The eventual champion of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament may not get a chance to hang a championship banner from its rafters if the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants it that way.
Given what we know about the investigation uncovering recruitment violations committed by seemingly every competitive college basketball program, 2018 might be a repeat of 2013. If you remember, Louisville emerged from March Madness as champion that year only to have that championship vacated for paying escorts to “recruit” players. While those 40 alleged acts warrant the punishment received, not all recruiting violations should be treated equally. Some shouldn’t be violations at all.
For instance, it is alleged that the FBI has a recording of Arizona head coach Sean Miller speaking of a $100,000 payment to secure freshman center DeAndre Ayton, who could be the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Ayton makes Arizona a legitimate title contender, and one of those teams who could win the national championship only to have it taken away. This, too, would warrant a punishment on par with Louisville’s.
Handing out bags full of money is obviously a violation of the NCAA’s “amateurism” policy -- a policy alleged to exist to preserve the “integrity” of collegiate athletics while coaches and athletic directors “earn” million-dollar salaries on the backs of slave labor. You used to have to go pro to earn pro money. Now coaches can avoid the humiliation of failing at the highest level and still live like they made the big time.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is one of those coaches, and many wonder how he manages to recruit the best high school players without violating NCAA rules. Being the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division I basketball and having a chance to win a national championship every year can’t be only reasons why Duke has secured the top three high school recruits next year. He must be breaking the rules, right? Well, Krzyzewski wasn’t implicated in the FBI investigation, but one of his players was.
Duke University freshman forward Wendell Carter, Jr. is accused of violating the NCAA’s amateurism policy because his mother, Kylia Carter, had dinner with ASM sports agent Christian Dawkins and may or may not have paid for it. The meal cost $106.36, and Wendell Carter, Jr., who was a junior in high school at the time, wasn’t even there. This is where the NCAA can start revising its amateurism policy.
Buying someone food should never affect the eligibility of a student-athlete to compete in collegiate athletics, whether that food is consumed by the student-athlete or a member of that student-athlete’s family. Kylia Carter took time out of her day to accommodate Dawkins and discuss the future of her son. She shouldn’t have to pay for a meal -- a meal she might not be able to afford -- just to talk to someone about her son’s future, whether it be with a college coach or a sports agent. Wendell shouldn’t have to pay for his meals, either, regardless of who’s buying. If an agent wants to wine and dine him, Wendell shouldn’t have to say, “I can’t accept because I’m an amateur.”
Not a single collegiate athlete or high school recruit should have to pay a dime for food. This is the least the NCAA can do with its billion-dollar revenues: provide a per diem for meals to all NCAA student-athletes and stop considering meals as “benefits.”
Meals are calories; they are fuel. The athlete does not benefit from eating a meal. They might enjoy it, but there isn’t a meal in the world or a chef in the world capable of persuasion. No decisions are being made like Cypher’s decision to mutiny in The Matrix because of the juiciness of a steak. Let the student-athletes eat. Hell, for some of them, that dinner with an agent might be the last fancy meal they ever eat. They could tear their ACL the next day and never hear from another agent or college coach again.
Even when those recruits get to college they incur costs for calories. If you’re unaware of how meals work in college, here’s a crash course. Most colleges and universities include meal plans with room and board. That was the case when I attended the University of Washington as a freshman. Since I was living in the dorms, which all freshmen are required to do unless they’re living with family, I was required to pay for a meal plan. I didn’t want a meal plan. I wanted to buy groceries and cook my meals in the dormitory kitchenette, but there was no way around it. I had to buy a meal plan.
So I bought the cheapest meal plan available, and while it allowed me to buy groceries from the campus market, those groceries were much more expensive than they were at nearby grocery stores. The only way I could use my meal plan money, though, was using my student ID card, which, of course, was not accepted anywhere but on campus. It’s a convenient monopoly on food for the university, which probably helps offset the losses incurred when Amazon revealed to students the true price of their textbooks when purchased anywhere but a college bookstore.
The worst part about the meal plan is if you don’t use it you lose it. At the end of each quarter, I ended up drinking a gallon of milk every few days just to meet the minimum spending requirement of my plan so I could get the rest of my money refunded. You read that right: there’s a minimum amount you must spend in order to get your own money back from the college.
I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t these student-athletes on scholarship?” Well, some of them are, but most aren’t. Most have scholarships covering tuition only. Some have no scholarship at all. But even those with “full-rides” aren’t getting full-rides. There aren’t meal plans for collegiate football players who need to consume more than 4,000 calories per day. And who do you think pays for something a student-athlete needs that isn’t included with their meal plan? A coach or university administrator can’t or they could be found in violation the NCAA’s amateurism policy.
Consider this: a six-foot, 10-inch, 200-pound college freshman is still growing into his body. His coaches have asked him to bulk up, which means consuming more protein. I don’t know if you’ve been to college lately, but the last I was there (2013), the cafeteria didn’t have many protein-packed options. You could usually find chicken in some way, shape or form, and hamburger, but there’s only so much meat you can eat. Fish can be found, but a student-athlete can’t be expected to pound tuna sandwiches, peanuts and jerky after a workout. Pounding a protein shake, though, provides the muscles with what they need immediately, but you won’t find protein powder for sale on too many campuses. That’s a cost incurred by the athlete to fuel the vehicle that creates the revenue they’ll never see.
Slave owners fed their slaves because their revenue depended on it, but like the NCAA, fed them just enough to do the work and nothing more. The NCAA is on the verge of suffering a similar fate as those slave owners. The chatter slaves must have heard about the Union paying runaway slaves to serve as soldiers in the Civil War after Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is an uncomfortable simile to the NCAA’s amateurism problem. The appeal of playing for money internationally is growing and costing slave owners recruits, and talk of the G-League serving as a development league for high school recruits unwilling to attend college must feel like a Gettysburg Address waiting to happen to the NCAA.
If the NCAA doesn’t do something to appeal to new recruits, they stand to lose everything, because the NCAA isn’t a billion-dollar industry without March Madness, and March Madness isn’t March Madness without the best “amateurs” in the world.
The only quarterback the Minnesota Vikings have under contract is 24-year-old Kyle Sloter out of Northern Colorado. Case Keenum is a free agent. Sam Bradford is a free agent. Teddy Bridgewater is a free agent. And Kirk Cousins is a free agent. Here’s the case for the Vikings to sign Kirk Cousins.
The numbers from this season aren’t on Cousins’ side, but he is the better quarterback. Keenum had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio this season (3.14 to 2.07). Keenum completed more of his passes (67.6 to 64.3 percent), and while Cousins threw for more yards starting two more games (4,093 to 3,547), he took almost twice as many sacks behind an injury-plagued offensive line, leading the league with 342 yards lost due to sacks. That wouldn’t happen behind the offensive line of the Vikings, if healthy. Similarly, Keenum wouldn’t be the same behind the offensive line of say, Arizona.
While Keenum excelled more than any other quarterback against the blitz this season, his decision-making deficiencies were on display in the playoffs. Cian Fahey of Pre-snap Reads wrote about this. Keenum had a fantastic regular season, but fell apart in the biggest game of the year and turned the ball over in both playoff games. Even his walk-off, touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to lift the Vikings over the New Orleans Saints was the result of his inaccuracy. That pass was supposed to be on the sideline so Diggs could get out of bounds, and Saints’ safety Marcus Williams defended the play assuming Keenum threw an accurate ball. Sure, he should have played the ball instead of going for a game-ending tackle, but the Vikings went on to the NFC Championship Game thanks to their own quarterback’s mistake.
Cousins’ 94 total touchdowns to 47 turnovers is sixth amongst all quarterbacks over the past three seasons. His yards-per-play average over those same three seasons is fourth overall, and he’s fourth in total yardage. Cousins knows what to do with the football in dire situations. He knows taking a sack is better than throwing an interception. Keenum displayed that he didn’t realize that in both playoff games, throwing an ill-advised pass into double coverage when hurried against the Saints that was picked off by the same young safety who blew the tackle of Diggs on the play that decided the game.
When brushed by Philadelphia’s Chris Long up 7-0, he threw this pick-six instead of holding the ball and taking a sack on 3rd-and-8.
Keenum’s big-game mistakes aren’t the only reason the Vikings shouldn’t retain him. The reason they shouldn’t retain him is the market for quarterbacks. There are at least five teams who would love Keenum’s services: the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets, the Arizona Cardinals, the Buffalo Bills and the Denver Broncos.
The Jets have more than $79 million to spend, and are the most likely suitor for Cousins. They are paying less than $3 million to the three quarterbacks on their roster (27th in the league), and neither Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg is the answer at quarterback for the Jets. But McShay also has the Jets drafting a quarterback -- Wyoming’s Josh Allen -- at number six overall.
The Cardinals are in the same boat as the Vikings. They have no one captaining their ship. They also have only $23 million to offer a quarterback in free agency. That’s more than half as much as the Vikings have in cap space, and won’t be enough to land Cousins, but could be enough to sign Keenum.
Buffalo and Denver are working with over $29 million and $26 million, respectively, which makes a Cousins signing improbable. The Vikings are the logical landing spot, and Cousins has said the Vikings are at the top of his list.
Sam Bradford is a fine quarterback when he’s available and well-protected. But he hasn’t played a full season since 2012, has two bum knees and is an injury waiting to happen. Despite all that, Bradford will be overpaid by some team desperate for a competent quarterback. But you can’t just put him behind any offensive line. Bradford needs protection similar to that provided by the Vikings much of the year, and even that wasn’t good enough to keep him upright.
The Vikings could sign Kirk Cousins and retain Teddy Bridgewater at a reasonable rate. Bridgewater threw the ball once this season for an interception after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury. No team knows Bridgewater’s body and readiness better than the Vikings, and teams will be sceptical, for good reason. But Bridgewater is beloved in Minnesota, and many would like to see him get an opportunity to return to his All-Pro form as the Vikings starter. Playing behind the veteran Cousins for a few years could be a good learning experience for Bridgewater, and he will inevitably get a chance to step in given how often quarterbacks are injured in the league (although, Cousins has started every game for the last three seasons).
Bridgewater is just 25, so even playing three seasons behind Cousins, who will be 30 in August, would have him in his theoretical prime. But Bridgewater is unlikely to settle for a backup role given the need for quarterbacks.
The Vikings are a quarterback away from winning a Super Bowl, and Case Keenum is not that quarterback. Sure, Nick Foles did it, but he did it behind the best offensive line in football. Minnesota now has a competent offensive line, but it wasn’t the most healthy offensive line entering the playoffs, and Keenum didn’t change his game to accommodate the changes on said offensive line. He still played like a wild gunslinger even though he had even less time to throw the football, which resulted in more turnovers.
Sam Bradford could be that quarterback, but again, the Minnesota offensive line is good -- not great. Whoever quarterbacks the Vikings needs to be able to take some hits, of which Keenum is capable. He just doesn’t make great decisions in those moments. Kirk Cousins does.
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You could say the Minnesota Vikings had no business playing in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia after needing a Minneapolis Miracle to get there. But they entered play as the NFL’s best defense in points and yardage allowed and were three-point favorites on the road. They left Philly 31-point losers.
Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich picked apart the best third-down defense in football -- getting first downs on 10 of 14 third-down tries. Shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes summed it up succinctly, saying the Vikings’ defense played like “trash.”
The defense wasn’t the only problem on Sunday, though. Quarterback Case Keenum finally turned into the pumpkin everyone expected this Cinderella season, and Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman should not ignore the result when addressing the Vikings’ roster at quarterback -- or lack thereof.
With 23-year-old Kyle Sloter out of Northern Colorado the only quarterback on the roster going into next season, the Vikings will once again have to answer the quarterback question this offseason. Some would say Keenum has earned the starting job, but given his latest performance, the Vikings should let him test the free agent market.
Upon throwing a pick-six after his arm was hit by Cameron Graham, who beat right tackle Rashod Hill on just about every play, Keenum fell apart. Before the pick-six, Keenum completed four of six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Afterward, he completed just 57.1 percent of his 42 passes, gaining just five yards per attempt on average, with no more touchdowns and another interception. That is not the performance of a quarterback worth $21.3 million per year. That was the franchise tag salary for quarterbacks in 2017, and the least the Vikings could pay Keenum to return next season.
With Sam Bradford’s $18 million coming off the books along with 13 other players entering free agency, the Vikings have a little over $60 million in cap space next season. That’s enough to do more than just retain two of their three quarterbacks, and with Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees potentially available in free agency, the answer to the quarterback question is even more difficult.
The Vikings should be pretty confident in allowing Keenum, Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater to test free agency. Bradford and Bridgewater haven’t proven they can stay healthy as starters, and while there are plenty of NFL teams who would love to have either, Bradford and Bridgwater couldn’t be entering free agency at a worse time for them.
Keenum, on the other hand, will be considerably over-valued on the free agent market, and will likely be overpaid by a desperate team. The Vikings would be smart to let him go elsewhere and pay the undervalued Bradford and Bridgewater to return. But if Spielman does intend to bring back Bradford to start and Bridgewater to back him up, he best protect his injury-prone investments.
The additions of tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers vastly improved the offensive line play of the Vikings. As of Week 5, Pro Football Focus ranked the healthy Vikings’ O-line 20th overall and 15th in pass-blocking, after finishing last season ranked 23rd in pass-blocking. But the Vikings’ offensive line wasn’t healthy going into the NFC Championship Game, and the Eagles showed the value of having the league’s top offensive line, keeping Nick Foles upright and, at times, allowing him seven seconds to throw the football against the Vikings’ four-man, pass rush.
While the Vikings offensive line improved in pass protection, run blocking was still an issue, which isn’t something Spielman must address with running back Dalvin Cook coming back from injury. But if Bradford and Bridgewater are his quarterbacks, he’ll want to add some depth to the offensive line if he hopes to keep either of them healthy. Playing Remmers out of position at left guard in the NFC Championship Game and forcing backup Sharod Hill to take on the Eagles’ sacks leader probably wasn’t how Spielman drew it up prior to the season.
Spielman will likely have another hole to fill on the offensive line, too. Right guard Joe Berger has hinted that he intends to retire. With a lack of interior, offensive lineman available through free agency, it’s likely Spielman and the Vikings will address the offensive line through the draft. R.J. White and Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports think Spielman will target the former college teammate of Pat Elflein, Billy Price. But if Spielman can save some money by retaining the undervalued Bradford and Bridgewater, he could potentially sign the best guard in football.
Carolina’s Andrew Norwell, 26, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and lining him up next to the second-year center Elflein and the veteran Reiff (or Remmers) would certainly increase the chances of Bradford and Bridgewater staying healthy and effective. Spielman could then address the issue of depth through the draft, even selecting Price and easing him into a starting role so he’s ready when Nick Easton becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season.
It’s time to let the soon-to-be-40 Terrance Newman ride off into the sunset, while 33-year-old run-stuffer Tom Johnson should probably be retained given the lack of availability at his position in free agency. There’s no one on the depth chart behind him at left defensive tackle, and he could be retained at a reasonable price.
Marcus Sherels made $2 million to catch kicks this season, and at 30, averaged just 9.5 yards per punt return -- down from a career high of 13.9 yards per return last season. That position is better filled by a young draftee and likely will be.
Jerick McKinnon wants a bigger role running the ball and has likely played his last game in purple and gold, while kicker Kai Forbath probably earned a raise with his play in the Divisional Playoff Game against New Orleans.
The Vikings are so close to contending for a championship, and adding a guy like Norwell should put their offensive line in the top third of the league and protect the brittle Bradford and Bridgewater. Depth is the biggest concern, and given Spielman's success using the draft to add talent, the Vikings should enter next season even better than this season.
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I’ve been to plenty of stadiums. I’ve been to Miller Park -- a dump in a bad part of Milwaukee. I’ve been to the Metrodome -- a terrible place to watch baseball but loud and fun nonetheless. I’ve been to Safeco Field -- a beautiful, quaint place to watch baseball as long as the roof is open. I’ve been to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City -- a beautifully vast stadium. I’ve been to Fenway Park, which makes me feel spoiled every time I visit Target Field. But even Target Field nor the newly renovated Target Center compares to the decadence that is U.S. Bank Stadium.
The most important aspect of any stadium experience is the bathroom experience. Long lines are bad, but dirty, smelly bathrooms are worse. Both the Metrodome and Target Center had urinal troughs omitting a smell no number of fresh urinal cakes could mask. The U.S. Bank Stadium bathroom I used was as clean at the end of the third quarter as it was prior to kickoff of Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Rams.
Not only are the U.S. Bank Stadium bathrooms fresh, they’re smartly located and designed to limit time spent in line. I didn’t spend any time in line for the bathroom, but had I, I wouldn’t have been that disappointed. In our section (C7 of the second level), there’s a lounge with televisions and comfortable seating so you can watch the Vikings game or any other game for that matter.
While we didn’t spend much time in them, the padded seats at U.S. Bank Stadium were plush and relatively roomy. The addition of padded seats in Target Center was the second biggest reason for my purchase of a 10-game season ticket package this season (the addition of Jimmy Butler being the first). Baseball stadiums need to start installing more padded seats because a comfortable seat can make people forget about the length of your game. There are a lot of breaks in NFL action, so the fact our butts were comfortable made the inaction slightly more tolerable.
Before the Vikings (specifically, Detroit Lakes’ Adam Thielen) started running away from a pretty good Los Angeles Rams’ defense, U.S. Bank Stadium was rocking. It’s certainly comparable to the Metrodome when it comes to crowd noise. During the 1987 and 1991 World Series, the crowd noise at the Metrodome was measured at 125 and 118 decibels, respectively -- the equivalent of a jet airliner and on the threshold of causing physical pain. The decibels at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday were repeatedly measured above 118 -- during a regular season game.
The Vikings do a fantastic job getting the crowd revved up, too. I nearly leaked tears of joy as the Vikings ran onto the field as if exiting a Viking ship that breathes fire to the sound of a blaring Viking horn while former Vikings like John Randle and Randy Moss narrate. As far as player introductions go, it’s a very distant second to the introduction of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, which still gives me goosebumps.
The Eats and Drinks
While eats and drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, were severely overpriced, there is a diverse menu of both available at U.S. Bank Stadium. The only downside is you can’t find a Coca-Cola product in the building, and a cocktail and a domestic beer will cost you $20. A plate of salmon and lobster with chips will cost you $18, but looked delicious, as did a mushroom Swiss burger that was enjoyed by a fan in the row in front of us. If you can afford it, I highly recommend eating a meal at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The stadium experience is also dependent on having a good product inside the stadium, and the Vikings took a big step in securing a first-round bye and a home game in the NFL playoffs with a win over the contending Rams. If the Philadelphia Eagles ever stumble, the Vikings could stay at home throughout the playoffs and have a chance to win their first championship in their own building. Only the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX and Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV have ever played for a championship in their home market. The Niners won and Rams lost. Regardless of who represents the NFC and AFC in Super Bowl LII, U.S. Bank Stadium will quite possibly provide the best stadium experience for fans ever.
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There were plenty of NFL teams that made playoff statements in Week 9 -- some good, some bad. No team made a bigger statement than Philadelphia, though.
The Eagles (8-1) have been fantastic and should end up the top playoff seed in the NFC. The rest of Philadelphia’s schedule isn’t easy, with two games against Dallas, one at Seattle and one at the Rams. But with eight wins already and a home game against the Bears and the hapless Giants on the schedule, the Eagles should win more than 10 games. If the offensive line holds up and Carson Wentz stays healthy, the Eagles might win 14. As for their opponent in Week 9...
The Broncos are a mess when they have the ball, and their defense was picked apart for 51 points by Wentz. Worse yet, the Broncos will take their sixth loss of the season at home against the Patriots next week. The Denver defense can’t carry this team to the playoffs if the turnovers continue, unless Kansas City collapses.
MVP candidate Alex Smith was stymied by an overachieving Dallas secondary and pass rush, and Kareem Hunt was taken out of the game by his own coach. He had just nine carries. The Chiefs were sloppy pre-snap, wouldn’t establish a running game nor stop the run. The Chiefs will make the playoffs, but I like the Steelers’ and Patriots’ schedules (and quarterbacks) better the rest of the way.K
The Steelers (6-2) have the Andrew Luck-less Colts next, the Titans at home, and the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers followed by the reeling Bengals in Cincinnati. The Patriots are the only team remaining that should beat them, but we’ve already seen Pittsburgh fall to the Bears this season and struggle with the really good Jacksonville secondary.
Despite an ugly loss to Kansas City in Week 1, the Patriots could still end up the AFC’s top playoff seed. They play the Dolphins and Bills twice, and the Jets once. The Broncos and Raiders won’t likely pose problems for the Patriots, either.
The Panthers’ Cam Newton was better than reigning MVP Matt Ryan on Sunday, and Christian McCaffrey displayed why the Panthers don’t need Kelvin Benjamin, who was traded to Buffalo for third- and seventh-round draft picks. If Newton and McCaffrey stay healthy, the Panthers are champions of the NFC South.
The Panthers (6-3) have just one blemish on their record, which is a home loss to New Orleans. They’ll get a chance to redeem themselves on Dec. 3 in New Orleans, after facing the hapless Dolphins and Jets with a bye week sandwiched in between. The Saints (6-2) have three tough games upcoming: at Buffalo, hosting Washington and at the white hot Rams prior to hosting Carolina. They also have two games against the Falcons, who were a Julio Jones drop away from making a positive playoff statement in Week 9. Instead…
With losses to the Bills and Dolphins already this season, the Falcons have lost too many of the games they need to win to make the playoffs. Atlanta can still make a positive playoff statement either next week against the Cowboys or the week after in Seattle, but that’s looking less likely with every snap. If the offensive woes continue, the Falcons will lose either one of their two games against the high-octane Saints and/or another against the Panthers, which will make them miss the playoffs.
The Rams (6-2) put up 51 on the terrible Giants, but they also put up 35 on Dallas in a win that could break a tie for a Wild Card spot. The Rams are dangerous on both sides of the ball and on special teams, too. Jared Goff is starting to show why he was selected number one overall now that he has weapons in former Bills Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. Speaking of the Bills…
Buffalo’s loss to the Jets on Thursday to kick off Week 9 of the 2017 NFL season was certainly a Thursday Night Football anomaly, but it left the Bills 4-3 with two games left to play against the Patriots. The Saints visit next week before the Bills visit the Chargers and Chiefs. That’s seven losses right there, so the Bills will miss the playoffs.
The Bills’ misfortune on Thursday night will open the door for the Jaguars to make the playoffs. Despite a Week 1 loss at home to the Titans, the Jaguars can win their division. They will take their revenge at Tennessee in the final week of the season to win the AFC South -- if they haven’t won it by then already. The Jaguars get the Chargers, Browns, Cardinals and Colts over the next four weeks. Tennessee hosts Cincinnati and visits the Steelers and Colts before hosting the Texans.
This was originally published at GCNLive.com.
Week 1 of the National Football League provided a little bit of everything -- surprises, upsets, injuries, and, of course, questionable officiating. Here’s what we learned about each NFL team in Week 1. All grades are provided by Pro Football Focus.
Bill Belichick might have underestimated Kansas City rookie running back Kareem Hunt (89.5 PFF grade), but he might not have the tools in the toolbox to contain him regardless. Trading for Seattle’s Cassius Marsh isn’t the answer (38.4 PFF grade), and it seems the Patriots’ linebacker corps will miss Jamie Collins a bunch this season.
Andy Reid’s Chiefs still know how to win with that dink-and-dunk offense. The Chiefs amassed 212 of their 368 passing yards after the catch, mostly thanks to Tyreek Hill and Hunt, who are matchup problems for just about anyone. The Kansas City defense can still get into the backfield, too, sacking Tom Brady thrice and hitting him six more times. They also collected 6.5 tackles for loss.
Quarterback Josh McCown wasn’t as bad as his 29.4 quarterback rating when he wasn’t pressured, but the Jets couldn’t run the ball, either, amassing just 38 rushing yards. The defense is good (7.5 TFL, two sacks and six QB hits), but Jets fans are in for another year of low-scoring losses.
The Bills’ defensive backs are fantastic, with safety Jordan Poyer, and cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Tre’Davious White all receiving PFF grades above 82. Safety Micah Hyde also secured an interception. They’re going to give even Tom Brady fits, and Tyrod Taylor is going to give defenses fits. He rushed for 38 yards and passed for 224, throwing two touchdowns and just one interception. Oh, and LeSean McCoy still has it.
The Bears are much improved, and replacing Mike Glennon with Mitchell Trubisky could make them even better. Glennon didn’t throw one ball over 20 yards, and Bears fans would like to think Trubisky’s arm talent is superior to Glennon’s already. Regardless, the Bears have quite the security blanket for Trubisky in rookie running back Tarik Coen (66 yards rushing, 47 yards receiving).
The Falcons have reason to worry about the guard position. Wes Schweitzer was an open door, and Devonta Freeman never got the run game going (12 carries for 37 yards). A pair of second- year players have really progressed for Atlanta, though. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell made a game-saving tackle and earned an 86.6 PFF grade, and tight end Austin Hooper’s two catches for 128 yards is nearly half the total receiving yards he had last season. If he provides MVP Matt Ryan yet another option on offense, the Falcons are going to continue piling on the points.
The Bengals are a mess on offense. They have a quarterback in Andy Dalton who doesn’t respond well to pressure, and their offensive line enters the season ranked second to last in the league. The defense will keep the Bengals from being humiliated, but they’ll have to score points if the Bengals are going to win.
The two-headed backfield of Terrance West and Javorious Allen should make Joe Flacco’s transition back from injury a comfortable one. The two combined for 151 yards on 40 carries, so Flacco only had to throw the ball 17 times -- completing just once beyond 10 yards downfield.
The Browns might finally have something in rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kizer made just one big mistake on the day -- an interception that could have been the difference in the game. The Cleveland defense will give the Dog Pound reason to cheer this season, as will Kizer.
The Steelers couldn’t get the run game going against the Browns (35 yards on 17 carries), but Antonio Brown came to Pittsburgh’s rescue (182 yards on 11 receptions and 11 targets). With so many weapons, a veteran quarterback, and one of football’s top offensive lines, the Steelers need just worry about injuries.
The Cardinals were dealt the biggest blow, losing running back David Johnson for two to three months. So the three drops by Arizona wide receivers will play an even bigger role than they did in their loss to Detroit in Week 1. John Wetzel doesn’t seem to be able to protect Carson Palmer, either (35.4 PFF grade). The Cardinals’ season is not over by any means, though. They can still hang in the NFC West with wins against the Rams and 49ers, and have the luxury of likely seeing the Andrew Luck-less Colts in Week 2.
There’s a reason Matthew Stafford is the highest paid player in the game. His downfield passing accuracy would make almost any team better. The Lions also have a formidable defensive secondary. The only question left to be answered is on the offensive line. If the Lions struggle, it’s likely due to the offensive line not giving Stafford enough time to throw downfield.
The Texans still don’t have a quarterback, as both Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson struggled. The defense wasn’t particularly impressive, either, as J.J. Watt’s return was overshadowed by his brother, T.J.'s, debut with Pittsburgh.
Quarterback Blake Bortles playing like a game manager can win football games for the Jaguars. His wide receivers need to do a better job of catching the ball (three drops), but with rookie running back Leonard Fournette in the fold, the Jaguars’ defense will give the offense a chance to win games. The Jaguars’ top five PFF grades went to defensive players.
The Raiders lived up to Vegas’s lofty expectations in their first game after being approved by NFL owners for an eventual move to Las Vegas. With the stadium still years away from completion, the Raiders could leave Oakland amidst a dynasty if Derek Carr remains healthy. He should, given the Raiders’ seventh-ranked offensive line.
Fellow quarterback Marcus Mariota joined Carr in a return from injury. He looked good in the first half, but fell apart in the second. His performance shouldn’t discourage Titans’ fans, nor should that of Jurrell Casey, who took a shot to his pride from Marshawn Lynch and just about everyone else who blocked him on Sunday.
Cam Newton’s performance wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to beat the hapless 49ers. Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey showed what makes him unique while also looking like a rookie, losing a fumble. The Panthers still have a reliable back in Jonathan Stewart (18 carries for 65 yards) and an offensive line just outside the top third in football. The defense is still elite, ranked as the fourth best defensive front in football.
No real surprises here. The 49ers are bad. Brian Hoyer completed just two of 10 passes beyond 10 yards, Niners’ running backs managed just 51 yards rushing behind the league’s worst offensive line, and the defense got into the backfield for just three tackles for loss and no sacks.
Russell Wilson looked best in the hurry-up offense and using his legs (led the team with 40 rushing yards) -- as usual -- and his offensive line struggled to give him time to throw downfield (three sacks, seven QB hits and three pressures allowed) -- as usual. The Seahawks are better than the score indicates, though. On one play, Seattle lost six points and starting cornerback Jeremy Lane to penalties. His replacement, Shaquill Griffin, managed just a 44.9 PFF grade.
Green Bay’s defense is better than it was in 2016, with edge rusher Nick Perry making Rees Odhiambo’s day one to forget (one sack, two QB hits and three hurries allowed). Mike Daniels was almost equally disruptive against the run. Jordy Nelson is back to his old self, and Aaron Rodgers found him open underneath all day and took advantage.
The Rams offense did what it should against the 31st-ranked defensive front in football. Jared Goff didn’t make mistakes and even completed passes downfield. Rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp of the FCS’s Eastern Washington Eagles showed why he’s the most statistically prolific receiver in Division I football history (four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown). And the Rams’ defense is still really good, ranked fifth overall by PFF. They could upset a lot of teams.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was under pressure for much of the game despite Washington’s 11th-ranked offensive line. The right side of the line was a disaster, as were Washington’s safeties. The Racial Slurs were unable to run the ball to boot (64 total rushing yards, with Cousins accounting for 30), so there are a lot of big issues to be resolved in the nation’s capitol -- on the football field and off.
Pass rusher Brandon Graham is a beast, and Carson Wentz did just enough for the Eagles to win a big conference opener on the road. The only concern is the run game, as guard Isaac Seumalo seemed unable to run block, resulting in just 58 rushing yards on 24 Eagles’ carries.
They can’t win without Odell Beckham, Jr. Eli Manning completed just four passes beyond 10 yards downfield, and had it not been for his receivers running after the catch, Manning would have passed for almost half as many yards. Worst of all, there was no relief from the run game. The Giants managed just 35 rushing yards on just 12 carries.
They can win without Ezekiel Elliot. The Cowboys’ defense was the biggest surprise on Sunday, with linebacker Sean Lee giving an unsurprisingly good performance, and backup corner Anthony Brown being surprisingly good.
Trevor Siemian can throw a football. He made some fantastic throws downfield and outgained Philip Rivers by two yards per pass completion. The Broncos were also 8-of-15 on third down, but allowed four sacks and five tackles for loss. Run blocking wasn’t a problem, though, and the Bronco offense will be happy to have C.J. Anderson back and Jamaal Charles in the backfield (121 combined rushing yards). The Denver defense is still pretty good, too.
Same story, different season. Philip Rivers drove his team down the field in crunch time and gave them a chance to tie it with a field goal. Predictably, Rivers never got a chance to win it. Rivers had to create the run game with short passes, as Melvin Gordon managed just 54 yards on 18 carries behind the 21st-ranked offensive line that struggled to run block the Broncos.
Unlike last season, Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford had time to throw the ball downfield. He completed eight passes of 20 yards or more. Releasing run-blocker Alex Boone looks to have been the right move given what we saw from the time Bradford had to throw and the performance of rookie running back Dalvin Cook (127 yards, 5.8 yards per carry). And the Vikings offensive line, which entered the game not having played one snap together, held up, albeit against a bad defense.
The Saints’ defense is better, but it’s still bad. New Orleans running backs managed just 60 yards on 21 carries, so Drew Brees and his impressive wide receiver corps will be forced to shoulder the majority of the offensive load, which will be ample.
Following the Minnesota Vikings at DraftFest at U.S. Bank Stadium was a whole lot harder than it was to do so on Twitter thanks to general manager Rick Spielman, who has made 24 draft day trades over four drafts and made seven trades over the three days of the 2017 NFL Draft. Spielman was the biggest reason why the 2017 NFL Draft had the most trades ever. He didn’t change his approach from years past, and it paid off again.
Spielman had to know this year’s draft would be deep when it came to the Vikings’ needs (OL, RB, LB, S) when he moved a 2017 first-round pick (No. 14 overall) for quarterback Sam Bradford. That didn’t stop him from getting first-round talent, though.
Spielman traded up to get Dalvin Cook, who fell to No. 41 overall mostly due to off-field issues despite being the top running back on multiple analysts’ big boards. No general manager should avoid drafting a player because he has incidents of growing up. These are kids after all, and kids make mistakes. The greatest rookie of all time, Randy Moss, spent time in jail before falling to the Vikings at No. 21 overall, and 20 teams now regret passing on him. The NFL is a business, so these decisions should be purely economical. Unless you think the “red flags” would adversely affect revenue, you draft the player. That’s why Spielman moved up seven spots to draft Cook, and every team in the league will learn to regret passing on him.
The addition of Cook makes the Vikings’ backfield a triple threat, with Latavius Murray wearing down defenses with power up the middle, and Cook stretching the edge and catching passes either as a running back or wide receiver. He’s the steal of the draft in my opinion and will have a chance to prove it immediately.
The Vikings weren’t done improving the running game, though, and Spielman wasn’t done drafting talent that fell into his lap. Ohio State center Pat Elflein was widely considered a second-round talent, and Spielman moved up nine spots in the draft to get him. After signing top free agent tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to large, long contracts, Spielman added Elflein as additional depth on the interior. Elflein can also play guard, and likely will, given Joe Berger’s veteran presence at center. That’s two starters who will have an immediate impact despite not being first-round picks, which will save the Vikings money over the course of their rookie deals.
My favorite deals Spielman made went mostly unnoticed, but he flipped the Vikings’ No. 86 pick to the Chiefs for No. 104, No. 132 and No. 245. Then he traded No. 104 to the 49ers for No. 109 and No. 219. Pick No. 109 became defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson out of Iowa. He’ll serve as insurance if Shariff Floyd decides to retire due to surgery complications with his knee. Johnson is a perfect fit for the Vikings’ defense because he’s a pass-rushing tackle and lacks run-stopping ability, which the Vikings don’t need with Linval Joseph at nose tackle. That’s another potential starter drafted in the fourth round.
It was no secret the Vikings would be looking for linebacker depth, and Spielman got it in Ben Gedeon. Gedeon, out of Michigan, was the strongest and most agile linebacker at the NFL combine, and went to the Vikings at No. 120. He’s a “tackling machine,” according to Darren Wolfson, and will immediately contribute on special teams. The special teams help kept coming from Spielman, with wide receiver/kick returner Rodney Adams expected to fill the big shoes left by Cordarrelle Patterson. Adams was picked 170th overall and shed tears of joy when he received Spielman’s call.
At pick No. 180, Spielman got even more offensive line depth with Danny Isidora, who will provide competition in camp. A red zone threat followed at pick No. 201, after Spielman traded No. 199 and No. 230 to the Washington franchise for No. 201 and No. 220. Bucky Hodges, Captain America’s best friend and tight end out of Virginia tech, should contribute as a wide receiver in red zone situations because he’s six-foot-six and was the best jumping tight end at the NFL combine.
Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley could stretch the field for the Vikings and was taken at No. 219 overall. His biggest question mark is his passion for the game, though. With the very next pick, Spielman added depth to the defensive line with Ifeadi Odenigbo, who had a higher passer pressure rate than some first-rounders.
Spielman provided more training camp competition at linebacker with the addition of Elijah Lee at No. 232, who could be a starter in the NFL eventually. At No. 245, the Vikings finally got some depth at defensive back. Jack Tocho is expected to move from cornerback to safety.
Once again, Spielman moved back in the draft to acquire more picks, and once again, it paid off. Drafting three potential starters without a single first-round pick is impressive and fun. It makes me wish Major League Baseball would allow the trading of draft picks so we could see what the young Derek Falvey could do with the first overall pick.
(Spoiler alert: RHP/SS Hunter Greene will likely be the pick. Can you imagine drafting a starting pitcher who can hit for power and play shortstop? You could even bring in a reliever to face tough right-handed hitters late in the game, move Greene to shortstop, and put him back on the mound after replacing him with your utility infielder. It would also give you an extra pinch-hitter on the bench since Greene would hit for himself. Then you could move Greene back to shortstop for the rest of the game so you don’t lose his bat in the lineup. That would be so fun to watch.)