Is Jacksonville poised to take command in the AFC South?

Is Jacksonville poised to take command in the AFC South?

In a can’t-miss game in the Sunday NFL slate’s early half, the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Tennessee Titans. Pending the Indianapolis Colts’ result at the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, it’s an opportunity for the Jags to open a commanding lead in the AFC South in Week 3. The Colts and Titans are 1-1 after two games. Jacksonville defeated both New England and the New York Giants. Victory in their first divisional matchup not only maintains an undefeated record, it could open a two-game lead on the field. There’s no better feeling than playing from ahead.

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After a decent run from 2004-07 under Jack Del Rio culminated in an 11-5 season, a wildcard win and a second-round loss to the eventual AFC champion Patriots, the Jags sank into mediocrity. From 2008-16, the North Florida franchise managed just one .500 season without a single winning campaign. Del Rio kept them competitive for another three years before a 3-8 start in 2011 spelled the end. Mel Tucker finished the season. Mike Mularkey and Gus Bradley guided the team deep into the depths over five seasons. Bradley just once managed to match del Rio’s worst full season by winning five games in 2015. After going 2-12 in 2016, he was finally put out of the fans’ misery.

Mike Mularkey and Doug Marrone are good friends, save for two weeks every year.

Mike Mularkey and Doug Marrone are good friends, save for two weeks every year.

Doug Marrone took over for the final two games, won one, then stunned the league by winning the division last season. He didn’t stop there. The Jags beat the Bills 10-3 in the wildcard game then the Steelers, 45-42, proving he could grind out a result or shoot it out with the best. Jacksonville pushed the Pats to the brink in the AFC Championship before coming out second-best.

Save for two disastrous seasons under Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee were competitive if not spectacular over the past decade. The team’s fortunes rest on quarterback Marcus Mariota’s arm and legs. When he was injured, the Titans struggled. With the Oregon standout in the pique of health last season, they made a deep playoff run, also falling victim to Tom Brady and New England.

Coach Mike Mularkey returns to Jacksonville, where he posted a 2-14 record in his lone season. His success in Nashville suggested that number belonged to management. GM Gene Smith was sent packing along with Mularkey in 2012. Marrone’s subsequent success arrived after David Caldwell had four seasons to build a solid foundation. The new Jaguars are a different beast but Mularkey’s pride remains on the line for this one.

The Titans enter on a two-game winning streak against Jacksonville. They’ve won six of the last nine. That said, the Jags hold the edge in virtually every major category on both sides of the ball in 2018. They’re putting up more points, gaining more yards, surrendering fewer, spending more time on offence, capitalising more often in the red zone. That’s a lot to overcome, especially on the road.

To keep riding their momentum, the Jags will have to shut down Titan's QB Marcus Mariota.

To keep riding their momentum, the Jags must shut down Titan’s QB Marcus Mariota.

The Jags are 2-0 against the spread in the early doors, while the Titans are 1-1. On the other hand, Tennessee’s 5-0 ATS in their last five AFC South matchups and 5-1 ATS after conceding more than 350 yards in total offence. They yielded 458 to the Texans last week even though they squeaked out a three-point win. They’ve also done the under in their previous four division games. Jacksonville’s 4-0 ATS the spread after winning, 5-1 after winning ATS.

Head-to-head, the home team’s 5-1 ATS in the last seven, with one push. Tennessee covered the spread only once in their last seven visits to TIAA Bank Field. The favourite won five ATS over the same number of games. Jacksonville give away 9.5 at the writing. As a rule, I’m wary about following trends. Marrone and the Jags won’t go 16-0 this season. They’ll hit a road bump at some point. It’s just too soon, however. At home, with momentum on their side, I’ve got to stick with the cats.

 2018-19 Football Betting Predictions
Free Pick: Jacksonville -9.5
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Raiders, Broncos, What’s old is new again

Raiders, Broncos, What’s old is new again

Last week in this space, I looked at the Chargers/Chiefs tilt. The smart money was on Phillip Rivers and co but Andy Reid’s group dumbed it down.

This week, a few good rivalries pop up on the calendar. The Cincinnati Bengals sent the Baltimore Ravens to the Rue Morgue on Thursday night. In the early Sunday games, divisional matchups include the Dolphins and Jets.

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Whenever this one rolls around, I always remember the Dan Marino Clock Play in 1994, when he faked spiking the ball then threw a perfect ball underneath to Mark Ingram with the final seconds draining in the fourth quarter for a comeback win.

The Vikings and Packers, Panthers and Falcons also hook up, not to mention a Texans/Titans meeting between new and old Houston franchises. In the late games, the Cardinals and Rams conduct some West Coast business before the Giants’ Sunday Night visit to a Cowboys side who shot themselves in the foot last week.

Since childhood, I’ve favoured AFC West tilts, however. That’s because I was always sent outside to play on Sundays with instructions to

  1. Have fun
  2. Be back before dark
  3. But not until just before dark.
  4. Never you mind why.

Rules three and four relaxed a little when my mother became pregnant with my sister but as dusk fell around 5pm during southern Ontario winters, West Coast games were the ones I saw most often. Except for the Rams, the NFC West was a lost cause in the 70s, but the AFC West was filled with great teams, even when the Seahawks joined the mix.

I used to root for the Raiders. They had a cool Snake at quarterback long before Kurt Russell hit the theatres in Escape from New York. Mark van Eeghen was a great rushing fullback who paved the way until Marcus Allen arrived. That was before the 49ers began teaching their blocking backs to catch passes. Dave Casper was a brilliant tight end who could do no wrong, even when he fumbled on the goal line. Fred Biletnikoff could catch anything Ken Stabler threw in his direction. So could Lester the Molester Hayes with respect to opposing QBs. I wore his jersey and kept asking the local Canadian Tire to stock Stickum in the sports department even after the league banned it.

To Lester Hayes' delight, the Raiders' clubhouse had no signs stating employees must wash their hands before returning to work.

To Lester Hayes’ delight, the Raiders’ clubhouse had no signs stating employees must wash their hands before returning to work.

The Broncos were a tough side even before John Elway arrived. An ageing Craig Morton took them to their first Super Bowl humiliation against the Cowboys but the Raiders always won theirs when they made it to the big dance.

Things change over the course of a lifetime. Al Davis’ defiance turned into bitterness. The Raiders lost a Super Bowl to former coach Jon Gruden. People point to Marcus Allen’s defection but drafting Todd Marinovich was the beginning of the end. JaMarcus Russell merely confirmed the team’s mediocrity. Even a second turn from Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken in Escape from LA couldn’t help.

Recent seasons brought hope. Derek Carr has an arm when healthy. Management doesn’t inspire, though. Bringing back Gruden to coach after a decade in the booth and Marshawn Lynch following a year in retirement isn’t long-term thinking.

Week 1 proved woeful for the Silver and Black. Carr threw three interceptions. Lynch was limited to just 11 carries for 41 yards when the team began chasing the game. Jared Goff and the Rams picked the defense apart. Chucky needs to turn things around before Mark Davis decides to replace him with Jennifer Tilly.

All’s fair in love and football.

Denver’s management is another story. John Elway knows what he’s doing. After rotating through Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch following Peyton Manning’s retirement, the team president settled on career backup Case Keenum, this season. The move paid dividends against the Seahawks in Week 1. Keenum threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns to eke out a 27-24 victory. Emmanuel Thomas was the main target with 10 catches for 135 yards and a score. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman split the rushing duties down the middle. Each had 15 carries for 71 yards.

The game was close in part because Keenum also matched Derek Carr with three interceptions. Denver coach Vance Joseph expects that to change in Week 2 but expect Gruden’s front seven to pressure Keenum, testing his resilience. Von Miller and the Broncos defense will be hunting Carr, as well.

Running backs pounding the ball. Quarterbacks airing it out. Defensive ends sacking them or forcing bad passes. Cornerbacks picking them off. This game should be an AFC West renaissance fair. I plan to dress the part. With a few alterations, I can still squeeze into that Lester Hayes jersey. I bet I can even find some Stickum on eBay.

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Are you ready for some MNF? Better make it a double

Are you ready for some MNF? Better make it a double

Week 1 of the NFL season offers something weeks 2-18 rarely do: two Monday night games. I’m all for this. In fact, I think the league should consider doing it every week, on one condition. As is the case tonight, the games should not be broadcast simultaneously. In my experience, the game in the small screen [when you’re using picture-in-picture] is the one where everything happens. While you’re watching Ezekiel Elliot run for three yards and a cloud of those little black artificial turf pellets on the large view, a tiny Jalen Ramsey intercepts Andrew Luck’s pass into the flat, then runs it back for a pick-six. Is it just me or is everyone playing from behind while using PIP?

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The league has it right, this week. The New York Jets land at Ford Field for a 7:10pm EDT kickoff against the Detroit Lions. Then the Raiders begin their first, perhaps only lame-duck season in Oakland against the Los Angeles Rams at 10:20pm. Given the Jets and Lions play their game indoors, there won’t be a Dolphins/Titans-esque marathon. Both games can be viewed in fullscreen with almost no overlap.

There are matchups to consider, as well. West Coast viewers have all the fun this time. With the game not kicking off around 6pm Pacific, they needn’t sneak away from work early to avoid being stuck in freeway traffic for the entire first quarter. It’s a nice change, considering the late game is far and away the more enticing affair. Let’s preview both games, anyway.

Jets at Lions

Both teams’ defences rank in the league’s bottom third. If you’re the glass-half-full type, that means scoring. Looking at Detroit’s offense, there’s every reason to be optimistic. Matthew Stafford can bring it at quarterback. Even if he can’t, Matt Cassel’s arguably the best second option in the NFL. Either one can hand the ball off to LeGarrette Blount or throw to a receiving corps led by Marvin Jones and Golden Tate.

Matthew Stafford knows where he wants to take the NFL's Detroit Lions in 2018.

Matthew Stafford knows where he wants to take the NFL’s Detroit Lions in 2018.

Unfortunately, the Jets attack leaves your glass half-empty. Sam Darnold and Josh McCown are the QB choices. They can’t target a thousand-yard receiver in Robby Anderson or Jermaine Kearse. Todd Bowles’ new starting running back, Isaiah Crowell, just spent four sub-thousand-yard seasons in the ultimate losing culture with the Cleveland Browns. I mean, come on. To make an omelette, you not only need to break some eggs, you must have some.

This game promises to be onesided. Hopefully, the Lions can provide enough excitement to keep East Coast fans awake for the second game.

Rams at Raiders

Okay, here we go. An interesting matchup between teams who both have weapons they can bring to bear, these two clubs also offer interesting histories.

They’re easily the most nomadic franchises in the modern NFL. The Rams first arrived in Los Angeles from Cleveland just after WWII. They hung around for nearly half a century before Georgia Frontiere moved them to her hometown, St Louis. Walmart inlaw Stan Kroenke brought them back to the West Coast where he’s built them into a contender. Meanwhile, Al Davis shuffled the Raiders between Oakland and LA. Now his heir Mark is taking them to [viva] Las Vegas.

Both the Raiders and Rams have solid arms in Derek Carr and Jared Goff

Both the Raiders and Rams field solid arms in Derek Carr and Jared Goff

Each blazed a trail encouraging diversity. Marlin Briscoe became the first black starting quarterback with the Denver Broncos in the AFL. He started just one game, though. James Harris was the first to play an entire season, for the Buffalo Bills. Later traded to the Rams, Harris started two full seasons, proving along the way a black quarterback could win a playoff game. The Raiders made a poor choice with JaMarcus Russell as their first black starting quarterback but are rumoured to have made an even poorer choice by converting first-round draft pick Eldridge Dickey to receiver even though he outperformed second-rounder Ken Stabler in pre-season. To be fair, the club broke ground previously with Latino quarterbacks Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett.

The two teams enter this season with more traditional quarterbacks Jared Goff and Derek Carr behind center. While Carr has Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson as wideouts, Goff makes up for his lesser experience with Todd Gurley backing his play. The all-purpose back rushed for 1,305 yards and caught 64 passes for another 788. Leading the team with 19 touchdowns, Gurley was Goff’s favorite target even though Cooper Kupp edged him in receiving yards. Kupp’s now third on Sean McVay’s depth chart behind Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods.

The Rams also hold the edge on defence with Ndamukong Suh anchoring the line while Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters patrol the corners. Across the way, Raiders DB Daryl Worley begins serving a four-game substance-abuse suspension.

Expect the Rams to win this one, even on the road, but the Raiders should offer a better fight as the underdog than the woeful Jets.

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Chargers and Chiefs catch the eye in Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season

Chargers and Chiefs catch the eye in Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season

The NFL waits for no one. That’s why, to my thinking, the Kansas City Chiefs’ visit to the cozy StubHub Centre to take on division rival San Diego [still doing it] Los Angeles Chargers is the must-see game in the 2018 season’s opening week.

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The Chiefs won the AFC West and went to the playoffs in 2017. They lost a nailbiter to the Tennessee Titans in the wildcard. Fair or not, the defeat was the final nail in quarterback Alex Smith’s Arrowhead career coffin. The ex-49er completed 29/33 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns against the Titans, but his immobility hurt the team. He was sacked four times. His strength is the short-passing game, too. Kansas City couldn’t stretch the field in the second half.

On the other side of the ball, Marcus Mariota’s agility paid dividends. Rolling to his left, the Titan’s third-year signal-caller caught his own deflected pass then ran it in for a morale-crushing score. It’s little wonder the Chiefs traded Smith to the Washington Redskins and shoved all their chips in on sophomore QB Pat Mahomes’ bionic arm.

The Chargers finished second in the division but their 9-7 record didn’t rate a playoff berth. It’s a new season, however. Observers are lavishing crazy love on the Bolts in the early doors. CBS Sports rates Anthony Lynn’s squad far better than the Chiefs on both sides of the ball. Charlie Red, the man whose name graces the masthead at the top of this page, expects the Chargers “to do big things.

Phillip Rivers and the LA Chargers are trending up ahead of the 2018 NFL season.

Phillip Rivers and the LA Chargers are trending up ahead of the 2018 NFL season.

Phillip Rivers remains the man behind center. After missing out by three measly yards in 2016, Mel Gordon’s now officially a thousand-yard rusher after racking up 1,105 and eight TDs in 2017. He also contributed 476 receiving yards with another four scores for good measure. Gordon’s presence relieves pressure for the veteran QB who’s thrown for at least 4,000 yards in every season [excepting 2012] since 2008. His 26 touchdowns in the off-year were his worst over the same stretch, as well. When the Chargers’ ground game lags, though, the NC State alum’s interception rate goes through the roof.

Rivers must be licking his chops at the news that Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry’s doubtful with a heel injury for this game. Brandon Mebane and Isaac Rochel on the left side of the Chargers D-line have to be looking forward to testing Chiefs right guard Laurent Duvarney-Tardif, fresh from concussion protocol. Meanwhile, the Chiefs can exploit defensive end Joey Bosa’s absence.

Andy Reid’s a far more experienced coach than Anthony Lynn, which must count for something. Still, the younger man can rely on veteran coordinators Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley, both former head coaches in the league. Reid has a seasoned defensive coordinator in Bob Sutton but is taking a gamble on Eric Bieniemy. The former University of Colorado star brings extensive experience as a running backs coach both with the Chiefs and Buffaloes, but just two seasons directing the entire offense in Boulder. A new quarterback and an untested coordinator don’t bode well for KC to start the campaign. Bieniemy at least has a 1,300-yd Pro Bowl rusher to take some pressure off the passing game.

Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy may ask who needs to throw the ball if the Chargers can't stop your Pro Bowl running back?

Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy may ask who needs to throw the ball if the Chargers can’t stop your Pro Bowl running back?

In 2017, the new Angelinos weren’t able to exploit their compact surroundings. After a season to acclimate and an off-season to improve, maybe they can surprise opponents with an outsized game. They’ll be getting after the Chiefs today, that much is certain. But Kansas City’s out to prove they don’t deserve to be written off so easily.

Enjoy.

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Colin Kaepernick: Don’t hate the player; hate yourself

Colin Kaepernick: Don’t hate the player; hate yourself

If sport and the arts are microcosms of society, recent events demonstrate American morality’s dysfunctionality. Compare.

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Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback blackballed by the league for two years, starred in Nike’s 30th anniversary Just Do It ad campaign, which debuted during Thursday night’s NFL season-opener.** Despite his inability to practice his profession, Kaepernick maintained his principles, supporting and working with various groups to confront racial discrimination. People are burning their Nike shoes and sportswear in counter-protest.

The Nike campaign starring Colin Kaepernick on display in Times Square, Manhattan.

The Nike campaign starring Colin Kaepernick on display in Times Square, Manhattan.

Rick Pitino, the tremendously successful college basketball coach fired by the University of Louisville after an FBI investigation discovered Adidas paid a $150,000 bribe to an athlete’s family to steer the player to Pitino’s program, went on ESPN to promote his book. During the interview, he denied the charge and others while expressing reluctance to face the issue so he can return to coaching. Many Kaepernick haters advocate consumers buy Adidas products rather than Nike.

In 2016, Kaepernick took to kneeling during the pre-game national anthem. He did so without fanfare for two or three games before reporters noticed. Kaepernick is an educated black man adopted and raised by a white couple but who chose to explore his ethnic heritage. He explained he was protesting the disparately abusive treatment towards black suspects by police officers when compared to white, and nothing else. Those who prefer to keep political power in white hands made the protest about disrespect for the American flag and all the military personnel it allegedly represents.*

Kaepernick and 49ers teammates protesting in 2016.

Kaepernick and 49ers teammates protesting in 2016.

In 2009, Pitino became mired in an extramarital scandal when outed despite paying millions in extortion money to his former mistress to keep the affair quiet. Pitino, an educated white man, was in his ninth year as Cardinals coach. Rather than being drummed out of the profession, he coached another eight seasons before being tripped up by the FBI investigation into Adidas’ corruptive influence in college athletics. He denies knowledge of the payment to his player, as well as a concurrent scandal in which strippers entertained basketball recruits in a campus dormitory.

Kaepernick has not been offered a contract or invited to try out by a single NFL team. He quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII in the 2012/13 season with the same athletic style that inspired the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints to take a chance this offseason on Teddy Bridgewater. Some critics claim Kaepernick can’t get work because he isn’t good enough. He doesn’t have the physical limitations a catastrophic knee injury imposed on Bridgewater.  The Cleveland Browns traded for the mobile Tyrod Taylor this offseason. When he was injured, the club didn’t invite Kaepernick to camp as a backup for rookie Baker Mayfield.

Others claim Kaepernick’s skills only suit former coach Jim Harbaugh’s unique system. Come on. Harbaugh is an immensely successful college coach. He must and does find a new signal caller to operate his system every four years. The system is not that different from any other. Kaepernick can adapt. His success as an activist while in exile proves it. Teams simply refuse to give him the opportunity.

Last season, the Miami Dolphins signed the perennially woeful but white Jake Cutler to a year-long deal to stand in for injured starter Ryan Tannehill. The distinctly immobile but white Kirk Cousins inked a lucrative free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings. The season-ending injury waiting to happen, Sam Bradford, a Native American whose white looks help him hide behind a generic WASP name, received his fourth opportunity at an NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals. Studies show that while 70% of NFL players are black, 80% of its fans are white. It’s clear the owners value the customer’s money over the talent that attracts it.

Louis CK performing before his sexual harassment became public knowledge.

Louis CK performing before his sexual harassment became public knowledge.

Last week, a second celebrity who shares Colin Kaepernick’s initials, if not his integrity, also made news. The comedian Louis CK, another white man, showed up unannounced to do a set at a New York comedy club last week after nine months in his own professional exile. He had been exposed publicly for privately exposing himself to women employed in his television production company, masturbating in their presence after implicitly threatening their careers to gain consent. On his unexpected return, he was not booed off the stage.

One comedienne expressed her outrage in a Times Op-Ed, angry that CK pulled off an end run around potential protests by appearing unannounced. Aparna Nancherla questioned whether he deserved a second chance so soon when his victims may not have been afforded fresh opportunities. In the end, Louis CK’s former fans will decide whether to welcome the comic back into the field. Democracy at least functions in an informal manner.

The point here is that Colin Kaepernick cannot show up unannounced at an NFL stadium on a whim, suit up and call the plays from behind centre, even though he is celebrated in the black community and by non-bigoted whites. On the other hand, sexual predator Louis CK can pick up a microphone and tell a few jokes on the spur of the moment.

The black man in this social experiment broke no laws. He harmed no one other than opposing defences. He merely expressed his constitutionally protected right to speak and demonstrate freely against prejudice and injustice. As a consequence, he cannot practice his craft. His continued media presence stirs up frenzied animosity among the masses. The two white men either engaged in, ignored, or tacitly benefitted from criminal activity, and exploited women. They remain free to choose their occupational path. Despite their corrupt immoralities, they’re missed.

This is who Americans are. Is it who we want to be?

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In fact, military personnel represent and defend the flag; it does not and cannot represent them. Their service should [not must] be appreciated because it is the ultimate selfless act in which the soldier sacrifices their freedom, time, often their health or life so that others can live safe, free, self-determined lives. Harsh as this sounds, that appreciation can never be held due, much less sacrosanct. When gratitude is demanded, the act is no longer a sacrifice. The freedom soldiers, sailors, airmen and women protected is now denied those who do not meet their price. Their service is diminished by their own hand. Many former military personnel understand this. It is why they voice support for Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Megan Rapinoe, and others’ right to protest. Sadly, too many have forgotten, as have many police.
** The Eagles beat the Falcons 18-12.

Colin Kaepernick Nike signature ad

Are the Philadelphia Eagles going to be one-hit wonders?

Are the Philadelphia Eagles going to be one-hit wonders?

Skies were clear over Cleveland on Thursday night. Temperatures were cooling from an 80ºF midday high towards a low in the 50s. WKYC even waxed romantic over the streaking white airplane contrails accenting the purple twilight. It was perfect football weather, offering the visiting Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles no excuse for their 5-0 defeat.

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Results in preseason are allegedly meaningless. Coaches are evaluating players. Those whose jobs are guaranteed are working into game-shape. Even in the third game, starters still play just the first half. That said the Eagles are winless this summer. Following 17-point blowouts to Pittsburgh (31-14) and New England (37-20), Philly’s defense can be happy conceding only a field goal. The safety is on the offense, which netted 32 points over the three games, including the negative total on Thursday night.

The evening’s deficit might’ve been worse had Browns starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, not injured his wrist in the first quarter. Rookie backup Baker Mayfield, selected no.1 in the 2018 NFL Draft left after two series to go through concussion protocol after throwing a red-zone interception. He was cleared but the game was there for the taking. Mike Groh’s offence needed only one scoring drive to get the job done.

Carson Wentz remains out with a cruciate ligament injury but the offensive line failed to protect Nick Foles. The Super Bowl hero threw two interceptions and fumbled a ball from one of the six sacks Cleveland registered on the night.

It was an abject performance against a club that is 1-31 in the past two seasons and mired in a decade-long streak of losing seasons. Cleveland, 1-1 in the preseason coming into the game, are improved but not that much.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson should be concerned. With the worst performance arriving in game three, he can’t blame the outing on rust.

Nor can he blame the NFL’s hard salary cap. Fans worried over their championship team breaking up in the offseason. Thirteen players, including four starters, were eligible for one form of free agency or the other. LeGarrette Blount’s 766 yards departed for Detroit and receiver Torrey Smith’s 435 were traded to Carolina. Each scored two touchdowns on the season. Blount was 31, though, and Smith will be 30 in January. Those are roster moves you expect to make.

Wentz’s status is the biggest setback, but Foles proved in February he could step into the role. The Eagles can’t let expectations rocket into the stratosphere after their long-awaited title. At the same time, it’s not unrealistic to expect them to handle the Browns.

Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett forces a safety from Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles

Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett forces a safety from Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles

The coming season won’t be easy. Every team is going to be gunning for the Super Bowl champions. Legendary champions like Joe Montana’s 1982 49ers often fail to make the playoffs the following season. From 2006-13, defending champions either failed to make the playoffs or lost in the first round. The Eagles are beginning to look like one of those teams.

Philly were improbable winners, last season. They gave Tom Brady and New England everything they could handle and then some to win Super Bowl LII. The Pats will be back, though. They always are. Bill Belichick never lets his squad relax. He never accepts an excuse. Even losing Brady to injury or suspension didn’t stopped the five-time champions. Doug Pederson must find a way to keep the competitive fire burning at Lincoln Financial Field.

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NFL Dolphins caught in Trump’s net?

NFL Dolphins caught in Trump’s net?

Immediately following the World Cup Final, Russian President Vladimir Putin left Moscow to meet US President Donald Trump in neighbouring Helsinki. Trump spent his time in Finland before and after the meeting criticizing American allies, casting aspersions on the competence and credibility of US intelligence agencies, and praising Putin. The two leaders met behind closed doors with only translators for company. No advisors. No reporters.

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Concerned Americans questioned Trump’s remarks and wondered why he had not taken a stand against the man American intelligence has confirmed authorized Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

On Thursday, a document describing the Miami Dolphins proposed disciplinary policy for players who refused to stand for the national anthem before games leaked to the press. The maximum four-game suspension met with objections. The NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement indicating new anthem rules would be suspended for several weeks while the two sides met behind closed doors for confidential discussions [no talking to reporters] to negotiate a more amenable policy.

Donald Trump took to Twitter, asking why the NFL did not “take a stand” against its players.

Critics have laughed at the President’s boasts regarding his fitness. I’m no doctor but it’s obvious there is too much irony in his diet.

Before the document leaked, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had been publicly supportive of players’ right to protest. Apparently, however, he was unwilling to go as far as NY Jets CEO Christopher Johnson who refused to suspend players and promised to pay any fines levied against them.

Afterwards, Ross released a prepared statement that labeled the proposed punishment as a “placeholder” for an unresolved policy.

Most fans weren’t buying it. The term “backpedaling” started to trend in South Florida, accompanied by the now-traditional threat to boycott the team if players continued to protest. Some boasted they already had, which begged the question of what they were doing on the Dolphins’ official Twitter page? The back and forth was interesting

To be clear, the suspended NFL anthem policy did not compel players to stand for the anthem. It gave them the option to remain in the locker room until after the performance. To clarify further, the 1943 Supreme Court ruling did not force employers to tolerate public protests by employees at the workplace. In a free country, neither should be mandatory.

The NFL and NFLPA are demonstrating remarkable professionalism and respect by agreeing to negotiate a mutually acceptable anthem policy rather than litigate. You would think that the man who wrote The Art of the Deal would appreciate that.

Donald Trump teamed up with Stephen Ross when the New Jersey Generals merged with the Houston Gamblers. The new team never took the field; the USFL folded before its first fall season.

Donald Trump teamed up with Stephen Ross when the New Jersey Generals merged with the Houston Gamblers. The new team never took the field; the USFL folded before its first fall season.

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