Monday Morning Digest, Wild-Card Edition: Can Weekend's Winners Keep Winning?
You know what this edition is all about, Digest fans: playoffs, playoffs and more playoffs! Including:
• The Chargers tactic that could hold the secret to stopping Tom Brady and the Patriots offense
• A Cowboys blueprint for slowing down the Rams offense
• How the Eagles can beat a Saints team that beat them by 41 points seven weeks ago (it will take more than just another Nick Foles miracle)
• Chiefs defensive weaknesses the Colts offense can exploit (there are a bunch of them)
• The real reason Adam Gase and other retreads keep getting extra spins on the coaching carousel
• Offseason improvement plans for Lamar Jackson and others
• The Point-Counterpoint segment Antonio Brown doesn't want you to read.
...and much more!
The Bye-Week Teams Most and Least Likely to Get Upset at Home Next Weekend
No team that played in the first round of the NFL playoffs has reached the Super Bowl since the Ravens climbed from Wild Card Weekend to a world championship after the 2012 season.
That's five seasons, with 20 wild-card teams, 20 division champions that couldn't quite manage a first-round bye, and zero Super Bowl appearances.
There's your sobering reminder that just about nothing that happened this weekend is likely to matter in a few weeks. Road wins by the Eagles, Chargers and Colts? Won't matter in a few weeks. "Momentum" for the Cowboys, who have won eight of their last nine games, or for the Colts, who have won 10 of their last 11, or for the Eagles, who have won their past four? Won't matter. Nick Foles' ability to unlock the Invincibility Mode upgrade in the playoffs?
Maybe that will matter. But it probably won't.
The four best teams in the NFL took this weekend off, leaving eight middleweights to duke it out in games that were often close and sometimes exciting but ultimately proved just how limited all eight of the teams are.
Do the Chargers really look ready to win in Foxborough after beating the Ravens with field goals and nearly coughing the game up on blocked kicks and almost-fumbles? Did the Cowboys really blow you away Saturday night? Do you think the Colts can get shut out in the second half like they did against the Texans and still hang with the Chiefs? What did you really think of Foles Magic when the Eagles trailed 6-3 at halftime?
The Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints earned bye weeks for a reason: They are better than the teams we watched Saturday and Sunday.
But that doesn't mean all four home favorites will waltz into the championship round.
The upcoming Digest segments have much more coverage of next weekend's games (as well as all of the action from Wild Card Weekend, of course). But let's start by ranking the bye-week bunch from least to most vulnerable to a home upset:
1. Least vulnerable: Saints — They beat the Eagles 48-7 in November and spent the past two weeks getting healthy at home while the Eagles bounced from Washington to Chicago. We also came within a missed Cody Parkey chip shot Sunday of never again having to pretend Nick Foles has superpowers.
2. Slightly more vulnerable: Patriots — The Chargers are a tough matchup for the weakest Patriots team of the 2010s. But the Chargers will also be playing their second straight Breakfast on the East Coast game, because the NFL thinks the key to winning hearts in Los Angeles is early-morning playoff kickoffs. Throw in all of Sunday's Chargers mistakes and Philip Rivers looking at times like Tom Brady's uncle, and the road looks like it's rising up to meet the Patriots yet again.
3. Even more vulnerable than that: Chiefs — Here's an example of why "momentum" is nonsense. The Colts beat the Texans convincingly Saturday but suffered injuries to safeties Mike Mitchell (calf) and Malik Hooker (foot). Neither injury is considered serious (Hooker returned to the game), but both defenders will be trying to rest up and heal between flights before facing the NFL's toughest offense. Meanwhile, the Chiefs could have running back Spencer Ware back after the bye and are awaiting word on Sammy Watkins (foot). Exciting wins are great. Recuperation is better.
4. Most vulnerable: Rams — The Cowboys are getting better every week as Dak Prescott finds his rhythm with Amari Cooper and gains confidence in the pocket, and as young defenders are growing into their roles. And it all started happening just when opponents started figuring out the Rams offense and stopped being shy about taking shots at their secondary. The Rams, like the other members of the bye bunch, remain favorites. But as the segments that follow illustrate, even the NFL's strongest teams have weaknesses. The trick is being good enough to exploit them.
Didn't get enough Chargers coverage from Digest this season? We've got you covered in this segment!
Defender of the week: Melvin Ingram recorded two sacks, forced the Kenneth Dixon fumble that led to the Chargers' first score of the game, scooped up the Lamar Jackson fumble that quashed the final Ravens rally and generally spent the whole afternoon making Jackson look like a squirrel in the middle of an eight-lane freeway.
Offensive line of the week: The Cowboys offensive line of Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Joe Looney, Zack Martin and La'El Collins helped Ezekiel Elliott rush for 137 yards and allowed just one sack. They did much of their best work down the field on screens and second-level blocks, turning short Elliott gains into game-changers.
Special teamer of the week: Desmond King set up a Chargers field goal with a 33-yard punt return and ran the second-half opening kickoff back 72 yards. The Chargers failed to score after that second big return (their field-goal attempt was partially blocked), but you cannot expect the legendarily hapless Chargers special teams to do two things right in a row.
Unsung special teams hero of the week: Eagles special-teamer Treyvon Hester tipped Cody Parkey's game-ending field goal just enough to alter the ball's trajectory and send it wobbling toward the left upright. That's right, folks. Parkey got booed off the field and roasted across the internet, when in fact his missed field goal was a blocked field goal. Of course, Parkey should have gotten enough arc under a 43-yarder to get it over the hands of any defender shorter than a Frost Giant. But let's go easy on the roasting and remember that Hester had a big hand (literally) in the Eagles upset.
Wannabe fantasy leech of the week: Derek Watt wanted to both earn top-leech honors and win one for the Watt brothers (it's been a long two weeks for J.J. and T.J.) by catching an underthrown flat pass at the 1-yard line and barrel-rolling like a toddler down a grassy hill until he reached the end zone. But officials decided Watt was down at the 1-foot line, setting up the next sequence...
Touchdown/touchback/opposing touchdown/whatever of the week: After Watt's kindergarten tumblesault for glory, Melvin Gordon appeared to fumble into the end zone, with Marlon Humphrey recovering and running 100 yards the other way for a would-be game-changing Ravens touchdown. But officials spun their Random Decision Generator wheel and decided Gordon was down by contact at the half-yard line. Gordon punched it in the end zone on the next play.
Was it the correct call? Possibly. (Eric Weddle's pinkie was in Gordon's vicinity, creating a plausible ground-caused-the-fumble scenario.) Was it a fair call? Probably. The Ravens weren't going to get a 100-yard touchdown from the play anyway (there were whistles during Humphrey's runback), and games shouldn't be settled by fumbles at the goal line unless we're 100 percent certain the fumble actually happened.
Speaking of which...
Touchdown/touchback/opposing touchdown/whatever of the week, runner-up: The lone Texans touchdown Saturday came on what sure looked like a touchback to nearly everyone who saw it. Keke Coutee reached out for the pylon but lost his grip on the football, leaving it to roll around in the corner of the end zone.
But a quick spin of the Random Decision Generator ruled that Coutee got a molecule or two of football across the plane of the end zone for a femtosecond, allowing the NFL to pretend there is no need to fix the most outdated, senselessly vindictive rule in its rulebook.
The-rulebook-is-a-bunch-of-senseless-unenforceable-gibberish moment of the week: Eagles defender Cre'Von LeBlanc ripped a deep pass from Bears receiver Anthony Miller's hands just before halftime, the refs ruled an incomplete pass, the ball wobbled on the ground until an official picked it up and everyone prepared to go about their lives. ...But the play triggered an automatic replay review, which revealed Miller took several steps before the ball came loose, meaning it was a fumble.
Bears ball deep in Eagles territory, right? No wait. Should be Eagles ball since several defenders would have picked it up if not for the whistle. Right?
Wrong and wrong. The fumble is, in fact, an incomplete pass, because of careful applications of several obscure clauses in the rulebook, the dictionary and 2 Corinthians. Here's Pro Football Talk's take on the play, which lines up with what little Digest could figure.
It doesn't make a lick of sense. But it would be fairer than giving the Bears the ball in Eagles territory despite the fumble or giving the Eagles credit for a fumble they never recovered, which only happens...in the event of a fumble touchback.
We've come full circle. And it was not fun.
Best news of the week: Allen Hurns, who suffered a gruesome left leg injury Saturday night, told NFL Network's Jane Slater he will be "good to go" for next season after undergoing surgery for a broken fibula. After seeing Hurns carted off the field with his leg in an air cast, we'll be happy just to see Hurns walk into a locker room again.
Eliminated Teams Digest
Here's one last look at the teams that were eliminated on Wild Card Weekend—and what they must do to take the next step in 2019:
The Bears have few major needs, are young and under contract for 2019 at most key positions, lack a first-round pick after the Khalil Mack trade and have just enough cap space to be semi-active.
That means big changes are both unlikely and unnecessary. The Bears must improve from within. Mitchell Trubisky must settle down in the pocket, especially in big games. Matt Nagy needs to balance creativity with common sense in his game plans. Youngsters who played well this year (Roquan Smith, Anthony Miller) must take another big step forward. And so on.
Also, they need to put Cody Parkey in witness protection as soon as possible, for his own good, and find a kicker they can count on.
Lamar Jackson must become a more consistent and accurate passer outside the numbers and improve his ball security both when cocking to throw and handing off on options. Those improvements will allow the Ravens to open up their passing game for Jackson without eliminating the option concepts that worked so well in the second half of the season.
Spreading Joe Flacco's $16 million future cap hit over two seasons will allow the Ravens to retain some of their top in-house free agents (linebackers C.J. Mosley and Za'Darius Smith will be top priorities) while bargain hunting on the free-agent market.
Getting some value in a trade for Flacco would be a huge bonus. But anyone suggesting a Flacco-Jackson competition for 2019 upon overreacting to one ugly Jackson game must have forgotten about the past three years of ugly Flacco games.
The Seahawks operated at the absolute threshold of what a team with their modest overall talent can accomplish in the second half of the year. They need upgrades just about everywhere: the receiving corps, the offensive line, all levels of defense.
With no second-round pick as a result of last year's Duane Brown trade and some in-house free agents (starting with Frank Clark) likely to eat up much of the team's cap space, broad-based improvement won't be easy.
Pete Carroll must also be wary of falling too deeply in love with Brian Schottenheimer's ground-'n'-pound tactics, which too often caused the Seahawks to spend whole first quarters sputtering through three-and-outs, as they did against the Cowboys on Saturday.
The Texans need a massive offensive line overhaul, a credible No. 2 wide receiver (waiting on Will Fuller to be healthy and productive for an extended period of time is a bad idea) and could use a much better coaching staff.
They probably won't get that last thing, because Bill O'Brien did just enough with a handful of the NFL's best players and a soft schedule to hide the fact he really should have done much more.
Playoff Preview: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
How we got here
The Cowboys won Saturday night's Battle of the Throwbacks, outmuscling and outcoaching the Seahawks for a 24-22 win.
Everyone knows how the Cowboys are winning: swarming defense, a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott and just enough Dak Prescott-to-Amari Cooper to punish opponents for loading up against Elliott. Stopping them, however, hasn't been an easy proposition.
The Rams accomplished just about everything they set out to do when they assembled a mercenary strike force of Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Brandin Cooks to go with Aaron Donald, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley in the offseason. But somehow, they don't appear to be as unbeatable as they should.
How to stop the Rams
The core concepts of the Rams offense are easy enough to explain:
• Pre-snap motion: They move wide receivers across the formation to make the defense shift around, declare who is covering whom and threaten a jet sweep.
• Interior running: The Rams average 4.9 yards per carry, with Todd Gurley often gouging a defense that has been taffy-pulled by the motion.
• Play action: The Rams use it on 34 percent of pass plays, most in the NFL, and average 9.0 yards per play-action pass, fourth-best in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. It's easy to complete passes when the defense declared its coverage before the snap and the linebackers are worried about Gurley.
• Misdirection plays: Wide receivers ran the ball 35 times this season, which means the Rams run two or three reverse-type plays per game. Throw in the Rams' huge diet of backside screens and other misdirection concepts, and opponents who sell out to flow with the motion of the play are regularly punished.
Stopping the Rams offense is much harder than explaining it. Late-season opponents limited their pre-snap shifts, eliminating easy Jared Goff reads and Gurley cutback lanes. The Seahawks, as illustrated by Matty Brown of Field Gulls, blitzed a nickelback when a Rams receiver went in motion, catching Goff by surprise.
The Cowboys defense is well-suited to using these tactics against the Rams. The interior run defense is stout (it easily shut the Seahawks down Saturday), linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch can fly to the ball to prevent screens and misdirection, slot defender Anthony Brown can handle receivers who motion into weird formations (or blitz) and play-caller Kris Richard keeps things simple and trusts his defenders to react.
Matchup to watch
The once-unstoppable Cowboys offensive line has had an up-and-down season due to injuries. Zack Martin missed two games and parts of several others with various injuries this year, but he played one of his best games Saturday, and his presence has a stabilizing effect on fellow interior linemen Connor Williams and Joe Looney.
Martin, Looney and Williams will be on Donald-Suh detail Saturday night. The winner of these matchups is likely to win the game.
Losses to the Eagles, Saints and Bears in the second half of the year demonstrated just how vulnerable the Rams are against top NFC contenders. They should blow the Cowboys out based on star power, coaching reputation, home-field and bye-week advantages. But something about them screams "clay-footed giants." And the Cowboys have been playing up to their competition for months.
Playoff Preview: Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
How we got here
The Eagles enjoyed a dominant performance from their defense and just enough late-game Nick Foles heroics to beat the Bears 16-15 in a game filled with dropped interceptions and incomprehensible replay reviews, capped off by a tipped, doinked-off-the-upright field-goal attempt by Cody Parkey on the game's final play.
The Saints earned home-field advantage by tearing most of their regular-season opponents to shreds, most dramatically the Eagles by a 48-7 score in Week 11.
The Eagles have improved, and the Saints have looked a little more mortal in the seven weeks since that game. But even Foles sorcery may not be enough to erase a 41-point differential.
How to stop the Saints
Stop Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, and you stop the Saints offense.
The Saints lack a third weapon in their passing game. Ted Ginn Jr., just back from injury, is an aging deep threat with a long history of dropping easy touchdowns. Rookie Tre'Quan Smith had 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles in Week 11, when all of their cornerbacks were hurt, but has six catches for 56 yards and one TD in five games since. Ben Watson, the 38-year-old tight end, has nine catches for 108 yards and no TDs in the last eight weeks.
Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham will be tasked with containing Kamara, who caught a 37-yard touchdown pass against the Eagles in the last meeting. Hicks and Bradham are solid in coverage, but Kamara is one of the league's toughest assignments. Malcolm Jenkins may also draw Kamara at times, but the Saints spent the last game making the Eagles Pro Bowler and spiritual leader look silly by forcing him to be in three places at once.
Rasul Douglas and converted safety/rising star Avonte Maddox are both likely to have long days against Thomas. But the lack of secondary Saints targets should allow the Eagles to roll coverage (yep, that's another task for Jenkins) and force Drew Brees to look elsewhere.
Matchup to watch
Alshon Jeffery caught just four passes for 33 yards in the last Saints game but is a different receiver when paired with Foles: 22 catches for 383 yards and several clutch receptions in the last four games.
Marshon Lattimore handled Jeffery last time but has had an up-and-down season. If Lattimore can shut down Jeffery again, it will take away Foles' favorite downfield target.
Counting their meaningless Week 17 game, the Saints have had more than two weeks to get their linemen healthy, reintegrate Ginn into the game plan and figure out new ways to create mismatches for Kamara and Thomas. That's not as dramatic as a series of upsets and a backup quarterback's ascendancy to Living Legend status, but it's better for long-term results, especially when the rested team is also the better team.
Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
How we got here
The Chargers slashed the tires on the Lamar Jackson bandwagon, holding the Ravens to just 229 net yards and forcing seven sacks and three takeaways while doing just enough on offense (and overcoming two blocked kicks on special teams and a late Jackson charge) to manufacture a 23-17 road win in Baltimore on Sunday.
The Patriots have been living in the second round of the playoffs so long that they have a lovely little fully furnished cottage here. But they aren't very hospitable to their January guests.
How to stop the Patriots
The late-era Patriots offense lacks big-play capability, so it functions by staying ahead of the sticks, and it does that by letting Tom Brady distribute short passes on first down.
The Patriots average 8.6 yards per first-down pass and are the fourth-ranked first-down passing team in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. Running back James White, who led the team in receptions this year, has 30 catches for 244 yards (8.1 per catch) and two touchdowns on 44 targets on first down this season, according the Pro Football Reference. Rob Gronkowski has 20 catches for 333 yards (16.7 per) and a TD on 26 targets, his numbers declining on later downs. Julian Edelman averages 11.2 yards per target on first down but just 6.4 yards per target on later downs.
So, the Chargers must prevent Brady from finding his favorite targets for easy completions on first down. The best way to do that is to deploy their multi-safety package, with Derwin James and Adrian Phillips lined up as linebackers. That personnel grouping gives the Chargers favorable matchups in coverage and (with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa lined up everywhere and anywhere) great mix-and-match pass-rush opportunities.
If they force Brady to convert 3rd-and-longs with defenders in his face, the Chargers can turn him into Old Man Brady, a very different individual from Classic Brady.
Matchup to watch
All-Pro Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore may have been the best cornerback in the NFL this season. He finished second in the NFL in yards per pass allowed, second in average yards allowed after a catch and first in coverage Success Rate (forcing incomplete passes or catches for minimal gain), per Football Outsiders charting data.
Gilmore's likely assignment will be top Chargers target Keenan Allen (held to just four receptions by the Ravens defense Sunday), but don't expect the unexpected from a Belichick defense. Gilmore will be wherever Philip Rivers doesn't want him to be, and Rivers needs to play much better than he did Sunday to keep the "past-his-prime quarterback" narratives directed squarely at Brady.
The 2018 Patriots may not be the best Patriots team you have ever seen. But they are about to face a West Coast team playing its second straight East Coast game, coming off a sloppy win, with a quarterback so rickety at times that he makes Brady look like he's still in his mid-30s.
Things always have a way of working out for the Patriots in the second round. But then, that's the residue of always being in the second round of the playoffs.
Playoff Preview: Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs
How we got here
The Colts exposed the Texans as playoff pretenders by taking a 21-0 halftime lead and then shifting into cruise control for a 21-7 victory Saturday. The Colts have now won 10 of their last 11 games.
The Chiefs scored a kabillion points in the regular season (565, actually) and reset our expectations for what an NFL offense should look like. Sometimes, they tried to play defense, too, and it was adorable.
How to stop the Chiefs
The best way to "stop" the Chiefs is to outscore them. The best way to do that is to exploit several weaknesses in their defense (all splits courtesy of Football Outsiders):
Pass defense: The Chiefs rank 29th at defending slot receivers, 25th at defending tight ends and 21st at stopping deep (15-yard-plus) passes. The Colts need to hit them up the seam with Eric Ebron and get their stable of secondary pass targets (Dontrelle Inman, Chester Rogers, Zach "Turbo" Pascal) involved the way they did against the Texans.
Run defense: The Chiefs rank 30th in stopping short-yardage runs, dead last in preventing second-level yards once the ball-carrier breaks through the line of scrimmage and 31st at stopping runs up the middle. So run right at them, especially on 3rd-and-1 or at the goal line.
The only thing the Chiefs defense truly excels at is turning pass pressure into big plays (52 sacks, 15 interceptions, 12 opponents' fumbles lost). Meanwhile, few teams are as good at sack prevention as the Colts, who allowed just 18 this season.
The Colts must also avoid the second-half offensive brownout they suffered against the Texans, when quarterback Andrew Luck was suddenly off target and head coach Frank Reich appeared reluctant to trust his running game. Two stalled drives against the Chiefs are a recipe for a 14-point swing on the scoreboard.
Matchup to watch
Pierre Desir did a remarkable job shutting down DeAndre Hopkins on Saturday, but Desir is a big cornerback who will probably be assigned to follow Kelvin Benjamin to Kansas City's best diners, drive-ins and dives Sunday. Smaller, quicker Kenny Moore II, a starter who moves to the slot in nickel packages and had a big game against the Texans, is the likely candidate to face Tyreek Hill on most snaps.
Hill has the edge in that matchup, but then Hill has the edge in nearly every matchup.
With Indianapolis' ability to avoid sacks and a defense that is still learning what it is capable of and a long history of playoff misery against the Colts (including blowing a 38-10 lead for a 45-44 loss in the 2013 playoffs), this is a nightmare matchup for the Chiefs.
Coaching Carousel Digest
There was far too much coaching coaster news this week to fit into one Digest segment, with more news surely breaking after we went to press. So let's synthesize the biggest stories and trends with a few broad-stroke observations.
Gase booster Peyton Manning runs a deep state, which has powerful influence over NFL owners who think they can build an entire roster out of Peyton Mannings, thereby making Gase the ideal head coach.
The Bengals are interviewing in-house assistants Bill Lazor, Darrin Simmons and (gulp) Hue Jackson before widening their nets.
The Bengals are an isolationist hereditary monarchy obsessed with promotion from within, despite the risk of genetic disorders. Vance Joseph also interviewed with the Bengals, but he was an assistant coach for the team in 2014-15, so he is not so much fresh blood as a cousin who was briefly married off into the Court of the Hapsburgs.
Cowboys defensive assistant Kris Richard interviewed for Buccaneers, Dolphins and Jets head coaching jobs.
Teams have been racing to interview Richard, perhaps the best candidate on this year's carousel, before Jerry Jones realizes Richard is a better coach than Jason Garrett and does something drastic/clever like fire Garrett and promote Richard.
Saturday's wild-card win insulated Garrett from such a scenario, but before that, Garrett must have spent the week quietly unplugging all the TVs at team headquarters so Jerrah wasn't swayed by morning talk shows qualifying him for a White House chief of staff role when his Cowboys career ends.
The Falcons are nostalgic for the days when nothing was really expected of them.
The Broncos interviewed Chuck Pagano, Mike Munchak, Brian Flores and Zac Taylor.
The Broncos are looking for someone willing to swear absolute fealty to John Elway's personnel, assistant-coach-selection and personal-grooming powers—and who also isn't a threat to former coach Gary Kubiak's shadow-cabinet power structure. Hence: bushel-bottom retreads, the kid from The Suite Life of Zac and McVay and an inexperienced Belichick Buddy.
If these interviews don't work out, Lord Elway and Count Cool Hand will just hang a whistle and cap over an Echo Dot and let Alexa run the team.
Dan Campbell interviewed with the Cardinals, Browns and Packers.
Campbell was the interim head coach who put new posters on the wall and blasted some Metallica in the weight room and solved both the Dolphins' locker-room chemistry problems and our nation's bullying crisis forever and ever (for about two weeks, until everyone realized he was just another dude who makes tough-guy speeches).
If Peyton Manning runs a deep state and Gary Kubiak a shadow Broncos government from a Rocky Mountain bunker, Campbell patron Bill Parcells must be Lex Luthor, watching all of us on television monitors while tenting his fingers in his secret lair.
Kingsbury coached Johnny Manziel, Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield and, having recruited three of the best college football quarterbacks of the millennium and installed them in a go-for-broke offense, amassed a 35-40 record as a head coach at Texas Tech, with no bowl wins in the last five years, before being fired after the 2018 season and subsequently hired at USC.
Kingsbury is the candidate you interview when you want to look like a visionary genius for interviewing Adam Gase.
Antonio Brown was snubbed by some All-Pro voters because of his end-of-season meltdown.
Point: That's ridiculous. All-Pro selections should be based strictly on production, not off-the-field stuff! Now excuse me while I give the coworker who threw a stapler at his project manager and ghosted for three days the Employee of the Month award.
Counterpoint: Digest would have "snubbed" Brown for finishing ninth in the NFL in receptions, 11th in yards, 19th among wide receivers in Foootball Outsiders' DYAR, 41st in DVOA and second on his own team in receptions and yards—to a fellow receiver who was voted Steelers MVP by his teammates. But that's just us being haters.
Cornerback Brent Grimes says on his wife's podcast that he didn't want to play for the Buccaneers anymore because coaches expected him to shadow Antonio Brown when he was only making $7 million per year, about half of what elite cornerbacks make.
Point: It's a good thing Brown didn't know he was being shadowed by a cornerback making just $7 million per year. He might not have returned text messages for a month.
(Counterpoint learned that Point makes more money and refused to cover this story.)
NFL selects Caesars Entertainment as the league's first-ever official casino sponsor.
Point: Roger Goodell was disappointed to learn that the agreement does not, in fact, grant him the official title and powers of Caesar.
Counterpoint: By 2020, the NFL will just kick down your door while you're watching games and demand that you place a $50 bet or else they're cutting your satellite feed.
John Elway says his "history" with the Broncos shouldn't spare him from criticism for his work as the team's president.
Point: He said it in the same tone of voice your mother uses when saying just because she carried you in her belly for nine months and stayed up with you when you were a sick toddler doesn't mean you have to pick up the phone and call her once in a while, because she knows you are so busy.
Counterpoint: Elway's pro-fracking political activism also shouldn't spare him from criticism if Broncos home games are played in the caldera of a supervolcano in 10 years (and they still haven't found a quarterback).
Former Vikings All-Pro Jared Allen has formed a curling team made up of former NFL players.
Point: The moneyline for Antonio Brown being traded to Allen's curling team this offseason is now +3200.
Counterpoint: And per the NFL's new agreement with Caesars Entertainment, you are legally required to wager at least $50 on it.
Bonus counter-counterpoint: And if Brown breaks a broom over his knee and whizzes it at Allen during Olympic qualifiers, it will be the media's fault he doesn't get a medal.
Linebacker Zach Brown says the Redskins "don't want guys that hold players accountable."
Point: Brown is way off base. Washington doesn't want guys who hold coaches, management or ownership accountable.
Counterpoint: Guess we found the ideal landing spot for Antonio Brown!
Digest Playoff Sportsbook
We call upon the awesome wisdom contained within Frank Reich's bristly beard to guide us through next week's action.
Colts (+5.5) at Chiefs. Over/Under: 56.5
The Colts are 4-0 in the playoffs against the Chiefs since 1995. That won't matter Sunday, but it looms large in the minds of wagerers, as does the Chiefs' 1-10 record in the postseason since Joe Montana's final season in K.C.
Digest leans Chiefs with this line but feels more comfortable with the modest over. The Chiefs are 5-1 at clearing the over in the past six weeks, only falling short the one time because the Raiders wouldn't play along in a 35-3 rout. The house has been overconservative with Chiefs numbers, despite all of the early-season evidence, and this game looks likely to veer into 45-41 final territory.
Cowboys (+7) at Rams. Over/Under: 49
Over the last two seasons, the Rams are 6-8-1 against the spread as home favorites, 11-14 in conference games and 9-11-1 in non-division games. All of that is baked into the spread, as is the Rams' habit this season of getting into close scrapes with conservative, defense-first teams (two Seahawks wins by seven combined points, a three-point win over the Broncos and a loss to the Bears).
The Cowboys feel like the safest play of next weekend, which just a few months ago was not something anyone thought they would be saying about them in the second week of January.
Chargers (+4.5) at Patriots. Over/Under: 47.5
The Patriots are just 10-8 against the spread in the playoffs since 2011, with recent no-cover playoff wins against the Jaguars last year (24-20, Patriots were 7.5-point favorites) and the Ravens after the 2014 season (35-31, -7)
So Patriots home playoff covers aren't quite as sure a thing as Patriots home playoff victories. Meanwhile, the Chargers are 12-4-1 ATS on the road over the last two seasons, with enough wins on the East Coast and in tough locales like Seattle to suggest they won't succumb to jet lag or the Foxborough yips.
Digest would prefer another point or two for the Chargers before seeking the backdoor cover, and Patriots moneylines in the -210 to -220 range make them an unappealing play. (The Chargers are around +180, if you are really feeling it.) We'll wait and see if heavy national Patriots action gets us to Chargers +6 or so by kickoff. If not, we'll pass.
Eagles (+8.5) at Saints. Over/Under: 51
You either believe in Foles Magic, are skeptical of it but want to climb aboard the parade float or you are thinking rationally and want no part of the Eagles against a team that obliterated them two months ago, points or no points.
If you believe or want to believe in miracles, skip the points and go straight to an Eagles moneyline, which opened at a very yummy +325. Otherwise, those nine points are just enough to make Digest leery of the Saints.
Finding favorable spreads in the postseason ain't easy, folks. The house knows what we want and doesn't want us to have it.