Monday Morning Digest: Time to Stop Doubting the Texans

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterDecember 3, 2018

Monday Morning Digest: Time to Stop Doubting the Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Coach firings. Shocking finishes. Defensive linemen running for touchdowns. Quarterbacks throwing their 40th touchdown pass with one-fourth of the season left to play. It was just another NFL Sunday, and Digest has you covered with the lowdown on:

    • Another impressive performance by Lamar Jackson, and another Sunday of regrets for the Falcons

    • How the Patriots resemble a truck full of canaries

    Mike McCarthy's firing, the Rams clinching the NFC West, and other Week 13 headlines

    • Big dudes scoring touchdowns

    • The Colts and Jaguars not scoring touchdowns

    • A gauntlet of wacky prop bets that threatened to leave Digest eating ramen for the rest of December

    ...and much, much more, starting with some late arrivals who have worked their way into the Super Bowl conversation.  


Texans Ready to Cause Trouble for High-Flying Offenses in the Playoffs

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    In football math, four is greater than five.

    You probably know what that means, but we'll spell it out for you anyway. If a team has a four-man pass rush that can consistently generate pressure without blitzing and can stuff the run against a five-man offensive line, that team is bound to win a lot of games no matter how flawed it might be elsewhere.

    With J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus leading the charge, the Texans have become masters of this area of NFL mathematics during their nine-game winning streak.

    Yes, Watt and company were held without a sack in the Texans' 29-13 win over the Browns on Sunday, but the Texans defense held the Browns to 31 rushing yards and forced three interceptions: generate pressure without blitzing, and more defenders can drop into coverage to exploit a rookie quarterback's mistakes.

    The Texans have generated 22 takeaways and allowed just 3.7 yards per rush all year to go with 34 sacks.

    They have also proved for over two months that there's more to their game than defensive disruption:

    • Deshaun Watson has completed 73.2 percent of his passes over the past five games with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Watson would get more attention for his excellent season, except: A) the weak Texans offensive line nerfs his overall stats by making him run for his life too often; and B) so many quarterbacks' stats look so awesome these days, it's hard to stand out. 

    Demaryius Thomas' arrival has both solved some of the Texans' red-zone problems (he caught two touchdowns against the Titans last week) and kept opponents from rolling all of their coverage toward DeAndre Hopkins. Thomas caught just three passes on Sunday, but the Browns' strategy for stopping Hopkins involved T.J. Carrie climbing on his back for a piggy-back ride at the snap. Hopkins caught seven passes; Carrie incurred multiple penalties.

    • Watson's development and Thomas' arrival have coincided with better game plans by Bill O'Brien. Watson is taking fewer hits, running backs Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue are more involved, and red-zone sequences no longer look like outtakes from the Atlanta Falcons blooper reel.

    A rising Watson and smarter game plans have helped the Texans take firm control of the AFC South. But it's that four-on-five algebra that can put them in the Super Bowl conversation.

    As the Giants proved in two Super Bowls, the best way to beat the Patriots is with a devastating four-man pass rush. 

    The only way to neutralize high-octane offenses like those of the Chiefs and Steelers in the playoffs will be by dominating the line of scrimmage and leaving seven defenders back to cope with all of those weapons.

    Want to beat the Saints or Rams in the Super Bowl? Watch the tape of the Cowboys' Thursday night upset over New Orleans. They stuffed the run and made Drew Brees uncomfortable in the pocket. 

    The Texans have an offensive line made of wet cocktail napkins. Their skill-position depth isn't great. Their winning streak is built on the backs of welterweights and worse. They aren't built to win shootouts in a league in which most of the games turn into shootouts.

    But a great defensive front is a heck of an equalizer, and the Texans will cause a disruption once they reach the postseason. 

News Roundup

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Whip-around coverage of Sunday's top stories.

    • The only thing shocking about Mike McCarthy's firing on Sunday night was the timing: Coaches of McCarthy's stature are usually allowed to finish the season or at least meet with the top brass Monday morning for a debriefing and a chance to go out with a little more dignity.

    B/R's Brent Sobleski has much more on the McCarthy firing, but from the Digest team's perspective, the Packers' goal now, with Joe Philbin calling the shots for a month, should be to keep Aaron Rodgers healthy and restore his belief that the weekly game plans are useful for more than fireplace kindling. The organization's long-term goal should be to find someone who can install a Chiefs-style offense for Rodgers. Close your eyes and imagine Rodgers doing Mahomes-type stuff. Mmmmmmmm...

    • James Conner left the Steelers-Chargers game in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a significant lower leg injury (head coach Mike Tomlin called it a lower-leg contusion), and Digest is required by internet law to bring up Le'Veon Bell, who forfeited his ability to play this season by failing to sign his franchise tender and report to the Steelers. Somehow making peace with Bell would have insulated the Steelers against just this eventuality; then again, it's hard to pinpoint just what the Steelers could have done to appease Bell once the season started and the contract dispute grew irrevocably bitter. If Conner misses a few important games (including a meeting with the Patriots in two weeks), the only moral here is that everything has consequences. Staying home instead of earning $14 million has consequences. Creating an acrimonious relationship with a great player has consequences. No team or player should ever take a season or an opportunity for granted.

    • The Rams clinched the NFC West with a narrower-than-the-score 30-16 win over the Lions. More importantly, cornerback Aqib Talib returned and played well after missing eight games with an ankle injury. (Talib played sparingly in the second half, but Sean McVay said after the game he was merely on a snap count.) Talib helps solve the Rams' biggest problem: a porous secondary. The best teams often get better—or at least healthier—just before the playoffs.

    A.J. Green lasted just a quarter before getting carted off the field with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the toe injury that sidelined him for three games. Marvin Lewis, who will soon be available to join Mike McCarthy for Sunday morning eggs and coffee, needs to take a "do no harm" approach to his injury-plagued roster over the next month. Let's hope professional preservation doesn't get in the way of doing the right thing by the players and organization. 

    • The Titans are still in the wild-card race after the Jets took a 22-13 lead and decided to keep going three-and-out until the Titans could overtake them. Wins over the Jaguars and Giants in the next two weeks would place the Titans at 8-6. Someday, the AFC will be deep enough with good teams that the sixth wild-card spot won't come down to narrowly climbing over the Jets to reach .500. Someday.

    Bill Belichick and Adam Thielen exchanged words, including at least one four-letter one, after the Vikings converted on 4th-and-1 and Patrick Chung suffered a sudden, mysterious injury that healed the moment the Patriots had time to decide whether a challenge flag was called for. No worries, though: Belichick is a living legend, Thielen a grittybluecollarfanfavorite receiver, so there won't be three days of sports-talk debate about it. It's not like a rookie quarterback chose not to hug an incompetent-but-well-connected former coach or anything.

Game Spotlight: Patriots 24, Vikings 10

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    Billie Weiss/Getty Images

    What happened

    Both teams played their assigned roles: the Patriots as the late-era dynasty finding ways to manufacture one more championship run, the Vikings as the wannabe contenders always thwacking their head against the ceiling of their own inadequacy.

    As in their recent wins over the Bills, Packers and Jets (and their loss to the Titans), the Patriots had trouble moving the ball consistently in the first half, netting 228 total yards, 42 of them on a meaningless end-of-half toss to James White. But the Patriots defense held the Vikings to 1-of-5 on third-down conversions, allowing New England to reach halftime with a 10-7 lead. 

    The Vikings tied the game 10-10 late in the third quarter, but the Patriots pulled away thanks to even more defense, efficient Tom Brady short passing, a multifaceted running game (seven different Patriots had carries, including Brady) and the Vikings' inability to accomplish anything when it mattered. 


    What it means

    Have you ever heard the story of the truck driver with a trailer full of twice as many canaries as his truck was equipped to handle? All he had to do to maintain full speed on the highway was keep half of the canaries flying at all times.

    The Patriots are like that truck driver right now. If you look at any of their recent victories without holding an old Tedy Bruschi jersey over your eyes, it's easy to see that they aren't the team they used to be. But the defense comes through when Brady struggles, the running game picks up the passing game, the receivers turn short tosses into long gains, and the second-half game plans turn tight games into (on the scoreboard at least) convincing blowouts.

    If too many canaries perch—if just one or two things go slightly wrong—the Patriots will grind to a halt. That could happen against the Steelers in two weeks, or it could happen in the postseason. But it won't be easy to keep all these canaries in the air. 

    On the other side, Kirk Cousins (32-of-44 for 201 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions) once again showed that he's the ideal quarterback for getting sacked, throwing an interception or just overthrowing a receiver deep in a big game. Cousins wasn't the only Vikings problem on Sunday—underneath coverage got picked apart, their pass rush failed to live up to its billing (again), and the team committed penalties at the worst possible times—but he keeps proving that he's not the solution the Vikings sought when they signed him.

    Now that the Packers season is a smoldering ruin, the most impressive Vikings win this season came against the Eagles, whose season is one loss away from becoming a smoldering ruin. The Vikings are trying to build a wild-card portfolio out of wins over the Jets, Cardinals and 49ers but losses to the Saints, Rams, Bears and Patriots. It can happen. But it's not what they are paying Cousins for.


    What's next

    The Patriots face all three of their divisional minions over the final four games, starting next week with a visit to Miami. The Vikings, meanwhile, travel to Seattle for a game with massive playoff implications. If you are a Vikings fan or true Cousins believer, steel yourself for disappointment ahead of time.  

Game Spotlight: Ravens 26, Falcons 16

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    What happened

    The Ravens took a 13-10 third-quarter lead on a 13-yard Lamar Jackson designed run and a pair of Justin Tucker field goals. They then did what the Ravens love to do: sat on the ball for over 20 minutes of game time, despite Jackson leaving the game briefly for a bizarre injury (he was kicked in the face by a teammate; and no, it wasn't Joe Flacco) in favor of Robert Griffin III. A late Ravens defensive touchdown provided breathing room. 

    The Falcons made things interesting early when Vic Beasley returned a Jackson fumble for a touchdown. But the rest of Atlanta's afternoon can best be explained in an all-new segment tentatively titled "Things Falcons Do That We All Regret":

    • Ito Smith was stuffed up the middle on 4th-and-1 early in the game. Yes, going for it on fourth down makes sense for most teams, but the Falcons have been failing to convert since 2011 and need to accept that probability just works differently for them.

    • Mohamed Sanu underthrew a direct-snap option pass to Julio Jones on 3rd-and-1. Remember a few weeks ago when we all thought offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian suddenly learned how to call plays because Jones finally caught a touchdown pass?

    • The Falcons defense got caught with 12 men on the field on what would have been a 3rd-and-2 stuff late in the third quarter, giving Griffin a fresh set of downs with which to melt the clock. Stopping the option is hard, but for the Falcons, basic substitutions are hard.

    Matt Ryan played like he celebrated his 54th birthday at halftime. More on that in a moment.


    What it means

    As a passer, Jackson excels at creative drive-and-dish passes on the move. But he still sprays everything more than 10 yards down the field while standing in the pocket, misses too many wide-open receivers and can get careless with the ball on the run.

    Overall, Jackson isn't as impressive as his highlight reel suggests. But he gets a little better as a passer each week, and when graded on the "more effective than Flacco" curve, his ability to scramble the defense out of position and keep them guessing about options earns an A-plus compared to three-yard passes to tight ends on 3rd-and-19.

    The Ravens are now 7-5 and have winnable Buccaneers and Browns games on their late-season slate, putting them in excellent position for a wild-card berth. 

    Ryan entered the game leading the NFL in passing yards—no easy feat in this year of offenses gone berserk—but many of his passes Sunday floated like the ball was full of helium or bounced off multiple defenders. He remains very effective when set in the pocket but really struggles when off balance.

    The Falcons have a lot of decisions to make as they shift into 2019 mode. But in addition to making changes in the coaching staff, they must face the possibility that Ryan could soon become their version of Flacco—and act accordingly.


    What happens next

    The Jackson bandwagon rolls into Kansas City. The Falcons and Packers square off in the Disappointment Bowl. 

Division Duel Roundup

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    There were some surprising results in division rivalry games with playoff implications on Sunday. Here's the skinny on what went down:


    Seahawks 43, 49ers 16

    Richard Sherman chirped about Russell Wilson and his former team during the week and then watched Wilson throw four touchdown passes, one of them right past his earhole to Jaron Brown.

    Sherman's smack talk was a reminder that he is still in the NFL, that Seahawks-49ers used to be a rivalry just a few years ago and that the Seahawks would normally be at each other's throats if their record was 7-5 at this point in the year.

    These teams meet again in two weeks. Sherman will probably be talking ahead of that one, too. But a Pro Bowl cornerback firing shots after a blowout loss is like a tree falling in the wilderness: No one really knows whether it makes a sound.


    Chiefs 40, Raiders 33

    Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdown passes, giving him 41 for the season with four games left to play. A total of 41 touchdown passes would have led the NFL in 10 of the past 11 seasons and 17 out of the past 20.

    The Raiders trailed 26-10 at one point but cut the lead to 33-30 before giving up a late-game touchdown drive. They then kicked a field goal on first down with 34 seconds left and two timeouts, pinning their hopes on recovering an onside kick. It failed, but the fact that the Raiders even had hopes is a sign of progress.


    Jaguars 6, Colts 0

    The Jaguars didn't so much outplay the Colts as lure them down into their nightmarish realm of dropped passes, tipped passes, goal-line stops, fourth-down fumbles and late-game clock mismanagement. Colts tight end Erik Swoope got knocked out of bounds at the Jaguars' 25-yard line with five seconds to play, but the line judge signaled for the clock to run out anyway, possibly out of boredom. 

    The loss leaves the Colts' Cinderella playoff hopes in critical condition. For the Jaguars, Cody Kessler was better than Blake Bortles in the way that being alone is better than being in a toxic relationship. The highlight of the game was Jaguars exec Tom Coughlin celebrating wildly in the owner's booth as if he just learned CBS was producing even more police procedurals.


    Dolphins 21, Bills 17

    Ryan Tannehill threw three touchdown passes—including a gorgeous game-winning teardrop in the corner of the end zone—but for just 137 yards as the Dolphins capitalized on muffed punts and defensive penalties by the Bills to hide the fact that they aren't any good at anything.

    Josh Allen rushed for 135 yards but still throws like he's trying to give a dog a drink from a fire hose. It also appears to be legal to decapitate Allen when scrambling, probably as a result Aztec Curse or Tyrodcuhtli, which is slowly transforming Allen into Tyrod Taylor. 

    The Bills still could have won the if wide-open Charles Clay managed to haul in Allen's heave with a minute left. The 6-6 Dolphins are very much alive in the AFC wild-card race, despite 2018 being otherwise a great season full of memorable NFL football. 


    Panthers 24, Buccaneers 17

    Cam Newton threw four interceptions against a defense that recorded just three interceptions in the previous 11 games. The Panthers have now lost four straight games in four totally different ways (sacks and defensive lapses against the Steelers, missed kicks and two-point conversions against the Lions, red-zone failures against the Seahawks, turnovers against Tampa Bay), which is a sign that they probably were never all that good in the first place.

    Both Jameis Winston and Dirk Koetter may be in the process of saving their jobs after back-to-back wins, which is something to remember in two years when Koetter is coordinating in the ACC and Winston has a Derek Carr contract. 

Awards Digest

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Defender of the week: Buccaneers safety Andrew Adams picked off three Cam Newton passes, two of them in the fourth quarter. But Adams had some help winning this week's award, so let's give assists to Lavonte David, who tipped one of the interceptions to Adams, and to Gerald McCoy, who hit Newton as he threw on both of the later picks. Extra bonus credit goes to Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, because Buccaneers defenders must get a lot of interception practice.

    Offensive line of the week: The Broncos rushed for 218 yards and Case Keenum was sacked just twice this week. Sure, it was against the Bengals, but it was still an impressive performance by the mostly no-name unit of Garett Bolles, Billy Turner, Connor McGovern, Elijah Wilkinson and Jared Veldheer.

    Special teamer of the week: Desmond King's 73-yard punt return touchdown brought the Chargers all the way back from a 23-7 halftime deficit and changed the complexion of what became a 33-30 Chargers victory. That's right: The Chargers now get positive plays from their special teams, thanks to the versatile King (and an uncalled blatant block to the back on the play). Imagine what they will be capable of if their kickers start needing less than three attempts to nail game-winners. 

    Mystery touch of the week: It's a sampler platter this week:

    • Lions tackle Taylor Decker caught an 11-yard touchdown pass on a nifty tackle-eligible play. Kudos to the Lions for finally finding someone who can replace Golden Tate in their offense!

    • Odell Beckham Jr. threw his second touchdown pass of the year on a playground-style option to Russell Shepard. That's Russell Shepard, the special teams ace, not Sterling Shepard, the guy who was probably started for your fantasy team.

    • Akiem Hicks rumbled for a one-yard Bears touchdown, conjuring fond memories of The Fridge!*

    (* For our Millennial readers: William "The Refrigerator" Perry, a.k.a. "The Fridge," was a 350-pound defender who became a cultural sensation by scoring goal-line touchdowns for the 1985 Bears. He's one of those things folks over 40 get really nostalgic about, like Friends, old Nintendo games and affordable housing. Tune in next week, when Digest explains who Jim McMahon was.)

    Subtle coaching goof of the week, Part I: The Bears got greedy before halftime and called a timeout after a sack left the Giants in a 3rd-and-23 situation. But the Giants converted thanks to a Saquon Barkley 22-yard third-down run and a nine-yard pass to Rhett Ellison on fourth, and then they kicked a long field goal that turned out to be the game's margin of victory.

    Subtle coaching goof of the week, Part II: The Bills opted for a Hail Mary instead of a 58-yard Stephen Hauschka field goal, even though Hauschka is 18-of-21 from 50-plus yards over the last four years and the weather was clear. Digest favorite Xavien Howard picked off the pass. The Bills ended up losing by four points.

    Hurdle of the week: Jared Cook tapped the B button once to hop Super Mario style over Chiefs defender Orlando Scandrick. Note that the folks at referred to the Cook hurdle—and several other highlights from Chiefs-Raiders—as "picturesque." Sounds like someone is running out of adjectives. Reminder to pace yourselves, guys: Over a long season, it's easy to run out of adjectives.  

Inside the Numbers

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seahawks (11-of-17 for 185 yards and four TDs): Wilson's counterpart, Nick Mullens, threw for 414 yards in a 27-point loss, proving yet again that passing yardage totals are a terrible tool for evaluating quarterbacks. (Gives Matt Ryan apologists the stink eye.) 

    Wilson threw just six first-half passes, completing four: a 52-yard touchdown, a four-yard touchdown, a one-yard touchdown and a 45-yard catch by Jaron Brown. After that, there wasn't much need to throw the ball.

    The 49ers won the time-of-possession battle, as will happen when the opponent keeps scoring on one- and two-play drives. The 49ers' average time of possession this season is 30:28, about a one-minute edge over their opponents, despite a 2-10 record. Time of possession is only slightly more misleading than passing yards. 

    Justin Jackson, running back, Chargers (eight carries for 63 yards and one TD, plus one catch for 19 yards): Jackson gashed the Steelers several times in the fourth quarter, with an 18-yard run and 19-yard swing pass to set up his own 18-yard touchdown to give the Chargers the lead—and then an 11-yard run on the final drive to get them into field-goal range. 

    Jackson, a seventh-round pick out of Northwestern, looked good on the inside from the shotgun and displayed some jump-cuts in the open field on a night when Austin Ekeler flunked his featured-back audition (13 carries for 21 yards). Look for Jackson's role to increase during Melvin Gordon's absence, and brace for the 9,999th rehash of the "never draft a running back in the first round because guys like Jackson are available in the seventh" argument. 

    Chase Edmonds, running back, Cardinals (five carries for 53 yards and two TDs, and two catches for 13 yards): David Johnson had battering-ram duties, as usual: 20 carries for 69 yards. Edmonds added a 29-yard run to set up his own eight-yard touchdown; a six-yard touchdown earlier in the game; a pass in which he slipped, fell and got back up for eight yards; and another catch to convert a third down.

    Most of Edmonds' runs were straight up the gut, because just about every play in the Cardinals playbook is a run straight up the gut. If ever there was a fitting end to the Mike McCarthy era, it's an unheralded fourth-round rookie from Fordham using Pop Warner plays to outscore Aaron Rodgers.

    Travis Kelce, tight end, Chiefs (12 catches on 13 targets for 168 yards and two TDs): Kelce would have had three touchdowns and 181 yards if Reggie Nelson didn't reach out and tag him when his knee was on the ground after a leaping fourth-quarter grab. Kelce caught one touchdown while split wide and another from the slot; converted a 3rd-and-15 with a 16-yard toe-tap after a Patrick Mahomes scramble; held onto the ball after taking a shot to the ribs and extending for a 25-yarder; and performed other feats of athleticism to distract us from thinking about why Spencer Ware was starting at running back.

    Kelce also fumbled after his first reception of the game, proving that he can provide highlights for both teams when necessary. 

Digest Sportsbook Player Prop Bet Extravaganza!

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Nine less-than-scintillating early games. Nine player prop bets, ranging from the logical to the ridiculous, to make them more interesting.

    Could Digest build a winning portfolio Sunday out of a mix of shrewd analysis, wild hunches and wishful thinking? Here's what happened when we tried to run a 1 p.m. gauntlet. All moneylines via DraftKings. 


    Nick Chubb, Browns: At Least 2 touchdowns (+500)

    The rationale: Chubb scored two touchdowns in his previous two games, the payout looked tasty and the house anticipated a defensive duel between the Browns and Texans, meaning none of the other props were nearly as appealing. 

    The result: Loss. Chubb scored one touchdown and would totally have scored a second and made us look like geniuses if Antonio Callaway hadn't fumbled into the end zone at the end of his long catch-and-run.


    Gus Edwards, Ravens: Over 73.5 rushing yards (-115)

    The rationale: The Falcons defense allowed 123.7 rushing yards per game entering Sunday, Edwards is the pistol-option power back the NFL never knew it wanted or needed, and Marty Mornhinweg is one of those old-school coordinators who thinks that letting Lamar Jackson run the ball too often will give the whole team cooties. 

    The result: Win. Things were touch-and-go until Robert Griffin III replaced Lamar Jackson in the third quarter and the Gus Bus really got rolling to finish with 82 yards.

    Beware of Edwards in future props or fantasy starts, though: Kenneth Dixon got nine touches (and should be healthy for at least another week) and Mornhinweg just remembered that the Ravens traded for Ty Montgomery (eight touches) a month ago.


    Zay Jones, Bills: over 29.5 receiving yards (-115)

    The rationale: Jones caught eight passes against the Jets two weeks ago and has generally settled into a 3-4 catch role. This was just a wager on either the Bills offense doing one or two things right or the Dolphins defense doing one or two things wrong: both safe bets.  

    The result: Win. Jones caught four passes for 67 yards—and two touchdowns. He would have had three scores if Josh Allen didn't throw five yards behind him when Jones was wide open in the end zone in the third quarter. 

    With Allen healthy and Jones showing promise, the Bills offense has been upgraded from "historically awful" to just "pretty terrible." Wager and set fantasy lineups accordingly. 


    Case Keenum, Broncos: Over 1.5 touchdown passes (+125)

    The rationale: The Bengals allowed three or more touchdown passes in four of their last five games, with the Lamar Jackson Option Experience wedged in between. 

    The result: Loss. Phillip Lindsay rushed 19 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Keenum (one touchdown) threw just six passes in the second half as the Broncos milked a lead. Beware of teams so bad that their opponents don't have to do much to beat them. 


    Khalil Mack, Bears: Under 0.5 sacks (+300)

    The rationale: The over paid out at -455, making it not worth the effort, and the Giants have a history of responding to top pass-rushers by having Eli Manning dump the ball off 0.005 nanoseconds after the snap.

    The result: Loss. Mack didn't get his lone sack until late in the fourth quarter, so maybe Digest was onto something. But probably not. 


    Cam Newton, Panthers: Score 1 touchdown and Panthers win (+275)

    The rationale: The Buccaneers allowed 14 rushing touchdowns entering Sunday, Newton hasn't run for a touchdown in a while but still gets goal-line carries, and the Christian McCaffrey payout (+150) just wasn't as much fun. 

    The result: Loss. McCaffrey did gain 161 scrimmage yards and score a receiving touchdown, but there weren't many total yardage props available before kickoff (the house must be sick of McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara types going over). For the foreseeable future, the Panthers are in the same category as the Falcons: a team that exists solely to puree your hopes and dreams. 


    Theo Riddick, Lions: Over 47.4 receiving yards (-115)

    The rationale: Riddick has caught 25 passes in four games since reclaiming his role as the running back Matthew Stafford throws to when the offense has run out of better ideas (starting late in the first quarter). A Rams blowout would mean big numbers for the designated end-of-game touch-muncher. 

    The result: Loss. Riddick caught just three passes for 26 yards as the Lions kept things close and Levine Toilolo and Bruce Ellington took Riddick's place as the guys who catch nearly meaningless fourth-quarter passes. Also, Toilolo and Ellington are apparently Lions starters now. Maybe Matt Patricia's frozen practices before dome games aren't the Lions' only problem this year. 


    Aaron Rodgers: Over 2.5 passing touchdowns (+175)

    The Rationale: That's fine payout potential for a great quarterback to have an above-average game (by his standards) while on a win-or-else tour against a team whose average possession is shorter than a commercial break. Right?  

    The result: Loss. The Packers are sheer agony on a stale cracker. 


    Donte Moncrief, Jaguars: At least 3 touchdowns (+15,000)

    The rationale: Why not? 

    The result: Loss. All of the props in this game amounted to pure misery. At least Digest dreamed big.


    The verdict: Digest lost a lot of money on the early games but illustrated a lot of interesting points about the NFL. And isn't that the reason we wager? (Note: It obviously is not, and no reasonable person should ever pick a Jaguars wide receiver to catch three touchdown passes. Like, ever.) 


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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Your weekly roundup of hot-button issues:


    Ben Roethlisberger claims that he has earned the right to publicly criticize his teammates. 

    Point: It's clearly protected by the Steelers Constitution, immediately after the Right to Go Through Le'Veon Bell's Stuff.

    Counterpoint: While asserting his right to "dish it out," is Big Ben allowed to continue to plead diplomatic immunity from "taking it"?


    Michael Vick advises Lamar Jackson to be careful when running the ball, per Jamison Hensley of

    Point: ... And to invest in a nice aquarium full of tropical fish. 

    Counterpoint: There should be a television show in which Vick travels the world helping people avoid his mistakes. It could be a cartoon! And Vick could have sidekicks, like a talking pitbull (edgy!) and the Ghost of Vince Lombardi! And then...oh wait, we just described the Mike Tyson Mysteries. Never mind. 

    ABC to televise all three days of the 2019 draft; plans to add live musical performances.

    Point: Finally, programming for the demographic that wants to wait to learn whether the Giants are drafting a quarterback of the future or are continuing to kid to themselves about another year of Eli Manning until the end of a medley of songs from Moana

    Counterpoint: Seriously, can't we just read off lists of linebackers at the Grammys instead? 


    Brett Favre duped by white supremacist group into recording a video with anti-Semitic messages.

    Point: In Favre's defense, the hate group posed as a veteran's association and tricked him into using coded language your average citizen might not perceive as anti-Semitic—and taking five seconds to web-search an organization that appears out of the blue and asks you go on record to say a bunch of weird stuff you don't understand to discover it is called the "Goyim Defense League" and has unapologetically horrible humans just isn't a "Lovable Ol' Gunslinger" thing to do, right?  

    Counterpoint: And that's the story of how Brett Favre became a Mississippi senator.

The Last Word

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    The most disturbing thing about the Kareem Hunt video is not the viciousness of his attacks or the surreal mayhem of the scene.

    It's not the callousness of a league or team that seem to have been eager to avoid learning the facts of the February incident, or of a police force that somehow made no arrests after responding to the chaos.

    It's not the fact that the truth once again came to light not because of diligent investigation or anyone's desire for justice, but only because a tabloid could profit from it.

    What's most disturbing about the Kareem Hunt video was that it did not feel all that disturbing.

    Oh, the video was met with anger, shock, disgust and our culture's most devalued currency: righteous indignation. But when video of Ray Rice assaulting then-fiancee Janay Palmer surfaced four years ago, it shook both the NFL and the entire country to our foundations. It made violence against women an around-the-clock conversation for weeks.

    It was supposed to be a wake-up call and learning experience.

    But the Hunt video was just one more awful thing scrolling across our timelines, along with wildfires, earthquakes, mass shootings whose mourning periods often overlap each other, Watergate-caliber political scandals and near-daily examples of someone powerful saying or doing something cruel, hateful or hurtful.

    "We've got people who are in high, high, high, high places that have done far worse, and if you look at it realistically, they're still up there. This is small potatoes [compared to] a lot of things out there," Redskins Vice President of Explaining Unpopular Decisions Doug Williams said after his team signed accused domestic abuser Reuben Foster.

    Williams was in the process of apologizing for that statement when the Hunt video broke. He was ripped (justifiably) for his remarks, but Williams was just expressing a moral undertow we have all felt. Instead of striving to be better as catastrophes and corruption pile atop each other, we just grow more numb. 

    In the four years since Rice, maybe we're beyond waking up and learning.

    The most disturbing thing about the Hunt video is its reminder that we've gone backward in our treatment of violence against women in four years. We still give alleged perpetrators a voice while victims are scared into silence. We still "investigate" to protect the bottom line instead of pursuing the truth. 

    We're still at Step 1 of the conversation, but now we're too divided, distracted and exhausted to really talk to each other anymore. 

    We can hope NFL teams learned the right lesson from Hunt and Foster. But both the past and present bear evidence to the fact that the NFL—and other powerful institutions—only learn the lessons they choose to learn.