$.01--Over the first month of the 2019 season, the Kansas City Chiefs appeared to be the most legitimate threat to the New England Patriots reign over the AFC. After Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans following another loss in Week 5 to the Colts, it’s time to rethink that Chiefs presumption. 

The Texans trumped the Chiefs by beating them in a 31-24 shootout, a heretofore unthinkable game strategy against Patrick Mahomes and the electrifying KC offense. Houston racked up 35 (!?!) first downs against Kansas City’s “defense”. The Texans could have scored at least two more TDs if not for Will Fuller dropping dimes delivered from Deshaun Watson. Houston did not punt once in the game, as three giveaways and a missed field goal constituted their empty possessions.  

Kansas City couldn’t keep up. They only got 47 offensive snaps, barely half of Houston’s total. After scoring on their first three possessions, the Chiefs sputtered to just one other scoring drive. Mahomes netted 116 passing yards on the first scoring drive--an NFL record--thanks to penalties, but just 157 the rest of the way. 

The Texans had the defensive personnel to pull off the blueprint set by the Lions in Week 4 (a close win for the Chiefs) and the Colts: execute long drives on offense, rush only with the front four (or even just 3) and make it tough for Mahomes to find open spaces for his receivers, with quick swarm tackling to contain big plays. Houston held Mahomes to negative passing yards in the fourth quarter. 

With Mahomes fading a bit, it’s time to interject Watson into the MVP discussion. He completed 30 of his 42 passes, and at least four of those misses were drops. For the second week in a row, Watson avoided being sacked. The 4-2 Texans are for real, and it’s time to take them at least as seriously as the Chiefs as AFC contenders.  

$.02--Congrats to Washington on winning the matchup of the chronically defeated with the Miami Dolphins. Washington tried a little less hard to lose and allowed the Dolphins to lose their way to 0-6 and in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 overall pick, along with the chance to join the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns as the only teams to ever pull off an 0-16 season. 

It was not easy for Washington to avoid losing. They certainly did nothing to indicate they are a good football team. But the Dolphins are just a little worse, and that’s all that mattered. The debacle of a 2-pt. conversion Miami tried in going for the win and sparing us from potential overtime is almost worthy of a point-shaving investigation:

Miami yanked Josh Rosen, who was not good (2 INTs, 85 passing yards on 25 attempts) but also not the deepest root of the problems. Sensing some Fitzmagic, Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced him and nearly led Miami to the unthinkable win. Dolphins fans--and likely management--rejoiced when his effort came up just short. 

Washington might not win again. Just two games on the Skins schedule feature teams that don’t have at least a .500 record through six weeks, the Giants and the Jets. The Giants already beat them by three TDs. The bright spot of rookie WR Terry McLaurin is something positive, but this “win” might end up costing them precious draft position. Then again, they’re only two games out of the NFC East race in what is easily the worst division top to bottom in the NFL. 

$.03--The Los Angeles Rams are the defending NFC champions. After racing out to a 3-0 start, the Rams appeared poised to get right back to another deep playoff run. Since then, they might have been the worst team in the conference outside of the woeful Falcons.

San Francisco stayed unbeaten by pasting the Rams 20-7 in a game that was not that close. LA did not convert a single 3rd down (0-for-9) and managed just 10 total first downs. The Rams offensive line has been in the process of a serious regression from their strong play, and it’s clearly impacted Jared Goff. To be blunt, Goff looks neutered. 

With no Todd Gurley, sitting out with a thigh contusion that could impact his arthritic knee, teams are daring Goff to try and beat them behind the fading OL. As masterful as coach Sean McVay dressed Goff up last year, there isn’t enough lipstick in the drug store for that pig anymore.  

Give credit to the 49ers for playing the long, long game in using an insane amount of draft resources on the defensive line. It’s finally paying off, and against teams with suspect offensive lines, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and friends are going to make life miserable. It’s a tough nut to crack, and the Rams aren’t close to the 49ers anymore. They’re not close to the Seahawks (now 5-1) in the NFC West either, and the Cardinals (now 2-3-1) are nipping at their heels with some momentum and confidence. In what might be the NFL’s best division--the NFC North is right there too--the 49ers asserted themselves at the top and the Rams looked like a team headed for the bottom.  

$.04--Two weeks ago, Kirk Cousins was America’s pincushion. The Vikings QB and his fully guaranteed contract got smothered by the Bears two weeks after the Packers rattled Cousins into a wretched game. Wideout Stefon Diggs (allegedly) wanted out, and many a column was written about how Cousins needs to go. 

You’re probably not going to read many of those columns in the coming days…

For the second week in a row, Cousins was fantastic. He lit up the Eagles and their dilapidated secondary for 333 passing yards on just 29 attempts in Minnesota’s commanding 38-20 victory. His last two weeks: 

44-of-56, 639 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT

That has helped parlay the Vikings to two emphatic victories over NFC East foes. Last week was the Giants, a game the Vikings were expected to win. This week was the Eagles in what was essentially a toss-up game. Minnesota smartly attacked the weakness on the back end and the Eagles could not stop it or keep up. This is how the Vikings are built to win--play smart, efficient football and get big plays from Diggs and Adam Theilen, then ride out a tough defense to smother the opponent in pass-heavy mode. 

When it plays out the way it has the last two weeks. Cousins is plenty good enough to lead them to wins. The criticisms that he can’t rally them from behind, while true, doesn’t factor in that the team as a whole is not built to play that way.  

The win means every team in the NFC North has a better record than every team in the NFC East, and the Vikings and Cousins are still very much a threat in the conference. The Eagles are formidable at 3-3 but a notch behind the upper realm of NFC teams right now.  

$.05--Colin Kaepernick and his representation produced a two-page press release this week which quickly spread around social media. In the document, which was set up as a Q&A of questions which agent Jeff Nalley and PR director Jasmine Windham believe are important to the issue of why Kaepernick is not playing in the NFL.

Among the revelations--most of which have only been presumed but never confirmed:

  • Kaepernick has not worked out for a single NFL team in three years
  • He asked for his release from the 49ers because the team and GM John Lynch informed Kaepernick he was going to be cut later that year
  • There are no salary demands being made 

The second page of the release covers Kaepernick’s impressive NFL statistics and history, including his playoff wins and dual-threat ability before that trend really took off.  

It’s interesting to see that the 31-year-old is still indeed trying to get back into the NFL, or at least he’s trying to convince people of that. Given the state of quarterbacking around the league, it truly is unfathomable that anyone tries to promote the narrative that his skills aren’t good enough, not even after three years away from the game. I’ve covered games where Kaepernick would be better than the starters if he got even one week of practice in the offense (looks at the 2017 Browns of DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and Brock Osweiler).  

Of course Kaepernick is being willfully excluded from the NFL by ownership. Blackballed. To imply differently is disingenuous.

It’s also ignoring the point that Kaepernick cannot possibly win if he returns to the league. 

What if he really isn’t that good anymore? What happens when he fumbles in the red zone and his team loses as a result? What if the fans follow through on their still-virulent threats to boycott and he’s playing in front of empty seats that are normally filled with paying customers? What happens when teammates get tired of him being the sole focus of the national media circus that will follow him everywhere? What if the anti-Kaepernick fervor gets Trump reelected thanks to a reinvigorated fan base charged up over hating the QB, to extrapolate it out further into the political football that he’s become?

Unless he leads a team to a deep playoff run, the harsh critics--many of whom have never seen him throw a pass--will win. He cannot be just an average QB, just another player. “See, he really wasn’t good enough,” they’ll say. No matter if that’s total bullcrap. Such is the state of our politically polarized world. Just as many people who will rejoice that Kaepernick is back will be furious enough to make an equal and opposite wave. 

The NFL is smart to avoid that. With record numbers of viewers and ratings continuing to climb, it’s proof their strategy is paying off. That’s terrible for Kaepernick and for those who support his social justice endeavors. It is not fair, not one bit. But it’s understandable, right or wrong. And it’s not going to change, right or wrong.  

$.06--New England remained perfect on the season with a 35-14 drubbing of the mistake-prone Giants on Thursday night. The Patriots forced rookie QB Daniel Jones into several errant throws, including three interceptions. Kyle Van Noy turned an easily-read screen pass into a scoop-and-score on another Giants offensive gaffe as the Patriots reminded everyone why they have a freakish amount of commemorative jewelry.  

They put up 35 on a night where Tom Brady was not at his best and did not throw a single TD. Not that completing 31-of-41 passes for 334 yards is a bad night, but Brady didn’t start well. That is part of why the Patriots are so dangerous. They have more paths to victory than any other team on any given Sunday. Chase Winovich fielding a blocked punt for a TD, the defense scoring a TD, the Patriots exploit every weakness. Brady even scored on two runs, making him the oldest player to score two rushing TDs in a game.  

It will be interesting to see how Jones adjusts to his first real bad game. The “Danny Dimes” hype had grown with merit, but it came crashing down on the Giants first-round QB. Playing the Patriots is typically an awful learning experience for rookie QBs. He did have some positives, including his spot-on touch on his one TD pass to Golden Tate, who juggled it a bit before backpedaling into the end zone.  

Shaking off a bad day and moving onto the next one will be a good test for just how ready Jones is to be The Man in New York. It’s something that ate another Big Apple QB, Mark Sanchez, alive not too long ago. Here's hoping Jones gets a better shake than The Sanchize.  

$.07--The XFL released the names of hundreds of former NFL players who are being considered for the upstart league’s inaugural draft. That draft will take place in rapid-fire succession this Tuesday and Wednesday in a unique format. 

Many of the names are recognizable for even casual NFL fans. For those who love the draft, it’s a cavalcade of memories. So many “oh yeah, that guy” moments as I perused the available player list

I’d go much deeper into my thoughts on the XFL, but I’m not going to waste the time. The league is simply not going to work, period. The modest salaries ($55K) for the players belie the astronomical ticket prices for the games. The Tampa Bay team released a ticket sales chart where the cheapest seats are $20 and most go for $90. 

That earmarks the XFL as a much more expensive sports curiosity than other options. I can take my entire family to a Grand Rapids Drive G-league game for $40, including parking. I’ve attended playoff minor league hockey in a suite for less than $90 per person. Heck, I saw Metallica in Comerica Park two summers ago for less than the price of an XFL ticket. 

Don’t let me curb your enthusiasm for the XFL. But understand its current business model gives it a slightly optimistic chance at best to last as long as the UFL (Virginia Destroyers for life!) and maybe outlast the AAF (RIP). 

$.08--NFL Quickies

--The Broncos signed FB Andy Janovich to a 3-year contract extension. He’s one of the NFL’s best blocking FBs. He’s also an interesting cat off the field:

That’s nuts… 

--Kudos to the Jets for besting the Cowboys and the officials in securing their first win of the season. A perfect blitz call by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on a potential game-tying 2-pt. conversion preserved the 24-22 win in Sam Darnold’s return. The wounded Cowboys are reeling after falling from 3-0 to 3-3 and did not look like the better team they are alleged to be against the heretofore winless Jets.  

--Luke Falk started in Week 5 for the Jets. They cut him on Friday with Sam Darnold back from his bout with mono, content with the aptly named David Fales as Darnold’s backup. It’s hard to go from starting QB to the street in five days but Falk did it by being both overly cautious and still making too many mistakes. He managed just 416 yards on 73 pass attempts despite completing almost 65 percent of his throws. 

--Antonio Brown has come out and stated for the record he wants back in the NFL. I want to state for the record I want my wife to allow me to date Julianne Moore. I just might have a better chance of success than Brown’s desire. AB is that toxic right now. 

--Pittsburgh is nowhere near Los Angeles, yet this happens:

Yet the NFL insists on two teams in LA... 

--The Titans benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill in the second half of their latest lifeless loss, this one to the one-win Broncos. Tennessee’s offensive line is struggling but not bad enough to absolve Mariota of blame from his malaise of mediocrity--and that’s when he’s playing well. It’s way too early, but every mock draft should project a quarterback to the Titans in the top 10 from now until they either make it happen or make a mistake and don’t.  

$.09--College/Draft quickies

--South Carolina upset Georgia in overtime, surviving the battle of which kicker can miss more. The Bulldogs lost when their kicker--a very good one normally in Rodrigo Blankenship--missed from 42 yards. And with that the No. 3 team in the nation went down to a conference rival starting a backup QB. 

Speaking of QBs in this game, this was a bad display for Georgia’s Jake Fromm. His lack of arm strength hurt him in this one, and the NFL scouts in attendance surely took notice. Bad games happen, but everything Fromm’s critics have noted in terms of his NFL ceiling being a poor man’s Kirk Cousins sure looked accurate in this Georgia loss. 

--CeeDee Lamb put on a show in Oklahoma’s close win over Texas in the Red River Rivalry. The wideout consistently got open against a decent Longhorns secondary, but where he really shone was once he caught the ball. Lamb was electrifying and powerfully elusive after the catch, showing an innate ability to make defenders miss. He was the best player on a field full of at least 15 future NFLers and deserves to be in the short discussion as WR1 in this 2020 NFL Draft class. 

--Sooners LB Kenneth Murray also thrived in the game. Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn was among several prominent NFL decision-makers in attendance, and a little birdie told me on Friday he was there to personally check out Murray. The LB wasn’t his only focus, obviously, but don’t be surprised if you hear more about the Lions coveting Murray down the road...

--We might seriously need to consider relegating Rutgers to the FCS. Or at least out of the Big Ten and down to the MAC…

--I expected Wisconsin to beat Michigan State, but I did not expect a 38-0 shellacking. Jonathan Taylor gets the bulk of the attention, and the Badgers RB is a great one, but the defense in Madison might be the reason why this Wisconsin team ends up winning the B1G and making the College Football Playoff. While Michigan State’s offense is underwhelming, it’s still very impressive how easily the Badgers D made shutting them out look in this game.  

--Alma mater Ohio fell to 2-4 after losing at home, at Homecoming no less, to lowly Northern Illinois. The Bobcats were supposed to be the class of the MAC, a unanimous choice to win the East. Now Frank Solich’s team will be lucky to get bowl-eligible in a season where the MAC might be as bad at the top as it’s been this century. Sigh. 

--My current four best teams are (in no order) LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama. As of now, it appears the winner of the LSU/Alabama game figures to be an automatic playoff qualifier. The winner of the Wisconsin/Ohio State game too, though a likely rematch in the B1G Championship game could change things. Clemson is a mortal lock if they continue to buzzsaw through a down ACC. 

Who’s left in the chase? How about Oklahoma, Auburn if the Tigers beat both LSU and Alabama (and they could) and maybe Penn State if the Nittany Lions run the table. That’s it. For all the hype over the playoff, this college season has been exceptionally top-heavy and stratified. There’s a major gap between those teams and the next tier that includes Notre Dame, Georgia, Baylor (a nice story as an unbeaten thus far), Oregon and SMU--the only Group of 5 team with any chance. 

$.10--The NBA is nearly upon us. Thank goodness. As someone who watches football for a living, I need another sports outlet to just enjoy. The NBA is my go-to in that department, even as a Cleveland Cavaliers die-hard living in Pistons and Bulls country. 

I don’t hold great expectations for my Cavs this year. I’m looking forward to Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, aka “SexLand”, but the reality is Cleveland is bound to win somewhere between 25 and 30 games. The Pistons should get up to the 7 or perhaps even the 6 seed in the East, and perhaps snap the unsavory playoff losing streak.  

My son is a Rockets fanatic, and I expect an entertaining season from Houston with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Will they win the West? Probably not, but I respect they keep trying and realized what they had wasn’t working. 

LeBron and the Lakers with Anthony Davis will be fun, too. They might even make the playoffs this year, though I still don’t think that’s a given. Having two of the five best players in the world can only take you so far when the rest of your team just isn’t very good and the depth is worse than that. They won’t be the best team in L.A. in either the regular or the postseason. 

My predictions:

Bucks beat the 76ers in the East

Warriors beat the Clippers in the West

Bucks win the championship in 6 games, and it will be the end of Warriors run as the West champs

MVP: Steph Curry

Rookie: Zion Williamson, who can’t quite get the Pelicans into the playoffs but will average 15 and 10

Enjoy the NBA season!