By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You may or may not remember the little misunderstanding between the Patriots and the NFL, a minor snafu that resulted in Roger Goodell taking a first-round pick away from the Patriots. They very cleverly called it “Spygate.” It was a whole thing. It was on the news.
Despite the prevailing narrative that the commissioner “went soft” on the Patriots, this level of punishment was unprecedented, as the league had never before robbed a team of its top pick.
And sure enough, almost a decade later, spurred on by a drummed-up imaginary ball-deflation story that was too juicy to ignore, Goodell did it again, this time not only docking the Patriots their first-round pick but also including language that for all intents and purposes barred them from acquiring any other first-round pick. (The Patriots had, of course, outsmarted the system by still owning the No. 7 overall pick in 2008, the year that their own first-round pick — No. 31 overall — was stripped.)
The idea behind this type of punishment is quite obvious, as fellow NFL owners and the commissioner himself all have grown a bit tired of seeing the Patriots playing in the AFC Championship Game almost every single year for two decades. And there may be no greater way to restore competitive balance than to prevent a team from adding All-Pro levels of talent in the first round. It ensures — theoretically at least — that a steady stream of high-talent, low-cost players will be hindered significantly, essentially cutting a team down at the knees.
Alas, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have overcome. And it appears they’ve inspired the Rams to try the same.
The Rams, you might recall, buzzed their way to a 13-3 record last year, and they even made the Super Bowl thanks to the biggest officiating gaffe in modern NFL history. Had a play or two broken their way, maybe they could have even been Super Bowl champs.
Well, those Rams and general manager Les Snead have not made a selection in the first round of the draft since 2016, when they were in the process of moving from St. Louis to L.A. They used that pick — the first overall selection — on quarterback Jared Goff.
The Rams traded away their 2017 first-rounder in the deal to move up and select Goff a year earlier. They traded their 2018 first-round pick to the Patriots in exchange for Brandin Cooks (to whom they instantly gave an incredible amount of money). They traded their 2019 first-rounder to Atlanta in a pick swap.
And as it stands now, the Rams won’t be making a first-round pick for a long time.
The team traded a 2020 first-round pick, and a 2021 first-round pick, and a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville in exchange for cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Ramsey is a very good cornerback, no doubt. He represents an upgrade over Marcus Peters (for whom the Rams traded a second-round pick to acquire), and he might prove very helpful to a middle-of-the-pack pass defense.
Nevertheless, opting to go five years without your first-round pick is a bold strategy, to say the very least. It’s like tying your own hand behind your back before a fight — a fight where you know the opponent will not be showing the slightest bit of mercy.
That’s especially true when you give up two first-round picks to acquire a player whose deal expires after 2020, a player who is set to probably fetch the top dollar at his position.
And with over $100 million now invested in a quarterback who has seven touchdowns and seven interceptions and who ranks 28th in passer rating, with an offensive line that looks like it could sorely use some help, and with an injured running back carrying a massive cap hit for years to come, it’s also fair to say that there’s quite a lot riding on the Rams this season. If they can get on some sort of a win streak and get into the playoffs, maybe they can recapture some of that 2019 magic.
But with a 3-3 record, with two superior teams sitting above them in the NFC West, there’s also the chance that this could all go sideways in a hurry. When you consider that massive $5 BILLION stadium opening that’s planned for 2020, the significance of holding it together this season becomes all the more significant.
They’ll be fine in the short term, because their next two opponents — Atlanta and Cincinnati — are terrible. But a six-week stretch from mid-November through Christmas has them playing Chicago, Baltimore and Seattle at home, with trips to Dallas and San Francisco as well. (A trip to Arizona is nestled in that stretch, but shouldn’t be a problem.) Given their current status in the standings, they’ll likely need to go 4-2 or better in order to make up any ground on anybody.
And if they don’t? They’ll be without a playoff berth, and they’ll be without a first-round pick for at least two years, and they’ll be without a whole lot of cap room if they sign Ramsey to a long-term deal.
We have ourselves a few too many cliches in sports. But it’s accurate to say that the Rams are all in on 2019.
(Thursday lines; home team in CAPS)
Kansas City (-3) over DENVER
I’m fully intrigued by the potential of Vic Fangio stifling the high-flying Chiefs offense, much the same way he famously did as Chicago’s defensive coordinator last year against the Rams. There’s a precedent that Fangio can draw up an impressive defense game plan, and it’s likely he’s been working on this one for a while.
If only he had an offense, though. Phillip Lindsay should be able to run wild, to the point where it should be a competitive game. But he alone can’t light up the scoreboard. And Joe Flacco is … not … good. Shocker.
Houston (+1) over INDIANAPOLIS
It’s been a treat to watch Deshaun Watson finally ascend to that level we all expected him to reach. Over his last four games, he’s completed 73.2 percent of his passes, throwing for over 300 yards per game with nine touchdowns and two interceptions for a 114.1 passer rating. He’s also rushed for three touchdowns and 119 yards on 24 carries, picking up road wins at the Rams and at the Chiefs.
Los Angeles Rams (-3) over ATLANTA
I’m honestly surprised that Arthur Blank allowed Dan Quinn to board the plane home from Phoenix last weekend. That right there is a dead team walking.
BUFFALO (-17) over Miami
You absolutely have to take Josh Allen and Co. to cover a 17-point spread here. And that says a whole lot more about the Dolphins than it does about Josh Allen and Co.
The Bills’ offense has been sneaky good this year, rushing for 140 yards per game. The Dolphins, after farting away what will be their best chance at victory all season and then putting their best/only good offensive player on the trade block, will not be competitive for a single second on Sunday.
Jacksonville (-3.5) over CINCINNATI
The Bengals are 1-13 in their last 14 games. As the great Trent Dilfer once said, you cannot lose games and still win in the NFL.
San Francisco (-9.5) over WASHINGTON
What was the best part of working in Washington?
“Being able to work with my dad & be around some other good coaches.”
What was the worst part?
— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) October 16, 2019
DETROIT (+1.5) over Minnesota
Yes, I have seen this random-as-hell surge by the Minnesota Vikings. No, I refuse to officially acknowledge it as anything but a mirage.
They are who I think they are. Dang it.
NEW YORK GIANTS (-3) over Arizona
There’s no right pick here. The Kyler Murray-Daniel Jones matchup doesn’t exactly carry the heft one might expect when the first overall pick goes up against the sixth overall pick less than two months into their respective NFL careers. You can blame that lack of hype on the fact that both teams stink, and also on the fact that Daniel Jones went to Duke, so nobody in the country ever watched him play football and thus, nobody gets excited to watch him.
That’s just science.
GREEN BAY (-5.5) over Oakland
America probably wants to see the Packers stumble after Monday night’s officiating mess. And a well-rested Raiders team coming off a post-London bye week could theoretically pose a threat. But that’s two weeks of the Raiders to sit around and think about how great they are. That’s bad news for the Raiders.
TENNESSEE (-2) over Los Angeles Chargers
Normally when a team makes a switch to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, you let out a hearty belly laugh, pick against them, and go about your day.
But the Los Angeles Chargers are DEAD. D-E-D dead. Last Sunday night was the final blow. Dead.
CHICAGO (-3.5) over New Orleans
The flip side to the Raiders spending all that time reading their press clippings is that the Bears have had two weeks to stew about losing to the Raiders. Yikes.
As a result, this Teddy Bridgewater fairy tale will live no more.
SEATTLE (-3) over Baltimore
This is … this is … yup … after double-checking, this is indeed a rare GOOD matchup in the NFL. By golly!
The idea of Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson going back and forth is pretty good in its own right. It’s even better when you just know that Earl Thomas is going to commit some sort of penalty for over-aggressively trying to let the Seahawks know that they screwed up by letting him go. (You may or may not remember him flipping off Pete Carroll’s sideline last year? That was awesome.)
In any event, the Ravens are 4-2, but they haven’t covered a spread since they stomped the Dolphins in Week 1. And the Dolphins aren’t even an NFL team.
Seattle’s proven to be a tough place to play, even for teams that are actually very good. And with narrow wins over the Cardinals, Bengals and third-stringed Steelers, as well as a home loss to Cleveland, I’m not sure we know that the Ravens are even in that category to begin with.
Philadelphia (+3) over DALLAS
Doesn’t it seem like we are all in Year 30 of this melodrama where we ask “WILL JERRY JONES FIRE JASON GARRETT?!?!?!?!?!” It’s remarkable, really, that the same record just plays over and over again down in Dallas. You’d think that someone — anyone — would have noticed by now that it’s always going to be like this until that answer is finally affirmative.
NEW YORK JETS (+9.5) over New England
Final score and final stats aside, Gregg Williams’ defense actually did kind of an OK job against the Patriots in Foxboro back in Week 3. Yes, it came after the Patriots scored touchdowns on their first three drives, but after taking that 21-0 lead, the Patriots punted on four straight drives. After taking over at the Jets’ 17-yard line, they were then held to a field goal.
All told, the Patriots went 25:29 between touchdowns. So if Sam Darnold can play anything at all like he played last weekend, and if the Jets’ offense can present even the most moderate of challenges for New England’s top-ranked defense, then it’s possible that the Jets are able to keep things close throughout the evening in New Jersey.
(It’s also possible that the Patriots win by one-hundred football points. Pick against them at your own peril.)
(Also, please pay no attention to last week’s record. To borrow some phrasing from Bill Belichick, what I picked was not the same as what it was — what I had picked previously. It is what it is.)
Last week: 5-9