Patriots-Chiefs, NFL power rankings, Andrew Luck injury and Sheldon Richardson trade


A new NFL season upon us, and for me, that has always meant a time to reflect on why we love the game of football so much.

Concussions, Roger Goodell and Colin Kaepernick debates. Domestic violence, millionaire holdouts and the legislation of violence.

Regardless of your football and political leanings, the NFL has provided something for everyone to be enraged about recently. It has become en vogue to hammer away at the league for doing too much or not enough, depending on views and circumstances.

Some say football is doomed as a giant past it’s cultural prime, now fading into the twilight, slowly but surely. Legions point to declining ratings a year ago and an increased view that what once was a test of manhood is now barbaric and destructive. In this, and most instances of this thing we call life, there are considerable shades of gray.

But shades of gray don’t make you wait through the commercial for the next SportsCenter segment, and they sure as hell don’t provoke a reader into clicking through.

The NFL has endured struggles, both self-inflicted and otherwise, since its birth in 1920. It almost folded during World War II and faced a crisis in the 1980s with a pair of labor stoppages that stretched deep into the regular season.

Now it faces a host of issues, ranging from the on-field product to the early perishing of former players who can’t remember what hotel room they checked into.

For all of its problems, though, the sport of football remains a shining light of Americana in its purest form. In 1994, former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell had a moment of epiphany during an interview with NFL Films for its documentary, 75 seasons.

“Professional football is the greatest social common denominator that man has ever known,” Modell said.

Modell was, and is, correct. For all our various forms of entertainment, the United States is most connected on Sunday afternoons, millions glued to their television sets. It is football that brings together blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, men and women.

Everyone who is enthralled with football has their own story.

For me, I can still remember the lights. Fluorescent and consistent, inserted into a particle-board drop ceiling behind a yellow-tinted covering.

The hospital was quiet, save for the beeping of machines in rooms for critically ill patients. The 5-year-old boy in coat and boots was waiting for care, sitting next to his father who was staring intently at his son.

We all have snippets in time that we randomly remember for reasons unknown. On this cold January morning in New York’s Catskill Mountains, my father observed me on the verge of tears. He alarmingly asked what was wrong.

“The game is on at 4 o’clock,” I howled. “I’m fine. We have to leave, I don’t want to miss it.”

A relieved parent laughed, a scared boy chuckled, and the game wouldn’t be missed.

Hours later, after I was discharged with the diagnosis of a mild panic attack (for reasons still unknown), the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers kicked off in the Astrodome. A week earlier, Joe Montana had led our Chiefs to an improbable overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium, with ample aid from a blocked punt by tight end Keith Cash.

My enduring image of that game? A crying kid on his dad’s shoulders, a blocked punt moments later, said dad running around the living room screaming in ecstasy, and said crying, now-confused kid celebrating the tears away.

Back to Houston. After falling behind 10-0 in the first half, Joe Cool led a 21-point barrage in the fourth quarter, lifting the Chiefs to their first AFC Championship Game since 1969. It would be 22 years until my father and I got to celebrate another playoff victory.

For me, and millions of others, football is a shared experience. It’s about coming together with those we love, whether that’s family and friends at home, in a bar or at the stadium. Watching the games and seeing your team win would mean considerably less if not celebrated with others.

When I think of my football roots, I think of a child watching NFL Films, learning about the history of this league and always wanting more. I sat down every Sunday and Monday night, taking in a game that transfixed me with its grace, drama, athleticism and, yes, violence.

Watching football was a way to connect to my father, someone who often worked out of town. When he made his nightly phone call, I wanted to have something to talk about in those autumn months. Before the days of NFL Sunday Ticket, there was the iconic NFL Primetime. That show was literally life-changing for my family, helping a young boy keep tabs on his favorite team, which so happened to play halfway across the country.

When the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs kick off the NFL’s 98th season, all the ugliness will fall away for a few hours. Some will criticize that stance, but so be it. I want football to be safer, smarter, and tougher on domestic violence while simultaneously doing a better job with investigations. All of those things are incredibly important.

But come Thursday night, Carrie Underwood will start signing, Al Michaels will welcome us in and the Patriots and Chiefs will play. As for me, I’ll be glued to the screen, falling in love with football all over again.

Power rankings

Watchability of Week 1 games

1. Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
2. Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
3. New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
4. Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans
5. Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos
6. Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions
7. Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins
9. Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
10. New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings


"“They’re trying to create a grand conspiracy story where none exists.”"

– NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart, regarding the NFLPA’s claim over the Ezekiel Elliott case

From Feb. 2015 through Aug. 2016, we saw the NFL and Tom Brady wage war over DeflateGate. Ultimately, Brady lost, and the superstar quarterback had to serve a controversial four-game suspension. Now, the league finds itself in another ugly feud with a star, this time Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The NFLPA is alleging that the league is withholding serious information that could prove Elliott’s guilt. The NFL is predictably saying this is a lie, and taking shots at the union along the way. For its part, the union has already filed for a temporary restraining order, which if granted, would keep Elliott on the field while his case goes to court. This would apply unless Henderson completely reverses the NFL’s findings.

For now, Elliott remains suspended for the first six games of the regular season.


Don Banks joins me to talk about life in New England without Julian Edelman, and why the Jets aren’t going 0-16. Later, Josh Hill stops by in his weekly segment to tell you why the Minnesota Vikings are overrated.

This week, I preview each and every one of the games including predictions and betting lines. Josh Hill stops by not only for his weekly “Dying on the Hill” segment, but to chat all things NFL. Plus, which game has playoff implications in Week 1? Sounds crazy, but I’ll break it all down.

Random stat

The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams are one of the game’s great rivalries from a historic standpoint, but it wasn’t always that way. Between 1990-99, the 49ers beat the Rams on 17 straight occasions, the second-longest win streak of one divisional opponent over another.

The longest ever came from 1970-79, when the Miami Dolphins beat the Buffalo Bills a whopping 20 consecutive times.

Info learned this week

1. Andrew Luck unlikely to play Week 1

The Indianapolis Colts don’t want to admit it, but they botched Andrew Luck’s injury from the jump. Now, owner Jim Irsay is finally admitting that Luck is all but out for Indianapolis’ season-opener against the Los Angeles Rams. Frankly, it would be a surprise if Luck plays in September, considering he hasn’t practiced once this summer.

The 2012 first-overall pick had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in January, with the expectation that he would be ready to start the season. Instead, it looks like Scott Tolzien will be under center come Sept. 10, a sentence that should send a shiver down the collective spines of Colts fans.

Without Luck, Indianapolis is dead on arrival. The Colts arguably have one of the bottom-three rosters in the NFL. In a year that will make or break Chuck Pagano, this isn’t a good beginning.

2. Seahawks acquire Sheldon Richardson from Jets

On Friday, the Seattle Seahawks added another stud to an already loaded defense with the acquisition of Sheldon Richardson from the New York Jets. Seattle also received a 2018 seventh-round pick, while the Jets got receiver Jermaine Kearse, and 2018 second and seventh-round selections in return.

Richardson is scheduled to become a free agent in March, so this could be a one-year rental for the Seahwks. Still, Seattle realizes that its core is aging, and is likely hoping to take one more shot at a ring before recalibrating the roster.

The move isn’t without risk, as Richardson has been suspended in each of the last two seasons. Still, if he keeps himself out of trouble and focused on a large deal seven months from now, the duo could make beautiful music together in the Emerald City.

3. Broncos sign Brock Osweiler

The Denver Broncos were lucky a year ago. They reportedly offered Brock Osweiler a four-year deal with $16-17 million annually, only to be outbid by the Houston Texans. Now, general manager John Elway has his man, signing Osweiler to a one-year, $775,000 deal.

The Cleveland Browns, who released Osweiler over the weekend, are on the hook for $15.25 million this year. Houston originally traded him to Cleveland, surrendering a 2018 second-round pick simply to get him off the books.

Osweiler is one of the biggest free-agency busts in NFL history. Last March, he came to terms on a four-year, $72 million deal with Houston but was benched in Week 15. All told, he tossed 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while completing 59 percent of his throws. He comes to Denver as Trevor Siemian’s backup, keeping the seat warm for Paxton Lynch, as he recovers rom a shoulder injury.

This is a weird, strange journey for both Osweiler and the Broncos.

4. Buccaneers upgrade with T.J. Ward

The Broncos made another eyebrow-raising move on Saturday, releasing former All-Pro safety T.J. Ward. Ward, 30, took less than 24 hours to find another team, signing a one-year, $5 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ward should slide into the strong safety role alongside Chris Conte, who was retained this offseason.

Ward can’t do much in coverage, but he can drop down into the box and provide run support. He also gives the young Buccaneers a veteran presence and a swagger, something that should be beneficial in the tough NFC South.

5. Steelers add talented trio for Week 1

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been very busy over the past week. After a summer-long holdout, All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell has signed his franchise tag and will be ready for Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns. Bell will be joined by wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who the NFL reinstated on Friday afternoon after a year-long ban.

Finally, general manager Kevin Colbert made a serious splash by signing cornerback Joe Haden to a three-year, $27 million deal. Haden, 28, isn’t the star he once was, but remains a viable corner who can help this lackluster secondary. After being cut by the Browns on Wednesday, it made sense that Haden, who reportedly had better monetary offers, went somewhere he felt a championship was possible.

History lesson

Commonly-accepted thought says that expansion teams need years before becoming a contender, but history shows us that isn’t always the case.

Since the AFL-NFL in 1970, there have been six expansion teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to be in 1976 and after a historic 0-26 start, they hosted the NFC Championship Game in 1979. In 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers were born. Only one year alter, both were in their respective conference championship games.

Of course, things aren’t always so simple. The Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans are still waiting to reach that point, while the Seattle Seahawks played 38 season before finally winning a Super Bowl.

Parting shot

The NFC has a half-dozen teams that could make a legitimate Super Bowl run, and somehow the Atlanta Falcons seem to be lost in the shuffle.

Atlanta went 11-5 last year and rolled through the Seahawks and Packers on the way to Super Sunday, only to fall in devastating fashion to New England. Is the silence around the Falcons because people believe they are mentally damaged goods, or simply because the hype train is roaring in Seattle and Green Bay.

The Falcons don’t have the defense of the Seahawks, and Matt Ryan isn’t Aaron Rodgers. Still, Atlanta has the best roster in the conference as a collective unit. The Falcons are the fastest team in football and can beat you in a low-scoring affair or a contest that requires 35 points.

Ultimately, it is very hard to reach the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons. Only the Patriots and Seahawks have done it this century. Still, Atlanta deserves more respect that its getting, because that’s a damn good team waiting to be challenged for its title belt.