Monday Morning Digest: Patriots-Rams Super Bowl Is a Battle of the Generations

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 21, 2019

Monday Morning Digest: Patriots-Rams Super Bowl Is a Battle of the Generations

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, like it or not.

    The Rams are in the Super Bowl for the first time since the Greatest Show on Turf era, and all it took was one of the worst calls in NFL history.

    Super Bowl LIII pits reigning NFL evil genius Bill Belichick against boy genius Sean McVay, and this edition of Digest brings you:

    • All of the action, blown calls and weird whistling from Sunday's overtime shootouts

    • Deep analysis of the Rams-Patriots matchup

    • Winners and losers from the coaching carousel

    • One last look at the Chiefs and Saints, and what they must do to get over the hump next year

    • A preview of the top prospects at next week's Senior Bowl

    ...and much more! 


Patriots Hope to Keep the Rams from Starting a Revolution

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Rams head coach Sean McVay was a high school quarterback in Georgia who had just turned 16 when the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and began their dynasty.

    Rams quarterback Jared Goff was seven years old.

    The Rams played in St. Louis, not Los Angeles.

    Your television was low-def. Your cellphone probably flipped.

    Jeff Fisher was well-regarded. It was that long ago.

    A number of the Rams players the Patriots beat on that fateful day in 2002 are now in the Hall of Fame, including Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Orlando Pace. The Rams slowly faded, wandered in the wilderness for years, relocated halfway across the country and finally rebuilt with kids too young to remember the Greatest Show on Turf and a coach who was too young to drive during the Warner-Faulk heyday. 

    And who is here to meet them in Super Bowl LIII? Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, still going strong 17 years later.

    The Patriots have faced youthful challengers before, from the Seahawks a few years ago to the upstart Eagles last year. Heck, Eli Manning was young once. Some manage to win a Super Bowl. None came close to toppling a dynasty.

    These Rams are unique, though. Not because they pose any more of a threat to the Patriots than the Eagles, Seahawks or anyone else did, but because they have already been adopted as the NFL's next wave of innovators, pioneers and—if not this year, then eventually—champions.

    The joke is already stale: Everyone who ever had lunch with McVay is a hot head-coaching candidate. We can laugh at the copycat NFL's obsession with young offensive masterminds, but the McVay Movement sweeping the NFL is supposed to be about more than a fancy new offense (which is not all that new).

    McVay and his assistants/friends/look-alikes promise a new way of calling plays, installing schemes, controlling the clock, deploying personnel and managing the locker room. It's supposed to be about the complete reimagining of how NFL teams operate. 

    McVay, in short, is supposed to be the next Belichick.

    But the original Belichick is still here, still manufacturing wins like Sunday's victory over the Chiefs in the same way he and an unknown quarterback named Tom Brady beat a much more talented Rams team in February 2002.

    A Rams win in Super Bowl LIII could mark the end of one era and the dawn of another. A Patriots win? In one sense, that's just another Patriots win, another golden bauble on the treasure heap. But it would also cast doubt on the brave new era the McVay generation represents.

    For players and coaches who grew up in the era of Belichick and Brady, winning the Super Bowl will be as revolutionary as changing the world. McVay and the Rams may just be good enough to do it—and young enough to believe that they can. 

Talking Points Digest

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Digest's quick takes on the stories from Sunday that everyone will be talking about:


    The Blown Call

    Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said he was just trying to whack Tommylee Lewis to prevent an easy touchdown in the fourth quarter. He expected a flag. He said the officials told him that the ball was tipped, which is why he wasn't flagged for obvious pass interference.

    The only person on earth who saw a tipped pass was the official who told Robey-Coleman that. 

    The blown call forced the Saints to settle for a field goal with 1:45 to play. A fresh set of downs would have allowed them to burn the clock to ice the game.

    But let's not forget the sequence that led up to the blown call: an incomplete pass on a shaky throw by Drew Brees (saving a Rams timeout), a burned timeout by the Saints and a pitch play to Alvin Kamara that netted zero yards. 

    According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron admitted to Saints head coach Sean Payton that it was a blown call. It was both terrible and game-altering. But with better clock management, the Saints still could won the game.


    Fourth-quarter madness

    On the one hand, the fourth quarter of the Patriots-Chiefs game was NFL spectacle at its best: four lead changes and lots of miraculous plays by a pair of great quarterbacks, all culminating in a sudden-death encore and some patented Tom Brady magic.

    On the other hand, it was also a swirling vortex of inexplicable calls and endless replay reviews in which the officiating both upstaged the game and had too much of an influence on the outcome.

    Julian Edelman either muffed a punt or watched the ball bounce in an exact outline of his body. There were multiple "what's a catch?" plays. Worst of all, Chris Jones was called for roughing the passer because he thumped Tom Brady's shoulder pad.

    The calls and no-calls may have evened out at the endan offensive pass interference on a pick play to set up a Chiefs touchdown was almost as bad as the Tapping a Brady callbut the myriad calls slowed the game down and made it feel like the referees, not Brady and Mahomes, had ultimate control over the flow.

    It would be a major problem if everything that happened on the field—including the bad stuff—didn't somehow keep making the NFL even more popular.


    The incredible disappearing Gurley

    Todd Gurley had a bad game: two early carries that went nowhere, two dropped passes (one tipped into a defender's hands), a blown block in pass protection. Then he disappeared for almost the entire second half, with C.J. Anderson getting the bulk of carries.

    Anderson is pretty darned good, and Gurley admitted after the game that he deserved a little time on the sideline. But Anderson was stopped short on a goal-line carry he got in place of a back with 40 regular-season touchdowns in the last two years, forcing the Rams to settle for a short field goal. Anderson took a handoff on 3rd-and-15. It's hard to believe that this was the best use of the Rams' manpower.

    Maybe Sean McVay was in Galaxy Brain-mode with his short field goals and benchings. He'll learn in two weeks whether he can outsmart the best ever, or just himself. 


    The whistle blower

    His calls himself Whistle Man. He has been attending Saints games, dressed as a human whistle, bleating his high-pitched squeal to pump up the Saints (and distract their opponents) for years. Not only did he nearly win the game for the Saints on Sunday—Jared Goff looked ready to jam icepicks in his ears and played the second half with his earholes taped up—but he made half of America want to shut off our surround sound.

    Connor Orr of The MMQB tracked down Whistle Man during the game for a brief serenade. But Digest went one step further: We spoke to his mother.

    Digest: Where did you watch the Saints-Rams game?

    Whistler's mother: At home in my wooden chair, with my black dress and bonnet on, next to the curtains and the little painting on my wall.

    Digest: Did your son always whistle like that?

    Whistler's mother: Always. The dour couple next door used to get mad and stand outside their house holding a pitchfork when he got too loud.

    Digest: What do you have to say about your son's newfound fame?

    Whistler's mother: Like I always told that young man who wears bright blue everywhere, "They only hate you 'cuz they ain't you." WE WERE ROBBED! WHO DAT? 

Super Bowl Spotlight: The Rams Offense

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    How they got here

    The Rams offense overcame a miserable first quarter, deafening noise and Todd Gurley vanishing like Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi to execute when it mattered in Sunday's 26-23 victory over the Saints. They drove for a touchdown just before halftime and set up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation after their defense (and the refs) gave them one last chance.


    Quarterback: Jared Goff

    Strengths: One of the most impressive passers in the league when he can drop to his spot in the pocket, make his reads and calmly deliver strikes to open receivers.

    Weaknesses: One of the least impressive passers in the league when facing a pass rush, coping with cold weather (Patriots joke here?) or otherwise forced to operate outside of Sean McVay's carefully constructed structure.


    Skill-position players

    Todd Gurley: Gained 1,800 scrimmage yards. Led the NFL in touchdowns. Disappeared Sunday after a few short runs and costly dropped passes.

    Robert Woods: Led one of the league's best offenses in receiving this year. Also one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL. Think Hines Ward, but with 1/500th of the media adulation (save for this inside look at Woods' impact from B/R's Tyler Dunne earlier this month).

    Brandin Cooks: Dangerous deep threat who played for three of the four teams in the conference championship round in the last three seasons. Will probably be traded to the Chiefs in the offseason to complete the cycle.

    C.J. Anderson: Wrecking ball with a dad bod. Cut by two teams during the regular season. Has been the Nick Foles of running backs since late December.


    Offensive line

    Left tackle Andrew Whitworth played himself into a future Hall of Fame discussion over the last two seasons. Right guard Austin Blythe and tackle Rob Havenstein have been as good if not better than Whitworth this season. Left guard Rodger Saffold has been a steady starter since before the Jeff Fisher era. Center John Sullivan got roughed up by Fletcher Cox and a few other elite defensive tackles this season, but he remains a capable veteran.

    The Rams' play-action-heavy scheme is lineman-friendly (fake handoffs slow down pass-rushers), and a steady diet of bunch formations ensure there's an extra blocker or two to help out on the edge of the line.


    The scheme

    A receiver crosses the formation pre-snap, Goff reads the defense (with McVay whispering in his helmet), then either hands off, play-fakes or slips the ball to the receiver for a reverse. After a play-fake, Goff either bootlegs looking for a tight end, throws deep or dumps the ball back to Gurley or Anderson in the flat.

    Yep, that's the entire Rams offense. And an impressionist masterpiece is just a bunch of pastel paint blots. It's all about how things are assembled.


    Looking ahead

    Goff's ability to overcome the Superdome crowd and a sputtering start speaks well for his ability to handle the Super Bowl spotlight. The Rams enter the big game with many problems—again, they were one inexplicable pass interference no-call away from all-but-certain elimination—but their young quarterback is not one of them. 

Super Bowl Spotlight: The Patriots Defense

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    How they got here

    The Patriots gave up some big plays against Patrick Mahomes—it's nearly impossible not to—but they produced just enough sacks and stops, particularly early in the game, to give their offense a chance to win 37-31 in overtime.


    The stars

    Stephon Gilmore: All-Pro cornerback. Usually shadows the opponent's top receiver. Signed away from the Bills in 2017, because the Bills don't need great players (see also: Rams receiver Robert Woods).

    Trey Flowers: All-purpose defensive end and pass-rusher. Drafted with a fourth-round pick the Patriots acquired from the Buccaneers in a trade for Logan Mankins. Remember Logan Mankins? Remember the Buccaneers?

    Jason and Devin McCourty: Identical twin defensive backs. Devin has been a Patriots safety forever. Jason was cut by the Titans in 2017 and thrown into a late-round pick swap between the Browns and Patriots in 2018.

    Non-stars like Kyle Van Noy (who had two sacks on Sunday) and Adrian Clayborn were also cast-offs from weaker teams. The Patriots dominate the NFL by knowing your team's roster better than it does.


    The weak links

    The Patriots' defensive home-road splits were extreme in the regular season: They allowed 6.15 yards per play on the road as opposed to 5.19 at home, 22 touchdowns on the road to only 14 at home, and so on. Sunday's victory might have looked far different if Mahomes didn't miss a few wide-open receivers deep.

    Other than the home-road split, the Patriots' biggest defensive "weakness" is the lack of one outstanding strength. Flowers is the only impact pass-rusher. The cornerbacks are reliable and fundamentally sound, but they can be beaten by top receivers (Brandin Cooks presents a real matchup threat).

    The Patriots rely on scheme and execution to beat you defensively. Luckily, they are coached by the greatest defensive mind in NFL history.


    Special teams notes

    Stephen Gostkowski is 37-of-41 on postseason field goals. Only David Akers and Adam Vinatieri have kicked more career field goals in the playoffs, per Pro Football Reference.

    Cordarrelle Patterson finished third in the NFL with 28.8 yards per kickoff return.

    The Super Bowl will be special teams ace Matthew Slater's 23rd career postseason game, tying him with several players for 15th on the all-time postseason appearance list. Slater is one game away from appearing in as many playoff games as Brett Favre. For the record: Gostkowski is now tied for fourth all-time with 27 playoff appearances, while Brady leads the list with 39 (going on 40).


    Bottom line

    Historically, the best way to beat Bill Belichick's defense has been to run the ball down its throat. All the play-calling wizardry in the world cannot help when you are being overpowered up the gut. Sean McVay and the Rams like to play that brand of football. The matchup of McVay's offense against Belichick's defense will be a battle for the NFL's mind, soul and future. 

Super Bowl Spotlight: The Patriots Offense

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    How they got here

    It was clunky at times. There were goal-line interceptions, bobbled passes and near-turnover disasters overturned by penalties. The Patriots appeared to have the Chiefs by the throat at the start of Sunday's AFC Championship Game, but they let them come back and turn it into a scorcher.

    But Tom Brady and the Pats drove for two go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter and then drove 75 yards in 13 plays to cap a 37-31 overtime win. 


    Quarterback: Tom Brady

    Strengths: The best decision-making, pocket awareness and short-range accuracy—not to mention the most postseason and Super Bowl experience—in NFL history. 

    Weaknesses: Brady is a little like Nolan Ryan in the 1990s: He only has one or two fastballs per game left in his arm and must be careful when he uses them.


    Skill-position players

    James White: Running back. Also the Patriots' leading receiver. Known for occasionally catching 14 passes and scoring three touchdowns in Super Bowls.

    Sony Michel: Rookie workhorse running back. Yeah, it's weird seeing the Patriots use one.

    Julian Edelman: A Wes Welker type.

    Rob Gronkowski: Like the hero at the end of a Korean action movie who has been in one too many hallway brawls, Gronk is still deadly but is definitely staggering.

    Rex Burkhead: This year's official Patriots bench player everyone forgot about who suddenly scored two touchdowns in a championship game. 


    Offensive line

    Left tackle Trent Brown was signed as a budget-friendly replacement for Nate Solder. Right tackle Marcus Cannon is a 335-pound snowplow who spent his first five seasons in New England largely as a backup. Center David Andrews was an undrafted free agent in 2015. Guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason were third- and fourth-round picks, respectively, a few years ago. First-round pick Isaiah Wynn, Cannon's expected replacement, was injured in the preseason.

    On paper, this line should stink. On the field, it's one of the best in the league.


    The scheme

    Pick plays, rub plays, screens, shovel passes, quick tosses into the flat. Intricately designed running plays for Michel when the defense goes nickel to chase down all of the short sideline passes. Brady over the top like old times once the defense is scattered, battered, bewildered and demoralized.


    Bottom line

    The Patriots lack the aura of invincibility they had entering past Super Bowls, but no team is better at managing the clock before halftime and at the end of games, taking advantage of opponents' errors or staying cool late in a close game. They still capitalize on every mistake. And they'll be facing a Rams defense that makes plenty of them. 

Super Bowl Spotlight: The Rams Defense

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    How they got here

    It wasn't perfect, but the Rams defense shut down Michael Thomas (four catches for 36 yards) and made the most of some off-target Drew Brees throws, strange Sean Payton decisions and one ridiculous no-call to hold the Saints to only 23 points at the end of regulation Sunday. 

    Pressure by Dante Fowler Jr. in overtime forced a Brees interception to John Johnson III, setting up the long Greg Zuerlein field goal that gave the Rams a 26-23 victory. 


    The stars

    Aaron Donald: The best defensive player in the NFL. Lives up to 100 percent of his billing.

    Ndamukong Suh: Three-time first-team All Pro and former superstar. Lives up to about 85 percent of his reputation.

    Aqib Talib: Much-traveled former Pro Bowl cornerback. Lives up to about 75 percent of the hassles and trash talk.

    Dante Fowler Jr.: The No. 3 overall pick in 2015, imported midseason from Jacksonville for a pass-rush boost. Lives up to about 45 percent of his potential (but had a handful of big plays Sunday).

    Marcus Peters: Former Pro Bowl cornerback turned motormouth with fourth-degree burns, like Deadpool without the efficacy. Lives down to about 90 percent of his criticism (but was quiet—in a good way—on Sunday). 


    The weak links

    Let's pick on someone other than Peters, who gets picked on enough by opposing quarterbacks.

    Linebacker Mark Barron used to be the type of defender forward-thinking teams crave: a converted safety with the quickness, instincts and size to handle both coverage and run defense. An Achilles injury has sapped his athleticism, turning him into an undersized defender who gets steamrolled by blockers and is a step too slow in coverage.

    Rams cornerbacks line up almost exclusively "by sides" instead of shadowing specific receivers when both Talib (left cornerback, offensive right side) and Peters (right cornerback, offensive left) are healthy. Football Outsiders ranks the Rams second leaguewide at stopping passes to the offensive right but 24th on passes to the offensive left.

    The Rams had the second-worst defense in the NFL against play-action passes, allowing 8.8 yards per play, per Football Outsiders. That's odd considering they practice against the best play-action offense in the NFL.


    Special teams notes

    Zuerlein has missed only one field goal inside 40 yards since 2015.

    Counting Sunday, punter Johnny Hekker has completed 12 of 20 career passes for 168 yards and one touchdown on fake punts and field goals (he's the holder). His regular-season passer rating of 102.9 would rank second in NFL history if he wasn't 1,480 attempts short of qualifying for the career leaderboard.

    Laugh about the rating if you'd like, but Sunday's throw to Sam Shields was a dart. It was also the first thing the Rams "offense" did right against the Saints, so watch the fake.


    Bottom line

    Relatively solid efforts by Peters and Fowler offer hope that the Rams defense will play to its potential and price tag in the Super Bowl, something it rarely did against top competition in the regular season. 

Eliminated Teams Digest

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    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    The NFL is not like college basketball. No one cares if you made the Final Four. So let's look ahead to see what the Saints and Chiefs must do to get at least one step further next year.


    Kansas City Chiefs

    ESPN's Adam Schefter reported early Sunday that Patrick Mahomes may fetch a $200 million contract when he becomes eligible for an extension in 2020. In other words, the Chiefs had better make the most of 2019, the last season in which they will have an MVP-caliber quarterback at a deeply discounted price.

    The Chiefs have nearly $36 million in cap space on paper, per Over the Cap, but they have some in-house free-agent decisions to make (most notably Dee Ford), so don't expect many splashy new arrivals. An extra second-round pick from the Marcus Peters trade will help them upgrade their defense.

    Overall, it shouldn't take much to keep the Chiefs neck-and-neck (at least) with the Patriots again next year. As for 2020, let Schefty and Mahomes' agent worry about that. 


    New Orleans Saints

    The Saints have only around $19 million in cap space next year, per Over the Cap. They traded away their 2019 first-round pick to move up and select Marcus Davenport in the 2018 draft, and they gave up this year's third-round pick for Teddy Bridgewater in late August. They are loaded with needs, starting with a tight end and two or three wide receivers. Drew Brees is set to eat up $33.5 million in cap space, and it looked like age-related diminishing returns were setting in at numerous times during this year's playoff run.

    In summary, everything you expected or hoped would happen to the Patriots this season is about to happen to the Saints in the offseason.

Coaching Carousel Roundup

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Digest highlights the best, worst and weirdest moments and developments from the past week, as the coaching carousel slowly grinds to a stop.


    Best staff

    New Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens spent the week hiring a fascinating group of assistants, including:

    • Offensive coordinator Todd Monken. He called the Buccaneers' plays early in the year, when the Buccaneers were relevant and fun.

    • Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. He's a fine coach when he isn't saddled with roughly 30 players the Patriots would have cut before training camp.

    • Defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. Nick Saban's former defensive coordinator? Why not!

    • Running game coordinator Stump Mitchell. He was the Darren Sproles of the 1980s and has been known to sport the greatest beard of any NFL coach.


    Most overdue decision

    The Buccaneers hired former Cowboys and Eagles kicker Chris Boniol as a specialists coach to work exclusively with kickers and punters. It's three years too late to help Roberto Aguayo, but the Buccaneers were still plagued by kicker woes last year.

    Specialists coaches remain rare in the NFL because coaches like to fuss over a third-string tight end's blocking footwork for months and then send a guy out to win a playoff game with instructions that amount to: "Go do whatever you do, and do it perfectly, or else."


    Most revealing hire

    The Jaguars hired Digest favorite John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator. He was in Philly during Nick Foles' Super Bowl run two years ago, so the hire sparks speculation that Jacksonville is a likely landing spot for Foles.

    It's possible to like and respect both DeFilippo and Foles while still believing that uniting them under a conservative head coach in Jacksonville is the perfect recipe for recreating the 2018 Vikings.


    Most revealing firing

    Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said early last week on Dallas radio that he didn't anticipate any major shakeups to his staff. A few hours later, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said it was "a little early" for such talk. Garrett then backtracked at his press conference that same afternoon. On Friday, the Cowboys "parted ways" with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

    It's hard to publicly undermine your head coach's authority, leave a veteran assistant coach twisting in the wind during the hiring cycle, fire him during a news lull to maximize everyone's embarrassment and put your team behind schedule for finding a replacement, all in only a few days of miscommunication and inertia. But the Cowboys found a way.


    Worst non-decision

    The Steelers appear to be keeping head coach Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator Keith Butler and defensive coordinator Randy Fichtner in place while losing some of their best-regarded assistants. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak (now in Denver) is the latest defector. James Saxon, the running backs coach who got James Conner and Jaylen Samuels ready for featured roles in 2018, is now on the Cardinals staff.

    The Steelers coaches who elevated their units are leaving. The ones who fostered the junior-high drama-camp atmosphere are staying.


    Most mind-altering moment

    No, it wasn't new New York Jets head coach Adam Gase starting his press conference by reenacting an old Talking Heads video. It was Gase claiming the Dolphins were terrible offensively in 2018 because they "sacrificed statistics to try to get wins."

    What Gase was trying to say was that the Dolphins had a lot of injuries on offense, so they opted to be ultra-conservative on third-and-long and in other risky situations, lowering their yardage and point totals to keep things close.

    You know, like what former Jets head coach Todd Bowles did for the last three years, just with less clarity of thought.

    As always with the Jets, you may always say to yourself, "My God, what have they done?"


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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Eagles declare Carson Wentz is their starting quarterback; meanwhile, Nick Foles is expected to enter free agency.

    Point: Committing to Wentz was the only real option for the Eagles once you account for the salary cap, contract situations, actual scouting reports of both players and so forth. It's hard to imagine anyone seriously arguing...

    Counterpoint: This is a disaster! Foles is a PROVEN CHAMPION. And Wentz is injury-prone! The Eagles should have gotten older, far more expensive and less talented at quarterback, because that's how teams win!


    Antonio Brown feuds with former teammate Emmanuel Sanders and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians about television segments criticizing Brown.

    Point: Brown appears to have a beef with nearly everyone these days, which proves he's a potential locker room headache for his next team. It's hard to imagine anyone exonerating him for his end-of-season...

    Counterpoint: This is all Sanders' fault! And Arians' fault! And Mike Tomlin's, Ben Roethlisberger's, the organization's and society's fault. We are all to blame for Brown's dissatisfaction and must work together to ensure he is traded to a team that brings him money, championships and personal satisfaction, possibly the same team that shells out $80-plus million for Nick Foles!


    Colts head coach Frank Reich composes an open letter thanking the team's fans.

    Point: What a lovely gesture! Reich's personality will foster a bond with both players and fans in the years to come. It's hard to imagine anyone reacting negatively to...

    Counterpoint. Why, the Colts might as well hang a banner in Lucas Oil Stadium reading: "2019: NFL's Friendliest Team!" Real champions don't thank fans for supporting them; they act personally aggrieved that anyone in the nation would dare criticize them!

    Point: Wow, Counterpoint, you are all over the hot takes today.

    Counterpoint: Haven't you heard? Due to Digest budget cuts, Point-Counterpoint is on the bubble. One of us could be laid off if we don't attract more readers!

    Point: Eh, we can't let stuff like that cloud our judgment and color our expert opinions.


    Point: This is nothing less than a death knell for American society. Vince Lombardi did not climb down from a mountain with the Packers sweep chiseled into a stone tablet so insolent whelps like Newton can use their bodies like billboards. And shouldn't he be rehabbing his shoulder instead of hanging around seedy tattoo parlors? The Panthers should release him immediately for this. AND REPLACE HIM WITH NICK FOLES.

    Counterpoint: Sheesh. Leave a little meat on the bone next time, man. 

Senior Bowl Preview

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    It's "Wait 'til next year" time for 30 of the NFL's 32 teams. That's why the Digest team will be tempering next week's Super Bowl hype with a trip to the Senior Bowl to check out some of the best prospects in this year's draft class.

    Here's who we will have an eye on over a week of intense practices, weigh-ins, interviews and, oh yeah, an all-star game.



    Drew Lock, Mizzou: He was at the top of the quarterback draft board before Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) and Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) declared. Lock has the arm to play his way back into the conversation—and the top of the first round—this week.

    Daniel Jones, Duke: An early graduate from college and late arrival to the top-tier-quarterback conversation. Is he first-round material or just a toolsy tease?

    Gardner Minshew, Washington State: A transfer from East Carolina who threw for six billion yards in 2018 (4,776, actually). True prospect or Mike Leach mirage?

    Jarrett Stidham, Auburn: He looked like a future first-round pick as a Baylor freshman but backslid in two seasons at Auburn. Bad system fit with something to prove or Christian Hackenberg 2.0?

    Trace McSorley, Penn State: There are other mid-tier prospects to keep an eye on, but McSorley is exactly the kind of pesky scrambler scouts fall in love with during Senior Bowl week.



    Kentucky edge-rusher Josh Allen backed out of the Senior Bowl last week. LAME. Actually, logical and prudent for a surefire top-10 pick with nothing to prove from a week of practices. But we wanted to watch him. So: LAME.

    With Allen out of the picture, Montez Sweat (Mississippi State), Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech) and D'Andre Walker (Georgia) may be the best edge-rushers on the field this week. Both coaching staffs (49ers and Raiders) will be in the market for a few good edge-rushers.

    Terrill Hanks of New Mexico State looks a little like the next Darius Leonard on film. A big week against top competition can mean a lot for a mid-major defender.

    Johnathan Abram (Mississippi State) is a Donte Whitner-type: a danger to others and himself in the open field. He must prove that he's aggressive, not reckless. 


    Small-school wonders

    Nasir Adderley of Delaware may be the best safety in the draft class. He can solidify a first-round grade with a strong week.

    Oshane Ximines of Old Dominion is a small-program edge-rusher with tools and moves, which is often the kind of guy who makes a lot of money in Senior Bowl pit drills.

    Slot receiver Andy Isabella of UMass caught 15 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia. You don't want to know what he did against Liberty. (Yes you do: nine catches, 303 yards, two TDs.)

    Khalen Saunders of Western Illinois is a 310-pound defensive lineman who can do backflips. 'Nuff said.