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NFL storylines: Hold on, the NFL season is in the penalty phase

NFL officials

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Probably the most interesting part of Thursday night’s game between Jacksonville and Tennessee was the mention that Tom Brady tweeted he was shutting off the game because of the preponderance of penalties.

As usual, when it comes to football, Brady is correct. Perhaps it’s a directive from the league office, but the number of flags being thrown in the first two weeks has been usually high. And because of it, the pace of the games has been extraordinarily slow.

The Cleveland Browns had 18 penalties called against them in their Week 1 loss, the most for the franchise since 1951.

On Thursday, there were 15 penalties in just the first half by referee Shawn Hochuli’s crew. Eight of them were for holding. Five more flags followed in the second half. The Titans were called for 12 penalties, the most for the franchise since Week 5 in 2017.

Word is, the NFL has asked its crews to keep an eye out for holding and the results are clear. According to ESPN’s statistical department, there were 11 holds called in just one game this season. There were 178 holding penalties called in the first two weeks, a 66% increase from the same time period last season. Overall, there has been an 16.2% increase in total penalties.

Also according to ESPN, Hochuli’s crew threw 306 flags – 79 for offensive holding – in the 2018 season.

Las Vegas odds

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Odds are the Patriots and Cowboys will roll

The perception the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are among the worst teams in the league this year not only passes the eye test, it’s gotten the attention of the oddsmakers.

The Dolphins and Jets will make some history this weekend by both being at least 20-point underdogs against the Cowboys and Patriots.

Miami, which has lost its first two games by a combined 102-10, is a 21.5-point underdog at Dallas. The Jets, who will be playing their third-string quarterback in New England on Sunday, are 22.5-point underdog.

Week 3 is the first since 1987 in which more than one team begins a game at least a 20-point underdog. The Eagles (21) and Falcons (23) were both big dogs in games they each used replacement players during the NFL strike.

According to ESPN, there have been only 35 spreads of 21-plus points in league history and teams favored by 21-plus have won only 11 of them against the spread since 1966.

Lamar Jackson

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Jackson and Mahomes set to light things up

In what’s certainly the game of the early year, the undefeated Ravens play the undefeated Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday, meaning Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes will get the chance to match each other’s skill in what promises to be a wide-open affair.

Mahomes and Jackson are already off to historic starts. They are the first two QBs in the Super Bowl era with a completion percentage over 70 percent with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

Jackson has already thrown for nearly 700 yards and Mahomes is coming off a win against Oakland during which he threw for four TDs and 278 yards in just the second quarter.

These teams already rest in the top three in total offense and top five in scoring and passing this season. But while Mahomes work is strictly through the air, Jackson has the ability to pierce the Chiefs on the ground.

You’ll recall last season’s entertaining Rams’ 54-51 win over the Chiefs. While it’s improbable that these teams will combine for 105 points, it’s at least conceivable the game could come down to whoever has the final possession. The teams lead the league in passing plays over 20 yards and their defenses are known to be porous.

Aaron Donald

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Rams could have field day against Mayfield

The obsession the nation has with the Cleveland Browns was on the wane after their Week 1 loss to the Titans in Cleveland. The fans in the Dawg Pound were even hitting the streets before the game was over.

But there are good vibes again after Monday Night’s win over the Jets, especially because of the way Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham clicked. After all, this was exactly what everyone was looking forward to and to see it actually happen was cool.

Of course, the Browns were playing the Jets. And now they get the Rams, who are coming off an impressive win over the Saints last week in Los Angeles. The Rams are not the Jets, particularly on defense, which is currently ranked fifth in the league.

If the Browns have an acknowledged weak point, it’s likely their offensive line, which means Aaron Donald will be in a position to make Mayfield’s night absolutely miserable.

Then again, the Rams offensive line didn’t play that great against the Saints. The NFL keeps grades for passing and run blocking. Let’s put it this way: The Rams should have stayed after school for extra help.

Daniel Jones

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Giants ushering in a new era at QB

Unless you’ve spent the week in a submarine, you know the New York Giants made a shift at QB this week. They benched Eli Manning, who won two Super Bowls for them during his 15 seasons as a starter, for rookie Daniel Jones, who completed seven passes in the preseason.

Look, this isn’t a big surprise. Manning knew his days were numbered when the Giants used the sixth pick in the 2019 draft on the Duke QB. What’s more interesting was the timing – Week 3. Most thought Manning would hold off Jones until much later in the season.

We expect the lowly Giants will respond to this new start on Sunday at Tampa Bay. Manning had become totally unreliable over the last three seasons and seeing Jones in the huddle will prove that a new day has come.

Expect big days from Saquon Barkley and at least 250 yards of passing yardage from Jones. But remember, the Giants defensive is a sieve and can make even Jameis Winston look unstoppable.