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NFL morning after: A wild win for the best Giants team yet

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The Giants have won two Super Bowls with Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and Co., and they’ve had three other playoff appearances since Coughlin became the coach and Manning became the franchise quarterback. But they haven’t had a team as good as this one.

This Giants team — the team that went to Dallas and won one of the wildest games of this NFL season against the Cowboys on Sunday — is the best Giants team yet, the most complete Giants team yet. This is the Giants team that has the best chance of standing apart and being remembered as not just a good team, but a dominant team.

At this point I can hear you saying that a great team would have put the Cowboys away easily on Sunday, rather than having to hold on to win 29-24 after taking an early 23-0 lead. And you might be right. I’m not here to argue that these Giants are a dominant team along the lines of the ’85 Bears. But the thing is, while the Giants have won two of the last five Super Bowls, they’ve really never dominated: They were 10-6 before going on a run in the postseason and winning the Super Bowl after the 2007 season, and 9-7 before turning it on in the playoffs again last year. Those were mediocre regular-season teams that played their best football in the playoffs.

In the regular season at least, this is a better Giants team. They’re 6-2 and they’ve outscored their opponents by a total of 73 points for the season, a huge improvement from last year, when the Giants were actually outscored by an aggregate score of 400-394 over the course of the season. This year’s Giants are getting big performances from newcomers like running back Andre Brown (who has 236 yards and five touchdowns this season), running back David Wilson (the first-round draft pick who is making a big impact on kickoff returns), tight end Martellus Bennett (who arrived this year as a free agent from Dallas and already has a career-high 334 receiving yards), receiver Rueben Randle (the second-round draft pick who got things started on Sunday with a 56-yard catch on the third play of the game), offensive tackle Sean Locklear (who arrived as a free agent this year and has started all eight games) and strong safety Stevie Brown (who signed as a free agent this year and was their best defensive player on Sunday, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery).

The Giants now lead the NFC East by 2.5 games and are about as close as it gets at the midway point of the season to being a sure thing to win their division. The big question is whether this will be the best Giants team yet in January and, if all goes well, in February. And if there’s anything the Giants have already taught us with the way they’ve played in the playoffs, it’s that being the best in the regular season doesn’t necessarily translate to being the best in the postseason.

But after watching the Giants over the first half of the regular season, would you bet against Coughlin, Manning and Co. in a playoff game? I sure wouldn’t. The defending champions look better than ever.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s NFL action:

I guess Juan Castillo wasn’t the only problem in Philadelphia. Eagles coach Andy Reid fired Castillo as his defensive coordinator because the Eagles blew a lead against the Lions, but judging from the way the Eagles played on Sunday against the Falcons, maybe Reid is the one who deserves to be fired. In their first game with Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator, the Eagles’ defense got shredded in a 30-17 loss to the Falcons. Sunday’s game was a great opportunity for the Eagles to prove themselves as contenders, and instead they laid an egg.

What were the Steelers wearing on Sunday? If I tried my best to design the ugliest uniforms imaginable, I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything more hideous than that combination of tan pants and black-and-yellow striped socks that the Steelers tried to pass off as throwbacks on Sunday. Those weren’t NFL uniforms, they were rejects from the discount rack at the Halloween costume store.

Ho-hum, Tom Brady had a huge game. Brady has been so great for so long that it seems like no one even raises an eyebrow anymore when he does something like throw for 304 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 45-7 win, as he did on Sunday. Brady makes the spectacular look routine, and the Patriots are playing consistently great offense like no other team in NFL history: Sunday’s win was the Patriots’ 17th consecutive game with at least 350 yards of total offense, topping the Greatest Show on Turf Rams of 1999-2000 for the longest such streak ever.

DeAngelo Hall needs to knock off the bush league nonsense. Hall, the Redskins’ veteran cornerback, was ejected from Sunday’s game against the Steelers after taking off his helmet, getting in an official’s face, screaming at him and refusing to stop after being repeatedly told to go back to his sideline. Hall is in the fourth year of a six-year, $55 million contract. When you’re getting paid that kind of money, is it too much to ask that you conduct yourself like a professional?

It was nice of Matthew Stafford to show up. Finally. Stafford, the Lions quarterback who had a breakout 5,038-yard, 41-touchdown season last year, had seen a sharp statistical decline this season, and for long stretches in some of the Lions’ losses Stafford looked like he was sleepwalking on the field. But in Sunday’s win over the Seahawks, Stafford had his best game of the season, throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns and also running for a score. If Stafford keeps playing like this, don’t count the Lions out of the playoffs just yet.

Stick a fork in the Jets. A week ago I was impressed with the effort the Jets gave in an overtime loss to the Patriots. But there was nothing impressive about the embarrassing way the Jets gave up in Sunday’s 30-9 loss to the Dolphins. At 3-5 the Jets are in last place in the AFC East, and they’re going to be out of the playoffs for the second straight year.

How much fun would Colts-Broncos be in the AFC playoffs? After both the Colts and Broncos won on Sunday, it’s looking entirely possible that we’ll see an AFC wild card playoff game in which Peyton Manning’s Broncos host Andrew Luck’s Indianapolis Colts. What a great story that would be. The only thing that could top that is Peyton facing his brother Eli in the Super Bowl.

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Report: Seahawks to sign linebacker Michael Wilhoite

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Even with the signing of Arthur Brown last week, the Seattle Seahawks still see a need for depth at linebacker.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Seahawks are addressing that need by signing former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

It has essentially led to a swap of middle linebackers between the two teams as backup middle linebacker Brock Coyle signed with the 49ers in the first few days of free agency.

Wilhoite has appeared in 65 games with San Francisco over the last five seasons and has started 34 games in the last three seasons. However, unless he can transition to playing strong-side linebacker in Seattle’s 4-3 scheme, Wilhoite is joining the Seahawks as a backup to Bobby Wagner and special teams contributor.

Mike Morgan – Seattle’s starting strong-side linebacker from last season – remains unsigned.

Wilhoite recorded 55 tackles in 16 games played for the 49ers last season. He joins Kevin Pierre-Louis, Dewey McDonald, Ronald Powell and Brown as depth at linebacker behind Wagner and K.J. Wright.

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Competition Committee proposes change to hiring procedures for coaches

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The NFL has plenty of rules that often are ignored. Unless those rules are going to be enforced, they should be changed.

Case in point: The current rules prohibit teams from hiring head coaches employed as assistants by other teams whose postseasons have not yet ended. Twice in the last three years, however, the worst-kept secret in the NFL centered on a team having a deal in place with an assistant from a Super Bowl team.

And so the rule could be going away. The Competition Committee has proposed a rule change permitting a club to “negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season.”

It’s a rule that is long overdue. It was overdue two years ago, when the Falcons had a wink-nod deal in place with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. And it’s even more overdue now, after the 49ers had a wink-nod deal in place with former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Will it be a distraction for the assistant coach? Nope. If anything, it will remove the potential distraction that arises when a guy who knows that, if his team keeps winning, he won’t get hired. That happened five years ago, when the Buccaneers decided they could no longer wait for former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

And, yeah, that’s Gantt in the background of the photo. After putting up a photo of the new guy earlier, I need to find a way to make it up to the rest of the crew.

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Eagles propose allowing teams to have second helmet

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Several years ago, the NFL eliminated the ability of teams to have multiple helmets, based on the notion that keeping players in the same helmet all year long in some way helps manage or minimize concussions. The NCAA, with teams like Oregon that have a different helmet every week, clearly disagrees.

The Eagles do, too. They have proposed te rule change that, if passed, would allow teams to have an alternate helmet in a color that matches their third uniform.

Barring convincing medical evidence that having multiple helmets a health risk beyond the health risk already assumed when playing football, it makes sense to let teams have a second helmet. And I say that fully aware of the potential abominations that Nike will concoct if/when it acquires the ability to do so.

Then again, the Eagles previously did a pretty good job of screwing up an alternate helmet without Nike’s help.

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Report: Bears finalizing deal with Mark Sanchez

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Whatever cure is required for the quarterback situation in Chicago, it seems, won’t be found at this late stage in free agency. The best hope for remedy on the current roster comes in the form of Mike Glennon, he of 11 passes the past two seasons combined.

Depth, though, is depth.

The Bears appear on the brink of adding some.

Veteran journeyman Mark Sanchez is on the cusp of signing with the Bears, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported. This will be the fifth NFL team for the ex-USC quarterback, who has bounced from the Jets to Eagles to Broncos to Cowboys and now Bears since 2014.

Sanchez, 30, completed 10 of 18 passes in his lone season with the Cowboys, notching 93 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

But it’s all relative.

Elsewhere on the Bears’ QB depth chart today, Glennon threw 11 passes in 2016, and Connor Shaw threw none. So 11 compared to Sanchez’ 18.

See, things are starting to look up. And Donald Trump won’t tweet about this one.

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Joe Greene didn’t want to play in Pittsburgh

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Strange as it may sound to folks who have followed football for most of the last five decades, the Steelers at one point stunk. They stunk bad. The turning point, in hindsight, came with the hiring of coach Chuck Noll in 1969.

When Noll and the Steelers made defensive tackle Joe Greene the fourth overall pick in the ’69 draft, no one knew that things were going to change. As a result, Greene wasn’t happy to learn he’d be coming to Pittsburgh.

Greene explained his adverse reaction to becoming a Steeler during a Thursday visit to PFT Live. He also talked about the one time that he was actually intimidated on an NFL field, via a story that is well worth your time.

It will also be worth your time to check out Greene’s memoir, Mean Joe Greene: Built By Football. It’s available early next month; you can pre-order it now.

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Rams add DT Tyrunn Walker

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The Rams aren’t necessarily among the NFL teams that scream in need of defensive-line help.

On Thursday, they add a veteran and will hope he helps.

Los Angeles announced it agreed to terms with veteran defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker. He started eight games in 2016 for the Lions but underperformed, going from starter to a reserve player who was benched for a midseason game. He’ll work to gain favor with a fresh start on a line featuring Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Dominique Easley.

Walker, 27, played 353 defensive snaps in 2016. He appeared in 15 games, finishing the season with 26 tackles and no sacks.

The 2012 undrafted free agent from Tulsa missed all but four games in 2015 to a broken leg.

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‘It’s good?’ Possible bonus for kickoff between uprights

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Two referees stand beneath the goal post before a field-goal or extra-point attempt, waiting there to determine if a kick sails beyond the crossbar and between the uprights for a successful conversion.

Imagine that for kickoffs, too

Such is one rules-change proposal that will be considered next week at the NFL owner meetings. This one, proposed by Washington owner Dan Snyder, stands to reward a team whose kickoff is ruled “good” with field position, as its opponent would start the ensuing drive at the 20-yard line as opposed to the expected 25.

This is not the first time something like this has been discussed. Last November, the Ravens banged the drum for a one-point scoreboard incentive on such straight-shot kicks. (Note: We need to find a name for these. Kickoff conversions?)

Snyder’s rule proposal is a tamer version, albeit one that still incentivizes touchbacks and thereby furthers the NFL’s player-safety cause.

Potential drawbacks to the rule, other than its ease for video gamers, appear few. One potential concern that could be raised, however, is whether or not the monitoring of a “good” kickoff will compromise the crew’s ability to position itself properly for a returned kickoff.

Currently, one referee stands near the goal post for kickoffs. If kickoffs are to be judged like field goals and extra points, a second official would have to join him or her. If a converted kickoff is a one-person ruling, this concern is rendered moot.

Secondly, there is the matter of doing too much. Last year, the league made the extra point more interesting — and, some might argue, too interesting — when turning a gimme try into a 33-yard attempt. “Kickoff conversions” would be the latest example of making a wrinkle of something that once was routine.

Too many wrinkles can be off-putting.

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Dan Snyder wants to be able to opt out of “Color Rush”

Washington did not play a Thursday night game last season, which means Washington did not wear a “Color Rush” uniform. Dan Snyder would like to keep it that way.

Among the 2017 NFL rules proposals announced today is one by Washington which would change league bylaws to allow teams to opt out of the Color Rush uniforms.

Under current rules, teams playing on the “Color Rush” Thursday night games have to wear the uniforms. Washington didn’t have to because its only Thursday game was on Thanksgiving afternoon, so the only visual evidence we have that Color Rush uniforms were designed for the team is the promotional photo you see here.

In general, the league doesn’t like to allow teams to opt out of league-wide endeavors like “Color Rush,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Snyder’s fellow owners vote down his idea. But if an owner doesn’t like how “Color Rush” looks on his team, it’s a little odd that the league can force it on him.

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Saints re-sign DL Darryl Tapp

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Two days after the Saints acquired linebacker Manti Te’o, they re-signed someone they hope can make his New Orleans debut a bit easier.

New Orleans added more help up front, striking a one-year deal with defensive end Darryl Tapp. This depth signing caps an active two-week stretch for the Saints’ defensive line, as it also secured Nick Fairley and Alex Okafor.

Tapp is entering his 12th NFL season and second in New Orleans. The 32-year-old hasn’t missed a game the past three years. In 2016, he logged 17 tackles and half a sack while playing 292 defensive snaps.

The Saints look to improve the NFL’s 27th-ranked defense from 2016.

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NFL to consider 15 new rules, 6 new bylaws, 3 new resolutions

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NFL owners will vote on a wide variety of potential new rules, new league bylaws and new resolutions, covering everything from whether a player can leap over the line of scrimmage on a field goal to whether a team can opt-out of the league’s “Color Rush” uniforms.

2017 rule proposals

1. By Philadelphia: Gives additional protections for long snappers on kick plays.

2. By Philadelphia: Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays.

3. By Philadelphia: Expands the “crown of helmet” foul to include “hairline” part of helmet.

4. By Philadelphia: Amends the challenge system by granting a third challenge if a club is successful on at least one of its initial two challenges, and expands reviewable plays outside of two minutes of each half.

5. By Washington: Eliminates the limit of three total challenges per team per game and eliminates the requirement that a team be successful on each of its first two challenges in order to be awarded a third challenge.

6. By Washington: Moves the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line for any touchback where the free kick travels through the uprights.

7. By Buffalo and Seattle: Permits a coach to challenge any officials’ decision except scoring plays and turnovers.

8. By Competition Committee: Makes permanent the rule that disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

9. By Competition Committee: Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for one year only.

10. By Competition Committee: Reduces the length of preseason and regular season overtime periods to 10 minutes.

11. By Competition Committee: Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.

12. By Competition Committee: Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.

13. By Competition Committee: Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a hand-held device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews.

14. By Competition Committee: Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock.

15. By Competition Committee: Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half.

2017 bylaw proposals

1. By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.1 to eliminate the mandatory cutdown to 75 Active List players.

2. By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.14 to place a player who has suffered a concussion, and who has not been cleared to play, on the club’s Exempt List, and be replaced by a player on the club’s Practice Squad on a game-by-game basis until the player is cleared to play.

3. By Washington: Amends Article XIX, Sections 19.8(B) and 19.9(B) to permit clubs to opt out of the “color rush” jerseys created for Thursday Night Football.

4. By Competition Committee: Liberalizes rules for timing, testing, and administering physical examinations to draft-eligible players at a club’s facility for one year only.

5. By Competition Committee: Changes the procedures for returning a player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness to the Active List to be similar to those for returning a player that was Designated for Return.

6. By Competition Committee; The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason.

2017 Resolution Proposals

1. By Philadelphia: Amends the NFL’s On-Field Policy to allow clubs to have an alternate helmet in a color to match their third uniform.

2. By Competition Committee: Permits a club to negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season.

3. By Competition Committee: Permits a contract or non-contract non-football employee to interview with and be hired by another club during the playing season, provided the employer club has consented.

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Goodell wants to cut five minutes of down time from NFL games

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks the league can make games about five minutes shorter without eliminating anything fans will miss.

Goodell said on NFL Network that he believes some of the league’s ideas for cutting delays during the game can reduce the length of game from last year’s average of three hours and seven minutes to an average more like three hours and two minutes.

“We were 3:07 and change this year,” he said. “We think we probably can get probably close to five minutes of down time out of the game, so that would get somewhere in the 3:02 range.”

Goodell said he worries that if the league doesn’t eliminate down time, fans will decide to turn games off.

“There’s a lot of wasted time in there,” Goodell said. “You don’t want to give them an excuse to step out and do something else.”

Some of the NFL’s ideas include fewer commercial breaks (though not fewer commercials, as each break will now be one commercial longer), speeding up replay reviews and moving more quickly between touchdowns, extra points and kickoffs.

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Robert Kraft thanks Mexican, American authorities for finding jerseys

Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jerseys are back in New England, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement thanking authorities in both the United States and Mexico for tracking the stolen jerseys down.

“We want to thank the FBI, the Mexican authorities and the many different local agencies that were involved in the investigation and ultimate recovery of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey,” Kraft said. “Working along with the Patriots and NFL security, those agencies collectively coordinated an investigation that also led to the recovery of Tom’s missing Super Bowl XLIX jersey. It was great to have both jerseys returned to Gillette Stadium today. I don’t know that any agency could have accomplished this independently, but collectively multiple agencies – both in the U.S. and in Mexico – worked together to achieve the goal of retrieving the stolen property. It is another example of the importance of teamwork and what can be accomplished when everyone works together. We appreciate the effort of everyone involved and look forward to returning these jerseys to Tom when he gets back to New England.”

By stressing the importance of American-Mexican cooperation, Kraft could be subtly attempting to distance himself from President Trump, whom Kraft has described as a friend. The Patriots have received some criticism for the support that Kraft, Brady and Bill Belichick have given to Trump.

An employee of a Mexican newspaper who has attended multiple Super Bowls on press credentials has been identified as the suspect in the thefts, although he has not been criminally charged.

Photo via Patriots.com.

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Packers sign DL Ricky Jean Francois

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A team not usually known for its free-agency activity made a 313-pound splash Thursday.

The Packers signed former Washington defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois to a one-year, $3 million contract, a source confirmed to Pro Football Talk. ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported the story, earning an undisclosed number of Markman points.

Jean Francois, 30, appeared in all 32 games of his two-year tenure in Washington. The versatile run stopper started seven of them with 57 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

He previously visited the Seahawks and Bears before committing to Green Bay.

The Packers, known for developing and re-signing their own talent, do make the occasional exception. They bolstered their tight end position with two signings earlier this month, signing Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks.

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Jets land WR Quinton Patton after visit

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There was little in the 2016 Jets passing game to tantalize free-agent wide receivers this spring, the trio of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty and Geno Smith combining for a league-low 67.6 team quarterback rating.

But the NFL is a relationship business.

One of Quinton Patton’s led him to New York.

The former Niners wide receiver has signed with the Jets, the club announced Thursday. He reunites with offensive coordinator John Morton, who was San Francisco’s wide receivers coach during Patton’s first two years in the league.

Patton visited the organization last Saturday.

The 2013 fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech set career highs last season with 37 catches for 408 yards. He becomes the Jets’ first wide-receiver signing since Brandon Marshall’s release on March 2. Marshall went on to sign a two-year deal with the Giants.

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Welcome, Michael Gehlken

Five days ago, we said farewell to Zac Jackson. Today, we say hello to Michael Gehlken.

The former Chargers reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune, whose position there went away when the team did, joins us on an open-ended arrangement with the understanding that he may soon secure another opportunity to cover a West Coast franchise.

A San Diego native with a degree from UC Davis (and maybe a Ken O’Brien jersey), Gehlken joined the Union-Tribune in 2012. We’ve long admired his work, and we are very fortunate to have him (and we probably won’t be fortunate enough to have him for very long).

Please give him a warm welcome in the comments. Or make him feel at home by treating him like you treat the rest of us.

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