Feb 4, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; NFL football commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference ahead of Super Bowl 55, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Tampa, Fla.  Mandatory Credit: Perry Knotts/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

NFL boosts 2021 salary cap minimum to $180M

The floor of the NFL salary cap for 2021 has been set at $180 million, an increase of $5 million from last year’s previous agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association.

The NFL informed teams in a memo on Thursday morning that the $180 million figure is not the final 2021 cap number, just an adjustment to the floor. The new league year and free agency is slated to begin on March 17.

“As you know, one aspect of the agreements negotiated last summer with the NFLPA to address operations during the pandemic provides that the 2021 Salary Cap will be no less than $175 million,” the memo read, per NFL.com. “Following discussions with the union that addressed both actual 2020 revenues and projected attendance for the 2021 season, we have agreed to increase the minimum Salary cap for the 2021 League Year to $180 million.

“This is not the final Salary Cap for the 2021 League Year, which will be set following review of final 2020 revenue figures and other audit and accounting adjustments. This agreement simply increases the minimum 2021 Salary Cap by $5 million per club, from $175 million to $180 million.

“We will promptly advise all clubs as soon as the Salary Cap is set.”

The 2020 salary cap rested at $198.2 million.

–Field Level Media

Jan 24, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; A sign featuring Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) with COVID-19 protocol is seen before the AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

No players test positive in NFL’s latest COVID-19 results

No NFL players tested positive in the most recent round of COVID-19 testing, the league and the NFL Players Association announced Tuesday.

There was one positive test among other team personnel in the Jan. 24-30 testing period.

In all, 2,567 tests were administered to 152 players and 278 team personnel in advance of Super Bowl LV, set for Sunday between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa.

Throughout the testing period from Aug. 1 through Jan. 30, approximately 957,400 tests were administered. During that time, 262 players and 463 other personnel had confirmed positive cases.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) celebrate a touchdown pass from Jones to Smith at Bryant-Denny Stadium during the second half of Alabama's 41-0 win over Mississippi State. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

Mac Jones leads Alabama foursome entering NFL draft

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones joined fellow teammates wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, cornerback Patrick Surtain II and defensive lineman Christian Barmore in declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday.

Barmore played as a redshirt sophomore while the other three are juniors, all announcing during a press conference their intent to forego their senior seasons to enter the NFL.

All are expected to be taken in the first round. Along with senior running back Najee Harris and Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the Tide could have six players selected in the first round on April 29 in Cleveland.

Jones completed his first full season as Alabama’s starting quarterback as a redshirt junior and threw for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns. Jones won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and Davey O’Brian Award.

“I played every role you can imagine from scout team to starter to national champion,” Jones said Thursday. “… I’m really looking forward to this next opportunity.”

Surtain, whose father, Patrick, played 11 seasons in the NFL, was a unanimous All-American and the Defensive MVP in Alabama’s win over Notre Dame in the CFP semifinals.

“Since I was a kid, my life-long dream was to play in the NFL and with much thought and consideration with my family and prayer I am announcing that I am declaring for the 2021 NFL draft,” Surtain said Thursday.

Barmore recorded 37 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks – good for second in the SEC — six quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and three forced fumbles this season.

Waddle missed most of the season with a fractured ankle but caught 28 passes for 591 yards and four touchdowns and averaged 21.11 yards per reception in six games.

The Tide defeated Ohio State to win another national championship earlier this week.

–Field Level Media

Jan 10, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs with the ball while defended by Tennessee Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson (25) during the third quarter in a AFC Wild Card playoff game at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Jackson runs into NFL record book

Quarterback Lamar Jackson etched his name in the NFL record book while leading the Baltimore Ravens to a 20-13 win over the host Tennessee Titans in an AFC wild-card game on Sunday in Nashville, Tenn.

“It feels great,” Jackson told ESPN about his first playoff win in three attempts. “I’m happy we got it done.”

Jackson’s 48-yard touchdown run was the second-longest for a score by a quarterback in NFL postseason history. It trails only Colin Kaepernick’s 56-yard sprint in the San Francisco 49ers’ game against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round in 2013.

Jackson now holds two of the top three rushing performances by a quarterback in NFL playoff history. His 136 rushing yards on Sunday are third-most by a quarterback in a playoff game, behind Kaepernick’s 181 against the Packers in 2013 and Jackson’s 143 he posted in last year’s loss to the Titans in the divisional round. Kaepernick rushed for 130 yards for the 49ers against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 NFC Championship game.

However, Jackson and Kaepernick are the only quarterbacks to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark and score at least a touchdown. Michael Vick, who amassed 119 yards rushing against the then-St. Louis Rams in the 2005 divisional round, and Donovan McNabb, who rushed for 107 yards in 2003 against the Packers in the divisional round, each rushed for at least 100 yards but didn’t run into the end zone.

Jackson completed 17 of 24 passes for 179 yards with an interception against the Titans.

“We finished. We finished,” Jackson told ESPN after the game. “We finally finished.”

Last week, Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in multiple seasons while leading the Ravens to their third straight AFC playoff berth with a 38-3 win over the host Cincinnati Bengals. The victory enabled Jackson to become the fastest quarterback in league history to win 30 games, doing so in his 37th start.

Jackson rushed for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season.

Jackson rushed for an NFL quarterback-record 1,206 last year in his first full year as a starter, en route to becoming the youngest quarterback to be named NFL MVP.

The mark eclipsed Vick’s record of 1,039, which he set in 2006 — the only season in which he broke 1,000 yards.

–Field Level Media

Mar 1, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Auburn Tigers  defensive back Daniel Thomas (DB59) goes through pass catching workout drills during the 2020 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Report: NFL to decide soon on format of ’21 scouting combine

The fate of the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine could be decided within the next week, ESPN reported Sunday.

The annual event, which gathers NFL prospects in a central spot for workouts and interviews with team officials, has been up in the air amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 event was held in Indianapolis beginning in late February, before the sports world shut down because of COVID-19.

ESPN said league officials have been discussing whether to hold a reduced combine in Indianapolis in February, move it to April or hold regional combines designed to reduce travel. One factor that could impact the NFL’s decision is the NCAA’s move of the men’s basketball tournament to Indianapolis, which will tie up facilities and hotels from mid-March through early April.

Indianapolis has hosted the combine annually since 1987.

Setting a date for the combine is crucial because the remainder of the league’s offseason calendar depends on it. The timing of the combine could force the NFL to alter the dates of the draft, which is scheduled to be held April 29 – May 1 in Cleveland.

The 2020 draft was scheduled to be held in Las Vegas but was held virtually instead.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Donald, Travis Kelce anchor All-Pro team

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce were unanimous selections to the 2020 Associated Press All-Pro team announced Friday.

Donald and Kelce swept all 50 votes from a nationwide panel of media members.

It is the sixth consecutive selection for Donald, 29, who registered 13.5 sacks for a Rams defense that finished No. 1 in the NFL in scoring defense and total defense.

It is the third selection for Kelce (2016, 2018). The 31-year-old helped the Chiefs secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and set a record for tight ends with 1,416 receiving yards.

The Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts both had four players on the list.

Quarterback and leading MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers (third selection), left tackle David Bakhtiari (second), center Corey Linsley (first) and wide receiver Davante Adams (first) helped the Packers (13-3) secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Left guard Quenton Nelson (third), linebacker Darius Leonard (second), defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and special teamer George Odum each earned their first All-Pro nods for the Colts, who finished 11-5 and earned a wild-card berth.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry was honored for the first time after rushing for 2,027 yards and capturing his second straight NFL rushing title.

The rest of the All-Pro offense includes Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (third selection), Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (first), Washington Football Team right guard Brandon Scherff (first) and Cleveland Browns right tackle Jack Conklin (second).

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner made the team for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.

The rest of the All-Pro defense includes edge rushers T.J. Watt (second selection) of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Myles Garrett (first) of the Browns, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (first), cornerbacks Xavien Howard (first) of the Miami Dolphins and Jalen Ramsey (second) of the Rams, and safeties Tyrann Mathieu (third) of the Chiefs, Minkah Fitzpatrick (second) of the Steelers and Budda Baker (second) of the Arizona Cardinals.

Chicago Bears kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson earned his fourth selection. The rest of the special teams All-Pros are first-time honorees: Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders, New England Patriots punter Jake Bailey and Patriots punt returner Gunner Olszewski.

The AFC placed 18 players on the list, compared to 11 for the NFC. Sixteen of the 32 NFL teams had at least one player selected.

–Field Level Media

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) gestures after running back Alvin Kamara (41) scored his sixth touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday NFL wild-card playoff picks, predictions and props

The final three games on NFL wild-card weekend present unprecedented betting options for the opening round of the postseason.

Field Level Media identified a few numbers of note entering the tournament with a breakdown of Sunday’s tripleheader:

Sunday, January 10
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (11-5)
1:05 p.m. ET
Line: Ravens -3
Over/Under: 54.5

Preview: The Ravens are rolling with five wins in a row, fully rebounded from a 30-24 overtime loss to the Titans in November. Tennessee handled Baltimore easily last January, ending Baltimore’s bid for a Super Bowl run behind league MVP Lamar Jackson.

The Titans aren’t perfect, but home underdogs? What might contribute to oddsmakers’ thinking is the short circuiting of Tennessee’s defense the past two weeks.

While Derrick Henry rolled to 250 rushing yards last week, Tennessee was scorched for 38 points by the Texans one week after the Packers slapped 40 on the Titans.

Enter the Ravens, who have scored 34 points or more in four of the past five games.

Prediction: Titans 29, Ravens 27

Player prop: Ravens TE Mark Andrews anytime TD, -140

Andrews is the dependable red-zone target for Jackson and had 7-96-1 against the Titans in the Nov. 22 game.

Chicago Bears (8-8) at New Orleans Saints (12-4)
4:40 p.m. ET
Line: Saints -9.5
Over/Under: 47.5

Preview: Chicago stumbled into the playoffs, reaching the wild-card round after a Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Bears pushed the Saints to overtime in a home game last month and have a defense capable of putting a scare in the Saints.

The Saints are hopeful they’ll be at full strength with RB Alvin Kamara (COVID-19) and WR Michael Thomas (ankle) likely to be available Sunday.

As the No. 2 seed, New Orleans is the clear favorite. But the Saints have also thrown out enough clunkers (vs. Eagles, Raiders) to indicate this won’t be a Sunday stroll.

Prediction: Saints 30, Bears 23

Player prop: Saints QB Drew Brees over 280.5 passing yards

Sean Payton doesn’t get enough credit for his commitment to the ground game. Playoff losses, including the wild-card loss to the Minnesota Vikings last January, leave his scripts open to question. Brees knows this Bears’ defense well, including completing 75 percent of his passes with two touchdowns in the Nov. 1 overtime win.

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
8:15 p.m. ET
Line: Steelers -6
Over/Under: 47.5

Preview: Two massive losses for the Browns, head coach Kevin Stefanski and guard Joel Bitonio, hit before midweek due to COVID-19. They’ll be felt early and often.

Bitonio has one of the best pass-blocking win rates in the NFL this season, and that’s massive facing the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. Stefanski won’t be in the building Sunday night, and the impact on continuity of the offense and QB Baker Mayfield is profound.

Are the Steelers flawless? Nowhere near. They are rested, and relatively healthy, and at home in a matchup Ben Roethlisberger has won repeatedly.

Prediction: Steelers 29, Browns 20

Player prop: Nick Chubb over 70.5 rushing yards

Sidelined by a knee injury for the first meeting, Chubb averaged 7.7 yards per carry against the Steelers last week and hasn’t topped 20 carries since Nov. 22. Chubb is likely to get the ball early and often.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians (L) and quarterback Tom Brady (12) talk prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday NFL wildcard playoff picks, predictions and props

Six playoff games on NFL wildcard weekend present unprecedented betting options for the opening round of the postseason.

There is a little bit of everything on the table and nearly unlimited volume.

Field Level Media identified a few numbers of note entering the tournament with a breakdown of Saturday’s tripleheader:

Saturday, January 9
Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Buffalo Bills (13-3)
1:05 p.m. ET
Line: Bills -6.5 (-118)
Over/Under: 51.5

Preview: Buffalo is one insane DeAndre Hopkins Hail Mary catch away from entering this game on a 10-game winning streak. Underrated? We think so. Of all the early lines released Sunday night, the Bills at home, with fans in the stands, was the eye-catcher.

Prediction: Bills 29, Colts 17

Player prop (via PointsBet): Colts RB Jonathan Taylor under 83.5 rushing yards, -115

Bills head coach Sean McDermott remains a major advocate of pressuring the quarterback, and the philosophy is prone to bringing the ball toward the Buffalo secondary. We like the Bills D/ST anytime TD bet a bit, too, for this same reason.

What’s this mean for Taylor?

If Colts quarterback Philip Rivers becomes flustered and Buffalo wins the takeaway battle, this game is over by halftime with a score that means Taylor’s time for running the ball has ended, too.

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
4:40 p.m. ET
Line: Seahawks -4
Over/Under: 42.5

Preview: Jared Goff’s status could swing the line significantly, but the number is trending toward the Rams early in the week. It dropped again Tuesday, and the reason boils down to LA’s defense dominating the Seahawks. Russell Wilson was sacked 11 times and had two interceptions in two regular-season meetings. His 74.1 passer rating vs. LA was lower than against any other 2020 opponent. Even so, will the Rams be able to move the ball?

A rookie quarterback — John Wolford — playing at Seattle in the playoffs essentially hands the Seahawks the play script from Sean McVay’s mitts — run right, run left, run middle — and a slow start would be a very slippery slope for the Rams to navigate.

Prediction: Seahawks 23, Rams 20

Player prop (via PointsBet): Russell Wilson anytime TD, +450.

There is nothing to save for next week, and that whatever-it-takes mentality will be evident in Wilson’s approach. Wilson has 25 touchdowns and two interceptions at home this season, but his history against All-Pro DT Aaron Donald indicates he could be on the move more than usual. Wilson had 69 rushing yards, averaged 6.3 yards per carry and one of his two rushing TDs against the Rams in 2020.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at Washington Football Team (7-9)
8:15 p.m. ET
Line: Tampa Bay -8.5
Over/Under: 45

Preview: Tom Brady has the Buccaneers back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and Saturday night will be his latest opportunity to beat an NFC East team in the postseason (he’s 0-3). At 43, Brady pilots a dangerous offense. He’s also a statue in the pocket with limited to zero mobility, which is leading some to speculate this could be the upset special of wildcard weekend. While the Washington Football Team defensive line is completely loaded, including rookie Chase Young, the secondary isn’t.

If Brady is willing to revert to the take-what’s-given approach early in the game, we like Tampa to roll by double digits.

If not … Ron Rivera was the head coach of the last seven-win playoff team, and his 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers upset the Arizona Cardinals. Rivera is 2-0 against Arians in the postseason. The Panthers also drubbed the Cardinals, 49-15, in the NFC championship game before losing Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos.

Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Washington 16

Player prop (via PointsBet): WFT WR Terry McLaurin over 75 receiving yards, -106

With Washington in comeback mode, McLaurin won’t be pressed at the line and a 5-100 type of line is entirely within reach.

–Field Level Media

Oct 18, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  An usher holds a sign as a  reminder of COVID-19 restrictions in place for fans during the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 38-7. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

COVID-19 cases climb in latest round of testing

The National Football League and NFL Players Association reported 58 positive COVID-19 tests in the past week, up from 45 in each of the two previous weeks.

A total of 21 players and 37 staff members tested positive during the period from Dec. 20-26.

There were 41,047 tests were administered to 6,785 players and team personnel. Among those, 16,180 tests were performed on 2,364 players and 24,867 tests were administered to 4,421 personnel.

Since monitoring began on Aug. 1, a total of 222 players and 396 other personnel have had confirmed positive tests for COVID-19. Approximately 881,510 tests have been administered through Dec. 26.

The 17-week NFL regular season concludes this Sunday with all 32 teams in action.

–Field Level Media

Aug 24, 2020; Costa Mesa California, USA; A face mask advisory sign at Los Angeles Chargers training camp amid the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Positive tests for NFL players top 200 for the season

The National Football League and NFL Players Association reported 45 positive COVID-19 tests in the past week, the same number for a third straight week.

A total of 14 players and 31 staff members tested positive during the period from Dec. 13-19.

Those were the exact numbers for the week of Dec. 6-12, while the 45 positives from Nov. 29-Dec. 5 included 18 players and 27 team personnel.

On the latest report, the league and union said 41,501 tests were administered to a total of 6,927 players and team personnel. Among those, 16,222 tests were administered to 2,391 players and 25,279 tests were given to 4,536 personnel.

Since monitoring began Aug. 1, 201 players and 359 other personnel have had confirmed positives for COVID-19. Approximately 840,460 tests have been administered through Dec. 19.

–Field Level Media