Gridiron Digest: Lamar Jackson Silences the Skeptics

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 9, 2019

Gridiron Digest: Lamar Jackson Silences the Skeptics

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    It's important to avoid jumping to conclusions in Week 1. After all, it's only one game, early results can be misleading and...oh the heck with that buzzkill attitude. Football is back, baby! And this week's Gridiron Digest recaps all of Sunday's action, including:

    • A reality check for Baker Mayfield and the Browns

    • Your basic Patriots Sunday Night jolly-stomping

    • The triumphant Philadelphia return of DeSean Jackson

    • An injury-plagued afternoon for the Jaguars and Chiefs

    • Yet another Antonio Brown-dominated edition of Point-Counterpoint

    • An interview with Drew Brees about the Saints—and sandwiches

    ...and much, much more!

    We kick things off with Lamar Jackson's five-touchdown performance against the Dolphins. Was it an illusion or a sign that Jackson has arrived as the NFL's next great dual-threat quarterback?

    C'mon, it's Week 1: Which conclusion do you think we're jumping to? 

         

After Proving Himself in the Pocket, Nothing Can Stop Lamar Jackson

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Before we get carried away raving about Lamar Jackson's performance Sunday, let's get the disclaimers out of the way. 

    Disclaimer 1: Yes, it's Week 1, also known as "Jump to Conclusions Week." Week 1 results often dissolve into summer daydreams by the time the leaves turn brown. Based on Week 1 overreactions of the past, Ryan Fitzpatrick is Brett Favre and the Patriots have collapsed many times over the past two decades.

    Disclaimer 2: Yes, the Ravens faced the Dolphins, a Toronto Argonauts scout team wearing pastel uniforms. The Dolphins may not be actively trying to lose games on the field in their quest for future top draft picks, but they sure are doing so in the front office.

    So, yes, what Jackson did Sunday came against a bad team in misleading circumstances.

    But wow, what he did was amazing.

    Jackson completed 17 of 20 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-10 vivisection of the Dolphins in Miami. His passer rating was 158.3. And he did all of the work in just three quarters. The Ravens called Robert Griffin III out of the bullpen to mop up the rout. (Griffin added 55 yards and a touchdown of his own.)

    Jackson did much of his damage as a conventional pocket passer, reading the defense and delivering accurate throws, two things his detractors didn't think he was capable of doing.

    "Not bad for a running back," Jackson quipped after the game, acknowledging his doubters.

    Jackson also did some things that were uniquely Jackson in an offense that was full of spread wrinkles and funky pistol diamond formations, which threatened the poor Dolphins defense with the possibility of designed quarterback runs that rarely occurred. 

    His 47-yard first-quarter touchdown pass to Marquise "Hollywood" Brown illustrated the potential of this new Ravens offense. Jackson faked a handoff, took two quick steps to the left and delivered a dart to a streaking Brown on a quick slant. Plays like that will stretch even the NFL's best defenses to their breaking point.

    The Jackson we saw Sunday is the one I saw during my offseason visits to Ravens camp: more in command of the offense than he was as a rookie, more willing to check down, more confident and more precise. But Jackson faced the tough Ravens secondary each day in practice, and he was without Brown, who missed much of the offseason while recovering from foot surgery. Everything looked too hard in Ravens practices. On Sunday, everything almost looked too easy.

    Sunday's offensive explosion was at least partially a mirage. But it was also some valuable on-the-job training and a chance for Jackson to prove to fans, teammates and himself what he's capable of. There may not be many more five-passing-touchdown afternoons for Jackson this year, but he only needs to produce some two- or three-passing-touchdown afternoons to get the Ravens to the playoffs and establish himself as one of the league's brightest young superstars.

    After all, Jackson didn't have to do much with his legs Sunday. Just imagine what will happen when he unleashes that component of his game.

Jumping to Conclusions: An Annual Week 1 Tradition

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Here at Gridiron Digest, we don't really jump to conclusions after Week 1 like all the other Monday wrap-up features. We build working hypotheses based on the best available data, which currently consists of only 60-70 minutes of regular-season game action. But that's not exactly catchy, so hey, let's just jump to some conclusions like all the other Monday wrap-up features!

          

    The Browns stink. Baker Mayfield stinks. Everything stinks in Cleveland.

    The Browns were sloppy on both sides of the ball in their 43-13 loss to the Titans and completely fell apart at the end of the game, almost as if they spent the entire offseason crowing as though they were the defending champions and weren't mentally ready to handle a little adversity (perish the thought). Mayfield got worse as the game progressed, finishing with three interceptions and a sack in the end zone for a safety.

    The Browns clearly aren't as good as their advance hype made them out to be, but no team in history ever was as good as the Browns advance hype made them out to be. Their offensive line is weak, forcing Mayfield to attempt too many highlight-reel throws on the run, and the blowout loss was compounded by the fact that the Titans can be counted on for one or two sneaky upsets per season (balanced out by losses to teams like the Dolphins). 

    Some early growing pains may ultimately be the best thing for the Browns, whether they believe they need them or (especially) if they don't.

             

    Kyler Murray already has the Rookie of the Year award sewn up.

    Murray threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns, led the Cardinals back from a 24-9 deficit, threw a 45-yard pass in overtime to Larry Fitzgerald to set up a field goal, and did everything that could possibly be expected of a rookie quarterback in a game that ended up a 27-27 tie with the Lions. But Murray was just 6-of-16 for 41 yards and an interception at halftime, having spent much of the first half scrambling for his life. Fortunately for the Cardinals, the Lions then went into one of their infamous team-wide fugue states: blocked punts, holding and facemask penalties, even an accidental timeout to wipe out a third-down conversion while trying to munch the clock (that's a new one). 

    To their credit, Murray and the Cardinals stayed in the game and capitalized on the usual Lions sampler platter of unforced errors. And some of Murray's fourth-quarter strikes were encouraging signs of what may be to come. But there's still a lot of work to be done before Murray is ready to do more than not lose against horrendously coached opponents. 

         

    Dak Prescott is about to sign a $250 zillion contract.

    NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported after the Cowboys' 35-17 romp over the Giants that a Prescott contract extension is "imminent." Jerry Jones just needed to wait for Carson Wentz and Jared Goff to reset the quarterback market, then sign La'El Collins, Ezekiel Elliott, Tank Lawrence and Jaylon Smith to extensions before taking care of his quarterback.

    Prescott's 405-yard, four-touchdown performance Sunday demonstrated again that he deserves a contract in the Wentz-Goff class, but keep in mind that the Giants are only a notch or two better than the Dolphins. There are much tougher tests ahead, and a Prescott extension, on the heels of so much Cowboys spending, will exhaust even Jerrah's considerable resources.

          

    The Dolphins are the worst team in NFL history.

    Probably not. But someone should tell them that they don't have to finish behind the 1922 Columbus Panhandles to secure the first overall pick in the draft.

Game Spotlight: Patriots 33, Steelers 3

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    What happened

    Like most Patriots-Steelers games, it looked like a great matchup on paper but quickly devolved into just another Patriots pounding, except this time the Patriots looked even more like themselves and the Steelers looked even more like the Jets.

    Tom Brady distributed deep passes to everyone from Josh Gordon to Phillip Dorsett (voted the Most Likely Guy to Not Get Mentioned When Rattling Off Brady's Weapons for a third consecutive year) to undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers. The Patriots defense held the Steelers to long strings of three-and-outs in the first half. Even the Patriots special teams got into the act, with someone named Gunner Olszewski from something called Bemidji State (it's in Minnesota) looking like a young Wes Welker on several medium-length punt returns. 

    As for the Steelers, they looked like a team that lost two of its best offensive weapons but retained the same coaching staff that lost control of everything last year and schemes that opponents had figured out years ago.

          

    What it means

    If you were eagerly anticipating Brady's steep decline year and thought Rob Gronkowski's retirement would push the 42-year-old quarterback past the tipping point: Sorry, this doesn't look like it will be that year.

    If you are a firm believer in "addition by subtraction" and thought that the Steelers would improve through the sheer power of friendship and harmony with Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell gone: Sorry, that's probably not going to happen either.

    When the Steelers won last year's meeting with the Patriots, it looked like they were taking a step forward while Brady and the Patriots were starting to fade. Now, the Steelers offense looks ordinary, and Keith Butler's defense is as easy for a quality opponent to pick apart as ever.

    Oh, and Brown will soon join the Patriots. But maybe his arrival will force them to release Olszewski and that will be what finally destroys Patriots team chemistry. Or something. 

               

    What's next

    The Steelers host the Seahawks. The Patriots visit the Dolphins. The betting line for that one is expected to open at Patriots -14.5 but could reach triple digits by kickoff. 

Faces in New Places

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Here's your typical Week 1 "let's check in on guys who were traded or signed with new teams in the offseason" rundown segment, but with that Gridiron Digest twist.

         

    DeSean Jackson, Eagles

    The Eagles trailed the lowly Redskins 17-0 before Jackson awoke the team from its slumber with a 51-yard touchdown bomb. Jackson later added a 53-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a lead they would never relinquish in a 32-27 victory, finishing with an 8-154-2 stat line. 

    Jackson gives Carson Wentz the deep threat he lacked last season, and Eagles fans have fallen in love all over again with the receiver who was released when Chip Kelly went on a "change the culture" spree back in 2014. Say, where is old Chip these days? Oh yeah, UCLA. Oh dear.

         

    Odell Beckham Jr., Browns

    Beckham caught seven passes on 11 targets for 71 yards, was the targeted receiver on Kevin Byard's interception and one other near-interception, pushed off for offensive pass interference on what looked like a big catch before halftime, tried to juke the whole Titans defense instead of running out of bounds to set up a Hail Mary with a few seconds left before halftime and wore a $350,000 wristwatch onto the field, which measures just 0.05 on the Receiver Weirdness Scale now that Antonio Brown has reset the parameters by several orders of magnitude.

    Most of Beckham's catches were screens and quick comeback routes. The fact that Baker Mayfield appeared to morph into Eli Manning in Beckham's debut is probably just a coincidence, but you never know.

         

    Le'Veon Bell, Jets

    Bell rushed 17 times for 60 yards and caught six passes for 32 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown pass. The numbers aren't great, but the Bills defense dominated the line of scrimmage, Bell lined up at both running back and receiver (he was in the slot for his touchdown catch), and nothing else the Jets offense did really worked. Enjoy the Adam Gase era, folks.

         

    C.J. Mosley, Jets

    The Jets linebacker scooped up a deflected Josh Allen pass for a pick-six and then pounced on a fumbled snap for a fourth-down stop. That's right, both Jets touchdowns and nearly all of their highlights came from players the head coach thought the team paid too much for, prompting him to initiate a front-office coup to replace Mike Maccagnan with Joe Douglas. Yes, that's an upgrade, but it's dangerous to give mediocre coaches too much power. Speaking of which...

         

    Jadeveon Clowney, Seahawks

    Clowney chased Andy Dalton out of the pocket for a sack, batted down a pass and consistently won one-on-one matchups against Bengals linemen, helping the Seahawks grind out a 21-20 win. But hey, it wasn't a Khalil Mack-level debut, and maybe Bill O'Brien's Texans will be better off Monday night with Barkevious Mingo and whoever that other dude was they got in the Clowney trade. Right? Right? 

         

    Cameron Wake, Titans

    The ageless pass-rusher recorded 2.5 sacks and a safety against Baker Mayfield and the Browns. But hey, maybe the Dolphins are better off losing by seven touchdowns so they can get better draft picks and someday be great like…the Browns? Right? Right? Anyone?

Running Back Drama Digest

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The offseason news was dominated by running back holdouts, mysterious running back injuries and other running back-related questions which, as the following rundown reveals, had much more impact on your fantasy league than they will have on the actual league:

           

    Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys

    Elliott started Dallas' game against the Giants, despite holding out throughout the offseason and only reporting to camp and signing his contract extension on Wednesday. Yes, that just happened on Wednesday; thanks to Antonio Brown, it felt like we lived six NFL lifetimes from Thursday through Saturday.

    Anyway, Elliott split carries with rookie Tony Pollard: 13 carries for 51 yards for Zeke; 13 for 24 yards for Pollard, who took most of the clock-killing carries late in a blowout. Elliott will be there when the Cowboys need him. They didn't on Sunday. Nobody needs anybody to beat the Giants.

         

    Todd Gurley, Rams

    Gurley looked healthy and explosive, rushing 14 times for 97 yards. Longtime backup Malcolm Brown rushed 11 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns, including some bulldozer-like runs. Yes, this tandem is going to cause total fantasy football chaos. And one look at Brown literally walking into the end zone for his second touchdown on Sunday should tell you all you need to know about the relative interchangeability of running backs in the Rams system. 

            

    Melvin Gordon, Chargers

    Gordon is still holding out, which is about as effective a negotiating tactic with the Chargers organization as holding your breath until you turn blue. Austin Ekeler gained 154 scrimmage yards on 18 touches and scored three touchdowns, including the overtime game-winner, in a wild and woolly 30-24 Chargers victory over the Colts. Backup Justin Jackson rushed six times for 57 yards, lest anyone thought depth might be an issue. At this point, poor Gordon will be lucky if the Chargers even return his calls.

              

    Adrian Peterson, Redskins

    Peterson had a quiet offseason and then suddenly found himself on the inactive list as a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. Peterson has fallen behind Derrius Guice on the depth chart, with Chris Thompson as the third-down back, and the third running back on a depth chart has to be useful on special teams. The question here is why Washington broke camp with Peterson on the active roster when there was such a high likelihood he would end up in this predicament. The answer almost certainly involves a team owner and general manager who have absolutely no concept of what they are doing.

Drew Brees Talks About Saints and Sandwich Sabermetrics

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Drew Brees is not just a Super Bowl champion, future Hall of Famer and the greatest player never to win an MVP award. He's also the owner of nine Jimmy John's sandwich shops in the New Orleans area. Brees stopped by Gridiron Digest while making the rounds for the "Home in the Zone" promotion—Jimmy John's wants to buy you a home so it can deliver you a sandwich—but of course he took the time to talk about the Saints as well. And Brees' sandwich opinions, as well as his calculations, are pretty interesting, too.

        

    Gridiron Digest: What makes Michael Thomas so hard to cover?

    Brees: He's super competitive. That's his greatest trait. Every rep for him is like a Super Bowl rep, even in practice. He has that mentality that he will not be denied. If the ball's in the air, it belongs to him. Even beyond the practice field, everything he does has a purpose: to make him the best receiver he can be. He's also extremely strong and physical; any cornerback would tell you that if you are coming up to press Michael Thomas, you're in for a ride. The best way to describe it is just violent.

    Digest: Thomas and Alvin Kamara were the focal point of your passing game last year. Is it important for you to develop a third option, or are you comfortable just spreading other passes among multiple targets? 

    Brees: I'm completely comfortable with that. I feel like that's the way it's always been. At the end of the day, if you get open, you get the ball. But everyone has a role, and week to week you never know whose opportunity it's gonna be. It depends on how teams defend us, and we've got a lot of ways to beat you.

    Digest: Can Latavius Murray step into a Mark Ingram-type role?

    Brees: We'll see how it plays out, but I see Murray playing a big role, similar to what Ingram did. We want to use Alvin as much as possible, but man, Latavius brings a physical element. He's a veteran player, a smart player, and I think he's great for this offense. And we mix and match our personnel groups; we're putting backs on the field a lot. It's gonna be Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook and Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn and others. That's how we keep a defense off balance.

    Digest: Is there an adjustment going from a veteran Pro Bowl center in Max Unger to rookie Erik McCoy?

    Brees: There is. Max was an incredible teammate. He was a great leader. He instilled a heightened sense of urgency for the offensive line. When we broke the huddle, Max would be the first guy up to the ball, he'd be in his stance before everybody else. I think that motivated everybody to keep up. The center has to be that guy. So when you start over with a young guy, it's a matter of time and teaching, getting reps together and starting to think alike. We're working towards that.

    Digest: If you could get a free sandwich delivered every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

    Brees: Without question, the No. 9 Jimmy John's Italian Night Club with hot peppers. That's been my go-to since 1997.

    Digest: Really? How many of them have you eaten?

    Brees: How many have I eaten in 22 years? Well, we got them three times a week at the dorm in college. So call that 150 per year for four years: 600 in college alone. Then I had a dry spell because I went to San Diego for five years, but I would eat them three or four times every time I went back to Purdue, so that's an additional 20. Then five years in New Orleans, going back and getting it occasionally, so that's another 20. Now I get it at least once per week, for eight years: eight times 50 is 400. So we're looking at about 1,040 Jimmy John's No. 9 sandwiches. Do you like that quick math?

    Digest: Wow, sandwich analytics!

    Brees: Sabermetrics.

    Digest: What about when the whole family is hungry for home delivery?

    Brees: I can give you the entire family order. I have my two oldest boys on the Italian Night Club now. My middle son has always liked them. My oldest went through a stretch where he just wanted the French bread with mayonnaise and bacon. But I managed to convert him, and it's only a matter of time before the whole family is converted.

    Digest: Can you also tell us about your family's work with The Ellen Fund?

    Brees: My wife and I went to Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania this offseason. We were able to do a lot of humanitarian work while we were there. In Rwanda, we were able to track the endangered mountain gorillas—there are only 800 to 900 of them left in the world, but conservation efforts to increase the population are ongoing. Ellen DeGeneres committed to building a campus there to serve as a center for conservation efforts through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. It really spoke to us, and it was an incredible experience, and Ellen is a great friend and New Orleans native. So an artist friend of mine, Marcus Rivero, painted a pair of cleats that I wore in two preseason games and I am raffling off to raise money for The Ellen Fund.

Game Spotlight: Chiefs 40, Jaguars 26

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    What happened

    The big storylines heading into this game were Nick Foles' debut as the Jaguars quarterback and an anticipated receiver-cornerback showdown between Tyreek Hill and Jalen Ramsey. Unfortunately, Foles left the game after an early touchdown pass with what is reported to be a fractured left clavicle, and Hill also left the game with a significant collarbone injury.

    With Hill gone, Patrick Mahomes turned to secondary weapons like Sammy Watkins (nine catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns) and newcomer LeSean McCoy (10 carries for 81 yards) with minimal drop-off in explosiveness. The vaunted Jaguars defense, on the other hand, collapsed into a heap of coverage errors and sloppy penalties, plus an ejection for linebacker Myles Jack, who went into full WWE heel mode and refused to leave the game until he was escorted off the field by coaches.

               

    What it means

    The Chiefs can overcome the loss of Hill, having drafted speedy rookie receiver Mecole Hardman just in case Hill turned out to be unavailable for legal reasons. Watkins, Hardman, Shady, Travis Kelce and Damien Williams (plus an outstanding offensive line) will still give Mahomes one of the best arsenals in the NFL. But with Hill expected to miss "a few weeks" and the Patriots quietly making an under-the-radar addition this weekend, the balance of offensive power has shifted back to the Foxborough Death Star.

    Rookie Gardner Minshew performed well in relief of Foles, who is scheduled for surgery Monday. Minshew completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, some of it against against a soft second-half defense but much of it while the Jaguars were still in the game. 

    The Jaguars could win some games with Minshew, but not if their defense keeps jumping offsides, getting flagged for taunting, letting receivers run free in the secondary and demonstrating a lack of discipline that must have had Tom Coughlin popping antacids like they were Skittles.

             

    What's next

    The Chiefs travel to the smoldering crater where the Raiders used to be next week. The Jaguars will sink into irrelevance and also visit the Texans.

Awards Digest

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    Darryl Webb/Associated Press

    Offensive Line of the Week

    Dalvin Cook and other Vikings rushers carried 38 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the 28-12 Vikings victory over the Falcons. Kirk Cousins attempted just 10 passes, which may be his ideal workload. Mike Zimmer must have thought he was in heaven as the Vikings line of Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, rookie Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline and Brian O'Neill looked like they were blocking downhill with the wind at their backs against defenders on roller skates on every running play. Is the Vikings line this good, or is the Falcons run defense really, really soft? It's probably a little of both.

         

    Defender of the Week

    Devon Kennard chased Kyler Murray down for three sacks in the first half of the 27-27 Cardinals-Lions tie. It must have felt like a wasted effort when the Lions couldn't secure a win. That's a familiar feeling for Lions players.  

         

    Special Teamer of the Week

    Eric Wilson set the tone for the Vikings' rout of the Falcons on the fourth play of the game with a blocked punt and recovery to set up the first Vikings touchdown.

         

    Kicking Disaster of the Week

    A new feature here at Gridiron Digest will celebrate each week's epic kicker failures (there will probably be a bunch of them this year).

    We start things off with Jets kicker Kaare Vedvik, who doinked an extra point off the upright and missed a 45-yarder in a 17-16 loss to the Bills. The Jets signed Vedvik last week after the Vikings cut him after trading a fifth-round pick to the Ravens for him because Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro retired and replacement Taylor Bertolet was a disaster in the preseason. That may have just been the saddest sentence in Digest history. 

    Adam Vinatieri also missed 46- and 29-yarders in the Colts' overtime loss to the Chargers. That's all, folks. There is nothing left in this world that we can rely upon.

         

    Mystery Touch of the Week

    Anthony Levine ran a fake punt for 60 yards with the Ravens leading 35-3 against the Dolphins. That's like running trick plays against your little brother in Madden, but your little brother is a toddler with the game controller in his mouth. 

         

    Meaningless Fantasy Touchdown of the Week

    Julio Jones wants to earn his new $66 million nearly guaranteed contract by winning your fantasy league! Jones hauled in a two-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to cut the Falcons' deficit to 28-12. Jones was then stopped just short of the goal line on the two-point conversion attempt, because Falcons football remains an endless ocean of disappointment and despair. 

         

    Best Supporting Actor in a Highlight

    Another new feature for Gridiron Digest where we celebrate the "other guys" in Sunday's most thrilling highlights. This week's award goes to Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson, who missed a leaping interception by his fingertips, allowing a John Ross touchdown bomb instead. Better luck next time, Tedric. Oh, and Earl Thomas would have had the pick.  

Digest Sportsbook

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Lines on the move: The Rams opened the week as three-point favorites on the road against the Panthers, but late Panthers action moved the line into the 1.5 range before kickoff. So while the Rams' 30-27 victory was a win against the spread for most bettors, it was a push for some early birds. The matchup came very close to a dreaded "middle" situation in which the game is both a win and a loss, depending on when the action came in. 

    (Not) feeling the heat: This was a bad week for taking the home teams in hot-weather games. The Dolphins got pummeled by 49 points by the Ravens (kickoff temperature: 91 degrees). Gridiron Digest wagered both the Panthers (87 degrees) and Buccaneers (93 degrees), hoping to catch the cross-country-traveling Rams (whose starters barely played in the preseason) and 49ers flat on a steamy afternoon. Neither covered, which is a reminder that: A) the spread takes travel and game temperature into account, and B) the Buccaneers are terrible and why on earth would anyone bet on them? 

    Backdoor cover lovers: Sunday was a roller coaster ride for folks who took the Redskins in the +10.5 range against the Eagles. The Skins mounted a 17-point lead, and the cover still looked safe as the Eagles came back. But the Eagles took a 32-20 lead late in the fourth quarter, and their defense appeared to be in complete control of the game. A touchdown catch in the final seconds by Washington's Trey Quinn preserved the cover. Hooray for prevent defense!

    Overwatch: The Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill and knocked Nick Foles out of the game in the first quarter, yet Chiefs-Jaguars still cleared the over by at least two touchdowns. Bettors concerned about future Chiefs overs need only look at Jags backup QB Gardner Minshew's passing numbers (22-of-25 for 275 yards and two TD) to reassure themselves that many more tasty shootouts are on their way. 

    Undertale: The over/under for Bengals-Seahawks was 44.5 at most books. The Seahawks took a 21-17 lead at the very start of the fourth quarter. The Bengals drove 13 plays and took up nearly eight minutes to settle for a field goal and cut their deficit to 21-20 (and put the over within a touchdown's reach). The Seahawks and Bengals then spent the rest of the fourth quarter exchanging punts, with neither team even reaching the other's territory, let alone scoring. This is nightmare fuel for folks betting the over, but you weirdos who actually bet unders love this stuff. 

    Monday Night Action — Denver Broncos -2.5 at Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are 85-171 straight-up since 2003 when the franchise is being torn apart by general turmoil and dysfunction. Yes, that's simply their overall record since 2003. Utter chaos is the default state of affairs in Oakland, which is why the Broncos were the safe play whether you caught them at +3 where the line opened or now at -2.5 after the Antonio Brown saga. Denver's defense will be more than enough to clear a low spread, no matter how dreary its offense turns out to be.

    Monday Night Action — Houston Texans +6.5 at New Orleans Saints: The Texans are 13-17-1 as road dogs in the Bill O'Brien era, with an average margin of defeat of 6.5 points. They are also 8-12 in nonconference games under O'Brien, and they're the most dysfunctional non-Raiders team in the NFL. This spread feels a little ambitious for the opener, but Digest is leaning toward the Saints.

Point-Counterpoint

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Antonio Brown complains about being fined by the Raiders on Instagram…

    Point: Off with his head!

    Counterpoint: Such courageous defiance in the face of suffocating NFL oppression!

    …guys, let me finish...then reportedly calls general manager Mike Mayock a "cracker" in the ensuing confrontation...

    Point: A forbidden racial slur! Gasp! I am mortally wounded!

    Counterpoint: He meant it in a playful way, like George Jefferson teasing that white neighbor who was married to Zoe Kravitz's grandma.

    ...tearfully apologizes for his actions...

    Point: Every player should be forced to tearfully apologize for making so much money to play a kid's game.

    Counterpoint: Such sincerity. I'm penciling him in as my Walter Payton Man of the Year candidate.

    …then posts an Instagram video that features audio of a private conversation with Jon Gruden...

    Point: I gotta admit, it was better than the trailer for the Joker movie, though similar.

    Counterpoint: Sorry, I had to drive my kids to marching band. He did what now?

    …and gets cut by the Raiders...

    Point: Good, he disgusts me. He should be banned from the NFL for a million years. 

    Counterpoint: Antonio Brown is clearly mentally ill, according to me, an experienced Instagram psychologist.

    ...and then gets signed for $9 million guaranteed by the Patriots in what may well have been a carefully engineered scheme to get out of his Raiders contract.

    Point: ...

    Counterpoint: ...

    Point: I love him! Go Patriots!

    Counterpoint: Gosh, I'd rather take my chances with the impulsive guy who pops off now and then than with a Machiavellian schemer who is willing to sacrifice $21 million and hire a team of social media experts to help him sabotage his own reputation to get what he wants. But maybe Bill Belichick just recognizes a kindred spirit.

               

    Colts confirm report that Jim Irsay turned down a $3.2 billion offer to sell the team.

    Point: The anonymous buyer later issued the following statement: "Crazy Jim Irsay turned down a chance to turn the Failing Indianapolis Colts into winners. Sad! Guess I will have to buy Greenland instead!"

    Counterpoint: Irsay went on to add that Bob Weir could have the whole franchise down to the cleat cleaners for three autographed guitars and the original lyric sheet to "Sugar Magnolia."

          

    Eagles offensive line poses naked for ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue"

    Point: Finally, a photoshoot that allows men to feel comfortable about their bellies. If there's one thing we need as a society, it's more positive body messages for men. Let all those dad bods hang out, fellas! Oh wait, Meghan Trainor is performing a kickoff concert? Whose dumb idea is this? [Changes channel]

    Counterpoint: Nick Foles was also supposed to appear in the shoot before leaving for Jacksonville, but the pixelization machine exploded. 

              

    Colin Kaepernick posts a video of himself throwing passes to Odell Beckham Jr. with an intro that reads: "Denied work for 917 days." 

    Point: Yeah, but did you see the video of Brandon Weeden throwing passes to his grandchildren? Someone should really give that guy another tryout. 

    Counterpoint: If Antonio Brown really wants to make some provocative cinema involving wiretapped secret conversations with NFL coaches, he should collaborate with Kaepernick. 

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