Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
If you think Chiefs-Rams was fun, just wait until the playoffs. Ndamukong Suh is doing, well, Ndamukong Suh things again. And the problem in Minnesota is pretty clear, and you don’t even have to look that hard to find it. All that and more in this week’s 10-Point Stance.
1. Super Bowl fireworks
If there is one thing that seems certain about the upcoming NFL playoffs, it is this: We are going to see offensive shootouts like maybe we’ve never seen before.
Take Monday night’s 105-point Chiefs-Rams duel, for example. It marked the first time in league history two opponents had each scored 50 in the same game. More importantly, the game opened a door to the future of the league, a continuing football evolution and revolution in which rules changes, strategic coaching and increasing athleticism among players are transforming the sport right before our eyes.
Truth be told, this has been coming for some time. Teams this year have scored 895 touchdowns and 7,791 points through 11 weeks. Just five years ago, in 2013, there were 844 touchdowns and 7,581 points.
That offensive explosion isn’t likely to stop after Monday. The higher stakes and intensity of the playoffs may lead to a sharpening of those traits, making the ability to score a high volume of points all the more valuable.
Right now, the most likely matchups in the AFC and NFC title games are Patriots-Chiefs and Rams-Saints.
It’s always possible a team or two could sneak in, particularly since Tom Brady hasn’t looked like Tom Brady at times. Or the Steelers or Colts could make a move, or the Bears or Packers in the NFC. But if things play to form, the potential title matchups could lead to the most explosive Super Bowl ever, with a Chiefs-Saints showdown or a Chiefs-Rams rematch (a game that could be one of the most anticipated in years, something the NFL wouldn’t be unhappy about).
Last year’s Super Bowl had over 1,100 total yards. A Chiefs-Saints or Chiefs-Rams matchup could surpass that.
A scoring frenzy has overtaken the league, and if you want to know who’s winning, you only need to know who’s scoring. The Saints rank first at 37.8 points a game, the Chiefs second at 36.7, the Rams third at 35.4 and the Pats sixth at 28.0. If you had to bet on four teams to make the title games, it would be them.
The NFL wanted Big 12-style football. It got the Big 12-style football.
In other words, what we saw Monday wasn’t a fluke. We’ll see it again—this time, in the Super Bowl.
2. Dirty players make dirty plays
There’s little question Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh is the dirtiest player in football. This is as established a fact as water is wet. And while the Chiefs and Rams scored enough to steer the conversation toward their offensive prowess, it shouldn’t totally overshadow yet another incredibly dirty Suh play.
Chasing quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Suh, as the video shows, committed two distinct football felonies:
Will Brinson @WillBrinson
Somehow the refs didn’t throw a flag on THIS? Classic Ndamukong Suh. https://t.co/9t8tXO0nsv
First: He clubbed Mahomes in the head.
Second: He put his arm around Mahomes’ throat.
Incredibly, the game officials, an alleged all-star crew, missed both things.
The NFL needs to review this play and fine Suh. Since the league is so unpredictable in how it punishes players, who knows if it will. But I know it should.
3. Why players hold out, Exhibit 813
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The injury quarterback Alex Smith suffered Sunday was one of the more brutal I can remember. We won’t show it here, but he broke his tibia and fibula. All on a fairly routine tackle.
There are few better examples of why players like Le’Veon Bell hold out for more cash. While Joe Theismann suffered a similar injury 33 years prior to the day, these types of gruesome injuries don’t often happen to quarterbacks. And keep in mind they are the most protected of all the football classes.
So imagine what’s it like for a running back or an interior linemen or a linebacker. None of this is to say we should feel sorry for players; they play a sport they love by choice and are paid handsomely to do so.
But that doesn’t mean the players shouldn’t seek as much reward as they can for the risks they take each week, because in this sport, it can all end in an instant.
4. Stiffs, bums and Kaepernick
Harry How/Getty Images
With Smith out, Washington signed Mark Sanchez to back up likely new starter Colt McCoy. Sanchez reportedly was one of a handful of quarterbacks who worked out for Washington in the wake of Smith’s injury, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. The group also included EJ Manuel, Kellen Clemens and T.J. Yates. The only person missing from that list is JaMarcus Russell.
There was an obvious name missing from that list, and it’s Colin Kaepernick.
Now, Kaepernick might not want to play for a team that has a racist mascot. Yet I know from talking to people close to him that he still wants to play, and wouldn’t it have made sense for Washington to at least reach out to him? I’m told it has not.
Washington isn’t alone in its tunnel vision. Indeed, across the NFL, some of the players getting tryouts and contracts are jokes. Nathan Peterman got a tryout with the Lions, ESPN.com’s Field Yates reported. He has a career quarterback rating of 32.5.
At this point, as Kaepernick’s collusion case progresses, all Kaepernick should do to win it is produce a slideshow of the players who aren’t nearly as good but who get invited to workout after workout.
5. Big man, big blocks
It’s one thing to talk about how the offensive line in Indianapolis is playing its ass off and keeping Andrew Luck upright enough for him to play himself back into the MVP conversation. It’s another to see it explicitly on tape:
Brian Baldinger @BaldyNFL
.@colts @BigQ56 #fightingirish #colts Welcome to Gator Country. After BigQ “goes about his business” he likes to sit on his victims like a Lion sits on his game for the whole pride to eat. No one plays the game like this . I can’t wait for next Sunday. #BaldysBreakdowns https://t.co/o1xNxhL0cw
As former NFL player Brian Baldinger breaks it down, guard Quenton Nelson’s blocking is absolutely gorgeous. There’s a viciousness and efficiency in his technique that has quietly helped fuel the Colts’ midseason uprising.
6. The Cousins conundrum
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
When I recently wrote that Kirk Cousins was looking like a flop, well, hoo boy, did I get some strong kickback. It were as if I wrote Star Wars is better than Star Trek (which only fools believe).
The issue I saw with Cousins was that he wasn’t lifting the Vikings. No, it’s not all on him. Yes, he also had to face Khalil Mack.
None of that excuses the fact that Cousins is a mediocre quarterback.
Against the Bears on Sunday he could have proved otherwise, but when he had a chance to take the Vikings down the field and cut into a 14-6 Bears lead midway through the fourth quarter, Cousins threw a pick-six. The game was essentially over at that point.
Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith took a look and found the Vikings offense has gone backward under Cousins:
Michael David Smith @MichaelDavSmith
How the Vikings’ pass offense changed since signing Kirk Cousins:
2017: 4th in passer rating
2018: 10th in passer rating
2017: 11th in yards per pass
2018: 20th in yards per pass
2017: 7th fewest sacks
2018: 15th fewest sacks
2017: 2nd fewest INTs
2018: 11th fewest INTs
Making matters worse, Cousins already has fumbled eight times this season. Case Keenum had one fumble in all of 2017.
Again, it’s not all on Cousins, but it isn’t necessarily not because of him.
7. Tim Green’s story
George Rose/Getty Images
Many of you may not know Tim Green. Let me tell you a little about him.
Green played eight years at linebacker and defensive end for the Falcons. He was good, and like many players, if not almost all of them, he fought through all kinds of brutal injuries.
And like many players, if not almost all of them, he put his own health secondary to the sport.
Green became a broadcaster and an author, but the toll football took on him was more apparent as he aged into NFL retirement. Green’s wife told 60 Minutes in an extraordinary interview that after brutal practices, Green’s head would become so swollen from the hitting that he would wipe down his face and head with Vaseline so he could get his helmet on.
These stories are incredibly sad, and while they’re far from the norm for retired players, there will be more.
8. A permanent change in Baltimore?
Nick Wass/Associated Press
Lamar Jackson led the Ravens to a 24-21 win over the Bengals in place of an injured Joe Flacco. While Jackson performed to mixed reviews, former quarterback and current NFL analyst Rich Gannon wasn’t so sure Jackson will sit when Flacco returns. Gannon believes Jackson might hold on to the starting job.
“Teams are going to have a tough time trying to corral him and keep him in the pocket where he belongs,” Gannon said on the NFL Monday QB show on the CBS Sports Network. “He can run the football. He can make people miss. He’s much more accurate and comfortable throwing the ball outside the pocket.
“I think [offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg did an outstanding job as the play-caller, putting him in a position where he was comfortable. They put some concepts and play calls that [Jackson] had a history of running. I don’t know if Joe Flacco is going to get that job back anytime soon.”
Gannon isn’t the only one who thinks this. I’ve heard from several teams they believe the Ravens are going to release Flacco at the end of the season and turn over the offense to Jackson.
9. The Bears’ secret weapon
David Banks/Associated Press
Well, maybe Chicago running back Tarik Cohen isn’t a secret. It’s just that on a team of big names and stars, he sometimes gets lost.
The Bears have become a scary team because they have so many facets to them that are difficult to stop. One of them is Cohen, who adds speed to an offense that sometimes lacks it compared to teams like the Saints and Chiefs.
A note from the Elias Sports Bureau shows his value:
Elias Sports Bureau @EliasSports
Tarik Cohen is the 2nd player in @NFL history who, in his first 25 games, gained 500+ yards each by rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns. The first was Mack Herron of the Patriots in 1973–74.
@Bears host @Vikings
now on @NBCSports
Maybe we should all take a minute and get acquainted with Cohen before he makes it impossible to ignore him.
10. Larry the Magnificent
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
I wanted to end by noting Larry Fitzgerald, at the age 35, is quietly having another solid season—at the age of 35.
On Sunday, the Arizona receiver scored multiple touchdowns in a game for the 19th time in his career. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
On Sunday, Larry Fitzgerald recorded his 19th career game with multiple rec TD, tied with Randy Moss for the 2nd most in the NFL since Fitzgerald debuted in 2004 (Antonio Gates is 1st with 21 such games).
When Fitzgerald finally retires, he will skip into the Hall of Fame. But it’s clear he isn’t done yet.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.