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NFL offenses having another banner year

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NFL offenses having another banner year

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Take it from Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, there's no sense steering a kid to play linebacker if he can throw the ball like his son Luke can.

The senior at Valor Christian High School in suburban Denver is a Division I passing prospect who has committed to Oklahoma State with Oregon State and Alabama trying to change his mind.

``It's a good time to be a quarterback,'' Del Rio said with a hardy laugh.

That's true whether it's in the preps or the pros.

Passing-fueled offenses in the NFL are better than ever, and more than half of the league's QBs are on pace to throw for 4,000 yards. That would shatter the record of 10 set in 2009 and tied last year.

It's another banner year for offenses, particularly in the passing game. Consider these stats:

-Games are averaging 705.5 total net yards per game, on pace to surpass last year's record (693.7).

-Explosive passing offenses have fueled that trend, with an average of 476.7 net passing yards per game, also on pace for an all-time high (459.4 last season).

-Scoring averages 45.7 points per game, on pace to be the highest average since 1965 (46.1), five years before the AFL-NFL merger, which is considered the beginning of the modern game.

-Passers are on pace to set records with a combined 86.8 passer rating (84.3 in 2011) and 61.9 completion percentage (61.2 in 2007).

Teams are throwing more than ever to keep up, too. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, the league's leading rusher, has more yards (957) on the ground than 21 teams.

``Everybody's throwing the ball more, we're seeing more open offense,'' Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. ``They're open-it-up, college-type, everybody out wide and throw it. Now, we'll see if that works or not. That's not necessarily a formula to win. You have to be good at doing that.''

That's just it: lots of teams are very good at it.

``I really don't care about stats. I just care about scoring more points than the other team,'' said New England coach Bill Belichick, whose Patriots (5-3) are averaging a league-best 33 points a game and have topped 350 yards of total offense in a record 17 straight games, one more than the St. Louis Rams had during their ``Greatest Show on Earth'' era.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might as well have been speaking for every other NFL offense when he explained the streak this way: ``If you're not going backward and killing yourself with penalties and turnovers and really not beating yourself, you can usually put yourself in a good position to win.''

With rules tilting more toward offense and players getting training at a younger age, that's pretty much the mantra of NFL offenses now: just don't stub your toe and you'll pile up the points.

It's not just the teams with Manning, Brady or Brees stitched across their leaders' backs who are putting up big numbers.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who scored 30 points just four times in the last three seasons, have even gotten into the act. They've scored 38, 28, 36 and 42 in their last four games, winning three of them. It's the first time in their history that they've scored 28 or more in four straight games.

``Well, that's the exciting part, right?'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. ``That's what people come to see, the long runs, the scoring. You have a scoreboard for a reason, right? It's not a yardage board. People like to see scores. I like to see it, too.''

Isn't Schiano a defensive guy, one who cut his coaching chops on tackles and takeaways?

``I'm a winning guy,'' Schiano retorted. ``That's what I want to do.''

The rules and regulations that govern pro football have long tilted toward offense, resulting in an aerial fireworks show that's good for ratings - of both the television and quarterback variety.

Add to that an eruption this season of spread offenses and the no-huddle and you get panting pass-rushers and mismatches with smaller defenders trapped on the field to face towering tight ends and taller receivers who no longer think twice about going over the middle, certain they'll get the ball or the call.

Delivering those pinpoint passes are ever sharper quarterbacks.

``The rules are part of it,'' said 12-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez of the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons. ``Defensive players can't do what they were allowed to do before, which is good. It's keeping the players safe. I think it's given us a fair advantage where if you get a 5-yard check and that's it, you can't hold me all the way down the field. That shouldn't be allowed.

``But then also you look at the lower ranks of football, at least from what I've seen. I have an 11-year-old son, and he's already doing passing camps,'' Gonzalez said. ``When I was in high school, I think we played in one passing camp tournament, and that was like the big thing during the summer, but now these guys are doing it week in and week out. You're growing up in that environment where you're throwing the ball, it's spread offenses, and you're seeing it carry over the NFL now. Guys are coming in and putting up huge numbers.''

Four rookies, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck (four), Washington's Robert Griffin III (two), Cleveland's Brandon Weeden (two) and Miami's Ryan Tannehill (one) have combined for nine 300-yard passing games, already the most by rookie QBs in any NFL season.

In addition to the offensive-friendly rule book that leads to more touchdown celebrations than sack dances, the athletes coming out of college are better, QBs are readier, offensive linemen are sharper.

``The game has definitely evolved,'' Detroit defensive end Erik Coleman said. ``Fans want to see more touchdowns.''

After all, it helps their fantasy teams.

There have been 395 touchdown passes and 73 300-yard passing games, both of which are the most ever through Week 9. And the league-wide pass touchdown-interception ratio of 1.626 to 1 is well ahead of last season's record pace (1.472:1).

Peyton Manning leads a record six QBs on pace to finish with a 100-plus passer rating, along with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger and Brady.

Rodgers has 25 TD passes in Green Bay's first nine games, the first player in NFL history to reach that mark that fast in two different seasons, and Stafford is on pace to throw 692 passes, which would best Drew Bledsoe's 1994 mark by one.

The only stat that tilts toward the defense is this: there's been 34 pick-6s, the most interceptions returned for touchdowns at this point of the season since 1970.

This, however, is largely a byproduct of having so many balls buzzing through the air.

``Adapt or perish,'' Del Rio said. ``You have to understand where things are going and devise new ways to slow it down, and that's what we're all working hard to do. But clearly, rules are in place to allow more of what we're seeing: more offensive production and balls in the air and yards and points.''

That's one reason why he didn't steer his kid toward the position he played when he was in high school, at USC and then with the Saints, Chiefs, Cowboys and Vikings.

``Most coaches looked at him and said, `Your dad's a linebacker. Play linebacker or D-end.' And so he did at first, and then he said, `Hey, look, I want to play quarterback,''' Del Rio said.

``It's been fun to watch,'' he added, for once not cringing at the thought of a big-armed QB leading a high-octane offense down the field.

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AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall, Chris Duncan, Noah Trister and Howard Ulman and Associated Press Writer George Henry contributed.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

The wait is finally over. 

After two decades, the Capitals are back in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After a convincing 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. They'll be facing off against a handful of familiar names, with former Caps GM George McPhee, fan favorite Nate Schmidt, and ex-Penguins goalie Marc Andre-Fluery are just a few of the names that'll be suiting up for Vegas. 

What will the X-factors in the series be? Who will be the unexpected heroes of Game 1? The action is almost underway, and here are all the details you need to know.

Game 1 Capitals at Golden Knights
Date: Monday, May 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES?

Game 1 of the Capitals-Golden Knights 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final takes place on Monday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

5:00 p.m. — Caps Cup Preview
6:00 p.m. — Caps GameDay Live
6:30 p.m. — Caps Face Off
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 1 Capitals vs. Golden Knights
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1?

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Golden Knights is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.