KANSAS CITY — I’m picking a Chiefs-Saints Super Bowl. I’m picking the team that lost the coin toss and never touched the ball in overtime of January’s AFC Championship Game versus the team that got jobbed on the pass-interference non-call in the NFC Championship Game. Let’s call the 54th Super Bowl the Fairness Super Bowl.
It’s a rarity though, seeing the losers of the two title games one year make the big game the next year. Only twice in 53 Super Bowls have the two championship-game losers (or AFL and NFL title games a half-century ago) met the following year in the Super Bowl. But I saw both teams in August, and there’s not a lot to dislike about either team. Both are better than they were last January, and neither seems to carry the weight of painful losses into this season. “No hangover here,” Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan told me. “Nobody here feels stuff like that.”
My AFC picks and playoff seeds:
1. Kansas City
3. New England
5. LA Chargers
My NFC picks and playoff seeds:
1. New Orleans
3. LA Rams
4. Green Bay
6. San Francisco
Only three new playoff teams (Steelers, Packers, 49ers), which is light; in the last three years, there have been six, seven and seven new postseason teams, respectively. So I’ll be wrong there.
More later in the column on my picks for the year. Also today:
• Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes, 23, might be as good a leader and team-influencer as he is a quarterback, and I explain how that will pay dividends for the Chiefs as they aim for their first Super Bowl season since the year we landed on the moon. “You can’t fake that stuff,” he told me in camp. “It has to be genuine.” It is.
• I love the Miami-to-Houston trade of left tackle Laremy Tunsil for the Texans. But the business side of it? Big mistake by the GM-less Texans not getting a new deal as a condition of the trade the way Chicago did with Khalil Mack last year.
• Seattle’s John Schneider won GM of Cut Weekend with his discount acquisition of a desperately needed pass-rusher, Jadeveon Clowney. (Though I’m not ga-ga over Clowney, the first pick in the 2014 draft, who rewarded the Texans with 29 sacks in 65 games. The 34th pick in that draft, DeMarcus Lawrence, has 36 sacks in 69 games for Dallas.)
• Frank Gore is 36. He has 2,500 more rushing yards than Jim Brown. And he just beat out LeSean McCoy for the starting job in Buffalo—which, to be fair, will be a job-share with rookie Devin Singletary, with Singletary likely to get more carries. Still, Gore remains one of the great stories in recent NFL history. He’s rushed for 5,909 yards since turning 30, and he’ll start for his fourth team since 2014.
• LeSean McCoy to the Chiefs, reunited with Andy Reid and it feels so good.
• Tank for Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins, it turns out, are taking the Browns route to the future, by tanking. I can’t tell you how many people over the weekend around the league uttered some version of these words: It’s easy to get the picks, not so easy to make the right choices with them. Ask the Browns. Between 2014 and 2017, as the Browns won the Draft Pick Super Bowl most years, here were their picks in the first two rounds: Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Danny Shelton, Cam Erving, Nate Orchard, Corey Coleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib, Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku, DeShone Kizer. Thirteen prime picks. Three starters. Be careful what you wish for, Stephen Ross.
• Kickers. Driving GMs and coaches crazy for years. In three weeks, Norwegian wonderboy kicker Kaare Vedvik went from in-demand by six teams to the Vikings for a fifth-round pick to being fired to being claimed by the Jets and, well, who knows.
• Potentially huge loss for the Super Bowl champion Patriots on their road to repeat: center David Andrews (blood clot) for the season. Potentially heir-to-Troy-Brown story: Gunner Olszewski, a wide receiver-defensive back from Bemidji (Minn.) State. He started 42 college games for the Beavers at corner. Bill Belichick might have another two-way demon. It cost New England a sixth-round pick for center insurance, the price to get Russell Bodine from Buffalo.
• Wonderful retrospective on the Luck retirement from a man who’s been there: Carson Palmer. He said he felt guilt, as crazy an emotion as that sounds to us, when he was injured, and surmises Andrew Luck felt the same when he was out: “No way should he have ever felt guilt or shame for being injured—but that’s natural. When you’re so used to being the franchise quarterback, the face of the franchise, it’s impossible not to feel that guilt.”
Opening night at Soldier Field is four days away.
Why The Chiefs? This Is Why
The 2018 season of Patrick Mahomes was as great as you remember it. The no-look pass, the incredible game-saving fourth-and-nine throw under pressure across his body sprinting right to save the win over Baltimore, putting up 71 points in the two duels to the end (both losses) against Brady and Belichick, piloting the offense to 31.8 points per game after the stunning firing of Kareem Hunt. Doing it all at age 23. I saw Brett Favre recently, and he said he doesn’t watch much NFL these days—but when Mahomes is on, he does.
Kansas City is a giddy city these days, and it revolves around Mahomes and the Chiefs. The valet-parking guy at my hotel here saw me and raved about Mahomes. “He’s almost too good. What a kid,” he said. At a Royals game, a fan said to me, “I’ve never seen this place so fired up about the Chiefs. It’s Mahomes.” You just feel it.
Talk to those around the Chiefs, and they’ll tell you that Mahomes the leader, the team-influencer, has been nearly as impressive as Mahomes the player. In the long run, that stuff matters—not nearly as much as the magical stuff and pure production that Mahomes has brought to the Chiefs. But it’s important to the ethos of a championship team. It’s just another reason I’m picking the Chiefs to win their first Super Bowl in 50 years.
The prime example of Mahomes the leader came the day after the Hunt news broke. The Chiefs fired Hunt when they discovered he’d been untruthful with them about an incident when he was found to have abused a woman in Cleveland in the offseason. The next day, a Saturday, the Chiefs had to leave for a game in Oakland. Before they did, coach Andy Reid was going to address the team about the Hunt situation. That morning, before the meeting, Mahomes asked Reid if he could talk to the players. Alone. Just the players. Reid weighed it; he’d thought he’d talk to the team and that would be it.
“I thought about it,” Reid told me during camp. “This was coming from him. I could tell it was something he really wanted to do. It’s different coming from a player, and what I’ve found from Patrick is what he thinks usually is coming from the right place. I thought it’d be good.”
Mahomes spoke for maybe two minutes. It wasn’t long. He said he loved Kareem Hunt, as did everyone in the room, and Hunt would continue to be a friend. He said everyone in this room would stick together and they’d get through this, and we’ve come too far to let one thing derail this season, and we won’t let it, and we don’t know who is going to pick up the slack without Kareem, but whoever it is, we’re still going to be great.
Those words aren’t I have a dream-worthy, but in the moment, when the fifth-youngest player on the team asks to speak to the team when it might be teetering on the brink of something, and the room gets silent, it’s an important time.
“Where’d that come from?” I asked Mahomes.
“It’s just from the people that I’ve seen before me,” said Mahomes, whose dad (Pat Mahomes) and godfather (LaTroy Hawkins) had long baseball careers in the major leagues. “When I was growing up in clubhouses with my dad and my godfather LaTroy, I was around some great leaders, and I saw them speak when they had to speak. Just being in the locker room here for my first year and last year, I saw the right moment to talk. You can’t fake that stuff. It has to be genuine. Has to be when you’ve earned the respect of your teammates. There’s gotta be times when you step up, you talk to make sure everything stays on course. We have a lot of great leaders on this team. We listen to each other. Whenever I talk, I have guys that are enforcing that with me. Whenever guys like Travis Kelce, or all these guys talk too, I can kind of reiterate what they’re saying as well.”
“That’s not just one time,” Reid said. “That’s Patrick every day. He understands people. He’s great with every guy on the roster. He understands how teams work.”
This offseason, Mahomes began his first huddle at OTAs with a Brady-like, “Let’s be great today.” His offseason educations encompassed lessons learned against New England. Two things interested me with Mahomes this offseason:
What he learned in his two games against New England. Mahomes had way too many missed chances early in the two meetings with New England last year. Kansas City trailed in the regular-season meeting at Foxboro at the half, 24-9. Kansas City trailed at home in the AFC title game at the half, 14-0. In the two second halves, the Chiefs scored 62 points … but couldn’t dig out of the big halftime holes. “You can’t make mistakes against Tom Brady and coach [Bill] Belichick and the Patriots the way we did in both games, early in the game. We obviously made things happen in the second half of both those games and gave ourselves chances to win. But if we just go in with the mindset of making adjustments even quicker, making sure that you go out there with a game plan and execute at a high level just from the beginning. They’re gonna keep executing, so you better too.” I relayed what Mahomes said to Reid. “Astute observation by a smart player. It’s always a short feel-out process against a championship team, fast and furious. We better learn that.”
What he worked on this spring and summer. Decision-making, he said. “That’s the biggest thing for me—just knowing when to go for the shot and when to take the first down and move the chains, that’s something I’ve really worked on. Situationally deciding when to go for that scramble, trying to throw it all the way down the field and when to just complete the little short one and get the first down.” Perfect example from that regular-season loss to New England: Mahomes had first-and-10 from the Pats’ 25 late in the half, down 24-9. He scrambled right, Dont’a Hightower with a grip on his jersey, and launched a deep shot into the end zone, right into triple-coverage by the Patriots. Duron Harmon picked it off. Mahomes didn’t make a lot of mistakes last year, but that one was terrible. “I feel like if I can just get better at situationally knowing when to take that shot and when not to, I think that’d be a big step in my game,” he said.
Mahomes and the Chiefs will have to be good early because of a tough schedule late. Last four: at New England, Denver at home, at Chicago, Chargers at home. But it’d be surprising if Mahomes took a step back this year. The Chiefs, wary of losing Tyreek Hill last spring, reinforced the receiver corps with the second-round choice of Mecole Hardman of Georgia. That gives them three guys who have run the 40 in less than 4.35 seconds: Hill, Sammy Watkins and Hardman.
But the Patriots will be formidable, as will the Chargers and Steelers. This could be New England’s best defense in years, a defense that frustrated Mahomes and Reid in both games. If they both make it to the third Sunday in January, Mahomes-Brady IV could be the game of the year. My money’s on Mahomes to play a complete game this time, and get to the franchise’s first Super Bowl since Hank Stram rode on the shoulders of the winning Chiefs a half-century ago.
The Rest of the (Playoff) Story
My thorniest issues picking the playoff field this year:
Green Bay over Chicago in the NFC North. I’m betting on Aaron Rodgers, healthy and presumably challenged by Matt LaFleur, over Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears’ defense could be the NFL’s best. I’m still unconvinced about the offense, which averaged 19.5 points in the last six games last year. And heaven knows if they’ll ever find a kicker who can win games. If I’m wrong, it will be because Matt Nagy figures out how to compensate for what Trubisky can’t do.
San Francisco nips Dallas and Seattle for the last playoff berth at the buzzer. When I wrote my first version of the picks on Friday, I had the Niners as sixth seed, ahead of Seattle and Dallas. Then I almost recency-biased my choice with the news of Clowney to Seattle, addressing a huge need, and the likelihood that Ezekiel Elliott is on the verge of signing with Dallas. The Seattle offensive line east of left tackle Duane Brown still scares me, and the secondary is just as shaky, and I’m not sure who emerges as a suitable heir to Doug Baldwin. Seattle could have a 10-win team, but I’m banking on Jimmy Garoppolo playing 16 games and being the top-10 quarterback I think he is, and on the Niners finally putting the pieces together on defense after using so much draft and trade capital there. Dallas is tough to forecast. The Cowboys have football’s easiest opening slate (Giants at home, at Washington, then Miami at home), but Dallas also has the Saints, Bears and Patriots on the road and the Rams at home, so the schedule will even out. Wild card for Dallas is how the contract stuff impacts them. It’s wearying to read about that stuff day after day; will it continue into the season?
The Colts will survive the loss of Andrew Luck. Heretical thought, picking the Colts to win the AFC South after the earthquake retirement of Luck. Given that Luck was a top-five quarterback last year (third in PFF rankings) and heir Jacoby Brissett was 4-11 as Luck’s injury replacement in 2017, I see why Vegas made Indy sink like a stone in win projections. A few points: The Colts were 30th in scoring defense in 2017, rose to 10th last season, and could be better this year with the infusion of a strong rookie class led by cornerback Rock Ya-Sin; Brissett will have to do less to win this year than in 2017. The offensive line he inherited in September 2017 was, left to right, first-round pick, street free-agent, undrafted free-agent, second-round pick, fifth-round pick. The only starter remaining is left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the first-round pick. Now, left to right on the line, the Colts will start a first-round pick, first-round pick, first-round pick, veteran free-agent, second-round pick. (PFF ranked the Colts’ line 25th in 2017, third in 2018.) The supporting cast of the Colts in Brissett’s first go-round was poor. The supporting cast of the 2019 Colts is top 10. Add to that the fact that Brissett has taken 95 percent of the first-team snaps since mini-camp in the spring, and he’s been in Frank Reich’s system for two offseasons now. I think he’ll surprise.
Houston edges Jacksonville for the last AFC playoff spot, and Tunsil’s a reason. Assuming Deshaun Watson gets hit less, and assuming Kenny Stills gives Houston the kind of durable and productive receiver that the Texans have been lacking, I think the Texans will win 10 games and sneak into the sixth seed. Even without Clowney, Houston should be good enough on defense to hold foes to 20 points a game.
- Nick Foles and defensive rookie of the year Josh Allen will lift Jacksonville to nine wins and playoff contention.
- If Earl Thomas plays 16 games, that could well catapult Baltimore into the playoffs. He’s a vital piece to the puzzle there
- How do you not love what Cleveland’s done? I don’t know how they adjust to being America’s darlings. No team is as public as the Browns early (Monday night Week 2, Sunday night Week 3, Monday night Week 5). That’s a load to handle for players who’ve never had to
- I won’t be surprised if Denver wins eight or nine games. That’s how big an impact Vic Fangio will make
- Someday, someone will challenge the Patriots. Can’t see it this year in the East. How amazing is it that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been a team for 20 percent of the history of pro football?
- I like Carolina’s supporting cast a lot. I worry about a quarterback after shoulder surgery, though
- Toughest division to decipher: NFC North. Easily could have picked Chicago, Minnesota or Green Bay. It came down to Rodgers, as I said—but also to a defense that should be better on the edges with Preston Smith and Zadarius Smith rushing.
AFC title game, Jan. 19, 2020, at Kansas City: Chiefs 27, Patriots 25.
NFC title game, Jan. 19, 2020, at New Orleans: Saints 30, Eagles 23.
Super Bowl 54, at Miami Gardens, Fla.: Kansas City 37, New Orleans 27.
A few awards:
MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City — 2. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia; 3. Jacoby Brissett, QB, Indianapolis.
Offensive player: Mahomes — 2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas; 3. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston.
Defensive player: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams — 2. Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans; 3. Khalil Mack, LB, Chicago.
Coach: Andy Reid, Kansas City — 2. Frank Reich, Indianapolis; 3. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco.
It was a busy cut-down weekend. In order of importance:
Lots to unpack in the Tunsil-to-Houston deal. Houston probably overpaid for left tackle Laremy Tunsil, but not by much. I’ll vehemently disagree with those who say Houston got robbed. Houston gave up two first-round picks and a second, plus two marginal players, and got Tunsil, a 25-year-old quality long-term left tackle, durable receiver Kenny Stills (missed two of 99 career games with injuries) and fourth and sixth-round picks. Say the Texans give the 20th pick in 2020 and the 20th and 52nd picks in 2021. A long-term left tackle is certainly worth two mid-round ones.
As for the second-round pick, Houston will be glad to have Stills for the next two seasons at the slightly inflated tab of $15-million total, because they’ve had major injury issues beyond Deandre Hopkins. Miami’s fourth and sixth-round picks will be near the top of each round. So Miami probably wins a deal of a mid-round two for Stills, a four and a six, but it’s not awfully lopsided at all.
HOWEVER (and there’s a reason I all-capped that word), the Texans blew the business part of it. Where Houston erred here is not even trying to get a contract extension done with Tunsil. He is due $12.5-million over the next two seasons. Last year, when Khalil Mack was in the process of being traded from Oakland to Chicago, the Bears got a new contract done with Mack before making the mega-trade. Bill O’Brien, or someone inside the GM-less Texans, should have told Tunsil and his agent: We’ll do this deal with Miami, and we really want you, but only if you extend your contract for five years at $18-million average, with $50 million guaranteed. And you’ve got six hours to decide. I’m guessing at the numbers, but for a guy about to make $2.15 million in his fourth NFL season, at 25, playing for the worst team in the league, well, that doesn’t seem like much of a decision to me. And Houston got nothing done with his contract. That means if Tunsil is as good as Houston thinks this year, the Texans will owe him a lot more in 2020 or ’21 when they’ve got to pay him. But the Texans had a desperate need at left tackle, couldn’t get to first base with Washington on Trent Williams, and will have one of the best young tackles in the game protecting Deshaun Watson this year. That matters.
Seattle won the Clowney deal. Everyone knows that. Houston wasn’t going to pay Clowney top-of-market money, and the Texans should have been more aggressive in trying to move him before the July 15 deadline when Clowney could have signed a multi-year deal this year. I think Houston just figured Clowney would come in and play for the franchise number, but as the season got closer and Clowney dug in, the Texans saw that he might continue to hold out and not show up. So Houston mis-read the market. Where it’s a good deal for Seattle: Clowney cost a third-round pick plus two expendable players, and he’ll be motivated to play great and earn a mega-deal somewhere in free agency in 2020. Even if he doesn’t sign long-term in Seattle, the Seahawks are likely to get a third-round compensatory pick in 2021 to sub for the third-rounder in 2020 they paid Houston.
The Patriots lost a valuable center for the year. Patriot losses are often minimized, particularly on the offensive line, because of the presence of guru line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Rightfully so. Scarnecchia has proven time and again he can get the absolute best out of players. But David Andrews was put on IR for the year with a blood-clot issue, and that is a loss. Andrews is not just a guy. He has morphed from an undrafted college free-agent from Georgia to a valuable pivot-point on the line. In the last two seasons, Philadelphia’s Jason Kelce has been rated the NFL’s top center both years. Kelce has allowed 30 passing-game disruptions (sacks, hits or significant QB pressures). Andrews, playing more snaps, has allowed 38. Good for New England to import former Bengal starter Russell Bodine, but the loss will be felt.
The Raiders have four quarterbacks. I don’t get Nathan Peterman to begin with as a third QB, and I certainly don’t get the waiver claim of DeShone Kizer as the fourth QB. There’s likely to be action there early this week; maybe Mike Mayock thinks he can get Indy or Denver to bite on backup Mike Glennon as a number two. Complicating matters is that Brian Hoyer got cut by the Patriots, and Hoyer would be a cheap and unselfish backup, particularly for a good young quarterback.
The Chargers won’t talk contract with Melvin Gordon till after the season, if at all. After being at Chargers camp late in August, I got the distinct impression they’d be okay going with an Austin Ekeler/Justin Jackson job share in the backfield. I think it’s a relief for them to say they won’t do a deal with Gordon this year, and if some team wants him, come and get him.
Good luck if you’re Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen. The tanking is real, and it’s spectacular, in Miami. Now that the left tackle and the most reliable wideout in camp are gone, the quarterbacks of the Dolphins have very little chance to succeed, never mind win. Rosen spent his rookie year with the worst team in football in 2018. He got traded to Miami, and the Dolphins have all but clinched the worst-team-in-football title this year, and Rosen couldn’t even win the starting job. It sure seems like a doomed NFL mission for the 10th pick of the 2018 draft.
I totally get the Bills going with Frank Gore over LeSean McCoy. Buffalo wanted third-round rookie Devin Singletary to take over this job sooner than later, and Gore, still going at 36, is the perfect mentor for Singletary. Gore’s a Miami kid who played at the U, and Singletary’s a south Florida kid who played in the shadow of the U, Florida Atlantic. This makes more sense for the Bills’ future than going with a back, LeSean McCoy, who wouldn’t be happy without being the primary back in a job-share.
The Kaare Vedvik affair. So the most desirable kicker of the preseason is on his third team in a month, traded from Baltimore to Minnesota and then being claimed by the Jets on Sunday when the Vikings whacked him. The Jets are on their third kicker in a month, going from Chandler Catanzaro to Taylor Bertolet to Vedvik, the punter-kicker who didn’t do either job well in Minnesota. The beat goes on with teams struggling with kickers. How lucky teams like Indy and Baltimore are to have all-timers like Adam Vinatieri and Justin Tucker.
When I think of NFL comps for Andrew Luck in recent history, one is Carson Palmer. He played 14 seasons for Cincinnati, Oakland and Arizona, and in that time, he missed 38 games due to injury—a sprained knee, an ACL/MCL/meniscus tear, torn tendon and ligament in his throwing elbow, broken rib, a second torn ACL, nerve damage in his shoulder, concussion and broken arm.
(And he missed only 38 games with that laundry list? Amazing.)
So I spoke with him the other day (you can hear him on The Peter King Podcast) because I wanted to hear how someone in Andrew Luck’s shoes felt. I was surprised to hear him say he played at less than 100 percent maybe 60 percent of his pro career—I thought that number would have closer to 80 percent—but he did really identify with Luck. “There was always something, whether it be something little like torn cartilage in your ribs where every time you took one of those rib shots, your whole body almost went numb. To little ankle sprains or shoulder, AC sprains in your shoulder, elbow issues. There’s always something at every position … Week one, you should feel great and you just don’t. You’re beat up, you’re sore, you’re tired. You’re mentally tired just because you know you have 16 more games. But playing with pain and being in that pain is just part of the deal. You learn that from the first time you put pads on and start playing in peewee or Pop Warner football.”
But that wasn’t the only strain Palmer felt as a quarterback—and he believes Luck wasn’t entirely forthcoming with the press when he announced his retirement.
“I think he was holding back a little bit,” Palmer said.
“I remember going to rehab every day. I remember you feel guilt from your teammates. It’s hard when you’re Andrew Luck and you’re the face of the franchise. Everybody on your team looks at you in a certain light. I think the guilt and the shame—and in no way should he have ever felt guilt or shame for being injured—but that’s natural. When you’re so used to being the franchise quarterback, the face of the franchise, it’s impossible not to feel that guilt. I know I felt it. And I had days … I had one year, I blew my knee out [in Arizona in 2014]. We were 9-1. We were the No. 1 seed in the NFC. And my ACL popped and my season was over and I was going on IR. But I just remember walking through the locker room every day after that injury and you just can’t help it. You feel like everybody’s looking at you like ‘Ah man, he’s hurt.’ That guilt and that shame, I know Andrew felt it. I’m sure he wouldn’t admit it and he’s talking about other things, but that guilt and shame from your teammates is the most pain that he felt.
“When … you’re the guy that’s taking up 22 percent of the salary cap and the guy that’s on every ad around town, all those things that come with being Andrew Luck and knowing the way he was revered by his teammates and knowing the way he loved his teammates … I think all that weighed heavy on his heart.”
Those are the things we don’t think of. And though I haven’t talked to Luck about it, he and Palmer are similar guys. They each have a worker-bee ethos. They think about other people. They put pressure on themselves to perform. Palmer on how the franchise quarterback feels was enlightening to me.
Palmer also thinks some of Luck’s reasoning about retiring goes back to his early years as a Colt. Palmer looked up the stats when he heard the news Saturday night. “He was sacked 100 times his first three seasons, from 2012 to 2014—41 times, 32 times, 27 times. And I remember—it’s funny because I remember watching cutups and watching him play and studying his game. He wasn’t just taking sacks. He was getting pummeled. They were awful up front. He was having three hitters come at him in the pocket with nowhere to go and getting just physically slammed into the ground and getting his face smashed in. He was getting smoked every game, every week. And I think that is why the 2012, ’13, ’14 seasons is why we’re seeing him retire in 2019. That early pounding he took, took its toll and had a huge effect on him.”
So Palmer’s not there, and he doesn’t have close ties inside the building. But he said he likes Brissett as a player and said he thinks will be better without Luck if he was going to go on IR. I don’t buy this. I think the chance of having Luck (had he been put on IR with a designation to return after eight weeks) come to the rescue in November would have been better for this team, certainly—but only if Luck was all-in. He doesn’t sound like he would have been.
“Andrew stepping away and walking away gives Jacoby and that team the best chance to move forward … in Indianapolis,” Palmer told me. “Now Jacoby is free. Jacoby can go and play and take over and lead and talk and stand up in front of the team and say things when he needs to without having to worry, ‘Well I don’t want to make it look like I’m trying to take over Andrew’s job because this is Andrew’s job still.’ This is completely freeing to that organization for this season.”
Fascinating team of the year: Indianapolis. For so many reasons, including those Palmer elucidated.
“This game means a lot to me. I wouldn’t disrespect the game with that. We’re not. We’re going to try to win every game. We’re going to go out there and try to win every game.”
—Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores on Sunday, on what everyone thinks the Dolphins are doing—tanking to improve their draft position—after denuding their roster with trades over the weekend.
“I truly don’t see it in the foreseeable future.”
—Rob Gronkowski, on the chance of him ever coming out of retirement.
“The NFL sells the NFL. The NBA sells its players. You couldn’t identify 90 percent of NFL players if they were standing right in front of you. That’s a big part of their core problem … I get the NFL dwarfs the NBA in television but I think that’s going to change.”
—Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on the difference between the NBA and NFL, to Danny Kanell and Raja Bell on their CBS Sports radio show.
If Cuban says it often enough and long enough, I’m sure it’ll come true.
“You’ll like this one: I spent this entire offseason playing in the backyard with my kids. Me sitting there throwing Wiffle balls with my kids, throwing tennis balls with my kids, running around playing soccer with them, throw ‘em in the pool every which way—my boys are 10, 8, 6, and my little girl is 4—just maintaining those skill sets … When I was a kid, I played every sport. Football, basketball, baseball, soccer, track, tennis. I feel like playing all those sports as a kid, I attribute that to my ability to play quarterback this long. Doing those things now with my kids, it’s like I’m going back to being a kid myself. I’m just pulling all those skill sets—I truly feel I’m helping my career. I feel that‘s part of the longevity piece.”
—Drew Brees, on “The Peter King Podcast,” dropping this Wednesday.
The pod, my NFL Season Preview Spectacular, will feature conversations with Brees, Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens and Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. You can subscribe or download here.
“I don’t know. I’m not gonna close the door on anything. I would strongly consider something like that … You say politics—I would strongly consider politics at some point.”
—Brees, when I asked him: “Will there ever be a Senator Drew Brees?”
In the last 46 weeks, running back Carlos Hyde has been on four teams.
As a Brown, Hyde played against the Chargers on Oct. 14, 2018.
He was traded to the Jags on Oct. 19, 2018 and played the last eight weeks for Jacksonville in 2018.
He signed with the Chiefs in free agency on March 9.
The Chiefs traded him to Houston on Saturday.
Signs of the pathetic preseason times:
• The average NFL game last year had an average of 62.9 snaps for each offensive team. One projected NFL starter in 2019, Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, played at least that many. Per ESPN, Fitzpatrick played 64.
It will be legal this fall to bet on football on 10 states, with another nine states set to approve sports betting in the coming months.
JuJu Smith-Schuster • Pittsburgh wide receiver • Photographed in Latrobe, Pa.
No modern NFL player has more fun than the 22-year-old Smith-Schuster, who achieves at a high level (two seasons: 169 catches) and is perhaps the most active of all players on social media. The day I was in Steelers camp, an hour before we spoke, he posted on Instagram him dancing in the locker room to a Drake song. We spoke for my podcast (coming Wednesday) about why he likes to put himself out there so much.
“A lot of students send me prom dates. I get a lot of DMs from females. It’s always the same. ‘I don’t have a date, I don’t have a date.’ This [male] kid, he told me in his DM, I told my best friend I wanted to take this girl that I liked that I’ve been talking to, and his best friend goes behind his back and takes his girl that he was gonna ask. So it kind of backfired on him. So I just thought, I gotta respond in a great way. I make the kid’s night. I was going with him, to be his prom date. Got him a party bus with all his friends. Got him a suit. It was pretty cool. Awesome. We pretty much stole the night. He had a great time. We were all there, in a circle, dancing.”
Why do you do that? I asked.
“Uh, for myself, I didn’t have much to do. Plus, I also have a YouTube Channel, so why not knock it out twice? Do it for the kid, have some fun. Also, make a YouTube video. It’s my personality. That’s how I am.
“I would never do anything that would hurt my brand, or the Steelers brand. In this league, it’s the NFL shield. Not only do you represent yourself but you represent your coaches, your teammate, the Steelers organization and everyone else around you.
“I do it for my own pleasure. It’s fun. I make funny videos, then come out here and catch touchdowns. And then I make funny videos, then come out and catch touchdowns. Yes, I study my plays off the field. But at the same time, before the game on Sundays, I’m playing Fortnite, then going out and scoring touchdowns and then winning the game. That’s my way of meditation.”
First-round and second-round picks, total, in the next two drafts:
Dating back to October 2014, in their last 69 football games:
- Alabama is 64-5 with two national championships.
- Clemson is 64-5 with two national championships.
Leftover highlight from my summer travels: At the Renaissance Hotel in Las Vegas, a robot delivers room-service meals.
What’s your best habit, Carson Palmer?
“Being punctual. I can’t stand the thought of being late.”
And your worst?
“The noise I make when clearing my sinuses. It drives my wife nuts.”
Mail call. Send the things you think to me at email@example.com
Andrew Luck in Prague. From Mike Anderson: “I was sitting with my wife friends in an outdoor pub in Prague on April 2 and as I looked over toward a sidewalk (15 feet away), I saw Andrew—in hat, workout shorts and a T-shirt—walking with a bag of purchases. If I hadn’t seen the article before we left that Luck had gotten married there a couple days earlier, I would have thought, ‘Hey, that guy looks a LOT like Andrew Luck.’ I said, in a bit of a raised voice, ‘Hey, Andrew Luck.’ He caught my eye with a look that seemed to say, ‘Hey buddy. Can I have this time for myself?’ I’m not a fan-boy and certainly not an NFL fan-boy but have always wondered what it must be like to live in a fishbowl. I nodded at him (silently) and watched him turn the corner and continue walking with his wife among other locals and tourists seemingly unaware of who he is. I hope the rest of the Luck’s time in Nicole’s homeland was undisturbed.”
Thanks, Mike. Sounds very much like Andrew Luck.
Great question. From Jack Dillon: “With Andrew Luck’s decision to retire has come speculation that this may be a harbinger for many others in the future. How much money is enough to earn from football to decide that the risk of permanent injury is too high to continue playing? Luck earned $100 million in over seven years. How will players be viewed as Hall of Fame candidates if they elect to retire early?
Interesting to consider. First: Luck did not retire because of the risk of permanent injury (I think—though I have not spoken to him). He retired because of a slew of nagging injuries that lingered and prevented him from ever feeling right. There’s no indication any of them would ever be a lifetime issue. But your point is a good one: Will players who make great money in their first few seasons be dissuaded from playing as long as a Brady or a Brees when a string of injuries hit them? Luck will either be an outlier or the first of many. Time will tell.
Two asterisks there: Luck’s a different guy, interested in world travel, European soccer, books, his new family, and architecture … so I am not sure his case is comparable with 1,700 other NFL players. And not many players make $100 million in their first seven NFL seasons. Having that kind of money makes it easier to make a decision like the one Luck made. Now, about his Hall of Fame case, and the cases of others who retire early. I think it would be tough to make the case that a quarterback who never got to a Super Bowl but who had very good numbers in a short career deserves to be in Canton. I’d listen to an argument for him, but it’s tough unless you’re thought of as the best player at your position when you played a short career—or one of the two or three best, I suppose—to be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame.
No. From Dennis Hussey: “I understand your comments about Schefter having to run the story, but with regards to retirement, shouldn’t the only source be Andrew Luck himself? I’m sure his source was good, but the gravity and finality of that decision should be confirmed by the person making the decision.”
Three thoughts on Schefter, and the firestorm about him breaking the news of Luck’s retirement in the fourth quarter of the Colts’ preseason with Luck standing on the field:
1. The news broke on the evening of Aug. 24. I wrote last week that Luck went to the Colts on Aug. 19 to tell them of his decision. They appealed to him to wait, or to go on IR. He refused. “My mind’s made up,” I reported he told them. GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich talked to Luck multiple times during the week. “I knew he wasn’t going to change his mind,” Reich told me. So they discussed when the announcement should be made. Somehow it was determined that the announcement would be made on Sunday, an off-day for the team with no media availability normally, at 3 p.m. If Schefter didn’t break the story Saturday night and waited, say, till 2:30 p.m. Sunday, he almost certainly would have gotten beat on the story. Luck had already started to tell teammates (T.Y. Hilton on Thursday, Jacoby Brissett on Friday, for instance). Now, could Schefter have waited till 10:15, or a few minutes after Luck left the field? Possibly. But that story is so big he could not have been sure no one would have gotten it. And I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the booing. Either way, Schefter’s job is to report the news, whenever he is sure enough of it to report it.
2. If you think Ian Rapoport or Jay Glazer or some other strong NFL reporter would have chosen to hold the story instead of reporting it before the press conference, I’d disagree with you. Once Luck began telling teammates, who would tell others, who would tell agents, etc., the story would have leaked, and likely long before the 3 p.m. news conference Sunday.
3. The media should not wait because of the “gravity and finality” of someone’s major announcement for that person to confirm the decision. The news doesn’t work that way. What if the subject doesn’t want the news out (Luck obviously would not have) and either no-comments or misleads Schefter? Schefter had the story cold and he reported it. That’s how the job works. If there was a legitimate reason for the story to be held, the leaker or someone with the Colts might have appealed to him to please hold it. In this case, I doubt that happened. Schefter has a conscience; I know him well. I know specifically that he has done some human things over the years at the expense of his journalism. When Luck chose the time to tell his story as a time when so many people would have known what he was about to say—which is his right—he had to know that in this era of NFL insiders it was quite possible the secret would not have stayed secret.
1. I think it’s interesting see what prisoners of the moment we are, in this way: Not a soul today is thinking about what could be the dominant story of Week 1 in the NFL: the ability for coaches to challenge pass-interference calls and non-calls, and the ability in the last two minutes of each half for the game to be stopped by the replay official upstairs if he believes he sees a play in which a call was missed. I say “could,” because the NFL is hoping and praying the new interference rules won’t become the hot-button controversy of every weekend in the NFL. (I think it will. I think VP of officiating Al Riveron will be slightly over-officious and very letter-of-the-law in regulating interference.) For the record, in the preseason, 54 plays were reviewed and only seven calls were overtuned. That, to me, is a good sign, because I don’t think close or ticky-tack calls should be changed—only clear and obvious ones.
2. I think I’ll go on record right now with this prediction: The trial of pass-interference as a reviewable foul will be a one-year experiment. One and done.
3. I think it’s odd that Julio Jones doesn’t have his new deal with Atlanta yet. Trying to not read much into that, but a month ago I was told reliably to not worry about it—it was close. And still nothing. Hmmmm.
4. I think my three best angles of Week 1 (aside from the Kingsbury/Murray debut in Arizona, discussed below) are:
- Patrick Mahomes at Jalen Ramsey and a strong Jacksonville defense, in the Florida humidity. I like the Chiefs, barely, even if Ramsey eliminates Tyreek Hill.
- Jacoby’s team in an early test. Valiant effort by the Colts coming in Los Angeles, but Philip Rivers wins the Colts’ first post-Luck game.
- Vic Fangio will have something frustrating up his sleeve for Antonio Brown. Last game of the weekend: Denver at Oakland, 10:20 p.m. ET Monday. Fangio’s been waiting decades for his shot to be a head coach, and he’s had four months to prepare for this opener. I like Denver in a close one.
5. I think the most encouraging helmet news to start the season is this: 74 percent of NFL players will be wearing the helmets with the best safety technology, those judged best in testing by the NFL/NFLPA testers. Last year, 41 percent of players wore helmets with the best technology. It stands to reason that NFL concussion numbers—which declined from 291 in all 2017 games to 217 in all 2018 games—could drop again this fall.
6. I think the Bears brought in every kicker in the Western Hemisphere this offseason … and the guy who led the derby, Eddy Piniero, missed a PAT wide left by about 25 feet Thursday night in the preseason finale. I am not kidding.
7. I think I loved this project by Sports Illustrated (kudos to my old running mate at The MMQB, Mark Mravic, for honchoing it) on the 100 most influential figures in the 100 seasons of the NFL. I love that SI paid homage to the more quirky figures in history, such as the inventor of fantasy football (Wilfred Winkenbach), the information man who spawned a genre (Will McDonough), the judge who opened the door to free agency (David Doty), the female reporter whose mistreatment caused the league to force media equality on teams (Lisa Olson). So many cool ideas. We could all sit back and think of people left out by this aggressive project, but having done things like this before, I have nothing but admiration for the staff that winnowed down the list and wrote good capsules for each of the 100. There are three people I’d have had on the list of influencers that were not:
• Ralph Hay, the owner of the Canton Bulldogs in 1920, and the man who called the meeting that lead to the formation of the professional football league that soon became the NFL.
• Paul Tagliabue, who presided over the league for 17 explosive years.
• Neil Hornsby, the Briton who founded Pro Football Focus and would represent the rise of analytics in pro football over the past 15 years. I was blown away when then-offensive coordinator Frank Reich of the Eagles told me the winning play in the Super Bowl two years ago (Foles-to-Ertz in Philly’s win over New England) had its roots in research done by receivers coach Mike Groh using PFF data and video. And the business of analytics is only growing.
8. I think the LeSean McCoy dump by the Bills reinforces how tenuous a time it is for NFL running backs, and how easy it is for teams to replace them. The Bills got McCoy’s heir, Devin Singletary, with the 74th pick of the 2019 draft. In 2017, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, James Conner and Tarik Cohen got picked 67, 86, 105, and 119, respectively. On a related note, it continues to be insane that fantasy football places far more importance on running backs than quarterbacks. It’s just not the way the real game is played. I suppose that’s why it’s called “fantasy” football.
9. I think the best hire of the week is Bob McGinn by The Athletic. No writer in America dissects a football team the way McGinn dissects the Green Bay Packers.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Smart Football Story of the Week: John Kryk of the Toronto Sun on how so many NFL quarterbacks were shortstops growing up.
b. If you don’t read or follow John Kryk, you should. He is one of the smartest and most imaginative chroniclers of pro football in North America.
c. Enlightening Interview of the Week: Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com with John Parry, the former NFL referee hired as ESPN’s officiating analyst this year. Lots to chew on here.
d. Parry, who officiated NFL games for 19 years, was good on what he called “the artwork” of officiating. He told Seifert: “We file game reports after every game, so I may put on my game report that in the first quarter, at the 10:20 mark, the left tackle probably had a hold, but I chose not to throw and instead communicated with the player. And then, it never appeared again. The league wants to know if you saw it and what your ruling was. It’s when we don’t see things we should call that it becomes a problem. Most of the time they support preventive officiating … There are definitely times when you go to an offensive lineman and say, ‘It’s a long drive, I get that you’re winded. But you’ve got to get your hands inside when you’re blocking. You’re challenging me and eventually, if you continue with this technique, you’ll force me to throw.’ And you’ll find that players do work with you.”
e. The Youngstown Vindicator published its last paper after a 150-year run last week. As someone who went to Ohio University, I realize the importance of these mid-major papers because so many of my college colleagues went to work and prosper at them, and because papers like the Vindicator are the only journalistic entities holding local officials accountable.
f. Wrote editorial page editor Bertram de Souza of the Vindicator:“I’m mourning the passing of an exceptional paper. Newspapers in the greatest democracy on Earth aren’t supposed to fail, but they are, at an alarming rate.”
g. More and more local news coverage is dying now. Do you hear the clarion call? Who will hold local school boards and local politicians accountable? The Associated Press reports that more than 1,400 cities and towns in the United States have lost local papers over the past 15 years. I understand the business of the printed paper in many markets is unsustainable, but the watchdog journalism must be saved.
h. Great news of the week: Friday night in Reno, a walk-on kicker named Brandon Talton made a 56-year walk-off field goal for Nevada to beat Purdue. After the game, the Nevada coach, Jay Norvell, gave him a full scholarship. Beat a rising Big Ten school, get a scholarship. Seems like justice to me.
i. Chip Kelly’s 3-10 at UCLA, and the Bruins who took the field at Cincinnati on Thursday and played some somnambulant football. What happened to the innovative Kelly?
j. Beernerdness: Had a couple days of rest over the weekend in Rhode Island, and had a very good beer out of Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly, R.I.: Flying Jenny Extra Pale Ale, hoppy and slightly bitter. Enjoyed it.
k. Coffeenerdness: Great latte with strong espresso made by Sift, in Watch Hill, R.I. If you’re ever out visiting Taylor Swift in her Rhode Island manse, give it a try.
l. Liberty football coach Hugh Freeze coaching from a hospital bed is sick, not inspirational.
m. I did not like the Osaka-Gauff match in the U.S. Open Saturday night. I loved it.
n. I like the tennis, and how valiant Coco Gauff was in fighting back from constant holes. And Naomi Osaka is a great player and a sportsmanlike person. So great to see such strong-willed and kind and talented young people emerge as the next big stars in a sport.
o. How great was Osaka, boosting a tearful Gauff after the match, urging her to do the post-match interview on ESPN together? That was beautiful.
p. With a month left in the season, D.J. LeMahieu is the MVP of the American League. Five months ago, he started this season as a utility player with the Yankees, a sort of super-sub. He has to be one of the most unlikely MVPs in the history of the American League.
Notable NFL events in the next seven days:
• Wednesday … Renton, Wash. Jadeveon Clowney’s first practice with the Seahawks, and Pete Carroll begins to see what sort of game-shape he’s in five days before the opener against Cincinnati. More likely Clowney will be a bigger factor in a game he’ll be needed much more: at Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2.
• Thursday … Chicago. Packers at Bears, 8:20 p.m. ET. You wanted the big stage, Matt LaFleur. You got it. Best piece of advice I’ve got for you walking into Solider Field to coach your first NFL game? Block number 52 in dark navy.
• Sunday … Glendale, Ariz. Lions at Cards, 4:25 p.m. ET. The unveiling of the Kliff Kingsbury offense, and of the real way the first pick in the draft, Kyler Murray, will play, is my game of Week 1.
Well, Bill O’Brien.
The writing is on the wall.
Win now. Like, right now.