Monday Morning Digest: Colts, Seahawks and Other Wild Cards Gone Wild!

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterNovember 26, 2018

Monday Morning Digest: Colts, Seahawks and Other Wild Cards Gone Wild!

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    No Rams, Chiefs or Saints on Sunday means no fun, right? Wrong!

    With the powerhouses away, the wild-card hopefuls came to play Sunday, and Digest has you covered with all the action including:

    • The Seahawks, Colts and other teams hurdling into the playoff picture;
    • A shocking upset in Denver;
    • Baker Mayfield conquering the ghosts of Hue Jackson past and future;
    • Wild-and-woolly results in not-totally-meaningless Bills-Jaguars and Eagles-Giants games;
    • A Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist argument starter;

    and much, much more! 


Dark Horses Gaining Ground in an Unpredictable Wild Card Race

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    There's not much drama in the divisional races this year. The Patriots, Rams and Saints look very safe, the Bears, Chiefs and Steelers somewhat safe, the Texans control their own fate with an easy late schedule, and no one really cares who wins the NFC East.

    The wild-card race, on the other hand, is totally bonkers. The Chargers are the only lock. Everything else is in flux. Teams that looked like shoo-ins three weeks ago are suddenly on the skids. Teams that were expected to fire their coaches around Halloween are suddenly relevant again after Thanksgiving. 

    Digest doesn't have the time or space to cover all of the possible wild-card scenarios—teams like the Bills and Lions are still mathematically alive right now—so we'll focus on a handful of hot teams who have suddenly gone from fringe hopefuls to legitimate playoff contenders in the last few weeks. 


    Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

    What's up: Lamar Jackson may not be a conventional quarterback, but the Ravens are at their best when their quarterback situation is unconventional. The Ravens now have a 6-3 AFC record, which could help propel them into the postseason in the likely event that a bunch of wild-card hopefuls get knotted at around 9-7.

    What's working: Jackson and undrafted rookie Gus Edwards have confounded a pair of terrible defenses (Bengals and Raiders) with options, and the Ravens defense looks a lot perkier now that the ball-control offense gives it the chance to grab some Gatorade.

    What's next: Road games against the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers will test the Ravens' ability to win with cloud-of-dust tactics. Jackson may not be ready for quality defenses or offenses that could force him to play catch-up. Then again, Joe Flacco has been in the league for 11 years, and he's rarely ready for those things, either. 


    Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

    What's up: The Colts edged the Dolphins 27-24 Sunday for their fifth straight win. Victories over the Dolphins and Titans give them potential wild-card tiebreaker advantages.

    What's working: The Colts gave up their first sack since T-shirt-and-shorts weather on Sunday, which is a sign of just how well things have been clicking on offense. They now boast worthy candidates for Coach of the Year (Frank Reich), Offensive Rookie of the Year (guard Quenton Nelson), Defensive Rookie of the Year (Darius Leonard, who recorded 10 tackles and a sack on Sunday) and the hands-down Comeback Player of the Year, if not the league MVP (Andrew Luck)

    What's ahead: The Colts face all three division foes on the road down the stretch, including the Jaguars and Texans in back-to-back weeks starting next Sunday. The upcoming schedule isn't easy, but only a handful of teams are playing better than them right now.


    Seattle Seahawks (6-5)

    What's up: Back-to-back wins over the Packers and Panthers give the Seahawks a pair of head-to-head victories that could have massive wild-card tiebreaker significance.

    What's working: We'll examine the 30-27 win over the Panthers a little later in Digest. For now, the Seahawks aren't making many mistakes, and it's paying off.

    What's ahead: A pair of meetings with the 49ers in the next three weeks should leave the Seahawks at least 8-6 entering the final two weeks of the season. 


    The NFC East Goofball Brigade (Cowboys and Redskins 6-5, Eagles 5-6)

    What's up: The mid-majors in the NFL's answer to the America East Conference had little chance to earn wild-card berths a few weeks ago. But the Panthers have lost three straight, the Packers kissed their season goodbye on Sunday night and the Vikings are embarking on the worst two-game road trip the NFL could think of (Foxborough in December, then Seattle).

    The Cowboys have the best chance of winning the NFC East outright, but their wild-card portfolio is iffy (losses to the Panthers and Seahawks).

    If Washington can figure out how to win with Colt McCoy, it can sweep the Eagles, beat the Giants and Jaguars and use wins over the Panthers and Packers to gain a wild-card edge if that's not enough for a division crown.

    Similarly, the Eagles could sweep Washington and get back into consideration after clawing out a win against the Giants, though their tiebreaker portfolio stinks and, really, they aren't very good.

    What's working: The Amari Cooper acquisition opened up the Cowboys offense, and their defense is playing well. Washington has a favorable schedule. The Eagles haven't rolled over and died just yet.

    What's ahead: Saints-Cowboys and the first of two Eagles-Redskins games will either bring clarity next week or muddle the NFC East—and the whole wild-card race—even more.  

Upset Spotlight: Broncos 24, Steelers 17

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    What happened

    The Broncos rushed for 124 yards, avoided turnovers and didn't do anything foolish or self-destructive.

    Meanwhile, Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble fumbled near the goal line for a touchback; James Conner lost a fumble in the open field, negating what should have been a big play; Justin Simmons blocked a Chris Boswell field goal; Ben Roethlisberger threw a third-quarter interception that set up a scoring opportunity for the Broncos, and so on.

    The Steelers led 17-10 in the third quarter thanks to a pair of big plays: Alejandro Villanueva's touchdown reception on a fake field goal and a 97-yard JuJu Smith-Schuster touchdown catch-and-run. But the Broncos answered with a pair of touchdown drives, and a potential game-tying Steelers drive ended when lineman Shelby Harris drifted into the end zone and cradled a game-icing interception.


    What it means

    The Broncos now have back-to-back wins against AFC contenders (they beat the Chargers last week) and could well have been included in our opening Wild Cards Gone Wild segment. Think of them as the Seahawks of the AFC: a run-heavy team with a solid defense that can win with mistake-free football.

    An upcoming Bengals-49ers-Browns-Raiders slate could get the Broncos to nine wins and into the wild-card picture. But like the Seahawks, their margin of error is microscopic. A head-to-head loss to the Ravens hurts their tiebreaker portfolio, and before you pencil in four straight wins, remember that the Broncos got hammered by the Jets not so long ago.

    The Steelers defense couldn't stop the run against the Browns and Chiefs early in the season (304 yards allowed in two games) and then settled down for a few months—only to become porous against the Jaguars (179 yards) last week and Phillip Lindsay and company this week.

    The Steelers offense can't subsist entirely on highlights like it wants to when the defense is getting gashed. They got away with it against the Jaguars last week because the Jaguars are the dumbest situational football team on the planet. They got burned this week, and playoff opponents with quality running games—including the suddenly ground 'n' pound-oriented Patriots—surely noticed.


    What's next

    The Steelers face a tough test as the Chargers visit. The Broncos travel to Cincinnati to learn if there are any healthy and motivated players left in the Bengals organization. 

Player Spotlight: Baker Mayfield, Browns

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    What happened

    Mayfield completed 19 of 26 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers in a 35-20 Browns rout of the Bengals.

    One of Mayfield's touchdowns came when David Njoku leapt after catching a screen pass and was carried to and fro by teammates and defenders like a battering ram being wrestled over by ancient barbarians at the gates of a city until he tumbled over the goal line. Another came on a bridegroom catch by Nick Chubb. (That's when the receiver reaches around the defender's back for a catch, like a nervous bridegroom trying to...don't make us spell it out.)

    Unusual touchdowns aside, Mayfield demonstrated tremendous pocket poise and an ever-increasing knack for extending plays and finding receivers after escaping the pocket. Mayfield's continuing progress—as well as the Browns' first two-game winning streak since 2014—has fans in Cleveland optimistic about the future.


    What it means

    Mayfield faced an awful Bengals defense coached (in part) by Hue Jackson, the awful former Browns coach who refused to give Mayfield first-team reps in training camp, clamped him to the bench at the start of the season and played tug-of-war with offensive coordinator Todd Haley for the right to develop and/or take credit for Mayfield's success while the rookie endured a midseason slide (which was caused by awful coaches feuding over him instead of helping him).

    So Sunday's performance was part exorcism of Jackson demons and part breakout performance. Mayfield was impressive in spurts earlier in the year, but he now has seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two starts. That kind of sustained excellence will attract top coaching candidates to Cleveland, help teammates develop (who knew Nick Chubb could catch?) and could be the catalyst for a long, long, long, long-awaited turnaround for the Browns. 


    What's next?

    A meeting with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans will put Mayfield's pocket presence to the ultimate test. 

Game Spotlight: Seahawks 30, Panthers 27

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    What happened

    The Panthers squandered a 237-total yard, two-touchdown performance by Christian McCaffrey on several red-zone mistakes, including a fourth-down stop, a Cam Newton interception and a pair of drives that ended with short field goals.

    The miscues kept the Seahawks in the game despite first-half offensive struggles. Russell Wilson then threw a pair of second-half touchdowns, including a 35-yarder to David Moore to tie the game with 3:26 left.

    Graham Gano missed a 52-yard field goal after a Panthers drive stalled with 1:45 to play, and Wilson hit Tyler Lockett for a 43-yarder to set up a game-winning Sebastian Janikowski field goal.


    What it means

    The Seahawks reinvented themselves as a consistent-but-unspectacular team this year. Wilson video game highlights aren't as frequent as they used to be, and the Seahawks defense won't be getting any catchy nicknames this year, but the Seahawks avoid penalties (just 10 for 96 yards in their last two games), are stingy with turnovers (just nine giveaways all year, with a plus-eight turnover differential) and can now manufacture wins in the conventional way, as opposed to acting like an edgy 1990s superhero team that blows everything up, including its own headquarters.

    Consistent-and-unspectacular play couldn't beat the Rams in two meetings and won't beat the Saints, but it has proved an effective formula for beating mistake-prone NFC playoff also-rans.

    The Panthers have now lost three straight games after a 6-2 start. They are burying themselves beneath an avalanche of fumbles, sacks and bad situational play. McCaffrey is marvelous, and the misdirection-heavy game plans still baffle defenses, but the Panthers now find ways to do all the little things wrong. 

    The NFC wild-card berths will go to the teams that leave the least points on the field and best avoid self-destruction. The Panthers looked like a lock for one of those spots a month ago. The Seahawks took the inside track with this win.


    What's next

    The Panthers get the Buccaneers and Browns on the road—neither of those games are a sure thingbefore their Saints-Falcons-Saints end-of-season knuckle sandwich.

    The Seahawks will host the shambling undead remains of the 49ers next Sunday. 

Early and Ugly Digest

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Most of this week's early-afternoon games were nothing to rearrange your life schedule for. But some were more exciting or enlightening on the field than they had any right to be. And as always, Digest watched (nearly) everything so you would not feel obligated to.


    Patriots 27, Jets 13

    The Patriots used their running game, defense and the Jets' reliable futility to manufacture another win that looks commanding on the scoreboard but was much tighter than it was supposed to be. Everything is just fine with the Patriots, folks, so long as Tom Brady only has to complete one deep touch pass to a wide-open Rob Gronkowski per game and they never face an opponent who can stop an I-formation iso handoff. 


    Eagles 25, Giants 22

    The Giants took a 19-3 lead on the injury-ravaged Eagles defense and then did everything possible to cough it up. Eli Manning threw a red-zone interception to Malcolm Jenkins, the only Eagles defensive back who wasn't working at a smartphone accessory kiosk last month. Pat Shurmur added play calls like a 3rd-and-18 swing pass to a running back not named Saquon Barkley. The Eagles found a running game thanks to undrafted rookie Josh Adams (22-84-1), and Carson Wentz regained a little composure after last Sunday's turnover spree against the Saints.

    The Eagles are still in the theoretical playoff chase despite themselves. The Giants should at least be disabused of the notion that Manning is mounting some sort of comeback.


    Bills 24, Jaguars 21

    Josh Allen, back from an elbow injury but still coping with the Aztec curse Tyrod Taylor placed on Bills quarterbacks, made plenty of plays with his legs (99 rushing yards, 1 TD) but just one with his arm: a 75-yard howitzer blast to Robert Foster. (The Curse of Tyrodcthulhu dooms all Bills quarterbacks to Taylor-like statistics or transforms them into Nathan Peterman clones.) 

    Blake Bortles no longer looks like a bumbling bust at quarterback and now looks like a high school freshman unsuccessfully running a veer offense. Allen and Bortles combined for 9-of-16 passing in the first half in a game where both teams tried to punish viewers with off-tackle runs, penalties (23 total) and brawls (Leonard Fournette and Shaq Mason were ejected for a sideline brawl that was roughly as interesting as the game).

    The fact that the Bills are now better at being the Jaguars than the Jaguars should get a lot of people fired. And this entire game was punishment for people claiming they didn't like the Rams-Chiefs Monday nighter because they prefer old-school defense. 


    Ravens 34, Raiders 17

    Lamar Jackson (14-of-25, 178 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 11-71-1) looked more like a traditional rookie quarterback than the moonlighting rugby fly-half he appeared to be last week. Jackson made plenty of mistakes but demonstrated more pocket-passing skills than were evident last week: better decisions, more skill at moving defenders with fakes and so on.

    Jackson was also helped by punt return and strip-six touchdowns, and by general Raiders futility, making this more like a typical Ravens victory than the final score suggests.


    Buccaneers 27, 49ers 9

    Digest unapologetically skipped this game entirely. But a Bucs quarterback (Jameis Winston this time) went an entire game without a turnover, so maybe Tampa should throw a parade or something. 

Inside the Numbers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Philip Rivers, Chargers: 28-of-29 for 259 yards, 3 TDs.

    Eh, it's just a completion rate of 96.6 percent: nothing mind boggling about that number, no sir. 

    Rivers was 19-of-19 in the first half. He tied an NFL record with 25 straight completions before getting hit as he threw midway through the third quarter, with the Chargers leading 35-10, for his only incomplete pass of the day.

    One of Rivers' completions proved costly, however. A throw to Austin Ekeler went for minus-10 yards on a shovel-sweep trick play. Ekeler lateraled to Melvin Gordon after the exchange, who got tripped in the backfield by Robert Nkemdiche. Gordon suffered what appeared to be a significant injury on the play.

    Who held the record of 25 straight completions that Rivers tied, you ask? Why, none other than...    


    Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins: 17-of-25 for 204 yards, 2 TDs.

    Oh, hey, Ryan Tannehill is back after missing...a bunch of games with...some sort of injury?

    Sorry, something about Tannehill's career makes Digest's memory a little foggy. In fact, we didn't even see the Dolphins' 27-24 loss to the Colts live. But no worries! We'll make an educated guess based on the numbers and then check out the ol' tape.

    EDUCATED GUESS: Tannehill's 71-yard touchdown to Leonte Carroo was a short pass and long run, Kenyon Drake provided lots of YAC on screens to make Tannehill's numbers look OK and most of Tannehill's production was rancid low-fat dink-and-dunk ranch dressing.

    (Watches tape)

    Oops, turns out the Carroo play was actually a jump ball on a bomb. Sorry to doubt you, Tannehill!

    But then, oh, there's Drake scoring a 33-yard touchdown on a swing pass and taking another one 13 yards on 3rd-and-15. And there's a pass to Kalen Ballage for a loss of two, and another for a loss of three; Ballage finished with two catches for minus-five yards! And there's DeVante Parker getting stuffed on a wide receiver screen: He finished with three catches for nine, one and zero yards. 

    Yep, that's how Tannehill keeps his completion rates so high, which is why his performances are as memorable as...what were we talking about again?


    Marcell Ateman, Raiders: 3 catches for 16 yards on 10 targets.

    Ateman, a seventh-round rookie, is apparently the Raiders' primary receiver now. He caught an 11-yard pass on 3rd-and-10 early in the game and appeared to toe-tap the sideline on a play that was ruled incomplete, but he spent most of his afternoon dropping short passes and chasing down both Derek Carr overthrows and Terrell Suggs after fumble recoveries.

    The 36-year-old Suggs both juked out Ateman and outran him up the sideline on his late-game touchdown, which tells you a lot about the athletic potential of a receiver the Raiders drafted and promoted into the starting lineup. 

Awards Digest

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Offensive Line of the Week

    Sony Michel and James White combined for 206 rushing yards, often rumbling through holes wide enough for a golf cart. Tom Brady didn't have to move from his favorite spot in the pocket all game. So this week's award goes to the Patriots line of Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon.


    Defender of the Week

    Not only did defensive lineman Shelby Harris intercept Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone in the waning seconds to preserve a Broncos upset, but he also hit Big Ben just as he threw on Chris Harris Jr.'s third-quarter interception to set up a game-tying touchdown.


    Special Teamer of the Week

    Cyrus Jones' 70-yard punt return touchdown kept the Ravens afloat while their offense sputtered and turned the ball over in the first half until they figured things out after halftime.


    Dolphins Moment of the Week

    Digest favorite Xavien Howard intercepted Andrew Luck twice in the span of three plays; Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki fumbled in between to make the feat possible. If any defender someday sets a record with five interceptions on nine plays, with his offense turning the ball over between each pick and his team ultimately losing the game, it will probably be Xavien Howard. 


    Double Tackle of the Week

    Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill knew he was playing with a secondary culled from open tryouts for the touring-company cast of Hamilton, so he left nothing to chance when the Giants attempted a game-ending hook-and-lateral. Grugier-Hill wrapped up Sterling Shepard after a reception and then swept out his legs and kicked Odell Beckham Jr. to the ground after the pitch. Are sweep-kicks legal tackles? Who cares? It was Giants-Eagles, and everyone just wanted to go home. 


    Hurdle of the Week

    Seahawks running back Chris Carson tried to leap over Eric Reid, but the Panthers defender took out Carson's landing gear early in the flight. No matter: Carson simply somersaulted, landed superhero-style with one hand on the ground (Deadpool would be impressed) and rumbled forward for a few extra yards.

    Carson set a new high bar for hurdling; now we won't be impressed until someone performs a double somersault over a defender. 


    Mystery Touch of the Week

    Chris Boswell-to-Alejandro Villanueva fake field goal touchdowns are the reason Digest got into this business. Villanueva looked like he would display the best "big man hands" of the game, but then Shelby Harris showed up. 


    Mystery Touch of the Week, Part II

    Jacoby Brissett took the field at quarterback for the Colts on a second-quarter 4th-and-1, with Andrew Luck lined up as the Wildcat cosplay wide receiver. Dolphins defender Minkah Fitzpatrick decided not to waste his time covering Luck and blitzed instead. So Brissett tossed the ball to Luck for an easy first down. It's as if the Dolphins set themselves up for this play by letting Cutler stand with his hands in his pockets during Wildcat plays last year.


    Coaching Fail of the Week

    Tom Brady threw an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-2, but the Patriots were called for offensive pass interference on a pick play. Todd Bowles accepted the penalty, even though it only moved the Patriots back to the 34-yard line (still in field goal range) and gave Brady another third down to work with. Brady floated a teardrop touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. 

    "Third-and-12 were good odds for us," Bowles said after the game (via Al Iannazzone of Newsday). "We've been pretty good at 3rd-and-12. We knew they would have gone for it on 4th-and-2. We figured if we backed them up we had a chance [for them] to kick a field goal."

    That...almost makes sense. Assuming you can pressure Brady. Or cover Gronk with someone other than a linebacker. Or do other things that Bowles' Jets prove incapable of doing on a weekly basis. 


    Revealing Coaching Moment of the Week

    The Patriots later got the ball back at their own 2-yard line with 1:52 before halftime and three timeouts. Brady handed off three times to Sony Michel, the Patriots punted and the Jets took advantage of the excellent field position to drive for a game-tying field goal.

    Yep, Brady is just as good as he has ever been, Patriots fans, and giving up a crack at a two-minute drill is totally something the team would have done any other time in the last 16 years.


    Effort of the Week

    Kudos to Seattle cornerback Shaquill Griffin for chasing down Carolina's Christian McCaffrey at the end of a 59-yard run to save a touchdown. McCaffrey scored a few plays later, but effort is always rewarded here at Digest, and it was fun watching McCaffrey sneak a peek at the jumbo screen and make a "ruh-roh" face when he realized Griffin was gaining on him. 


    Fail Mary of the Week

    Backup Bengals QB Jeff Driskel, subbing for injured Andy Dalton, chucked a Hail Mary on 4th-and-22 with 9:12 left in the fourth quarter. Derrick Kindred intercepted the pass, but Genard Avery got flagged for walloping Driskel, and the Bengals used the fresh set of downs to drive for a two-yard Driskel touchdown.

    Cutting a deficit to two scores late in the game isn't really worth the health of your one healthy quarterback, and the resulting touchdown neither had fantasy (Driskel is available in 99.99999 percent of leagues) nor gambling value (the game was already over). It was just an example of Bengals galaxy-brain strategizing.

Digest Sportsbook

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Parlay of the week

    Digest enjoyed a yummy +320 payout from DraftKings on the Bills (+3) and the over (36.5) in the Bills' straight-up 24-21 win against the Jaguars. The lesson: As the season enters the final stretch, always be on the lookout for undervalued teams (the Bills are better than the other bottom-feeders), overvalued teams (the Jaguars are basically the late-era Rex Ryan Jets) and easy-to-clear unders (defensive scores can go a long way, particularly in bad QB duels and/or weather games).  


    Double-digit debacle

    Digest has a hard-and-fast rule about the Ravens as heavy favorites (avoid them like the dumpster behind an urgent care clinic), so we took the Raiders +13 and ended up screaming at the television when Terrell Suggs scooped and scored on that Derek Carr fumble to seal a 34-17 Ravens win-and-cover.

    According to Pro Football Reference, the Ravens are now 3-11 ATS as double-digit favorites, dating back to 2010, so Digest will wager against them again next time they face a team as pitiful as the Raiders. (It may be a while.)


    Backdoor cover lovers

    The Jets drove to New England's 4-yard line at the two-minute warning but failed to punch in a touchdown for a backdoor cover. Never count on the Jets to do anything fun or interesting. 



    The Chargers cleared the over of 43 single-handedly in their 45-10 win over the Cardinals. The Cardinals and their opponents have cleared the over five times in the last seven games; keep an eye out for overs in the 50-range when they face opponents with capable offenses in the weeks to come (Packers, Falcons, Rams). The Cardinals are so pitiful that the weekly rout potential is extreme.  



    The Colts and Dolphins couldn't clear the over/under of 52.5 in their 27-24 back-and-forth battle. Really, the house was just trolling us with that number. What did wagerers taking the over expect: three Ryan Tannehill touchdown passes?  


    Monday night action: Tennessee Titans (+3.5) at Houston Texans

    Marcus Mariota was off the injury report by the weekend, which means that he should not only play but also be able to properly grip and throw a football; early in the season, the Titans did not consider the latter a prerequisite for the former.

    The Titans are 7-2 ATS in division games since 2017, the Texans 3-6. Those figures look more like statistical noise than anything worth latching onto, but the Texans have won four of their seven games this season by margins of three points or fewer, and their rickety offensive line makes them a risky bet to put up too many points. The Texans are overvalued right now, the Titans underrated because of Mariota's complex injury status all season, so take the Titans if AFC Southlandia wagers are really your bag.


    Distant early warning

    Early lines had the Cowboys +7 at home against the Saints on Thursday night. The Saints are 6-1 as road favorites since 2016; don't fall for the old "Saints can't play on the road" storyline. 


    All trends and splits courtesy of unless otherwise noted; point spreads and over/unders from OddsShark.


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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Aaron Rodgers' brother rips him for donating $1 million to California wildfire charities but allegedly not calling his California-based mother.

    POINT: Jordan Rodgers went on to say that the wildfires wouldn't have happened in the first place if Aaron had just raked the forest like mom asked him to.

    COUNTERPOINT: Next year's Planes, Trains and Automobiles reboot starring the Rodgers brothers and Danica Patrick is gonna be lit.  


    Jerry Jones compares Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper to Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.

    POINT: Jerrah also compared Tavon Austin to Michael Irvin in training camp. Maybe someone should add the names "Terry Glenn," "Joey Galloway" and "Roy Williams" to his comparison chart. 

    COUNTERPOINT: The next step in Jerrah Logic is deciding that Jason Garrett is as irrelevant as Jimmy Johnson, so maybe there's a silver lining here for Cowboys fans. 


    Bruce Arians tells NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that the Browns are the only team he would consider coaching.

    POINT: Browns owner Jimmy Haslam responded to the news by grabbing the horse he recently received and peering deeply into it's mouth.

    COUNTERPOINT: Baker Mayfield does cartwheels upon hearing the news, gets criticized by Cleveland columnists for being more interested in gymnastics than football. 


    Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reports that the Bengals may consider Hue Jackson for head coach if they move on from Marvin Lewis.

    POINT: The fact that Jackson was not cast as mind-controlling schemer Jafar in the upcoming live-action Aladdin movie is a crime against film making.

    COUNTERPOINT: NFL owners run their high-profile multi-million dollar businesses the way Uncle Carmine runs his boardwalk pizza parlor, giving management jobs to dudes who wandered in off the street looking for work. 

Hall of Fame Semifinalist Digest

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the 25 semifinalists for induction just before Thanksgiving. As usual, there are 25 worthy Hall of Famers on the list, so predicting who will get in is less a matter of "Who's best?" and more so "Who is best positioned to be one of five candidates to earn an 80 percent majority vote from a 48-member committee?"

    With that in mind, Digest breaks down the field. 


    The Shoo-In

    Tony Gonzalez is a six-time All-Pro, ranks second on the all-time receptions list and set the standard by which modern tight ends will be judged. Anyone arguing, "But his blocking..." should be summarily banished from the committee meeting room.


    The Wide Receiver Dilemma

    Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt will continue to leech votes from each other in the primaries. Hines Ward is the kind of "better than his stats" candidate the committee sometimes talks itself into, but it's hard to see him separating from the two Rams, and the committee may not feel compelled to reach into the second tier of receivers after inducting Randy Moss and Terrell Owens last year.

    The never-ending rise in passing stats has made enshrinement tricky for wide receivers below the Jerry Rice-Randy Moss level for years. Bruce, Holt and Ward may logjam the way Tim Brown, Art Monk and Andre Reed did.  


    The Edge

    Edgerrin James has the running back docket to himself, and he has a unique resume: high peak, memorable teams, enough good years around the great ones to check all the hypothetical boxes. Uniqueness is good for a Hall of Fame campaign. 


    The Safety Logjam

    Ed Reed joins a crowded docket that includes Steve Atwater (eighth time as a semifinalist), LeRoy Butler (second time), John Lynch (seventh time) and Darren Woodson (third non-consecutive time). Woodson's peak is a notch below the others, and Atwater is probably destined for the Hall of Snubbed Broncos Defenders, which leaves safety as a three-overqualified-candidate race.

    The committee appeared to queue up Lynch behind Brian Dawkins last year, so look for him and Reed to make it this year, forcing Butler to duke it out with Troy Polamalu when he becomes eligible next year.


    Other logjams

    Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson and Kevin Mawae are battling for induction along the interior line yet again. Champ Bailey joins Ronde Barber and Ty Law at cornerback in a field already divided by the presence of a million safeties. The design of the enshrinement process works against multiple players with similar resumes, as does the fact that it's hard to stand out as a truly special player when there are two or three guys just like you on a list of 25.


    Local Linebackers

    First-time semifinalist Zach Thomas could follow Jason Taylor into the Hall, but he's more likely to be shunted behind Sam Mills, whose career spanned two leagues and several memorable teams. Clay Matthews is a dark horse; very-good-but-not-great defenders who play forever rarely get much love from the voters. Karl Mecklenburg is an eight-time semifinalist destined for the Senior Committee and/or the Hall of Snubbed Broncos Defenders.



    Don Coryell should be reclassified as a contributor and enshrined immediately. Coryell's meh record as a head coach keeps getting in the way of induction for his incalculable contributions to how the game is now played. Neither Tom Flores nor Jimmy Johnson is a high-priority candidate. 



    Richard Seymour is one of many Patriots (including Ty Law) who will bring rings and a few All-Pro berths to the committee table over the next decade. The fact that so many of these players look like replaceable Bill Belichick parts in hindsight will force the committee to do some sorting and prioritization.

    Tony Boselli was one of the NFL's best players for about four years but got pushed behind contemporary left tackles with longer careers on better teams. Like Edgerrin James, he could benefit from the uniqueness of his portfolio in a year when so many other candidates fall into clumps.