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NFL Halloween Special

We’re in Week 8 of the NFL season and it’s also Halloween weekend. So that feels as good a time as any to take stock and assess how everyone’s doing. Who’s scaring the living daylights out of the opposition? Who is spooking us out with their unexpected success? Who’s full of tricks and treats? For a bit of fun, I’m seeing which costume some of our favourite players and coaches should be dressing up in this weekend…

WEREWOLF – Carson Wentz

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On a normal Sunday afternoon, one particular quarterback is a mild-mannered individual and doesn’t really get – or deserve – much of our attention. But at night, under the bright lights of a primetime night game, he’s a man possessed, a beast howling at the full moon. And I’m talking about Washington’s Carson Wentz.

Wentz’s all-round stats are fairly middle of the road so far. After six games, he’s 18th in passing yards and 9th in touchdown passes, and he has thrown the fourth-most interceptions. But back in Week 6, on Thursday Night Football, the Commanders beat the Chicago Bears 12-7. As the score suggests, it was an absolute dog of a game and Wentz only mustered 12 of 22 for a measly 99 yards. However, don’t let that take away from the fact that the victory took Wentz’s record on TNF to 7-0: that’s the best Thursday night stats across any career in NFL history!

His previous six Ws all came while at Philadelphia, with whom he beat the Giants (x3), Jets, Panthers and Packers – averaging over 240 yards and boasting an impressive 15:2 touchdown to interception ratio. So Carson Wentz is the GOAT (of Thursday Night Football). Barking.

WIZARD – Joe Burrow

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The Cincinnati offense got off to a slow start this year, dropping to 0-2 with an all-new O-line that needed time to gel and a quarterback recovering from an urgent off-season appendectomy. But the 4-3 Bengals have taken four wins from the last five, and are now starting to look more like last year’s model than the less-impressive 2019 and 2020 editions.

The latest two-game spell, in which they scored 65 points against the Saints and Falcons, has seen Burrow in magical form, going 62 of 79 (78.4%) for 781 yards, six passing touchdowns and two rushing scores. Four of those passing TDs went for over 30 yards, with two going for 60.

Like a professor at Hogwarts, one flick of Burrow’s wand seems to make amazing things happen at the moment, so let’s see what sorcery he can provide against divisional rivals Cleveland on Monday’s Halloween Night special. He could conjure up another high-scoring win or it could all go up in a big cloud of smoke now that Ja’Marr Chase is out with a fractured hip.

ZOMBIE – Nathaniel Hackett

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Poor old Nathaniel. Everyone has such high hopes for Denver this year, with their high-octane attack being rounded out with the arrival of Seattle QB Russell Wilson in a blockbuster trade. But things have not gone well and, at the time of writing, there’s a real chance they could fall to 2-6 with a loss to the Jaguars at Wembley today.

Hackett is an offensively minded coach, having been an OC at Green Bay, Buffalo and today’s opponents Jacksonville, yet his offense has spluttered and fizzled. He’s taken stick for bad clock management (I wonder if he remembered to change his clocks last night) and his team rank dead last in points scored per game.

Broncos GM George Paton publicly gave his “100% support” a few days ago but more worryingly, CEO Greg Penner stopped short of guaranteeing the under-fire first-time HC will see the season out. Unless things turn round dramatically, Hackett feels like a dead man walking.

GHOST – Micah Parsons

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If you’re an opposing HC or OC, the last thing you want to see is Micah Parsons appearing out of nowhere to take your QB down. The Dallas Cowboy won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021 and earned First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. His speed and strength helped him tally 13 sacks, 30 QB hits, 20 TFLs, three forced fumbles and three passes defended last years, and he’s already on pace to improve all those marks this year, with eight sacks, 14 QB hits, nine TFLs, two forced fumbles and two passes defended in just seven games. The guy’s a banshee.

His positional versality means that Parsons has a spooky habit of ghosting in undetected. This weekend, the interior linebacker goes in search of Bears rockslinger Justin Fields, the most-sacked QB in the league (27 in seven games). I have a feeling Fields will be haunted by Parsons all night.


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There’s no doubt that Brian Daboll, the first-year Head Coach of the New York Giants, has had a monster start to the season. After the departures of GM Dave Gettleman and HC Joe Judge, it seemed like the former Bills OC was inheriting a bit of a mess. And yet he’s managed to take all the disparate components that were lying about and cobble them into a 6-1 team, their best start in 13 years. Other than Saquon Barkley, the cast is hardly stellar – Daniel Jones, Sterling Sheppard, Darius Slayton, Richie James, Daniel Bellinger – and yet he’s made the whole noticeably greater than the sum of its parts

Admittedly, he didn’t have to do much to be an improvement on Judge, but it appears his communication and relationship-building skills lie at the heart of the team’s transformation. Remember, this franchise went 4-13 last year, their fifth straight season with double-digit losses, and finished dead last in the NFC East.

With four 4th-quarter comebacks under his belt already, he’s definitely given this corpse of a franchise a jolt. No wonder he’s second favourite in the Coach of the Year stakes, just behind the (unbeaten) Eagles’ Nick Sirianni.

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Winless teams: should anyone hit the panic button yet?

We’re just two weeks into the fledgling NFL season and seven teams have yet to record a win. I don’t think it’s a hot take to suggest that three of them – the Texans (0-1-1), Panthers (0-2) and Falcons (0-2) – weren’t destined to set the world on fire this year. But the other four are arguably all playoff contenders in the AFC and clearly off to a poorer-than-expected start.

Last year, the Titans were the AFC’s top seed, the Bengals made a miraculous run to the Super Bowl, the Raiders reached the postseason despite the most tumultuous of seasons and the Colts only missed out on January football with an inexplicable loss to the Jaguars – hold that thought – in Week 18.  

With 16 weeks of regular season action still to come, none of these franchises should be freaking out quite yet… or should they? We’ve only seen one team this century – the 2018 Texans – fight back from 0-3 to reach the playoffs so it looks like now is the time to get that elusive W on the board.

Indianapolis Colts (0-1-1)

How are they faring?

Indy have a reputation for starting slow (they began 0-3 last year) and this has been another sluggish opening, with a loss and a tie. Even though they were both on the road, their games at the Texans and Jaguars should have eased the Colts into their campaign with a couple of straightforward divisional scalps. But somehow, they tied 20-apiece in OT with Houston, having overcome a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter, only for Rodrigo Blankenship to miss a 42-yard FG that would’ve sealed the comeback. They then found themselves on the wrong end of an embarrassing 24-0 shutout in Jacksonville – their eighth straight loss there – when they should have been wreaking their revenge for last year. And next up, it’s only the Kansas City Chiefs. Gulp! It’s important to note that three of the four AFC South teams have a sub-.500 record so all is not lost yet. But realistically, from Week 4, they need to start winning.

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What’s going wrong?

In the 24-0 “ass-whupping” (DeForest Buckner’s words, not mine) by the Jaguars, the defence let Trevor Lawrence do what he wanted, but the offence shoulders most of the responsibility. Matt Ryan, supposedly an upgrade from Carson Wentz, went 16-of-30 for 195 yards, 0 TDs and 3 INTs (passer rating: 34.0), while star running back Jonathan Taylor had just nine carries. The offensive linemen and wide receivers are offering nothing either. Yes, injuries to Michael Pittman Jr and Shaquille Leonard have played their part but I bet HC Frank Reich is starting to feel the flames on his derriere when he sits at his desk. The Colts need to show some fight, some urgency, if they’re to stop their season derailing completely before it’s even begun.

Panic-o-meter: Ominous (8 out of 10)

Las Vegas Raiders (0-2)

How are they faring?

On the opening weekend, the Raiders succumbed to the Los Angeles Chargers, losing 24-19. No shame in that, you’d argue. But they then chucked away a 20-point lead at home to the Cardinals, mustering just 48 yards of offence after the break before losing 29-23 in OT. Not so great. With the Chiefs setting an ominous pace, the Raiders are already two games off the top of the AFC West. But at least they stand a chance of turning the ship around this week, when they play the equally winless Tennessee Titans. Something has to give.

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What’s going wrong?

The blame for the slow start in the desert has been spread far and wide. For one thing, they need to get their new star wideout Davante Adams into the game more. He meshed well with his old colleague QB Derek Carr in Week 1 (10 receptions, 141 yards, 1 TD) but Adams went AWOL this weekend. Just two receptions for 12 yards (and a TD) this week is inexcusable. Then there’s the pass rush – or lack of it. A measly one sack in two weeks wasn’t what we expected from Maxx Crosby and the so-far invisible Chandler Jones, signed for $50 million in free agency. Heat is also being thrown the way of head coach Josh McDaniels who, like an anti-King Midas, turned a lead of 20-0 into an L on Sunday. By his own admission, “In the first half, we played the game the way we wanted to. But we lost control in the second half for sure.” They can’t afford for that to happen again or the Black and Silver will start to slip into the brown stuff.

Panic-o-meter: Concerning (7 out of 10)

Tennessee Titans (0-2)

How are they faring?

Despite being just one game back from the table-topping Jaguars, the 0-2 Titans look a shadow of the team that romped to the top of the AFC rankings last season. No one would have expected victory at the rampant Buffalo Bills, even though the 41-7 scoreline will have raised a few eyebrows, but it only piled on the misery after the opening week’s 21-20 loss at home to the New York Giants, which ended with kicker Randy Bullock missing a 47-yarder as time expired.     

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What’s going wrong?

Offensively, their big weapon – RB Derrick Henry – has yet to hit his stride, and the big man slumped to just 25 yards and a TD from 13 rushes (1.9 yards per carry) against Buffalo on MNF. QB Ryan Tannehill hasn’t faired much better and was actually benched in favour of rookie Malik Willis late in the third quarter at Orchard Park, having completed 11 of 20 for 117 yards and 2 INTs, one of which went back for six. Of their 11 possessions on Monday night, six ended with punts, three with turnovers and one, at the end of the first half, saw them let the clock run out with a minute and two timeouts up their sleeve. I’m not entirely sure what HC Mike Vrabel was thinking there. And rookie Kyle Phillips muffed a punt return for a second week in a row, which is never great.

While this is the Titans’ first 0-2 start for a decade, the season is still young and the whole AFC Conference is still wide open. With just three teams starting 2-0, there’s still everything to play for, especially with the similarly winless Raiders up next, but falling to 0-3 is not an option.

Panic-o-meter: Troubling (7 out of 10)

Cincinnati Bengals (0-2)

How are they faring?

The losing finalists of the previous season’s Super Bowl rarely set the world on fire but the Bengals are looking especially wobbly so far. They have lost two close games to walk-off field goals – a 23-20 OT loss to the Steelers (largely due to missed kicks hindered by a tight end standing in when the long snapper got injured) and a 20-17 defeat to the Cowboys. So on paper, they’re not that far away. Luckily, their AFC North rivals all lost this weekend too so they’re only a game behind the field. That means this week’s tilt against the Jets isn’t quite a “must-win” game. But it’s closer to being one than they’d like it to be, especially with the likes of the free-scoring Dolphins, Bills and Chiefs on the schedule. If they lose three straight to the likes to Mitchell Trubisky, Cooper Rush and Joe Flacco, then heaven help them when Allen, Mahomes and co. pitch up.

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What’s going wrong?

Cincy fans are at a loss to exactly what’s going on, probably because there are several factors at play in their sub-par start. Having failed to play a snap during the pre-season, the revamped O-line has yet to gel, which means the running game is stagnant and Joe Burrow is running for his life once again. After sustaining 70 sacks last year, he’s already been taken down 13 times in two games, which will put him on a similar path to Andrew Luck if he’s not careful, and he threw four interceptions in Week 1 against Pittsburgh. But it’s not all down to his lack of protection; Joey B’s also hanging on to the ball too long. Teams are also stopping the long, explosive plays that defined the Bengals’ high-octane offence in 2021, leaving Burrow to dink and dunk more than he’d like. Zac Taylor is also under fire for his highly predictable, ultra-vanilla play-calling and his seat is starting to warm up. It’s time to get creative, ZT!

Panic-o-meter: Unsettling (6 out of 10)

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Bengals finally sell stadium naming rights

It’s the end of an era in Cincinnati as the Bengals become the 30th NFL team with a stadium carrying the name of a corporate sponsor. Just Lambeau Field and Soldier Field remain as outliers… 

A partnership for the future

The list of NFL stadia for the coming 2022 season was updated twice in the last week. The Pittsburgh Steelers found a new corporate sponsor, with Heinz Field morphing into Acrisure Stadium after a $10 million per year deal was struck with the Michigan-based insurance company. But arguably more newsworthy was the decision by their AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals, to finally sell the naming rights to Paul Brown Stadium, which has honoured the franchise’s legendary founder since it opened in 2000.

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The rights have gone to Paycor, a payroll and human resources software provider. Paycor has been headquartered in the city for more than 30 years and the 16-year arrangement is an extension of an existing business relationship.

Even though the Bengals’ owner and president, 86-year-old Mike Brown, is Paul Brown’s son, the switch to Paycor Stadium wasn’t a total bolt out of the blue. He told reporters last month that selling the naming rights was necessary for his team to be able to compete.

“This is a move that I think my father would have agreed to. He was always for what’s best for the football team. This partnership allows the Bengals to continue to compete at the highest level in the NFL and exemplifies our long-term commitment to the community.”
Mike Brown, President, Cincinnati Bengals

Paul Brown died three decades ago, when the Bengals were still playing at their former home (Riverfront Stadium), so he never saw the arena that would bear his name. I guess we have to believe Mike Brown’s assertion that his father wouldn’t mind being usurped by a HR software business.

It’s all about the money, money, money

Despite their unexpected run to Super Bowl LVI, the Bengals generated “just” $458 million in revenue in 2021 – a league low. The franchise is apparently worth $2.8 billion, which is also the lowest in the NFL. Plus Mike Brown doesn’t have any outside business interests and therefore hasn’t got the same financial clout as his peers. 

While the terms of the Paycor/Bengals deal haven’t been disclosed, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincy will receive the first $60.5 million and then 70% of the remaining revenue, with Hamilton County receiving the other 30%. Whatever the absolute value of the deal, it won’t be anywhere near the $31.2 million per year being paid by fintech company SoFi for the rights to the Rams’ and Chargers’ stadium in Los Angeles for the next 20 years, or the $25 million a year that Allegiant Airlines is forking out in Las Vegas. But, as they say, every little helps.

“We’re a small-market team, we need the revenue streams that we can obtain. The fact that about 30 teams have naming rights and a revenue stream from that, and they have more revenue than we do to begin with. We have to do some things just to keep up.”
Mike Brown, President, Cincinnati Bengals

Why now for Cincinnati?

The move comes as the Bengals are looking to capitalise on one of the best seasons in their history. The team reached the Super Bowl for the first time 31 years and the front office clearly wants to keep this young, exciting and improving team together for years to come.

As part of a general drive by the franchise to generate much-needed income, this deal could help to fund contract extensions coming down the track for the likes of Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase (hence some initial social media fun about “PayJoe Stadium”). It might also contribute to the financing of a new indoor practice facility and some recently revealed renovation plans.

Similarly, Paycor has been increasing its profile since the company went public. Cincy’s Super Bowl run was perfect timing and the team’s on-field success was clearly attractive to the HR company.

“NFL stadium naming rights are a scarce asset. There are only 30 stadiums with naming rights in the U.S. and Paycor is now one of those 30. That was a unique opportunity, coupled with being a hometown team and a team on the rise, that we felt we had to take advantage of.”
Raul Villar Jr., CEO, Paycor

Sports Business Journal

And then there were two…

There are now just two NFL stadia remaining without naming rights deals with a corporate sponsor: Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and Chicago’s Soldier Field. So is either franchise likely to follow the Bengals and sell the name of their stadium?

The short answer is no.

The Packers are actually owned by local residents through a community-based model that is unique in the NFL. Back in 2015, team president Mark Murphy told shareholders that the naming rights to Lambeau Field (much like Paul Brown Stadium, named after the team’s founder and long-time coach Curly Lambeau) would never be sold.

“We will not sell the naming rights to the stadium. We will never do that. It will always be Lambeau Field.”
Mark Murphy, President, Green Bay Packers

Well, that seems fairly unequivocal.

As for the Bears, Soldier Field is more likely to change name at some point, but it’s far from a given. The league’s oldest home field is likely to undergo some major renovations in the near future, with proposals to make it a domed stadium for year-round use on the table. But those plans come with a hefty price tag of up to $2.2 billion, which increases the appeal of securing new revenue via sponsorship and naming rights agreements.

Even if the Soldier Field name is retained and a corporate sponsor added (along the lines of the Denver Broncos’ Empower Field at Mile High Stadium), there would be resistance. That’s because it was named in honour of those who fought and died during World War I and is considered by many to be a war memorial as well as a sporting arena.

“The people of Chicago don’t want their war memorial attached to a corporate name for money. It’s just not right. We’re Chicago and we’re Soldier Field, we’re not Jacksonville. There’s no tasteful way of attaching a corporate name to a war memorial. It’s a desecration.”
Pat Quinn, former Illinois Governor

So, there you have it. The Bengals have finally joined the fold and we now have 28 NFL arenas (SoFi Stadium and MetLife Stadium are shared) bearing the names of banks and financial institutions, car manufacturers, logistics businesses, energy companies, telecoms providers, even Hard Rock Café, all in pursuit of the almighty dollar. And given the unique situations in Green Bay and Chicago, I suspect that’s how it will stay for the foreseeable future. 

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The Watson Verdict: Six things to consider over six-game ban

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On Monday morning, Sue L. Robinson, the former federal judge independently appointed to rule on Deshaun Watson’s long-outstanding player conduct case ruled that he is to miss the first six games of the NFL season.

At the point of writing this, there has been no word on an appeal from the NFL, and the NFLPA as well as Deshaun Watson outlined that they would not appeal the decision yesterday prior to the judgment being revealed.

No matter the ruling, it was always going to be one that split opinion. There are those who will pledge ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and now point to two juries and an independently appointed judge and consider the matter closed after massive scrutiny. 

There are those who see there is no smoke without fire, especially as much smoke as 25 members of a class-action suit with their own stories, as well as another 25 or so who stepped forward but for one reason or another wasn’t part of the class action suit with their own stories, and will point to the fact that innocence beyond doubt or that missing six games in the highest-paid professional sports league in the world is justice when proof as a qualifier of guilt when it’s incredibly unlikely to obtain.

With the case being so high-profile and long-ranging as it’s waged over the past year and a half or so, there are a number of things to consider here when looking at the judgment through different lenses. Here’s six things we can take from the decision and Sue Robinson’s 16-page decision summary:

1. The judgment finds that Deshaun Watson sexually assaulted at least four masseuses in the eyes of the NFL

In the eyes of the Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson, the League was able to meet the burden of proof via preponderance that Deshaun Watson committed non-violent sexual assault by means of its definition in the players conduct, namely “unwanted sexual contact with another person” through a series of undisputed facts.

Sue Robinson found the circumstantial evidence of insisting to use a medium/small towel (or a Gatorade towel) increased exposure, and asking therapists to focus on areas that not uncommonly triggered erections made the prospect of sexual touching more likely. She judged that as the therapists didn’t return for future messages it was clear to all that the touching was unwanted.

It was also noted that Watson’s complete denial of even trivial aspects, such as ever getting an erection even during massaging areas where getting an erection would not be uncommon, led to the consideration of the evidence that may not in itself be seen as wrongful in isolation.

Watson was also found to have violated conduct in two other areas. Namely that he acted in a way that posed a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and putting the NFL into disrepute.

This is why Watson and his team believe there should be no games in a suspension, as to suspend him is to assign guilt of sexual conduct at least in the eyes of the league’s conduct policies.

There is also contention about the classification of non-violent sexual assault as the definition seems to be defined from the same classification as violent conduct i.e. domestic violence. Many detractors will note that all sexual assault is violent conduct. However, in line with the policy – this was deemed to be an uncontested point.

2. Watson’s future conduct remains a concern

Take from this what you will, but a further point to the one about a lack of exoneration is that the judge deemed it necessary to bake in a restriction that all massage therapy is to be conducted by club staff.

At many points in the decision document, we see the mention of a pattern of egregious behaviour and in fact a particular quote in the conclusion says that the ‘pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL’.

Even if it could be considered almost a given to showcase ‘next steps’ and guaranteeing progress in terms of a players conduct, it is clear that there are concerns about his future conduct and of egregious patterns continuing.

3. The NFL’s past leniency costs them here and that needs to change

Recently, Calvin Ridley was suspended for a whole season for placing a bet on an NFL game, while De’Andre Hopkins was given the same six-week ban for violating the PED protocols. When you add into this that over at Major League Baseball Trevor Bauer was given a two-year ban under the MLB’s domestic violence protocol, it makes for a question of standards and precedents that the NFL sets itself.

However, in this judgment Sue L. Robinson outlines that it is because of the NFL’s previous suspensions for domestic or gendered violence and sexual acts has been 6 games, and the minimum 6-game suspension is only outlined for violent conduct. It was uncontested that Watson did not engage in violent sexual assault. 

Robinson found it important to impose the ‘most significant punishment ever imposed on an NFL player for allegations of non-violent sexual conduct’ due to Watson’s egregious pattern of conduct. She felt it was the maximum that could be handed down as, in her role as Disciplinary Officer, she has to find a ‘fair’ and ‘consistent’ punishment in line with similarly situated players.

In other words, the NFL should look at the conduct policy before any future cases arise and beef up the potential games and fines to be incurred and have it codified, as there was no case law or indication of anything from 6 games onwards for non-violent misconduct.

There will be more than valid calls for Roger Goodell to dismiss the notion of fairness in this instance (again, from an employment policy perspective) and pass down a harsher sentence to act as a deterrent and future signpost for offenders of the policy in the future. As to whether that would be deemed as valid in this instance with or without a stretched out legal battle with Watson and the NFLPA is something to consider also.

4. Watson stands to lose very little from this

With the Browns contract starting low and building its cap-hit later in the contract, Watson’s outlay for the suspension stands to be just $333,333.

Questions will no doubt be raised at the Browns front office as to whether or not they structured the contract that way. However, the argument can also be made that other ‘superstar’ contracts negotiated by the team are pushing the larger sums down the road. It simply seems too convenient in this case when the numbers are presented.

What’s more, sports-washing is a very powerful thing. Moments after the judgment was passed down, several Browns fans were cheered Watson as he came out onto the training field. The League has created an environment where offenders of various conduct categories are celebrated, and we see their misconduct forgotten about amongst fans so long as they ball out.

5. The Browns stand to lose little from this, too

When looking at this purely from a sporting perspective, as many imagine those in the Browns front office have been doing since March, the Browns are viewing the trade with optimism that it could prove effective in creating a play-off window as early as this January.

The question of ‘but at what cost?’ will be one to wrestle with for many, but when looking at it on paper, a six-game suspension is probably the top-end of what the Browns would find palatable from a sporting aspect. Watson will be out for the following games:

  • Week 1 at Carolina
  • Week 2 v Jets
  • Week 3 v Steelers
  • Week 4 at Atlanta
  • Week 5 v Chargers
  • Week 6 v Patriots

Before then returning to face the Ravens on the road and the Bengals on a halloween Monday Night Football. The schedule was almost made for his return as well and negate the impact of a suspension. If you believe in such conspiracies of course(!)

To face losing teams from last year in 4 of 6, and in both road games means that the Browns will feel they’ve a serviceable chance in the first third of the season in handling Watson’s absence at .500 or better.

All this while his contract is also at its lowest point.

6. This isn’t the end of it

As Sue L. Robinson found misconduct and gave a suspension, the NFL still has an opportunity to give Watson more disciplinary action via. appeal.

From what we’ve seen from sources around the NFL, the League did push for a minimum of a year as well as a fine, and stuck to their guns during ‘settlement negotiations’ on a suspension whilst Sue L. Robinson was coming to her decision.

The League has until 9am Thursday to submit an appeal directly to Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, who would then give the final decision. 

An appeal might not be forthcoming, mind.

This is the first major incident to be trialled using the new player misconduct procedure outlined in the latest collective bargaining agreement. As such, the optics behind the League approaching the commissioner to overturn an independently appointed judge at the first time of asking would be damaging to the always-fractured relationship between the League and their Players’ Association.

You can read Sue L. Robinson’s judgment by clicking here

Believeland Brits Podcast focused on the Watson verdict in their latest episode which you can listen to on your favoured podcast provider by going to its linktree:

Our 2022 NFL Season Guide is now available to pre-order. With over 160 pages packed with previews, reviews and opinions from fans across the league and the UK, this is the comprehensive NFL UK fan guide written by NFL UK fans. Log on to and enter code FULL10 for 10% off your copy today.

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Checkmate: The NFL’s Top Chess Players

At first glance, there’s very little that football has in common with chess. Football is physical, violent and played at full speed, with each player trying to batter everyone standing in their way. Chess, on the other hand, is a battle of minds. It’s two opponents trying to out-think one another rather than pulverise them.

But if you dig deeper, football’s not just about who’s bigger, stronger or faster. There are game plans and playbooks, mental preparation and strategic analysis. And on the field, some positions – quarterback and defensive back spring most readily to mind – are a lot like chess. You need to read the whole field/board in front of you, know the capabilities of each player/piece, interpret your opponent’s plans and predict several moves in advance. 

So it shouldn’t be that surprising that quite a few NFL players enjoy a game of chess, and even use it to improve their football. And being athletes in a sport awash with rankings and data, there are naturally going to want to know who’s the best at the ‘royal game’.

So, who is the best chess player in the NFL?    

There has been little empirical evidence up till now, mainly because these guys don’t face each other very often. But last weekend, ran a two-day online ‘rapid chess’ tournament called BlitzChamps. Six NFL players were invited to compete for a share of a $100,000 charity prize fund.

And our very first champion? Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.

Initially, Awuzie was up against Browns WR Amari Cooper and Giants outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux in Group A. The much-fancied Cooper won both of his round-robin matches, but Awuzie also advanced to the semi-finals. This was despite a slip of the mouse that cost him one game against Cooper and a pre-programmed move that went wrong in the other. The banter between them after the blunder was one of the highlights of the event.  

Meanwhile, veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead and former Dolphins cornerback Will Davis (a late stand-in for Micah Parsons) made up Group B. Fitzgerald and Davis progressed to the semi-finals.

On the Sunday, Awuzie knocked out Fitzgerald 2-0. He needed just 18 moves to win the first game and while the second was closer, Awuzie was confident enough to risk pre-programming more moves, then sit back to watch them unfold. Amari Cooper triumphed against Davis in the other semi 1.5-0.5, winning one game and tying the other, to set up an AFC North rematch in the final.

After some back and forth, Awuzie exacted his revenge with a 2-0 win to claim the inaugural BlitzChamps crown. He also won $25,000 for the Awuzie Kickstep Foundation, while Cooper secured $22,500 for his chosen cause, The Barnyard.

So Awuzie, who has thousands of online games logged on, has bragging rights over Cooper for now. But it won’t count for anything come Halloween, when the Bengals and Browns next meet on the football field.

How can chess help with football?

Another participant in the competition, rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, is no stranger to chess. He even attributed part of his success to the game in his first interview after being drafted by the Giants.

The former Oregon edge rusher also told the Draft Network: “Chess is life and chess is football. You talk about your first move, and your first move is going to set up your second move, then your third move.”

Thibodeaux was drawn to chess by the chance to compete against his uncles. They didn’t take it easy on him and when he got tired of losing, he went online and taught himself more about the game.

Dallas’ Micah Parsons was originally down to compete this weekend but was seemingly unable to fulfil the commitment. He too has also spoken about the role chess plays in his football career. He even compares the various chess pieces with positions on the football field, claiming his role as linebacker equates to the queen, the most versatile piece on the board.

Naturally, he sees the king – the piece you have to defend at all costs to avoid defeat – as the quarterback.     

Who else is good at chess?

If we’re looking for players – other than the absent Micah Parsons – who might compete next time, Kyler Murray must be a hot favourite. The Cardinals QB has been playing chess since fourth grade and left Degan Elementary in Lewisville, Texas, as his school’s champion.

He mainly plays on the Chess With Friends app, but also took on Fitzgerald in real life when they were together in Arizona. Back in 2019, he told ESPN, “I think just I was born with the feel of just how to see things before they happen.” Handy for chess and playing QB.

Oklahoma Athletics

Apparently, Murray was disappointed not to feature in last weekend’s tournament. On finding out, the organisers sent a tweet asking him to get in touch. Alas, that offer wasn’t taken up. Fitzgerald joked that Murray probably shouldn’t be invited anyway, so that other people can win something for a change. So he sounds quite good!

Another quarterback, Joe Burrow, has played chess since elementary school and is another potential contender. Although relatively inexperienced, he and Awuzie have done battle in the Bengals locker room. His teammate may be Cincy’s – and the league’s – chess champion for now but I suspect Burrow won’t be content with that situation. He’ll be keen to ramp up his game and who knows, he may be able to give Chido and Amari a run for their money next time. 

Chess power rankings, anyone?

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The Pro Bowl is broken, how can we fix it?

The Pro Bowl has been a hot topic around the league this week, as the NFL and its owners are discussing the future of the game at this week’s owners meeting in Atlanta.

Those around the league are finally starting to notice that the current format of the Pro Bowl is dying. The actual game has been below-par for ages, the players play at less than full speed, attempting not to get hurt. That was made very evident in the 2021 game, where it seemed even more so than usual.

The game always used to be in Hawaii, but has recently been played in Orlando and Las Vegas, an attempt to spice things up a bit, but also where the money is at.

Roger Goodell, the league’s commissioner has had his say on the situation at a press conference this week, stating “I think the conclusion was that the game itself, doesn’t work. And that we needed to find a different way to celebrate our players. Celebrate the fact that, these being our Pro Bowler players, the best players in our league, and give them an opportunity to celebrate that with our fans. We talked an awful lot about some of the events around the Pro Bowl are really extremely popular, whether it’s the quarterback challenge or some of the other events, so those are things that we’ll probably build on.”

What I can take away from what Goodell has said there, is that those in the meeting are discussing multiple ways to change up the event. Perhaps removing the game entirely, instead focusing on the popular skills challenge that’s held in the lead up to the game, as well as some other alternatives to celebrate the players.

I like that as an option, but I believe I can make it better. I have a few ideas that I think the league should consider.

One of those is making it an all-day event, having the skills challenge first, before finishing with a flag football game. It keeps the game element of the Pro Bowl, but offers something that’s new and most importantly should be very entertaining.

Having a flag football game should seem more enticing to the players too, as there’s no chance of a contact caused injury. It would also be no way near as long and drag as much as the Pro Bowl game has in recent years.

Like what Goodell told the media this week, the QB target challenge is perhaps the best part of the entire event, seeing ‘some’ of the league’s best quarterbacks, and non-QB’s show off their arm strength and accuracy. Dodgeball is always great, I’d keep that, as is the gauntlet, and any sort of catching challenge.

I put an emphasis on the ‘some’ just then because one of the worst things about the current Pro Bowl format is the fact that the players of the teams in the Super Bowl can’t take part in it, due to the fact it’s played on the Sunday between the Conference Championship weekend and the big game. I’d put it back to when it used to be, a week after the Super Bowl.

2022 saw a new challenge make its debut, the fastest man race that put four of the quickest players, two from each conference, up against each other over a 40-yard dash. The race, won by Micah Parsons after a Tyreek Hill stumble was awesome this year, but it could be better. Make it a 100m sprint. My only gripe was that the race was only a couple of seconds long. This solves that.

It should 100% remain an AFC vs NFC game and event, whatever the future holds. The NBA style all-star game they trialled between 2013 and 2015 didn’t work.

One last thing I think the league should consider is putting the Pro Bowl on tour, as they do for the draft. It would probably make the event better as different teams and cities would want to put on a show. The game could even go international. I believe it would work in the UK, Germany or Mexico.

Even if they keep the game as it is, but use a couple of these suggestions, that’s still an improvement on the current Pro Bowl. What would you do to fix it? Let us know on Twitter.