Gridiron Digest: Patriots Reloaded and Ready to Dominate (Again)

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterAugust 12, 2019

Gridiron Digest: Patriots Reloaded and Ready to Dominate (Again)

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    There's an old saying that goes, "You aren't being paranoid if everyone really is plotting against you."

    There should be a similar saying for the NFL preseason: "You aren't overreacting to one meaningless game if you think the Patriots are about to kick everyone's butt."

    The Patriots pummeled the Lions 31-3 in the preseason opener, and while Tom Brady didn't play and it didn't count in the standings, Digest kicks off this week with why that game shows that the path to the Super Bowl still runs through The Patriots Way.

    After that:

    • Big-time rookie debuts, including a shifty Bears running back and a Steelers linebacker who looked like he was in three places at once

    • Unlikely Week 1 preseason heroes, from a former rugby star to the son of a heavyweight

    • Deep dives with last year's conference runners-up. Do the Chiefs have enough bodies in the secondary? Will the Saints get much impact from their top draft picks?

    • The Point-Counterpoint team tackles both Adam Gase and Antonio Brown and may never be the same again

    ...and much, much more!

Preseason Blowout Shows That There's No Way Like the Patriots Way

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Someone named Jakobi Meyers caught six passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns for the Patriots against the Lions on Thursday.

    Meyers was an undrafted rookie out of NC State who ran an unimpressive 40 (4.63 seconds) at the scouting combine. He was getting boffo reviews from camp before he sliced and diced the Lions secondary in the first half.

    Meyers probably isn't the next Julian Edelman or even the next Chris Hogan. But this isn't about one guy.

    John Simon, a journeyman linebacker with past stints in Baltimore, Houston and Indianapolis before landing on the Patriots bench last year, made a J.J. Watt-worthy play against the Lions, leaping at the line of scrimmage and reeling in an interception against David Fales. He also recorded a tackle for a loss.

    Simon probably won't look like Watt all that often in the regular season. But again, this isn't about one guy.

    Derek Rivers, a 2017 third-round pick whose career has been stunted by an ACL injury, recorded a pair of sacks. Ja'Whaun Bentley, an unheralded fifth-round pick last year, split a double-team and knocked Tom Savage out of the game and onto the injured reserve. Jamie Collins Sr., a former Patriots starter returning from Browns exile and looking a little odd wearing a No. 8 jersey, also picked up one of the defense's nine sacks.

    But this is not about any of those guys. It's about the system that finds and develops those guys.

    The Patriots and Lions didn't play most of their significant starters in the preseason opener. So all that the 31-3 Patriots victory proved was that the Patriots' backups and no-names are better—and better-coached—than the Lions' backups and no-names.

    That's a bigger deal than it sounds, because the Patriots have won a few Super Bowls with Tom Brady and lots of backups and no-names.

    This is how The Patriots Way works. They find unusual players like Meyers (a converted college quarterback who caught 92 passes in the wide-open Wolfpack offense in 2018) and give them real opportunities to develop and compete. They groom defenders like Rivers and Bentley slowly. They let Collins-type veterans go when opponents are eager to overpay for them and then bring them back to compete for jobs when the market has cooled.

    There's always someone ready to fill a void. There's meaningful competition at every position. Undrafted rookies, top draft picks, free-agent arrivals, backups with a few years in the system: They are all evaluated on their performance and progress, not their draft status or salary. Every team tries to do that. Few succeed.

    Games like Thursday night's blowout turn into Patriots victories in December and January, when every team is digging into its bench and hoping to find someone like Meyers, Simon, etc., to quell an injury emergency or play a role.

    Yes, it was only 60 hard-to-watch minutes. And, no, the Patriots weren't perfect (so...many...penalties). But right now, they look ready to outsmart, out-prepare and out-hustle the NFL yet again.

    And Brady hasn't even strapped on a helmet yet.

Preseason Playmakers: Who Are These Guys?

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    This is the time of year when guys you've barely heard of or guys you've long forgotten about steal the spotlight for a few days. Are they undiscovered superstars, late-blooming difference-makers or just summer one-hit wonders? Gridiron Digest grinds the tape and combs the scouting reports to sort things out.

    Mack Wilson, linebacker, Browns: Wilson turned around to snag a Dwayne Haskins beach ball and return it 40 yards for a touchdown and then made a leaping catch in a deep zone against Josh Woodrum for a second interception. He has also been earning raves in camp. I gave Wilson a second-round draft grade, calling him an "off-the-rack Alabama linebacker" (that's meant to be a compliment), but he lasted until the fifth round. He's going to be a player. Finally, a storyline to watch out of boring old Browns camp!

    Preston Williams, wide receiver, Dolphins: Williams caught four passes for 97 yards, including a diving one-armed grab of a Josh Rosen bomb and a toe-tap catch along the sideline. Williams was a middle-round prospect who went undrafted this year mostly as a result of a 2017 arrest on charges of harassment and assault after allegedly shoving his girlfriend. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment. Based strictly on performance, Williams looks like a potential playmaker.

    Elijah Holyfield, running back, Panthers: The son of boxing legend Evander Holyfield went undrafted out of Georgia because he ran his 40-yard dashes uphill against a water cannon, but he overcame an early fumble to score two touchdowns against the Bears. Holyfield has a rugged running style that works in the SEC and the 1980s NFL but may not fit today's game; on the other hand, a bruiser back would make a fine complement to Christian McCaffrey. Assuming he can hold onto the football, that is. 

    Jazz Ferguson, wide receiver, Seahawks: Ferguson displayed some wiggly route-running and contested-catch ability in four receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown from Paxton Lynch against the Broncos' second-half brigade. The younger brother of Ravens edge-rusher Jaylon Ferguson, Jazz is an LSU-to-Northwestern-State transfer who went undrafted because he looked like your basic 6'5" small-school shark in a goldfish bowl. Long story short: He had the preseason debut D.K. Metcalf was hoping to have.

    Christian Wade, running back, Bills: Wade is a 28-year-old English former rugby star with sprinter's speed, which was evident on his 65-yard touchdown run on his lone carry. The Bills are overloaded at running back, so Wade will probably be stashed on the practice squad or else be gobbled up by the XFL as a marketable international athlete. But the highlight was cool, and kudos to the Bills for finding a running back with the athleticism of LeSean McCoy, the inexperience of Devin Singletary, the frequent flyer miles of Frank Gore and (just in case they sign yet another veteran running back) the accent of Jay Ajayi.

    Dewayne Hendrix, edge-rusher, Dolphins: Hendrix recorded a pair of second-half sacks against Matt Simms and the Falcons, forcing a fumble with one and halting the Falcons' second-to-last drive on fourth down with another. Hendrix went undrafted after transferring from Tennessee to Pitt and then missing most of a season with a foot injury. Thursday's sacks came during rookie silly time, but the Dolphins need any good pass-rushing news they can get. 

    Chad Kelly, quarterback, Colts: America's Disappointing Nephew turned on the turbo boosters for a 33-yard bootleg touchdown and looked sharp against the Bills' third-string randos. Kelly will always look good against third-string randos, because that's who he will always play against: Expect more of him, and he will either get hurt or do something ridiculous/troubling.

Gridiron Rookie Debut Digest

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    We're going to give rookie quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray another week to marinate—maybe let them get to 20 preseason pass attempts—before deciding who is a surefire Hall of Famer and who is an epic bust. But other highly anticipated rookies don't get off the hook that easily. Here's what we saw from a select batch of big-name newcomers in their NFL preseason debuts:

    Brian Burns, edge-rusher, Panthers: The first-round pick recorded a pair of sacks. The first was a clean-up sack after teammates collapsed the pocket, and the second came after a swim move against Bears undrafted rookie H-back Ian Bunting on a rollout play. So both big plays come with a small asterisk. Still, Burns' agility and hustle were on display.

    Devin Bush, linebacker, Steelers: The 10th overall pick in the draft recorded seven tackles, three assists, a near-interception, a pressure on Jameis Winston and a burst-through-the-line fourth-down stop and had several instances where he knocked his blocker to the turf in pursuit of the football. It was the type of dominating debut just about everyone expected of him. 

    Mecole Hardman, wide receiver, Chiefs: Hardman caught two passes for 31 yards, including a 17-yard shovel pass touchdown that demonstrated just what he might be capable of if Tyreek Hill were unavailable or, say, the Chiefs decided to move on instead of offering him a contract extension. 

    N'Keal Harry, wide receiver, Patriots: Patriots fans are neurotic about the team's top receiver prospects, since they've been about the team's only source of disappointment for the past 15 years. Harry, who has gotten mixed offseason reviews, made a pair of impressive contested catches early in the rout of the Lions and then disappeared into the medical tent with a slight limp. Camp worries, flashes of brilliance and an injury that looks minor but could have major implications: the Patriots receiver prospect trifecta.

    Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel, wide receivers, 49ers: Hurd caught two touchdown passes, one a low-post jump ball in the front of the end zone, the other on a crossing route that required him to muscle his way across the goal line. Samuel beat Cowboys rookie Mike Jackson Sr. up the sideline for a 45-yard bomb and also gained 14 yards on an end-around. Kyle Shanahan is gonna have fun mixing and matching these two square-peg weapons. Hurd and Samuel also avoided injury, which is becoming the only story that matters for the 49ers. 

    David Montgomery, running back, Bears: Jump cuts, head fakes and receiving chops: The third-round pick did everything Thursday night that Jordan Howard didn't do back when he was the thunder to Tarik Cohen's lightning. Montgomery rushed three times for 16 yards and a touchdown, adding three catches for 30 yards. His versatility means that Bears opponents won't be able to guess what's coming based on which running back is in the game.

    Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Bills: Oliver and second-year Colts guard Quenton Nelson had a few spirited battles in the first quarter, though nothing showed up on the stat sheet. Folks have strong feelings about both Oliver (he's either Aaron Donald Jr. or a short guy with character issues) and Nelson (PREPARE HIS HALL OF FAME BUST IMMEDIATELY), so routine plays like this went viral, with fans/experts interpreting them as victories for either side. That play, and most of Oliver's brief evening, would go wholly unnoticed in a real game.

    D.K. Metcalf, wide receiver, Seahawks: Everyone's favorite Create-a-Player with 99 Size and Speed and 42 Agility caught just one short comeback route for eight yards. But he also had a rumbling screen called back by a penalty and burned cornerback De'Vante Bausby up the sideline on a Geno Smith overthrow. Feel free to continue thinking what you already think about Metcalf until further notice.

Preseason Quarterback Roundup

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Again, we're waiting a week before passing judgment on rookies Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray. Let's focus instead on a curated group of second-year starters, important backups and guys with oddball weekend statistics.

    Lamar Jackson (4-of-6 for 59 yards, one touchdown, and no rush attempts): Jackson hit Chris Moore up the deep sideline on a rollout pass and found Willie Snead IV for a short pick-play touchdown, but he otherwise wasn't particularly sharp with his downfield accuracy or timing. Don't let the lack of rushes fool you: The Ravens offense appears to be chock-full of rolling-pocket plays and read-option designs that could easily turn into Jackson runs the moment the games start to matter.

    Josh Rosen (13-of-20 for 191 yards and one INT): Rosen couldn't move the ball early in the game thanks to vanilla play calls and an offensive line that played like its coach was recently fired; it was as if he never left the Cardinals. Once Preston Williams began making tough catches and the Falcons dug deeper into their defensive depth chart, Rosen was able to demonstrate his combination of accuracy, athleticism and decisiveness. Rosen now needs to show he can play at a high level against non-third-stringers. It would help if he was occasionally surrounded by some non-third-stringers.

    Teddy Bridgewater (14-of-19 for 134 yards and one TD): Bridgewater led a pair of field-goal drives against his former team, one of them in starter-on-starter action, and then a pre-halftime touchdown drive highlighted by a 32-yard sideline toss to Cyril Grayson Jr. Bridgewater spent most of Friday evening moving the Saints down the field via dinks, dunks and checkdowns. That usually works pretty well for the Saints starter, too. 

    Jacoby Brissett (2-of-5 for 21 yards): Brissett was under siege from the Bills defense for a trio of series, producing just one first down with the first-team offense. No big deal, of course, except that the Colts and Andrew Luck are doing that thing again where his injury is totally minor, rehab is going great and he'll be back in a few days...oops, next, make that by the start of the season, or some season.  

    Nate Sudfeld (10-of-18 for 177 yards and one TD): Sudfeld fractured his non-throwing left wrist at the end of a solid preseason performance and is expected to miss six weeks. Cody Kessler played poorly and Clayton Thorson abysmally in relief, so the Eagles now have an existential backup quarterback crisis. That chugging sound you hear is the Sam Bradford Money Train roaring back to life.  

    Tanner Lee (0-of-3 with three sacks and one interception): Lee entered the game against the Ravens in the second half and was sacked twice, followed by a pick-six. In a later series, he had an incomplete pass that was nearly a sack and then nearly an interception when he just squirted the ball away, followed by a sack. In fairness to Lee, the Jaguars offense was a travesty all night. On the other hand, Lee threw 37 college interceptions and was a turnover machine during 2018 Senior Bowl practices, so he's far more likely to be the problem than the solution. 

Training Camp Spotlight: Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Throughout the preseason, Gridiron Digest will highlight a pair of teams per week with news, notes, observations and predictions. We continue this week with the team that lost the AFC Championship Game.


    Heading into camp

    You know about Patrick Mahomes' limitless potential. You have strong opinions about the Tyreek Hill situation and are well aware that he'll play this year. You know about Travis Kelce, the strong Chiefs offensive line and Andy Reid's wizardly game-planning. The Chiefs passing game is gonna light up the scoreboard.

    But what about everything else? The Chiefs have made considerable changes on defense and are making some adjustments to their running game. If the changes are enough to push them past the Patriots, it will push them into the Super Bowl and launch Mahomes' career into the stratosphere.


    Notes from camp

    • Andy Reid told Sirius XM Radio (h/t CBS Sports) last week that he plans "kind of a running-back-by-committee" deal with Damien Williams, Carlos Hyde and Darrel Williams. So much for the offseason buzz that Damien Williams would be the primary ball-carrier.

    Damien Williams has never had more than 73 touches in a regular season, Hyde averaged 3.3 yards per carry for the Jaguars and Browns last year, and Darrel Williams went undrafted before playing sparingly last season (13 carries for 44 yards). So Reid doesn't exactly have Brian Westbrook, Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter to juggle. The running back position could be an offensive weak link. And if you think having two guys named D. Williams in the backfield is annoying now, wait until you try to sort out the fantasy stats.

    • Even with newly acquired Morris Claiborne in the fold, depth at cornerback is a major concern. Bashaud Breeland has been practicing through a finger injury and other ailments. AAF standout Keith Reaser tore his Achilles and is lost for the year. Charvarius Ward, acquired in a 2018 trade with the Cowboys for Parker Ehinger, is penciled in to a major role, and the depth chart behind him is filled with even more obscure names. Hybrid safety-corner Tyrann Mathieu and slot corner Kendall Fuller are the only healthy sure things right now. 

    Claiborne is suspended for the start of the season, taxing the Chiefs depth further. The good news is that early season opponents like the Jaguars and Ravens are unlikely to test the limits of their secondary. The bad news is that the Chiefs face the Raiders in Week 2, and the Antonio Brown drama will (maybe?) be in the past by then.

    • The Chiefs defense got some great news at the start of camp when Chris Jones arrived in great shape after missing OTAs and minicamp while seeking a new contract. Jones and new arrivals Frank Clark and Alex Okafor are expected to spearhead a pass rush capable of taking pressure off that thin secondary, but Okafor has been held out of recent practices with a hip injury. The Chiefs are switching to a 4-3 defense under Steve Spagnuolo, who loves to mix and match defenders in different gaps and fronts.

    Speaking of which...


    Players to watch: Tanoh Kpassagnon and the defensive line

    Kpassagnon, a 2017 second-round pick out of Villanova, was a square peg in Bob Sutton's 3-4: too lean to play inside, too raw to be much of a factor on the outside. Kpassagnon has gotten positive camp reviews and picked up a sack Saturday night against the Bengals. He's exactly the sort of player Spagnuolo can slide all over the defensive formation to create mismatches.


    Bottom line

    Defense, defense, defense. The Chiefs need to turn 43-40 losses to the Patriots into 40-31 wins. Right now, they don't appear to have the secondary to make that happen, and it's not clear that the Jones-Clark-Okafor pass rush can match the 52 sacks provided by Jones, Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Co. last year.

    Then again, maybe Mahomes will just throw for 75 touchdowns and none of this will matter.

Training Camp Spotlight: New Orleans Saints

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Throughout the preseason, Gridiron Digest will highlight a pair of teams per week with news, notes, observations and predictions. Second this week, we catch up with the team that lost the NFC Championship Game.


    Heading into camp

    The team that thinks it was robbed of a Super Bowl opportunity by a blown call has a lot to prove this year. Do the the Saints have enough secondary weapons to support their Drew Brees-Alvin Kamara-Michael Thomas triangle offense? Have they drafted enough reinforcements along the offensive and defensive lines in the last two years? Will they be good enough to hold a three-point lead in the fourth quarter of a playoff game—or drive and score in overtime?

    Friday's 34-25 preseason loss to the Vikings provided few answers. Perhaps the updates from camp will be more illuminating.


    Notes from camp

    • Ted Ginn Jr. and Tre'Quan Smith appear to be the second and third wide receivers behind Thomas. The Saints could really use some fresh faces and options here. The team waived former Bears receiver Cameron Meredith within a few days early in camp. Former Dolphins and Titans starter Rishard Matthews was on the field in the fourth quarter Friday—hardly an encouraging sign for a veteran.

    The receiver with the most buzz in camp has been undrafted rookie Emmanuel Butler, a former high school tight end from Northern Arizona. "I can't believe we got that guy undrafted," guard Zach Strief told 105.3 radio in New Orleans. "We stole him." Unfortunately, that steal was held out of Friday's game with a minor injury. 

    • The battle to replace retired center Max Unger was over before it began: Rookie Erik McCoy started on Friday and has been playing with the first unit for much of camp. But does McCoy have the proper frame of mind to protect the Saints' most precious asset? "It's Drew Brees back there," McCoy told reporters (via 105.3 radio). "You'll give your life for the guy." Yep, he does. 

    • Marcus Davenport was in the starting lineup on Friday after missing much of last season with a toe injury and dealing with an undisclosed ailment for part of the offseason. Davenport has reportedly shown flashes throughout camp, per Todd Graffagnini and John DeShazier of Cox Sports Television. The Saints traded two first-round picks to move up and select Davenport in 2018; his development into a complementary pass-rusher to Cameron Jordan is critical to the team's success.


    Player to watch: Latavius Murray, running back

    Murray looked good as a rusher and receiver in his preseason debut. He's tasked with replacing Mark Ingram II in the Saints' running back rotation. Murray, a Pro Bowler and 1,000-yard rusher in 2015, has settled into a role as a reliable committee back. The Saints will need him to be a little more than reliable if he hopes to replace Ingram and take some pressure off Kamara. 


    Bottom line

    With so much cap space invested in Brees and Thomas, the Saints need fast return on investment from McCoy and Davenport and a little luck in the free-agent bargain bin to get over the hump and into the Super Bowl. They could also use a little more luck when it comes to penalties, of course. But now that they have put the whole league on pass interference notice, it's up to the Saints to prove that they're who they claim to be.

Gridiron Digest's Transaction Spin Zone

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    There's never a dull moment on the NFL transaction wire in mid-August! Here's a roundup of this week's news. 

    Vikings trade fifth-round pick to the Ravens for kicker Kaare Vedvik: Veteran kicker Dan Bailey has struggled in camp, though the fact that the Vikings are cycling through snappers and holders could be the root issue. The Vikings have a habit of both overpaying for kickers (they traded up to draft Daniel Carlson last year) and overreacting to their setbacks (they cut him after two games). A fifth-round pick is too much to squander because of a kicker panic.

    Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro retires; team signs kicker Taylor Bertolet: Catanzaro was having a rough camp, so the Jets kept tabs on Bertolet (who spent last year in camp with them) as a potential low-cost replacement. The Vikings can learn a thing or two about managing their kicker resources from the Jets. Think about that.

    Browns trade Duke Johnson Jr. to the Texans for a conditional third- or fourth-round pick: The Texans general manager who acquired Johnson picked up a fine player. The general manager who gave up that much for a player who has gathered dust on the trading block for months paid too much. The head coach who has never had a running back catch more than 38 passes in a season must prove he can deploy Johnson optimally. Bill O'Brien needs to sit down with himself and have a long talk to sort all of this out.

    Antonio Callaway suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy: Callaway has a long and varied history of legal problems. And unfortunately, long histories like his have a habit of getting longer.

    Dolphins sign Robert Nkemdiche, who was waived earlier in camp by the Cardinals: This is a fine rebuilding-year signing, a zero-risk chance to kick the tires on troubled talent. If the Patriots had made this move, they would have been hailed as geniuses poised to transform Nkemdiche into another Chandler Jones—but Brian Flores isn't in Foxborough anymore.

    Chiefs sign cornerback Morris Claiborne: Claiborne is suspended for the first four weeks of the season, but current Chiefs starting cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller are guys the Redskins considered expendable two years ago, so depth and experience are welcome. Claiborne, an eighth-year vet, recorded a career-high 57 tackles last year. Folks, when a cornerback records lots of tackles, that's rarely a positive. He is still an NFL-caliber starter, but he spent a lot of last year tackling the receivers he was supposed to cover.

    Bills trade edge-rusher Eli Harold to Eagles for offensive lineman Ryan Bates: The Eagles are deep on the offensive line, so Bates (an undrafted rookie) was unlikely to make the roster. The Bills are deep on the defensive line, so Harold (who recorded four sacks for the Lions last year) was unlikely to make the roster. Neither player is a sure thing to make his new roster. Both teams should have just waited to see if someone from the Texans would call offering a conditional middle-round pick.

    Bills sign cornerback Captain Munnerlyn: The Bills signed a former Panthers player? How unusual! 

    Lions sign quarterback Josh Johnson: Business is booming for apolitical generic-brand Colin Kaepernick knockoffs.   

    Cowboys release Rico Gathers: Gathers was a Baylor basketball forward who had never played high school or college football when the Cowboys drafted him in the sixth round in 2016, hoping to transform him into an Antonio Gates who could replace Jason Witten. They were so committed to their galaxy-brain developmental project that they stuck with Gathers through three full seasons, a marijuana arrest, a 2017 season lost to injury and no return on their investment except three receptions last year. Now Gathers has cleared waivers, and the Cowboys have replaced the retired Witten with the un-retired Witten. It's the end of an epoch, and we have come full circle. 

    Browns sign tight end Rico Gathers: Or have we?

Gridiron Digest Sportsbook: Team and Player Futures Bets

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Be patient, wagerers: Games worth betting on will be here soon enough. In the meantime, we've scoured the big board for some team and player futures worth your attention. All over-unders and moneylines from Caesar's Palace Sportsbook, as of August 11.


    Bears over 26.5 takeaways (-105)

    The Bears defense intercepted 27 passes last year, the highest total since the 2013 Legion of Boom Seahawks intercepted 28 passes. They're not going to sustain that takeaway level, but that's not necessary to clear this manageable over. The Bears look poised to record another 50 sacks or so, which will cause plenty of errant passes, fumbles and turnover mayhem.

    One note of caution: The Bears don't face many weak quarterbacks this year. Opponents like Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers won't provide easy interception opportunities. But maybe the Giants can pick up the slack in Week 12.


    Lamar Jackson over 826.5 rushing yards (-110)

    Only six quarterbacks in NFL history have rushed for more than 800 yards in a season: Michael Vick in 2006 (1,039), Bobby Douglass in 1973 (968), Randall Cunningham in 1990 (942), Vick in 2004 (902), Russell Wilson in 2014 (849) and Robert Griffin III in 2012 (815).

    It's not exactly a safe bet that Jackson will average the 51.7 rushing yards per game necessary to clear the over, but it sure is a fun one. With the Ravens reconstructing their offense to give Jackson more rushing opportunities, he could go over if things go right (he has a dual-threat season like the young Griffin), if things go wrong (he runs around in circles like Cunningham) or somewhere in between (he develops as a passer but gets little support, like Wilson).


    Christian McCaffrey over 1,849.5 combined rushing and receiving yards (-110)

    The "scrimmage yards" numbers for running backs are set very high this year, and the house never offers appealing moneylines on esoteric futures bets. Still, scrimmage yardage bets are fun because they give you something to root for every time the quarterback dumps off to a checkdown pass.

    Saquan Barkley at 1,899.5 (-110) will break your heart when he rushes 15 times for 50 yards and catches eight passes for 68 yards each week in a dysfunctional offense and misses paying off by 12 yards. Alvin Kamara looks a little ambitious at 1699.5 (-110), since Kamara has capped out in the 1,500s two straight years and the Saints are still expected to use a committee backfield.

    Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner plans to keep McCaffrey's workload steady, and a healthier Cam Newton should increase McCaffrey's efficiency as a rusher and receiver. McCaffrey gained 1,965 scrimmage yards last year, so this over even provides a bit of wiggle room.


    T.J. Hockenson under 45.5 receptions (-110)

    Oh, what a wondrous world we live in, where satellites allow you to lounge on your sofa, tap a few buttons on your phone and (in certain states) legally wager on the number of footballs a Lions rookie tight end will catch in a season!

    This wager probably doesn't appeal to you; the Gridiron Digest readership isn't full of folks actively rooting for a rookie tight end from Iowa to fail. But this wager does illustrate just how much science goes into establishing the over-under for even a minor bet.

    Only 11 rookie tight ends since the merger have caught 46 or more passes—most recently Evan Ingram (64) in 2017. Lower the number to 42, however, and 23 rookie tight ends have cleared the bar, including George Kittle (43) in 2017, Jordan Reed (45) in 2013 and Rob Gronkowski (42) in 2010.

    So even if you think Hockenson is a Kittle, Reed or Gronk, the under is the smart play. But the number is set at just the right place to balance out the (very little) money the house takes in on this play.


    Jalen Ramsey: Under 2.5 interceptions (+140)

    Take this one to the bank. No quarterback is gonna challenge Ramsey this year. He'll make the Pro Bowl with one interception.

    For the sake of reference, after Darrelle Revis' first All-Pro season in 2009, he only intercepted more than two passes once in the next five years. Ramsey will get the Revis treatment this year.

    Hold on a sec, my wife is calling me. What's that dear? You say someone named J.R. slid into your DMs saying "Take the over"? Eh, just block him.


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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Our bickering pundits downed a dozen cups of coffee, consulted their basement warehouses full of binders and made their children walk home from band practice in a thunderstorm so they could meet up for this week's edition of Point-Counterpoint.


    An Adam Gase profile from The Athletic's Dan Pompei tells how the new Jets coach left the delivery room moments after the birth of a child so he could be on time for a meeting with Peyton Manning.

    Point: If this coaching thing doesn't work out, Gase can fall back on his second career as the husband in a Friday night Lifetime Movies channel original.

    Counterpoint: You see, kids, if you sacrifice everything, even the most fundamental and enriching human expressions of familial love, it will all be worth it when you someday become a head coach good enough to barely get a team to the playoffs.


    Jalen Ramsey says on the Bussin' with the Boys podcast that he used to message the girlfriends of opposing receivers in college in an effort to throw them off their game.

    Point: Adam Gase finds nothing overzealous or creepy about this.

    Counterpoint: It's a good thing none of those girlfriends responded to Ramsey's unwanted and potentially intimidating advances by offering him a free tattoo or something, or else he would have gotten into big trouble with the NCAA.


    Per Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, Ron Rivera admits that he iced Bears kicker Elliott Fry before halftime of Thursday's preseason game to help the Bears with their kicker evaluations.

    Point: When will Rivera admit that he hired Norv Turner to help make opponents' game-planning easier?

    Counterpoint: Adam Gase doesn't understand this human fascination with altruistically helping fellow humans. 

The Antonio Brown Saga: Special Extended Edition Point-Counterpoint

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    Sarah Warnock/Associated Press

    Antonio Brown's grievance against the NFL over helmet regulations, his reported threats to retire, his foot ailments and other rumors and allegations simply cannot fit into one segment of Point-Counterpoint. So we paid the debate team some overtime and brought it back for an expanded segment.

    Point: Antonio Brown has gone cuckoo bananapants wackadoodle and should be blasted into orbit where he can flutter around with the other moonbats.

    Counterpoint: Whoa, that's really insensitive. Brown is a misunderstood victim of the attention economy and our runaway fame culture. He deserves our sympathy, if not praise for having the courage to use his platform for such bold, unfettered self-expression.

    Point: Spare me that politically correct nonsense, boomer. Brown's just a spoiled rock star trashing his hotel room because the roadies forgot to remove all the green M&Ms from the bowl. The Raiders should cut him, and the NFL should ban him. While they're at it, they should ban Odell Beckham Jr. too. That way, the next drama-junkie wide receiver will think twice before going Bob Ross on an old helmet or trying to turn his toes into Dippin' Dots.

    Counterpoint: It's just that type of abuse of power that causes misunderstandings like this. All Brown wants is a personal exemption from an important safety policy agreed upon by his employer and his labor union so he can continue to earn fame and fortune in a dangerous profession under his own terms. And who really knows what's best for Brown's long-term health and safety: the guy who didn't follow the directions in a cryogenic chamber or a bunch of scientists and engineers testing helmets in laboratory conditions?

    Point: Bah, Brown just wants to skip training camp anyway. Things were better in the old days, when players were honored to have the right to participate in two-a-days and didn't worry about Millennial nonsense like free agency and proper hydration.

    Counterpoint: Training camp should be shortened to three hours, and preseason games should be replaced with a Madden tournament. Asking players to practice in the heat, attend meetings or obey their coaches is equivalent to press-ganging them into rowing ancient galleys.

    Point: Bottom line, coaches need to do something about this kind of aberrant behavior.

    Counterpoint: By "coaches," do you mean the paragons of rational thought and behavior who think 20-hour workdays are productive, engage in endless back-room power struggles and are proud of leaving their wives and newborns on the delivery table to rush off to routine meetings? Does sacrificing everything for a career really make more sense than potentially sacrificing a career for the things Brown thinks are important?

    Point: It does when what someone like Brown thinks is "important" isn't family, society or even his own earning potential, but old hunks of equipment and the petty squabbles with teammates that ended his Steelers career. The common good matters!

    Counterpoint: The individual matters!

    Point: You're a commie!

    Counterpoint: No, you're a commie!

    (Several minutes of incoherent simultaneous pointing and shouting)

    Welp, it seems the Antonio Brown situation, like every other situation, is just another excuse for us to descend into ritualized tribal name-calling. Tune in next week when we give Point and Counterpoint medieval weapons, read them the president's latest remarks about Colin Kaepernick and bolt and lock the door.