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Judging Week 2 overreactions: Dak is going to get paid

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If there’s a fan base anywhere in the world that knows it’s not enough to be up 20-0 at the end of the first quarter, or 29-10 at halftime or even 39-24 with five minutes left in the game, it would be the Atlanta Falcons‘ fan base. So when Greg Zuerlein‘s field goal split the uprights with time expired to give the Dallas Cowboys the improbable 40-39 victory on Sunday, Falcons fans still stinging from Super Bowl LI couldn’t have been surprised. Angry? Sure, but not surprised. They are seasoned veterans of disappointment. We will get back to them in a moment.

The rest of us could feel free to be stunned. Dazzled. Left to wonder if what we’d just seen was something that had never happened before. Which it was.

Yes, seriously. There has never been a game like the one the Cowboys and the Falcons played Sunday. The Falcons didn’t just have all of those big leads, they possessed the ball for 33:48 and won the turnover battle 3-0. According to the Elias Sports Bureau research, since 1933 — when team turnovers were first tracked — teams that scored 39 or more points and had no turnovers in a game were a combined 440-0. Until Sunday.

A lot went into this, and what will be dissected the most as everybody on both sides of the Cowboy Hot Take battle goes to their respective corners, is how badly the Falcons messed up on the onside kick that set the Cowboys up to kick the winning field goal. If there’s one team on the planet that should know the onside-kick rules, it’s the Falcons, who execute them successfully more than any other team. Yet there they stood, watching the ball bounce as if they didn’t know they were allowed to touch it before it went 10 yards while the Cowboys (who weren’t) were happy to pick it up once it had.

The result will inevitably be arguments about whether the Cowboys really won this game or if the Falcons lost it. But that takes away from what Dak Prescott accomplished, and nothing should.

The Dallas quarterback had 312 passing yards, a touchdown pass and three rushing touchdowns in the second half of this game. His full-game passing numbers were 34-for-47 for 450 yards and no interceptions. Playing for a team that fumbled four times in the first quarter, failed on two fake-punt attempts in its own territory and trailed by seemingly impossible margins all game long, Prescott kept his cool, delivered a signature comeback win and — perhaps most importantly — put himself in position to lead this week’s overreaction column.

Dak Prescott will be the NFL’s highest-paid player next year

You might have heard, but over the offseason, Prescott and the Cowboys were unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension, which means Prescott is playing this season on a $31.4 million franchise tag and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in March. Per the league’s franchise player rules, because no deal was done by July 15, the Cowboys and Prescott are not allowed to negotiate again until after their season ends. If the Cowboys don’t sign him to a long-term deal or franchise him again between their last game and the start of the league year in March, he will be a free agent, and any team can sign him.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The main issue between the Cowboys and Prescott this summer was the length of the contract extension. He wanted a shorter-term deal that would have allowed him to hit the market again sooner. The Cowboys wanted a long-term deal that would help them manage their salary cap. But make no mistake: Dallas was willing to pay. At the time Prescott was tagged — before new deals came in for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson — the highest-paid player in the league was Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson at $35 million per year. The Cowboys’ offer was in that neighborhood. They were willing to pay him at the top of the market.

Now, the top of the market has soared much higher. The new money in Watson’s deal averages $39 million per year. Mahomes’ deal is harder to synthesize, because it’s 12 years long and heavily backloaded, but assuming he plays out the whole thing, you can say he’ll make $45 million a year in new money. Prescott’s floor has to be $40 million if Dallas wants him to talk extension again in February, and if he wants to play hardball he can easily go higher. Franchising him again in 2021 will cost them about $37.7 million, and then franchising him again in 2022 would cost them about $54.3 million. That’s roughly $92 million over two years, which averages out to $46 million per year.

Prescott is very much in the driver’s seat here. The Cowboys will need to sign him in order to drop that potential 2021 cap number in a year in which the cap is projected to drop to $175 million per team. If he has another great year and hits the open market, his price could easily soar past Watson’s and maybe challenge Mahomes’. Multiple teams bidding on a 27-year-old star quarterback? Tell me you can put a cap on where the market might value that.


Dan Quinn will be the first head coach fired this season

The Falcons are 0-2 and have allowed a combined total of 78 points in their first two games. Quinn was on thin ice with a 1-7 record at midseason last season and saved his job with a 6-2 finish. His background is on the defensive side of the ball, and so far his defense has been a sieve in 2020. Perhaps most damning of all is the fact that his team looked unprepared for the most important play of the game, which turned out to be that onside kick.

This is Quinn’s sixth year as Atlanta’s coach. He’s 46-41 counting postseason play and took the team to the Super Bowl in his second year. But he has been 7-9 two years in a row and is off to a brutal start in a tough-looking division. Not looking great.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. Falcons owner Arthur Blank is close with Quinn and thinks highly of him, and Blank has shown plenty of patience through some major disappointments. It’s possible — even likely — that Quinn won’t be back in 2021 if the Falcons have another losing season, but it would be a surprise to see Blank move on while a season is still in progress.

Elsewhere, Matt Patricia isn’t on the thickest of ice in Detroit, and Adam Gase doesn’t look as if he’s about to turn things around with the Jets. There are other candidates for this distinction, and it’s too early for anyone — especially in a year as weird as this one has been — to be firing coaches right now.


The New York teams will pick first and second in the 2021 NFL draft.

The Giants lost to the Bears 17-13 and almost certainly lost superstar running back Saquon Barkley to a season-ending knee injury. The Jets lost 31-13 to the injury-ravaged 49ers. Both teams are 0-2, neither was expected to contend this season anyway, and it’s really hard to map out a road to a successful season for either one of them.

What the Giants and the Jets need to do is find out as much as they can about their young quarterbacks so they’re in position to make long-term decisions in the offseason based on how they feel about Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold, respectively. The only question is how long they can go relative to the other non-contenders.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Heading into the week, the ESPN Football Power Index projected the Giants to pick No. 2 and the Jets to pick No. 6 in next year’s draft. So heck yeah, it’s possible.

I’ve been thinking since the spring that Carolina was the most likely team to pick first next year, but without Barkley, I don’t see what’s keeping the Giants from making a real run at it. They play the 49ers, Rams and Cowboys the next three weeks, and the last two are long road trips. In the second half of the season, they have road games in Seattle and Baltimore.

The Jets’ schedule still includes games against the Colts, Chargers, Chiefs, Seahawks, Rams and two each against the Bills and Patriots. And don’t forget — those are only the tough-looking games. Right now, as they have been for several years, the New York teams are the easy-looking games on other teams’ schedules.


You guys. Seriously. Is Josh Allen, like, really, really good? He came out of Sunday’s lightning delay in Miami as if he’d been struck by lightning and gifted with enhanced super powers. Allen finished the day 24-for-35 passing for 417 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for the 2-0 Bills.

Allen is the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 700 yards and at least six touchdowns without an interception in his first two games. The others are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, who have combined to win nine MVP awards.

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In the final minute of the first half on 3rd-and-8, Josh Allen avoids the sack, then simply refuses to go down as he fights through multiple Dolphins defenders.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. There’s never been any doubt about Allen’s physical gifts. The questions about him have been about accuracy and consistency — whether he can improve the former and maintain the latter. He still seems to do one or two things every game that make it look as if he’s playing his first game ever, but so far this season he has been as impeccable as anyone in the league.

On paper, Buffalo has the best roster in the AFC East by far. Coming into the season, the only major question mark was Allen. If he has truly taken a major step forward and can maintain this level of performance throughout the season, he’s in the discussion, because the Bills are going to win a lot of games.


The Vikings’ season is already over

Woof. Outside of the Jets, has any team looked worse in its first two games than Minnesota? In Week 1, Aaron Rodgers treated the Vikings’ defense like a piñata with Brian Gutekunst’s face on it. In Week 2, the Colts absolutely smothered the Vikings’ offense. Kirk Cousins on Sunday was a Peterman-esque 11-for-26 passing for 113 yards and three interceptions. He was the first Vikings quarterback with a sub-50 completion percentage in a game since Brad Johnson in 2006. You don’t hear a lot of Vikings fans pining for a return to the Brad Johnson era.

Minnesota was outgained by Indianapolis 354 yards to 175. It had 12 first downs to the Colts’ 24. It possessed the ball for just 21:35 out of a possible 60:00. NFL offenses don’t look much more inept than Minnesota’s did in Week 2, and there’s no sugarcoating it.

The Packers are 2-0 and so, somehow, is a Bears team that was outscored 23-6 in the first three quarters of its first game and 13-0 in the second half of its second. So the Vikings are already two games behind the defending division champs and some sort of Mitchell Trubisky magic show. Not the way you want to start a season.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. First of all, there are seven playoff teams per conference this year. So the otherwise troubling fact that only four of the 108 teams to reach the Super Bowl started 0-2 is no longer relevant.

Second of all, Mike Zimmer hasn’t had a losing record since he went 7-9 in his first season as Vikings coach in 2014. His team has a young secondary and a defense that has gone through a lot of change for the first time in years, but there’s still plenty of talent there. They will need time to get their feet under them.

Cousins has had a stinker or two before but tends to bounce back, and he seems to be driven by the doubters. It’s a tough climb back, but I’m willing to bet Sunday was the worst game the Vikings will play in 2020.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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2:00

Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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