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Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs a play during an NFL training camp football practice Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, Pool)

NFL preview part I

OK, when this hits the interwebs, we'll be 34 or so hours from kicking off the NFL season.

A sport on time. A sport with limited fans in home stadiums. A sport that has a connection to normalcy in more ways than just about anything around us.

The NFL returns with Texans-Chiefs on Thursday night. Fall temperatures around us, fantasy teams drafted, the Intimidator Pool is up and running.

(Side note: That's right, we're having a pool in which you pick one NFL winner and the last picker standing wins the whole enchilada, which will be some sort of prize that likely will be better than enchilada, unless of course you really like enchiladas, and then we can discuss it. If you have any questions, let me know. And picks are due Friday by 5 p.m. — unless you want to pick the Thursday night game, and then they are due before Thursday's kickoff. If you have any questions, fire away. We have more than 20 folks already in, so come on in, the water feels fine. Which brings us to this)

(Side feedback from DaBigOrange on the side note: "I'm with you! That being said, go with a different name. I work in the swimming pool industry, and "Eliminator Pool" just conjures up visions of, well, bad things. I suggest "Survivor Pool." I'll go with the Colts over the Jags this week, assuming the Jags haven't cut the remainder of their roster before kickoff." Well said DBO. Well said indeed.)

Anyhoo, the NFL is back and in truth, I'll offer that the NFL has been the one organization across all sports — and all of society really — that has been as deliberate and determined to plow through the pandemic.

From the draft to practices to training sessions to free agency, through all of it, the NFL has been there. And through all that, the only number that matters as we get ready for toe to meet leather and a high kick was staggeringly great Tuesday.

The NFL tested 2,641 players and 5,708 staff and other personnel between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5 and one player and seven staffers tested positive. No matter how many TDs Patrick Mahomes throws or how many games Tom Brady wins or anything else, if the NFL maintains a 0.038 percent positive test rate for players and a 0.122 percent rate for staff, then the season's a success.

As for the previews, well, with the prohibitive favorites kicking it off tonight, let's do our annual NFL projections. Deal? Deal.

In the AFC East, not unlike Bama in the SEC, I'm riding with the known until they get toppled. So give me the Patriots there. I'll take Pittsburgh over Baltimore in the North and the Colts over the Titans in the South but all of those make the playoffs.

In the West, you have to go Chiefs. Have to. I think everyone in the West will be better and the seventh and last wildcard spot will be decided by decimal points and the next-to-last-tiebreaker before we the kickers play Rock-Paper-Scissors on the 50-yard-line.

So give me Buffalo as the final wildcard team from the AFC, and yes, the race for the best overall record in each conference comes with a big-time edge this year.

In the NFC, I'll take Dallas in the East, and the Cowboys are going to be really good in a division that is really getable. Minnesota can say the same thing in the North. Which brings us to two of the best divisions in the sport, the NFC West and the NFC South.

Man, count me on the Brady bandwagon. And Vegas too. (More on that in a moment.)

And the Saints are going to be really good, too.

In the West, we know the 49ers have a flush roster 1-thru-53, and depth flexibility in the age of COVID is magnified even more. The Cardinals are going to be a lot better than last year, and it's hard to imagine that the darling of the future — Sean McVay and the Rams — look to be the worst team in that division despite having arguably two of the four best defensive players in the league with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.

So, where does that leave us? Here:

AFC — Chiefs, Steelers, Pats, Colts, Ravens, Titans, Bills. With Steelers over Bills, Titans over Pats and Colts over Ravens in round one. Then Chiefs over Colts and Steelers over Titans in the divisional round and the Chiefs going to the Super Bowl.

NFC — Cowboys, Vikings, Bucs, 49ers, Saints, Packers, Cardinals. With Cardinals over Vikings, Bucs over Packers, 49ers over Saints in round one. Then Cowboys over 49ers and Bucs over Cardinals in the divisional round and the Tom Brady-led Bucs going to the Super Bowl.

And yep, we're in Brady and the Bucs winning the whole thing. Why not right?      
 

NFL props

We are planning on discussing the state of Tennessee's failure to have a gambling plan and platform in place before the start of the NFL season. It will cost the state millions in a time when there are so many in our state and so many agencies from Memphis to Maryville facing shortfalls because of the Corona.

But that's for A2 and maybe for tomorrow.

With that, my friends at SportsBetting.ag have authored some truly out there prop bets.

> First NFL starting QB to be benched: Dwayne Haskins is the favorite at plus-150 (bet $100 and win $150), with Ryan Fitzpatrick (+225), Mitch Trubisky (+250) and Sam Darnold (+500) next in line. Aaron Rodgers is on that list too at +2500.

> Which second-year QB will win the most games: Daniel Jones is the favorite at plus-150, with Kyler Murray (yes please at +200), Drew Lock (+300) and Dwayne Haskins (+500) next.

> Over/under on Tua Tagovailoa starts is 8.5. Give me the over there.

> Over/under on Jarrett Stidham starts is 3.5. That's a great number, because while I think Cam is going to be productive, he also could get hurt.

> Over/under on NFL players arrested during the regular season is 6.5.

> Over/under for largest margin of victory in week one is 37.5. I'm all over that under. (Side note: Is that the betting version of the "Turn left?" "Right." "Huh?" conversation in the car? I think so.)

Good times.

 

Headline importance

We discussed this before, and I'm not going to point the boney "Click-bait" finger at this story. But the headline, while accurate, needs context.

"California University of Pennsylvania DT Jamain Stephens dies of COVID-19 complications, per reports" is the story on CBSSports.com from former TFPer Dancing' David Cobb.

Because of the political tug of war football during the Corona and the should we play or not conversations, the context that is desperately needed here is that Cal-Penn's conference — Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference — halted competition in July.

So Stephens and his team were not playing.

That's not to trivialize the tragedy of a young person dying.

But it does point us that, while the numbers are vast and differing, this Corona thing does not care whether you're old or young, conservative or liberal, playing or not playing.

 

This and that

— I almost filed an NBA take this morning — I watched a fair amount of the Lakers' win, and LeBron was the truth in the first half — but these playoffs have not moved me whatsoever. You?

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on UT's leaders on the defensive front and how the Alabama offense is looking at ways to spread the ball to several of its talented running backs.

— Speaking of Paschall, here's his report on the Vols adding another big-time hoops commitment from the class of 2021.

— Kamala Harris told Jacob Blake she was "proud" of him during a visit Tuesday. Here's more, including conservative commentator Megyn Kelly having an issue with the word 'proud' for Blake, the man shot in the back in Kenosha, Wisc., last month.  

— Ugly loss for the Braves last night to the very mediocre Marlins. The Braves starting pitching — which got the news that Max Fried will miss a start — continues to stink on toast. Kyle Wright went four innings and allowed five earned runs and three homers.

— Billy D — Eddie Munster/Billy Donovan — is out as the OKC head coach. Man, this feels like a chance for a college basketball program to sweep in and make a Sabam-like hire. Because, while he did not have huge success in the NBA, I truly believe Billy D is an elite-level basketball coach.

— Major blow to the Denver Broncos as Von Miller reportedly has a season-ending ankle injury. Side note: Is there a crazier story out there — other than the Odell Beckham Jr. story about his stinky preferences, according to some former 'friends' — than the details that Miller has paid $15,000 in fines for his toots in team meetings?

 

Today's questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way

Which NBA player would you take to build your future around, Luka Doni, Giannis or Zion?

Which QB ranked below Colin Kaepernick in the Madden video game ratings should be the most upset, Ryan Tannehill, Baker Mayfield, Cam Newton or Kyler Murray?

Which way you going, Chiefs or the AFC field to make the Super Bowl?

Which NFC team you got in the Super Bowl?
As for today, Sept. 9, it would have been my Nanny's 100th birthday. Rest easy to the best cook I have ever known. Seriously.

Happy birthday to Adam Sandler too. He's 54.

Also, Otis Redding would have been 79. Colonel Sanders would have been 130 today.
Rushmore of people with a military rank in their name. Go. and remember the mailbag and the Intimidator Pool.

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