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NFL experts reveal one thing they’d like to change about the sport

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The idea: ask smart people, 25 of them, in and around football, what they’d do if they could change one thing about the sport of professional football.

Below is a handful of the responses I received. 

Read all 25, as well as the rest of this week’s Football Morning in America, here

Ron Wolf: Cut Down On Flags

Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager

I spent 38 active years in professional football. I came in not knowing anything at all about pass interference, and guess what? After those 38 years, I left without knowing what pass interference is. I think that the officials have responsibility in too many areas nowadays. The rule that drives me batty is “players in a defenseless posture.” The thing I fail to understand is throughout the ages when hasn’t a receiver been in a defenseless position? Interestingly, football has always been a game of blocking, tackling and kicking. It is supposed to be a spartan game and necessary roughness was a huge part of its attraction and still is. It’s my firm belief that the game should go back to the coaches and players to determine the outcome of a contest. There are way too many flags flying in today’s game. It takes away from the spectacular aspect of the sport. People love the toughness, the dedication, the overall athletic skill of the performers on the field, and they should be the ones that determine the final outcome of any contest—not the officials.

Dean Blandino: Make Every Play Replay-Reviewable

FOX officiating analyst, former NFL vice president of officiating

Two thoughts:

• I have come full circle on this since I worked in the league, but I now think coaches should be able to challenge anything they want. Don’t increase the number of challenges. Put the onus on the coach to save his challenges. This would simplify the rule because you wouldn’t have to wonder what’s reviewable and what isn’t. Now that the leaguer has added pass-interference to reviewable calls, we’re going to see the creep begin. Next year, they’ll add something else. By not opening it up to all things being reviewable, all we are doing is delaying the inevitable.

• The league needs to put real resources behind officiating. Nothing the league does impacts the game more than officiating, and I believe it’s probably the area least valued by the league. I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes, because the NFL treated me great. But officiating in the NFL is treated almost as a necessary evil. You see on-field officials, good ones, moving to network jobs before the end of their careers. The NFL needs to be competitive and compensate the officials better, and also give them better resources in training.

Pete Carroll: Kill Instant Replay

Head coach, Seattle Seahawks

Get rid of—or at least decrease the use of—instant replay. I get all the reasons why we have instant replay, and technology has opened up a new world for us to get to this point. But I miss the human element of trusting the officials to make the calls in the moment and then the rest of us having to live with what they called. It was both fun and frustrating, but I really liked the game better when the officials were just as much a part of the game as the players.

Hunter Henry: Ensure That Each Team Gets a Possession in Overtime

Tight end, Los Angeles Chargers

I think both teams should have a chance to touch the ball in overtime, especially in the playoffs. The league should allow both sides of the ball to have a chance to be successful. Take Kansas City last year. I think it would have been cool to at least see them touch the ball in overtime after the Patriots went down the field and scored. Obviously, I think the Patriots earned it and that’s the rule, but it would be cool for the Patriots defense to go out and say, ‘Now, we have to stop these guys.’ Then, if they stopped them, the game is over. If not, the game continues.

Calais Campbell: Make Every Healthy Player Active on Game Day

Defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars

One rule change I’d like to propose is eliminating inactives on game day. If teams can dress and play all 53 guys on Sundays, it would help decrease injuries incurred during competition because it would allow more rest and substitutions. If players are aware that there are more guys on the team that can substitute in for a play or two, guys will be less inclined to remain in the game with an injury that could worsen with more time on the field. Overall, more players on the active roster would lead to better health for all players.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Sunday NFL playoff odds: Patriots, Saints listed as favorites

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The matchup involves the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, at home, in January, with the prospect of nasty northeast weather – but then there’s also their opponent’s sterling record as an underdog.

The Patriots are 4-point betting favorites on the NFL odds against the Los Angeles Chargers with a 47.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com for their Divisional Playoff matchup at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots are 15-0 straight-up and 12-3 against the spread in their last 15 games as home favorites, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, and are also 7-3 ATS in their last 10 playoff games. However, the Chargers are 5-0 SU in their last five games on the East Coast, and are also 7-1 SU and ATS in their last eight games as an underdog of 4.5 or fewer points.

The Chargers, who are 13-4 SU and 10-7 ATS, did not need a great show of offensive proficiency to advance out of Wild Card Weekend, but quarterback Philip Rivers is one of the NFL’s best at the chunk play – passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield – and the Patriots, at least in the regular season, showed some vulnerability in their deep coverage.

The Chargers’ leading rusher, Melvin Gordon, is expected to be healthy to face a run defense that was 29th in opponents’ yards per carry (4.9).

How the Patriots, who were 11-5 SU and 9-7 ATS, go about their business barely needs introducing – they give Brady a tightly insulated pocket and work in a bruising running game. New England allowed just 21 sacks in the regular season but the Chargers have strong edge pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

The Chargers boast a stout pass defense (7.1 yards per attempt) that particularly excels at taking away tight ends, so Rob Gronkowski could be limited, forcing Brady to find outside targets such as Julian Edelman. New England’s losses this season have come when their ground game was stifled, and the Chargers have an adequate run defense.

Weather could be a factor, and the total has gone UNDER in five of the Chargers’ last six games against the Patriots, with a combined score of 40.5 points. The total has also gone UNDER in eight of the Patriots’ last nine games, with an average combined score of 40.89 points.

Also Sunday, the New Orleans Saints are 8-point betting favorites against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 51.5-point total in their Divisional Playoff matchup. The Saints are 14-2 SU in their last 16 games at home, but just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 playoff games as the favorite. The Eagles are 1-4 SU and ATS in their last five games against the Saints.

The Eagles, who are 10-7 SU and 7-9-1 ATS after eking out a Wild Card Weekend win at Chicago, seem to be a changed team from the one that lost 48-7 against the Saints eight weeks ago. Quarterback Nick Foles has a matchup against a defense that was in the lower third of the league in stopping the pass, so the playoff-seasoned Eagles might be able to extend a trend of being 6-2 ATS in their last eight games in the playoffs on the road.

The Eagles’ by-committee backfield gets different conditions indoors at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome than at Chicago’s Soldier Field, but the Saints have the league’s No. 2-ranked run defense.

The Saints, 13-3 SU and 10-6 ATS, clearly rate the edge at quarterback since Drew Brees has been unstoppable in his climate-controlled home. While the Eagles seem sounder physically and schematically than they were in that Week 11 shellacking, Brees just has too many weapons – Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, just to name two – and an offensive line that allowed just 20 sacks should limit the Eagles’ capability of getting pressure with a four-man rush.

One reason why the Saints might not cover the touchdown-plus point spread, though, is that their rushing game has regressed while the Eagles have improved in this phase, which could mean the Saints end up being somewhat one-dimensional.

The total has gone UNDER in three of the Eagles’ last four games against the Saints, with an average combined score of 50.5 points. The total has gone UNDER in five of the Saints’ last seven games, with an average combined score of 42.14 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Previewing NFL’s divisional round playoff games

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I’ve always hated “the divisional round,” as a name for the second weekend of NFL playoffs. Doesn’t come much more boring than that. I christen this weekend the Conference Semis. The most compelling game, from my chair, looks like the first one.

Saturday

Indianapolis (11-6, AFC 6th seed) at Kansas City (12-4, AFC 1st seed), Arrowhead Stadium, 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC.

I don’t recall the last time a respected football voice (Steve Young, in this case) said of a sixth seed: “Nobody wants to play the Colts right now.” But he did, and there’s evidence for that. Indy’s 10-1 since Week 7, and it’s not just The Andrew Luck Story. The Colts’ D suffocated Houston till garbage time, using more secondary blitzes than I’ve seen in a while. Unknown corner/slot corner Kenny Moore blitzed 11 times, per Pro Football Focus, and extra men were swarming around Deshaun Watson all night. The wild-card win is exhibit A of why defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is on the radar of several teams looking for a head coach this month.

With the Chiefs likely to get speed receiver threat Sammy Watkins back from a nagging foot injury that never goes away, that means it’s going to be an interesting race: Can the Colts’ rush get to Patrick Mahomes before he can find an answer in his five-across receiver sets? I can’t wait to see how the Chiefs try to block this Indianapolis front, and whether Andy Reid will just keep his aggressive downfield spread ethos and trust Mahomes to get the ball out quick. This game would be great strategic fun on that alone. Now add in the Luck factor, and coach Frank Reich’s ability to free up a variety of receivers weekly, and the fact that someone named Marlon Mack rushed for 148 yards, most in Indy team history, and the Chiefs have allowed 164 rushing yards a game over the last five games.

This looks nothing like a 6 versus 1 playoff game. This looks like a pretty even ballgame with great storylines.

Dallas (11-6, NFC 4th seed) at Los Angeles Rams (13-3, NFC 2nd seed), L.A. Coliseum, 8:15 p.m. ET, FOX.

Let’s step back for a minute and think how interesting it is that two years ago, the two teams now in southern California, the Rams and Chargers, were a woebegone 9-23, and league owners were rolling their eyes at the possibility of the combo platter of two lousy teams owning this valuable piece of NFL property known as Los Angeles. Now they’re 26-7, and they’re legit members of the NFL’s elite eight. Nothing is forever in the NFL.

Other than Jerry Jones getting to take his entourage to Nobu in Malibu, the best thing for Dallas about this weekend is this matchup. In 2018, the Rams gave up 5.1 yards per rush, which is beyond an Achilles heel. It’s preposterous, and it’s the biggest reason why the Rams could be endangered species when Ezekiel Elliott rolls into the Coliseum on Saturday evening. Elsewhere in this column I write about how impressive a football player (not just a great back; I mean a complete player) Elliott is. And the more the Cowboys are able to ride Elliott, the less of a factor Aaron Donald will be in making Dak Prescott’s life miserable.

The tale of two backs in this game—which will be the ratings bonanza of the postseason—has one big mystery: How healthy is Todd Gurley, and how productive can he be? Gurley hasn’t been himself since he saved the Rams with a 155-yard performance (rushing and receiving) at Detroit, and regardless whether he practices this week or is listed on the injury report, I won’t trust him till I see if he can dominate a game the way he did in the first half of this season. This game’s going to be closer than it looks.

Sunday

Los Angeles Chargers (13-4, AFC 5th seed) at New England (11-5, AFC 2nd seed), Gillette Stadium, 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS.

For the NFL-record 10th straight year, the Patriots open the AFC playoffs at home. New England’s edges entering this game: 13 days between games … Rob Gronkowski can always use the rest … Bill Belichick is pretty smart, and smarter when he’s got two weeks to prepare … The Chargers could be weary, with L.A.-to-Baltimore, Baltimore-to-L.A, and Baltimore-to-Providence flights, 17 hours in the air in all, in a nine-day span prior to the game.

Now to the football: The Chargers have multiple pass-rush threats that bedeviled a mobile quarterback, Lamar Jackson, in a seven-sack whipping of the Ravens. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are the major threats, but Justin Jones and Isaac Rochell are big and quick too, and they both got to Jackson in Baltimore. So it’s a big, athletic defense that will be the challenge for Tom Brady, with the Chargers’ weakness their injuries at linebacker. This is not a game the Chargers will want to play seven defensive backs. New England’s strength will be the ability to play an unpredictable offensive game, as coordinator Josh McDaniels has designed run-heavy, swing-pass-heavy, pass-heavy, and Gronk-light plans during the course of a malleable season—so the Chargers won’t have much of an idea what they’ll see until a little after 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Chargers won’t be cowed by much of anything. They’ve won in four times zones this year, including Greenwich Mean Time. That’s London. “We love the road,” Derwin James told me. “Maybe a lot of teams don’t, but we’re young, we’re all good with each other, and we love spending time together. The road’s good for that.” Well, whatever works. The Chargers are 8-0 outside of Los Angeles this year. Then again, New England is 8-0 at Gillette this year. Something’s got to give.

Philadelphia (10-7, NFC 6th seed) at New Orleans (13-3, NFC 1st seed), Superdome, 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX.

I was in New Orleans the weekend the Saints hosted the Eagles in November. “Hosted” is a collegial, misleading word. “Pillaged” would be better. Saints’ best six drives that afternoon in the Dome, against a team that looked dead for the year: 57, 86, 89, 89, 70, 87. Eagles’ best six drives: 75, 31, 19, 17, 16, 14. This was as brutal a mismatch as either team had all season … and now the Eagles travel to New Orleans again.

So why should it be different? Maybe it won’t be. Except for Miracle Nick Foles replacing Carson Wentz, there’s not much different about the Eagles eight weeks later. But the Saints are looking less invincible since then. After putting up 45, 51 and 48 in three straight November weeks, they’ve averaged a quite strange 21 points per game in the last six weeks (including a meaningless Week 17 game). The real Saints need to stand up here, if they’re going to win the second Super Bowl of the Payton/Brees Era. The offensive mortality has to give Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz hope.

On the other side, Foles is 4-0 in playoff games as an Eagle the past two seasons, and there’s something strange and almost eerie about the Eagles when Foles plays. They find a way to win. Fletcher Cox told me the Eagles players “just flushed” that November game—didn’t watch or study it; it got out of control against a secondary ravaged by injury, and Philly just moved on without allowing that game to defeat the players. We’ll see if that approach works.

The one thing you do notice about the Eagles on the defensive side now is they’re not held hostage by awful pass coverage. They’ve allowed 30 points just once since the Saints game. I think this game comes down to Drew Brees finding completions, short and intermediate, and not giving Foles more than eight or nine possession to make his magic.

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