With Tyreek Hill avoiding suspension, the Kansas City Chiefs are instantly Super Bowl favorites and the NFL’s biggest lightning rod.
Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs became a national sensation behind Patrick Mahomes’ breakout campaign. This year, they will be equal parts loved and loathed.
The former remains because of a high-octane offense spearheaded by the game’s Kermit-voiced star. The latter is because of Tyreek Hill not only remaining on the team, but doing so without an ounce of punishment from the league.
There will be arguments from Chiefs fans stating Hill is the victim here. They’ve already painted him as having being railroaded by the local media in attempts to gain clicks and ratings. Rightfully so, many in Kansas City have criticized local CBS affiliate KCTV5 for not playing the full 11-minute audio clip of Hill and fiancé Crystal Espinal, instead playing only two and a half minutes while claiming the rest wasn’t of note. When 610 radio in Kansas City did play the full clip earlier this month, it revealed plenty of important context, painting KCTV5 as having an agenda.
A quick glance at social media shows a medium awash with arrowhead-wearing patrons screaming Hill only received justice when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decided against suspending the superstar receiver.
Then there’s the national viewpoint. The viewpoint of 31 other fanbases.
Many in those ranks will correctly point to Hill’s guilty plea in 2014 of assaulting the pregnant Espinal during their time at Oklahoma State. They’ll point to the words of Johnson County (Kan.) District Attorney Stephen Howe, who said he believes a crime against Hill’s 3-year-old son was committed, but can’t prove who did it. There will be those who remember reports about the same son sustaining a broken arm, and forever link it to Hill, even though investigators declared it accidental.
Back to the football side of this.
Veterans report to Kansas City’s training camp on Friday. Hill will be among them. The Chiefs aren’t a team likely going 8-8 and flying under the national radar. No, they will be front and center, co-favorites in some Vegas Sportsbooks to win the Super Bowl come February.
Kansas City plays five primetime games this season, and could be flexed into others. There is no hiding for Hill and the Chiefs. Some casual fans will root for Mahomes to win his first title while others curse his biggest weapon, hoping Kansas City and Hill fail in spectacular fashion. Few will have no feeling at all towards the team.
The possibilities to how this all plays out are endless. Hill could be signed to a contract extension before season’s end, only stoking the opinions from both factions. He could struggle under the weight of scrutiny, or thrive in its glare. The Chiefs could stumble and be ridiculed, or reach their first Super Bowl in 50 years. Tyreek Hill on Media Night. Imagine that.
Regardless of the end game, the journey will be a football epic. It will be played out over 17 weeks and two countries — the Chiefs play the Los Angeles Chargers in Mexico — with a passionate and ever-divided nation watching.
Last year, the Chiefs were most everyone’s darlings. This year, they are anything but.
Top 10 quarterbacks in Super Bowl era to never win title
1. Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins
2. Dan Fouts, San Diego Chargers
3. Warren Moon, Houston Oilers
4. Sonny Jurgensen, Washington Redskins
5. Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings
6. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills
7. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
8. Ken Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals
9. Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati Bengals
10. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles
“It will not be a distraction. Our focus is pretty clear. We want to win a championship and the guys that are here, that’s going to help us do that. We start on Thursday. Let’s get it done.”
– Cleveland Browns receiver Jarvis Landry on Duke Johnson’s situation
The Browns are starting their most anticipated season since rejoining the NFL in 1999. After decades of futility, Cleveland is trying to usurp the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers as the preeminent AFC North heavyweight. With expectations of a division crown and more on the shores of Lake Erie, Johnson’s trade demands can’t be allowed to become a talking point.
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The state of California dominated the old NFC West. From 1970-2002, the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams combined for 27 division titles. The Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers? Only six crowns.
Info learned this week
1. Cowboys aren’t worried about Elliott’s bluff
The Dallas Cowboys have ample contracts to extend in short order. Ezekiel Elliott’s isn’t one of them.
Elliott wants a new contract, which is nothing new. This information has been floating around since the NFL Scouting Combine, and while Elliott has two rushing titles in three years with the Cowboys, he also has no leverage. The former Buckeye has two years remaining on his rookie deal and if he doesn’t report to training camp in Oxnard by Aug. 6, he loses an accrued year toward unrestricted free agency.
In the moment, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is concerned about paying Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Both will command more money than Elliott on a per year and total basis, and both deals expire after 2019. The same can also be said for cornerback Byron Jones, who is in line for a massive payday.
Elliott may eventually get a large raise in Dallas, but it won’t be this year.
2. Fangio changing culture in Denver
Vic Fangio is making his presence felt in Denver.
The first-year and first-time head coach is creating headlines in the opening days of camp. First, he asserted that second-round pick Drew Lock “is not a quarterback yet.” Fangio has also banned music from practice, something most teams allow for. The message is clear, though. Fangio wants the focus on football, and nothing else.
For the Broncos, a culture shock was needed. Denver hasn’t reached the playoffs over the past three seasons, and has enduring two consecutive losing campaigns. The last time that happened in Denver? 1971-72.
3. Expect long holdout from Clowney in Houston
The Houston Texans report to camp this week. Save for Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney is the only player who was given the franchise tag this year and wasn’t either traded or given a long-term deal. The former No. 1 overall pick still hasn’t signed the tag, meaning he’s not technically under contract and therefore can’t be fined for missing camp days.
The holdout comes down to Clowney believing he’s worth $20+ million per year, according to multiple sources. Clowney believes he should be paid similarly to Frank Clark and DeMarcus Lawrence, as has been reported in this space for months. However, the Texans feel he’s a good-but-not-great player, perhaps worth $15 million or so per season.
With a gulf so wide, it leaves the possibility of a trade. Houston believes it can win now and Clowney is a significant part of those dreams. Still, losing him for a third-round compensatory pick after the season would be rough. The Texans would need to be compensated handsomely, but the door remains cracked.
Ultimately, Clowney could swing the AFC South. If he’s dealt, perhaps Houston can’t beat out the Indianapolis Colts, and even struggle with the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. If he sticks around and has a great contract year, it could propel the Texans to another division title.
4. NFL’s Top 100 show begins airing this week
For the ninth year, NFL Network is putting out the NFL Top 100 as voted on by the players. It airs in 10 parts, and will begin airing this week.
With any list, the arguments will fly and the intrigue will largely center on which man takes the top spot. Some seasons, there are cases for a half-dozen players. This year, only Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Donald could rightfully earn the throne.
Yes, players voting is an inexact science, to be kind. We’ve seen some of the ballots in past years — players vote for their top 20 — and seemingly half their teammates end up on their list. Still, it’s a fun exercise and an easy way to pass time until the games begin.
For my money, the last five players revealed should be as follows:
5. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
4. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
3. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Chicago Bears
2. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
5. HBO has begun filming Hard Knocks
The Oakland Raiders will be under the national spotlight this summer.
This marks the 14th consecutive season of the critically-acclaimed show and the first time the Silver and Black has been the subject. With the cameras now rolling, it’ll be fascinating to see how the Raiders follow what the Browns put forth a year ago.
Of all the years, this one may be the most-anticipated. Oakland has a crush of controversial subjects in Antonio Brown, Jon Gruden, Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito. There’s also the added factor of the Raiders leaving Oakland after this season.
All told, it’s the perfect storm for HBO.
In 1981, the New Orleans Saints had the first-overall selection in the NFL Draft. They selected South Carolina running back George Rogers.
The New York Giants came on the clock. Not having reached the playoffs since 1963, the needs were many. Picking third, the crosstown New York Jets. In short, the Giants couldn’t afford to miss for a multitude of reasons.
They selected an outside linebacker out of North Carolina. Lawrence Taylor.
Taylor became the greatest defensive player of all time, changing the game in the process. For example, Hall of Famer and former Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs created the position of H-Back in order to have a tight end block Taylor instead of a back.
Throughout Taylor’s 13-year career, the Giants won a pair of Super Bowls and reached the postseason seven times.
As a postscript, the Jets ended up with running back Freeman McNeil. A fine player, but not quite the same impact as the man chosen before him.
This week will be the last without an NFL game until after the Super Bowl. Rejoice.
On Aug. 1, the Broncos and Falcons will play the Hall of Fame Game. After that, the preseason gets rolling in full swing throughout August. Then, on Sept. 5, the Green Bay Packers visit the Chicago Bears to kick off the NFL’s 100th season.
While we all believe in our preseason notions, those with experience watching the league know surprises are coming. Who thought the Seattle Seahawks would lose so much talent a year ago and still make the playoffs? Conversely, did anybody believe the Steelers could 7-2-1 and actually miss the postseason?
If there’s one thing above all else which makes the NFL great, it’s the randomness. Yes, the Patriots are a constant, but little else is beyond them. Would it be stunning if half the division winners didn’t reach the playoffs? No. Would it be truly shocking if more than one team went worst-to-first? Hardly. Welcome to professional football.
This week, all 32 clubs will be in training camps. On Sunday, the games begin.