What to expect in NFL’s offensive showdown: Chiefs vs Rams

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Normally, the 9-1 Chiefs at the 9-1 Rams would be the game of the year—it probably still is—and we’d be celebrating it breathlessly. And we still may, in the hours before the game; I’ll help in a moment. But two things have overshadowed it.

Moving the game out of Mexico City makes the NFL look like a bunch of slightly progressive pikers. “Pikers” because how can the league take a game that we’ve all known would be hugely attractive since it was announced on Jan. 31—two defending division champs with brainy offensive minds—and not properly supervise field conditions in the weeks leading up to the game 10 months later? It’s inexcusable. If the field was in trouble a month ago, which apparently it was, why didn’t the NFL throw its weight around then and insist on a new surface or tell officials there the game wouldn’t stay in Mexico? “Slightly progressive” because they did the right thing after all and moved the game instead of trying to force the players to play there—which, I am told by a player leader from one of the teams, they would not have done. And what a scene that would have been, players boycotting the Game of the Year.

The Rams are playing for a wide swath of southern California. They will remember tonight the families of those murdered in the Nov. 7 massacre at the nightclub four miles from their facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and for the police officer murdered in that tragedy, and also the first responders and those impacted by the fires that got as close to three miles from their facility and forced 90 Rams employees and family to evacuate their homes. Tonight, coaches and staff from both teams, instead of wearing Rams and Chiefs hates on the sidelines, will wear hats from local fire and rescue departments; all jerseys from the game, plus the hats, will be auctioned off to raise money for the victims. ESPN will show the anthem and the emotional pregame observances. The Rams have given away about 4,000 tickets to public servants and victims of the tragedies, and their players have gone the extra mile. Andrew Whitworth of the Rams gave his suite to the game to first responders, one of several donations made by players to reach out.

It’s going to be emotional night at the Coliseum. And there will be fans. Because this game was not on the team’s home schedule, they began selling tickets late Tuesday night, and in just a few days, they sold about 71,000 tickets. So along with the 4,000 donated ones, there should be roughly the same crowd as attended the red-hot Packers-Rams game at the Coliseum three weeks ago (75,822).

Now for the game. This is just a hunch, because nothing will surprise me in this game, not even a little defense being played. But in a game of tremendous offensive weapons—for both teams at quarterback, for both teams at running back, for both teams at wide receiver—the one player who I think has the best chance to be the game-breaker is Tyreek Hill. There is simply no player like him in football right now. I was in Kansas City last Sunday, and it took Hill (and Patrick Mahomes) 52 seconds to produce a touchdown against a secondary flailing to keep up with this freak of nature. Patrick Mahomes to Hill down the left side for 38 yards on the first play of the game. Mahomes incomplete to Hill. Then Mahomes to Hill, who ran past his man and had the corner pointing at the late safety, for a 37-yard touchdown. By the end of this game, my gut feeling is Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will really be missing Aqib Talib.

On Saturday, talking to Sean Payton during my time with the Saints, I mentioned to him that I’d been in Kansas City last Sunday, and I didn’t think there was a player like Hill in football. Payton smiled and nodded, and looked around to find Drew Brees.

“Hey Drew, tell Peter who’s the most dangerous player in football right now,” Payton said.

“Tyreek Hill,” Brees said.

Payton beamed and nodded.

It’s dangerous to predict which of the intergalactic talents will most influence this game. Todd Gurley is such a touchdown machine that he could more than make up for the loss of Cooper Kupp in offensive production. Patrick Mahomes could get on fire, and with the way Andy Reid spreads the field (his widest-split receivers line up so close to the white-striped boundary that I swear one time they’re going to start a play with a foot out of bounds), an accurate Mahomes could strafe the Rams for 350 yards or more. I’m just excited that it’s going to be a game played on a good field, on a 60-degreee evening with just a puff of wind, and we can judge two superb teams going head to head on fairly equal footing, with each missing a good receiver, Sammy Watkins (Chiefs) and Cooper Kupp (Rams). Bring on the spectacle, and the game.

MORE: Read the rest of Peter King’s Monday column by clicking here

NFL fans apparently don’t want an 18-game regular season

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In the news this week, as the league gets back to business for the 100th season of American professional football:

• The owners and players meet Wednesday in another formal bargaining session for a new CBA. A three-day meeting is scheduled between the NFL’s Management Council and the NFLPA’s Executive Committee (a 10-player unit including president Eric Winston and VPs Richard ShermanBenjamin Watsonand Adam Vinatieri). This will be the fourth bargaining session between owners and players this spring/summer, with the hope being the two sides can reach an agreement on a new bargaining agreement in 2019. (The CBA has two more seasons to run, and expires in the spring of 2021.)

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently told CNBC that it is “certainly our intent” to try to get a new CBA before the start of the season. In a round of calls Saturday, I got some optimism from a team source who felt the chance of making a deal on a new CBA was 50-50 this year if the union would stick with the current economic formula of the game; currently players get about 47 percent of the game’s gross revenue.

But I talked to a source on the player side who wasn’t nearly as hopeful, in part because he felt the players need a bigger cut of the pie to agree to a new deal two seasons out from the end of the current CBA. This person called the first three meetings positive, but baby steps toward a deal. I do know that there have not been any significant discussions on a change in the revenue split yet. Those talks will have to progress for anything to get done.

• The 18-game schedule is nowhere near a reality. I heard that one or two teams are interested in what the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the NFL has proposed discussing with the players as part of the CBA talks: an 18-game regular-season schedule, with each player eligible to play a maximum of 16 games. This is not a new idea—it’s been thrown around at league meetings as one idea to expand the inventory and enrich the league’s TV deals for years.

“I can’t see it,” one plugged-in club official told me. “Imagine you pay to see Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the Patriots announce that week it’s one of the two games he’ll sitting out this year. Now you’re seeing Brian Hoyer throw to some practice-squad guy. I don’t see any way we could ever do that.”

I’ve always thought in an era when the reduction of head trauma is job one in everything the league does, the only way the NFL could even consider 18 games is with teams playing players a maximum of 16 weeks. But the details make it too hard. How would a team divvy up the starts, say, for the starting offensive line? Would they figure the starting tackles should play every week with the starting quarterback, and thus doom the backup in his two games to a run-for-your-life offensive scheme?

The continued pursuit—or the continuing broaching—of an 18-game schedule is such a short-sighted and greedy thing. The NFL paid each team $275 million out of the league share of total revenue in 2018, and teams paid about $215 million annually in player costs (cap plus benefits). After that, teams can reap major raw profits over what they did in local team revenue.

Someone in the NFL seems determined to kill the most golden of geese by pursuing, even in a passing way, this stupid idea. Greed, in this case, is not good.

• Fans don’t want 18 games either. I put out a Twitter poll Saturday and Sunday, asking if readers preferred a 16 or 18-game schedule. Of 13,533 voters, 79 percent said 16. Great comment from a Vikings fan, Jason Altland: “If I pay out the nose for decent tickets in Baltimore or New York to see my Vikings, I want to see all the healthy stars play. I don’t want to pay and end up with a [Stefon] Diggs or {Adam] Thielen bye game.”

Pro Football Talk also polled its readers over the weekend about the 16/18-game idea, with more options than I offered … and 62 percent said they favored 16 games—with 8 percent saying they favored 18 with a maximum of 16 games per player per season.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Why Melvin Gordon’s holdout with the Chargers could get ugly

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I think this Melvin Gordon-Chargers impasse could get ugly. The Chargers running back, entering his fifth season, could hold out from training camp into the season if he doesn’t get either a new contract or a significant raise from his $5.6-million salary in 2019. There’s a few reasons the holdout could last a while, starting with the fact that Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who grew up in the Bill Polian front office of the Colts, is not afraid to take a hard line. But mostly, it’s about what happens in recent years when teams have either paid runners or drawn a hard line with them. Examples:

• Le’Veon Bell balked at the Steelers’ offer of $14.5 million on the franchise tag last year. James Conner wasn’t quite as productive as vintage Bell—270 touches, 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns—but he was close. And Conner, who made $754,572 last year, cost 1/19th of what Bell would have commended. No one in Pittsburgh is bemoaning the loss of Bell, though he’s a great player.

• Todd Gurley is a great back too, and the Rams paid a guaranteed $45 million last year. They’ll say they aren’t regretting what they paid Gurley, but an odd and persistent knee problem last year limited him to 88 carries in the Rams’ last nine games—including a 35-yard rushing performance in the Super Bowl. The Rams picked up C.J. Anderson off the street in December, and in five games, he rushed for 488 yards.

• David Johnson of the Cardinals responded to his new $13-million-a-year deal on the eve of the 2018 season by rushing for 940 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

• Devonta Freeman signed with Atlanta for $22 million guaranteed in 2017. He’s missed 16 of the Falcons’ last 32 regular-season games and averaged 58 yards per game in the 16 he’s played.

In 30 games over his two NFL seasons, Charger understudy Austin Ekeler has proven elusive and reliable, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 10.3 yards per catch, with just two lost fumbles. I don’t think Telesco will be afraid to take the slings and arrows of a holdout. So if you’re drafting your fantasy team very early, I’d give a long look at Ekeler.

Read more from Football Morning in America here