Curran: San Diego just a casualty of Goodell, NFL's pursuit of $25 billion

Curran: San Diego just a casualty of Goodell, NFL's pursuit of $25 billion

The 2016 NFL season opened with the league’s most accomplished player in exile, the recipient of a four-game suspension that cost tens of millions for Roger Goodell to ultimately carry out.

He got it done. But in the process, the deceitfulness, vindictiveness and hypocrisy unearthed did more damage to Goodell, the “Shield” and the owners that pay him than it did to Brady.

And now, the 2016 season will conclude with a painful franchise relocation for the San Diego Chargers. Quite a legacy Roger’s carving out for himself, isn’t it?

ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, wrote a piece Thursday about the Chargers move to Los Angeles. Wickersham recalled Chargers owner Dean Spanos standing to speak to a room of his fellow owners last month in Texas, Spanos explaining how bleak it was becoming in San Diego.

“It became clear why Spanos was speaking: He was telling them … that he was planning to move to L.A. It was sad and dire and unprecedented in Roger Goodell's decade as commissioner: An owner unwillingly moving a team to a city that doesn't seem to want it, sharing a stadium with an owner, Stan Kroenke, who doesn't want to split it, witnessed and engineered by a group of owners whose sympathy only goes so far.

" 'I have no choice,' Spanos said."

This is life in Goodell’s NFL. Or, rather, the NFL that Goodell serves as the figurehead CEO/Sheriff/Human Shield/Pissboy for.

He’s got one team that moved from St. Louis to the coveted Los Angeles market – the Rams – which despite league efforts to prop it up wound up somehow causing NFL ratings in the city to go down.  

He’s got another team trying to extricate itself from Oakland to go to Las Vegas, which means another pissed-off fanbase that the league really couldn’t care less about. San Diego will join that list now so another team can set up shop in a city that is unmoved by the presence of one team and will be doubly unmoved by the presence of a second.

The league’s rudderless operations department butchered investigations (Josh Brown), events (The Hall of Fame Game) and selectively enforced its rules so that its pet franchises remained above the fray.

This weekend, you can guaran-damn-tee the product – the game itself – will be undercut at some point by a subjective judgment from a game official that the entire nation will know is wrong thanks to instant replay. But the official won’t be privy to it because why would you want the guy making the decision to have all the information.

All in the quest to get to $25 billion.

That’s what this is all about. The ultimate Viagra moment for the NFL came in 2010 when at the Annual Meeting in Orlando, Goodell told the 32 member clubs he could get the league to $25 billion in revenue by 2027. 

It was at $8.35 billion then.

It’s over $13 billion now.

The key to wringing networks, sponsors, you and me for the next $12 billion over the next decade means there’s no time for feelings, loyalty or tapping the brakes to ask whether the whole operation is headed in the right direction.

Growth. Growth. Mommyscratching growth.

That’s what the owners -- 15 of which have come into possession of their franchise since 1990 -- understand because that’s what their own businesses did to make it possible for them to buy NFL teams.

Goodell’s made a mockery of the word “integrity” over the past three years. And 2016 has become a stain on his legacy that hopefully remains visible long after he’s put out to pasture to wallow in money the game earned him. He likes to describe himself as a mere “steward”, in service to the fans and the game. By now, we all know that’s not true. He’s a strip-miner in service to his owners.

Dean Spanos didn’t want to leave San Diego. But San Diego wasn’t going to bend over and allow a publicly-financed stadium to be lodged in its behind by a league that thinks it’s going to be earning – again - $25 BILLION a year in a decade.

So now there are two franchises that will share one stadium in a town that doesn’t care. You’re killing it, Roger. Killing it.

Wildcard Weekend confirms Patriots in class of their own in AFC

Wildcard Weekend confirms Patriots in class of their own in AFC

[This post has been updated following the Steelers’ win over the Dolphins to reflect that the Patriots will face the Texans in the divisional round.]

Hey, so turns out the other AFC playoff teams might stink. Who knew? 

Putting aside that the Patriots already beat the Texans, 27-0, without Tom Brady, it’s tough to look at the results of Wildcard Weekend and be worried by what the Patriots might have coming at them next week or the one after. 

Houston’s got some studs on defense, but take Saturday’s performance with a reminder that it was against a rookie fourth-round quarterback making his first NFL start. And for as dynamite as Jadeveon Clowny was, keep in mind it was against backup tackle Menelik Watson.

Now look at the offense and how the Texans built their lead in that game. After Houston punted on its first drive, the Raiders started their first possession at their 7-yard-line and played like a bunch of idiots. Connor Cook nearly threw a pick-six to Jadeveon Clowney, but the drive ended up being a 3-and-out followed by a bad punt from Marquette King that started the Texans at the Oakland 40. That led to an eight-yard drive from the Texans that yielded a field goal. 

Houston’s next drive came as the result of Cook throwing an interception that gave the Texans a 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard-line. Lamar Miller ran it in on the drive’s first play. 

The Texans built a lead they didn’t relinquish and they did it by starting with excellent field position and jumping on a rookie quarterback’s mistakes. Oh, and Oakland’s defense was below-average this season (21st in the NFL in points allowed, 23rd by Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average), so that Texans offense needed good field position to put up an unspectacular performance against an unspectacular defense. 

Phil Perry recently pointed out that field position doesn't come up often enough in the discussion of why the Patriots shut teams down. Per Football Outsiders, the Patriots gave their opponents the worst average field position to begin drives this season. The Pats also threw two interceptions all season, so it’s not like there’s much evidence New England will do its opponent the kind of favors the Raiders did on Saturday.  

The Steelers, meanwhile, didn’t need good field position to rough up the Dolphins Sunday. Pittsburgh had Antonio Brown, and that was enough for the Steelers to score more points in the first quarter than Miami did in the entire game. One shouldn't be as quick to dismiss them as they should with the Texans.

Still, their competition was so bad in their Wild Card game that it's tough to get a read on whether they're playing great football or thriving in an easy situation. That timely forced fumble in the final minute of the first half with the Dolphins eight yards from a touchdown? Chalk that up to shoddy ball protection from Matt Moore, something no one would expect out of Tom Brady. 

When looking at these teams, and even the No. 2 seed Chiefs, it’s extremely difficult to not pencil the Pats in for the Super Bowl before they’ve even played a postseason game. A very diligent piece by the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier notes that the Pats’ league-best defense in terms of points allowed is statistical fool’s gold and didn’t really play any good offenses this season. Then again, they’re not likely to face one in any of their conference’s playoff games, either. 

The Patriots finished third in the NFL (and tops in the AFC) in points scored. Of the other AFC playoff teams, know was second in that category? You saw them get eliminated Saturday. 

The Steelers were tied for 10th in points scored this season. The Chiefs were 13th and the Texans were tied for 28th. 

In the Patriots’ only loss with Tom Brady under center this season, they allowed 31 points to the Seahawks. Between all the other remaining AFC playoff teams, only the Steelers had a 31-point game against a playoff team this season, and they did it against the Chiefs. Sure, Pittsburgh put up 30 points Sunday, but that was against a Miami team that allowed an average of 23.8 points per game during the regular season.

This isn't to discredit the weapons that Pittsburgh has. Brown was a monster Sunday and so too was Le'Veon Bell (167 rushing yards, two touchdowns). Ben Roethlisber remains Ben Roethlisberger. The issue is that, should the teams potentiallly meet in a potential AFC Championship, the Patriots would put up a hell of a lot more than the six points the mediocre Dolphins mustered.

Is there a team in this bunch that’s really going to put a ton of points on the Patriots this postseason while also clamping down Instagram Tom and Co.? It’s hard to imagine that based on what we've seen thus far in the playoffs.

AFC WILD CARD: Osweiler returns to lead Texans over Oakland 27-14

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AFC WILD CARD: Osweiler returns to lead Texans over Oakland 27-14

Brock Osweiler finally looked like the player Houston spent $72 million on, throwing for a touchdown and running for another to lead the Texans to a 27-14 wild-card playoff win over the Oakland Raiders on Saturday.

Osweiler, benched on Dec. 18, got his job back this week with Tom Savage out with a concussion, and played his best game of the season to give the Texans their first playoff victory since the 2012 season.

View full story here.