It’s time for the Raiders to send Antonio Brown a strong message

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There is No More To Say About Antonio Brown and His Helmet

NAPA, Calif. — But I’ll say it anyway: The Raiders should put Brown on notice today by sending him the dreaded “five-day letter,” which every agent and knowledgeable player would absolutely dread. This letter would mean that Brown would have to return to the team by Friday and (be an adult and) play with a league-approved helmet, or he would be put on the reserve/left squad list, meaning he couldn’t play for the Raiders or any team in 2019. It’s also Belichick insurance, preventing the Patriots or some other contender figuring they can deal with the Brown headache for four or five months if it allows them to win a game or three more.

I did consider urging the Raiders to just fire Brown. It just might come to that. But the five-day letter is a good starting point, because it draws a line in the sand immediately. As Mike Florio reported at Pro Football Talk, not reporting after receiving that letter would end Brown’s season and prevent the Raiders from having to pay $29.1 million future guarantees on Brown’s Oakland contract. It’s worth doing. Brown has driven the franchise to this, and he deserves this.

Today is not the day to make any judgment about Brown’s mental stability or his frame of mind. He might be fine; he might be legitimately troubled in a way we don’t know. I just know the Raiders went out on a limb to acquire him from Pittsburgh, then paid him a rich contract. Since then, Brown has been beyond childish about an issue that more than 2,000 players have coped with: wearing only safety-approved helmets in accord with a $60-million initiative in 2016 to ensure that every player wear a helmet that has been approved by a joint NFL/NFLPA testing process. Every team has 63 active and practice-squad players. So 2,015 players (some of whom might be ticked off about it) will start the season wearing approved helmets. One wants to wear a non-approved—and relatively unsafe—helmet. That one is Brown.

The NFL and NFLPA are not softening on this. They can’t. Last season was the first the NFL mandated that players wear only the approved helmets, with the proviso that veterans who wore other helmets would have a one-season grandfathering of the rule so they could wear unapproved helmets in 2018. About 33 players, including Brown, took advantage of the grandfather clause and wore unapproved helmets last year. This may be an outlier, but preseason and regular-season concussions fell from 281 in 2017 to 214 in 2018, a decline of 23.8 percent. Addressing head trauma is the hottest-button issue in football today. The last thing, then, that the NFL will do is to start making exceptions for players, or to allow players to sign waivers to wear unsafe helmets. Where would that stop? And what would happen if Brown signed a waiver, played with the unsafe helmet, and was diagnosed with a brain disorder at 45? Would the public sympathize with the league or Brown? And the courts? It’s not morally right for the sport with an issue as explosive as head trauma to start making exceptions.

On Monday, I met with rookie Raiders GM Mayock in his office at Raider camp. The Raiders thought the Brown issue had been quashed, and he’d abide by whatever ruling an independent arbiter made on whether he could wear his obsolete Schutt Air Advantage helmet. Though Brown had been a headache to that point, Mayock told me: “Unfortunately there is a sliding scale—the more talent a guy has, the more opportunities he’s going to get. But in the case of Antonio, Jon [Gruden] and I both had the advantage of being in the media and seeing Brown up-close over the years and seeing him practice as hard as anyone we’ve seen. We felt like and still feel like when he’s on the field he’s the best receiver in football. We support him and we’re behind him.”

Then Brown, late Monday, lost his grievance to be able to wear his old Schutt helmet; the NFL argued that a clause in the rules that said players could not wear helmets more than 10 years old—which Brown’s was—automatically disqualified the helmet from further use. The arbitrator agreed. Brown thought if he found any Schutt helmet that was less than 10 years old he’d be able to wear that going forward, but in midweek the league ruled that even the later model of the Schutt Air Advantage (discontinued in 2014) that Brown wanted to wear didn’t pass the testing process. So Brown would have to wear one of the NFL/NFLPA-approved helmets.

On Sunday, Brown was absent from camp. Mayock stood in front of writers at Raider camp and issued a terse 39-second statement that made it clear the organization has had enough. “He’s upset about the helmet issue,” Mayock said. “We have supported that. At this point we’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues of relief. So from our perspective it’s time for him to be all in or all out. We’re hoping he’s back soon. We’ve got 89 guys busting their tails. We’re really excited about where this franchise is going and we hope AB will be a big part of it starting week one against Denver. End of story. No questions.”

Mayock is pissed off. Gruden is pissed off. Maybe they can scotch-tape this together and Brown will pout a little and find a helmet that he’d tolerate; I suppose if he does and reports in the next couple of days, they’ve got to try to make it work. But when is the next time Mount Antonio’s going to blow? Make no mistake—it’ll happen. How many things did Mike Tomlin tamp down in Pittsburgh that we didn’t know about? It got to the point that a top-three receiver in football just wasn’t worth the constant BS that Brown brings to a team. So whatever the financial cost—and though the Raiders paid Brown only a $1-million signing bonus, he and agent Drew Rosenhaus would file a grievance to get the guaranteed money in the new contract—the tightrope Gruden will have to walk just isn’t worth it unless Brown surrenders right now.

For more, read the rest of this week’s Football Morning in America

NFL Conference Championship Picks: Predictions, betting favorites, best plays for 2023 AFC, NFC Championship games

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The NFC and AFC Championship games this weekend feature the top seeds in one game and a rematch of last year’s conference title game in the other. Each matchup is rife with storylines and the sports books expect each game to be close. In fact, for just the third time in the Super Bowl era, neither Conference Championship game has a team favored by three points or more.

Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles host Nick Bosa, Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon. Mike Shanahan and the 49ers have not lost since before Halloween while Nick Sirianni and the Eagles have lost just once this season with Jalen Hurts under center.

The AFC Championship game Sunday evening is, as mentioned, a rematch of last year’s game. Kansas City seeks revenge at home against Cincinnati after losing in OT last year. A win by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs would send them to their third Super Bowl in the last four seasons. A win by Joe Burrow and the Bengals means back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl for Cincinnati and a shot at their first Super Bowl win in franchise history.

RELATED: 2023 NFL Playoffs AFC, NFC Championship Round Schedule

Our NFL staff at NBC Sports EDGE have done a deep dive into these games to find their favorite plays of Championship Sunday. They offer them on everything from sides and totals to player props. The group includes Jay Croucher (@croucherJD), Vaughn Dalzell (@VMoneySports), and Lawrence Jackson (@LordDontLose). Tail (or fade) as you see fit.

San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles -2.5 (Over/Under 46.5)

  • Kickoff: January 29 at 3:00 p.m. ET (FOX)
  • Site: Lincoln Financial Field – Philadelphia, PA
  • Philadelphia Playoff History: 24-24 (3 Super Bowl appearances, 1 win)
  • San Francisco Playoff History: 37-23 (7 Super Bowl appearances – 5 wins)
  • Series History: San Francisco leads the all-time series with Philadelphia having won 20 of the 35 meetings with one tie between the two. The Eagles have hosted 17 of the games with the 49ers claiming victory in 11 of those. These teams have met just once in the playoffs. Back in the 1996 NFC Wild Card Game (12/29/96) Jerry Rice and Steve Young each scored touchdowns to propel San Francisco to a 14-0 victory against Philadelphia.

Note: If the current line stands, this game will be the first in which Brock Purdy is the underdog. He is 6-1 ATS thus far in his young career. Jalen Hurts is 9-2-1 ATS as a home favorite in his career and a whopping 7-0 ATS as a single-digit favorite at Lincoln Financial Field.

Croucher: George Kittle OVER 3.5 Receptions and Miles Sanders UNDER 6.5 Receiving Yards

The Eagles concede an above-average amount of receptions to opposing tight ends, and in a game where the Niners will likely be throwing, expect Brock Purdy to target his favorite weapon.

Miles Sanders has gone under this number in five straight games, never topping one target in any of those games, and the Niners are elite at defending running backs in the passing game.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023

Dalzell: Dallas Goedert UNDER 47.5 Receiving Yards (-115)

The 49ers have had the best defense against Tight Ends in the NFL for the last two seasons. Opposing Tight Ends as a unit average Under 40 yards per game against San Francisco yet books want Dallas Goedert to get almost 50 himself.

Last week against the Giants, Goedert caught five passes on five targets for 58 yards and a TD, so this line could be a little inflated. He went Under 47.5 yards in three out of four games to end the regular season.

There are so many options in this offense on the ground and through the air ranging from AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith, Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Zach Pascal, Quez Watkins and Goedert. I would play this down to 44.5 receiving yards.

After ripping off that long list of skill position players without even mentioning Jalen Hurts, you can understand why I am also leaning Eagles ML as well.

RELATED: 49ers Super Bowl history

Jackson: Eagles to win by 1-13 points (+310) and A.J. Brown most receiving yards (+210)

Go big or go home. What I saw in the 49ers/Cowboys’ game last week is a Dallas team that played more than good enough to win except at one position. Despite the turnovers and failure to capitalize on a turnover, the Cowboys lost to the 49ers by seven points. The Eagles’ defense is good enough to match what the Cowboys did against the 49ers especially when it comes to rushing the passer. Furthermore, do not expect the Eagles’ offense to be as careless and unprepared offensively as Dallas was against the best defense in football. If you like the Eagles to win, it only makes sense to sprinkle this in.

A.J. Brown only gathered in 22 yards of receptions last week as he frankly was not needed much against the Giants due to the Eagles’ success rushing the ball. Prior to that he had gone four straight games with at least 95 yards receiving. Earlier this week he made some (non-diva) comments about getting the ball and it should be his time against the 49ers. The Niners are the second-best run defense in football so the Eagles will (and can) get it done through the air. Look for the Eagles to flip the script on the game plan and do what works this week which means a solid day for Brown.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs -1 (Over/Under 48)

  • Kickoff: January 29 at 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
  • Site: Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City, MO
  • Kansas City Playoff History: 18-21 (2 Super Bowl wins – 4 Appearances)
  • Cincinnati Playoff History: 10-15 (3 Super Bowl appearances – 0 wins)
  • Series History: These two teams had never met in the postseason prior to last year’s AFC Championship Game. In that game the Bengals defeated the Chiefs in overtime by the score of 27-24. Cincinnati and Kansas City have met 31 times in the regular season with the Bengals having won 17 of the games.

Note: With the line shifting towards Kansas City, the Chiefs have now been favored in 15 straight playoff games. It is the longest streak by any team in the Super Bowl era. Patrick Mahomes has never been a playoff underdog. He is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to be favored in each of his first 13 playoff starts.

Croucher: Kansas City Chiefs ML (-115) and Jerick McKinnon Over 27.5 Rushing Yards (-115)

Coming into last week the Bills and Chiefs were rated as approximately equal, and the Bills closed 6-point favorites at home to Cincinnati. Naturally, Cincy’s impressive performance and the injury to Patrick Mahomes has to reduce the line significantly from -6 but going from -6 to Pk is an over-adjustment. The Chiefs should be 2-point favorites here.

Jerick McKinnon played 44 of 68 snaps last week and is more trusted in pass protection than Isiah Pacheco. A running back playing 65% of snaps in Kansas City’s offense should not be set as low as 27.5 rushing yards, particularly if Mahomes is limited.

RELATED: How to watch Cincinnati Bengals vs Kansas City Chiefs

Dalzell: Joe Burrow OVER 24.5 Completions (-122) and Kansa City Chiefs ML (-115)

Burrow completed 23 passes on 36 attempts last week and did not throw a pass from the 12-minute mark until the end of the game, hitting his Under 25.5 completions and 38.5 attempts, barely. I like Burrow to go over his 24.5 and 25.5 completions line in the AFC Championship as I do not expect Joe Mixon to recreate his 100-yard performance, which last week was only his second such outing of the season. At 23 completions in each of the two postseason games, expect that number to increase here.

For the game winner, I will take the Chiefs to extract revenge on the Bengals after losing the AFC Championship Game, 27-24 in OT last season. Patrick Mahomes is healthier than most expected entering this game.

Kansas City has a chance to reach the Super Bowl for the third time in four years, while Cincy is looking to make back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl. I think this line adjusting to a pick-em or -1 for Kansas City is incorrect. I would make this -3 to -3.5 for the Chiefs.

RELATED: Bengals Super Bowl history

Jackson: Isiah Pacheco OVER 47.5 rushing yards (-115) and Will the team that scores the first points win the game? NO (+140)

While the Bengals’ run defense is not a pushover, this prop is simply too low. Do not be fooled by the Bills’ lack of success on the ground last week against Cincinnati because they cannot run the ball against anyone. J.K. Dobbins was able to gain 62 yards on 13 carries against the Bengals in the Wildcard Round. The week prior, Kenyan Drake ran for 60 yards against the Bengals. Pacheco has gone over 55 rushing yards in nine of his last 10 games and should get enough carries to do so again. This one is not hard.

Let’s switch it up a bit and have a little fun for some plus money. The Bengals and Joe Burrow have won the last three games against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs (including the playoffs). In only one of these games (Week 13 of the 2022 season) did the first team to score go on to win the game. Basically, when you have two juggernauts, it does not matter who scores first. Taking the team who scores first to win is currently set at -200 and not is worth that risk.

Enjoy the games and enjoy the sweat.

The team at NBC Sports EDGE has you covered with the latest in best plays and player news from Wild Card Weekend through to Super Bowl LVII. Now, all premium tools for Fantasy and Betting are included in one subscription at one low price. Customers can subscribe to NBC Sports EDGE+ monthly for $9.99. Click here to learn more!

2023 NFL Playoffs: Ranking potential Super Bowl LVII matchups

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The 2023 NFL playoffs continue this Sunday, and Conference Championship weekend looks quite similar this year as it did in 2022. Three of the four teams that reached last year’s Super Bowl semis are back again this season – the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals. The lone change is the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles replacing the reigning champion Los Angeles Rams. With the NFC and AFC Championship Games rapidly approaching, let’s rank the four potential Super Bowl LVII Matchups:

RELATED: 2023 NFL Playoffs Schedule

Ranking potential Super Bowl LVII Matchups

1. Kansas City Chiefs vs Philadelphia Eagles

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid going up against his former team… yes please! The story writes itself! Reid spent his first 14 seasons as an NFL head coach in Philadelphia, and even led them to their first Super Bowl appearance back in the 2004 season. Reid and the Eagles fell short in that Super Bowl, but the future Hall of Fame head coach got his title in Kansas City 15 years later. How sweet would it be to see Reid and Patrick Mahomes earn their second Lombardi Trophy against the team where Reid made his name.

RELATED: 2023 NFL Playoffs scores

2. Kansas City Chiefs vs San Francisco 49ers

This would be a rematch of Super Bowl LIV from the 2019 season, which saw Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs overcome a 10-point 4th-quarter deficit to beat the 49ers 31-20 and bring Kansas City its first Lombardi Trophy. The Chiefs outscored the 49ers 21-0 in the 4th quarter of that Super Bowl win, something you know San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan wants to earn redemption for. 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy would become the first rookie to start a Super Bowl, assuming Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t back in the mix – is the moment too big for Mr. Irrelevant? Or will he continue to make history?

Also worth noting – the 49ers have won 12 straight games heading into the NFC Championship (it would be 13 if they reached the Super Bowl). Their last loss came in Week 7, when they fell 44-23 to none other than the Chiefs.

RELATED: PFT’s conference championship game picks

3. Cincinnati Bengals vs San Francisco 49ers

Cincinnati has been to the Super Bowl on three occasions in franchise history. They are 0-3 in those games, and are one of 12 active NFL franchises who have never won a Super Bowl. Last year, they lost 23-20 to the Rams in Los Angeles. Their other two appearances came in the 1981 and 1988 seasons. Both times, they to lost Bill Walsh’s 49ers in one-possession games. Joe Burrow keeps re-writing Bengals history, and he can cement his status as a Cincinnati legend if he can enact revenge on the 49ers in Super Bowl LVII.

Aside from that, who wouldn’t want to see Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins take on the NFL’s best defense. And you can’t forget about Brock Purdy, the 49ers’ 3rd string QB to start the season, looking to become the first rookie QB to win the Super Bowl.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl LVII

4. Cincinnati Bengals vs Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia has been the NFC’s top team all season, and with Jalen Hurts seemingly able to manage his shoulder injury, the Eagles’ offense is back to being one of the most exciting units in the NFL. On the flip side, all Joe Burrow and the Bengals do is show up when the lights are brightest. Can head coach Zac Taylor and Burrow lead Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl title? And you can’t forget the two best wide receiver duos in the game: AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith on one side, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins on the other.

Conference Championship Round Schedule:

Sunday, January 29

NFC Championship Game:

San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles – 3:00 p.m. ET on Fox

  • Where: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

AFC Championship Game:

Cincinnati Bengals vs Kansas City Chiefs – 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS

  • Where: Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri

 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Playoffs, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!