How would the Malcolm Butler benching have been viewed in a world of legalized gambling?

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Membership in the group that calls itself the @PFTPMPosse carries with it an important obligation. Via the questions posed for every episode of the #PFTPM podcast, the ever-growing group of loyal supporters introduces concepts and ideas that probably wouldn’t have otherwise entered my relaxed brain.

Here’s a great question that emerged in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision to allow legalized sports wagering in the 49 states that don’t have it: If Patriots coach Bill Belichick had planned to bench starting cornerback Malcolm Butler for the entirety of a Super Bowl (with the exception of one special-teams play) in an environment with widespread legal gambling, would Belichick have been able to keep that to himself?

The people who legally (in Nevada) and illegally (everywhere else) bet on the Patriots to cover in Super Bowl LII surely were miffed and perplexed that Butler didn’t play. If hundreds of millions of dollars legally had been bet on the Patriots and Belichick had made such an unexpected move for reasons that he chose (as he always does) to keep to himself, the reaction may have been far different.

This is just one of the many issues that NFL will have to consider as it braces for the unintended consequences of something that, on the surface, will result in much greater revenue for the sport. And it will be important for the league to anticipate the many unintended consequences and plan for them.

Given the Butler case, the NFL may need to demand a greater degree of transparency not just as to injuries (where there’s currently a very limited degree of transparency, thanks to the bare-bones injury reports) but also as to strategic departures from the reasonably expected status quo. Teams eventually may have to publish binding depth charts within, say, 48 hours before kickoff. Other than players listed as questionable or worse on the injury report, the starters as listed on the official depth chart would then be starting the next game.

But that would have unintended consequences, too, with coaches easily avoiding the spirit of the rule by listing a player as a starter — and then benching him after as little as only one play. So then the question would become whether the players listed as starters would be required to participate in a certain number of snaps barring injury or gross ineffectiveness. Which then would open the door for teams to claim a player was injured and/or grossly ineffective when perhaps he actually wasn’t.

It could quickly become an effort to juggle Jello for the league, with coaches who strive for maximum secrecy (and who already resent having to make basic disclosures about injuries) doing anything they can to find a way to comply with efforts to prevent another Butler debacle while keeping the flexibility to do whatever they want to do without explaining themselves to anyone. But the NFL will have a good reason to come up with something that works, and to compel the coaches to go along with it.

The unspoken nightmare scenario for the league office continues to be the creation of an independent agency charged with overseeing professional football. If enough gambling controversies emerge, whether due to corruption, incompetence, or an awkward intersection between coaches who want to win football games and gamblers who want to win money, the NFL may lose its stubborn insistence to handle its own business.

And if it seems far fetched to think that government would get involved in something like this, consider the overall purpose and mission of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Only 76 draft picks remain unsigned three weeks after draft

AP

The days of lengthy training camp holdouts for draft picks has long since passed (unless you’re Joey Bosa) given the current rookie contract slotting system in place with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Just three weeks since the NFL Draft came to an end, the vast majority of draft picks have already signed their rookie contract.

As of Thursday night, 180 of the 256 players drafted had signed their rookie contracts, according to the league transaction reports.

There are a few notable quirks to the players that remain unsigned.

There are currently more third-round picks without contracts (24) than first-round picks (22).

The Los Angeles Rams and Miami Dolphins account for 19 of the remaining unsigned players as neither team has inked a single draft pick to a rookie contract at this point.

Three teams – the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles – have signed their entire draft classes. Another 11 teams (Atlanta, Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, LA Chargers, Minnesota, New Orleans, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington) have just one pick yet to be signed.

Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson (6th overall) and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen (10th overall) are the highest picks to have signed their rookie contracts.

Below is the list of players still unsigned, first listed by draft position, then by team.

By draft order:

Round Pick Team Player
1 1 Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield
1 2 New York Giants Saquon Barkley
1 3 New York Jets Sam Darnold
1 4 Cleveland Browns Denzel Ward
1 5 Denver Broncos Bradley Chubb
1 7 Buffalo Bills Josh Allen
1 8 Chicago Bears Roquan Smith
1 9 San Francisco 49ers Mike McGlinchey
1 11 Miami Dolphins Minkah Fitzpatrick
1 12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vita Vea
1 15 Oakland Raiders Kolton Miller
1 17 Los Angeles Chargers Derwin James
1 21 Cincinnati Bengals Billy Price
1 23 New England Patriots Isaiah Wynn
1 24 Carolina Panthers D.J. Moore
1 25 Baltimore Ravens Hayden Hurst
1 26 Atlanta Falcons Calvin Ridley
1 28 Pittsburgh Steelers Terrell Edmunds
1 29 Jacksonville Jaguars Taven Bryan
1 30 Minnesota Vikings Mike Hughes
1 31 New England Patriots Sony Michel
1 32 Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson
2 35 Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb
2 36 Indianapolis Colts Darius Leonard
2 37 Indianapolis Colts Braden Smith
2 38 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ronald Jones II
2 41 Tennessee Titans Harold Landry
2 42 Miami Dolphins Mike Gesicki
2 44 San Francisco 49ers Dante Pettis
2 46 Kansas City Chiefs Breeland Speaks
2 47 Arizona Cardinals Christian Kirk
2 61 Jacksonville Jaguars D.J. Chark
2 63 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carlton Davis
3 65 Oakland Raiders Brandon Parker
3 67 Cleveland Browns Chad Thomas
3 69 New York Giants B.J. Hill
3 70 San Francisco 49ers Fred Warner
3 71 Denver Broncos Royce Freeman
3 72 New York Jets Nathan Shepherd
3 73 Miami Dolphins Jerome Baker
3 74 Washington Redskins Geron Christian
3 75 Kansas City Chiefs Derrick Nnadi
3 76 Pittsburgh Steelers Mason Rudolph
3 77 Cincinnati Bengals Sam Hubbard
3 78 Cincinnati Bengals Malik Jefferson
3 79 Seattle Seahawks Rasheem Green
3 80 Houston Texans Martinas Rankin
3 81 Dallas Cowboys Michael Gallup
3 87 Oakland Raiders Arden Key
3 89 Los Angeles Rams Joseph Noteboom
3 91 New Orleans Saints Tre'Quan Smith
3 92 Pittsburgh Steelers Chukwuma Okorafor
3 93 Jacksonville Jaguars Ronnie Harrison
3 96 Buffalo Bills Harrison Phillips
3 97 Arizona Cardinals Mason Cole
3 99 Denver Broncos Isaac Yiadom
3 100 Kansas City Chiefs Dorian O'Daniel
4 105 Cleveland Browns Antonio Callaway
4 107 New York Jets Christopher Herndon
4 110 Oakland Raiders Nick Nelson
4 111 Los Angeles Rams Brian Allen
4 123 Miami Dolphins Durham Smythe
4 131 Miami Dolphins Kalen Ballage
4 135 Los Angeles Rams John Franklin-Myer
5 139 New York Giants R.J. McIntosh
5 147 Los Angeles Rams Micah Kiser
5 160 Los Angeles Rams Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
6 176 Los Angeles Rams John Kelly
6 192 Los Angeles Rams Jamil Demby
6 195 Los Angeles Rams Sebastian Joseph
6 205 Los Angeles Rams Trevon Young
6 209 Miami Dolphins Cornell Armstrong
7 227 Miami Dolphins Quentin Poling
7 229 Miami Dolphins Jason Sanders
7 231 Los Angeles Rams Travin Howard
7 244 Los Angeles Rams Justin Lawler

By team:

Round Pick Team Player
2 47 Arizona Cardinals Christian Kirk
3 97 Arizona Cardinals Mason Cole
1 26 Atlanta Falcons Calvin Ridley
1 25 Baltimore Ravens Hayden Hurst
1 32 Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson
1 7 Buffalo Bills Josh Allen
3 96 Buffalo Bills Harrison Phillips
1 24 Carolina Panthers D.J. Moore
1 8 Chicago Bears Roquan Smith
1 21 Cincinnati Bengals Billy Price
3 77 Cincinnati Bengals Sam Hubbard
3 78 Cincinnati Bengals Malik Jefferson
1 1 Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield
1 4 Cleveland Browns Denzel Ward
2 35 Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb
3 67 Cleveland Browns Chad Thomas
4 105 Cleveland Browns Antonio Callaway
3 81 Dallas Cowboys Michael Gallup
1 5 Denver Broncos Bradley Chubb
3 71 Denver Broncos Royce Freeman
3 99 Denver Broncos Isaac Yiadom
3 80 Houston Texans Martinas Rankin
2 36 Indianapolis Colts Darius Leonard
2 37 Indianapolis Colts Braden Smith
1 29 Jacksonville Jaguars Taven Bryan
2 61 Jacksonville Jaguars D.J. Chark
3 93 Jacksonville Jaguars Ronnie Harrison
2 46 Kansas City Chiefs Breeland Speaks
3 75 Kansas City Chiefs Derrick Nnadi
3 100 Kansas City Chiefs Dorian O’Daniel
1 17 Los Angeles Chargers Derwin James
3 89 Los Angeles Rams Joseph Noteboom
4 111 Los Angeles Rams Brian Allen
4 135 Los Angeles Rams John Franklin-Myer
5 147 Los Angeles Rams Micah Kiser
5 160 Los Angeles Rams Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
6 176 Los Angeles Rams John Kelly
6 192 Los Angeles Rams Jamil Demby
6 195 Los Angeles Rams Sebastian Joseph
6 205 Los Angeles Rams Trevon Young
7 231 Los Angeles Rams Travin Howard
7 244 Los Angeles Rams Justin Lawler
1 11 Miami Dolphins Minkah Fitzpatrick
2 42 Miami Dolphins Mike Gesicki
3 73 Miami Dolphins Jerome Baker
4 123 Miami Dolphins Durham Smythe
4 131 Miami Dolphins Kalen Ballage
6 209 Miami Dolphins Cornell Armstrong
7 227 Miami Dolphins Quentin Poling
7 229 Miami Dolphins Jason Sanders
1 30 Minnesota Vikings Mike Hughes
1 23 New England Patriots Isaiah Wynn
1 31 New England Patriots Sony Michel
3 91 New Orleans Saints Tre’Quan Smith
1 2 New York Giants Saquon Barkley
3 69 New York Giants B.J. Hill
5 139 New York Giants R.J. McIntosh
1 3 New York Jets Sam Darnold
3 72 New York Jets Nathan Shepherd
4 107 New York Jets Christopher Herndon
1 15 Oakland Raiders Kolton Miller
3 65 Oakland Raiders Brandon Parker
3 87 Oakland Raiders Arden Key
4 110 Oakland Raiders Nick Nelson
1 28 Pittsburgh Steelers Terrell Edmunds
3 76 Pittsburgh Steelers Mason Rudolph
3 92 Pittsburgh Steelers Chukwuma Okorafor
1 9 San Francisco 49ers Mike McGlinchey
2 44 San Francisco 49ers Dante Pettis
3 70 San Francisco 49ers Fred Warner
3 79 Seattle Seahawks Rasheem Green
1 12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vita Vea
2 38 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ronald Jones II
2 63 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carlton Davis
2 41 Tennessee Titans Harold Landry
3 74 Washington Redskins Geron Christian

Under any analysis, Matt Ryan’s contract sets a new bar

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The numbers on the new Matt Ryan contract have made their way to PFT headquarters. And, well, wow.

The full breakdown appears below, followed by some analysis. All numbers come from a source with knowledge of the deal.

1. Signing bonus: $46.5 million.

2. 2018 salary: $6 million, fully guaranteed.

3. 2019 option bonus: $10 million, fully guaranteed.

4. 2019 salary: $11.5 million, fully guaranteed.

5. 2020 salary: $20.5 million, fully guaranteed.

6. 2021 salary: $23 million, $5.5 million of which is guaranteed for injury only at signing. The $5.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2019 league year.

7. 2022 roster bonus: $7.5 million, due third day of 2022 league year.

8. 2022 salary: $16.25 million.

9. 2023 roster bonus: $7.5 million, due third day of 2023 league year.

10. 2023 salary: $20.5 million.

11. All guarantees have no offset language.

Here’s what it all means.

First, Ryan has a whopping $94.5 million fully guaranteed at signing. The remaining $5.5 million in guarantees for injury only at signing are, as a practical matter, fully guaranteed. Indeed, the only way to avoid the $5.5 million would be to cut Ryan after one year — and to owe him $94.5 million without the opportunity to offset any of the cash to be paid later.

Second, there is no fluff in the deal. No per-game roster bonuses, no workout bonuses, no incentives. It’s “all clean cash,” as the source explained it.

Third, if Ryan had opted to go year to year, he would have made $19.25 million this year, $25.98 million under the franchise tag in 2019, and $31.176 million in 2020. That’s a three-year haul of $76.406 million. Under the new contract, Ryan will make $94.5 million.

Fourth, in the non-guaranteed years, the Falcons will have to decide early whether to move on from Ryan, given the $7.5 million due on the third day of the 2022 and 2023 league years.

Fifth, the new-money value is $30 million per year, which is a record. The full value at signing — six years, $169.25 million — is $28.2 million. (That’s not quite as good as $28.3 million, but in one specific way it’s a lot better.)

So Ryan has set a new bar. And it won’t be easy for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers to overcome it. We’ll explain that in further detail in a separate post.

For now, the point is this: Ryan has gotten a record-setting deal, and he’ll likely be a Falcons for the next six years, and probably beyond.

Seahawks, Russell Wilson could be on a Kirk Cousins-style collision course

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With all the talk about Aaron Rodgers‘ looming mega-deal, there’s another quarterback who, like Rodgers, has two years left on his current contract. Unlike Rodgers, there’s no momentum toward adjusting the other quarterback’s deal.

The other quarterback is Russell Wilson, and his contract situation eventually could get messy.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the current expectation from Wilson’s perspective is that he’ll finish his current deal and receive the franchise tag in 2020. Based on his 2019 cap number of $25.286 million, it will cost the Seahawks $30.34 million to keep him for another season after the expiration of his current deal.

The next question becomes whether Wilson will go year to year at that point, like Kirk Cousins did in Washington. Under that scenario, Wilson would make $36.41 million (a 20-percent raise) in 2021. Come 2022, the Seahawks would have to decide whether to tag him again, at a 44-percent raise, or let him enter free agency.

The tag in 2022 would equate to $52.43 million for one year.

It’s unclear whether Wilson would opt for one-year deals once his contract expires. He’s currently 29, with a 30th birthday looming in November. But 30 is spry when it comes to quarterbacks, and Wilson told PFT Live during the season that he hopes to play until he’s 45. (He also said he hopes to stay with one team for his entire career.)

The last time around, Wilson did a four-year extension after three NFL seasons, at a new-money average of $21.9 million. With Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan now at $30 million per year (presumably in new money) and with Rodgers surely hoping to push the bar higher (presumably in new money), what will Wilson want?

Perhaps more importantly, what does he deserve?

Regardless of what he wants or what he deserves, the franchise-tag dance puts him at $119.18 million over three years — an average of nearly $40 million per year. If the Seahawks don’t tag him for a third time, Wilson would hit the open market (a la Cousins) in 2022, at the age of 33.

As long as Wilson stays healthy and effective, a willingness to wait gives him more leverage than any quarterback will have ever had. Which means that he’ll either get a record-setting deal at some point to stay in Seattle. Or he’ll get that record-setting deal as an unrestricted free agent.

Pre-draft process fueled Baker Mayfield’s rise to No. 1

AP

A week ago, it was becoming more and more clear that the Browns were serious about taking quarterback Baker Mayfield at No. 1. It’s now becoming more and more clear that plenty of teams had Mayfield as the top quarterback in the draft.

So how does that happen? Specifically, how does a six-foot quarterback who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds become not only the first pick in the draft but also a guy who was coveted by more than a few of the teams that needed quarterbacks?

As one executive whose team was actively evaluating the quarterbacks in the 2018 draft explained it to PFT, if the draft had been held immediately after the college football season ended, Mayfield likely would have been a high second-round pick. It was the work that was done from the middle of January until the end of April that pushed Mayfield to the point where he became the must-have guy.

Browns V.P. of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith recently gushed about Mayfield’s intangibles, and Highsmith wasn’t alone. As the source explained it to PFT, Mayfield blew people away with his demeanor, his words, and his way, once the process of talking to him and interacting with him began.

Enhancing that assessment was the information obtained as scouts learned more about Mayfield from those who had dealt with him in he past. Most prospects kiss the butts of the people they should; Mayfield is among the minority who had a reputation for treating very well the people who couldn’t help him. And that’s a very big deal when it comes to how teams separate one player from another, especially when none of the prospects stand out clearly and obviously above the rest based on physical abilities.

So, basically, Mayfield was at one point on track to be Drew Brees, the prospect — a high second-round pick. Now, many think he has a realistic shot at becoming Drew Brees, the franchise quarterback — a highly-paid, highly-successful, first-ballot-Hall-of-Famer.

Not bad for a couple of six-foot quarterbacks who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds.

Steelers trade Martavis Bryant to Raiders for third-round pick

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After a year of speculation that Martavis Bryant could be traded, he finally has been.

The Steelers have traded Bryant to the Raiders in exchange for a third-round draft pick, No. 79 overall, which the Raiders previously acquired in a trade with the Cardinals.

Bryant is an incredibly talented big-play receivers who’s one of the most dangerous downfield threats in the league when he’s all-in. But Bryant has a history of failing drug tests and angering his coaches with subpar effort, and it remains to be seen whether the Raiders can get the most out of him.

But new Raiders coach Jon Gruden will try, and if it works, Bryant is going to be a significant player in the Raiders’ offense.

This is an Al Davis type of move for the Raiders, acquiring a player with speed and a checkered history off the field. The Steelers are glad to be rid of Bryant, and the Raiders will be glad to have him.

PFT’s one and only 2018 mock draft

AP

[Editor’s note: I’ve had very little to do with this mock draft. So don’t blame me if you hate it. If you like it, I’ll take the credit. The mock draft was largely with input from people who have experience drafting players, including one person whose name would be instantly recognizable and would prompt you to say, “Maybe this isn’t a bunch of BS, after all.” Regardless, here it is.]

1. Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma.

2. Browns (from Giants): Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State.

3. Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, USC.

4. Giants (from Browns): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State.

5. Broncos: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame.

6. Bill (from Colts): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming.

7. Buccaneers: Derwin James, S, Florida State.

8. Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State.

9. 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia.

10. Raiders: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame.

11. Dolphins: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA.

12. Colts (from Bills): Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech.

13. Washington: Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive back, Alabama.

14. Packers: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland.

15. Cardinals: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville.

16. Ravens: James Daniels, C, Iowa.

17. Chargers: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville.

18. Seahawks: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama.

19. Cowboys: Vita Vea, DT, Washington.

20. Lions: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA.

21. Bengals: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA.

22. Colts (from Bills): Taven Bryan, DT, Florida.

23. Patriots: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama.

24. Panthers: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida.

25. Titans: Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama.

26. Falcons: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina.

27. Saints: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State.

28. Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State.

29. Jaguars: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama.

30. Vikings: Isiah Oliver, CB, Colorado.

31. Patriots: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State.

32. Eagles: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia.

2012 quarterback class a cautionary tale for 2018

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At least four quarterbacks will go in the first round of the NFL draft tomorrow night, making this year’s a particularly strong quarterback class. But the last draft class with four first-round quarterbacks serves as a cautionary tale.

That was in 2012, a draft class that was strong at the quarterback position — just not strong where the NFL personnel people and media “experts” thought it would be.

Three quarterbacks went in the Top 10 in 2012, with Andrew Luck going first to Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III going second to Washington, and Ryan Tannehill going eighth to Miami. Luck got off to a very good start but has been derailed recently by injuries. Griffin also got off to a good start but was derailed even more quickly by injuries and was out of the league altogether last year. And Tannehill has shown promise at times but missed all of last year with a knee injury, and the end of the previous year with a knee injury as well.

The next two quarterbacks taken were selected by two men with a great deal of quarterback expertise: Browns President Mike Holmgren, a quarterback guru credited with helping develop Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre, chose Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick. And Broncos G.M. John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback himself, chose Brock Osweiler with the 57th overall pick.

Who else was available when Holmgren chose Weeden and Elway chose Osweiler? Oh, just Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson, who went to Seattle at 75, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles, who went to Philadelphia at 88, and Kirk Cousins, who went to Washington at 102 and just got the biggest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history from the Vikings.

So while the 2012 quarterback class did have some big-time NFL talent, it didn’t go in the order it should have gone in — and even the talent evaluators who should have been the most equipped to recognize top quarterback talent whiffed badly.

That should serve as a warning for 2018. Whether four, five or six quarterbacks go in the first round on Thursday night, you can bet some quarterback who’s drafted on Friday or Saturday will end up having a better career than some quarterback who hears his name called on Thursday. The NFL draft is far too inexact a science for any player to be labeled a sure thing.

Monday Night Football schedule starts, ends with Raiders

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Jon Gruden spent many years in the ESPN broadcast booth for Monday Night Football games, but he’ll only be on two of the broadcasts this season.

Gruden has returned to the sidelines with the Raiders and his team has been scheduled for two games on Monday nights this season. They will host the Rams in Week One and the Broncos in Week 16 as bookends to this year’s slate of Monday night action.

That first Raiders game will kick off at 10:20 p.m. ET after the Jets and Lions play in Detroit at 7:10 p.m. ET. All of the other kickoffs will be at 8:15 p.m. ET, which is 15 minutes earlier than games kicked off during Gruden’s final year in the booth.

Week One: Jets at Lions; Rams at Raiders.

Week Two: Seahawks at Bears.

Week Three: Steelers at Buccaneers.

Week Four: Chiefs at Broncos.

Week Five: Redskins at Saints.

Week Six: 49ers at Packers.

Week Seven: Giants at Falcons.

Week Eight: Patriots at Bills.

Week Nine: Titans at Cowboys.

Week 10: Giants at 49ers.

Week 11: Chiefs at Rams (Mexico City).

Week 12: Titans at Texans.

Week 13: Redskins at Eagles.

Week 14: Vikings at Seahawks.

Week 15: Saints at Panthers.

Week 16: Broncos at Raiders.

Tom Coughlin’s return among Week One highlights

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Tom Coughlin’s new team fared a lot better than his old one in 2017 and they’ll get a chance to start plotting their course for 2018 against one another.

The NFL announced the complete regular season schedule on Thursday and it includes a matchup between the Jaguars and Giants at MetLife Stadium on the first Sunday of the year. Coughlin is in his second year as the executive vice president of football operations for the Jaguars and was let go by the Giants in January 2016 after 12 years as head coach.

That game will be one of the 1 p.m. ET kickoffs on September 9. The season will start September 6 when the Falcons visit the Eagles on Thursday night on NBC. The rest of the Week One schedule includes:

Texans at Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET) – The hope is that Deshaun Watson will be making the start for Houston while Tom Brady is leading the Patriots. Anything other than that will make for one of the biggest storylines of Week One.

Buccaneers at Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET) – An NFC South matchup that will provide our first look at whether the Buccaneers have rebounded from last season. On the other side, the Saints will be happy with the same standings as last year.

Titans at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m, ET) – Mike Vrabel‘s first game as the Titans head coach and Ryan Tannehill‘s expected return as Dolphins quarterback. New Titans Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis will also get a chance to renew acquaintances with former Patriot teammate and current Dolphins wideout Danny Amendola.

49ers at Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET) – Given how things played out contractually this offseason, Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins makes for a marquee matchup right out of the gate. It’s also a chance to see how the 49ers have grown as they meet one of 2017’s best teams.

Bills at Ravens (Sunday 1 p.m. ET) – Will this be AJ McCarron‘s coming out party or will a draft pick spoil that plan? Will the Ravens’ new look receiving corps add Dez Bryant before this game?

Steelers at Browns (Sunday 1 p.m. ET) – The quest for the second win of Hue Jackson’s tenure as Browns coach begins against Pittsburgh. Will Le'Veon Bell be celebrating a new contract?

Bengals at Colts (Sunday 1 p.m. ET) – Frank Reich is the new Colts head coach while Marvin Lewis remains the Bengals coach. All eyes will be on Andrew Luck unless the Colts quarterback isn’t back in action.

Chiefs at Chargers (Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET) – The Patrick Mahomes era begins in Los Angeles. Memories of last year’s playoff miss and 0-4 start should have the Chargers doing all they can to break out of the gate quickly.

Redskins at Cardinals (Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET) – Alex Smith and Sam Bradford start the next chapters of their careers in a late afternoon kickoff. The game should also feature Cardinals running back David Johnson‘s first action since Week One of last season.

Cowboys at Panthers (Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET) – Cam Newton‘s first game with Norv Turner calling the offensive plays comes against one of Turner’s former employers. The Panthers won’t have linebacker Thomas Davis for this one as he’ll be serving a four-game suspension to start the year.

Seahawks at Broncos (Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET) – Case Keenum will get first crack at the overhauled Seahawks defense in his first game as the Broncos quarterback. We’ll find out next Thursday if a rookie is looking over his shoulder.

Bears at Packers (Sunday 8:20 p.m. ET) – Bears coach Matt Nagy starts his head coaching career at Lambeau Field in Mike Pettine’s first game running the Green Bay defense. The game should also feature the first look at the Aaron RodgersJimmy Graham partnership.

Jets at Lions (Monday 7:10 p.m. ET) – Matt Patricia faced the Jets many times as the defensive coordinator in New England. He’ll get another shot at them in his first game as Detroit’s head coach.

Rams at Raiders (Monday 10:20 p.m. ET) – Instead of calling a Monday night game, Jon Gruden will be coaching the Raiders in one. Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh will debut for the Rams.

2015 NFL draft fifth-year option decision list

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The NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement gives each team the option to pick up the fifth year of each first-round draft pick’s contract, a decision that must be made in the spring before that player’s fourth year.

This is a list of each pick from the first round of the 2015 NFL draft and whether or not those players’ fifth-year options are being picked up:

1. Tampa Bay has picked up Jameis Winston‘s option.

2. Tennessee has picked up Marcus Mariota‘s option.

3. Jacksonville did not pick up Dante Fowler‘s option.

4. Oakland picked up Amari Cooper‘s option.

5. Washington has picked up Brandon Scherff‘s option.

6. The Jets have picked up Leonard Williams‘ option.

7. Chicago didn’t pick up Kevin White‘s option.

8. Atlanta picked up Vic Beasley‘s option.

9. The Giants didn’t pick up Ereck Flowers‘ option.

10. The Rams have picked up Todd Gurley‘s option.

11. The Vikings picked up Trae Waynes‘ option.

12. The Patriots didn’t pick up Danny Shelton‘s option.

13. New Orleans has picked up Andrus Peat‘s option.

14. Miami will pick up DeVante Parker‘s option.

15. The Chargers picked up Melvin Gordon‘s option.

16. Kevin Johnson‘s option was exercised by the Texans.

17. San Francisco has picked up Arik Armstead‘s option.

18. The Rams have picked up Marcus Peters‘ option.

19. Kansas City won’t pick up the option on Cameron Erving, whom they acquired in a trade with the Browns.

20. Philadelphia has picked up Nelson Agholor‘s option.

21. Cincinnati will not pick up Cedric Ogbuehi‘s option.

22. Pittsburgh has picked up Bud Dupree‘s option.

23. Denver will not pick up Shane Ray‘s option.

24. Arizona picked up D.J. Humphries‘ option.

25. Carolina has picked up Shaq Thompson‘s option.

26. Baltimore did not pick up Breshad Perriman‘s option.

27. Dallas picked up Byron Jones‘ option.

28. San Francisco did not pick Laken Tomlinson‘s option.

29. New England did not pick up Phillip Dorsett‘s option.

30. Cleveland picked up Damarious Randall‘s option after trading for him from Green Bay.

31. Miami did not pick up Stephone Anthony‘s option after he didn’t do much following his trade from New Orleans.

32. New England did not pick up Malcom Brown‘s option.

Dear NFL: Go ahead and get rid of the kickoff

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You win, NFL. You’ve been gradually chipping away at the kickoff — dubbed for years now the most dangerous play in the game — with the goal of making it easier for everyone to deal with the elimination of the kickoff when it eventually happens. Perhaps the hope was that the sense of inevitability would grow to the point that the calls for the end of the kickoff would come from the outside.

Regardless, and to quote Schwartz when Flick was hesitating to touch his tongue on the frozen flag pole, “Go on, smartass, and do it.”

Yes, NFL, go ahead and do it. When the owners get together in May, cast 32 votes to eliminate the kickoff for good.

We all know it’s coming. So we can talk about it for the next year or two, while the most dangerous play in the game remains part of the game, or we can just get rid of the damn thing now.

The plan for dealing with the most dangerous play in the game shouldn’t be using it less, it should be using it never. When there’s a dangerous table saw in a machine shop, a responsible foreman doesn’t say, “Use it less.” A responsible foreman says, “Don’t use it at all.”

So do it. Quit talking about it, and do it. Replace with with Greg Sciano’s idea, first floated by Commissioner Goodell in 2012, to give the kicking team the ball at its own 30 yard line, facing fourth and 15. Punt the ball (a far less dangerous play, since players aren’t running directly at each other at full speed before impact), go for it, or run a fake punt.

It’s going to happen sooner or later. Make it happen sooner, so we can all quit wondering when it’s finally going to happen.

NFL wants investigation of “widespread fraud” in concussion settlement

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Amid claims that the NFL unreasonably is delaying the payment of claims in the concussion settlement, the NFL is fighting back. Aggressively.

The league on Friday requested the appointment of a Special Investigator, who would explore allegedly “widespread fraud” in the effort to secure payment.

“We want to ensure that players and their families receive the benefits they deserve,” attorney Brad Karp said in a statement released by the NFL on Friday. “Fraud threatens the integrity of the settlement and the prompt payment of legitimate claims. There is significant evidence of fraudulent claims being advanced by unscrupulous doctors, lawyers and even players. The appointment of a Special Investigator was specifically contemplated in the agreement, and will provide important additional tools to assist the independent, court-appointed administrators in identifying fraudulent claims and related misconduct.”

It’s a strong allegation, suggesting not simply that former players are accidentally under the impression that they have one of the qualifying conditions but that they are deliberately trying to fall within the confines of the concussion settlement — and that others are aiding and abetting the process.

The court papers submitted in connection with the request for a Special Investigator include specific allegations of fraud. The league contends that one law firm representing over 100 former players “coached” them on the procedure for answering questions during neuropsychological evaluations and “directed at least one retired player to show up for his evaluation hungover and on Valium.” The league also claims that a firm representing more than 50 class members secured a higher fee if the former players were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (which results in a higher recovery under the concussion settlement), and that “virtually all” of those players were evaluated by a pediatric neurologist, who diagnosed 75 percent of them with Alzheimer’s.

The league also alleges that evidence exists of specific coaching of former players to help them “beat” the psychological testing in order to secure payment, that one neuropsychologist claimed to have spent, on two different occasions, 130 hours evaluating players in the same 24-hour period, and that 21 medial reports submitted by the same neuropsychologist showed identical vital signs for each of the players.

The paperwork submitted by the NFL further includes allegations of former players directly committing fraud. Consider this quote regarding an unidentified (for now) former player: “A Retired NFL Football Player diagnosed with purported Alzheimer’s Disease in June 2016 at the age of 54 claimed that he had stopped coaching football by the time of his evaluation due to his severe cognitive impairment. Yet, subsequent to his evaluation, the same retired player participated in multiple videotaped interviews in which he discussed — without any apparent difficulty — his current head  coaching duties, and as recently as October 2017, was interviewed by reporters about his ongoing role as a head football coach.” (There may be enough clues in there for a person with advanced Google skills to figure out who the former player may be.)

Here’s another: “A Retired NFL Football Player diagnosed with purported Alzheimer’s Disease in July 2015 at the age of 39 claimed to have significant cognitive impairments that made him incapable of even doing errands without assistance. Yet, information available from public sources shows that the same retired player is the head coach of a minor league football team, a developmental football coach and a motivational speaker. When that player submitted a form to the Claims Administrator asking for his employment history subsequent to his diagnosis, he concealed his coaching position.”

And another: “A Retired NFL Football Player diagnosed with purported Level 2 Neurocognitive Impairment (i.e., moderate dementia) in December 2016 at the age of 32 reported that he was unemployed, had significant issues with memory and completing tasks and frequently would go into a room and forget why he was there. That retired player concealed that he was working as a registered wealth manager for a large investment firm.”

And another: “A Retired NFL Football Player diagnosed with purported Level 2 Neurocognitive Impairment (i.e., moderate dementia) in January 2017 at the age of 32 claimed that he was unable to work in any capacity due to his cognitive impairment. Videos available online show that same player giving lengthy and fully coherent motivational speeches, often without the assistance of notes, on numerous occasions subsequent to the supposed diagnosis.”

The 20-page submission from the NFL, undoubtedly directed to the court of public opinion as much as it is to the court presiding over the settlement, paints a troubling picture of alleged fraud, countering the argument that the NFL, faced with unlimited potential liability, is dragging its feet and contesting claims under the notion that every single penny saved becomes a penny earned. Whether it’s the NFL unfairly opposing claims or specific former players (and/or those who stand to make money from them) unfairly trying to get a piece of a pie that will be as big as it needs to be, these problems needs to be fully explored and resolved. Whether it’s the NFL’s fault, specific former players’ fault, or both, this complication delays the efforts of truly eligible former players to get the money they deserve.

Can NFL teams make hiring and firing decisions based on anthem protests?

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Given the recent uptick in news regarding the anthem controversy, it’s time to address some of the fundamental questions relating to the situation.

The goal of this article is to take a fairly complicated and polarizing societal question and analyze it, objectively and thoroughly, from the perspective of labor and employment law. (For those wondering why they’d be inclined to read a legal analysis from some Internet hack who writes about football, that’s a very fair question. I practiced law for 18 years, specializing over the final 14 or so in matters of labor and employment law, both from the employer’s perspective and from the employee’s perspective.)

The first challenge for anyone considering this issue as a matter of labor and employment is far easier said than done: You need to set aside whatever your personal beliefs may be regarding NFL players protesting during the national anthem. Whether you like it, whether you hate it, or whether you land somewhere in between, if you forget your own feelings on the issue, you’ll be able to better understand the legal issues relevant to the situation.

Along these same lines, you need to forget about the question of whether anthem protests are “bad for business.” (Some presume that the protests have hurt the NFL’s business; the evidence, however, is inconclusive. Yes, TV ratings are down, but not as far down as TV ratings generally. Also, revenues — and in turn the salary cap — continue to rise. For the fifth straight year, the salary cap has increased by more than $10 million per team.)

Actually, let’s assume that the NFL’s teams subjectively have concluded that anthem protests are indeed “bad for business,” inconclusive evidence of a negative impact notwithstanding. If that’s the case, the question becomes whether the NFL can make hiring and firing decisions based on anthem protests that are determined to be “bad for business” under the principles that apply to the employment relationship between NFL teams and NFL players.

For any issue arising under the relationship between NFL teams and NFL players, the question begins with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. However, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association says nothing about the national anthem. The rule regarding the anthem appears in the NFL’s game operations manual, which provides in pertinent part as follows: “The national anthem must be played before every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the national anthem. During the national anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.”

This rule, adopted in 2009 as part of the league’s decision to move the players from the locker room to the sideline during the national anthem, was drafted by the NFL. By using “must” in connection with the playing of the anthem and the players’ presence on the sideline but the non-mandatory term “should” when referring to standing during the anthem, the NFL created a loophole in the policy, making it different from the NBA rule that mandates standing: Players must be on the sideline for the anthem, and players should (not must) stand.

When the anthem controversy first emerged in August 2016, the NFL could have quickly revised the language of the rule, or the NFL could have taken the position that “should” as a practical matter means “must” within the broader context of the rule. After all, the league has brought them out of the locker room not to protest during the playing of the national anthem but to be props in the broader effort to wrap The Shield (which looks a lot like the flag) in the flag.

The fact that the rule didn’t appear in the CBA (which is the product of comprehensive collective bargaining between the NFL and NFL Players Association regarding the terms of employment) most likely would have given the league the ability to unilaterally change the rule. In other words, the league possibly could have simply changed the rule on the spot, without talking to or bargaining with the union.

But that’s not what the league did. The NFL’s first comment on the matter was this: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

That was the moment the NFL confirmed that players have permission to sit, kneel, whatever during the anthem. And that was the moment that it became inappropriate to make hiring and firing decisions based on whether a player chooses to exercise the league-given right to not stand. After all, what good is any right in employment if exercising that right will get you fired?

When the anthem controversy reached new heights in September 2017, fueled by an attack on the NFL and protesting players by the President, the league did not change the rule. Instead, the league reiterated the fact that players have the right to protest, if they choose to do so.

“During this past season, we received assurances from both Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the Management Council, John Mara, that the right of players to demonstrate would be protected,” the union said in a statement issued last month, after Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said that he would prohibit kneeling (and then backtracked). “We are glad that both the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins have clarified their positions to be consistent with what was confirmed with our union leadership, and we expect all other NFL teams to maintain the same commitment to protecting those rights.” (The NFL has at no time disputed the notion that Goodell and Mara provided assurances that the right of players to demonstrate would be protected.)

This is the most important point to keep in mind when addressing whether the NFL may make hiring and firing decisions based on a player’s inclination to participate in anthem protests: The NFL created the right to protest in 2009, the NFL confirmed the right to protest in 2016 and the NFL reiterated the right to protest in 2017.

Protecting the rights of a player to protest means so much more than allowing players who are currently employed by a team to protest. It also includes prohibiting activities that would tend to discourage a player from exercising his right to protest. Cutting a player for protesting is the most obvious contradiction of a player’s right to protest. Not hiring a player who intends to protest is no different than that.

These realities remain true even under the assumption that anthem protests are bad for business. If anthem protests are truly bad for business, the league knew or should have known that anthem protests would be bad for business in August 2016, when the NFL confirmed that players have the right to not stand during the anthem. And if at some point after confirming in August 2016 that players have a right protest the league realized that it’s bad for business and something should be done about it, the NFL should have changed its rule.

That’s where traditional principles of labor law becomes relevant to the situation. Although the league may have been able to unilaterally change the anthem policy in the early days of the controversy, the league’s express confirmation of the players’ right to protest in August 2016, the reiteration of that endorsement in 2017, and the magnitude of the issue arguably has transformed this specific term of employment into what the law regards as a mandatory subject of bargaining. This means that, if the policy has morphed into a mandatory subject of bargaining, the league can’t change the policy without engaging in the traditional back-and-forth and give-and-take with the union.

The NFL and NFLPA undoubtedly would disagree on whether changing the anthem policy requires bargaining. The NFL and the NFLPA also would likely disagree on whether hiring and firing decisions can be made based on whether a player has exercised or has stated an intention to exercise his league-given right to protest. At some point, that issue may be hashed out in a legal proceeding.

The league has declined in the past to comment on whether players can be disciplined by individual teams for declining to stand, brushing such questions off as “hypothetical.” Amid mounting examples of teams asking prospective employees questions about their plans to protest, the NFL tells PFT that its teams are allowed to pose such questions.

The NFLPA declined comment on question prospective employees can be asked about kneeling during the anthem. However, a source with knowledge of the union’s analysis of these issues tells PFT that the union believes such questions cannot be posed to players.

The argument against asking those questions is simple. Since the league has given, confirmed, and reiterated the right to protest during the national anthem, players should not be penalized for exercising or stating an intent to exercise those rights. Questions aimed at determining whether a player would exercise those rights therefore become evidence of an intention to make employment decisions based on whether a player will exercise a right that the NFL has given to all players.

For example, employees have a right to complain about unsafe working conditions to the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration. This means that hiring or firing decisions can’t be made based on past OSHA complaints or a propensity/intention to make future OSHA complaints. This also means that, during a job interview, the owner of the business can’t ask, “If you see an unsafe working condition, will you promise not to file a safety complaint with OSHA?” It also means that, on the eve of a job interview, an employee can’t be asked, “Will you commit to never exercising your right to make a safety complaint with OSHA? Before answering, please be aware that if you won’t make this commitment, you won’t be interviewed.”)

Yes, there’s a HUGE difference between employees making a complaint about workplace safety and football players protesting during the national anthem. But here’s the common thread: The federal government gave American workers the right to make safety complaints with OSHA, and the NFL gave players the right to protest during the national anthem.

This entire issue exists because the NFL deliberately or accidentally used “should” instead of “must” when writing the anthem policy nearly a decade ago, because the league confirmed that standing isn’t mandatory in August 2016 after Kaepernick was spotted sitting during the anthem, and because the league reiterated to the NFLPA in 2017 that players have the right to protest.

The right to protest given, confirmed, and reiterated by the NFL becomes hollow and meaningless if teams can cut or not sign players who have protested or who will potentially protest in the future. Posing questions to players about their intention to protest becomes direct evidence of an intent to discriminate against players based on the exercise of a right given by the NFL, confirmed by the NFL, and reiterated by the NFL.

Basically, allowing teams to hire and fire based on whether a player has protested or will protest represents a de facto revision to the anthem policy, making standing mandatory without actually changing the key word in the policy from “should” to “must.” That amounts to an effort to skirt the question of whether bargaining with the union must occur before the anthem policy is changed. And that’s likely why the NFL, realizing that it’s too late to unilaterally change the policy, has decided to look the other way as owners and teams brazenly use a player’s willingness to exercise a right given, confirmed, and created by the NFL against that player.

If it truly is “bad for business” when players kneel during the anthem, it was horrendous for business when the NFL created the right to protest during the anthem in 2009, when the NFL confirmed the right to protest during the anthem in August 2016, and when the NFL reiterated the right to protest during the anthem in 2017. That’s why the questions posed to Eric Reid by the Bengals and the ultimatum given to Colin Kaepernick by the Seahawks are more than simply a P.R. problem. They are a legal problem, one that eventually could spark separate grievance proceedings against the league.

Regardless of whether it’s “bad for business” when players protest during the anthem, the NFL gave them that right, the NFL confirmed that right, and the NFL has reiterated the confirmation of that right. Making employment decisions based on the exercise of that right makes that right meaningless, which makes it flat-out wrong to consider past protests or plans to protest in the future when deciding whether to sign a player.

2018 NFL preseason schedule

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This is the full 2018 preseason schedule, announced by the NFL today.

HALL OF FAME GAME: AUGUST 2

Chicago Bears vs. Baltimore Ravens (NBC)

WEEK 1: AUGUST 9-13

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Arizona Cardinals

Los Angeles Rams vs. Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers vs. Buffalo Bills

Chicago Bears vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Minnesota Vikings vs. Denver Broncos

Tennessee Titans vs. Green Bay Packers

New Orleans Saints vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Houston Texans vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Miami Dolphins

Washington Redskins vs. New England Patriots

Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants

Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Jets

Detroit Lions vs. Oakland Raiders

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers

Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks

WEEK 2: AUGUST 16-20

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Atlanta Falcons

Miami Dolphins vs. Carolina Panthers

Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Dallas Cowboys

Chicago Bears vs. Denver Broncos

New York Giants vs.Detroit Lions

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers

San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans

Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts (ESPN, Aug. 20)

Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Oakland Raiders vs. Los Angeles Rams

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Minnesota Vikings

Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots

Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Tennessee Titans

New York Jets vs. Washington Redskins (ESPN, Aug. 16)

WEEK 3: AUGUST 23-26

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills (FOX, Aug. 26)

New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Chicago Bears

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cleveland Browns (FOX, Aug. 23)

Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys (NBC, Aug. 26)

San Francisco 49ers vs. Indianapolis Colts

Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Chargers (CBS, Aug. 25)

Houston Texans vs. Los Angeles Rams

Baltimore Ravens vs. Miami Dolphins

Seattle Seahawks vs. Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants vs. New York Jets

Green Bay Packers vs. Oakland Raiders

Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (CBS, Aug. 24)

Denver Broncos vs. Washington Redskins

WEEK 4: AUGUST 30-31

Denver Broncos vs. Arizona Cardinals

Miami Dolphins vs. Atlanta Falcons

Washington Redskins vs. Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills vs. Chicago Bears

Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns vs. Detroit Lions

Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans

Green Bay Packers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints

New England Patriots vs. New York Giants

New York Jets vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Carolina Panthers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Los Angeles Chargers vs. San Francisco 49ers

Oakland Raiders vs. Seattle Seahawks

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Minnesota Vikings vs. Tennessee Titans