Monday Morning Digest: Cam Newton, Guts and Glory

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterOctober 22, 2018

Monday Morning Digest: Cam Newton, Guts and Glory

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    It was a wild week of fourth-quarter comebacks, fourth-down conversions, two-point conversion gambles and games that came down to the final gun. If you couldn't keep up with all the action, don't panic! Digest is here to catch you up with everything you need to know, including: 

    Cam Newton's tough-guy performance against the Eagles

    • Mike Vrabel's decision to go for broke by going for two

    • The utter randomness that is Bears football

    • The real reasons rookie quarterbacks don't win football games any more

    • The NFL's most surprising, delightful non-issue

    ...and much, much more!

Cam Newton Makes the Panthers the NFC's Gutsiest Contenders

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Every once in a while, Cam Newton does something to remind you how great he is and how tough he is.

    That's right, we said "tough." We hear all you Cam haters yelling from the back of the bar. You've begrudgingly acknowledged his athleticism. But you want so badly to paint him as a pretty boy, all flash and no substance—a showoff with no guts.

    Well, not-so-tough Newton faced 4th-and-long late in the fourth quarter, after bringing the Panthers back from 17-0 to within a field goal and overcoming both a listless Panthers start and an Eagles pass rush that engulfed him for the entire first half.

    Newton shook off one defender, ejected the ball while being smothered by a second and somehow connected with Torrey Smith for a 35-yard catch-and-run that ultimately led to a game-winning touchdown and a 21-17 Panthers victory.

    Newton needed his scrambling ability to survive the first half and his underappreciated skills as a pocket passer to start the second-half comeback. But a 4th-and-10 conversion in a collapsed pocket against the defending champions requires resilience.

    Newton brought that, and the complete package, Sunday. And we've been seeing a lot of it this year.

    The Panthers are now 4-2, and they are much grittier than they are great. Newton is putting up quietly impressive numbers: 11 passing touchdowns, just four interceptions, a 65.6 percent completion rate (high for the risk-taking Newton), as well as 257 yards and three touchdowns rushing.

    And the Panthers are taking a cue from Newton's personality—his real personality, not the caricature. They're climbing off the turf after getting knocked down. They're scratching for every yard. They're either coming back or (last week in Washington) coming close—never out of a game until the final gun.

    Close wins and a gritty reputation may not be as foolproof a Super Bowl formula as your grandparents thought it was. Newton's Panthers aren't quite among the NFL's elite teams. But three wins over the NFC East will help them once the playoff tiebreakers come.

    And anyone who remembers knows that when Newton and the Panthers start believing in each other, the rest of the league needs to watch out.

Rookie Quarterback Blues

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    It was another rough week for rookie quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield lost a heartbreaker to the Buccaneers. Sam Darnold's Jets got pushed around by the Vikings. Josh Rosen got humiliated, then hurt, against the Broncos on Thursday night. And Josh Allen was forced to watch off-the-street veteran Derek Anderson throw three interceptions in his place in the Bills' loss to the Colts.

    What's wrong with our once-promising rookie QB class? Digest isn't about to throw up its hands and say "Rookie Wall." We're here to dive a little deeper.

                 

    Lack of support

    Sam Darnold dealt with dropped passes, botched snaps and terrible field position in the 37-17 Jets loss to the Vikings. And by dropped passes, we don't mean 20-yard lasers off the fingertips of his receivers. We're talking about easy checkdowns that could move the sticks bouncing off his receivers' numbers.

    Josh Rosen faced similar issues Thursday night; his offensive line plays like a thin strand of police tape. The fact that Allen sometimes moved the ball for a Bills team that produces nothing but turnovers for every other quarterback speaks well to his potential.

                        

    Bad situations

    It's trendy these days for coaches and GMs to wait a year or two until their regimes are in real jeopardy before drafting a rookie quarterback. It's like a young couple waiting until they're having marital problems to have a baby, and it's an equally sound decision.

    Baker Mayfield played well enough to win in the second half against the Buccaneers on Sunday, leading a comeback from 23-9 in the fourth quarter before the Buccaneers prevailed in overtime on the strength of a fumbled Browns punt return and a long field goal. The Browns committed 14 penalties for 114 yards in the loss, and their offensive game plan wavered between too conservative (Mayfield rarely got a chance to throw downfield in the first half) and too aggressive (two failed fourth-down conversions in field-goal range). Hue Jackson vowed to get more involved with the offense, which is his inimitable way of pushing blame onto offensive coordinator/inevitable successor Todd Haley. 

    If the Browns were a first-year rebuilding team, maybe overtime losses and ties would feel like moral victories instead of ticks on the Jackson countdown clock.

                     

    Defensive coaches

    At least Mayfield is coached by offensive innovators Jackson and Haley. (They may be telling him two contradictory things, but that's a separate issue.)

    First-year Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks, who rose through the defensive ranks, fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy after Thursday night's mess. McCoy may have earned the dismissal, but the Cardinals offense had "Defensive Coach" written all over it, from the decision to start safe-side adult Sam Bradford early in the year to the dull-as-drywall game plans to leaving Rosen in at the end of a blowout, resulting in a foot injury. (Defensive coaches think blowout fourth quarters against overwhelming opponents build toughness and character.)

    The Bills' nonfunctional offense of handoffs and hope is built around the preference of head coach Sean McDermott, a defensive coach from the Panthers system, like Wilks. The Jets are built to the specifications of Todd Bowles, another defensive guy from an adjacent branch of the coaching tree.

    These coaches like coordinators who hate taking risks and—perhaps coincidentally—lack the kind of flashy resumes that can make a stodgy old linebacking coach look replaceable. Defensive coaches also explain how teams can wait two or three years before drafting a quarterback without building capable offensive lines or receiving corps: They are all searching for the perfect combination of gutsy linebackers.

            

    Unrealistic expectations

    Darnold gets compared to Joe Namath, Brett Favre or the Archangel Gabriel on the back pages of New York tabloids with every win. Baker Mayfield is expected to erase 18 years of quarterback futility and justify three years of Moneyball fasting. Both of their Sunday performances look better without superimposing decades of organizational failure over their stat sheets.

                     

    Now here's the bad news

    None of this baggage carried by rookie quarterbacks is going to go away this year. So expect more dropped passes, conservative game plans, injuries and coaching changes.

           

    Digest note: No, we have not forgotten Lamar Jackson, who produced a Wildcat highlight or two (including his first NFL touchdown this week) off the bench while learning from watching the stable-if-unspectacular Ravens offense. Sometimes, it pays to be the guy who got drafted late and doesn't have to play right away. 

Game Spotlight: Chiefs 45, Bengals 10

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    What happened

    Happy Bubble Smile Pony Rainbow Giggle Gumdrop Mahomes Time happened! Hooray! Let's all hold hands and dance around the butterblossom tree!

    Sorry about that. Phew. They have to stop putting the Chiefs on Sunday night. All of the Patrick Mahomes magic, the hurdling Kareem Hunt highlights, the offensive gadgetry, the defense mixing in enough turnovers to keep all but the best opponents from catching up. It's part hallucinogen, part aphrodisiac.

    One minute, you're soberly breaking down the touchdown Demetrius Harris celebrated by leaping into the back-of-the-end-zone camera well or wondering how Mahomes can retrieve a fumbled snap and find Tyreek Hill open in the end zone. The next minute, the yummy twinkle dragon is taking you through the puffy cotton candy clouds to Shimmerstar Castle, where Andy Reid's magical elves use candy canes to diagram plays for...oh dear, there we go again.

                            

    What it means

    The Chiefs could have hung 60 points on the Bengals with better execution. They left a few open completions on the field. By the fourth quarter, they were running the ball at will, and the Bengals looked like they just wanted to go home.

    The Bengals are now 1-17 in prime-time road games under Marvin Lewis (h/t Rich Hribar of Rotoworld), so the "Bengals wilt in the spotlight" storyline is more of a cultural tradition than a lazy narrative. The Chiefs defense may have taken a step forward by allowing just 185 net yards before the final Bengals drive. But the Bengals were also bungling a bit. 

    Overall, Sunday night's game demonstrated just how wide the gap is this season between a championship-caliber team playing at peak capacity and a wild-card-ish team just being itself.

              

    What's next

    The Bengals host the Buccaneers in an early Sunday game next week, so they get to go back to being make-believe contenders.

    The Chiefs ride Brightwind the Pretty Pegasus to Gingerbread Grove...OK, we'll stop. The Chiefs host a rematch with the Broncos, who are coming off a sugar rush of their own after walloping the poor Cardinals.

Game Spotlight: Patriots 38, Bears 31

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Instead of providing the usual, semi-predictable commentary after a Patriots victory ("Gosh, this franchise may be going places..."), let's talk about the Bears RP chart.

    Long before there were realistic video games, football-obsessed kids played dice games like Strat-o-Matic and APBA. Those games included charts for "RPs," which stood for "Rare Plays" or "Ridiculous Plays." On a certain roll, gamers consulted the RP charts for results that were unusual (missed field goals run back for touchdowns), unlikely (a kangaroo hopping onto the field and tucking the football in its pouch) or so fluky they could almost strain the game's suspension of disbelief (the Bills scoring a passing touchdown).

    The Bears build entire games out of RPs. Heck, Tom Brady barely played for long stretches Sunday because the Bears were too busy stringing together daisy chains of zany, unpredictable nonsense.

    Luckily, Digest got hold of the RP chart used to determine the outcomes of Bears plays and series. So you don't need to know what happened Sunday or what will happen next Sunday. Just roll two dice over and over, consult the instructions below, and you will know everything you need to know about Bears football:

    If the roll is: 

    2: The Bears recover a fumble on the kickoff!

    3: The Bears allow a kickoff-return touchdown.

    4: A defender drops a Mitch Trubisky interception in end zone. The Bears score on the next play.

    5: The Bears defense produces a big play.

    6: The Bears defense is completely fooled by screen pass.

    7: Trubisky misses a wide-open receiver (this is the most likely outcome, of course).

    8: Trubisky turns into Michael Vick briefly, scrambles 20 yards backward and then runs for a touchdown.

    9: Trubisky throws a worm-eater to a covered defender. But somehow, the defender digs a burrow beneath the receiver and intercepts the pass.

    10: A Bears punt is blocked!

    11: The Bears offense does something creative and magical, making you think, "Gosh, this team could be the Chiefs—but with a defense—if it could somehow exorcise all the stupid."

    12: A last-gasp Hail Mary to tie the game is caught! ...But it's one yard shy of the end zone.

             

    But seriously...what's next?

    The Patriots visit the Bills. The Bears host the Jets and then visit the Bills. Sounds like an easy win for the Patriots, while the Bears (rolls dice)...oh dear.

Game Spotlight: Chargers 20, Titans 19

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    Jack Thomas/Getty Images

    What happened

    The team that treats scoring touchdowns like the end zone lies at the top of a cliff wall finally scored a pair of them. But a do-or-die two-point conversion proved to be a cliff too far.

    The Chargers scored on a pair of "drives" that combined to eat up just 2 minutes and 13 seconds of game time to build a 17-6 lead. The Titans, who were held without a touchdown in three of their last four games, possessed the ball for 21 minutes and six seconds in the first half but could only muster field goals.

    They finally cleared the blockage in their offense, first with a Derrick Henry run in the third quarter, then with a Marcus Mariota pass to Luke Stocker with 35 seconds left to make it a one-point game.

    Titans rookie head coach Mike Vrabel boldly elected to attempt a two-point conversion instead of tying the game with an extra point. A first attempt ended in a defensive holding penalty that moved the ball even closer to the goal line. A second attempt failed when Marcus Mariota could not connect with Taywan Taylor in the back of the end zone.

              

    What it means

    If you are one of those people who yell "Stupid call!" to make yourself sound informed after a coach takes a risk that fails, then the decision to go for two was a stupid call, and you knew it the moment it failed.

    If you love football and are honest with yourself, you agreed with the call, wished more coaches were daring in late-game situations and know that the probability of success was really high—especially after the penalty that placed the ball at the one-yard line.

    If you wondered, "Gee, Henry's a heck of a power back and Mariota can run, so why did the Titans opt for a straight dropback pass that played to their weaknesses and the strengths of the Chargers defense instead of a sneak, dive or option?" then you are like millions of individuals who lack the self-outsmarting capability needed to be an NFL head coach.

    Last-second decisions aside, the Chargers won because they could score on explosive plays to Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams while the Titans had to matriculate down the field like a Knute Rockne team just to kick field goals. Big-play capability wins games in the NFL. The Chargers have it, the Titans completely lack it.

    Also, Keenan Allen threw a tantrum when the ball didn't come his way in the end zone. But don't worry about it: Allen is just a name on a fantasy roster to most casual sports fans, so he practically needs to beat Philip Rivers over the head with a shovel for it to register as a story on the Odell Beckhammeter.

              

    What's next

    The Chargers enjoy a bye week before back-to-back road games in Seattle and Oakland, because forcing them to circle the globe a few times is a great way to sell season tickets! The Titans are also going on post-London bye, but no one will notice they are gone.

Middleweight Matchup Digest

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Several games this week were just interesting/important to talk about but not interesting/important enough to talk about at any length. Here are brief briefings of games worth just a little bit of your attention:

          

    Redskins 20, Cowboys 17

    Washington has a stout front seven, the Cowboys a fast, aggressive defense, and both teams have the downfield-passing capability of a Pop Warner team playing in a blizzard. It made for a long afternoon in which each team picked up a first down or two before punting the other team into bad field position so it could do the same.

    A Dak Prescott fumble on his own goal line, forced by Ryan Kerrigan and recovered by Preston Smith, finally gave Washington a two-score, fourth-quarter lead, and the Cowboys' failed comeback fell short because of a missed field goal by Dan Bailey's Low-Cost Replacement Kicker Guy.

    Both Washington and Dallas can win games if they get early leads to squat on. Neither would be a team worth worrying about in a good division. Either could win the NFC East.

          

    Saints 24, Ravens 23

    The Saints were 4-of-5 on fourth-down conversions, including a Drew Brees sneak at the Ravens 18-yard line in the fourth quarter to set up a go-ahead touchdown instead of a game-tying field goal.

    The aggressiveness cut both ways—the Ravens set up a field goal with a 4th-and-long conversion early, and the Saints' lone failure was a too-cute Taysom Hill option-pitch fumble deep in Ravens territory—but the Saints' ability to dictate terms to opponents with a mix of unpredictable tactics and predictable Brees heroics has made them the second-best team in the NFC.

    The Ravens are exactly as good as their 4-3 record suggests.

                   

    Texans 20, Jaguars 7

    Blake Bortles lost a pair of fumbles, one deep in his own territory, spotting the Texans a 20-0 lead and giving way to Cody Kessler. The Texans overcame their usual red-zone mishaps with the help of some sticky-fingered play by DeAndre Hopkins. The Jaguars defense was forced to defend a short field all game: The average Texans drive started on their own 37-yard line.

    Kessler threw for 156 yards, one touchdown and one interception in just under a half's work. His "pesky guy" performance is sure to spark a quarterback controversy among those who ignore strip sacks and overrate six-yard passes at the end of losses. Unfortunately, there are people who think that way making decisions in the NFL. And it doesn't take much to compare favorably to Bortles.

               

    Lions 32, Dolphins 21

    The Dolphins lost Albert Wilson early in this game, erasing Brock Osweiler's hope of producing more dump-and-run touchdowns. The Dolphins kept things conservative until trailing 20-7, when Osweiler began quarterbacking just well enough to make the final score look close, making him the perfect replacement for Ryan Tannehill.

    Lions running back Kerryon Johnson gained 179 scrimmage yards on 21 touches. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is running out of reasons to rotate Johnson out of the lineup in key situations, but he's sure to come up with some fresh ones before next week's visit from the Seahawks.

Awards Digest

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    Defender of the week: Aaron Donald recorded four sacks of C.J. Beathard and ripped the ball away from running back Matt Breida in a 39-10 Rams victory over the 49ers. Both Donald and teammate Michael Brockers shoved blockers into Beathard for sacks Sunday. So...if a defender throws a blocker at a quarterback, and that blocker's full body weight lands on the quarterback, is that roughing the passer? We only ask because that's likely to come up again in upcoming Rams (and 49ers) games.

    Offensive line of the week: The Colts offensive line has allowed one sack in the last three games and zero sacks in the last 11 quarters. It held a Bills team that does nothing well except sack quarterbacks without a sack Sunday while helping Marlon Mack and others combine for 220 rushing yards. So let's hear it for the unheralded line of Anthony Castonzo (recently back from injury), rookie Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and rookie Braden Smith.

    Special teamer of the week: Cory Littleton of the Rams blasted right up the gut for his second blocked punt of the year and fourth of his career. Fortunately for Littleton, he plays in the NFC and is eligible to make the Pro Bowl as a specialist. In the AFC, Matthew Slater holds that Pro Bowl berth for life like he's on the Supreme Court of Punt Coverage.

    Unprecedented special teams goat of the week: Justin Tucker missed the first extra point of his seven-year career. Naturally, the miss came on a last-minute, potentially game-tying attempt.

    Special teams sojourn of the week: Digest gives a special shoutout this week to Jets punt gunner Trenton Cannon, who got penalized on punt coverage for running out of bounds, running behind a row of players on the sideline, leaving MetLife Stadium, taking the jughandle onto Route 3, getting back into the stadium complex through the EZ-Pass lane on the New Jersey Turnpike and finally running back onto the field to help force Marcus Sherels out of bounds. Maybe we're misremembering things a little, but Cannon really went out of his way to elude those Vikings blockers.

    No-safe-place-on-the-field award: Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills knocked over a security guard at Hard Rock Stadium after hauling in perhaps the prettiest pass Brock Osweiler has ever thrown. The injured security guard was on the ground for several minutes after the collision. Stills gave her the game ball, which was a nice touch, except she was still in obvious pain when he handed it to her. In the future, everyone seeking emergency medical attention will have to settle for souvenir footballs.

    Bad actor of the week: The Patriots attempted their own version of the Philly Special against the Bears, complete with Tom Brady wandering toward his right tackle and pretending to bark an adjustment so James White could take a direct snap. But while Nick Foles was a regular Daniel Day-Lewis in the Super Bowl, Brady was more like Ian Ziering in a deleted Sharknado scene. ...Don't flail your arms and telegraph your lines to the back row next time, and maybe White will gain more than one yard, oh Greatest Quarterback on Earth. Your cameo in Ted 2 was more organic and relatable, and that's saying something.

    Fantasy leech of the week: There are four things in this world that you can count on: death, taxes, laundry and LeGarrette Blount siphoning touchdowns away from a better teammate. Blount waltzed into the end zone on a two-yard run so well-blocked (and poorly defended) that a toddler could have ridden a tricycle into the end zone. That means one more month of Blount getting goal-line carries while Kerryon Johnson does the little things, like rush for 158 yards.

Digest Sportsbook

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Easy money of the week: Digest took the Saints as three-point dogs and came away happy (despite some early scares) with a 24-23 outright win over the Ravens. The Saints are now 15-7-1 as road dogs since 2014, meaning the public (and house) always overreacts to their dome-team reputation. It always pays to bet the matchup, not the reps.

    Push points: The Buccaneers finished as 3.5-point favorites over the Browns at most books, but they were sitting at -3 for much of the week. That half-point proved huge, as many early wagers pushed, while later bets covered (for the Browns) or lost (for the Buccaneers). The 26-23 overtime final also slipped just below the 52 total. If you took the Browns and the under in a parlay, congratulations on your victory: You are either a psychic or a lifelong pessimist.

    Lines on the move: The Patriots went from 3.5- to 1.5-point favorites at Chicago when Rob Gronkowski was officially ruled out Sunday morning. If you saw the moving line and thought, "Hooray! More cushion for the Patriots!" you were vindicated by the 38-31 final. But had the Bears forced overtime by completing a Hail Mary into the end zone (like a normal team) instead of the one-yard line (like the Bears), catching that two-point line swing at just the right time could have made a difference.

    Backdoor cover lover: Folks who took the Lions -3 at Miami had to be frustrated as the Dolphins drove to the Lions 28-yard line in the final minute: A touchdown and two-point conversion would have cut the Lions' lead to 32-29, setting up a likely push. Fortunately, the Dolphins attempted (and missed) a field goal with 53 seconds left. There's nothing better for preventing a backdoor push than the baked-in mediocrity of the Miami Dolphins.

    Overwatch: The 58.5 over kept the Chiefs' blowout of the Bengals interesting until the final moments, when the Chiefs turned the ball over on downs at the Cincinnati 5-yard line and Bengals backup quarterback Jeff Driskel waved the surrender flag instead of driving for a meaningless score. The Chiefs offense and defense remain solid plays to clear reasonable overs, but it takes two to tango. Opening numbers for Chiefs-Broncos next week were not yet posted at press time; don't be fooled by the 45 the Broncos hung on the Cardinals, and be wary of trying to clear anything over about 52.5.

    Undertale: The Colts and Bills slipped under the 43-point number with a 37-5 final, thanks to utter Bills defensive ineptitude. Avoid the Bills when wagering. Or picking fantasy lineups. Or watching television. ...The Cowboys missed a potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds that would have almost guaranteed that the Cowboys-Redskins game would clear the 41.5 over in overtime. The Cowboys are now 8-15 at clearing the over since 2017. The public still sees high-flying America's Team; the point totals suggest the Ravens with better marketing.

    Monday night action (New York Giants +4.5 at Atlanta Falcons): The secret to enjoying Falcons football is to take their opponent and the over; that way, you're rooting for touchdowns and inevitability instead of, you know, the soul crushers. Taking the Giants can be a tough sell, but Digest locked them at +4.5 on a parlay with a reasonable 54.5 over and a sweet +270 payout. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning in BFF mode and the Falcons unlikely to beat any team by more than a field goal, Tuesday morning coffee is on Digest, guaranteed.

Point-Counterpoint

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Your weekly look at what's going on off the field.

             

    John Elway appears in a political campaign ad seemingly endorsing a pro-fracking proposition.

    Point: The ad doesn't mention fracking (because, you know, it's terrible), so the only evidence that Elway endorses something really environmentally sketchy is when he says, "Next year, come see your Broncos play at Sea Level Stadium."

    Counterpoint: When aliens try to determine why humans willfully caused our own extinction by fracking our way into a supervolcanic eruption, they'll uncover this ad and say, "Oh, it's because the guy who drafted Paxton Lynch thought it was a good idea!"

                      

    The NFL is investigating how Ryan Tannehill was suddenly deactivated last week after not appearing on midweek injury reports.

    Point: The investigation has been hampered so far because even trained professionals cannot think about Ryan Tannehill's career without lapsing into a zzzzzzzzzzzz...

    Counterpoint: Tannehill was ruled out in favor of Brock Osweiler this week, so either his condition is worsening, the Dolphins were hiding an injury or Osweiler himself is a communicable disease. 

                

    The NFL grows worried about the long-term viability of the Chargers in Los Angeles.

    Point: The league knew things were bad when it saw Philip Rivers handing out copies of a screenplay in a Rodeo Drive Starbucks.

    Counterpoint: Gosh, if only the L.A. move hadn't worked out the exact way anyone who was paying attention was certain it would work out.

                             

    Jaguars owner Shahid Khan withdraws bid to purchase Wembley Stadium.

    Point: Remember NFL owners' ability to competitively bid for the most storied sports arenas on Earth the next time they float a $400 million bond and a 15-cent-per-bottle baby formula tax to install massage chairs in their luxury boxes.

    Counterpoint: OK, so the Chargers are miserable in Los Angeles and the Jaguars won't move to London anytime soon. Anyone else have any bright relocation ideas? (Looks around like an angry teacher about to give a pop quiz.) Not you, Mark! What about the rest of you? Are you ready to just sit still and let the money trucks pull into your driveways? Good owners! You all get smiley-face stickers!

All Quiet on the Anthem Front

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    Jason E. Miczek/Associated Press

    Roger Goodell did not address the protests during the national anthem at the owners meetings this week.

    Instead, he addressed the issues that spurred the protests.

    "The focus of both the NFLPA and the NFL, the clubs and our players has been to focus on the effort of the players on the issues they have raised and how we can make their communities better," the commissioner told reporters. He went on to talk about criminal justice reform and Let's Listen Together, a Players Coalition initiative to bring police and community leaders together, which is now represented on the NFL's website.

    This is a radical departure for Goodell and the league. Just a few months ago, the NFL (or at least powerful factions within it) still wanted to silence the protests during the anthem. Now, Goodell is practically speaking the language of the protesters.

    Even more surprising: There was no outcry from a White House presumably distracted by more important political matters, like the ancestries of senators.

    There's nothing particularly radical or partisan about attending some town halls or backing some common-sense legislation. Or at least there shouldn't be. Today's political polarization often boils down to those who listen versus those who don't, those who believe versus those who don't, those who care versus those who blame and mock.

    NFL owners must have finally taken a long, sober look at whom they were trying to appease and whom they risked alienating. Or they finally realized how counterproductive stoking an ever-dwindling protest was. Or the owners with real sympathy and compassion for their players and communities (there are several) won the day.

    However it happened, the NFL was rewarded—not with forced silence from a suppressed protest but with a quiet news cycle dominated by touchdowns, not politics.

    Not everyone is happy on the players' side. Eric Reid, in particular, remains a firebrand among firebrands, accusing Players Coalition leader Malcolm Jenkins of "selling us out" for making the overtures that led to the current peace. But Reid's (very personal-sounding) anger doesn't give with the reality. Players can still protest. But with the league willing to talk about the issues, the protest will fall on far fewer deaf ears. The goal of the anthem protests was to open hearts and change minds. The NFL's revised priorities are a sign of success.

    Taking a side can be good for business, if you take the logical one. The NFL finally caught on. Let's hope others do, too.

         

    Note: Point spreads from OddsShark, and splits and trends from TeamRankings.com.