Wednesday, November 2, 2016

NFL Wednesday Morning Thoughts: Week Eight

How Bout Dem Cowboys?
Flashback to when Dallas flew to Seattle to play in their preseason contest. A healthy, confident Tony Romo had his sights set on leading his Cowboys on another playoff run, maybe even win a Lombardi trophy in the process. This was how the story was supposed to go, that is, until a broken bone in Romo's back temporarily put those dreams on hold. 

Until Dak Prescott picked those dreams up and ran with them.

The rookie quarterback has lead Dallas to the NFC's best record at 6-1 amid adversity. If Dallas is truly "America's Team", Prescott has undoubtedly earned Captain America recognition. Alongside the best offensive line in football combined with the hottest back in the league (Ezekiel Elliott, you might want to look him up) the Cowboys offense has made tremendous strides since their week one loss against the New York Giants. Yet one of the few unappreciated factors that has gotten Dallas to this point is the performance on defense, something defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli deserves tremendous praise for. Let's not forget that two seasons ago, this unit was supposed to be a joke of historical proportions. 

Yet here we are, drinking coffee on a Wednesday morning following a key divisional win against Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football. Dallas holds a two game lead over everyone else in the NFC East, and behind the power of Ezekiel Elliott's running, only look to grow the gap from this point moving forward. When Romo returns and who should start is another issue for another article, but it's hard to imagine any decision being the wrong one considering how the team is performing. 

Derek Carr: Quarterback, Raider, MVP? 
You know how every year, there's always hype around Oakland and they always seem to find a way to fluster? Don't look now, but those Raiders are actually fulfilling the prophecy thus far. A surprising 6-2 record in arguably the toughest division in football? I'll buy it. The wins haven't all been pretty, however they all count in the W/L column as a win, and that's damn pretty in itself. The team's success up to this point can largely be attributed to the play of Derek Carr, and the numbers don't lie. 2321 passing yards (ranked 5th), 17 touchdowns (ranked 3rd) to just 3 interceptions and a 100.9 passer rating.

The progression of Carr has been remarkable to watch since his first start in the league. For his family, it's what brother David Carr might have been. For Raider Nation, it's what Jamarcus Russell should have been. In all honesty, with the young slew of quarterback talent in the NFL (Winston, Mariota, Wentz, Prescott, etc.) it's hard to make a case for any of those listed to be above Carr. Derek's play has indeed led Oakland to new heights, and has officially given 2016 the "playoffs or bust" title. 

Another test awaits Carr and company as a Sunday Night Football match-up with fellow 6-2 team Denver will decide who controls the division, for now. Denver's defense remains one of the best in the league, and will provide a proven test for Oakland's offense. Even if a loss ensues for the Raiders, there's no doubting the impact of Derek Carr's presence on the field and what he does. With the help of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, Carr has built quite the serious case for league MVP, something that hasn't been accomplished in Oakland since Rich Gannon was slinging the ball for the silver and black back in 2002. Should history repeat itself 14 years later, Oakland has to love the direction their third year signal-caller is taking them. 

Down With Thursday Night Football
With all the hubbub of NFL ratings looming over the almighty shield that Roger Goodell will protect and defend at all costs, I'd imagine a conversation in the league office goes something like this:

 "I wonder why viewership is down?"

"Hmm, I'm not sure. Hey I gotta cut this conversation short, the Jaguars/Titans game is about to start and I NEED to watch it". 

Thursday Night Football has long been a joke in the world of football, however in 2016, the sad excuse of a prime-time game is really trying to out-do itself. With games such as Titans/Jaguars, Bengals/Dolphins and Patriots/Texans have been shown on Thursday night, is it too much to wonder where the league is going wrong? These games are supposed to be marquee match-ups. To put an analogy to the picture, the league is essentially trying to throw something at a wall until it sticks. Unfortunately, it's a rare occasion where the game actually follows through on the "hype" built by the league. 

In all honesty, while the ratings are down, the league shouldn't be too worried. As long as fantasy football and money co-exist, and there's a player who's game is on Thursday night, people will watch.
However the product given to us as consumers on Thursday night's has been completely atrocious, and the league's slither of hope appears to rest on a Cowboys/Vikings matchup in December. Until then, fans are stuck watching week after week of intolerable football.

I don't pay for Thursday Night Football, but I sure as hell want my money back. 

It's Not You, It's Jamie
Everybody is still trying to decipher another one of Bill Belichick's "???" trades, yet this one might be the hardest of them all. News broke on Monday that New England will be shipping linebacker Jamie Collins, one of the Patriots better defensive players, to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a compensatory third round pick. 

After trading Chandler Jones to Arizona earlier this year, the thought was to create cap space to sign Collins, who was in the final year of his rookie contract, to a long-term deal. After this most recent deal with Cleveland, nobody can truly evaluate the motivation of Belichick's move. The only reasonable explanation is the Patriots have something tricky planned up their sleeve, and that makes me feel uncomfortable. Or perhaps Belichick is still wound-up over those pesky tablets and acted upon his ill feelings. 

In all seriousness, there are few signs to say what was truly the thought process behind the trade. The most favorable theory resides that Jamie asked for "Von Miller" money, and those obviously were the wrong words to blurt out at the negotiation table. 

As unconventional as this trade may seem, it may actually come to a win-win scenario. Cleveland now has a piece they can build around in their front seven, and New England now has more cap space to sign Malcolm Butler, Dont'a Hightower or even bring in a free agent in the off-season. Time will tell if the Patriots are simply playing chess while we watch checkers, or if the Browns truly pulled the better end of the stick.

Number of the Week: 23
This is the amount of penalties called against the Oakland Raiders in last Sunday's contest against Tampa Bay, breaking the all-time record for most penalties for one team in a game. 

Quote of the Week: 
"Who’s No. 88?" Norman asked, referring to official Brad Freeman. "He sucked. I’ll be honest with you, he was terrible. I feel some of the plays going on out there, I mean, it was terrible. It’s just how I’m feeling and how the team feels right now. It needs to be watched and reprimanded. They reprimand us, so what’s the reprimand for them?"
 - A very fired up Josh Norman, after a game where the Redskins lock-down cornerback was flagged on multiple plays. 

Tweet of the Week: 

"Poor Jamie Collins. Going from the Patriots to the Browns would be like going from a Rolls-Royce to a toaster." -@AdamRank

Donnie Druin is an award-winning sports writer from the Arizona Newspaper Association. Follow him on Twitter @DonnieDruin to keep updated on every sport you love, or just to scold him for another poor choice of "Tweet of the Week" because you can't drive a toaster, stupid. 

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