Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Tom Brady's Revenge Tour Has NFL Up at NightOctober 5, 2016
(Brady gonna Brady, my bad on the Vikings, and the targeting of Odell Beckham.)
1. Will Tom Brady Wreck This League?
An AFC defensive assistant coach put it rather succinctly, and he's right.
"Thanks to Roger Goodell," said the coach, "Tom Brady is going to kill us all."
Not literally, of course.
"This Tom Brady scares the s--t out of me," said another defensive assistant, this one from the NFC.
Well, it is almost Halloween.
This was the consensus of people I spoke to around the league: they think an angry Brady is going to atomize the NFL. And you know what? They're probably right.
This is not the first time opposing coaches and players were concerned that an angry Patriots team, or player, was going to blast the competition. I've written repeatedly about angry Pats teams. I've written it before because it's always true. And here we are again.
Us-against-them is the Patriots' warp core. It's their fuel. They feed off of it and no player on the team—hell, maybe in NFL history—feeds off of being disrespected like Brady.
People around football expect the Patriots to go on a run. An impressive run. One where the Patriots win seven straight or eight of their next nine. Something like that.
They think Brady wants Goodell to be forced to hand him the Lombardi Trophy following another Super Bowl win.
It's a little early to see that happening; the Patriots' defense is too shaky for even Brady to boost it. But I do think he will try to strike down upon NFL teams with great vengeance and furious anger, seeking revenge against those who attempted to destroy and oppose him.
Or something like that.
What helps Brady greatly is the AFC East is still weak. Yes, the Patriots just lost to Buffalo, but it was with a rookie third-string quarterback. The Jets' offense is horrendous (did Ryan Fitzpatrick just throw another pick?) and Ryan Tannehill is playing so inconsistently that he may want to consider a move back to receiver.
(And there's another Fitzpatrick pick.)
New England's division schedule is easy. The rest of it isn't, and this is where it gets interesting for the Brady revenge-tour narrative. There are some brutal games after the Cleveland contest this weekend, including a matchup against the Steelers, the best and deepest offense in football.
So there are challenges for Brady, but an angry Brady is a good Brady.
The NFL is nervous. It should be.
2. Bill Belichick May Have Outdone Even Himself
"People don't understand how impressive [going 3-1 without Brady] was," said one team personnel man. Opinions, of course, will vary, but this New England roster is good, not great. And to get where the Patriots are, Belichick the coach has had to carry Belichick the personnel guy. To my way of thinking, there may be only two coaches today who could do what Belichick did—Jim Harbaugh (now at Michigan) and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin.
"There's only a few coaches in history who could do it," added the personnel man. "[Don] Shula, [Bill] Walsh, maybe Bill Parcells. Not many more than that."
3. Meanwhile, Back in Pittsburgh
If you want to crown the Patriots, then crown their asses. But the Steelers are just as frightening. Maybe more so.
The Steelers have defensive weaknesses, but the offense is so loaded with talent everywhere that Pittsburgh still rates as the AFC team to beat. Ben Roethlisberger's health is always a factor (like every starting quarterback), but with the addition of Le'Veon Bell, no offense in football has both the skill and depth that Pittsburgh does.
And wouldn't another AFC title game between the Steelers and Patriots be fun as hell?
4. Doug Baldwin Won't Back Down
In an interview with 60 Minutes Sports which aired Tuesday, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin elaborated on some of the death threats he's received after speaking out about the need to review how police are trained in light of the uproar over recent shootings of African-American men.
"I did," Baldwin told the program when asked if he received any such threats. "I had a few. A couple of people told me to watch my back."
How did Baldwin respond to them? By keeping the conversation going.
"There's issues going on in our society that people feel compelled to talk about," he said, "and I'm not going to be quiet about it."
Baldwin has been meeting with police officials and community leaders throughout Washington state.
This is what you call a smart way to use your platform.
5. History Says Dez Bryant Has a Credibility Issue
On Sunday, a war of words broke out between ESPN's Adam Schefter and Dez Bryant. Schefter reported that Bryant has missed numerous meetings or been late to them. Bryant pushed back and told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News that he only missed one. Owner Jerry Jones said only God knows. OK then.
Bryant has displayed a penchant for being irresponsible in many aspects of his life. Not sure why I would believe him and not Schefter.
I'm not alone. Several team officials not with the Cowboys said it was a joke that Bryant was debunking Schefter's report.
Why is all of this important? It makes a difference in the locker room, that's why. Think about the players like Jason Witten and all the other true professionals in Dallas who bother to show up on time. Maybe they don't care what Bryant does, but I doubt it. If those players manage to show up to meetings on time, why can't Bryant?
6. I Was W-R-O-N-G on the Vikings
I admit it. I never thought they'd be able to keep it together after Teddy Bridgewater's injury. I underestimated their defense and their ability to find capable fill-ins so late in the preseason.
At 4-0, this team is a legitimate Super Bowl threat. The defense is that good.
So go ahead. Rip away, Vikings fans. You have every right to.
7. Concern Over Cam
It's rare there's a consensus among some of the team personnel people with whom I speak. They are human beings, and human beings have opinions all over the map. It's no different in football.
One of the few instances in which I found agreement, however, was over Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.
The hit Newton took to the head against Atlanta was scary, and considering all of the other hits he's endured this year alone, the concern among some team officials (not on the Panthers) is that those head shots are shortening his career.
One AFC front-office executive said he'd be stunned if Newton lasted longer than five more years in the NFL. He compared Newton to Steve Young, who suffered numerous head injuries throughout his career.
The comparison to Young, and the concern over Newton's long-term career or, hell, his quality of life, isn't isolated to a select few. There are people across the game who are watching closely, and with great worry.
8. NFL Ratings Are Down...Again
The NFL's ratings have been sagging all season, according to SportsBusiness Daily, (via ProFootball Talk). This leads to two questions:
1. Why are they down?
2. Is it a trend?
The first question I essentially wrote an entire book about, and it's too complicated to get into extensively here. But my belief for years is that, eventually, the NFL's poor handling of CTE, domestic violence and other issues would catch up to it. I think that is part of the ratings decline. A big part.
But is this a trend? It sure seems like it. During the NFL's boom over the past decade plus, ratings slides like this just didn't happen.
True, we're only four weeks into the season, but it's a decline worth monitoring.
9. Transparency Is a Good Thing
Interesting moment Monday night in Minneapolis.
Giants tight end Larry Donnell was hit hard during the Giants' 24-10 loss to the Vikings. Play was stopped and Donnell was helped off the field by trainer Ronnie Barnes, one of the most respected medical officials in the NFL. Barnes is a gem.
As Barnes was helping Donnell off the field, Donnell seemed to wobble. He was clearly suffering from a serious hit to the head.
Barnes, as I've seen him do for decades, showed great care in helping Donnell off the field. But rather than turn their cameras away from an uncomfortable scene, the broadcast showed it.
Networks rarely show that ugly side of the game—guys wobbling off the field—because they know the league office despises when they do it. So most of the time, those moments that reveal the direct result of a head hit often aren't shown.
I see that type of wobbly player all the time. Sometimes weekly. Those moments and images are almost never shown. Not because they aren't captured, but they are purposely not shown.
That's what made the Donnell moment so unique, jarring even, in how it offered a window into the tri-ality (and I know that isn't a word) of football. The medical professionals who genuinely care about the players. The moment-to-moment brutality of the sport and the rarity of fans seeing it.
10. Odell Beckham Has Become His Own Worst Opponent
Coaches and players are purposely trying to agitate Giants receiver Odell Beckham because they know they can, and they know it works.
Coaches and players on two teams that have played the Giants in the past two seasons told me that agitating Beckham was part of the game plan going into the contest. These sources also believe other teams are starting to do this.
Going into the game, the sources explained, players and coaches talked openly about how to hit Beckham slightly late out of bounds, or on any tackle, really, which would cause him to retaliate.
There's a book on Beckham, and it's easy to read, these sources added.
On Monday against the Vikings, Beckham was called for a personal foul after a sideline brouhaha (always wanted to use that word). He lost his cool...again.
I can't prove this, but my guess is the Vikings planned to do the same thing other teams did, and Beckham fell for the bait again.
Game officials are aware of Beckham's rep. They watch television and have internet access. So they are looking for Beckham to act the fool, and he obliges them.
Beckham needs to live by a simple motto: don't start nothing, won't be nothing.
And he needs to realize teams are working his emotional outbursts into their game plans to goad him into stupid acts.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.