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NFL Roundtable Week 2: Welcome to the Jungle (Pittsburgh)

Welcome to NCB’s weekly NFL Roundtable where a bunch of our best and brightest writers will discuss the aftermath of each week in the season, and figure what’s in store in the future. Join us as we share our thoughts on the latest breaking news, the key match-ups, and any other strange story that will surely develop from the league.

Last week was filled with tight finishes from Seahawks-Dolphins to Cardinals-Patriots. We had one of the most exciting cumulative opening weeks in league history that was also filled with plenty of typical NFL controversy (welcome back!). What’s the fallout from the Cam Newton head shots in Denver? Where do the Browns go following RG3’s injury?

Let’s get rolling:

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1. What was most disconcerting over how the NFL handled Cam Newton’s mauling in Denver?

Robert Zeglinski: This league just seems to welcome controversy while simultaneously plowing on through criticism. Every time we think the NFL makes progress player safety wise-which isn’t often-we see officials turn a blind eye to dirty play like of the Broncos against Cam Newton. Every time. It’s almost like clockwork. What particularly made me uncomfortable is how the game’s broadcast team turned the headline of the game into Trevor Siemian and the Broncos almost immediately. In a game defined by the shots on Newton, it goes against all logic to ignore the poor calls and care for players. Especially when you consider that the most important distinction of the game was made in crunch time, when Newton was leveled by a head-to-head hit that was nullified by intentional grounding. Yet, NBC’s Bob Costas and company moved on without a hitch, as if they didn’t want the post-game conversation to focus on the gross negligence of rules on display. There’s no other league where that makes sense except in professional football, but they’ve made their stance clear.

Cody Broder: The ambiguity and conflicting stories were alarming in this scenario. It was obvious on several occasions that Cam was getting beaten down on several of these hits, some of them to the head. There are several occasions every season when you see a hit and think, “Why is this guy still in the game?” The head-to-head hit late in the game was one of those. The announcers said nothing about the hit, the referees made no apparent attempt to confirm Cam’s status, and the Panthers’ QB was ready to take another snap. At the time, it appeared no precautions were taken, although later in the week there were reports that Cam was checked on the sideline during the review. Along with the handling of the dangerous hits earlier in the game, this interaction confirmed what we know all too well about the league: There is little consistency.

Brian Hall: Probably how throughout the game, as Newton continued to take cheap shot after cheap shot, none of it was addressed at all by the announcers. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were very careful to avoid any language that suggested that maybe the Broncos were taking potshots at Newton’s head, or that the concussion protocol might not be working that particular evening. They even avoided using any phrases like “targeting” or “concussion”, likely because the NFL doesn’t want them to address controversy. It was honestly disappointing that neither announcer could address the situation beyond expressing wonder if Newton was “physically able to perform” after.

Nate Vieira: Every family has a favorite child. There’s no denying it. And that child always gets special treatment over everyone else. They never do any wrong, are protected at all costs, and are likely the child your parents choose to introduce first and represent the family. Well, quarterbacks are the favorite child in the NFL family. They are the face of the franchise who get all the glory in wins and little blame in losses. Certain rules have been implemented to protect quarterbacks. And rarely do you see any penalties on quarterbacks because they “never” do anything wrong. This applies to every single quarterback in the lea… actually it doesn’t. For some reason Cam Newton has become the outlier. The head-hunting hits he took against Denver on Thursday Night Football would have not have gone unpunished if they were on Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, or any other quarterback behind center. At least one, if not all the helmet-to-helmet hits would have been called. Now using Cam’s freakish size for is an easy excuse to use to try and justify the thrashing he took, but it shouldn’t be. Cam could be 6’5 245 pounds or 5’11 200 pounds and a hit to the head would still be a hit to the head. It’s simple as that.

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2. Which individual player and team stood out to you from Week 1?

Robert Zeglinski: We have a new “Riverboat Ron” except his name is Jack, and he coaches the Raiders! Coach Jack Del Rio and his Raiders, everyone’s preseason pick of immeasurable hype, came out with a tough road win in New Orleans. While the Saints are no longer the juggernaut they were years ago, and the Raiders had to squeak it out, this is the kind of tone setting victory for a season in a difficult stadium to play in the Superdome. Quarterback Derek Carr in particular stood out in leading Oakland in the clutch. Del Rio clearly had and has full confidence in his starter, otherwise he wouldn’t have him throw three straight two-point conversion attempts to close the game, the last of which being the game winner. That’s the kind of aggressiveness that either pays off in a championship or just buys you criticism from the media. Either or. But it’s necessary. After 14 long seasons, Oakland is a contender again, and it’s been a long time coming.

Cody Broder: I would have said the Browns, but then Monday happened. The Rams are in trouble.

Brian Hall: Carson Wentz is the sexy pick here, but I’m actually going to go with Dak Prescott. Wentz knew coming in he would have to make an early impact with the Eagles, and kudos to him for actually doing so, but Prescott’s path to being an NFL starter was much different. Once Tony Romo went down with a broken back, the pressure for Dak to perform ramped up like crazy. While the Cowboys lost their opening game, they did so in the final seconds with a backfield of rookies that both showed flashes of serious potential. If I were a Cowboys fan, I’d at least be a little excited about the future ahead.

Nate Vieira: Jimmy Garoppolo and the New England Patriots stood out to me. Not because I’m an extremely biased Patriots fan but because they won with the cards they were dealt. No Brady, no Gronk, no Dion Lewis, and without two starters on the offensive line. All of this coupled with a first time starter going up against a top contender in the league on the road. Everyone expected them to roll over and die against Arizona but it was the exact opposite. They came together and pulled off the greatest upset in franchise history, (according to Vegas odds makers). We’re not gonna see the real Patriots for a while until Brady gets back from playing catch with Gisele, but this Patriots team can compete. That’s something I don’t think anyone expected.

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3. Many think quality of play has declined across the league in recent years. Yet opening week seemed like the one of the most exciting in history considering all these games coming down to the wire. Is the former still true or can this hold up?

Robert Zeglinski: I believe this is mostly referencing an article from Kevin Clark of ‘The Ringer’, where he talks about how recent youth and roster turnover has diminished the fine experience of players and diluted the league’s talent level.

It’s a fascinating read on a developing issue.

That being said, I think the “problem” of youth is being a little exaggerated. Opening weeks will be rough around the edges because relatively green players have to get into the comfort of the nuances of the game while gelling with teammates. If anything, it also does help create the parity we had on display in Week 1. Patience is key here. But NFL coaches are not patient. They will always complain about inexperience and short leashes to put together winning programs because they’re fighting for their own jobs. And while it does seem like players are being treated more like business commodities that aren’t as useful when they’re older-a different conversation altogether-that’s necessary turnover. It’s a good thing that teams aren’t relying on aging veterans. Be savvy with the salary cap, develop young talent, and you can keep recycling a contender. Easier said than done of course.

Cody Broder: This was the most entertaining week of regular season football in recent memory, but it would be presumptuous to state based off Week 1’s results that the league is more competitive than it’s ever been. The NFL is filled with great athletes. They just have to be on the same page at the same time with the right instruction to showcase the full ability of their unique talents, and for many teams, that simply isn’t the case at a given point in the year. You see teams rise and fall off, but some stay the same. In some cases, those that don’t adapt to change fall off, but that doesn’t mean they’re any worse. The parity in the league is incredible, and it should make for a competitive year of football. With that said, it doesn’t mean we can confidently predict the margin of victory in every game.

Brian Hall: I think the style of play has changed to the point where games are more exciting, although it doesn’t exactly encourage “quality of play”. With new offensive innovators emerging, teams don’t have to be as balanced as they used to be, and can instead implement more of a spread attack through the air. This makes games a lot more fun to watch, but can also leave a lot to be desired in terms of teams playing equally well on both sides of the ball.

Nate Vieira: I wouldn’t say the quality of play has gone down over the years. The landscape of the NFL just hasn’t changed much. When you think about the elite teams in the league the past few seasons, the consensus picks have always been the Patriots, Seahawks, and Broncos. When you think about teams that can compete it’s been the Steelers, Cardinals, Packers and most recently the Panthers. Then we have the pretenders who consist of the Bengals, Cowboys, Giants, Jets, Vikings, Chiefs and Falcons. Finally, everyone else has mostly been irrelevant besides for showcasing the NFL Draft. Of course some teams make a run every now and then and shake things up but overall the NFL has been the same. Once the landscape changes everything will look different, obviously.

Nov 22, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels (76) and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway (52) talk following the game at TCF Bank Stadium. The Packers defeated the Vikings 30-15. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 22, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels (76) and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway (52) talk following the game at TCF Bank Stadium. The Packers defeated the Vikings 30-15. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

4. What will we be discussing most from Week 2?

Robert Zeglinski: How can we neglect to mention the opening game in the latest stadium built out of holding taxpayers hostage with money in Minnesota? Oh, the humanity! In all seriousness, Packers-Vikings on Sunday Night Football in said hostage-stadium looks like a classic contrast of styles of football. The ground and pound Vikings up against the best quarterback in the league in Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a high flying attack. This is a budding and compelling rivalry that hasn’t even reached it’s boiling point yet. While Minnesota has a game manager at quarterback in Shaun (Sam) Hill (Bradford) that won’t test Green Bay’s defense, they still have the most talented and complete roster in the NFL surrounding their field general Frankenstein. Even after losing Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings-reigning NFC North champions-are still the best team in their own division. They’ll prove it in primetime.

Cody Broder: “Carrved up” – Derek Carr will be the second young quarterback in two weeks to make a mockery of the Falcons secondary. Jameis Winston threw 4 touchdowns in Week 1. Look for the Raiders to make it two wins in a row, with Carr picking up 300 plus yards and three touchdowns in their home opener.

Brian Hall: You can think of a headline, but I’m just stoked for Steelers-Bengals. Both looked good in Week 1, and both have slightly different looks to their offense despite having most of their core pieces. The Bengals-Steelers playoff game last season was easily one of the best, and I can’t wait to see the bad blood that boils over from this rematch.

Nate Vieira: “Monday Night Snooze-fest Part 2.” Seriously, why is the NFL so bad at scheduling “Monday Night Football” games? Steelers vs. Redskins? 49ers vs. Rams? And now the Bears and Eagles? Come on now. I want to actually enjoy my Monday nights, not fall asleep by 9:30. Instead of pitting two mediocre teams against one another or one dominant team versus a mediocre squad, why not play two coherent teams against each other? I’m no business major but watching two competitive teams play each other probably garners more eyeballs. More eyeballs equals more advertising dollars. If someone from the NFL scheduling committee needs help just hit me up.

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5. Robert Griffin III was placed on injured reserve by the Browns and is out indefinitely. Is this finally the end of road for RG3? Is it time for the Browns to blow it up again?

Robert Zeglinski: I already thought the end of the road was being benched in Washington for Griffin III. Not many quarterbacks recover to have success in other cities after a career move like that. The rare exceptions are the Peyton Manning’s and Joe Montana’s of the world, but those are far and few between. RG3 hasn’t been the same since tearing his ACL early in his Redskins’ career. He just seemed to lose confidence as well as belief in his athletic ability that set him apart his rookie year. Signing with the Browns was delaying the inevitable. I did hope for the best for the guy. I even thought he could do some damage with Gary Barnidge at tight end, and Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman at receiver. But it’s just not meant to be. You have to stay healthy in football. It’s common sense. How are you changing a franchise or redefining your career if you can’t even make it onto the field? You aren’t. This shoulder injury might not be season-ending, but there’s no way you can tell me in good faith that you believe he’ll come back stronger from this. There’s too many depressing scars and the Browns don’t exactly have the most conducive environment to help him transcend. It’s not a match made in heaven. We know the Browns won’t blow it up though, so stay tuned. The 21st century has shown they don’t have the patience or wherewithal to undergo dramatic change.

Cody Broder: It’s become a seasonal story. Next, it will be Sam “Trade Me For a 1st-Round Pick” Bradford. As for RG3, the Browns will probably give him another shot once he’s healthy enough to take the field, but no one else is going to bring him in to be anything more than insurance.

Brian Hall: No. RG3 will continue to come back from injury every year and play for somebody until the government stops giving him robotic limbs sometime around 2070. By then, the Browns will have won probably several Super Bowls and everyone will love them, and then Josh Gordon can smoke all the weed he wants.

Nate Vieira: RG3 isn’t done yet. He hasn’t looked that bad from what little we’ve seen during his stint in Cleveland and I think Hue Jackson has faith in him. Would I want him as my quarterback? No. But if he can stay healthy after he recovers from this shoulder injury, there’s some microscopic bit of potential for him to succeed in Cleveland. As for the Browns blowing everything up, I’d give it a few more games before they even think about it. Then again I think they’ve been blowing everything up the past 10 seasons so I honestly couldn’t tell you.

Photos: (cincyjungle.com, 9news.com, patspulpit.com, Chicago Tribune, cbssports.com, ESPN)

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