5-at-10: NFL power poll, Braves must have Game 1, Tennessee's monster opportunity vs. Alabama

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel calls out from the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Tennessee won 40-13. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NFL power poll

The NFL product is hard to beat. 

But at what cost? The importance of protecting QBs led to two high-profile — and totally bogus — roughing the passer calls over the weekend.

One — the laughably bad call against Grady Jarrett for form-tackling Tom Brady that allowed the Bucs to run out the clock in a 21-15 win over Atlanta — had a direct impact.

The other — an even worse call in which Chris Jones recovered a fumble midair and landed on Derek Carr to get the ubiquitous and universal roughing the passer flag — did not in the Chiefs’ rally last night.

We’ve accepted that it’s OK that almost all of us can quote the starting defensive front seven for the Steel Curtain in the late 1970s but next to none of us really know what a catch is when they go super slow-mo on reviewed calls. And that includes the refs and the officiating experts in the booths.

(Side question: This side of weatherpersons, who on TV gets this much leeway on correct predictions than the rules expert that the TV analysts call in when we have to decide if it was or was not a catch? Discuss.)

And yes, maybe after we all watched the awful video of Tua Tagovailoa, the league said, “Guys, do we want Andy Dalton vs. Cooper Rush as a high-profile matchup come Week 8? Then protect these dudes.” https://www.khon2.com/local-news/tua-tagovailoa-injury-investigation-almost-criminal/

But it’s got to be football, at least a little bit, too, right?    

To the poll.

1 Eagles (5-0). Hard not to like everything about that offense right now. Jalen Hurts is playing within himself. AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert — who have 28, 28 and 24 catches through five games respectively — is as good a WR1-WR2-TE1 as there is in the league right now. And that group’s strength is its deep and balanced O-line.

2 Bills (4-1). Josh Allen is really good at this football thing, and how about this week 6 slate with Bills-Chiefs and Cowboys-Eagles next week? Yes please. And let’s try not to have the referees be the Tuesday morning story again please.

3 Kansas City (4-1). I’m all for the analytics of the modern-game. I am for going for as many fourth-downs as possible — and even looking at as many as one onside kicks a game — because possession has long since trumped position in terms of value in the modern NFL. But I am still a little fuzzy on the going for 2 trend that is pretty much being summed up by Jim Nantz or Joe Buck saying, “Well the analytics folks say it’s the right play?” I can see that with where the Falcons were Sunday. Atlanta down two TDs on the road to a superior opponent. They went for two and got it and made the score 21-15 with four-plus minutes left, which increased the pressure on the Bucs. Last night when the Raiders did it, I completely disagree with that, and again, just saying, “The analytics folks say it’s the right move” is lazy and kind of insulting to be honest. Las Vegas, on the road against an inferior opponent, scored with four-plus minutes left and made it 30-29. They went for two — with the best kicker in the NFL not named Justin Tucker — and missed. What’s the upside here? You get it, and you motivate Patrick Mahomes to drive the field. You miss, and you give the Chiefs a grand chance to run out the clock. You kick for the tie, and maybe you get the Chiefs in a position of unknown. A position of cautiously playing to win but knowing they do not want to make a big mistake and lose in regulation either. But that’s how Josh McDaniels is 1-4 with a really good roster.  

4 Dallas (4-1). Too high? Maybe. But how many other teams in this league could lose their starting QB and rely on a defense and running game to go 4-0 since his Week 1 injury?

5 Minnesota (4-1). Vikings over Giants for the final spot? Yea, I think so. Vikings have a great WR tandem to break the surprising tie. Also, it allows us to share this stat: The top five of NFL salary earnings — money made from NFL contracts only — of active players is not that surprising. Tom Brady is 1 with $332.9 million in 23 seasons. He’s followed by Aaron Rodgers ($305 million in 18 seasons), Matt Stafford ($300 million in 14 seasons), Matt Ryan ($291 million in 15 seasons) and Russell Wilson ($238 million in 11 seasons.) Next on the list is Kirk Cousins, yes, that Kirk Cousins, who, in his 11th season has made $201,669,486 playing football according to sportrac.com. What a country.  


28 Houston (1-3-1). If you were in the marketing department of the Houston Texans, what would your pitch be to attract or retain season-ticket holders? “Hey, remember us when the Astros are done?” “Hey, it’s been more than two years since we’ve had a sexual harrassment claim (that we know of).” “Hey, buy a season ticket, get the second one free and we’ll throw in a throw-back Earl Campbell jersey.” Thoughts?

29 Washington (1-4). Does it feel like there are a lot more bad teams than good teams in the NFL this year? Because the Commanders — still have to erase my first conditioned response to the Washington moniker — were toe-to-toe with first-place Tennessee and failed in the end. Such is the divide in today’s NFL.

30 Detroit (1-4). Yeah, about that league leading offensive. How’s that New England bagel taste?

31 Pittsburgh (1-4). Wow, the best highlight reel for Big Ben Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame tape will be the Steelers playing offense in Year 1 AB (after Ben). This team is bad. And beaten up. Injuries to star defensive guys like T.J. Watt do not help, but unless they were going to win every game like they did Week 1, which included forcing a half-dozen turnovers and getting defensive scores, it likely would not have mattered.

32 Carolina (1-4). Man, just when we think it’s tough to be Falcons fans, the past, present and future for the Panthers looks rather bleak, no? No QB plan. Now no coach, after Matt Rhule was fired Monday. Sure, hiring Sean Payton seems like a great decision, but now comes word that the Panthers are exploring the trading market for Christian McCaffery. (Side note: He’s rumored to be headed to Buffalo, which would be all kinds of fun.) Hey, at least college hoops starts soon, right Charlotte? Rushmore of Charlotte. Go.

Go time

So, lots of baseball to get to today.

First, you have my permission to wonder if you are coming down with the seasonal flu that is going around this afternoon right after lunch.

That’s when the Braves start at home against Philadelphia. 

I am not as giddy about the Braves facing the Phils as many are. First, Philly’s big bats can log crooked numbers in a hurry.

Second, the Phillies two best pitchers — Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola — are legit and have given the Braves trouble for years. And do not let Nola’s numbers fool you. Yes, he’s 11-13, but he’s among the MLB leaders in expected-batting average against and expected-on-base percentage. (Now those are analytical numbers that take into account exit velocity, park size, and launch angle.)

Plus, that they are going in Games 2 and 3 makes today a 100%, gotta-have game with Max Fried going against Ranger Suarez.

While the Braves have TBA listed as their starters in Games 2 and 3, here’s hoping that Spencer Strider’s side is cooperating. And as JTC noted Monday, Strider became the next really young Braves player to get that seven-year extension in that around $10 million neighborhood, which is a really nice neighborhood.

It’s life-changing money and, for what Strider offers and the going rate of those skills, comes at a very good deal for the team.

It’s the latest win-win for Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos, who continues to build an affordable core of young players with undeniable skill sets. He’s quite good at his job.

That said, the timing here is at least a bit curious, no? 

Especially since the biggest deal yet to be done belongs to shortstop Dansby Swanson, who has had a monster year — and delivered in almost every big moment — and been forced to stand around watching as all his teammates get extensions.

Maybe they have a handshake deal behind the scenes. Maybe Dansby wants $25 million per for the next six years, a deal AA would be wise to decline.

Who knows, but we’ll see if this motivates or infuriates Mr. Swanson and how Brian ‘The Snit’ Snitker handles the locker room drama.

Side question: Yes, I am more intrigued with the Braves-Phillies, and I get the Yankees are in the biggest market with Aaron Judge, but can we get the Braves in primetime like once this round? Can anyone name a Cleveland player since Jake Taylor or maybe Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez? 

Biggest game since?

So, UT has been on a treadmill of frustration.

A treadmill that has even been filled with the occasional influx of talent that was wasted by circumstance and coaching malfeasance.

In some ways, you have to wonder about the interview process and the pitches made by Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt through the years. (Or Bryan Harsin to be honest, but that conversation will be here for a future day.)

UT’s pieces are in place. And the cosmic tumbler has clicked in that this is a good Alabama team but not one of the juggernauts it has rolled out in years past.

It’s at home, and it may be the most coveted ticket since the glory years of the late 1990s and early 2000s. (Seriously, the cheapest pair of seats on TicketMaster is deep in the end zone at $368 per.)

But it also is a lily pad of sorts. A springboard to what is possible in the moment — forget the rebuild, a win Saturday puts Tennessee firmly in the playoff discussion, people — as well as what’s being crafted longterm.

It’s amazing what the right coach in the right spot can do. And the right QB too. I believe UT’s got both.

This is the type of moment that makes us fans through all roller coaster dips and Saturday night heartbreaks.

This is the moment — the chance to expect great things — that makes all the suffering worth.

It’s the type of moment Alabama, and even Georgia, have taken for granted, and that’s not tier fault. It’s a testament to their excellence.

Enjoy it UT fans. Goodness knows you’ve paid your dues over the last 15 years.     

This and that

— Congrats to Ted P, who is still not Eliminated in a crazy NFL season for sure. Ted, send your address to jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and we’ll get you a gift card. Man, only five weeks and we’re done. So it goes in the modern NFL. Side note: Ellis, who was in the final three, had to be more interested in the Jags-Texans rock fight than any other casual observer anywhere. So it goes.

— You know the rules. Here’s Paschall on the big chance UT’s big duo of Josh Heupel and Hendon Hooker have Saturday against Alabama.

— So the end of the Alabama State-Jackson State was even more salty than we originally offered on Monday. Here’s the follow up story with the full Eddie Robinson Jr. postgame, which included how he ‘prays’ Deion Sanders is still coaching JSU next season and how Sanders’ team was up 26-12 and running a hitch-and-go and throwing deep with reserves and 40 seconds left. And yes, Deion’s got some words in too. 

— So, Chas had a great couple of stats on Justin Tucker’s amazing brilliance, especially in the second half of games and overtime. On his game-winning kick on Sunday night, I saw this on Twitter and it’s pretty amazing. According to NextGenStats, Tucker’s game-winner against the Bengals had a width coordinate of 26.52, putting it 0.15 yards from the exact middle of the field, which is 26.67 yards. So, if the uprights were one stinkin’ yard wide, Tucker’s kick still would have been good.

— Hey, the NHL started. Seriously.

Today’s questions

True or false, it’s Tuesday. I say true, how about you Ern?

True or false, Braves win today.

True or false, the Yankees are the best prime time draw in sports.

True or false, you go for 2 down one with four minutes left.

True or false, Dansby is done after this month with the Braves.

True or false, Charlotte’s Web makes the Rushmore of Charlotte.

True or false, Charlotte makes the Rushmore of coolest names of a cold you know that is also a recognized city. (What else is there?)

As for today, Oct. 11, let’s review.

On this day in 1975 a little show called “Saturday Night Live’ debuted. Man, the impact it’s had.

Easily the biggest comedy launching pad in entertainment history, right? And we’ve done a slew of SNL Rushmores through the years, but I’m not sure if we’ve ever done this one.

What is is the all-time SNL Rushmore? Not best character. Not best impersonations. Not underrated.

The Rushmore of 47 amazing years on SNL. Go.