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This Week in Football – London calling the Chargers, dark horses, Taco Bell

OUR TOP STORY

The logistical challenges of putting an NFL team in London would be exceptionally difficult to overcome. There’s scheduling, making sure the players’ bodies are taken care of with the excessive travel, potentially realigning divisions, new playoff scheduling and plenty of other obstacles.

But doing something challenging without a good plan is right up the Los Angeles Chargers’ alley.

Vincent Bonsignore of The Athletic reported on Monday night that the NFL has had discussions about moving the Chargers to London, and that the franchise would at least consider listening to a proposal.

More over, according to Bonsignore’s report, the rest of the NFL’s owners are apparently concerned about how the Chargers are doing in Los Angeles to the point where they would support a potential move.

It’s incredible that a situation everyone knew would be a disaster has predictably turned into one, and now the league is willing to make it an even bigger mess.

The caveat here is that the franchise is “committed” to staying in Los Angeles and moving into SoFi Stadium, along with the Rams, next season. However, the mere concept that a team would listen to a proposal to move overseas is preposterous.

Then again, for a team that’s proven it’s willing to do the wrong thing despite everyone warning them not to do it, it’s all too believable.

The Chargers never should have left San Diego. Obviously there were monetary reasons behind the move, ones which made the other NFL franchises more than happy to support it. The Chargers had to pay $645 million in relocation fees, which is a good amount of being distributed among the rest of the league.

Unlike the Rams, though, whose team value jumped $1.4 billion after moving from St. Louis to L.A., the Chargers’ value jumped a fraction of that, just approximately $200 million.

But, again, more money for the league is going to get plenty of votes for approval every single time. And now the Chargers can bask in the glow of a brand new super stadium in Southern California. Of course, they’ll just be tenants in a stadium owned by the Rams. And they’re never going to have a huge contingent of their own fans because that fan base dried up drastically when they moved up from San Diego. And regardless of the big new stadium and bigger market they’re still a laughing stock because of the way the franchise has treated its fans.

Los Angeles, though.

The point is that the Chargers have been more than willing to spit in the face of common sense before, and by suggesting that they would even listen to a proposal to move 5,400 miles away they’re doing so again.

The NFL’s London sideshow is already a hassle for the players and coaches involved. That’s not to say there aren’t positives to a degree. With games that kick off at 8:30 a.m. central time in the U.S., American fans get to watch three more hours of football on Sunday mornings, which the diehards are never going to complain about. Plus, it gives British fans a chance to actually go to a game and experience the NFL.

Is that enough to justify moving an entire franchise over there?

There’s irony at play here with the whole situation. Los Angeles was used as a bargaining chip by individual teams and the league for years, with constant threats that a team would move to L.A. if a city didn’t fork over money for a fancy, new stadium. After more than a decade of those threats, the city was suddenly inundated with forced NFL fever. The Chargers and Rams both made the move to a city already infatuated more with the NBA, MLB and college athletics than it is with the NFL. At least the Rams have history in the city, whereas the Chargers were definitive property of San Diego, a city which is a cultural rival of Los Angeles.

Now, a team that was forced upon the people of L.A. is being dangled out there as a candidate to move to the NFL’s newest scary city, London. We’ve heard talk for years now about the possibility and plausibility of a team moving to London, similarly to the L.A. situation, although putting a team in the United Kingdom was and is a far more absurd proposition than going to the U.S.’s second-largest city.

It’s utterly insane that this is even a conversation piece.

The Spanos family already sold its soul once when it moved the franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles. They and their team are now widely mocked for playing in a soccer stadium and having no fans in their home city. That’s a much tougher pill to swallow than just being mocked for never winning a big game when it counts (all apologies to Marlon McCree).

If the NFL really wants to put a team in London, it will get it done at some point. It wanted a team to eventually move to Los Angeles and it got that done, forcefully so, after years of debate and posturing. It’s going to be a logistical nightmare to figure out, one that’s going to create a series of messes for a league that should be cleaning up the ones it already has right now as opposed to creating new ones.

The entire concept of putting a team in England and all the challenges that come with that is patently ridiculous. Which, in a way, makes the Chargers franchise the perfect fit. 

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*Stop kicking field goals. When you’re a bad team with no hope for this season it doesn’t pay to play with aggressive conservatism. With that in mind, it’s incomprehensible that Pat Shurmur would choose to kick four field goals in a Monday night loss to the Cowboys, all of which were inside of 30 yards. Yes, four field goals from distances including 21, 25, 26 and 29 yards. His Giants lost 37-18, for what it’s worth. The new-school way of thinking is based on aggression far more than the old school, with those who believe kicking the field goal on fourth down isn’t always the best decision often being the most vocal opponents of coaches like Shurmur. While there’s merit to both sides of the argument, it’s hard to support coaching decisions that lead to a bad team not taking a chance to beat a better team. It’s playing scared. What good does a 29-yard field goal in the fourth quarter do the 2019 New York Giants? It doesn’t do any good. New York’s problems go beyond the coach, but he’s hardly helping matters. It’s nonsensical decision making like going for four short field goals instead of taking a chance that sours a coach with a fan base (and the rest of the NFL) posthaste. If you choose to kick that often in those situations you always deserve to lose.

*Minshew Mania may be drawing to a close. The Jacksonville rookie quarterback has done an admirable job so far this season and, frankly, if he keeps the job the rest of the season the Jaguars may not be any worse shape than if they make a change. But at 4-5 for the year and off of a blowout loss to the Texans in London in Week 9 the urge to bring back Nick Foles is as strong as ever. He’s eligible to come off of injured reserve and with a playoff chance getting smaller with each loss time is more and more of the essence. Foles is the $88 million man and with that responsibility comes a near requirement for the franchise to actually play him if he’s able to go. At this stage of their respective careers Foles is the better quarterback, which makes him the sensible play. Then again, the Jaguars have become one of the most fun stories in the league because of Minshew’s eccentricities and exciting (albeit inconsistent) play. Jacksonville will have to make a tough call this offseason in deciding what to do with their two quarterbacks, but for now it makes sense why a switch back to Foles could be in the cards.

*Andy Reid probably won’t win coach of the year this year because there are a handful of other candidates who are leading teams that had much lower expectations to potential playoff runs. However, what he’s done in the last two weeks with Matt Moore at quarterback in place of an injured Patrick Mahomes deserves a mass quantity of credit. After being out of football last year and scouting before the Chiefs called him up this year, Moore has thrown for 542 yards while completing 69% of his passes in two starts. That’s remarkable. Reid designed a scheme that took pressure off the quarterback while allowing Kansas City’s elite crew of playmakers to do what they do best. Moore probably wouldn’t be doing as well with less gifted receivers than Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins at his disposal, but that doesn’t reduce the role Reid has played in re-crafting the offense to fit his current passer. The Chiefs will be measurably better once Mahomes returns at (nearly) full health, but they’ve done about as well as possible for being stuck in a tough situation.

*It’s probably best to stay off Twitter after a physically and emotionally exhausting football game. The Browns lost in extremely 2019 Browns fashion to the Brandon Allen-led Broncos this weekend, and after the game Cleveland safety Jermaine Whitehead decided to go online. Unsurprisingly, after a poor game by him and the team overall, there were plenty of unhappy fans on Twitter who were more than willing to either mention him by name or straight-up tag him in tweets. Whitehead saw all this and decided to lash out in a heinous way.

The tweets contain vulgarities, slurs and violent threats. That isn’t defensible in any way. Fans rarely have to face any sort of comeuppance for being crass toward players, which has to be intensely frustrating at times, but threatening violence and cursing out randos on the internet is embarrassing and unhinged behavior. Unsurprisingly, the Browns waived Whitehead, and it’s going to be difficult for him to convince another team that he’s worth a shot this year. Following up a terrible game with a flurry of attacks courtesy of your Twitter fingers will always be a bad way to handle criticism.

LAMAR JACKSON DID WHAT THIS WEEK?

Lamar Jackson continued to rapidly ascend up the list of MVP favorites this week.

This is just one example of him making the Patriots, who had the best defense in the NFL through eight weeks, look utterly foolish on Sunday night. He cooked New England for 60 minutes. The Ravens revamped their offense this year to fit Jackson’s skillset, and he’s taken that change and run with it (literally) to the point where he is one of the most dangerous weapons in the league.

His running ability is what frustrates you, but when you mix it with his severely underrated throwing ability he approaches the “impossible to defend” realm. For example, does this next throw remind you of anyone? Perhaps a certain reigning MVP?

We know he can shred you on the ground. But if he’s making throws like this with any consistency he’s going to have a genuine claim for the MVP award this year.

STAT OF THE WEEK

CBS featured this stat on the broadcast of Jets versus Dolphins this week, and it’s both incredible and also entirely believable.

We’ve touched on Adam Gase’s incompetence before, but it’s jarring to see numbers back up ineptitude like this. The Jets lost to the Dolphins this week. Their future franchise quarterback isn’t getting any help. A bunch of key players are hurt. Their coach is absolutely clueless. If Gase gets a second year in New York it is an all-time failure by the Jets franchise. There’s no room for excusing his coaching and it will always be too late for him to be relieved of his duties. This stat seems impossible, but Adam Gase continues to amaze us in truly spectacular ways.

FOOTBALL FOLLIES

Even the largest, most monstrous football players are incredible athletes. These are guys that, for the most part, have had intense dietary and caloric-intake plans since college and are in the peak of physical shape because of how they handle their bodies.

Then there’s Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon, the most relatable man in the NFL.

“Matthew Judon, body built by Taco Bell.”

Put him in the Pro Bowl, vote him an all-pro, send him to the Hall of Fame. Matthew Judon is a man of the people, finally someone that average Joes around the country can relate to and see themselves in. As you sit there on Sunday night pounding a $5 Double Chalupa box dripping with Volcano Sauce, you can know that there’s a gifted, physically impressive NFL player who wishes he was in your shoes. Grand Valley State University probably isn’t thrilled it’s getting pushed aside for Judon to effectively advertise the Crunchwrap Supreme, but the man is proud of what he loves and we should all respect that.

And, of course, we have to get to the cat.

First of all, Kevin Harlan doing play-by-play of on-field chicanery is still one of the best elements of all NFL media. Secondly, animals on the field are endlessly entertaining. This cat lingered around for quite some time and technically caused an official delay.

WEEKLY TOP 5: DARK HORSE PLAYOFF CANDIDATES

With eight weeks to go this season, it’s hard to imagine that the 12 teams currently in the playoff picture will all make it to the postseason. These five teams have the best chance of busting through and making it into the field despite being on the outside for now.

  1. Los Angeles Rams – The Rams are one spot out of the playoff picture in the NFC right now. That’s by far the superior conference, but it’s difficult to write off the defending NFC champions just yet. There are things that need to be figured out still, like any kind of improvement by the offensive line, but there’s too much talent in L.A. to give up yet.
  2. Los Angeles Chargers – Mere weeks ago it seemed like the Chargers were dead to rites, but they pulled off a shocking upset when they dominated the Green Bay Packers this Sunday and suddenly they’re scary again. There’s next to zero chance they catch the Chiefs in the AFC West, but if they can avoid losing any more key pieces to injury (which is a huge “if” for this team) they might sneak in still.
  3. Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton has missed almost the entire season, the Panthers lost the two games he played and yet they’re still in the thick of the playoff hunt. Thanks to an MVP candidate in Christian McCaffrey and a top-10 defense Carolina has done more than enough to support quarterback Kyle Allen. It’s a lot to ask of those two entities to keep up their extremely high level of play, but it’s definitely possible.
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers – The AFC is not particularly good beyond the division leaders, which opens the door for the Steelers, who aren’t particularly good in their own right. That said, Mason Rudolph is doing well enough to keep the Pittsburgh offense afloat. With games against the Jets, Cardinals, Bengals and two against the Browns remaining on the schedule, a 9+ win season is still in play.
  5. Oakland Raiders – The main reason why the Raiders get this nod over the Eagles is because the Eagles have far stiffer competition in the NFC than the Raiders do in the AFC. Oakland picked up a big win over the Lions in Week 9, and now its final eight opponents have a .371 combined winning percentage. That’s one of the easiest schedules remaining for any team in the NFL.

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