a Brazilian, was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in 2021, and he was wanted for murder in a 2017 killing in Brazil. On his fifth day on the lam, according to deputy U.S. marshal Robert Clark, Cavalcante stole a white 2020 van with the keys inside and made off with it.
j. Wrote Bogel-Burroughs:
It had only about a quarter tank of gas, Mr. Clark said, but Mr. Cavalcante used it to drive north, where he tried to reach former co-workers at their homes. At one, he was captured on a doorbell camera, by then cleanshaven and in a hoodie.
All the while, the manhunt was growing, with hundreds of local, federal and state officers, backed by dogs and aircraft. At one point, he went three days without food, and as the search wore on, he considered surrendering, Mr. Clark said. “It was difficult to live out there.”
Instead, he kept moving, and kept breaking into houses, Mr. Clark said.
As Mr. Cavalcante moved through the woods, he took steps to mask his tracks, sometimes covering his excrement with leaves so as not to be tailed, Mr. Clark said. He stayed hydrated by drinking from a stream. At one point, he found a watermelon on a farm and split it open by smashing it with his head.
k. Netflix, you’ve got your next movie.
l. Travel Story of the Week: Matthew Kronsberg of The Wall Street Journal on the good and bad of getting work done on an airplane.
m. Good story. Sometimes I veg out on the plane. Most often, even in cramped quarters, I view time on the plane as golden for getting some typing done. You can’t go anywhere. Why not pass the time by doing the busy work you know you’ve got to get done anyway?
n. Writes Kronsberg:
For Casey Shultz, the best workspace on Earth … isn’t. “I am at peak productivity on an airplane,” said the impact investor from Saint Paul, Minn. A flight helps her tackle onerous tasks that she struggles to find time for on the ground, like getting to the mythical Inbox Zero.
For many business travelers, everything that conspires to make flying so onerous—little personal space, few worthwhile distractions and a seemingly interminable amount of time before you land—also makes it an ideal opportunity to hunker down. To avoid losing hours to idleness midair, the most productive fliers adopt simple steps—or, failing that, changes in perspective.
You have time to yourself that you wouldn’t normally get at home or in the office,” said Russell Ganim, the associate provost and dean of international programs at the University of Iowa. His productivity peaks while he’s shuttling between campuses and conferences around the world. He finds those “relatively quiet, relatively dark and relatively cool” long-haul flights conducive to accomplishing “nitty-gritty” administrative tasks, he said, while also putting him in the state of mind to think “a little bit more broadly and deeply” on bigger projects.
o. What is Wrong with Us Story of the Week: Brandon Drenon of the BBC on the Seattle police officer who appears to make a joke out of the death of a woman struck and killed by a police car.
p. The officer was recorded laughing when discussing the death of 26-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula, a college student in Seattle. On the recording, officer Daniel Auderer is overheard saying: “She was 26, anyway. She had limited value.”
q. The laughter. It’s just too grotesque.
r. TV Story of the Week: Steve Hartman of the CBS Evening News on a professional good-deed-doer, Calvin Godette of Chesterfield County, Va.
s. Calvin Godette donates half his income to strangers—including Denise Walters. It changed her life.
t. “You may have lost your husband. But you gained a family.” Attaway, Steve Hartman. Keep those stories coming.
u. When you turn on the news and see stories like the laughing cop, or Lauren Boebert/vaping/Beetlejuice, you have to wonder just what this country is coming to. That’s why it’s good to see Calvin Godette.
v. Now, we always had a saying in the King family, originated and stressed by daughter Laura: I’m just saying. And if Travis Kelce is going to hang out with Taylor Swift, and perhaps get involved with Taylor Swift, then Mary Beth King is going to become a Kansas City fan, and fast. I mean, I’m just saying.
w. Beernerdness: Had a pair of Catawba White Zombie White Ales (Catawba Brewing Company, Asheville, N.C.) on the training-camp trip, after a broiler of a day at Panthers camp. This beer defines “crisp.” Delicious, with a citrus hint, right out of the purple can.
x. Coffeenerdness: There’s a new drink on King coffee playlist: Tall flat white with an extra shot at Starbucks. Only before noon, though. It’s too much of an energy boost, too potentially sleep-disruptive, to have after noon.
y. Nice game, Ohio Bobcats, holding Brock Purdy U to zero points for 55 minutes (with Ohio committing zero penalties in those first 55 minutes) and beating Power Five Iowa State 10-7.
z. Great stat, Buster Olney: Entering Sunday’s games, Kyle Schwarber had 45 singles and 44 homers for the Phils this year.
Record number of meh games this week.
L.A. Chargers at Minnesota, Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox. Week 3’s pretty early to have a must game, but that’s exactly what this is for the 0-2 Vikings and 0-2 Chargers. If I ran the in-stadium music at U.S. Bank Stadium, I’d have “Desperado” by the Eagles warbling through the stadium when the two teams run out for warmups.
L.A. Rams at Cincinnati, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN. Super Bowl LVI rematch, 19 months after the Rams survived at SoFi. Surprising to note the Rams have found a new physical rhythm through two weeks, and that could make this game a surprising handful for the Bengals and Joe Burrow.
Call me gullible.
But I won’t count out Rodgers
For Wild Card Weekend.