NFL’s Stars Aren’t Aligning. They’re Falling

Ben Roethlisberger (No. 7) of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action during the game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Source Justin Berl/Getty

Why you should care

Like it or not, the league is experience a passing of the torch

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To watch a previously anonymous, mustachioed Gardner Minshew II dice up the Kansas City Chiefs defense in his first NFL game — or arrive for the Jaguars’ Week 2 game in Houston wearing aviator shades, a gold chain and a gleaming satin shirt unbuttoned to his navel — is to realize we’re witnessing the birth of a modern folk hero. 

To read the NFL injury report is to recognize the league is running out of starting quarterbacks. Here’s to hoping the Minshew Show continues. 

Just two weeks into the season, 41 quarterbacks have taken the field for 32 teams. Soon, more inexperienced backups will take the field. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (pictured), the Saints’ Drew Brees, Carolina’s Cam Newton and Jacksonville’s Nick Foles are all injured. Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) retired, and the Giants benched Eli Manning. Other starters like Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay), Joe Flacco (Denver) and Case Keenum (Washington) look headed for the pine soon too.

For years we’ve waited for the next generation of star QBs to send the old guard out to pasture. But this feels like half of the league is suddenly starting replacement players. 

(Is that Colin Kaepernick on line 1? We digress.)

With reigning MVP Pat Mahomes in Kansas City — and Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson not far behind — some young stars appear ready to carry the proverbial torch. Plus, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are still slinging. But this feels like a transition period. The question is whether young guns like Minshew will have the longevity to match their swag.

 

What to Watch & Pick ’Em

No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 3 Georgia (Saturday at 8:00 pm ET on CBS)

Two tradition-rich programs with overlapping College Football Playoff history meet in Athens in a game that will have ripple effects this December.

  • Notre Dame (+14.5)

  • Georgia (-14.5)

Los Angeles Rams at Cleveland Browns (Sunday at 8:30 pm ET on NBC)

The first of five straight games against teams that have started 2-0, the Browns face a major litmus test with the high-powered Rams coming into town. 

  • Los Angeles (-3)

  • Cleveland (+3)

Ones to Watch 

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Erling Braut Haland, hat trick king.

Source Alex Livesey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty

Erling Braut Haaland. With a 2-0 loss to Napoli, Liverpool became the first reigning champ to lose its Champions League opener since 1994. But the show to watch was in Group E. In a 6-2 victory over Belgian club K.R.C. Genk, Austrian Bundesliga side RB Salzburg witnessed the emergence of a potential superstar. Haaland, 19, became the first teenager to score a hat trick in his Champions League debut since Wayne Rooney in 2004 … and he scored all three goals before halftime. After his fourth hat trick of the season, the Yorkshire-born Norwegian — son of the former Manchester City and Leeds midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland — can expect to see his transfer fee skyrocket from its estimated $13.65 million market value. This time last season, then-Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong was worth only $7.98 million, according to TransferMarkt. After leading Ajax to the Champions League semifinals, de Jong was sent to Barcelona for a $75 million transfer fee. Will the baby-faced Norse god of striking follow suit? 

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Dearica Hamby can shoot from deep.

Source Leon Bennett/Getty

Dearica Hamby, Las Vegas Aces. For a moment, with the clock ticking down under 10 seconds and the ball in possession on Sunday, the fifth-seeded Chicago Sky believed they were headed to the WNBA semifinals. Until they weren’t. For that, the Sky can thank an errant pass by Courtney Vandersloot, and — much more importantly — an improbable steal and 3-point heave by Las Vegas Aces forward Hamby. Her running jump shot off her left foot from about 40 feet out advanced the Aces to face the top-seeded Washington Mystics in a best-of-five semifinals. The Aces dropped the first two games in Washington (Hamby combined for 15 points and 16 rebounds over the two contests) with a critical Game 3 at home on Sunday. Can Hamby & Co. do enough to slow Mystics forward and newly crowned WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne? 

Hoops Season. After Team USA’s embarrassing seventh-place finish at the FIBA World Cup, Stephen Curry has already committed to playing for America in next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. “That is the plan, for sure,” Curry, who has played in two World Cups but never at the Olympics, told ESPN. This means the floodgates will open for the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant (health permitting), Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving to come back to USA Basketball. But next summer’s roster depends entirely on the approaching NBA season. Curry and Klay Thompson must adjust to life without Durant (Brooklyn Nets) in Golden State, while a Boston team that had four of its players compete in the World Cup (including new star Kemba Walker) is looking to reclaim Eastern Conference supremacy without Durant’s new teammate, Irving. Elsewhere, a rejuvenated World Cup MVP Ricky Rubio joins the Suns with bragging rights after leading Spain to the FIBA championship. Other top FIBA performers, like Bogdan Bogdanovic (Serbia, Kings), Nikola Jokic (Serbia, Nuggets), Evan Fournier (France, Magic) and Tomás Satoransky (Czech Republic, Bulls), are hoping the summer success translates to NBA progress. 

Healthy MVP candidates. One week after reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich (Milwaukee Brewers) was lost for the season with a fractured kneecap, Major League Baseball’s best all-around player — two-time AL MVP Mike Trout — is out for the season due to foot surgery for a nerve issue. “I’ve been dealing with it for like the last month, and it progressively got worse,” the Angels star told the Los Angeles Times. Trout is able to shut it down early without worry because his Angels (68-83) are far from playoff contention. That Trout was the leading MVP candidate (.291/.438/.645 slash line, 45 homers, 110 runs scored, 104 RBI) on such a bad team only speaks to his excellence. In spite of his injury, Trout will likely still win the AL MVP, while the NL award appears to be Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger’s to lose. Bellinger’s 44 home runs are tied for third in the National League (behind Mets rookie Pete Alonso’s 48) and fifth overall. His .304/.408/.625 slash line is impressive, and with the Dodgers rolling toward a potential World Series appearance, Bellinger will have ample opportunity to sway voters in the postseason. 

Read This

Should Opponents Still Fear the Reign of Aaron Rodgers, by Matt Foley / OZY

Aaron Rodgers has a surprisingly abysmal track record of converting late-game comebacks. Is the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL really a player that opponents should fear? 

What Does a Great Player Look Like Now?, by Rory Smith / The New York Times

A new generation of young international football stars are poised to take the mantle from Messi and Ronaldo. Some great players, like Neymar, Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba, arrived too early to make a push. Can the new crop ever measure up?

What Are the Cowboys Worth to Dak?, by Conor Orr / Sports Illustrated

Contract haggling with the Cowboys has always been wild, from horse trailers to free houses to a coin flip proposition on the tarmac at LAX. Now, as they try to lock down a talented young core, they’re playing a different game.

From Backyard to Bruins, the Rodriguez Sisters Share Strong Bond at UCLA, by Graham Hayes / ESPN

It’s a nice sibling story, if not exactly unique in college sports. Except it might also be the reason UCLA wins a national championship this season.

Don’t Miss

Washington State coach Mike Leach is a man of many quirks and interests. This summer, Leach taught a seminar called “Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategies.” When a reporter this week asked Leach which Pac-12 mascot would win a battle royal, his answer was, much like the Washington State Cougar, “clear-minded and crafty.”

 

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