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NFL Power Rankings Week 9

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Let’s start by stating the obvious: There’s a lot going on. Tensions are high. And the battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs at the top of the NFL power rankings is merely the tip of the iceberg.

So let’s get right to it.

On the day of the 59th U.S. presidential election, our expert NFL panel has elected to give you one telling stat for each team in our latest power rankings.

This week, the panel includes editors Geoff Lowe and Craig Battle, and staff writers Mike Johnston and Emily Sadler.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2020 record: 7-0
Last week: 1
Telling stat: See the 2020 record above

Their 7-0 record tells you all you really need to know about how dominant this Steelers team is — the last undefeated club standing this season. (ES)

2. Kansas City Chiefs

2020 record: 7-1
Last week: 2
Telling stat: +9 turnover differential

Here’s one way to ensure you win ball games: give away the ball less than you take it away, and so far the Chiefs are leading the league by that measure with 14 takeaways against just five turnovers. They’ve also thrown the fewest interceptions in the league, with just one to date. (CB)

3. Seattle Seahawks

2020 record: 6-1
Last week: 3
Telling stat: 88.0%

So far this season, the Seahawks are scoring touchdowns on an NFL-best 88.0% of their red zone opportunities, which leads the next-closest team — the Titans — by more than eight percent. (CB)

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2020 record: 6-2
Last week: 7
Telling stat: 70.3 opponent rushing yards per game

The Bucs are allowing the fewest rushing yards per game, and just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. (MJ)

5. Baltimore Ravens

2020 record: 5-2
Last week: 5
Telling stat: 5-2

That five is great, but let’s talk about the two. The good news is that the Ravens’ only losses have come at the hands of two undefeated (at the time) clubs. The troubling part is QB Lamar Jackson’s performance in both defeats. Against Kansas City in Week 3, Jackson threw for just 97 yards with a single TD pass and a pair of fumbles. Sunday against Pittsburgh, another showing unbefitting of the reigning MVP: a season-low 46.43 pass completion percentage, two interceptions, and a trio of fumbles in the biggest game of his season to date. (ES)

6. Buffalo Bills

2020 record: 6-2
Last week: 8
Telling stat: 672 rushing yards allowed over last four games

What has always been a strength of Sean McDermott’s teams in Buffalo has suddenly become the Bills’ biggest weakness as the defence continues to bleed rushing yards. Opponents are averaging 168 yards on the ground against Buffalo over the last month, and will be a big part of opponent game plans in the future until the Bills prove they can stop the run. (GL)

7. New Orleans Saints

2020 record: 5-2
Last week: 10
Telling stat: 100+ in six straight

Alvin Kamara has gained 100 or more total yards in six straight games, which is the third-longest streak in Saints franchise history. It’s going to be all Kamara all the time, especially with Michael Thomas still out. (MJ)

8. Tennessee Titans

2020 record: 5-2
Last week: 4
Telling stat: Back-to-back rushing titles

Derrick Henry is on pace to be the first player to lead the NFL in rushing yards in back-to-back seasons since LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2006 and 2007. (MJ)

9. Green Bay Packers

2020 record: 5-2
Last week: 6
Telling stat: 60%

Of Aaron Rodgers’ 20 touchdown passes thrown this season so far, more than half have been caught by either wide receiver Davante Adams (seven) or tight end Robert Tonyan (five). Imagine what Rodgers would do with a little more help. (ES)

10. Indianapolis Colts

2020 record: 5-2
Last week: 13
Telling stat: 11 INTs

The team’s defence deserves a pat on the back for leading the NFL in interceptions with 11. (MJ)

11. Arizona Cardinals

2020 record: 5-2
Last week: 11
Telling stat: 1st in yards, 8th in points

The Cardinals lead the league with nearly 420 yards of offence every game, but are just eighth overall with 29.0 points per game. Upping the efficiency is priority one if this team is to overtake the Seahawks, who excel in that regard (see above). (CB)

12. Los Angeles Rams

2020 record: 5-3
Last week: 9
Telling stat: 1-3 vs. non-NFC East teams

It’s been said before, and we’ll say it again. The 5-3 record is misleading here as four of the Rams’ wins have come against down-on-their-luck NFC East clubs. They scheduling gift has given them time to right the ship, but they’ve yet to show they can do it. (CB)

13. Chicago Bears

2020 record: 5-3
Last week: 12
Telling stat: Six straight games with one INT

Backup-turned-starter Nick Foles, at the helm of Chicago’s on-again, off-again offence, has thrown an interception in six straight games – the longest active streak going. (ES)

14. San Francisco 49ers

2020 record: 4-4
Last week: 14
Telling stat: .750

No, Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t looking great Sunday before re-aggravating his ankle injury. But the team is 3-1 this season when he’s been able to play a full game, and 1-3 in games in which he didn’t dress or couldn’t finish. Now Garoppolo is expected to miss at least a month, after which the 49ers’ season may be over. (CB)

15. Las Vegas Raiders

2020 record: 4-3
Last week: 16
Telling stat: 3.2 SRS

According to Pro Football Reference, that’s the average Simple Rating System number for Las Vegas opponents so far this year, and it’s the second highest in the league next to only the Texans. Which all goes to say the Raiders have faced a relative buzzsaw so far, and have gutted out a 4-3 record. (CB)

16. Miami Dolphins

2020 record: 4-3
Last week: 17
Telling stat: 18.6 points allowed per game

After a shocking blowout win over the Rams this past weekend, the Dolphins now boast the NFL’s best scoring defence and have allowed just 130 points in seven games. The story heading into this past weekend was a change at quarterback, but it might be time to start paying more attention to this Dolphins defensive unit. (GL)

17. Cleveland Browns

2020 record: 5-3
Last week: 15
Telling stat: 1.1 sacks per game

Myles Garrett’s nine sacks on the season has him atop the league (alongside Aaron Donald) in the category and saw him named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for October. His six-game sack streak heading into Sunday’s bout versus Vegas was the league’s longest.

18. Cincinnati Bengals

2020 record: 2-5-1
Last week: 23
Telling stat: 221 completions

Joe Burrow has completed 221 passes through his first eight games, which is the most completions made by a rookie quarterback in his first eight games in league history. His 2,272 passing yards on the year so far have him on pace to break Andrew Luck’s rookie record for total yardage through the air by a rookie QB. (ES)

19. Philadelphia Eagles

2020 record: 3-4-1
Last week: 22
Telling stat: 16 turnovers

Carson Wentz’s league-leading 16 turnovers have been the Eagles’ biggest impediment to success so far in 2020, and that’s saying something considering all of the injuries Philadelphia has dealt with this season. Wentz’s four turnovers on Sunday vs. Dallas would’ve cost the Eagles the game against almost any other team, and will be Philadelphia’s downfall if No. 11 can’t clean up his play. (GL)

20. Denver Broncos

2020 record: 3-4
Last week: 24
Telling stat: 1

Prior to Sunday’s furious fourth quarter, Broncos QB had thrown exactly one touchdown pass in 16 quarters. Then he threw three in the final frame against the Chargers alone. He’ll need to show more of that to stake his claim as the Broncos’ QB of the future. (CB)

21. Los Angeles Chargers

2020 record: 2-5
Last week: 18
Telling stat: %$!*&Q(W*#%&&!JDJ&@!

Sorry, the Chargers’ latest loss broke the calculator. (CB)

22. New England Patriots

2020 record: 2-5
Last week: 20
Telling stat: Telling stat: 19.4 points scored per game

New England’s 136 points is the fourth-fewest in the NFL through Week 8, and the Patriots offence has scored fewer than 12 points in three of its last four games. Bill Belichick’s team has finished as a top-10 scoring offence in each of the past 16 seasons, a streak surely to come to a halt in 2020. (GL)

23. Detroit Lions

2020 record: 3-4
Last week: 21
Telling stat: 97.1 rushing yards per game (and falling)

With just 680 rushing yards on the season, the Lions have the third-worst run game in the league. And just when it looked like Detroit might change its ways — they tallied 180 rushing yards against the Jaguars in week 6 — they went and posted just 93 in their next two games combined. (ES)

24. Minnesota Vikings

2020 record: 2-5
Last week: 28
Telling stat: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take*

*Past the line of scrimmage. (ES)

25. Atlanta Falcons

2020 record: 2-6
Last week: 27
Telling stat: 3 wins losses

The Falcons have lost three games this year during which they had a 95 per cent or better win probability. They hang on and win those games like they should’ve, and they’re a 5-3 team with realistic playoff aspirations. (MJ)

26. Carolina Panthers

2020 record: 3-5
Last week: 19
Telling stat: 8 sacks in 8 games

The pass rush has been an issue and Carolina is averaging just one sack per game. The Panthers have fewer sacks as a team than Aaron Donald and Myles Garret do individually. (MJ)

27. Houston Texans

2020 record: 1-6
Last week: 25
Telling stat: 4 takeaways

The Texans have forced just four turnovers in seven games, which ties them for the league low with the Raiders and Packers. They’re also the only team without at least two interceptions. (MJ)

28. Washington Football Team

2020 record: 2-5
Last week: 26
Telling stat: 185.9 passing yards allowed per game

While there’s still plenty of questions left to answer on the offensive side of the ball, Ron Rivera’s defence has been making it tough for opponents, especially in the passing game. Washington’s 1,301 total passing yards allowed are the fewest in the NFL by a significant margin, a result of an overhauled secondary and a dominant defensive line that only needs to rush four to get pressure. If Washington stays relevant in the NFC East, the defence will be why. (GL)

29. Dallas Cowboys

2020 record: 2-6
Last week: 29
Telling stat: 32.6 vs. 7.3

In the games Dak Prescott started for the Cowboys this season, the team was scoring an average on 32.6 points per contest. In the three games started by Andy Dalton and Ben Dinucci, Dallas’s offence is barely averaging a touchdown’s worth of points. You can look at many of the Cowboys’ stats since Prescott went down, but none is more telling than the 25.3 fewer points per game the team is scoring. (GL)

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

2020 record: 1-6
Last week: 30
Telling stat: 2.1 opponent punts per game

Jacksonville’s opponents are averaging just 2.1 punts per game, which is the lowest mark in the league through eight weeks. (MJ)

31. New York Giants

2020 record: 1-7
Last week: 31
Telling stat: 35 turnovers in 20 career games

Another turnover-happy quarterback in the NFC East, Daniel Jones now has 13 turnovers in eight games after handing the Buccaneers possession twice on Monday night in what was a very winnable game for the Giants. Jones’s 35 turnovers in 20 career games are on pace with only notorious draft bust Ryan Leaf, and will likely end the 23-year-old’s time as the starting QB for Big Blue. (GL)

32. New York Jets

2020 record: 0-8
Last week: 32
Telling stat: 32nd

Thirty-two is a number that can be applied to multiple facets of the Jets offence, an even more damning indictment on “offensively minded” head coach Adam Gase than New York’s 0-8 record. The Jets offence ranks 32nd in points, 32nd in total yards, 32nd in passing yards, 32nd in first downs, 32nd in third-down conversions, 32nd in red-zone percentage… you get the picture. (GL)

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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Knicks Only Had Interest In Russell Westbrook If Rockets Attached Assets – RealGM.com

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Russell Westbrook was an All-NBA selection in 19-20, but he received very little trade interest as he sought a trade from the Houston Rockets.

“There. Was. No. Market. For. Russell. Westbrook,” said Zach Lowe on his podcast one day after the trade. “I kept saying this over and over again. The Clippers were not interested. The Knicks were not interested unless they were incentivized. I don’t know where the Hornets noise came from. Maybe it was credible. All I can say is from the people I know there, I never heard they were interested. There was, to my knowledge, nothing.”

Westbrook has $132 million remaining on his contract over three seasons and has fit issues.

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NHLPA weighing options if NHL cancels season – TSN

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The NHL Players’ Association’s lawyers are investigating whether to file an unfair labour practice complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or pursue a grievance with an arbitrator if the NHL decides to cancel the upcoming season, two people familiar with the matter told TSN.

If the league decides against playing the 2020-21 season, a complaint to either the NLRB or an arbitrator would be the process the NHLPA would follow to try to get players paid.

The season hangs in the balance of talks between the NHL and NHLPA – most notably the financial burden players will shoulder this season and the remaining five years of a collective bargaining agreement extended in July through 2025-26.

The NHLPA declined to comment when asked how it would respond to a cancelled season.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday in an interview during a virtual sports business conference that the NHL wants to play the 2020-21 season. But Bettman and NHL team owners want players to agree to raise the cap on salary escrow this year and also to defer the payment of more of their salaries.

The NHLPA wants the NHL to live up to the collective labour agreement the two sides agreed on in July. The NHL and NHLPA agreed in the deal to keep the salary cap at $81.5 million through the 2020-21 season. Ten per cent of player salaries are to be deferred and 20 per cent placed in escrow – an increase of more than 50 per cent from escrow payments during the 2019-20 season, which was delayed and shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bettman on Wednesday said the NHL is “not seeking to renegotiate,” the six-year labour agreement that was ratified unanimously by NHL team owners.

“We’re not actually having negotiations and we’re not seeking to renegotiate,” Bettman told FOX Business host Liz Claman. “We made a number of assumptions collectively over the summer, most of which are not applicable anymore.”

In an effort to force the NHL to pay the salaries of its players even if games are not held, several labour lawyers said in interviews with TSN that the NHLPA could either file a complaint with the U.S. NLRB (players on Canadian franchises would be included in such a filing) or file a grievance with an arbitrator. Both moves have their advantages, the lawyers said.

“Clearly this would be a high-stakes case,” said Jim Quinn, a New York sports lawyer who has worked for the NFL and NBA players’ associations. “The stakes don’t get any higher.”

Both the NHL and NHLPA could argue that the language in the CBA favours its side. 

Article 5 of the CBA says the league is within its rights, “to determine when, where, how and under what circumstances it wishes to operate, suspend. …” a season.

Article 7, however, says the NHL cannot lock out players.

“Neither the league nor any club shall engage in a lockout during the term of this agreement,” the CBA says.

In his interview on Wednesday, Bettman was asked about the possibility that the 2020-21 season could be cancelled over the financial impasse.

“There are letters in the agreement, which we don’t have to get into, that were put in for our benefit in the event things got out of control as well. And so we each have rights which we could adhere to,” he said.

Jodi Balsam, a former NFL lawyer who now teaches sports law at Brooklyn Law School in New York, said NHL players would seem to have a strong legal case to pursue if the league cancels the season.

“They signed this CBA in July 2020 and that was hardly a promising month,” Balsam said. “The pandemic had subsided, but every source of medical and scientific knowledge was predicting a resurgence in the fall. And if the NHL failed to prepare for that in the latest CBA then that’s on them. The big question is whether the NHL players stay unified and insist the NHL follow through with the deal they bargained for.”

Players are set to receive 72 per cent of their salaries during the 2020-21 season. Twenty per cent of player salaries are being given back to owners to repay their revenue shortfall from 2019-20’s paused season. A further 10 per cent is to be deferred and paid out over three seasons.

The NHL is asking players to defer another 16 per cent in 2020-21 and has also asked to raise limits on escrow in future years of the CBA.

Balsam said if the NHLPA wanted a clear-cut decision that the league must pay players their 2020-21 salaries regardless of whether there are games, then the union would be better off pursuing a claim with the NLRB.

“Arbitrators tend to want to look for leeway to find a compromise solution,” she said. “They’re incentivized to find a solution because they can be fired by either the league or union.”

The NLRB was created in 1935. While it has a mandate to protect the rights of employees and to improve their wages and working conditions, Balsam said under U.S. president Donald Trump it has made decisions that favour employers.

Balsam said making that argument would be a “long shot” for the NHL, and noted that even though the NLRB has four of its five board member slots filled with three Republicans and one Democrat, president-elect Joe Biden will have the opportunity to name a Democrat chair of the board immediately following his Jan. 20 inauguration. (Trump appointed current NLRB chair Peter Robb in September 2017, eight months after his inauguration.)

Quinn, who has worked in the past for players associations in hockey, basketball and football, said he would advise the NHLPA to consider taking their complaint to an arbitrator.

Unlike the courts, or even the NLRB, arbitration cases can be decided quickly. Rules for introducing evidence in arbitration are not as strict. While there are exceptions, such as when an arbitrator in 2018 forced NHL player Dennis Wideman to produce text messages in his dispute with an NHL referee who Wideman had hit on the ice, the parties tend to have less power to demand the production of emails and other documents from the other side, and rules for conduct can be fashioned to suit the case. 

“The NLRB is very slow, and it’s going to take ages to get a decision out of them,” Quinn said. “You may get an injunction quickly but if you’re pursuing damages, like the players’ salaries for a season, that could take five years for the board to resolve.”

Currently, the NHL and NHLPA have agreed on three arbitrators to decide on disputes: Richard Levie, a retired U.S. District Court judge in Washington who also works for the NBA and NBPA to resolve differences related to players and agents; Katherine Forrest, a former U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York who was hired by NHL and NHLPA last year; and Shyam Das, who has decided player discipline-related cases.

If it proceeds with an arbitration complaint, the NHLPA chooses which arbitrator will take its complaint. Forrest, who has yet to oversee an NHL/NHLPA arbitration, would be a strong candidate to hear a prospective case, a person familiar with the matter said.

Michael Lotito, a San Francisco-based labour-law attorney at Littler Mendelson who represents employers before the NLRB, said he can envision the NHLPA both filing a complaint with the board and also pursuing a complaint through a grievance.

“We’re a country of messaging not fact,” he said. “For the union, this may be an opportunity to send a message to players that, ‘We’re fighting for you every way we can.’”

Lotito said that while the NLRB tends to handle broad complaints, arbitrators are more likely to consider the “nitty gritty” of CBA negotiations.

“An arbitrator can look at the notes both sides might produce showing details on the back-and-forth talks leading up to the CBA being signed,” Lotito said. “Maybe those notes would show clearly that an issue like ‘no fans in arenas’ was clearly on the table and discussed as a possibility before a deal was done.”

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James Harden Preferred Playing With John Wall Over Russell Westbrook – RealGM.com

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James Harden preferred to become teammates with John Wall rather than run it back with Russell Westbrook. Harden still wants to be traded by the Rockets either way.

“He had a preference of John Wall over Westbrook,” said Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN Thursday morning. “Although in the last couple of years, Harden has moved teammates in and out. Brought Chris Paul in, moved him out. Same with Russell Westbrook now.

“Whether that’s going to be enough to convince him to want to be there long-term, the Rockets aren’t sure about that. They do have a cushion to work with. Remember, James Harden is under contract for two more years. So they’re going to start the season with Harden and Wall, and they’re hopeful that John Wall can get back to that All-Star form. A five-time All-Star, a former No. 1 overall pick. If they can get John Wall back playing at a high level, they’re hopeful that will help to make a case to James Harden.”

Harden and Westbrook were also teammates previously with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Both point guards wanted to go to the other team,” said Wojnarowski of Wall and Westbrook.. 

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