NFL Alphabet Preview: Week 5


NFL Alphabet Preview: Week 5

Welcome back to another edition of NFL Alphabet preview, where this week, Sean Payton's more than welcome to be a part of the action.

A is for 'AINTS
The big news down in New Orleans this week is not the Saints 0-4 start, but instead, that suspended coach Sean Payton, GM Mickey Loomis and interim coach Joe Vitt have been granted permission to attend Sundays game against the Chargers as Drew Brees tries to set an NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

Three quick thoughts:

1. It will be a major let down if Roger Goodell doesnt make them watch the game while propped upright on a gurney and wearing Hannibal Lecter restraint masks.

2. Maybe Goodell feels bad that his heavy hand has wreaked such havoc on the Saints season, BUT is breaking the record for Consecutive games with a touchdown pass really that big of a deal? Im not sure its worth easing the reins on one of the most significant suspensions in NFL history for a record that everyone will forget about next week.

3. With the way this seasons gone for New Orleans, would you be at all shocked to see Brees come up short? Hell be lucky to make it out of warm-ups without a piece of the Superdome falling on his head.

B is for BUST
Alex Trebek: Hello, and welcome back to Jeopardy. Rich, youve got control of the board.

Rich: All right. Thanks, Alex. Ill take Sack Stats for 800.

Trebek: OK, and the answer is . . . Ropati Potoita, Junior Galette, OBrien Schofield and Letroy Guion. (Beep beep) Rich?

Rich: Who are . . . players with more sacks than Mario Williams this season?

Listen, its obviously too early to call Williams a bust, but its also hard to imagine a more disappointing start for the franchise changing free agent. Through four games, Mario or maybe Wario? has one and a half sacks, 11 tackles and a fumble recovery, and Buffalos defense (which was supposed to improve merely by association) is a mess.

But hey, at least Ryan Fitzpatricks mediocre.


It might get a little dusty in the trenches at Gillette and Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, as two long-time centers return to their former homes.

First, theres Dan Koppen, wholl arrive in Foxboro with the Broncos, after nine seasons in New England. And over in Indy, Jeff Saturday who spent 13 years with the Colts makes his return with the Packers.

I imagine it will be a pretty weird feeling for both guys, and probably even weirder for Tom Brady after Koppen pulls him aside in the pre-game: Tommy, would you mind just sticking your hands under there one more time. Theyre so much warmer than Peytons.

D is for DEEP BALL

The Carolina Panthers are 1-3, and while some of that burden falls on Cam Newtons foray into sports psychology, it doesnt help that the Panthers secondary has been consistently horrendous.

The Panthers have given up 14 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season, and last week against Atlanta, gave up plays of 60, 59, 49 and 30. This week, however, Carolinas been granted a gift from the secondary Gods: Mr. Russell Wilson.

If you dont count the Fail Mary against Green Bay, the Seahawks rookie quarterback has only three completions of 20 yards or more all season.

On the bright side, all three completions were enough to earn a hearty and lingering slap on the ass from Pete Carroll.


Through four weeks, its hard to find a team with more all-around balance than the Falcons. Heading into this Sunday game at the Redskins, Atlanta ranks first in total offense and eighth in total defense. Theyve committed the fewest turnovers, forced the second most turnovers and scored more points off turnovers than anyone in the NFL. Theyve also committed the leagues fewest penalties, and no one else is close. Their kicker hasn't missed a field goal. They lead the league in alcohol-related arrests.

But if theres an Achilles heel in the Falcons machine, it has to be their run defense which ranks 29th out of 32 teams.

Really makes you question Mike Shanahans recent decision to move a homeless guy he met on the subway to the top of Washington's RB depth chart.


Jim Harbaugh is a weird dude. He's a perfect mix of quirkiness and intensity. The kind of guy you just know had a garage full of half-baked inventions and collections of some of the strangest crap you've ever seen (like hollowed out rhino horns and ancient battle armor).

For this reason, it comes as know surprise that Harbaugh has created an imaginary character named Freddie P. Soft, which he uses to keep his players grounded.

According to Harbaugh, Soft is a four-inch man who appears on his player's shoulders in the weeks after a big victory. Soft tells the players how great they are, and tries to mess with their preparation.

It's up to the players to block out the noise.

Anyway, after last week's blowout win over the Jets and leading up to this week's game against the Bills, Freddie P. Soft was back at 49ers practice. On Sunday, we'll find out if he had any luck.


I missed this in the immediate aftermath of the lockout, but apparently theres an amendment in the new CBA requiring all players to take a public stance on gay marriage. And this week, Ravens center Matt Birk became the latest player to live up to his end of the bargain.

Ideas have consequences, and laws shape culture, Birk wrote in an article published in the Minnesota Star-Tribune. Marriage redefinition will affect the broader well-being of children and the welfare of society. As a Christian and a citizen, I am compelled to care about both.

Eh. What can you say? Everyones entitled to an opinion. But I dont imagine Terrell Suggs is very pleased to know that one of his teammates would stand in the way of his destiny with Tom Brady.


Granted, the Titans havent had an easy schedule over the first month of this season thanks to match-ups with the Patriots, Chargers, Lions and Texans but its still worth noting that Tennessees on pace to give up more points than any team in NFL history. Over their first four games, the Titans have given up 151 points; thats 37.7 a game and translates into 604 points over the course of 16 games. That would destroy the 1981 Baltimore Colts record of 533.

On Sunday, Tennessee visits Minnesota and the leagues 16th ranked offense. Is this the week the Titans D breaks through? I'd say there's a pretty good chance. Don't expect them to give up any more than 35 points.

I is for IT

Last week, Santana Moss had some kind words for Robert Griffith III after the rookie led Washington to a last second win over the Bucs: When it comes down to Robert, hes born with whatever he has, Moss said. You can ensure that when something breaks down hes going to make a play, some kind of way. I havent played with a lot of those guys. At the end of the day were fortunate to have that.

Don't you love when a grizzled old vet gets blind-sided by transcendent young talent? This is how it feels every time you hear one of the Angels talk about Mike Trout. Guys who have been in the league forever are seeing thing they never have before. And the rest of us just feel lucky to be apart of it.


Strange times at MetLife Stadium: This week, the Texans are favored by more points on the road against the Jets (9), than the Giants are at home against the Browns (8.5).

Read that one more time. There are many levels of astounding NFL reality pack into one confusing sentence. And heres the translation:

The Texans are that good. The Jets are that screwed. The Giants are that inconsistent and the Browns still have life.

K is for KO'D

Bad news for Danny Amendola, who injured his shoulder last night against Arizona and might be headed to the IR for the second straight season. I know that there are plenty of snake-bitten franchises in the NFL, but the Rams have really charged up the power rankings in the decade since Super Bowl XXXVI.

L is for LET DOWN

I cant tell you how many times Ive seen "Green Bay vs. Indianapolis" on this weeks schedule and literally been able to feel the blood start rushing through my veins. "Ooh . . . PackersColts. Game of the Week!!!"

A split-second later: Oh yeah. Forgot about that.

M is for MESSIAH

You know he's coming. Despite the fact that Tim Tebow's played only 31 of the Jets' 257 offensive snaps this season, by the end of next week, he will be the Jets starting quarterback.

It all starts with Monday night's game against the undefeated Texans a game in which Mark Sanchez might literally be murdered by JJ Watt. But either way, there's a very good chance the Jets lose their second straight game, the hype becomes too overwhelming and Rex Ryan announces that "We need a change." In comes Tebow for Week 6 against the lowly Colts, and he leads New York to victory. Now, the hype continues to build. Is he going to do it again? Is this for real? "Excuse me, we need a clean up over in the First Take studio, Skip Bayless' head blew up again." And what happens next? You know it.

October 21. 4:25 pm. New York Jets at New England Patriots.

N is for NBA

Did you see that Peyton Manning's wife is buying a stake in the Memphis Grizzlies?

Strange but true.

There's no official word on how much the Manning's are investing, but sources tell me that it's "at least enough to cover Tony Allen's subscription to Highlights magazine."


Its pretty remarkable how quickly the real referees took an issue that was threatening the integrity of an American treasure and turned into a complete non-issue. What is it? Are the real refs this good? Were the replacement refs that bad? Is this some freaky state of psychosis where the mere presence of the real refs has brain washed us into believing that everything is cool?

Answer: Who cares. Thank God that nightmare's over.


There's only one starting quarterback in the NFL who still hasn't thrown an interception this season. Can you name him?


Just kidding. It's Christian Ponder, the second year man out of Florida State whose consistency has been a major factor in the Vikings 3-1 start. Then again, it certainly helps matters when you have a running back like Adrian Peterson and a coach who's not Brad Childress.

Q is for QUINN

I always imagined that Brady Quinn would be a solid NFL quarterback. Granted, I dont have much credibility in the world of college football scouting, but there was something about Quinn the way he carried himself on the field, and handled the media that I always felt would translate well into the NFL game.

Five years later, the former first round pick is playing for his third team, over that time hes been beaten out for jobs by Derek Anderson, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. It's starting to look like it might not happen.

But it sure seems like he's going to get one more chance in Kansas City. In fact, something tells me that Matt Cassel's Sunday afternoon with the Ravens will be enough to force Romeo Crennel's hand and try to breathe some new life into the Chiefs offense.

R is for ROLE REVERSALSpeaking of the Ravens, they find themselves in some unfamiliar territory. Right now, for the first time since 1997 back in the the days of Vinny Testaverde and Michael Jackson Baltimores offense (5th) is ranked higher than its defense (11th).

Call it a combination of Ray and Ed getting older while Joe and the other Ray come into their own, but don't expect either side to have much trouble against the Chiefs.


The Lions are on a bye this week, so they probably don't deserve the attention here. Then again, when you achieve something that no one in the NFL has since 1940 . . . we make exceptions. Anyway, last week, Detroit became the first team since 72 years to allow a punt return touchdown and a kick-off return touchdown in consecutive games.

Obviously, this something Jim Schwartz needs to address over the break, but it will be fun if he doesn't. Or at least not before the Lions Week 7 game against Chicago. You'll probably want to pick up Devin Hester for that one.


As we all know, theres nothing more stupid than a Twitter beef. Except of course, a two-year-old Twitter beef.

But that's what they're talking about this week in Jacksonville, where the Bears and Jaguars will meet for the first time since Maurice Jones-Drew Tweet-murdered Jay Cutler for not playing through an injury in the playoffs. But more interesting than questions surrounding Mojo and Cutler's virtual relationship, is this one: Has a team ever scored negative points in an NFL game?

If not, Jacksonville's 32nd ranked offense and Chicago's fifth-ranked defense might break some new ground.


I mentioned this game earlier, but to elaborate: Browns at Giants I think Cleveland has a chance. Of course, now that I've made this opinion public, New York will win by 90, but what can you do.

First of all, the Browns aren't that bad. Despite their 0-4 record, they almost beat the Eagles, they hung with the Bengals in Cincinnati and competed with Ravens for most of last Thursday night. On Sunday, they'll be fresh off 10 days rest, looking to avoid 0-5.

Meanwhile, the Giants are coming off a loss to Philadelphia, but I think the more interesting fact is that this will is only their second Sunday afternoon of the season. Other three? All in prime time. It's hard to get up for these sad Sunday afternoon games when you're used to that lime light especially when it comes to an opponent like the Browns. In the Giants only other Sunday afternoon game, they came out looking like they'd roofied each other in the pregame locker room, and fell behind 27-13 to an average Buccaneers squad. The Giants woke up just in time, but you can't count on that every week.

You also can't count on Brandon Weeden, and if the Giants front line can get to the rookie early, this game might be over at halftime. Still, don't count out Cleveland. The inaugural NFL Alphabet Upset Special.

V is for VERB

cundiff (kun-dif)CUNDIFF


1. To miss a kick, game-winning or otherwise, regardless of distance andor conditions

2. To inexplicably maintain employment despite any and all attempts to get fired. (See also: To constanza)

Bill Cundiff may have kicked the game-winner (which barely made it through) for the Redskins last week, but if you saw his three missed kicks earlier in the game, you know that there's no good reason for this guy to still have a job. Did you see his quote after the game?

"Thank you," Cundiff said. "I kept saying, Thank you God' for giving me a chance to go out there and prove that the other kicks were just a fluke. ... Each time they got a chunk of yards I was even more and more confident knowing this was going to be my chance. And as I told (special teams coach Danny Smith), I said, Look, I was going to make that kick if I had to throw it through the uprights."

I don't know. I think I'd prefer a kicker who doesn't say anything, and is as confident in his ability to hit it from 45 yards as he is 25.

Also, a guy who realizes that you don't get points for throwing the ball through the uprights.

W is for WINNING

Here's the most "Eagles" stat of the 2012 season: They're fifth in the league in total yards and 30th in scoring. But more importantly, I guess there's this one: 3-1. Despite the ineptitude and ugliness of nearly every Eagles game, they keep finding ways to win. They found a way to beat the Ravens. They found a way to beat the Giants. And while no one can be sure just how good Philadelphia is, we're going to find out very soon.

Week 5: at Pittsburgh
Week 6: vs. Lions
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: vs. Falcons.

Prediction: 2-1, despite 13 team turnovers.

X is for X

X is on a bye week. Be sure to adjust your roster.


We know that this is the year of young quarterback in the NFL, but no team has reaped the benefits of this reality more than the Bengals. Proof: This weekend's game against Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins marks the fourth straight week that Cincy has played against a first or second-year QB.

In Week 2, they out-dueled Weeden and the Browns. In Week III, they outlasted Robert Griffin. Last week, they demolished Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars. And seeing how the Bengals after two weeks on the road will be back home this week against Miami, my money's on Tannehill falling the way of the Gabbert.


Greg The Leg Zeurlein rookie kicker for the St. Louis Rams, 13-13 on field goals including 4-4 from 50, and the break out star of the first month of this NFL season.

More importantly, Z-themed savior of this week's column.

That's all for now.

Enjoy the games.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”