Every week, the Ten-Point Stance takes a look inside the NFL. This week, the insider news, notes and quotes cover the pursuit of perfection and imperfection, Josh Freeman under fire, a 49er now spelling his name without a W and more.
1. Top and bottom heavy
This is the season we could see both sheer greatness and embarrassing futility. This might be the year we see both 16-0 and 0-16.
Only two teams in the modern history of the NFL have gone undefeated in the regular season. The 1972 Miami Dolphins went 14-0, and the 2007 Patriots went 16-0.
The 2008 Detroit Lions went 0-16, setting the bar for total ineptitude.
What we've never seen is 16-0 and 0-16 in the same season. It could happen this season.
The NFL has rarely been this top-heavy with a few dominant teams, fat in the middle with mediocre teams and heavy on the bottom with crappy ones. When the Patriots went undefeated, they were truly the only juggernaut during the regular season.
Now, there are a number of good teams, five undefeated: the Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks, Chiefs and Saints. This ties the league record for the most undefeated teams this late in a season; the others years were 1968, 2003 and 2009.
The skill level of the quarterbacks and the coaching being displayed by these teams is pretty historically strong. It is true that offenses are taking advantage of rules that highly favor them, but this only improves the odds that one of them will go 16-0.
Drew Brees this week tied his own records with his ninth straight 300-yard passing game and 10th straight contest with at least 25 completions. He has weapons like Jimmy Graham, whose six receiving touchdowns were the most in league history by a tight end during the month of September.
Peyton Manning's 16 touchdowns are the most ever through four games and have tied Milt Plum's record of throwing that many scores to start a season without an interception.
At the top, there is great play and skill. But some of these teams still have better chances than others to go undefeated. The Chiefs are a great story, but it's unlikely they do it. The Patriots are winning with schlubs at wide receiver. Eventually, that will catch up to them.
The Seahawks are capable of starting 7- or 8-0, but that brutal division will get them, likely when they travel to San Francisco.
That leaves the Saints and Broncos. Manning is playing so far above almost everyone else, his team could make a serious run at perfection as could the Saints. Both have the advantage of playing at a time when the vast majority of the league is average or terrible.
The Jets, Bills, Browns, Bengals, Steelers, Texans, Jaguars, Chargers, Raiders, the entire NFC East, the entire NFC North, the Panthers, Falcons, Yuccaneers, Cardinals and Rams are all imminently beatable.
While any team can lose any day, the rampant averageness of football now makes much of the sport easy pickings for the few superteams.
Then there are the possible 0-fers. The Yuccaneers, Giants, Steelers and Jaguars are all winless. It's hard to believe the Giants won't win a game. That would be a historical disaster—like dogs and cats living together. Same for the Steelers. The Yuccaneers are bad, but their games have been close. They'll get one. That leaves the Jaguars.
Jacksonville is easily the worst team I've seen in two decades of covering the NFL. They make the 0-16 Lions team look like Lombardi's Packers. These Jaguars are the closest thing to a lock to go winless as we've ever seen.
There's a good chance we'll see greatness. There's a good chance we'll see awfulness. In the same year.
For the first time ever.
2. Smear tactics
Josh Freeman has made his own mistakes. Those are well-documented. But what's happening to him now is among the most classless—and disturbing—things I have seen in the NFL.
There is certainly some sort of orchestrated campaign of negative actions against Freeman and, even more insidious, a series of leaks against him. It's some real Nixonian type of stuff. The latest was a story from ESPN's Chris Mortensen reporting that Freeman is in the first stage of the NFL's drug treatment program.
We need to be clear: This doesn't mean Freeman has failed a drug test. Mortensen reports he obtained a temporary-use exemption for a prescription drug that's on the banned list.
Following ESPN's story, the rumors got so bad, Freeman was forced to issue a statement.
One union player rep estimated there are probably "many dozens" of players in similar situations to Freeman. Meaning there are possibly a number of players who are in the first stage of the program because of a technicality. But we only know about Freeman.
Someone wants to damage his reputation. There are only a handful of places where this information could emerge from. Let's go down the list:
-The Buccaneers knew he was in the program.
-The union knew.
-The NFL knew.
-His agent probably knew.
-The actual drug testers knew.
-Other teams in the NFL knew.
Is it possible the union knew and leaked it? Highly unlikely. I can tell you union officials are irate over the leaks. Plus, what would be their motivation?
The NFL? Again, why?
The drug testers themselves? There may be one or two crooked ones, but it is overall a very professional group.
His agent? Again, what's the motivation?
That leaves the Bucs and other teams. Freeman and the Bucs are engaged in a brutal divorce, one of the most public and nastiest I've ever seen in any sport. Freeman himself accused the Bucs of leaking the information in this part of the statement (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk):
Unfortunately, it appears that some people who may have noticed the testing at my workplace have made hurtful and incorrect assumptions and chosen to disseminate inaccurate and very disturbing information. It is a shame that when times have gotten tough, people have chosen to attack the character of others, rather than supporting each other.
To be clear, the information isn't readily available to anyone. In fact, no one is supposed to know a player is in stage one—not even the team itself. My guess with what Freeman is saying is that someone saw him take a drug test or recognized the tester, and that information spread throughout the organization. Then someone in an official capacity leaked it to ESPN to damage Freeman.
It is also possible another team leaked the info. Not to drive down trade value—Freeman has none—but to scare other teams out of any attempt to sign him. Or to use the information against Freeman when negotiating a deal with a potential new team.
Again, the union is looking for the perp, and my guess is the NFL is doing the same. They'll never catch the culprits, but they're going to try. Remember, the leaking of this type of info can lead to substantial punishment.
The only thing that can catch the person or persons who have done this to Freeman is their conscience.
3. HGH talks move along...slowly
A league source described the status of talks this way: "It's down to two issues (not one, like everyone is reporting): discipline for a second violation and commissioner discipline for violations of law (which are a very small percentage of cases aside from DUIs)."
The bottom line is that the union doesn't trust the commissioner to use his power wisely, and the NFL wants Roger Goodell to retain as much power as possible.
There won't be an HGH agreement until this divide is crossed.
4. Jake Locker's hip
We don't know exactly what is wrong with Titans quarterback Jake Locker's hip, but I found what was at the bottom of this excellent blog post to be most interesting. Locker's hip could become "chronically sore and arthritic...as he ages."
No, the read-option is not dead, but the dropback passer is alive and well.
I don't...I mean...what the hell? How can anyone really think that Roger Goodell could be part of a conspiracy to shut down power at the Super Bowl last year? How can any rational human being believe this?
Think about what would have to happen for such a conspiracy to unfold: The power company, Superdome officials, Goodell, NFL officials and many others would all have to be in cahoots. Then all of them would have to be silent. And stay silent.
It would literally be one of the greatest conspiracies in recent human history. It would be a bigger conspiracy than the aliens at Roswell. Well, that conspiracy is actually true, but you get the point.
Dumb. Just dumb.
I'm hearing that Jon Gruden is again putting out feelers about coaching, either in college or the pros. Now, this is pretty much an annual Gruden thing. Gruden loves to be chased and courted. And it's possible he'll be chased and courted again. So pardon me while I move along. Mmmmkay? Thanks.
8. Legal "Hitner"
I can tell you the NFL isn't so happy with this from the 49ers' Donte Whitner:
This in response to a fine for this hit on Rams receiver Chris Givens:
The game is changing. Yes. Less ferocity. Yes. Does the NFL sometimes go too far? Yes.
But we know there is a good possibility the violence of football causes this and possibly a whole host of other issues, some potentially deadly.
If the collisions slow from 100 mph to 80, that's still plenty of violence for the players and the rest of us to see. You can still do plenty of damage, Mr. Whitner. Don't worry.
Meanwhile, maybe Whitner can come up with something else to put on a T-shirt.
Maybe something simple like: CTE.
9. Will Dwight Freeney retire?
Always hard to see bad things happen to good people. San Diego defensive lineman Dwight Freeney will likely miss the season with a torn quad tendon, per Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego. There are few better guys in the league, and over the past 12 seasons, Freeney has been one of the true pass-rushing forces in the sport.
Freeney is 33. He's saved his money. He's smart. He could march onto a TV set tomorrow and be better than almost any analyst. He has a life outside of football, which is why it would not stun me to see him walk away from football.
The sport would miss him.
10. Gregg Williams in Tennessee
I wanted to turn over the last item to one of the best players I've seen in former linebacker Scott Fujita, who is also one of the better human beings I've ever met. He played for Gregg Williams, of Bountygate fame, who is now an assistant with the Titans. Both were with the Saints.
The Titans are 3-1 and one of the surprise teams in football. The biggest reason is Locker, who finally developed into a viable player. The other big reason is Williams. He has brought his dizzying, frenetic, blitzing style to the Titans. It's what Williams did in New Orleans and other places.
The great Matt Bowen from Bleacher Report wrote of playing for Williams. But I also wanted Fujita's take. Fujita was totally exonerated in the Bountygate case, while Williams was exiled for a year.
I asked Fujita a simple question: How is Williams able to get players to buy into his beliefs and system so quickly and effectively?
Fujita wrote a brilliant response:
"You've probably heard about how he makes guys do up-downs on first day of training camp? Like a BUNCH of up-downs. And occasionally, he'd make us run 50 yards, doing an up-down every five yards. He called them 'Who Dats' when he was with us. I called them '*uck Dats' just to mess with him.
"But IMO, things like this, even though they're a bit ridiculous and might piss guys off at the moment, actually do some good. In a way, it creates a kind of club dynamic, sort of an, 'Are you in or are you out?' mindset.
"I think Gregg is great at creating a quick culture change on defense. He has a track record of doing that wherever he's been. Sure, he can be brash and say things that are wildly inappropriate, but it's not like any of his players take that sort of thing literally.
"He also finds ways to create packages that get a lot of guys involved. Players love that, and it helps with buy-in.
"I was certainly pissed off that some of us were dragged through a bunch of crap because of him. But that being said, he was still one of my favorite defensive coordinators I've played for."
Note: Stats and historical information courtesy of the NFL, unless noted.