NFL Power Rankings: Surprises (Bucs 5th? Raiders 8th?!) Take Back Seat. Our Country Is At A Crossroads

BROOKLYN — In 2017 and 2018, when Colin Kaepernick couldn’t find a job because he kneeled in protest during the playing of the national anthem, the refrain inside the league office was clear: Teams are free to hire who they want. We can’t force anyone to sign Colin Kaepernick.

This spring, the NFL was faced with another uncomfortable problem—the low number of minority coaches in the league. There were eight in 2018. Now it’s four, for a second straight year. The league passed a rule that every team would have to interview two minorities before hiring a head coach. This refrain: Teams are free to hire who they want, but we’ve got to force the issue here. This is embarrassing.

Taking a stand on increasing minority coaches is applauded, but spurning Kaepernick for exercising his civil rights—that’s a business decision. He was radioactive. No owner wanted to sign a quarterback who the president called a “son of a bitch” and whose signing would anger a sector of the team’s fans, even if that quarterback would be a far better backup than the team currently had, and in some cases a better starter. As former NFL VP of Communications Joe Lockhart wrote for CNN on Saturday, it was widely suspected in the league that signing Kaepernick would have been bad business. So forgive me if I shook my head late Saturday when I read the statement from commissioner Roger Goodell, sending condolences to the family of George Floyd, the Minnesota man who died at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer Monday. “We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society,” the statement read. “We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.”

The NFL will address the systemic issues—so long as addressing them doesn’t affect the bottom line. We’ll stand up for what’s right and fair, as long as it doesn’t alienate a portion of the fan base.

What percentage of our country loved it when the president called Kaepernick a “son of a bitch?” Thirty percent? More? What percentage hated him taking a knee? Thirty percent? At least. Addressing the systemic issues is fine for the league when it’s something as simple as condemning the killing of a black man by a white police officer. Not so fine, though, when it’s a matter of principle that a third of the country adamantly disagrees with—even if it’s right.

This is a brutal time in our country. I’m white, grew up in a white Connecticut burb, played sports with and against white boys almost exclusively, went to a predominantly white university, worked on predominantly white sports staffs. I can’t know the anger and the fear and the loathing of so many black people as they go about their lives, because it’s not my experience. But the shame I felt when I saw the video of police office Derek Chauvin suffocating the life out of George Floyd last week was devastating. Since that first time seeing and hearing it, my stomach turns when I hear Floyd’s voice—the voice of a man pleading, who knows he’s about to die.

No wonder the black world is so incredibly pissed off at the white world. Black people should be inflamed. We all should be. This isn’t a black/white issue. It’s a human issue. No human being, other than a sick one, should be on Derek Chauvin’s team today.

I was struck by something I heard from a writer I know and respect, Terez Paylor of Yahoo, on his podcast the other day. Paylor is black. Excellent writer; the football-writing world’s in good shape with men like him gaining a national voice. On the pod he said: “Thank God for camera phones, because now we’re starting to see the visual proof of things that we’ve been talking about internally, amongst ourselves, for decades. So this is the mentality, which it is, within in an entire community. [If] you’re tired of hearing about this, I urge you to consider how tired the black players you watch are of complaining about it. That’s why they kneel. That’s been the only reason they kneel. And that’s why Colin Kaepernick’s message continues to resonate among black players.”

Man, I hope we can heal, somehow.

The Lead: 1-32 Ranking

No segue. Just moving on with the column here.

Today I’m engaging in the annual exercise of idiocy that has no official name. I call it “ranking the teams from 1 to 32 after the offseason,” aka “NFL Power Rankings.” Hemingway’s jealous today. I can really turn a phrase.

I do not account for the unprecedented offseason. Too many variables, and there’s really no way of knowing how seriously teams are taking the virtual learning. But I did get an interesting view of it from Peyton Manning the other day. I wondered what advice he’d have for players—quarterbacks in particular—in such a lonely offseason.

Manning had a good story about his brother, Eli, pertaining to this.

“I did a Zoom call with Eli for a buddy, an investment banker,” Peyton Manning said. “It was a Q&A. Someone asked your question—how would you handle this situation as a quarterback? Eli talked about during the NFL lockout—nobody makes any comparisons to what’s going on right now—but, the NFL lockout was somewhat similar in the fact that it was truly a lockdown. Couldn’t talk to the coaches. Couldn’t go into the facilities. Maybe even tougher because you couldn’t have communication with the coaches. Eli talked about organizing their own workouts and taking some ownership. Eli got practice scripts, like blitz walk-through drawings, diagrams, he got practice jerseys, he organized workouts at a high school. He was kind of the head coach/coordinator and they were doing full routes and doing 7 on 7 and blitzes at practice. He was really thorough.

“Sure enough, they were in the Super Bowl that year. They beat the Patriots.

“So I’ve done a few Zoom calls. I did the Buffalo Bills quarterback room meeting. Did the Los Angeles Rams full team meeting. Did the Bears quarterbacks. That was kinda my message, sort of, you know, follow Eli’s lead. Quarterbacks, take ownership. All these Zoom meetings, right now, the coaches are leading them. My message was to the quarterbacks. ‘Hey, organize your own Zoom meetings without the coaches, just get you and the tight ends, you and the receivers.’ It’s actually an opportunity to even have better communication. Because there’s nothing else to do, right? Hey, every Tuesday, 9 a.m., quarterbacks and the offensive line, Zoom, watching film. Instead of complaining about it, see it as an opportunity to really improve. There’s no reason you shouldn’t have every play from last year studied down to the T.

“I shared how I broke down film from the previous season. I always watched the interception tape first. Then the sack tape. All the bad things. You figure out why you’re throwing these interceptions. What drill do I need to incorporate into the offseason to fix that? Sean McVay said after I talked, he got a text from Jared Goff and from Jalen Ramsey. He said they’re going to organize their own meetings and workouts. To me, that’s what you have to do. The coaches shouldn’t lead everything. Josh Allen seemed real excited about that.

“I think the team that wins it all this year is gonna be the team that’s really getting an edge during this time—kind of like the Giants in 2011.”

For the record, last year I had two Super Bowl teams 1 and 7: winner Kansas City one, loser San Francisco seven. My other gems: Indianapolis three, Rams four, Chargers five, Bears nine . . . you get the drill. Win some, lose some. I lost a lot last year. This year’s NFL power rankings, with last year’s final record plus playoff result:

1. Kansas City (15-4, won Super Bowl 54 over San Francisco 31-20)

I hate picking teams to repeat. It’s happened once this century, and not for the past 15 years. Too much can happen. And the Chiefs absolutely are vulnerable on defense. It’s not a superior defense—31st overall in 2018, 17th last year—but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo used Chris Jones in the front and Tyrann Mathieu in the back so well last season, all the way through the Super Bowl. All three return. I just love the offense too much to pick anyone else first.

Patrick Mahomes
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. (Getty Images)

One of the big factors this year is how teams come off the challenges of this unconventional offseason. And in the Chiefs’ case, whether they come back to training camp fat and happy. Those things are impossible to tell, but it certainly has happened to some champions. I don’t see it happening to Patrick Mahomes; he respects the game too much. I don’t see it happening to a leader like Mathieu on defense. I don’t see it happening with Andy Reid, the coaching lifer. But we’ll see. Otherwise, where are they challenged? The offensive speed is all back, led by Tyreek Hill. (And that’s good, because slight receivers like Hill and Mecole Hardman are vulnerable to injury.) The added offensive piece, LSU back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, could give Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy an added dimension. Last year, the Chiefs were 23rd in the league in rush yards per game, but the combo platter of Damien Williams and the versatile Edwards-Helaire could be lethal. Before the draft, GM Brett Veach told Reid to study Edwards-Helaire, saying he reminded him of longtime Reid favorite Brian Westbrook. When Reid watched, he concluded Edwards-Helaire might be better. Yikes. A poor man’s Marshall Faulk. Just what the rest of the AFC didn’t want to see in Kansas City.

2. Baltimore (14-3, lost AFC divisional game to Tennessee 28-12)

Thou shalt not overreact to two games. That’s the Eleventh Commandment in Maryland these days. Lamar Jackson has been an amalgam of John Elway and Michael Vick in the regular season, the justifiably unanimous MVP winner in 2019. In postseason home spirit-crushers the last two years, he’s a 51-percent passer with a 68.3 rating. There’s nothing he can do about that till January, and there’s nothing he should do, either. Two games do not make a rule. But it does hang over the Ravens.

Jackson could be better at 23 than he was at 22 if the Ravens can somewhat ably replace one of the best guards of this century, the retired Marshal Yanda; either of the last fourth-round picks, guards Ben Powers or Ben Bredeson, will likely win Yanda’s spot at left guard. In the draft, Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins was a gift at 55 overall—it’s almost ridiculous to think a team that averaged 5.53 yards per rush last year could be improved—and wideout Devin Duvernay a good get at 92 overall. Both should be significant year-one contributors. Hollywood Brown, the wideout plagued by playing with a bum foot last year, should be the flyer the Ravens drafted first in 2019. Trade of the Offseason: Baltimore dealt the 157th pick in the draft for defensive end Calais Campbell, PFF’s top-rated DE against the run last year; Campbell should have two solid years left.

The AFC North is better with Ben Roethlisberger back and Joe Burrow in it, but I think the Ravens will be neck-and-neck with the Chiefs for best record in the conference—because the AFC West will be markedly improved, and because Baltimore has a favorable end of season: Dallas at home on a Thursday, at Cleveland on a Monday, Jacksonville and the Giants at home, and at Cincinnati. Five straight games to finish against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year. Baltimore should be 13-3 or better.

3. New Orleans (13-4, lost NFC Wild Card game 26-20 to Minnesota)

Endings are not always pretty. Tom Brady’s finale last year, for instance, with the pick-six to Logan Ryan on the last play of his New England career. Brett Favre, on a snowy night in Minnesota, getting concussed in an ugly 40-14 loss to the Bears. And I’ve thought of what this season might be like for Drew Brees in New Orleans, particularly after three straight ignominious ends to Saints seasons. I don’t see another ugly finish from this team, and this coach. Brees is not exactly stumbling into the end, if indeed this is the end; I think it probably is, based on the fact that Brees was so close to walking away in January. In the last two years, he’s had the two most accurate seasons in NFL history, had a combined 59-9 TD-to-interception ratio, and had his best two passer ratings of a 19-year career.

This is mostly the same team that stalled in the Superdome against the Vikings in the wild-card game, except for Jameis Winston as an intriguing backup QB, Emmanuel Sanders as a proven alternative to Michael Thomas, and uber-leader Malcolm Jenkins returning to key the secondary in what could also be his last year. Jenkins is the player Sean Payton always regretted letting get away after spending his first five seasons in New Orleans. It’d be fitting for both Jenkins and Brees to go out on top.

To make it to Super Bowl 55, New Orleans will have to be better than up-and-coming San Francisco and the pesky Bucs. In its last 33 regular-season games, New Orleans is 23-5 against the rest of the league and 3-2 against the Bucs . . . and now Tampa will have Tom Brady playing quarterback. A fascinating January should be on tap, whatever happens.

4. San Francisco (15-4, lost Super Bowl to Kansas City 31-20)

There isn’t a team that responded to its problems better than the Niners this offseason. San Francisco needed a left tackle after Joe Staley’s April retirement; GM John Lynch went out and got Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, cheap. Knowing that he couldn’t pay all his top defensive frontmen, Lynch dealt DeForest Buckner for the 13th pick in the draft—and used that pick on South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw. And needing a long-term receiver threat, the Niners traded up in the first round for Arizona State wideout Brandon Aiyuk. The one long-term position Lynch needs to attack is the secondary—and not because of the late collapse against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Richard Sherman is 32, and greatness for a corner at 32 cannot be assumed. But a deep defensive front will help any issues defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has in the back end.

The 49ers have an excellent chance to stay atop the tough NFC West, though a Lombardi Trophy will come only with more consistency from Jimmy Garoppolo. His 75.9 rating in the playoffs, while not coming out of nowhere, was more noticeable because of how coach Kyle Shanahan play-called in January after Garoppolo threw an ugly interception against the Vikings. In the Niners’ last six quarters before the Super Bowl, Garoppolo threw 14 passes and the Niners ran it 72 times. That might have happened in the Bob Griese Miami days, but man, was it noticeable in today’s football. The 49ers belittled the media for making a big deal of it, and every Niner player has pit-bulled questions about Garoppolo since, but come on. His two picks and missed deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders in the fourth quarter only exacerbated the issue. The only one who can do anything about this is cool Jimmy G, and I think all the badgering will push him to be better. But we haven’t seen it yet. That’s why the Saints are 3 and Niners 4 in this totally scientific rating of the teams.

5. Tampa Bay (7-9)

Last year, my email bag got overstuffed with zingers after I picked the 49ers, coming off 6-10 and 4-12 seasons, number seven in my spring power rankings. You all turned out to be right about my misjudgment of the Niners, sort of. Actually, I underrated them. So I learned my lesson: I’ve inflated the Bucs. It’s part Tom Brady. The turnovers are one thing—last year, the Bucs threw 30 interceptions; in the last five years, Brady threw 29. And it stands to reason Brady will lift a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff games since Brady’s first season as a full-time starter, 2002. I do not believe he’s fallen off some cliff at 43; it’s a cliché. He’s not going to be the deep-ball thrower coach Brice Arians would most want at the position—but he will be the kind of player/leader this franchise has lacked at the position for a long time.

This is also about the team Brady inherits. Last year, the Bucs entered the final two weeks on a four-game win streak, 7-7, with winnable home games against Houston and Atlanta. Three Jameis Winston picks in the first 16 minutes doomed Tampa against Houston, and Winston’s overtime walkoff pick-six lost the Falcons game. So easily, with just a little ball-security, the Bucs could have been 9-7. Anyway, Tampa Bay was close to being the Next Big NFC Thing. Brady and maybe tight end Rob Gronkowski (assuming he’s still Gronk) should make an explosive offense more efficient. The defense needs to be a tick better. Keeping Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul, and continuing to build around defensive keystone Devin White at middle linebacker, are smart moves. Developing a better secondary, the team’s Achilles heel, should be helped significantly by second-round safety Antoine Winfield Jr. Nothing’s guaranteed, particularly in a season with the tough AFC West on the schedule. But I think the Bucs have a good chance to be 2020’s breakthrough team.

6. Seattle (12-6, lost NFC divisional game at Green Bay 28-23)

You might prefer other quarterbacks if you had the first pick in an NFL QB draft. I might too. (Give me Mahomes.) But what Russell Wilson has done in his Seattle tenure is phenomenal. Since making Wilson the third-round pick in 2012, the Seahawks have played 143 games, 15 in the postseason. Wilson has started every one. He’s made the playoffs in seven of his eight seasons, and won at least one playoff game in six of those seven seasons. (In those eight seasons, a total of 400 NFL MVP votes have been cast. Wilson has never gotten one of those MVP votes.) Seattle doesn’t have the greatest offense, or the most explosive numbers, but over the past three seasons, Wilson has thrown 100 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions. He’s the reason, basically, that I have the Seahawks this high in my rankings. He’s been the deodorant for an oft-sketchy offensive line.

So the Seahawks will be in the top 10 or 12 in scoring, and they’ll need a few strong defensive efforts to win the Super Bowl, because the offense doesn’t have the weaponry to consistently score in the thirties. Fortunately for them, D.K. Metcalf played like the 10th pick in the 2019 draft, not the 64th, and gave Seattle a deep and physical weapon it really needed after the retirement of Doug Baldwin. On defense, Seattle GM John Schneider looks to be waiting for the price tag of a veteran edge rusher like Everson Griffen to go down, or for Jadeveon Clowney to be willing to play for 60 cents on the dollar (in his mind). Seattle needs the re-acquired Bruce Irvin or 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier, invisible last year, to provide some threat around the edge and hope Griffen or Clowney is on the field opening day.

7. Tennessee (11-8, lost AFC Championship Game to Kansas City 35-24)

I don’t think we appreciate enough what the Titans did after the leaves changed last fall. In the last 10 games, including playoffs, Tennessee was 7-3, averaged 30.6 points per game, traveled to beat the Nos. 3 and 1 seeds in the playoffs, and were down four entering the fourth quarter to the eventual world champions in Kansas City. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill rescued the season in October and compiled the league’s best passer rating in seven years in the process. Derrick Henry was the perfect powerback, going into the wayback machine to run it 386 times in 19 games—for a 5.1-yard average.

What they can do for an encore is hold off Indianapolis (and maybe Houston) for the AFC South title, and maybe get off the 9-7 treadmill. (They’ve been 9-7 four straight years.) Defensively, Tennessee’s in good shape to do a bit better than the 21 points per game than it surrendered last year, even after trading perennial Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey to Denver. DaQuan Jones, 28, and Jeffery Simmons, 22, are two good interior players, and Tennessee got nine good years out of Casey.

Mike Vrabel’s done a good job with this team—he knew when to pull the plug with the ineffective Marcus Mariota—and with this coaching staff. He brought back Dean Pees to be his defensive coordinator for two needed seasons (Pees retired in January), and promoted the right man, Arthur Smith, to offensive coordinator when Matt LaFleur took the Packers head-coaching job last year. Smith was imaginative and superb in his first year running the offense. There’s no reason why it won’t continue.

8. Las Vegas Raiders (7-9)

This is going to be a fun floor show in the new Allegiant Stadium, in the first year ever for an NFL franchise in Nevada. A shame, really, that crowds may not be able to flock to see this team due to the pandemic. What fun it could be, with the speedy Henry Ruggs III paired with returning Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow—and with twin third-round picks Lynn Bowden and Bryan Edwards fighting for receiver snaps too. Tight end Darren Waller is an emerging star and could get a few snaps stolen by in-the-twilight Jason Witten with a strange stop, at 38, on his late-career tour.

Hunter Renfrow
Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow. (Getty Images)

GM Mike Mayock paid so much attention to the offense because it was simply too inconsistent last year; the Raiders scored 24 points or less each week in the last six, going 1-5 down the stretch. That led to the Raiders kicking the tires on Tom Brady in March. Derek Carr knows, and doesn’t seem to care. I probably like the Raiders more than most because of the offensive improvement and because of four defensive additions: defensive end Carl Nassib, inside linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkowski, and cornerback Prince Amukamara (decent year in 2019 in Chicago, very good in 2018).

There’s a good chance that the significantly better AFC West will neuter the progress the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos have made, because they’ll all unmistakably improved. But this first edition of an NFL team in Vegas is a fascinating one.

9. Dallas (8-8)

So now we’ll find out how much Mike McCarthy really learned in that gap year in his luxury garage in Green Bay. [Trust me: I was there. Having a luxe office space upstairs and an indoor full-court basketball floor downstairs makes it pretty darn nice.] On his desk in that garage was a sign that said LESS VOLUME, MORE CREATIVITY. Which is a smart thing for a man who, with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, was 23-23-1 in his last three Green Bay coaching seasons. McCarthy didn’t like how in Green Bay he got away from the quarterback being under center; he’d rather play the QB under center 50 or 60 percent of the time to take advantage of stressers for the defense—play-action especially but also the relatively nouveau threat of the Jet Sweep. He’ll have much better weapons to use with the Cowboys, led by CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup at receiver and Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.

I still feel like the Cowboys would have been wiser to go defense with the pick that nabbed Lamb—even better, a trade-down to get a corner and a safety in rounds one and two—after losing sack leader Robert Quinn and top cornerback Byron Jones in free agency. Dak Prescott certainly can win his share of 33-30 games; now, for the Cowboys to beat Philadelphia for the NFC East crown, he’ll have to. I think the Cowboys are the team to beat in the division, but one of the toughest November/December slates in football (Eagles twice, Steelers and Niners at home, Ravens and Vikings away) will make it very difficult.

10. Pittsburgh (8-8)

One day I’ll understand team-building. One big thing that I didn’t quite get this offseason is Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert, one of the best team architects in the NFL, not backstopping Ben Roethlisberger with a better backup. Made zero sense to me. The Steelers went 3-4 in the last seven weeks, fighting for the sixth playoff spot with Tennessee at the end of the season. In the four losses, with Devlin Hodges or Mason Rudolph playing, the offense sputtered consistently. Point totals: 7 at Cleveland, 10 versus Buffalo, 10 at the Jets, 10 at the Ravens (with the Ravens resting guys, playing for nothing). The Steelers enter this season with Rudolph or Hodges backing up the 38-year-old Roethlisberger, who has missed 5, 2, 1, 0 and 14 starts in the last five seasons.

If Roethlisberger can return as Roethlisberger (“I’m throwing without pain for the first time in years,” he said this spring) and play a full season, he’s got two significant weapons added to his arsenal: 238-pound rookie receiver Chase Claypool and free-agent tight end Eric Ebron. The defense, with ace safety Minkah Fitzpatrick likely better after being thrown into the starting lineup with the September trade from Miami, should be a top-five NFL D again. Pittsburgh led the NFL with 54 sacks and 38 takeaways in 2019 . . . and lost only defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (in free agency, to the Eagles) from its core. Healthy, this is a Super Bowl-contending team. Without Roethlisberger for any lengthy period, Pittsburgh will struggle to be the sixth or seventh seed in the AFC.

11. Minnesota (11-7, lost NFC divisional game to San Francisco 27-10)

I love the deal GM Rick Spielman made prior to the draft, sending 26-year-old Stefon Diggs and a seventh-rounder to Buffalo for first, fourth, fifth and sixth-round draft picks, then choosing LSU slot receiver Justin Jefferson (who turns 21 in two weeks) with the 22nd pick. Jefferson caught 111 balls from Joe Burrow last year and though there’s no guarantee he’ll be, say, a 65-catch guy in an offense that wants to be fairly even in the run-pass ratio, there’s the added benefit of the Vikings saving about $8.5-million a year on the cap over the next three years in Jefferson’s deal versus Diggs’ contract. Not to mention the subtraction of a player in Diggs, who didn’t seem totally all-in with the Viking ethos.

Dalvin Cook could win a rushing title with his ability and the Minnesota love of the run. I’d be more worried about the run defense than the run offense. Minnesota allowed 4.3 yards per attempt last year, leading to a swap of free-agent run-stoppers: Linval Joseph out, Michael Pierce in. The secondary is a bigger concern, actually. The Vikings let corners Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander walk, and replaced them with first-rounder Jeff Gladney and third-rounder Cameron Dantzler; they’ll be counted on early, as will former first-rounder Mike Hughes, who’s played only 20 of 34 Viking games since being drafted due to injury.

It’ll be interesting to see how four men—coach Mike Zimmer, advisor Dom Capers and co-coordinators Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson—meld running Mike Zimmer’s beloved D. By December, when the Vikings go on the road to play Tom Brady and Drew Brees in a 12-day span, they’d better have it all figured out. I like the Vikings, but this is a team with some defensive questions.

12. Green Bay (14-4, lost NFC Championship 34-20 to San Francisco)

Eyebrow-raising over/under bet of the 2020 NFL teams (to me): Green Bay came out of the chute at 8.5 wins, and is now, depending on the book, at 9 or 9.5. Interesting, after the Pack went 13-3 in Matt LaFleur’s first regular season. It’s probably because the Packers used many of the nine lives last year—nine of their 14 victories (including 28-23 over Seattle in the playoffs) were one-score games. But you could also say that a supremely motivated Aaron Rodgers (perhaps out to stick it to GM Brian Gutekunst for drafting his supposed heir, Jordan Love, in the first round this year) will be better in year two under LaFleur than the 62-percent passer he was in 2019.

The strangest thing of the Packers’ offseason, to me, wasn’t picking a young passer. It was ignoring the receiver position (other than picking up the marginal Devin Funchess). I think Green Bay will regret passing on Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman or a number of other wideouts from a rich crop late in round one, but we shall see. Gutekunst told me has great faith in the returning Alan Lazard, Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown to play alongside Davante Adams, but they haven’t proven to be stalwarts yet.

Gutekunst—give him credit—did hit two defensive home runs last season with linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith (25.5 combined sacks) in free agency. Those signings mean Rodgers doesn’t have to put up crazy numbers. I feel good about Green Bay being a playoff team, but we’ll see if they have enough firepower to compete with the explosive teams of the league.

13. Buffalo (10-7, lost AFC wild-card game 22-19 at Houston)

“We gotta score more points,” GM Brandon Beane said this offseason. One more TD in January would have helped. The Bills led Houston 16-0 with 20 minutes to play five months ago, but the NFL’s 23rd-ranked scoring offense managed zero touchdowns in the last 68 minutes of that game. That dictated a desperate move by GM Brandon Beane. He dealt first, fifth and sixth-round picks this year and a fourth next year for Stefon Diggs (three-year average: 76 catches, 1,000 yards, eight TDs) and a seven, which is a heavy price, particularly in a year with such strong receiving stock in the draft. Diggs will be judged on whether he can lift an offense in a slumber. But if any of the receivers available with the 22nd pick that Buffalo deal to the Vikes—Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman—turn into stars, Diggs had better be one in Buffalo. He’s a good fit for the strong-armed Josh Allen; Diggs had a league-best eight catches of 40-plus yards last year. Another good Beane add was Utah running back Zack Moss, the 86th pick in April, to team with Devin Singletary for what could be the best run game in the division.

I think Buffalo’s the best team in the division with one proviso: Allen must be better. Last year, of the 27 quarterbacks who started at least 12 games in the NFL, Allen was 27th in passing yards per game, with 193.1. That’s 40 yards worse than Gardner Minshew. So that’s a pretty big proviso. But I’m counting on the weaponry around Allen and what’s going to be a top five D to be the difference. There’s a reason the NFL made the Bills a prime-time team this year, with four night games—three coming in the last five weeks. The league thinks the Bills will be in the pennant race all season, as do I.

14. Indianapolis (7-9)

The noise in Indianapolis this offseason has centered around the acquisitions of one-year fix-it quarterback Philip Rivers (and for one season and $25 million, he’d better fix it), top-three-NFL defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in a trade from San Francisco and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. with the Colts first choice in the draft. All good additions, to be sure. But the pickup that struck me was second-round running back Jonathan Taylor. When I spoke to him on draft weekend, he said, “I got picked by the perfect team for me.” Taylor’s the first player in major-college history to rush for more than 6,000 yards in a three-season span, and he did it behind a line traditionally built for the run at Wisconsin. Same thing in Indy, with a terrific run-blocking guard, Quenton Nelson, and pile-driving center Ryan Kelly. I will be very surprised if the Colts, fifth in the league with 471 rushes last year, don’t at least mirror that this year with Taylor and returning 1,000-yard back Marlon Mack teaming in the backfield.

I’m bullish on the Colts. I think they’re a playoff team, perhaps a division championship team if Rivers returns to form. By the way, I found it odd that, even with the Rivers and Buckner additions before the schedule was announced, the NFL didn’t give the Colts a Thursday or Sunday game; their lone primetime show is a Monday-nighter in Week 10 at Tennessee. I’ll bet that gets mentioned to the team 16 or 18 times by Frank Reich in the next few months.

15. Philadelphia (9-8, lost NFC wild-card game 17-9 to Seattle)

What a hard-to-read team. So many “yeah, buts.” The biggest: Eagles were 5-7 last year and needed to win four in a row to ensure a playoff spot—and did . . . but the beat-up offense scored 10, 9 and 9 points against playoff teams in the last eight games. Everything was a struggle last year. But quarterback Carson Wentz had a mostly redemptive season, playing all 17 games after missing the ends of the previous two years with injuries.

Wisely, GM Howie Roseman decided to stock up to help the offense, drafting wideout Jalen Reagor, who needs to be impactful from day one, and quarterback Jalen Hurts, who needs to be impactful in season one. For five years, the Eagles kept hoping Nelson Agholor would be something more than a complementary piece, but he never was. He’s gone, and now Reagor needs to show up from day one.

I’m amazed at the anti-Hurts sentiment out there. Dinosaur thinking, I believe. Baltimore loved Jalen Hurts, for instance. Not saying the Ravens would have taken him, particularly with J.K. Dobbins left on the board, but Baltimore wouldn’t have been afraid to insert him in the offense six or eight plays a game to scare the crap out of the defense. Same with Doug Pederson, who can handle the mental state of Wentz and be sure he knows that all Hurts can do is make Wentz better. With some teams, the backup quarterback is a top-10-important player on the team. When the franchise quarterback has missed 13 games due to injury in the last three years, that makes the backup QB much more important. Oh, and a sentence for the defense: Darius Slay is a heck of a pickup for the secondary, particularly with the non-division slate of quarterbacks on the way—Niners, Steelers, Ravens, Seahawks, Packers, Saints, Cardinals. I say Week 16, Eagles at Cowboys, is the championship game of the NFC East.

16. Los Angeles Rams (9-7)

I like them more than most. But in reality, it’s hard to know what to make of this team after the major makeover this year. Has there been a team in NFL history with a coaching braintrust this young—Sean McVay 34, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell 35, defensive coordinator Brandon Staley 37? If the Rams return to the playoffs this year, Jared Goff will have to have a turnaround season, and that’s an iffy proposition. He was a confident mad bomber as the Rams marauded their way to Super Bowl contention in 2018 and has looked more tentative since. (First 11 games of 2018: 26 TDs, 6 interceptions. Twenty-four games since: 29-24.) Remember that Thursday night game against Minnesota early in 2018, when Goff threw high arcing bombs to Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks? Lovely. On-target. Bill Walsh used to have a saying (and he taught his scouts this), If I’ve seen a guy do it a few times on tape, it’s up to us as coaches to get him to do it that way all the time. That’s why the Niners drafted the inconsistent Charles Haley out of James Madison; Haley flashed a few times in college and Walsh thought they could get that out of him consistently.

Jared Goff, Sean McVay
Rams quarterback Jared Goff and coach Sean McVay. (Getty Images)

Solidifying the middle of the line, which the Rams think they’ve done after last year’s interior mess on offense, should help Goff. And I think the addition of O’Connell, who can be the alter-ego of McVay and a hard teacher like him, gives Goff a good chance to reclaim what he had. We’ll see. All that’s riding on Goff is the near future of the new anchor tenant of SoFi Stadium, the first new NFL palace to be built in Los Angeles since forever.

17. Chicago (8-8)

Good on GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy to address the elephant in the room by trading for Nick Foles, who might have been the perfect veteran quarterback candidate for the Bears. Foles needs to be one of two things: a Josh McCown-type tutor/mentor for Mitchell Trubisky, or a 16-game starter who can lead the Bears to 10 wins and a playoff spot. Foles can be either—and he won’t be all mopey in any way if he has to sit and help Trubisky reclaim a foundering career. “We’re going to be very honest and open with them,” Nagy said of the QBs. That’s all Trubisky can ask in year four.

Regardless of the outcome of the QB competition—my money is on Foles—the Bears have to forget Trubisky’s head space and roar into a winnable, manageable season. Chicago doesn’t play a 2019 playoff team in its seven games before Halloween, and by the time a killer November (Saints, at Titans, Vikings, at Packers) rolls around, the quarterback dilemma should be solved. I’m more bullish on the Bears than many, in part, because the defensive front should be as good as it was in 2018, when Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks led a marauding front; now Robert Quinn (11.5 sacks in 14 Dallas games last year) is a third force to offense to worry about. In 33 games of the Nagy Era, the Bears have allowed 18.1 points per game, and there’s no reason to expect that production to go away. If the quarterback’s a B-plus player, the Bears could ride a favorable schedule to the playoffs. That’s a big if.

18. Arizona (5-10-1)

In all the excitement about the offensively intriguing Cardinals—has there ever been the kind of national sis-boom-bah about a team coming off a five-win season?—it’s good to remember a couple of things. As compelling as the Kyler/Kliff Kards are entering year two of their marriage, they were 21st in total yards and 16th in points last year, and 29th in Red Zone efficiency. But I have them rising nonetheless. Kliff Kingsbury, though no one believed him, kept saying last year the key to his offense was the run game, and he proved it: Only one team had a better per-carry average than Arizona’s 5.03 yards. The underappreciated Kenyan Drake returns after 166, 137 and 110-yard rushing games in his eight weeks as a Card, and, of course, DeAndre Hopkins instantly becomes the NFL’s acquisition of the year. One of the best receivers in the NFL should be Kyler Murray’s best friend long after Larry Fitzgerald (37 in August) retires.

I’d have had the Cards higher if I trusted the defense (28th in points allowed, 32nd in yards allowed in ’19). Other than Joe Burrow, Isaiah Simmons is probably the rookie with the most juice in the NFL entering the season. Will he be an enforcer safety? A hybrid safety/linebacker who, in a pinch, lines up in the slot? Strictly linebacker? Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph seems inclined to make him a linebacker as a rookie, which, in this odd offseason without much onfield practice time to experiment, might make the most sense. Putting Simmons in the middle of the defense could still enable the Cards to play a bunch of imbalanced defenses, with Simmons still able to spy or cover or blitz. So many interesting teams to watch in 2020 . . . Arizona’s in the top five.

19. Miami (5-11)

Most Overused Peter King Stat of the Offseason . . . 2019 records (including playoffs) since Halloween: Miami 5-4, New England 4-5. And then the Dolphins added an electric quarterback, half the Patriots roster, and reinforcements for the offensive line. I look at the two coordinators Brian Flores let go with a mixture of suspicion and praise. Chad O’Shea’s offense may or may not have been too encyclopedic, and Patrick Graham may or may not have meshed with Flores’ defensive philosophy totally, but I like a coach who has the guts to open himself up for criticism for having two new coordinators (the offensively simplistic Chan Gailey and Josh Boyer) in year two.

As for who plays quarterback: Around the draft, I kept hearing Miami’s the perfect place for Tua Tagovailoa, because he can take a redshirt year to get his ankles and surgically repaired hip absolutely perfect for 2021. So Tua behind Ryan Fitzpatrick was the perfect scenario. It could be, but not because the Dolphins drafted him to take a rehab season. If we learned one thing from watching Flores last year, when half his roster got traded to get in position to have the first pick in the draft, he’s not coaching for next year. He could have played Josh Rosen and likely won less and been in the derby for Joe Burrow. But Flores showed last year he coaches for this week, this minute. If Tagovailoa’s better in August (assuming there’s a typical August in the NFL), he’ll play over Fitzpatrick. If he’s not better, he won’t.

20. Denver (7-9)

Denver’s gone 5-11, 6-10 and 7-9 in the last three years, and those three losing seasons match the total of the Broncos’ previous 22 years. Which is why the emergency button has been pressed in the office of franchise architect John Elway. The Broncos acquired some short-term adrenaline for the defense in trades—defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback A.J. Bouye, and Bradley Chubb comes back to try to fulfill the pass-rush promise that he flashed briefly as a rookie since he was the fifth overall pick two years ago. I trust Vic Fangio to put together a defense at least as solid as last year, when the Broncos held eight of their last 12 foes to 20 points or less. Fangio will be tested early: Denver opens with the resurgent Titans, Steelers and Bucs in the first three weeks. Derrick Henry, Big Ben and Tom Brady. Some tests.

Of course, Elway decided to try to match nuclear arsenals in Kansas City in the offseason, adding receivers Jerry Jeudy and speedy K.J. Hamler with the first two picks—Fangio’s a pretty magnanimous head coach to continue to see Elway building the offense and not jump on the table for prime defensive draft pieces—and plucking Melvin Gordon from the Chargers in free agency. Denver may have the best young skill group in the NFL, with Jeudy, Hamler, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton at wideout, Noah Fant at tight end and Gordon to supplement two-time 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay in the backfield. Few quarterbacks have as much pressure entering this season as Drew Lock, the 2018 second-rounder with all of five NFL starts to his name.

This is going to be a fun team to watch. I could see the Broncos, in a rising division, anywhere between second and fourth, anywhere between six and 11 wins.

21. New England (12-5, lost AFC wild-card game to Tennessee 20-13)

Well, Bill Belichick and the Patriots are set up to answer the age-old question: Can Belichick win without Tom Brady? In regular-season games in his coaching career, Belichick’s teams are 219-64 with Brady starts, and 54-63 when he doesn’t. Without Brady, Belichick’s won at a .462 clip. With Brady, it’s .774.

This year reminds me of Belichick’s first year or two in New England, when he and Scott Pioli got the cap right by making do with lesser players and the highest-paid player in football, Drew Bledsoe. By 2002, it was Brady’s team, and he flourished. Now, after jettisoning Brady, Rob Gronkowski, center Ted Karras, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and keystone linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Jamie Collins, Belichick and Nick Caserio can clean out the cap and rebuild.

The reviews on the 133rd pick in the 2019 draft, Jarrett Stidham, are good, but the shadow of the 199th pick in 2000 will always be a long one for anyone who plays quarterback in New England. There is no book on Stidham, a tough kid who will not be afraid of the hot seat, but his goal is to keep New England in games and leave the Patriots with a decision to make on a quarterback in the 2021 draft. Whatever happens, America will be watching: Four of their final nine games will be in prime time. I think this season breaks the Patriots’ 11-year stranglehold on the AFC East, but I’m pretty sure everyone in that building wants to rub our faces in such predictions, and that’s a great motivator.

22. Houston (11-7, lost AFC divisional game 51-31 at Kansas City)

Not much has gone right for the Texans in 2020. It started with getting totally embarrassed, outscored 51-7 in the last 40 minutes of the playoff debacle at Kansas City. It continued with the trade of a top-three NFL receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, to Arizona for 55 cents on the dollar. Left with one draft choice in the top 80, Houston used it to replace D.J. Reader, a defensive tackle lost in free agency to Cincinnati, with TCU’s Ross Blacklock. The Texans acquired a pair of vet receivers, Brandin Cooks (on his fourth team at 26) and Randall Cobb, for Deshaun Watson.

Deshaun Watson
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. (Getty Images)

But the Texans’ path to the playoffs will depend on the defense, which sunk from 12th in 2018 to 28th last year, then gave up four touchdowns in 10 minutes in the collapse at Kansas City. New defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver takes over for Romeo Crennel, and he has to wonder which J.J. Watt will play this year—the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, or the one who’s missed 32 of the last 64 games with injuries. Without Watt, the cupboard is bare at pass-rusher; Whitney Mercilus (last 32 games: 11.5 sacks) seems the best hope. Actually, the best hope, even without Hopkins, is building a top-five offense that can outscore teams.

The Texans should know where they stand by the end of September. They open against the last two MVPs—at Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson at home—before traveling to play the rehabbed Ben Roethlisberger and one of the best defenses in football.

23. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)

The NFL’s schedule release showed what it thinks of the Chargers: an October Monday night AT the Saints, a December Thursday night game AT the Raiders. In other words, the league thinks the Chargers will rebound from 5-11 with two new quarterbacks and a retooled defense, but skepticism of the home crowd at new SoFi Stadium, or lack thereof, put them on the road for the two prime-timers. The Chargers could be eighth in these rankings and they could be 24th . . . so much depends on how Tyrod Taylor (31 on opening day) plays early.

Let’s reflect on Taylor’s three-year run as Buffalo’s starter after backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore for four years. A 63-percent passer, not a risk-taker, 51 touchdowns, 16 picks, 92.5 rating, rushed for between 420 and 580 yards each year, let go after leading the Bills to the playoffs in 2017 but scoring just three points in the postseason loss at Jacksonville. Always well-liked by his mates. “The players here respect the hell out of him,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. But when you draft a quarterback (Justin Herbert) sixth overall, it’s pretty clear your team retains doubts about the incumbent.

As for Herbert, this is a perfect spot for him. He’s a West Coast kid, never lived anywhere but Oregon, and now his practice facility and agents and friends are in Orange County. Should be a good learning environment. The defense should keep the Chargers in games. The free-agent signing of cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who can fill at both slot and outside corner, is a good one, and first-round linebacker Kenneth Murray, should anchor the front seven from day one.

24. Cleveland (6-10)

Since the turn of the century, the Patriots have had one coach (obviously) and the Browns 12. Kevin Stefanski’s the 12th, and that has nothing to do with 2020. I just raise the issue because Bill Belichick been the coach of the Patriots that long, in large part, because he partnered with a quarterback he got the most out of. That’s precisely how Stefanski will be able to avoid being the typical Browns’ short-termer.

The Browns took Baker Mayfield first overall two years ago, and he’s had a few good games (in the back half of 2018) and a lot more shaky ones. Enter Stefanski, with the third offense for Mayfield in 25 months as a pro. Stefanski’s not coming in to say, My way or the highway, Baker. He’s coming in to mold the best possible offense around Mayfield, and if that takes a few throws out of his hands and a few more balls in the hands of a run game that steamrolled to a 4.8-yard average last year, so be it. Whatever it is, Mayfield will be well-schooled, and if he’s good enough, he’s going to have a long life with a successful team. “We going to put him in a scheme, we’re going to make sure he’s comfortable with it, we’re going to take our time to make sure we have the intricacies to everything we’re doing down,” Stefanski told me in a March podcast. “If we don’t have that precision, it’s just going to be too hard.”

This is where it’s going to be important for everyone on the offense to curb egos. What’s best for Mayfield is going to be best for the offense long-term. Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills should give him more protection, and free-agent tight end Austin Hooper is a solid intermediate option. The tools are there for a very good offense. But I have Cleveland down in this nether region because I need to see Mayfield be a consistent player.

25. Atlanta (7-9)

The Falcons have started 4-9 and 1-7 in the last two years, so it’s easy to say, Just start faster. Opening with Seattle, Dallas, Chicago and Green Bay might make that tough. And another strong finish might be tough too, with Atlanta capping this season against Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. (Strange schedule: Atlanta doesn’t see Brady till Christmas week, then faces him twice in 15 days.)

The Falcons have surrendered 25.7 points per game over the past two years, and the hope is that new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris—his last DC job was at Kansas State in 2007—will mix new pieces to overhaul a disappointing unit. Free-agent Dante Fowler is five years removed from being the third pick in the draft, and Atlanta’s desperate for he and Tak McKinley to form a bookend pass-rush to torment the slew of great quarterbacks on their schedule. Morris was installed as DB coach after the bye last year and did strong work there. He’ll have to get the 20th pick in this year’s draft, Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell, up to speed to start opening day.

There was general surprise when owner Arthur Blank gave Dan Quinn a sixth season to get Atlanta back to prominence. Give the Falcons credit for not being knee-jerk after a 6-2 finish. But I doubt Blank will be as patient with another sub-.500 finish.

26. Detroit (3-12-1)

Big year for lots of people in Detroit. Matt Patricia, in his two seasons as coach, is 9-22-1 and has finished last in the division both years. This is Matthew Stafford’s 12th year in Detroit since being the first overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Lions haven’t won a playoff games since he arrived, and haven’t hosted one either. He was off to a good start before a back injury kayoed him after eight games last year, on pace for a 5,000-yard season. Now, Stafford is 32, and the Lions have done nothing with his prime. He’s got a strong receiver group—Kenny Golladay is one of the NFL’s untrumpeted gems—and should be primed for a strong year.

But what will it mean? Detroit basically treaded water in the offseason, trading ace cornerback Darius Slay to Philadelphia and using the third pick in the draft on his replacement, Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah. He’ll play opposite new cornerback Desmond Trufant, who comes from Atlanta after a disappointing end there. Patricia’s D needs to show progress after allowing a gaudy 24.5 points a game in his first two years, not the kind of performance the Lions expected when they hired the Belichick disciple two years ago. He’ll need strong performances from a couple of former Patriots who just arrived this year—instinctive safety Duron Harmon and roving linebacker Jamie Collins. I won’t be shocked if Detroit contends, because the Lions will score. The big question is the D.

27. Cincinnati (2-14)

When the Bengals released Andy Dalton in late April, it was one of the great shows of confidence in a draft choice in recent years. Think of it. The pandemic could force teams into scramble mode before the season; will training camp exist in any sort of normal way, and regardless, will Burrow be able to throw to any of his receivers before August? I’m probably too smitten with Burrow—coming off his 60-touchdown season last fall (which by the way was not an Arena League season) at LSU—but a confident and strong-willed quarterback can do a lot for a franchise. Burrow needs to form early bonds with A.J. Green, the underrated Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins (6-4, 6-1 and 6-4), and the burner John Ross, for whom 2020 is Last Chance Saloon; the former ninth pick in the draft will be a free agent after the season. But at least Burrow should get Ross’ best. That is potentially a heck of a receiver group if Green, who has missed 6, 0, 7, and 16 games the last four seasons, can stay on the field for any length of time.

The Bengals needed to get much better on defense and did okay in free agency, adding a rock in the middle of the line, tackle D.J. Reader, play-making safety Von Bell and Vikings corners Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander—though, per PFF, Waynes and Alexander surrendered 71 percent completions combined last year. So many ifs in Cincinnati, and a single player can’t fix it all. But Burrow’s will should push the Cincinnati culture north.

28. New York Jets (7-9)

The Jets had one of the most deceiving years in the league, finishing 6-2 in their last eight games while facing only one premier team—Baltimore. Otherwise, they beat Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, Derek Carr (in one of the great no-show East Coast games by a Raider team in history), Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mason Rudolph and Josh Allen, and got creamed by the Bengals. The Jets spent huge on Le’Veon Bell and then rushed for 78.6 yards a game as a team, 31st in the league; I don’t see a vast improvement.

Jamal Adams
Jets safety Jamal Adams. (Getty Images)

Sam Darnold looked like a golden boy some weeks and Mitchell Trubisky in others. They should be better on the offensive line with four new starters, led by rookie tackle Mekhi Becton, the first pick of the Joe Douglas era. But the receiving corps is a weakness. I like Breshad Perriman, who shined in Tampa late last season, but rookie Denzel Mims and tight end Chris Herndon both need to hit the ground running for Darnold to have a chance. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams needs safety Jamal Adams to be all-in.

By the way, the Jets would be fools to trade Adams—at least now. Say some good team offers first and third-round picks for Adams, which would be a premium price for a safety. Answer this question, Jets fans: Would you get rid of your best player for the 26th and 90th picks in next year’s draft? I wouldn’t.

29. Carolina Panthers (5-11)

Nobody’s saying it loudly, but I’m pretty sure it’s on the minds of most Carolinians inside and outside the Panthers: Tank for Trevor. Except losing to get in draft position for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence is not very easy, and I doubt it happens in this case. It’s true that Matt Rhule bottomed out at both Temple (2-10) and Baylor (1-11) in his first seasons in his two college jobs, but I don’t see how these Panthers can go 1-15 and fall into Lawrence. Christian McCaffery’s not going to purposely suck for the first time in his life; the third player in history to rush and catch for 1,000 yards in a season has played in all 49 games since being the eighth pick in the 2017 draft. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady and QB coach Jake Peetz, who are very good schemers, are not going to get Teddy Bridgewater ready to fail.

I’d worry a bit more about the defense, with Luke Kuechly retired and this prospective secondary having to face Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins a total of 10 times. Donte Jackson and Eli Apple at corner, second-rounder Jeremy Chinn and Tre Boston at safety—not exactly the Legion of Boom. Carolina’s going to have to score an awful lot to win. Still, as smart as Rhule and his staff are, I doubt they’ll be a two or three-win team.

30. New York Giants (4-12)

Steelers, Niners, Rams, Cowboys in the first month, and Seattle, Baltimore and Dallas in the last month: Welcome to the new job, Joe Judge. The Giants are pretty far removed from being any sort of factor in the NFL. The last playoff win was the Super Bowl trimming of the Patriots nine seasons ago. The Giants appear to be in good shape at the most important position, with Daniel Jones coming off a good freshman season (despite 23 turnovers) as Eli Manning’s heir; Saquon Barkley’s obviously an impact running back. But questions abound everywhere else.

The pass-rush and secondary are both lacking, with or without 2019 first-round cornerback Deandre Baker, a suspect in an armed robbery in Florida. New York allowed the 30th-most points per game last year, gave up a passer rating of 101.4, and their leading returning pass-rusher, Oshane Ximines, had 4.5 sacks. New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has a big job, figuring out where to get pressure and how to cover up holes in the secondary. The Giants need Nate Solder to play to his late New England level; he slipped last year. It’s likely GM Dave Gettleman drafted New York’s long-term tackles this year—Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart, in the first and third rounds. But if the Giants are this low in the NFL hierarchy come the new year, Gettleman might not be around to see the futures of Thomas and Peart. I trust the Giants to score. I don’t trust them to defend.

31. Washington (3-13)

Not many teams have the potential pass-rush juice of the Chase Young/Montez Sweat/Ryan Kerrigan trio. The defensive front is about the end of the good news here. Ron Rivera and new VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith have a major rebuilding job to remake this roster. That starts at quarterback. This is a prove-it year for Dwayne Haskins. The quarterback job is his for at least this year and probably next, though he shouldn’t be too comfortable. Last year, Haskins was shaky in his seven starts and there were questions about his work ethic, but he did prove promising at late-game autograph-signing. I am not sure what to think of a quarterback who says (as Haskins did for the team website this spring): “A lot of times last year, I thought we were dragging. This year, I feel a new sense of urgency.” Part of a quarterback’s job is to make sure the offense doesn’t drag, it seems to me.

But Haskins deserves a strong chance, as do all first-round passers. He has a new coach and new teacher, offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who’s back at the same facility where his dad Norv coached from 1994 to 2000. The offense was held under 20 points in 11 games last year, so there’s nowhere to go but up. At least Haskins has one of the best young receivers in football, Terry McLaurin. If Rivera gets buy-in, Haskins plays at a top-15 QB level, and Young’s who they thought he was, this year’s will be what it’s meant to be—a building block.

32. Jacksonville (6-10)

I’m sure if Vegas has such a toteboard, it’d list Doug Marrone with the best odds of any NFL coach to be fired this season. It’s hard to blame him for the mass exodus of good players (Ramsey, Campbell, Bouye, Dareus, Foles) from the Jags. Still, Jacksonville is 11-22 since the day of the blown 10-point fourth-quarter lead in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Foxboro, and at some point soon, the coach has to pull his team out of that to keep being the coach.

Marrone will need a good season from starter Gardner Minshew and a new coordinator (Jay Gruden) and QB coach (Ben McAdoo) for this team to have any chance to survive. There’s a good young nucleus on defense—pass-rushers Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson, linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback C.J. Henderson, though it’s hard to predict that two rookies will hit the ground running the way Allen did as a rookie last year. I wonder which lucky GM and coach will get handed Trevor Lawrence if the Jags are truly awful this year.

Statement of the Week


Miami coach Brian Flores, who is black, issued this statement on the death of George Floyd:

“I’ve had the privilege of being a part of many different circles that have included some very powerful and influential people of all different races and genders. The events of the last few weeks have brought some of the memories of those conversations back to light. I vividly remember the Colin Kaepernick conversations. ‘Don’t ever disrespect the flag’ was the phrase that I heard over and over again. This idea that players were kneeling in support of social justice was something some people couldn’t wrap their head around. The outrage that I saw in the media and the anger I felt in some of my own private conversations caused me to sever a few long-standing friendships.

“Most recently, I’ve had conversations about incentivizing teams for hiring minorities. Again, there was some outrage in the media and talks that this would cause division amongst coaches, executives and ownership. I bring these situations up because I haven’t seen the same OUTRAGE from people of influence when the conversation turns to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and most recently George Floyd. Many people who broadcast their opinions on kneeling or on the hiring of minorities don’t seem to have an opinion on the recent murders of these young black men and women. I think many of them QUIETLY say that watching George Floyd plead for help is one of the more horrible things they have seen, but it’s said amongst themselves where no one can hear. Broadcasting THAT opinion clearly is not important enough.

“I lead a group of young men who have the potential to make a real impact in this world. My message to them and anyone else who wants to listen is that honesty, transparency, and empathy go a long way in bringing people together and making change. I hope that the tragedies of the last few weeks will open our hearts and minds to a better way of communicating and hopefully create that change.”

That is what a leader says in a time like this.

Quotes of the Week


“In the words of Apostle Paul, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ “

—Tony Dungy, on the events in Minnesota and other cities in America over the past few nights.


“The fear of the unknown concerns me. I’m mostly concerned with what people do in their own free time, not necessarily like being in the building with people, or being on the line.”

—Falcons center Alex Mack, on his trepidation with returning to a football world around teammates and coaches and staff.


“I tried to get better at golf. It’s not happening.”

—Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, on his offseason pursuits living in Austin.


“Would you mind telling me why I’m under arrest?”

—Omar Jiminez of CNN, while being arrested on live TV in Minneapolis on Friday.


“I am at a loss for words. As a person who is guiding you through this, I don’t know what to say except, This is America. It spans the country, from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., from the entertainment capital of the world to the seat of political power.”

—CNN’s Don Lemon, at 11:49 p.m. ET Saturday, showing a split screen of a major fire in Washington D.C., part of the demonstrations there, and looters emptying out a sneaker store in a neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Numbers Game


In all games—regular season and postseason—here are the rushing/receiving yards per game of a transcendent Hall of Famer and a player who could be on his way to that status:

• Marshall Faulk (118 games): 107.8 scrimmage yards per game.

Christian McCaffrey (49 games): 113.5 scrimmage yards per game. 


Call this a hypothetical factoid. But in the run-up to the vote on changing the onside kick rule, one GM told me his team would not vote for it under any circumstances. I asked why.

The proposal: A team could opt to attempt, after a scoring play, an untimed fourth-and-15 play from a team’s 25-yard line. If the offensive team converts, it has first-and-10 wherever the previous play ended. If the offensive team fails, the defensive team takes over with a first-and-10 wherever the previous play ended.

“I’ll give you an example of something that’s not too far-fetched—at least not in our eyes,” the GM said.

I’ll paraphrase: Denver leads Kansas City 30-21 with 13 seconds left in the game . . . Kansas City ball at the Denver 20. One timeout left . . . Patrick Mahomes throws a touchdown pass to Travis Kelce. Harrison Butker kicks the PAT . . . With eight seconds left, Denver leads 30-28 . . . The Chiefs, eschewing the onside kick, line up for a fourth-and-15 play at their 25, and Mahomes finds a streaking Sammy Watkins up the left side. Gain of 25. Chiefs ball at midfield. Still eight seconds left; clock never moved because the fourth-and-15 is an untimed down . . . Chiefs ball, first-and-10, midfield. With Watkins and Tyreek Hill getting attention on the outside, Mahomes finds Travis Kelce on a 16-yard curl in the middle of the field. Timeout, Chiefs. Two seconds left. First down at the Denver 34 . . . As time expires, Butker kicks a 52-yard field goal to win. The Chiefs score 10 points in eight seconds to win.

The Chiefs could have been down 13 with 13 seconds left in this scenario and still had a chance. Not a great chance, but certainly a chance.

“Bottom line,” the GM said. “You work all game to build a two-score lead, and it’s gone just like that.”

I thought about it some. As much as I like the fact that real football plays with big stars would determine the outcome in late, close games with a fourth-and-15 option, this GM had a great point. And it’s not just Kansas City. Think of all the quarterbacks with good weaponry who you could plug into that scenario. Kyler Murray. Matt Ryan. Lamar Jackson. Dak Prescott. Drew Lock. Matthew Stafford. Aaron Rodgers. Deshaun Watson. Philip Rivers. Derek Carr. Drew Brees. Ben Roethlisberger. Jimmy Garoppolo. Tom Brady. Ryan Tannehill. I’m sure there are more.

The fourth-and-15 idea is not dumb. It just needs some work. At the very least, the clock should run on the play. I’d like to see it exhumed in some form for 2021.

King of the Road


Another in a series of the . . .


From pre-Super Bowl Week, four years ago, in the Bay Area:

Leaving Amarena, a swell Italian restaurant in San Francisco on Sunday night, the man/the myth/the legend, Gil Brandt, got into the car picking him up and cheerily said, “Hello, Mr. Uber!”

On the drive back to the hotel, the subject turned to Kezar Stadium, the windy San Francisco ballpark where the 49ers played through the 1970 season. The seagull-filled place that John Brodie called home may have been better known as the stadium site for the “Dirty Harry’’ filming in 1971, just months after the Niners moved down the road to Candlestick Park.

“The locker room,’’ said Brandt, “was about as big as this car.”

The other dinner guest, longtime NFL fixture Mike Ornstein, asked Brandt, “Hey Gil: Ever done a book?”

“I don’t have a bulletproof vest,’’ Brandt said. 

Tweets of the Week






Jenna Laine covers the Bucs for ESPN.


MLBcathedrals is a baseball ballpark site.


Josh Billinson works for BuzzFeed News



Contact me via email at, or on Twitter.

Officials are trying to be too fine. From Ken McManus, of Kokomo, Ind.: “Now that the NFL is going to be without any kind of ‘sky judge’ (Mike Pereira’s term), we’re back to 2018 replay procedures, which means now nothing is in place to put down a pass interference flag if anything like the 2018 Rams-Saints debacle happens again. But the other thing is that I’ve been following NFL officiating since the days of Tommy Bell and Jim Tunney. Under Art McNally, a foul really had to be there to throw a flag. I think we’ve lost that philosophy somewhere along the line. Now officials seem to be so technical, and the result is over-officiating. Do you agree?”

Ken, that’s a great question and a good point. Officiaing in football and basketball is similar in that it’s impossible. There’s an incredible amount of contact in each game, and some crews might see one thing as a foul and other crews won’t. In laudibly striving for the perfect game with pristine TV shots from ultra-modern cameras and super slo-mo machines, the NFL I believe will be endlessly frustrated—as will the fans and the media—because as we’ve seen, some plays are so close to call that two smart people can watch, and one will call it a foul and one will say it’s a clean play. To your point, I think that’s why in many cases officials call something today that wouldn’t have been a flag in McNally’s day—and they do it because they know in this day and age of micro-analysis in the league office, if they don’t throw the flag, they could get marked down for it and suffer grade-wise, influencing playoff assignments and promotions.

Rhule is an example of what’s wrong with the coaching scene, and I should have pointed it out. From Stephen Pratt, of Braintree, Mass.: “Clearly you feel strongly about the lack of minority hiring in recent years. However, a few weeks back you led your article with a feature on Matt Rhule, his background, how he is handling the challenge of being a first time NFL coach remotely and what he stands for. But isn’t Matt Rhule (never played in NFL, one year as an NFL assistant, experienced HC at Temple/Baylor), who is white, the exact type you think should NOT be a HC over a minority like Eric Bieniemy, Byron Leftwich, Perry Fewell, etc. If you truly felt that the system was as broken as you are writing it is, wouldn’t it have been more apt to lead your article with why Rhule should NOT be a head coach?”

Because Matt Rhule should be an NFL head coach. He turned around two troubled college programs with major issues; he’s the kind of fix-it man who appeals to NFL owners, and rightfully so. This is not about one single white person who got a coaching job that raised some eyebrows; it’s about a culture that got comfortable with the status quo so that it stopped investing in bright young coaches and stopped looking for bright young coaches. By exposing coaches of all colors (as with the then-unheralded Herman Edwards, who got the Jets job in 2001 at least in part because he was exposed to the 32 owners on a panel in 2000) to the group of people who do the hiring, you’re increasing the pool of qualified candidates for all to see.

On minority hiring. From Levi Newman: “I have to massively disagree with your most recent story regarding minority hiring. I find that it’s easy to say, ‘Well, there aren’t enough minority X positions.’ But that’s just it, it’s easy to say. What you really mean is there aren’t enough black people in X positions. That’s because by and large it’s a single community in America that has an issue with this so-called unfairness—at least in terms of the NFL. What’s the current black to white player ratio, 70-30? Does that kind of thinking go both ways? Do we need more white players in the league? Are Asians banging the drum for more Chinese coaches? Vietnamese placekickers? Russian defensive ends? Israeli linebackers? You’re a world-class writer and an even greater thinker. But stop using politics and legislation to try to make the world better. You can’t dictate happiness and right or wrong simply by wishing it.”

Where do I start . . . Levi, the problem with the minority coaching issue is multifaceted and based on the fact that in a league with 70 percent African-American players, having only four minority coaches after having seven and eight in past years is an issue. You may not see it as an issue. But in the egalitarian environment the NFL is trying to promote, it’s a failure. Where is the pool of Chinese coaches in college and pro football? I’m sure there are some, but many? Ditto the other groups. Where is the pool of Vietnamese placekickers? It’s an insult to compare the situation of qualified coaches like Eric Bieniemy and Jim Caldwell and young prospects trying to climb the ladder to nonexistent pools. As far as white/black player ratio, I have not heard from a soul in football, white or black, that there are too many of one race in the league.

I think it’s important. From Jerry Neuner: “Love your column. One of my favorite sections is ‘Ten Things’ and in particular, your recommendations of various stories about life that may or may not have a thing to do with football or sports. One minor irritant: Why do you recommend and promote stories from sites such as The Athletic that require subscriptions in order to access the content? Is it because the writing is that good or is there something more sinister (such as a personal financial stake) behind it?”

I do not have a financial stake in The Athletic, other than a lot of friends work there and I’m grateful there’s a great site for talented people. Thanks for the kind words about the column, Jerry. I do not mean to be obnoxious here—truly—but I like recommending stories from sites that cost money because I hope that maybe if I recommend enough of them, people might say, Man, The Athletic [or whatever pay site I cite] is really good. Maybe I should subscribe.

In the media business, the old model—paying $1 for a newspaper, or whatever the cost was—just isn’t working. Hundreds of reporters are unemployed, or in another business, because this model has changed and people refuse to pay for news they can get for free somewhere else. Or they can read the highlights at aggregating sites and pass on paying for any information.

Here’s the way I look at it, and I’ll use The Athletic as an example. It costs $1.15 per week ($59.99). If you read Dan Pompei’s story on Kyle Long and the story I reference this week about the life of the Dallas Stars coach after being fired in December for excessive drinking, and all the other stories of the week, and you don’t think it’s worth $1.15, well, that’s certainly your right. The larger issue is whether you want Dan Pompei and Ken Rosenthal and Lindsay Jones and Mike Lombardi and maybe 400 other sportswriters covering the sports they know so well writing about them. If enough people do, they’ll pay $60 a year for it and the site will continue to exist. If they don’t, then 400-plus sportswriters will be unemployed. Many won’t be able to find a job in a shrinking sportswriting world.

Sorry to go on such a rant about this, but some of the best writing is done by people who work for sites that cost money. And we absolutely, unequivocally, should be willing to pay for it the way we all used to pay for the newspapers that came to our homes.

He thinks I don’t write about the whole league. From Thomas Zeliznak, of Strongsville, Ohio, via Twitter: “Usually looked forward to reading your Monday columns. However lately it seems most of your reporting is centered around topics related to the top teams. There are tons of great insights with ALL the teams. Get away from the east coast domination in coverage.”

Hmmm. I don’t think you’re reading the column lately, Thomas. Topics of my last eight columns, in reverse order:

• NFL minority hiring, new rules proposals, inside the Lions Zoom teaching
• Matt Rhule and his Carolina Panthers, inside the Vikings remote wide receiver teaching
• Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice to the NFL, tribute to the late Don Shula, inside the Seahawks tight end room
• Previewing the NFL’s imperfect season, dissecting the 2020 NFL schedule, inside the Chargers offensive line learning via Zoom
• Stories from inside the Buccaneers virtual draft, dissecting the Denver and Cincinnati drafts, including a Joe Burrow interview, and why the Packers took Jordan Love
• My mock draft
• Draft gossip, leading with Burrow and the Bengals, and a COVID-19 gallery with how lives have changed in pandemic, with an NFL VP, the Miami center, the Chargers GM, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, a scout for the Rams, Washington coach Ron Rivera and a strength trainer of NFL players in California
• Momentum building for a remote draft, plus how six employees of one team (the Colts) are doing their football jobs from home

Please let me know what you’ve seen about most of my recent reporting being centered around topics related to the top teams, or “East Coast domination.”

Okay then. From Rachel B., of Wisconsin: “Don’t stick to sports. That’s it. That’s the email.”

Thanks, Rachel. Think I’ll heed your advice.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think the more I think about all the attempts to make officiating perfect, the more I realize you can’t make an imperfect game perfect.

2. I think that comes from the thought that a measure for a Sky Judge sort of official did not pass muster this week. I like the concept of it, because it’s another attempt to get the play on the field right. I know the coaches are passionate about it. But a full-time official to lord over the officials on the field would leave the game with two ways to stop the clock and initiate either a review of the play or a crew conference on the field: a coach’s challenge flag in the first 28 minutes of each half, and the booth-prompted stoppage. Is that really what is best for the game?

I remember last summer when NBC had its annual meeting with NFL officials—including Al Riveron—to discuss new rules and new points of emphasis for the season. The pass-interference-review rule was being discussed, and Riveron showed a bunch of plays. Foul or no foul, he’d ask on each. On one I said it was positively a foul and Riveron said it wasn’t, and Tony Dungy piped in with his opinion. And at the end I’m sure we all thought, “How can they not see what I see?” It’s because the game is too gray. There’s not an absolutely right or wrong answer many times.

3. I think it’s going to be interesting to see whether the increased communication between booth and field in the preseason works. The NFL quashed both proposals that would have made the Sky Judge a full-time member of the officiating crew. That’s a killer for coaches who thought this was the year they’d finally get an insurance official upstairs to fix egregiously wrong calls. But the league will allow for limited communication between the replay official and the ref onfield. Now, there will be three ways to stop a game after a close call or non-call:

• The referee could stop the play clock himself if he feels there’s a good possibility of a call or non-call that needs to be addressed, and the referee could call for a crew conference.

• An official on the crew could tell the ref he’s not sure of a call he made or didn’t make, and suggest a crew conference.

• The replay official and referee, who have an open line of communication, could discuss a close call. The ref could say to the replay official something like, If you get a good shot, tell me. And the replay official could say to the ref: Ask the side judge if he’s sure he saw both feet inbounds. Doesn’t look that way to me. The preseason is a good time to see if this all works. I could see the league urging more communication between all replay officials and refs for the regular season.

4. I think there is one unwritten and unspoken part of the increased communication between booth and field that interests me. Scrubbing both the 2019 pass-interference-appeal rule and the Sky Judge-as-official proposal meant there would be no insurance policy preventing another 2018 NFC Championship Game missed pass-interference debacle. But that really isn’t altogether true.

As of now, there is no mechanism in play for the replay official to “throw a flag” and correct an obviously wrong call on the field. But suppose on a crew with trust between the ref and replay official upstairs, there’s an open flow of communication. And a play like the Nickell Robey-Coleman missed PI happens. What is to prevent the replay official from saying into the ref’s ear: “Hey, crew-conference with those guys on that downfield pass play. Looks like pretty obvious interference.” What’s to stop the referee huddling with three or four of the downfield officials and coming out of that huddle with a flag thrown? I don’t know if that would ever happen, but it sure seems like the door is ajar to allow it to happen.

One more point on this issue. Over the years, there have been some officials—call them letter-of-the-law refs—who will go strictly by the book; if the rules say the booth official cannot influence a call on the field, then the referee and crew will never change a call because of the replay official’s opinion. Other refs would have their calls influenced by the replay officials and be happy about the flow of bootleg information. Now, I think the league wants the replay officials to alert referees about plays that should be amended.

5. I think what the refusal of teams to vote for a fourth-and-15 option instead of an onside kick (read my Factoid of the Week, above) comes down to the quote from Competition Committee chair Rich McKay: “There is definitely the theory that you don’t want to make the comeback too easy.”

6. I think lots of teams have made strong statements about the George Floyd killing. What I liked most is San Francisco CEO Jed York making this call: “Before we are able to realize impactful change, we must first have the courage and compassion as human beings to come together and acknowledge the problem: black men, women, children and other oppressed minorities continue to be systemically discriminated against. The 49ers organization is committing to support the legislative priorities of the Players Coalition and to donating $1 million to local and national organizations who are creating change.”

7. I think I’ll write more about this in a future column, but I noticed something very cool that I wanted to point out: Did you notice how Jacksonville backup quarterback Josh Dobbs was an intern (through the NFL Players Association externship program) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center this offseason? He was at the launch of the SpaceX/NASA corroboration Saturday, and got emotional talking with me about the experience Saturday night.

Dobbs, an aerospace engineering major at Tennessee, told me, “I really felt the nervousness watching the countdown, knowing what those astronauts have gone through to get to this moment. Being able to see the teamwork involved in preparation for this launch was incredible for me. It’s so much like a football team—you see how everyone doing their job fits together and makes something great happen. That’s what I really appreciated about the experience.”

8. I think I’ll be back with details and my Fathers Day Book Section book reviews next week in my last column before time away . . . but seeing as though many of you buy for Fathers Day once the calendar hits June, let me give you four of my selections now—to be written about next week:

“Know My Name,” by Chanel Miller. (Nonfiction.) It’s the story of the woman who was sexually assaulted at a party at Stanford University. You may remember the story because of the light (six-month) sentence her attacker got, and how she was known for so long as Emily Doe. Not anymore.

“The Boy From the Woods,” by Harlan Coben. (Fiction). Coben, one of the most famous Giants fans in creation, is such a great story-teller, sucking you in from page one. This is his latest.

“The Body: A Guide for Occupants,” by Bill Bryson. (Nonfiction.) The Bryson I’d read previously (“A Walk in the Woods,” “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: Travels through my childhood”) is Cosmo Kramer funny. This is a fascinating look at the invention of the human body, and how it works. A different book for me, but I really enjoyed it.

“The Hot Hand: The mystery and science of streaks,” by Ben Cohen. (Nonfiction.) Can you really “get hot,” or be in “the zone?” A really smart idea for a book by Cohen, who writes for the Wall Street Journal.

9. I think after I wrote about the NFL’s effort to better the chances of minority coaches last week, I got a text from longtime Houston football writer John McClain, the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He made a great point. With head coaches today shielding assistants (of all races) from talking at will with reporters who cover the team, it cuts off the ability of beat people and national writers to get to know some of the invisible aides. Which in turn could affect their ability to be front-and-center during post-season job searches.

McClain’s point to me: “We used to be able to interview assistant coaches whenever we wanted. We got to know them. We wrote a lot about them and their families. I won a bet that Lovie Smith would be a head coach before Maurice Carthon because I could go in Lovie’s office and talk to him and I couldn’t get close to Maurice. I still think owners and GMs keep up with what we wrote, but most of us only getting to interview position coaches a couple of times a year hurts us and them. I remember Herman Edwards telling me he thought getting interviewed so much as an assistant helped him get the Jets job. That came when I was president of the PFWA and trying to get head coaches who wouldn’t let assistants talk to us to ease up on their policies. At the time there was no mandate from the league. I think it holds back a lot of coaches today. When I started covering the Oilers in 1977 we could talk to assistants anytime and it stayed that way for decades, as you know.”

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. The story we need today: Dana Hunsinger Benbow of the Indianapolis Star (some great stories come out of that paper, folks) on a love story and a life story that’s extraordinarily sad and inspiring at the same time.

b. “You just don’t see love like this.” No, you don’t.

c. I’m not crying. You’re crying.

d. Perspective of the Week: Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, urging us to listen. Listen. Listen. Great points in here.

e. The last line of the criminal complaint against Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, after the death of George Floyd: “The defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive.”

f. It took 3.5 days for Chauvin to be charged, despite everyone in America seeing that video tape of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

g. Column of the Week: Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, castigating NFL owners for eschewing Colin Kaepernick, among other things. Writes Jenkins:

“Kaepernick is still so present in the American consciousness that he might as well be playing in the league. Oh, the owners thought they made him disappear with a settlement. But the image of the kneeling, bow-headed Kaepernick becomes newly indicting each time someone is pinned down by a brute in a blue uniform and dies pleading in a street. The owners misidentified the problem, you see. The problem they can’t get rid of isn’t Kaepernick or his knee. It’s themselves. Their own denial, that’s what dogs them.”

h. Baseball Column of the Week: Jayson Stark of The Athletic, with a plea for the sport he loves: “Don’t drive off this cliff, baseball!” I so agree. Wise words from Stark:

For 100 years, baseball was America. Baseball was summer. Baseball was ingrained in the fabric of American life in a way no other sport was. But killing that World Series cut that cord. Yes, baseball still matters. But not like that. So now imagine what happens in a couple of weeks, if this round of labor talks winds up in the same dysfunctional place. Imagine those dueling Zoom press conferences, as Rob Manfred and Tony Clark try to explain why there won’t be an MLB season in 2020, at a time when America has never needed one more. I’ve asked lots of people in baseball lately to compare that outcome to canceling the World Series in 1994. Every one of them has had the same response:

“Oh, this would be worse. Much worse.”

i. Column of the Week: Bay Area sports columnist Marcus Thompson of The Athletic, on coping with the rage of being black in this society. Writes Thompson:

“As a society, for one, we must stop ignoring the reality of this rage. You should not look away. Look around at the sports world. The very athletes we typically shroud with affection, with all their wealth and fame, can’t shake the rage, either. Today’s athlete is arguably as conscious as ever, especially the sheer volume of athletes who are intentionally so. These days, they are voicing it as a collective perhaps in greater volume than ever before. To not listen, to not watch, to turn away, is essentially affirming the very foundational ideology that produces the rage.”

j. Coronavirus Effect Column of the Week: Maureen Tkacik, writing in the Washington Post, on how delivery services are choking the life out of restaurants already in big trouble because of the economics of the day. Great lead by Tkacik:

“Giuseppe Badalamenti thought he knew everything about selling pizza. Then a client of his food truck turned consultancy, Chicago Pizza Boss, showed him her March invoice from Grubhub.. Customers had paid $1,042.63 for 46 pizzas; the delivery company, which is based in Chicago, had taken $666.09 in commissions and fees. That left the pizzeria with barely enough to pay for San Marzano tomatoes and cheese. “I’m sitting there fuming looking at this receipt,” says Badalamenti, who had never dealt with delivery apps while running his own pizza truck. “But it’s like an open secret. Owners have been suffering in silence, because they’re ashamed, and they think this is what you have to do because this is what everyone is doing.”

k. Media Column of the Week: Kara Swisher, editor of tech site Recode, writing in the New York Times and urging Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to remove baseless and inflammatory tweets from the president about the death of a staffer for former Congressman Joe Scarborough. Donald Trump implies that media rival Scarborough was implicit in the death of Lori Klausitis, although the police never found any evidence of it and Lori Klausitis’ widower, Timothy Klausitis, has never called the death anything but an accident. Swisher quotes a Timothy Klausutis letter to Dorsey, saying Trump is using “the memory of my dead wife” and has “perverted it for perceived political gain.”

l. This seems like eight controversies ago. It was just the other day, really.

m. From the Timothy Klausitis letter:

“I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is the verifiable truth. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life.”

n. Dorsey should remove the Tweets, to be sure. But he will not. This is just plain wrong. Falsehoods amplified to 80 million people, many of whom will believe something a president tweets blindly (what a sad time in America this is, when we have to ask corporate leaders to remove cruel presidential lies, and they won’t), causing the falsehoods in the tweet to be taken as truths by millions.

o. The president of the United States is doing this stuff. The president.

p. I weep for America. Where are the political leaders in the Republican party? Shutting up, because it’s more important to get re-elected than it is to have a shred of morality.

q. Oh, and it’s just not manly to wear a mask. Or it’s unnecessary. That’s the belief of some. Watch this, from the Republican governor of North Dakota.

r. Let’s heed Jason Gay’s words this week, and listen.

s. And let’s heed the spirit from Fargo, N.D.:

The Adieu Haiku


The Bucs? Number five?
Peter King has lost his mind.
Didn’t we know that?

28 responses to “NFL Power Rankings: Surprises (Bucs 5th? Raiders 8th?!) Take Back Seat. Our Country Is At A Crossroads

  1. “I hate picking teams to repeat. It’s happened once this century, and not for the past 15 years.”

    There are 32 teams, which means every year the normal odds of winning the Super Bowl is 1-in-32. Fact that 4 teams have won back-to-back titles in the last 32 years suggest it’s a safer bet to pick a team to repeat than random odds would suggest.

  2. All you haters on the Texans are going to be embarrassed when they win the
    AFC South. I hope you send apologies to Coach/GM O’Brien for your trashing
    his player moves which all made sense to any smart football observer.

  3. Raiders at only eight? Way too low for this team, get ready for the Silver and Black Reign

  4. Once again the Cowboys are the darlings of the offseason for the 10th? 20th season in a row?

    The Eagles beat the Cowboys with practice squad receivers last year against a mostly healthy Cowboys team and the Cowboys only real improvement for 2020 is they upgraded their #3 receiver spot? There is only one football and there is only so much impact you can make after Zeke, Cooper, Gallup, etc. get their touches.

    If, and it is a huge if, the Eagles can get through the season mostly healthy, something they haven’t done the last few years, the Eagles run away with this division.

  5. Arizona’s defense has much more talent than people realize. The Cardinals defense should not have a problem fielding at a minimum an average defense that ranks in the middle of the pack and at best can rank in the top 10 somewhere between 7th-10th. I’d bet Arizona defense ends up ranking somewhere between their floor and ceiling ranking between 10th-13th overall with an excellent pass defense now that everyone will be healthy and available from jump this year unlike last year, their pass rush should be one of the leagues best capable of fielding a 50 sack pass rush and an average run defense. Arizona has play makers on all 3 levels of their defense and are loaded at ILB/OLB and in the secondary at CB/S, Arizona has more than enough talent to field a drastically improved good solid defense in 2020.
    With an offense on the other side of the ball that is loaded and primed to really take off and explode in 2020 with one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL and a passing offense that is loaded at WR w/ a QB that ranked as the #1 deep ball passer in the NFL as a rookie set to massively improve going into his 2nd season in the NFL & Arizona has the makings of being one of the most dangerous young teams in the NFL who no one wants to play especially over the 2nd half of the season. With the NFL Expanding the playoffs to 7 teams per conference starting this year there is no reason why AZ can’t make the playoffs this year.

  6. buffalo did score one more touchdown last january. the refs just chose to not count it.

  7. Report…..Baker Mayfield is working on his golf skills during the offseason in Austin.
    Shouldn’t someone have told him he should be working on his football skills, and temperament? His lack of that and maturity will factor in to at least two Brown loses this year

  8. Sometimes I feel like a unicorn among football fans because of the view I have of Kaepernick. I completely support his right to protest, and don’t have any problem with what he did with kneeling. It’s an important issue that needs focus, and recent weeks have shown us it hasn’t gotten enough focus. (He was clumsy with other aspects of his actions, like the socks and some statements, but that should be something that can be talked through and moved on from.)

    But I also think it’s very reasonable for him to not have a job with the league. Of course he was seen as toxic from a marketing/PR standpoint, but if he was playing at a convincing starter level, he’d have a job. But he wasn’t. He went from the Super Bowl to looking mortal to barely-backup-level play, and a team that already had him on the roster didn’t even want to play him ahead of Gabbert.

    Eric Reid and most of the other guys who protested have had work since then. Because they could still play at the necessary level.

    These things can’t be separated. Kaepernick did get a lot of flack for his protests, but he also steeply declined as a player. And he called owners racists and sued the league. And he wants starter money when his last couple years in the league were disasters. That’s just not going to get you hired by anyone.

    Mike Florio talked about football being an ultimate meritocracy on the field. Kaepernick failed that test, and has alienated his potential employer at every turn, and shows his desire to play football by not entertaining any offer from the NFL or others for less than $20 million. That is not someone who is sincere about wanting to play.

  9. I’ve long believed the idea of a sky judge is the way to go, but now I have a feeling that the league may have struck gold with its new idea of increased access to the review official. It strikes what may be a perfect balance between keeping control and focus on the field while still allowing a backup to be reached out to when everyone knows something went wrong (and in-game screens and crowd reaction will surely provide a quick opinion on that).

    It’s an uncommon feeling to feel that the league is getting a procedural change right. But if it lives up to its promise, this new move may be the best compromise possible (agreeing with King’s idea that the game will never be perfect, and probably shouldn’t be).

  10. Yes, comebacks should be hard but they shouldn’t be nearly impossible. I don’t know if 4th & 15 is the right adjustment but in my opinion something needs to be done since the change in kickoff rules made an onside kick about a 5% chance of success. The old rule was around 18-20%. Oh, and the Bronco’s being ahead of the Chiefs at the end of a game is a pretty hilarious hypothetical (I’m a Chiefs fan, full disclosure).

  11. No way the Patriots should be ranked below the Fins. They’ve got David Andrews back. They’ll be able to run the ball effectively again. They have a top 5 defense. Head-to-head, the Fins are always a tough matchup for the Patriots, but they won’t win more games this year.

  12. When was the last time anyone ranked the Patriots at #21 in the power rankings? With Tamp Bay now ranked at #5, I guess that tells us who those doing the rankings are more important between Belichick and Brady.

  13. Patriots at 21!!?? You’ll be eating that one, Peter. With the top two corners in the league — Gilmore, Jackson — heading up the best and deepest secondary in the league, New England’s defense will be formidable. An excellent offensive line, beset by injuries and health issues (center Andrews) last year, will be intact. But the most significant factor will be the play of Jarrett Stidham. Belichick could have had a vastly underrated Andy Dalton on the cheap. Or Jameis Winston on the not so cheap. But he chose to ride with Stidham, indicating to me that he thinks Stidham is ready. Stidham’s excellent play will be the surprise story of the season and Belichick will notch another Coach of the Year honor. Patriots: 10-6, second in the AFC East, wild card playoff berth.

  14. Regarding the Eagles…

    “When the franchise quarterback has missed 13 games due to injury in the last three years, that makes the backup QB much more important.”

    Totally agree, and I’m a big Eagles fan. I love the idea of JH coming in on wildcat plays, trick plays, whatever. We struggled scoring TDs in the Red Zone last year, so I welcome some out-of-the-box thinking.

  15. mhouser1922 says:
    June 1, 2020 at 11:00 am
    Patriots at 21!!?? You’ll be eating that one, Peter. With the top two corners in the league — Gilmore, Jackson — heading up the best and deepest secondary in the league, New England’s defense will be formidable. An excellent offensive line, beset by injuries and health issues (center Andrews) last year, will be intact. But the most significant factor will be the play of Jarrett Stidham. Belichick could have had a vastly underrated Andy Dalton on the cheap. Or Jameis Winston on the not so cheap. But he chose to ride with Stidham, indicating to me that he thinks Stidham is ready. Stidham’s excellent play will be the surprise story of the season and Belichick will notch another Coach of the Year honor. Patriots: 10-6, second in the AFC East, wild card playoff berth.


    Did you just claim that JC Jaskson is the 2nd best CB in the league? LOL!!!

  16. billlkay says:
    June 1, 2020 at 4:08 am
    All you haters on the Texans are going to be embarrassed when they win the
    AFC South. I hope you send apologies to Coach/GM O’Brien for your trashing
    his player moves which all made sense to any smart football observer.

    Haha, we now know Bill O’Brian’s username! Literally the only person who would say this. Classic!

  17. Great to see someone mix it up a bit with predictions. Every year you have 5 or 6 new playoff teams yet most years people predict the same teams to go to the playoffs year on year. Boring

    King was criticised last year for saying the Niners would do well last season and look how right he was.

  18. I didn’t like the 4th and 15th proposal either.

    If the onside kicks success rate is too low, than create a proposal within the kicking game. Don’t neuter the special teams play. Try something within special teams.

    Keep the FOOT within football.

  19. I agree with King that the 4th and 15 should be a timed play. Further, if the team makes the first down in bounds, the clock should continue to run.

  20. Patriots will be better than 21. They were better than that last year, and the offense SUCKED. I don’t blame Brady for that, offensive line issues and new receivers really caused a lot of that but the schemes didn’t get simplified enough to fix it. Stidham just needs to be decent and they can do well. Defense lost a few linebackers but there are more of them so I think that just falls off a bit.

  21. I weep for America too.
    Where are the political leaders in the Democrat party?
    Have any of them, Pelosi, Schumer, et al. done anything to condemn the violence and looting in the last week. Protesting is fine, and it’s appropriate.

    And where was Kap, Richard Sherman et al. condemning the holocaust of young Black men being murdered, almost exclusively by other young Black men? Don’t get me wrong, what happened to Mr Floyd was a tragedy and a crime. But it is drop in the bucket compared to what happens everyday in Chicago, Baltimore, DC, etc. For that matter, where was Peter King? Speak out against that, or be fairly labeled a hypocrite.

  22. So, in your other thoughts of the week you complain about lack of leadership in the Republican Party? Did you survey all of the small business owners whose businesses have been trashed/destroyed by “protesters”?
    I would be happy if any mayor or governor no matter what political party would have the stones to actually enforce laws in this country.

  23. I am for protests to bring change. Those 4 cops in Minneapolis should be charged and tried in a Court of Law. But when a faction of protesters turn violent and destructive, that’s anarchy. Allowing those individuals to throw rocks at the respective officers in the other cities, without consequences, is unacceptable. Face it, there are bad apples in every basket. Find them, pick them out and discard them. This applies to all types of apples.

  24. Not sure if Peter is still sampling his beers of the week or month or whatever, but he might have had a few by the time he reached the Colts at #14. I don’t have as much of an issue with the ranking (though they’ll be better than the Raiders and Pittsburgh, to name a few), but the Colts only Primetime game is a THURSDAY NIGHT away game against the Titans, NOT a Monday night game. Wouldn’t be surprised to see something flexed to primetime later in the season if they play as expected (I put the floor at 10 wins and the ceiling at 12 wins).

  25. 30 percent . too low . that was michael vick numbers.if that was true someone who have signed kaepernick. It was more like 90 percent of nfl fans.

  26. Bucs #5? Tommy will be on IR by week 6 and Blaine Gabbert will lead the Yucs….

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