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Week 12 Monday 10-pack

Rams Broncos Filming Probe Football

Fans hold a sign to fire Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels during the second half of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010, in Denver. Many are wondering why McDaniels was allowed to hire a friend who had already run afoul of the NFL’s rules back in New England and why he didn no do anything about it when Steve Scarnecchia brought him an illicit six-minute snippet of the practice. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)


There’s never a dull moment in the NFL. And we love every moment of it.

Especially when those moments are being surreptitiously recorded.

So read on. But make sure the boss isn’t taping you.

1. McDaniels got off way too easy.

With the Sunday news cycle quickly moving in the direction of a potential Belichick bridge burning by former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, there has yet to be much discussion or debate regarding the question of whether McDaniels should have suffered a stiffer punishment at the hands of the league and/or the Broncos.

Here’s the reality. McDaniels knew that his employee, former director of video operations Steve Scarnecchia, had cheated. And McDaniels opted to bury it. Though there’s no evidence that McDaniels engaged in a full blown cover-up, he didn’t need to.

Or, more accurately, he didn’t realize that he needed to.

But for the blowing of the proverbial whistle on the man who wears one around his neck, no one would have known anything about Scarnecchia’s skullduggery. Given the plain terms of the league’s Integrity of Game Policy, that shouldn’t have happened: “The Chief Executive, President, General Manager, and Head Coach shall have an affirmative duty to promptly report any actual or suspected competitive violations to Ray Anderson, Executive Vice President for Football Operations.”

The policy goes on to state that failure to make a prompt report constitutes conduct detrimental to the league.

So how does McDaniels get fined only $50,000 for engaging in conduct detrimental to the league, especially since he was part of the Patriots team that engaged in a pattern of cheating (via the videotaping of in-game defensive coaching signals) over a period of years?

At a time when the league is fining players $50,000 or more for playing the game too aggressively, how can the conscious failure to disregard the plain terms of the Integrity of Game Policy not trigger a much more significant punishment?

Men like Steelers linebacker James Harrison have every right to complain. Ditto for the union, which is searching for talking points that will resonate with the public, the media, and the politicians in conjunction with the ongoing labor mess.

And there’s no better talking point than proof of a possible double standard.

2. Fighting needs to draw bigger penalties, too.

Players who deliver illegal hits before the whistle blows have another source of mixed signals about which legitimate complaints can be made. Deliberate violence inflicted after the whistle carries a much lower price tag.

Last week, Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour was fined only $25,000 for delivering an open-handed WWE punch to the facemask of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This week, Texans receiver Andre Johnson and Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan ripped off each other’s helmets and proceeded to try to beat each other up. (Only Johnson succeeded.)

Based on the precedent set by the Seymour situation, fines likely will be in order. (That said, Finnegan’s history will nudge him closer to a possible suspension.)

If the league is serious about protecting players for blows to the head that occur during a play, the league needs to be even more vigilant about blows to the head that occur after the play has ended. Failure to do so serves only to make the league’s crusade against helmet-to-helmet hits seems more confusing and arbitrary.

3. Ron Rivera needs to be a head coach. Now.

Chargers coach Norv Turner is an offensive genius. Which means that he had little if anything to do with the masterful defensive performance on Sunday night that saw Colts quarterback Peyton Manning rattled and rushed en route to four interceptions. Which means that the guy who orchestrated that defensive performance is a damn good football coach.

That coach is Ron Rivera, San Diego’s defensive coordinator. On the “A” list during the short period after Super Bowl XLI (when he served as Chicago’s defensive coordinator) until his contract with the Bears wasn’t renewed, Rivera never is mentioned as a potential head-coaching candidate.

After last night, he should be.

If the Titans decide to keep quarterback Vince Young and fire coach Jeff Fisher, Bud Adams’ first call should be placed to Rivera, who would be charged with doing to Manning twice per year that which Rivera’s Chargers did to Manning on Sunday night.

And every other defensive coordinator should be studying the tape and doing to Peyton Manning exactly what Rivera and the Chargers did. If that happens, the Colts eight-year playoff run will likely end.

4. Jeff Fisher’s seat gets hotter.

It’s entirely possible that Titans coach Jeff Fisher would prefer to be fired than to be forced to continue to work with quarterback Vince Young. Either way, the performance of Fisher’s team on Sunday at Houston has nudged him closer to becoming the former coach of the team.

Apart from being embarrassed and shut out in the city from whence the Titans came, a city whose current team Titans owner Bud Adams wants to beat more than any other, there’s a perception that Fisher tilted the game plan toward the pass in order to prove that the Titans can win with Rusty Smith and without Vince Yong.

And that’s the dilemma Fisher faces. Though he doesn’t want Young in 2011 or beyond, Fisher will need to be able to sell Adams on an alternative. Kerry Collins is pushing 50 (not really, but he looks it), and thus the only Plan B is Rusty Smith.

In Fisher’s zeal to prove that Smith can get it done, running back Chris Johnson’s role in the offense was minimized. And we’ve heard that Johnson isn’t happy about that. Thus, Fisher could now be in danger of losing the one group in the organization that squarely had been in his corner -- the locker room.

If that happens, it’ll be time for Fisher to find a new locker room.

5. Dwayne Bowe could give Moss a run for his money.

Three years ago, receiver Randy Moss broke Jerry Rice’s record for touchdown receptions in a single season. This year, an unlikely candidate has emerged to challenge the mark.

But it’s not one of the supposedly “best” receivers in the league. With 13 touchdowns in seven games, Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe suddenly has positioned himself to make a run at the record books.

It doesn’t help that he had only one touchdown reception in the first four games of the year. But with an average of two per game in the final five, Bowe will break the record.

Sure, an average of two per game sounds like a lot. But with 13 in seven, Bowe is only one touchdown off that pace.

Even if he doesn’t get it done, he now needs to be added to the list of the supposedly “best” receivers in the league.

6. Falcons soaring, but not dominating.

The Falcons are now 19-1 at home under quarterback Matt Ryan. They’re 9-2 and currently in possession of the top seed in the NFC playoff field.

But they’re not winning convincingly. They’re winning, and they’re beating quality teams. But they edged the Packers by three, 20-17. And they got lucky late against the Ravens, thanks to a pass interference penalty that wasn’t called. And they beat the Bucs at home by only six, and the Bengals at home by only seven. And the 49ers at home by only two.

It won’t matter when the time comes to sort out home-field advantage. But it will matter when those home playoff games are played, since while the Falcons are good enough to win those close games in the regular season, a postseason toe-stubbing at the Georgia Dome would end the franchise’s most promising season since 1998.

7. Let the NFC scrum begin.

With five weeks to play, the NFC playoff picture has a long way to go before it will even approach something resembling focus.

In the NFC West, the Rams and Seahawks are knotted at 5-6. The winner of Monday night’s game will be only one game out of first place; the loser only two.

In the NFC East, the Eagles and Giants are tied once again. They’re both 7-4, and they play each other again in December.

In the NFC North, the Bears have established a one-game lead over the supposedly superior Packers. They, too, have one more mutual appointment.

In the NFC South, the Falcons are 9-2, the Saints are 8-3, and the Bucs are 7-4.

As we’ve previously pointed out, two of those seven non-NFC West playoff-caliber teams won’t make it to the playoffs. And one of them -- the fifth seed -- will have to go to Seattle or St. Louis for a wild-card game that won’t be such a walk in the park, especially since the Seahawks or Rams (or Cardinals or 49ers) will be out to prove wrong everyone who’ll say they’re the worst playoff team in NFL history. Though it all may fuel a push for future reseeding in the postseason, it will give us an intriguing playoff chase over the last month of the 2010 season.

8. It’s harder than usual to be a Bills fan this year.

Early in the season, the Bills were blown out a couple of times, by the Packers in Week Two and by the Jets in Week Four. After a Week Six bye, the Bills woke up.

But they still have won only two of their last six games.

Along the way, they pushed three playoff contenders to overtime -- the 8-3 Ravens, the 7-4 Chiefs, and most recently the 8-3 Steelers. They also pushed the 8-3 Bears to the brink in Toronto, losing by only three points. (The combined record of those teams? 31-13.)

The most recent loss, fueled by an inexplicable drop by Bills receiver Steve Johnson of what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass, surely hurts worse than any of the others. The Steelers are the Bills’ rich neighbors to the south, with six of the one thing that Buffalo fans would love to have more than anything else. Even if the playoffs are out of the question for the Bills, helping to keep the Steelers from getting their seventh Super Bowl trophy would have been a big bonus in an otherwise lost season.

In many respects, it’s easier to stomach a blowout than a narrow loss. The Bills have a belly full of close calls, and their loyal fans have to be feeling even sicker than they have in recent years. The only thing worse than being bad is being highly competitive and yet still unsuccessful, and that’s precisely what the Bills have been for most of the season.

9. Could Favre give it one more go?

It’s a ridiculous question, we know. The chances of quarterback Brett Favre returning to Minnesota in 2011 are slimmer than ever, especially since the Vikings likely won’t want him to come back for a third season. But Favre was a different guy on Sunday, and when he gave interim coach Leslie Frazier the game ball after a 17-13 win over the Redskins, it reminded us of Paul Crewe sticking the pigskin into Warden Hazen’s stomach.

This time around, Hazen (i.e., Chilly) was watching from home.

And when Favre made like Elway (sans helicopter) and ran for a key first down, it reminded us of the fateful play in the closing moments of the NFC title game, when Favre rolled right and instead of running threw left -- causing Vikings fans to throw up. This time around, Favre was once again youthful and exuberant and even in a largely meaningless game he found a way to treat it like it had meaning.

Who knows? If the defensive-minded Frazier gets the job and Favre and his buddy, Darrell Bevell are essentially given the keys to the offense, Favre could be interested in giving it one more go.

Especially if Favre needs to add some more feathers to his nest after funding a possible off-season divorce settlement.

10. League needs Spygate II to go away, quickly.

The last word for today’s 10-pack likely won’t be the last word on Spygate II. But the league probably wishes it were.

In our view, the NFL wants and needs Spygate II to evaporate, now. At a time when the NFL Players Association has been trying to get Congress to apply pressure to the NFL antitrust exemption or the non-profit status of the league office (an exercise equivalent to planting a land mine in an enemy’s front yard and then jumping on it), another cheating scandal could snap the giant out of its slumber, and it could prompt federal legislators to begin the kind of rabble rousing seen from Senator Arlen Spector in the wake of Spygate I.

Last time, Spector couldn’t muster any support from his colleagues. This time, the NFL probably didn’t want the situation to hang around long enough to catch anyone’s attention in D.C.

We can understand why the NFL would want to turn the page quickly. But when, as mentioned earlier, it creates an inconsistent message regarding the consequences of rough-but-honest efforts from players and cheating by coaches, collateral concerns like damage control shouldn’t influence the magnitude of the penalty imposed.

Think of it this way. If the league had fined McDaniels $250,000 and stripped a draft pick or two from the Broncos, would it have been a much bigger story?

With the relatively small fine and a neat and tidy (albeit not all that credible) explanation that Broncos coach Josh McDaniels didn’t watch the video of the 49ers’ walk-through practice -- a proposition that necessarily requires the NFL to take McDaniels at his word -- Spygate II won’t have the same staying power at the box office as the original.

And that’s fine by the league, which must now sweat out the question of whether this story will end up being a trilogy.