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The Disturbing Connections Between Trump, Putin, and Austrian Neo-Nazis washingtonmonthly.com/2019/05/17/the…
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from Washington Monthly.
Donald Trump hadn’t even been inaugurated on December 20, 2016 when I wrote “Trump, Austrian Neo-Nazis, and Putin,” but I had already detected a troubling nexus between the three. Here is how I began that piece:
In the process of pointing out that their flirtations with John Birchers and other general “rightwing nutballish” behaviors are quickly turning the Trump administration “into the grease trap of American political history,” Charles Pierce stops to notice that incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is still in league with the Russkies. To wit, the lunatic far-right Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache traveled to New York in November to meet with Flynn. The Freedom Party presidential nominee, Norbert Hofer, just came within a whisper of winning an revanchist Anschlussian political victory in the early December election. He had hoped to do better, saying just prior to the vote that he was drawing “encouragement from Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the United States.”
The November meeting in Trump Tower between Michael Flynn and Austrian neo-Nazis wasn’t the reason I wrote the post, though. I was responding to an article in Foreign Policy that reported:
Heinz-Christian Strache, Freedom Party leader, and Norbert Hofer, the candidate who narrowly lost Austria’s presidential election earlier this month, signed a “working agreement” on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, according to a statement from the Freedom Party.
Charles Pierce responded: “At the risk of being called a neo-McCarthyite, may I point out that this smacks an awful lot of the incoming administration’s involvement in a worldwide right-wing movement at the center of which is our good friend Vladimir Putin.”
Here was my reaction to Pierce:
Of course, this is impossible because liberals who lived through the Cold War keep telling me that all this Russia-bashing is just so much Dulles Brothers flimflam designed to distract the plebes from their rightful destiny at the head of the dictatorship of the proletariat. To bash Russia is to bash the left here at home in order to crush the left everywhere from Ho Chi Minh City to Buenos Aires.
It therefore cannot be that our president is in the thrall, if not the control, of a “worldwide right-wing movement” to restore the purity of essence to the European bloodstream and bring Christianity back to its former central and crusading glory.
Or, in other words, you need to check that “grease trap of American political history” carefully, because a few of the roles have been reversed.
I revisit this all today because Heinz-Christian Strache has just found himself in a pickle. He apparently took the “working agreement” with Vladimir Putin a few steps too far, and he did it on six-hour video tape recorded in July 2017. In truth, he was set up—by whom it is still not clear. People posing as highly-connected Russians discussed various corrupt schemes that involved trading favorable contracts for assistance in helping Strache’s political party in the upcoming elections. There was also this:
The supposed investor already had a plan: She proposed acquiring a 50-percent stake in the Kronen Zeitung, a highly influential Austrian tabloid, and to use the newspaper as a mouthpiece backing Strache and his FPÖ party in the election campaign. Strache, dressed casually in a slightly ratty T-shirt and jeans, seemed enthusiastic – mostly about the proposal, but also about the woman herself. “Are you kidding? She’s hot,” he said, with a Viennese lilt.
Strache, who is currently Austria’s vice chancellor and the head of the Freedom Party, took the bait and failed to notify the authorities that Russians were attempting to bribe him.
I don’t know who set this trap or why they waited almost two years to expose Strache, but the episode provides one more example of how neo-Nazis believe that the Russians are their allies and seek to work with them to further their political ambitions. As I pointed out in my November 2017 “A #TrumpRussia Confession in Plain Sight” piece, there’s plenty of evidence that something similar happened between the Trump campaign and Russia. That is why we need to see Robert Mueller’s counterintelligence report.
We already know that Trump used the National Enquirer to help him cover up his affairs and promote his candidacy. We know that Michael Flynn is currently awaiting sentencing after exposing attempts to bribe him into silence. Now we know that Heinz-Christian Strache is not only a nexus between Trump and Putin, but corrupt to the core. We’ve seen the white nationalist strains of Trumpism and the president’s strange affinity for Putin.
And yet somehow the president says he’s been exonerated.
Losses are piling up in Miami thanks to an historically bad offense
The Miami Marlins were expected to be bad in 2019, with FanGraphs in the preseason projecting them to lose 97 games while Baseball Prospectus thought 95 losses. However, roughly a quarter through the season, this Marlins team is looking much, much worse.
The Marlins are averaging just 2.56 runs per game, dead last in baseball by nearly a full run behind the next-worst team (Detroit at 3.40 runs per game).
Miami has been held scoreless an MLB-high nine times, and in 59% of their games they have scored no more than two runs. In May the Marlins bats have been even colder, scoring two or fewer runs in 10 of their last 11 games, including eight total runs in a seven-game stretch.
Those 105 runs for Miami is the third-fewest through 41 games in the live ball era (1920-present). The only two teams that scored fewer runs than the Marlins this far into the season were in 1968, a season so devoid of offense that it was dubbed “The Year of the Pitcher” and the pitching mound was lowered the next year to help increase offense.
The Marlins are worst in baseball in hits, doubles, triples (they have zero), home runs, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Mercifully their .218 batting average ranks 29th out of 30 teams, bailed out by the Blue Jays (.216).
Christian Yelich, one of three All-Star outfielders the Marlins traded away after the 2017 season, won the National League MVP last year and this year picked up right where he left off, hitting .342/.458/.760 with an MLB-best 18 home runs. The Marlins as a team have hit 24 home runs.
Derek Dietrich was a versatile player for the Marlins who was above average offensively and played at least four positions in each of the previous four seasons, was let go by Miami in November, the team avoiding having to pay a raise from his $2.9 million in salary arbitration.
While Miami opened 2019 with a $71.9 million payroll that ranked 29th out of 30 teams, Dietrich found his way to Cincinnati, where he is hitting .242/.352/.615 with 10 home runs. Nobody on the Marlins has more than five home runs.
Both Miami’s OPS+ (66) and wRC+ (64) — which are adjusted for park and league — would be the worst marks ever in the modern era (1901-present). This offense isn’t just bad, it’s stupendously, legendarily and historically awful.
All the losses
That putrid offense has helped the Marlins lose 10 of their last 11 games and 14 of their last 16. That has Miami at the rock bottom of major league standings at 10-31, with four fewer wins than the next-worst squad (Baltimore, 14-29).
The Marlins were terrible in 2018 too, losing 98 games. But they managed to fly under the radar of failure, overshadowed by the Orioles losing 115 games while the Royals (104) and White Sox (100) reaching triple digits as well.
This year though, the Marlins are in a class by themselves.
Miami has been outscored by over two runs per game on average in 2019, by far the worst run differential in the league. Their Pythagorean record, based on their runs scored and runs allowed, is also 10-31. They haven’t been unlucky, the Marlins are just very, very bad.
The Marlins’ .244 winning percentage translates to 40-122 over a full season, which puts them right in line with the 1962 Mets, a first-year expansion team that is the go-to reference for baseball futility. Reaching 31 losses in the first 41 games has happened only eight other times in the last 40 years.
Excluding the 1994 Padres, whose season was cut short by a strike, those other teams with a terrible 41-game star averaged 104 losses for the entire year.
Amazingly the Marlins — with a fan base that has been put through the ringer repeatedly with numerous fire sales and ownership incompetence — have only lost 100 games twice. They dropped 108 games in 1998, their first fire sale immediately after winning the World Series, and then dropped an even hundred in 2013.
Things were bad in Miami last year too, when the Marlins averaged just 10,014 tickets sold and were under 10,000 in 51 of their 81 home games (63%). This year the Marlins attendance has been in four digits 17 times in 23 home dates (74%).
On the season the Marlins in 2019 are averaging just 9,360 fans per game, dead last in the majors and a whopping 36% worse than the next-lowest team (the Rays, at 14,540). No MLB team has averaged fewer than 10,000 in attendance since 2004, when the Expos played out the string in their final season in Montreal.
That Expos team, like these Marlins, was a few years removed from the stench of Jeffrey Loria ownership.
The Marlins’ two-game series against the Rays this week featured two of the worst three attendance marks of the year (6,306 on Tuesday, 5,947 on Wednesday). Since the start of 2018 there have been 11 MLB games with an announced attendance of fewer than 6,000. All have been Marlins home games.
At this time in 2018 — a season of shameful attendance that was a new franchise low — the Marlins were averaging 11,536 tickets sold. This year they are down over 2,000 fans per game, a precipitous drop of 18.9%.
Two years ago the Marlins weren’t necessarily good, but their outfield was the envy of baseball which made the team at least interesting. Then came the new ownership group that seems more interested in burning bridges than building a team. It made the Marlins terrible in 2018, and now they are a train wreck.
But at least the Marlins are watchable in the sense that we can’t turn our eyes away from the carnage, to see just how bad they can be.
A flurry of action gave some veterans new homes — who will have an impact for a winning team?
The second full week of May ended with a flurry of activity as teams went to work signing the best available free agents still languishing among the ranks of the NFL’s unemployed. As rookie mini-camps raged, franchises with cap space and a gambling spirit took to the penny slots of this year’s low-risk, moderate-reward veterans.
The Patriots and Ravens both brought former members of Super Bowl-winning teams back into their folds. The 49ers gave their running game a little extra juice by signing one of the league’s top blocking tight ends. And, outside of the free agent bargain bin, the Chiefs shipped a Day 3 pick to the Adam Gase-led Jets to take a flier on a former first round pick.
But will any of these moves actually matter?
As usual, this year’s headline-making moves were mostly made in March and April at the start of the official league year and at the 2019 Draft. That left slim pickings for the teams that got raided in free agency or failed to pick up a bumper crop of rookies; of our 103 top free agents this spring, only 12 remain who haven’t either signed new contracts or retired. So who were the …well, not big names, but moderately familiar names who signed or were traded in mid-May, and will they make a major impact with their new teams?
LB Jamie Collins signs with the Patriots
Collins was ushered out of New England in 2016 in part because the Patriots didn’t want to pay a talented but limited linebacker top of the market money. After Collins’ two-and-a-half seasons with the Browns, they won’t have to. The former second round pick earned an ignominious mid-season trade to Cleveland after striking out on his own and away from Matt Patricia’s game plan one too many times, but now he’s back with the club who drafted him to play a complimentary role in
Patricia’s Brian Flores’ Bret Bielema’s? defense.
Collins was a productive veteran for the Browns last season, leading the team with 104 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. He could push Elandon Roberts for a starting spot, but he’s flexible enough to handle all three roles in New England’s 4-3 defense. Will he allow Kyle Van Noy to take on more of a pass rushing role along the edge and replace some of the punch the club lost when Trey Flowers left? Will he lead one of the league’s deepest second units in a rotation-heavy attack? The veteran has never quite been as good as his numbers suggest, but he’s another versatile piece for a defense that just allowed three points in a Super Bowl.
Will he matter?: Not as much as he did in his first go-round in New England, but he adds versatility to a deep Patriots’ linebacking corps. There’s a chance he plays fewer snaps than Ja’Whaun Bentley or Christian Sam, but he gives whomever is calling the defensive sets in New England the flexibility to experiment.
QB Geno Smith signs with the Seahawks
Seattle only had Paxton Lynch behind Russell Wilson, which seems like a bad contingency plan for a quarterback who gets hit so often all his game-worn jerseys look like rejected props from Tide ads. Smith was a passable backup for the Giants in 2017 (enough to send Eli Manning to the bench, for reasons only Ben McAdoo understands) but only threw four passes with the Chargers last fall. History says he’s better than Lynch, but the former Bronco has the higher upside after languishing as one of John Elway’s famously overhyped tall quarterbacks.
Will he matter?: The Seahawks are praying he won’t.
DT Pernell McPhee, DE Shane Ray, and WR Michael Floyd all sign with the Ravens
Baltimore’s defense was plundered this spring in free agency, losing key players like C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, and Brent Urban. While luring Earl Thomas over from Seattle helped the Ravens’ defense look like the Ravens’ defense, major gaps in the club’s pass rush remained. McPhee and Ray will fill those gaps with their edge rushing prowess, though neither is a perfect solution.
McPhee returns to the club where he started his career and had 17 sacks over four seasons as an edge rusher, but he’ll turn 31 this winter and only recorded 11 tackles last fall — though he also had eight QB hits for a disheveled Washington pass rush. Ray has the lighter resume but higher upside. The 2015 first round pick had eight sacks as a part-time starter in his second year in the league, but has failed to live up to that billing in the two years since and was effectively replaced by 2018 No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb in Denver.
The soon-to-be 26-year old Ray is an intriguing fit for the Ravens, where he’ll have to shake the bust label that followed him over his last two years (where he had two total sacks) with the Broncos. The club is relying on young veterans Matt Judon and Patrick Onwuasor to continue their upward trajectories (and for 2019 third round pick Jaylon Ferguson to prove his prolific collegiate production isn’t limited to his time at Louisiana Tech) to lead the Baltimore pass rush. An unlocked Ray could be a bigger weapon than any of those guys — but the fact he languished in free agency for so long in a league where “edge rusher” is a position only eclipsed by quarterback atop NFL wish lists is a testament to how teams view his potential in 2019.
Michael Floyd also signed with the club this week. He had 849 receiving yards in 2015 and has had 666 total in the three years since, which is all you probably need to know about him at this point.
Will they matter?: McPhee is a savvy veteran who knows the Ravens’ system and fills a position of need. Ray will get the opportunity to maximize his potential with one of the league’s most consistently punishing defenses. Both help answer the biggest non-Lamar Jackson related question facing Baltimore this season.
Floyd becomes the latest washed-up veteran wideout to wear purple. If he didn’t help a Washington club that badly needed someone — anyone — to stand out at receiver last fall, he’s not going to help here.
TE Levine Toilolo signs with the 49ers
Toilolo hasn’t traditionally brought much as a receiver — he has 95 catches across 95 career games — but the 6’8 veteran is a skilled blocker who graded out as Pro Football Focus’s top pass blocking tight end in 2018. Despite finishing last season on a high note (15 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown in his final five games), Toilolo found limited interest on the free agent market before San Francisco came calling.
He’ll slide into an offense that relied heavily on its tight ends in 2018. Last season saw George Kittle rise to stardom as the consensus top option among the Niners’ injury-plagued quarterback carousel. Now they’ll get another useful target — Toilolo has a catch rate of nearly 87 percent over his last two seasons — and a player who can keep Jimmy Garoppolo upright while clearing a path for Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman. And he’s a guy Kyle Shanahan knows he can rely on; Shanahan was Toilolo’s offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016 (where he averaged more than 20 yards per catch) with the Atlanta Falcons.
Will he matter?: More than his stat line will suggest. Toilolo gives Garoppolo an extra blocker on passing downs, a valuable safety valve on short routes, and an extra tight end to reduce Kittle’s responsibilities and allow him to feast downfield. This under-the-radar signing could pay off dividends for Kyle Shanahan.
Jets trade LB Darron Lee to the Chiefs for a 2020 sixth round pick
Why wouldn’t Kansas City make this deal? The Chiefs’ defensive rebuild got a former first round pick for the cost of a Day 3 selection. While Lee disappointed in his first two years with New York, his third season as a pro saw him finally trend toward expectations by developing into a reliable coverage linebacker who has the speed to stay glued to tight ends up the seam. It’s not hard to see why Andy Reid might find that useful:
Lee is also only 24 years old, so it’s very possible he continues to grow as an NFL linebacker over the next couple years.
The Jets didn’t need Lee with the aforementioned Mosley now on board (thanks to an $85 million contract). Rather than allow him to depart with no compensation after his contract expires next spring, interim general manager Adam Gase sold him off to Kansas City in exchange for a pick that will hover around the 200 range next year. It’s a bold first move in an interim position of power, but it probably won’t have much effect on New York’s level of play in 2019 and beyond.
Will he matter?: For Kansas City, sure. Lee will compete for a starting role and add strength to an inefficient passing defense, and he cost very little to acquire.
For the Jets? Well, at least it gives us something to bring up when we’re talking about Adam Gase besides his hyper-focused eyes.
Why Phoenix should be a dark horse in the AD sweepstakes.
With apologies to the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings, no organization is more dysfunctional, incompetent, and consistently willing to lock its fanbase in a perpetual state of desperation than the Phoenix Suns. Heading into Tuesday night’s draft lottery, their odds to land a top-four pick were 52.1 percent. A fortuitous bounce to the top was at 14 percent, same as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Knicks. Instead, coming off a season in which they had the second-youngest roster in the league, Phoenix fell to sixth, which was actually their most likely landing spot to begin with (they had a 26 percent chance to finish there).
At the same time, along with Los Angeles, Boston, and New York, they are the potential Anthony Davis trade partner that leaps out of nowhere.
That may seem absurd, but consider the combination of the team’s young core and lack of patience. As Suns general manager James Jones recently said, “Having stability for the sake of stability isn’t something that we’re into.”
The Suns are very young and very bad. Last year, they had a rookie coach, co-rookie general managers, won 19 games, and finished with the third-worst point differential in the league. But instead of taking lumps, learning from mistakes, and organically growing with a talented core and first-year head coach, Phoenix fired Igor Kokoskov, replaced him with Monty Williams, then hired an experienced hand (Jeff Bower) to oversee basketball operations.
The logical next step is to take it slow, right? Guess again. As Jones said: “We need to add guys in their prime. We need to raise the floor of our team. And you only do that with NBA players. Not prospects, but NBA players. So, we’ll focus on acquiring those guys via all the channels we can.”
If those words foreshadow actual personnel decisions, and the Suns re-up their subscription to the short-sighted mentality that’s stunted their progress for the past decade, then we shouldn’t dismiss Davis as a possible target, even if their current situation is not one a superstar who’s entering the prime of his career will find appealing.
Apart from their own delusion, there are reasons Phoenix should be aggressive here. On the surface, not having a sturdy infrastructure or any cultural principles to lean on is a big red flag. This isn’t Toronto trading for Kawhi Leonard or Boston going after Kyrie Irving. This is a franchise with no self awareness that’s trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Trading for Davis would potentially cripple their otherwise seemingly bright future. It sounds bananas.
But there’s also a scenario where they use that No. 6 pick, draft another player they can’t develop, and roll through the lottery until and after their rookie-scale contracts command a pay increase. There’s no certainty either way. Given the rare chance to go after someone like Davis, Phoenix really should.
Consider its assets. Phoenix has star guard Devin Booker, 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, promising young wing Mikal Bridges, former 2017 No. 4 pick Josh Jackson, dependable forward T.J. Warren, the sixth pick in this year’s draft, all their own first-round picks going forward, and a top-7 protected first-rounder from the Milwaukee Bucks in 2020. That’s pretty good!
They aren’t going to package all that for any one player, of course, but lets coat the foundation of an initial offer with the sixth pick and an unprotected first-rounder in 2021. (Dragan Bender-related scars do not heal easy.) Now, the question then turns to which blue-chipper new Pelicans boss David Griffin wants more: Ayton or Booker.
The case can be made for either. With Booker, New Orleans would be getting one of the league’s best young scorers on a max contract for the next five years. He fits perfectly beside Jrue Holiday and is on the same timeline as Zion Williamson. But the argument falls apart when you look at it from Phoenix’s perspective. They aren’t moving their franchise player for one year of Davis, then plugging him beside a 21-year-old center who may not be able to share the floor with him in crunch time, sans any above-average playmakers to feed them the ball. Suns owner Robert Sarver is rash, but this would be too much even for him.
What about Ayton, then? Could Ayton and Zion co-exist in New Orleans? There’s some positional overlap, and it’s safe to say they aren’t ideal cogs in the pace-and-space era. But think about how many teams are built to stop two big men who will inevitably demand a double team? Think about how they’d crush the boards and protect the paint. It’s an experiment worth exploring, especially with Jrue Holiday making sure offensive possessions don’t go off the rails.
Is this a better package than one built around Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, whatever the Lakers offer, or New York’s third overall pick (likely Zion’s good friend and college roommate R.J. Barrett)? Everything is debatable and subjective, but combine two first-round picks, Ayton, Warren, and either Jackson or Bridges, and that’s a haul!
This would certainly be a steep price for the Suns to pay if Davis leaves as expected in free agency, but never say never. With apologies to DeMarcus Cousins, Booker will be the best offensive player Davis has ever called a teammate. There would be questions about the rest of the roster next year, but if these two can stay healthy, the Suns will be competitive, and the playoffs may even be more than a pipe dream. They can potentially form the most devastating pick-and-roll combination in the league, while Davis can resume life as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
From there, the Suns can count on a number of important connections. Davis’s strong relationship with new coach Monty Williams, forged over three years in New Orleans, could become an even more powerful selling point. (Not to simplify Williams’s ability to coach, but his connection to Davis should be more attractive to the teams that interviewed him over the past few weeks than his career 43.9 winning percentage in five seasons with New Orleans.) Booker and Davis being two of John Calipari’s most accomplished former Kentucky players is another connection, however immaterial that sounds. Williams and Booker may convince Davis that Phoenix is a place for him to build something special. (Reminder: Booker doesn’t even turn 23 until October 30th!).
Finally, don’t forget that Griffin spent over a decade in the Suns organization, knows Sarver, and was the general manager for a Cavaliers team that employed Jones. You can play six degrees of separation with Griffin and just about any trade partner, but that tangible relationship can’t hurt.
If the Suns avoid signing any long-term contracts this July and get AD to commit, they can head into next summer with max cap space and an attractive sales pitch for established veterans like Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, and Draymond Green. So much can happen between now and then and we’re really crawling to the ledge right now, but Phoenix’s books would nearly be clean.
The short-term risk here is undeniable, but so is the long-term upside. Phoenix isn’t ideally positioned to swing for the fences right now, but there are just enough reasons for them to talk themselves into making the type of bold decision that will change the NBA forever. Davis and Booker are that tantalizing as complementary franchise cornerstones.
Even if it leads to a date with doomsday when Davis is free to leave 12 months from now, going all in is defensible when this kind of opportunity presents itself.
This week, retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz tackles serious off-the-field topics and makes his predictions for which teams could surprise in 2019.
The mailbag is back! It went on a brief hiatus while I was traveling, and even though I still am now, I wanted to get your questions answered!
Most NFL players do amazing work in the community and don’t get arrested. Why don’t the league and PA simply agree in the next CBA that players who hit women/kids don’t get to play in the NFL? — @AES64
I’m glad you sent this in. The first part of this is absolutely true. The high majority of NFL players are excellent husbands and fathers. They do outstanding work in the community that deserves to get more attention than the bad apples. Sadly, good deeds don’t grab the headlines and therefore aren’t covered as much.
Now to answer the question. The answer is complicated and I’ll try to unpack the layers. I’ll start here: There won’t ever be a rule prohibiting NFL players from employment for hitting women or children. First, innocent until proven guilty is the standard to overcome here, and the NFL isn’t equipped to make that determination.
I’ve long argued the NFL should stay out of investigations, as it never seems to get them correct. The NFL should allow law enforcement to handle them, then render judgment off those investigations. The NFL does not need guilt to suspend, as it’s proven before. However, you’d need guilt to permanently ban players and very few of them end up being found guilty of these crimes in court. You can infer guilt based on evidence but again, that’s not the job of the NFL to determine it.
Also, as I’ve discussed with the Tyreek Hill situation, your talent can outweigh your problem until the problems outweigh the talent. His talent is such that teams will employ him after the Chiefs release him, unless more evidence is unveiled and/or he get’s charged and convicted of a crime. As it stands now, law enforcement has declined to press charges and even though there is damning audio, the NFL shouldn’t be banning players for life because Hill might have done something atrocious.
The solution is for NFL decision makers to take a stand on their own and not give contracts to players with incidents of abuse toward women and/or children. I don’t think we need an absolute rule. We need the leaders of franchise to ignore the talent of the player and focus on the person. I hope that can happen.
Who’s your surprise playoff team in the NFC and AFC this year? — @JoRo_NFL
The Panthers were 6-2 before Cam Newton’s shoulder got hurt, then upgraded the OL and DL in the draft. The Packers continued to build up their defense and now have a new offense for Aaron Rodgers. While it’s just the offseason and I don’t take too much away from quotes, Rodgers seems super excited to be in this new system.
The surprise in the NFL would the Dallas Cowboys winning their conference, as might (yes might at the moment) be my prediction for the NFC. While I’m not sold on Dak Prescott as an elite quarterback, the rest of the parts are excellent. Zeke Elliott and Amari Cooper are game changers. Randall Cobb was a terrific second-wave signing. Jason Witten is back and so is center Travis Frederick. The Cowboys sorely missed him last season. Plus, the defense was ninth in DVOA and returns the core of that group.
The surprise AFC team is the Steelers. Yes, since the Browns are currently the favorite to win the division, that would make the Steelers a surprise team. Everyone is counting them out and I don’t understand it. You have a Hall of Fame QB who is motivated to show everyone he can play without Antonio Brown, a veteran offensive line that’s outstanding, and a defense that can rush the passer and just added Devin Bush at linebacker.
And they’ve all done it before! They know this feeling. They know what it takes. As I said before, this might be the first time in forever they have the real motivation of people doubting them. I can’t wait to see it.
Do you think some people around the media/league are uncomfortable with a Jewish franchise QB, or am I overthinking this? — @BirgTron
I’ve gotten this question multiple times, so I figured I’d answer it once and for all. I feel I’m qualified to answer this because I’m Jewish. I could be naïve, but I don’t think the criticism of Josh Rosen has any anti-Semitic tinge to it. Rosen often has said Judaism isn’t a big part of his life.
The criticism of Rosen often comes from his coaches, who don’t like a player intellectually challenging them. Remember how his coach at UCLA, Jim Mora, made a stink about Rosen wanting to know “why?” all the time. Now, Rosen has admitted fault in the past for his personality and how his attitude might offend. These are the “issues” with Rosen, not his religion.