Browse Month by February 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There haven’t been any mega-trades during the run-up to this NFL draft.

That’s a big change from a year ago, when the draft buildup included the Los Angeles Rams obtaining the No. 1 overall pick from the Tennessee Titans to use it on Jared Goff, then the Philadelphia Eagles acquired the second choice from the Cleveland Browns to land Carson Wentz.

The Titans have the draft’s fifth and 18th overall selections. The No. 5 choice could be attractive to a quarterback-needy team looking to move ahead of the New York Jets, who have the sixth pick, to take either North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky or Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.

The Browns have the first and 12th picks and seem likely to go with Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett at No. 1, despite speculation that they haven’t ruled out going with Trubisky. Assuming the Browns pick Garrett first, could they also trade up to land Trubisky?

Black Monday often strikes quickly and with little nuance. In other cases these situations can get seriously dragged out. It appears as if the Bengals will be running a marathon, not a sprint.

Personally I’m a big proponent of John Dorsey and his ability to find talent in the draft. Handing him four picks in the top 40 of this upcoming draft, including the No. 1 overall pick and the No. 4 overall pick, should produce a lot of premium talent. At the very least you’re going to see a lot of “Browns win the draft again” stories this offseason (which is perhaps not that different from other offseasons, and we know how that has worked out). But if you’re a Browns fan, you cannot be happy about what happened over the last 48 hours.

In its protocol, the NFL urges caution. Listed under additional best practices: “It is important to recognize players may be able to equal or exceed their performance under the Sideline Concussion Assessment compared to their baseline level yet still have a concussion, underscoring the importance of the physicians’ knowledge of the player. If there is any doubt about the presence of a concussion, regardless of the Sideline Concussion Assessment results, the player is to be removed from practice or play.”

Remember Tony Romo rebreaking his collarbone? The Packers should avoid that scenario with Rodgers. The season is done, made official by the Falcons’ win Monday night. Rodgers should be shut down.

Minnesota Vikings

The Packers will know very quickly this season how they match up against the NFC’s other top contenders.

NFL players took to the field Sunday, less than 24 hours after President Trump’s latest tweets urged them to stand for the national anthem and while many chose to make a statement of some sort — kneeling, raising a fist, locking arms — for the most part the league began to return to a semblance of normalcy through the conclusion of its 1 p.m. EDT games .?.?. with “normal” defined as a collection of stunning results and surprising upsets.

They beat the Seahawks on Sunday. They play in Atlanta this weekend and at Dallas on Oct. 8.

RB Ezekiel Elliott is in the lineup, perhaps all season, thanks to the injunction granted by a federal judge in Texas that keeps his six-game suspension on hold. With Elliott, the Cowboys are back to being the equal of anyone in the NFC. Elliott and QB Dak Prescott played well in the victory Sunday night over the Giants, and the performance of the remade defense was a pleasant surprise.

“There will be a point,” that person said, “where he says, ‘Let’s wrap this up.’… I think it’s a bluff by Jerry to get a better deal [with Goodell] for the owners. But now he’s hardened all the other owners. They don’t like self-generated controversy. They don’t like to be pushed around. And they particularly don’t like to be pushed around in public.”

Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight: Fiction. Short of the Cavs using that Nets pick — something they seem unlikely to do, given the lack of clarity surrounding LeBron’s free-agency options — it’s hard to see how they earn another title. He could win MVP again, but one would think that window begins to close in another year or two as well, given what Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis are showing.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

That leaves the Baltimore Ravens as the only true bubble team in the conference.

The silver lining for the Jets, who some thought wouldn’t win a game this year, is that their offense isn’t the worst in the NFL. But it still isn’t playoff-caliber, scoring 1.6 points per drive (22nd) and being forced to go three-and-out 43 percent of the time. Only the Colts and Titans are worse in this regard.

The Ravens lost, 23-20, to the Titans on Sunday, yet are projected to win eight games by the end of the regular season, one or two wins shy of qualifying for a wild-card spot. If they do make an end-of-season push, look for it to come late — they face the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals during the last three weeks of the season.

The Los Angeles Rams — this year’s surprise team — will likely earn a playoff berth, their first since 2004, alongside the Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings as the NFC’s division winners. The Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys look poised to be the two wild-card teams.

The Jaguars, even acknowledging Bortles, are a more dangerous threat to New England. There is no reliable blueprint to beat Tom Brady, but the best bet is to pressure him with a sudden rush up the middle and lock down receivers on the outside. It’s what Miami did in a Week 14 upset. The Jaguars play like Miami, just with better personnel.

If you were one of the contenders in the NFC that didn’t make a move at the deadline, you fell behind. The 7-1 Eagles and the 5-2 Seahawks got objectively better while the 6-2 Vikings, 5-2 Saints and 5-2 Rams rested on their laurels. There is no shame in not making a deal, but it’s no fun seeing your competition acquire plug-and-play talent.

The 4-6 Chargers lost wide receiver Mike Williams, who was carted off with a knee injury and the 5-5 Cowboys, already without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott, lost right guard Zack Martin to a head injury. He was ruled out for the second half and replaced by Joe Looney.

Much of the Cowboys’ success last season was because of its offensive line, but the unit has not been able to repeat its dominance this year. All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith missed two games with a groin strain, and now that he has returned to the lineup, Martin goes out. As of the end of the third quarter Thursday, the Cowboys had yet to score, making it 10 straight quarters without a touchdown.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Holiday’s first two free throws looked perfect. His last, for the win, rattled out.

“It wasn’t meant to happen,” Holiday said. “I had the opportunity. I don’t miss free throws. Obviously after the game we can talk about things we did wrong, but when we get an opportunity like that, that’s what is on my mind right now.”

Officials in some teams’ front offices were unhappy with the league office’s approach to dealing with the crisis brought on by Trump’s comments. They believed that the league should not have responded so publicly and directly. The controversy, in their view, would not have been as intense.

Jones, who took issue with the league’s handling of the investigation that led to the six-game suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott under the personal conduct policy, said at the December owners’ meeting that he would continue to press for changes. He was not specific. But there was speculation at the time that those changes could include an attempt by Jones and perhaps other owners to force an overhaul of the league office.

“As with any organization of any type whether it be business, social or otherwise, you have to evolve and you have to make changes,” Jones said then. “And frankly, that is what this has been about. Now, if you saw anything happening, did I cause them to be made? You can’t one person do it in the National Football League. It takes 32 owners to make the changes. And so anything that was done differently about this contract was done by all 32 owners.”

If Brady and Foles don’t play well, they should at least avoid playing like these guys did.

Smith-Schuster apologized for the hit after the game and said he didn’t realize he was targeting Burfict.

“I didn’t know it was Burfict at first. All I saw was the first Bengal was going to tackle .?.?. and my instinct is I gotta block for my teammate,” Smith-Schuster said. “And me just playing ball, I hit him. After I seen the replay I think I should’ve held back a little bit more from blocking him. Also, I believe that that’s not me. I should’ve never stood over him. I apologize for that and with that being said, I hope he gets better.”

While ESPN’s announcing team decried Smith-Schuster’s actions, particularly in light of Shazier’s injury, the reaction was more mixed online because of Burfict’s history with the Steelers. Most notoriously, the linebacker had knocked out Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown with what many thought was an especially egregious hit in the 2016 playoffs, earning a three-game suspension.