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MINNEAPOLIS — Super Bowl LII just ended. The Philadelphia Eagles are still celebrating. But that’s not what matters here.

You wake this morning to face a stretch of seven painful, football-free months. The 2018 season is more than a half-year away, and you’re already aching to see what happens next.

We’ve got you covered.

For the third year in a row, we have looked into our crystal ball and foreseen many of the key events of the next NFL season, so you don’t have to wait. As you know from reading this column the past two years, all 10 of these predictions are absolutely, 100 percent guaranteed to come true.

Now, get to reading while I excuse myself to go scrub the internet clean of the past two years’ editions of this column. Here are 10 bold predictions for the 2018 NFL season:


1. Free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins signs with the Jets

It’s a six-year, $186 million contract with $100 million in guarantees, including $75 million fully guaranteed at signing. The Jets outbid the Browns, Jaguars and division-rival Bills for Cousins, who becomes the highest-paid player in NFL history after hitting the market following two seasons as Washington’s franchise player. He then leads the Jets to a 10-6 record and a wild-card playoff spot.

2. Odell Beckham Jr. sits out at least one regular-season game

Beckham’s contract situation is going to be a tricky one for the Giants, who hold a 2018 option on him and aren’t in a hurry to give him the extension he wants coming off an ankle injury that cost him almost the entire 2017 season. Uninterested in taking the field without a new deal, Beckham stays in California throughout training camp and, Aaron Donald-style, sits out the season opener in protest. New coach Pat Shurmur and quarterback Eli Manning continue to insist they can get by with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram as their top receiving options — and are wrong.

3. There are a least five new playoff teams, including the Jets, Chargers, Raiders, Packers and 49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo helps San Francisco snag a wild-card spot with a fast start and a furious finish. Aaron Rodgers returns to put Green Bay back where it belongs. Philip Rivers has one more big year left in him, and this time the Chargers don’t start 0-4. Jon Gruden’s return revitalizes a Raiders team that should have been better than it was in 2017. And you already heard about the Jets.

The two AFC teams that repeat as playoff participants are the Steelers and Patriots, of course. The crystal ball is fuzzier in the NFC, where it can’t tell yet whether the Rams can repeat or the Cowboys can bounce back.

4. Le’Veon Bell signs a contract extension with the Steelers

Bell’s new deal is heavily front-loaded but guarantees him more than $25 million and averages more than $12 million per year — not the mega back/receiver deal of which Bell has been dreaming, but still pushing the top of the running back market well above where it is right now. A 2017 training camp holdout, Bell shows up on time for everything in 2018 and helps drive Pittsburgh’s offense where it needs to go.

5. Josh Allen is the first pick in the April’s draft … but he doesn’t start a game in 2018

The Browns take the big Wyoming quarterback No. 1 overall but sit him for at least a year behind AJ McCarron, whom they acquire when they lose out on Cousins. McCarron doesn’t love having to play with a first-round pick looking over his shoulder, but his reunion with coach Hue Jackson — his former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati — makes it more palatable. Besides, if you can win a couple of games with the Browns, think of how attractive that would look to future employers.

6. Six more teams change head coaches after the 2018 season

Those teams are: Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Washington, Tampa Bay and Seattle, where 67-year-old Pete Carroll decides to retire after a second straight season without a playoff appearance.

Philadelphia enters the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites, even though the NFC East hasn’t had a repeat champion in 14 years. Questions about Wentz’s return from a torn ACL haunt the offseason, but Foles puts them to rest with a hot start that has the team in position to repeat as division champs once Wentz is healed and back in the lineup. A soft September schedule that includes the Buccaneers, Colts and Giants helps.

8. Andrew Luck returns and plays all 16 games for the Colts

Luck looks like a pretty good candidate to beat out J.J. Watt, David Johnson, Aaron Rodgers and others in one of the most crowded Comeback Player of the Year races in history.

9. The NFL changes the catch rule to appease fans and increase scoring

Seriously, there’s no way the league likes seeing touchdowns taken off the board by a rule that confuses and infuriates its fan base like no other. Expect a big competition committee discussion this offseason that results in a great deal more leniency in determining whether a player completed the catch. It’s probably too much to expect common sense to rule the day and for the NFL to relax the extent to which it uses its infernal replay review system, but new guidelines will result in fewer catches being overturned into noncatches because they didn’t “survive the ground.”

10. The Saints will beat the Steelers in Super Bowl LIII

Frustrated divisional-round losers this season, New Orleans and Pittsburgh put the past behind them quickly and reach the Super Bowl in Atlanta. It’s the second straight year one of the Super Bowl teams has a 40-year-old quarterback, and Drew Brees doesn’t disappoint, hitting Michael Thomas for the game-winning touchdown pass with 24 seconds left on the clock.

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Coin flips, sudden death and cookies: Why Ravens want to change OT – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — To create the fairest way to decide tie games, the Baltimore Ravens want you to think of overtime as a cookie.

For years, children have split cookies with a method called “Divide and Choose.” One kid breaks the cookie into two pieces, and the other gets first choice on what piece to take.

This principle is not only the driving force behind the Ravens’ new overtime format but it’s also referenced in the proposal that they have submitted to the NFL competition committee and ownership for review at the upcoming league meetings.

Under the Ravens’ “Spot and Choose” proposal, at the result of the coin toss, one team spots the ball on the field for the start of an overtime period (which begins from there without a kickoff). Then, the other team chooses whether to start on offense or defense from that spot. The overtime proceeds as either sudden death or a timed period (7 minutes, 30 seconds) to determine the winner.

The Ravens believe this proposal adds more strategy to the game, simplifies the rules and likely decreases total snaps.

“In my view, it’s a clear improvement to the game and think it should be adopted immediately,” said Seth Walder, ESPN analytics writer. “It helps from a fairness standpoint and from an entertainment standpoint — that’s as good as it gets. I’d be legitimately excited to see where teams think the right break-even yard line is, and how they would adjust if, say, Patrick Mahomes were standing on the opposite sideline.”

Why are the Ravens proposing this? Recent history shows coin flips are determining too many games.

According to Baltimore’s research, receiving teams are 28-20-4 (a win rate of 58%) since 2017, when overtime was shortened to 10 minutes. In the playoffs, receiving teams are 9-1 since 2010 when “modified sudden death” was first introduced, including four teams since 2015 winning on a first-possession touchdown.

The Ravens see their format — which is based on teams deciding the initial spot of the ball — removing chance from overtime.

“It transfers power from luck to strategy,” Walder said. “There’s no reason that a coin toss should give an advantage the way it currently does. This asks teams to reconcile with a central question to game management: How valuable is possession relative to field position? No matter the outcome — where the ball is placed, which team starts with it — the result is because of choices they made. It is inherently fair in that way. It’s also interesting. Breaking down those decisions in real time and afterwards will be fascinating. And there’s also a potential risk-reward element I love: If I’m the spot team and I have a sense the opposing coach really wants the ball, how far can I push the spot back without it being flipped back on us?”

One tweak that Walder would make is eliminating field goals in the overtime period for the sudden-death proposal. So, teams can win only by scoring a touchdown or recording a safety.

“Touchdowns are worth twice as much as field goals in the rest of football, so it seems off to make them suddenly equals,” Walder said. “The downside here is that this could encourage ties. The Ravens also probably prefer keeping the value of field goals up, given their advantage at kicker, though that is a temporary edge.”

Also, to speed up game administration, Walder said a coin toss can be eliminated. The rule can set the home team as the “spot” team and the road team as the “choose” team, or vice versa.

“I will say: It’s not lost on me that the Ravens — who have strong game management and are one of the most analytically inclined teams in the league — are the ones proposing this,” Walder said.

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How glassblowing helps Minnesota Vikings’ Stephen Weatherly decompress – Carolina Panthers Blog

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — “Ooooh! Oooh!’’ Stephen Weatherly yelled as he noticed a small spot smoldering on his right thigh.

The five-year veteran defensive end, who recently signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings after he was released by the Carolina Panthers, momentarily lost his concentration during a glassblowing session, allowing the hot end of the six-foot pipe he was breathing into while rolling it make contact with his pants.

His instructor, Nicolas Emeric, had been waiting for such a mishap, understanding there was less clearance between the pipe and legs because Weatherly (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) is bigger than his typical clientele.

Weatherly quickly refocused as he would on the field.

“I got burned because I wasn’t locked in,” he said. “When you come into the hot shop, the fact that you have to be locked in forces you to push everything to the back burner.

“… Like where am I going to end up next? That is very much on the front of my mind. When I come in here I have to think about blowing glass.”

Weatherly, who will turn 27 this month, became enamored with glassblowing a few years ago during his first stint with the Vikings. He saw it on Instagram and his roommate at the time had a co-worker who owned a studio, so he went and became hooked. That ultimately led to his interest in the Netflix show “Blown Away,” which led to an appearance as a guest judge on its glassblowing competition that aired in late January.

Glassblowing always has been therapeutic for Weatherly, because when dealing with molten glass at temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees, you don’t have time to think about everyday issues. It became more therapeutic when he was cut less than a year after signing a two-year, $12.5 million deal.

“So I was able to just think for an hour and 15 minutes straight, not about anything stressful, but just about creating that beautiful piece of art,” Weatherly said.

Not done with football

Glassblowing began as one of Weatherly’s many hobbies when looking for things to occupy his life after football. It’s still just a hobby.

“I have a lot of good years still left in the football world,” Weatherly said.

He hoped they would be spent in Carolina, rebuilding under coach Matt Rhule. Unfortunately, he had no sacks and only three quarterback pressures in nine starts, then was placed on injured reserve in November because of a finger injury that required surgery.

His release simply was a matter of fit and needing to clear $5.9 million in salary-cap space.

“They are building for the future,” Weatherly said. “I didn’t do enough to show that I can be part of their scheme for the future. I mean, it’s a business. Just sucks.”

Weatherly wasn’t out of work long, reuniting with the Vikings on Thursday.

Another ‘weirdo’

Emeric recognized Weatherly when he walked into Hot Glass Alley, in an eclectic Charlotte neighborhood, as a judge on “Blown Away,’’ not an NFL player.

“He definitely fits in with the rest of the weirdos in the glass world,” he joked.

Coachability in football, however, made Weatherly a good student in glassblowing.

“He soaks up every little bit of information I give him,” Emeric said. “And he’s responsive. Which is great, because most people don’t want to learn and dive in so far.”

Teaching Weatherly was nerve-wracking initially.

“He said nobody has ever let him do this before, because they know how much his hands are worth,” Emeric said.

Weatherly’s hands constantly were close to the heat that burned his pants. As violent as those hands are in football, they easily adjusted to the gentle touch needed to roll the pipe while blowing life into the glass.

Weatherly showed the same control he uses on the piano and eight other instruments he has learned to play. A sociology major at Vanderbilt, he loves the delicate side of the art world almost as much as he does the brutality of football.

“The piece, it gets heavy,” Weatherly said of the 10-pound pipe and his vase that weighed 5.9 pounds but felt like 50. “So I get to use my physicality in a sense, but also my fine-tuning, like turning it with just my fingertips.”

Art becomes football

Weatherly pumped his fist into the air as if he’d just made a sack. But the exhilaration came from seeing a taffy-like glop of glass become an artistic creation.

“He has such a creative mind already,” Emeric said. “Most people come in and barely have an idea of what’s their favorite color.’’

The decision on Weatherly’s latest project, a vase for his girlfriend, was born 24 hours earlier after he gave her flowers. He chose his favorite colors, orange and green, to remind her of him.

As rewarding as it was to put the glass into the furnace and see it blossom, it was exhausting.

“I promise you I am in shape,” Weatherly said as he gathered himself after an extended period of glassblowing.

Emeric said he understood. He also understood why blowing glass has become therapeutic to Weatherly.

“Because it’s hot and it’s very intrinsic material, you can’t let your day-to-day stresses overwhelm you, because it will show in your piece,” he said. “You can see where there are imperfections because your mind goes astray.”

Weatherly has had mishaps. His first piece with Emeric quickly went from a pyramid to the tip of a spear.

He had better luck with other projects such as paperweights, cups, a jellyfish and a sword that adorn his home.

“I love everything I’ve done,” Weatherly said.

He loved the vase in particular because he was able to push his football thoughts aside at a fragile time. At the same time, it was a lot like football.

“All the hard work, the stuff you don’t understand and see, is definitely the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday practices,” Weatherly said. “But the beautiful part at the end, that’s all Sunday under the bright lights.”

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Houston Texans sign ex-Seahawks C Justin Britt to one-year deal, source says

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HOUSTON — The Houston Texans have signed former Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt to a one-year deal worth up to $5 million, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Britt, who did not play during the 2020 season after Seattle released him in April, indicated he signed with the Texans in an Instagram post.

“I’M BACK!” Britt wrote in his post.

Britt, 29, was a second-round pick in 2014. He tore his ACL in October 2019, but before that injury he had missed only one game in his first five seasons.

Last week, Houston cut center Nick Martin, a second-round pick in 2016, saving $6.25 million.



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