No one has been better than Antonio Brown this season. Few have gotten a bigger pass than Travis Kelce. And no story will melt your heart more than that of a former Chargers exec. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.
1. Antonio Brown's Campaign to Make History
This past week, I got into an argument with a scout over who the best receiver in football is, Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. It got a tad feisty.
He went with Jones because no receiver today has his combination of size, speed and route-running ability. "Julio is a 10," the scout said, "and Antonio is a 9.9."
So, yes, we're splitting decimal points. But I chose Brown because I think he's a better overall wide receiver. He has the speed and route-running skills that Jones possesses, but to me, Brown has better hands. As strange as this is to say about one of the most popular players in the league, Brown's ability to make spectacular catches is vastly underrated.
Brown, however, has been stunning. In many ways, he's not just the choice; he's the clear choice. Here's why:
Personnel: Brown is carrying a team of superstars on offense. Ben Roethlisberger has been OK. Le'Veon Bell leads the league in rushing, but we haven't seen the game-breaking Bell yet (his 3.9 yards per carry is a four-year low). Regardless, the Steelers offense has been practically unstoppable—Pittsburgh is fifth in passing yards and seventh in total yards—because of Brown, who has lifted the somewhat lackluster play of Roethlisberger and Bell.
Route running: The Packers game was vintage Brown. He caught 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns, but the way he produced those numbers is what made his effort special. The Packers used a Cover 2 defense most of the night, and no one in the NFL is better at finding the crevices to exploit in Cover 2 than Brown.
Throughout the game, Brown stood out for how sharply he changed directions. That's the advantage of having a smaller frame than, say, Jones. Brown is 5'10" and weighs 181 pounds. That relative compactness allows him to cut more sharply and make quicker moves than longer receivers.
Impact: Several times this year, Brown has won games for Pittsburgh on sheer skill and toughness. His dancing and flamboyance betray a toughness and ability to get a defense scrambling. When he gets like this, he can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, remorse or fear. And he will not stop, ever, until the defense is dead.
Data: Brown leads all receivers in catches (80), yards (1,195), is tied for second in touchdowns with eight, leads the NFL with 20 plays of at least 20 yards and is tied for second with five plays of at least 40 yards.
I spoke to four team personnel men and asked who, at this point, was their choice for the award. One said Brown, two said Wentz and one said Brady. In fairness, Brady has been so good for so long, he's easy to overlook.
Considering how much quarterback play drives the league, Brown isn't likely to win the MVP. Of the last 10 winners of the award, only one—Adrian Peterson in 2012—wasn't a quarterback. No wide receiver has ever won the award, which goes back to 1957. No, not even Jerry Rice won it.
That isn't likely to change this year. Fifty journalists vote on the award, and I hate to say it, but Brown being a bit of preener and a showboat will cost him votes. Many of my brethren are old-school get off my lawn types.
But Brown is making one of the most compelling MVP cases for a wide receiver in a long time. He deserves it, and it'll be fun watching whether he can do enough to buck history.
2. A Bright Spot in Miami
In Miami, another off-the-radar wide receiver is adding to what has been a nice career.
This year, Jarvis Landry has produced his fourth straight season of at least 70 catches, making him the first player in franchise history to accomplish the feat, according to NFL vice president of football communications Michael Signora.
Over this stretch, Landry hasn't exactly had Aaron Rodgers throwing to him. Yet, despite catching passes from Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore and Jay Cutler, he keeps churning and producing. It's a helluva thing to see.
3. Massive Changes Seem Only a Matter of Time in Chicago, Indy
I have seen the end of coaching regimes many times. It's often sad and predictable. Yes, coaches make millions, so no one should feel sorry for them, but it's still tough to watch.
And while I stress that I am not breaking any news nor has anyone given me inside information, it appears clear that at least two current head coaches will soon be unemployed.
In Chicago, it's difficult to see John Fox surviving beyond this season. Players argue all the time, but when players on 3-8 teams argue within earshot of the media, that is a terrible sign. One of the bigger problems for Fox is that rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky isn't progressing. He did play against a terrific Philadelphia defense Sunday, but the No. 2 overall pick was terrible nonetheless, going 17-of-33 for 147 yards and two picks. He's frequently been off in his seven starts.
Fox is not an offensive strategist; he's a defensive one. With a young quarterback to develop, there is a good chance the Bears decide they need a coach who is a better offensive mind. Again, I have no info on this, and I don't mean to state what may be obvious, but this is where it's headed.
And then there is what's happening in Indianapolis, which is just straight-up sad. The press conference Chuck Pagano gave this week, in which he ranted and rambled in all sorts of directions, was just weird. Firing Pagano may actually be beneficial to him. He can go on a vacation and get some damn sleep.
4. Travis Kelce Gets Called Out, and He Deserves It
Earlier this season, after Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw an interception, running back Ezekiel Elliott was excoriated in some quarters of the sports media landscape for not showing more effort in chasing down Broncos cornerback Chris Harris. The criticism was slightly over the top, but it wasn't totally unfair.
Fast-forward to this past Sunday. Chiefs QB Alex Smith tossed an interception that sealed the win for Buffalo. Rather than give chase, tight end Travis Kelce visibly threw his hands up in disgust (via The Big Lead). It wasn't cool of Kelce, but, interestingly, the criticism from the media was far less voluble.
Except for NBC analyst Rodney Harrison, who once again played the role of truth-teller for what happens in the league (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk):
"He's the captain of this team, and this is just absolute terrible effort. When things are going great, he's dancing, he's partying. But as soon as he hits a little adversity, he pouts. The game is on the line—hustle, get back, you are the captain of this team. If I'm in that locker room, I would go to him and say, 'If you're going to be captain of the team, you have to be able to lead, and you lead with effort.' That's not good enough..."
5. Better Than the Rest
We know tight end Rob Gronkowski is good. We know he's historic. As I've long argued, he's the best ever to play the position. Perhaps no statistic quantifies his dominance better than what the folks at NFL Research dug up:
Imagine if Gronk had not missed those 25 games. It's a sign of just how immortal an offensive threat he has been.
6. And That's a Nice Way of Describing an Opponent?
In 2015, Texans owner Bob McNair was speaking at a breakfast sponsored by the Free Enterprise Institute. He was discussing the state of the Texans and began to talk about how they desperately needed to beat the Colts, whom they played that week.
McNair's words weren't anywhere close to the inflammatory ones he used when he reportedly called players inmates at an owners meeting earlier this year, according to Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN The Magazine. In this case, McNair's comments aren't a big deal.
But they still are interesting. It's a rare look at how owners talk about other franchises. As striking as "bastards" is, I've heard owners describe teams in much more colorful language.
I'm guessing the Colts may hear about this video. And I wouldn't be stunned if it was used as a pseudo-motivational tool. The two teams play on Dec. 31.
7. Dancing With a Star
Nope. I won't comment. Not a word. Nope. Not a one. OK?
8. That's No Way to Treat a Hall of Famer
No one should feel sorry for Eli Manning, who the Giants are benching Sunday in favor of Geno Smith. Bare minimum, Manning has made almost $220 million in career earnings, according to Sportrac. He's won two Super Bowl rings. To me, he's a Hall of Famer.
Yet the Giants handled his benching awkwardly at best.
First of all, why anyone would want to take a look-see at Smith is beyond me. Didn't the Giants see him play for the Jets?
But mainly, Manning earned the right to finish the season. He beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady twice in the Super Bowl, moments among the greatest in team history. He's started 210 consecutive regular-season games with all manner of personnel. And he hasn't created any turmoil for the franchise on or off the field. He deserved better.
See you in Jacksonville next year, Eli.
9. Owners Growing Weary of Trump
President Donald Trump recently tweeted that the players were running the NFL to the league's detriment. That prompted a text to me from a current owner that revealed the siege mentality that has taken hold across the league: "He's trying to destroy us. He's trying to use race to divide the players and our fans. It's all over a grudge."
I've mentioned before how numerous owners believe Trump is attacking the NFL because the league rejected his bid to buy the Bills some years ago. If that is the case, he sure seems to be extracting his pound of flesh now.
10. A Beautiful Story
In case you missed it, CBS profiled former Chargers director of public relations Bill Johnston over the Thanksgiving holiday. According to a CBS press release, Johnston "stepped away from his executive job with the team after 38 seasons to care for his wife, and former high school sweetheart, Ramona, who is battling Huntington's disease."
It's worth a few minutes of your time.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.