Apr 28, 2021; Canton, Ohio, USA; A Super Bowl Vince Lombardi trophy on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals-Raiders Super Bowl? Odds leap after 2-0 starts

Two weeks, two wins … to the Super Bowl?

Perfect starts to the 2021 season have triggered a serious boost to the Super Bowl and division title odds for three teams that were hardly considered championship contenders entering September.

The Las Vegas Raiders and Arizona Cardinals sliced their Super Bowl odds nearly in half since the opening kickoff in Week 1 and the Carolina Panthers are on the climb as well.

“While it’s only Week 2, an NFL season is by nature a small sample size — even with the added game — so you’re going to see some significant adjustments if a team is showing early signs of outperforming market expectations. The Cardinals, Panthers and Raiders all fall into that category,” BetRivers sportsbook manager Zach Schlouch told Field Level Media.

The Raiders enter Week 3 at +5000 to win the Super Bowl at BetRivers. They opened at +7500. Odds to win the rough and tumble AFC West dropped from +2000 to +1100 following wins over the Ravens and Steelers.

PointsBet nudged Vegas from the opening line of +6000 to win the Super Bowl to +4000.

But the Cardinals are now +2200 at PointsBet, even with the Seahawks and ahead of the Cowboys and Titans (tied at +2500). WynnBet also adjusted Arizona’s projected win total from eight to 10. The Panthers remain available at an over-under of eight wins.

WynnBet pushed the Panthers from an opening line of +1100 to win the NFC South to +650, and barely inched Carolina forward from +8000 Super Bowl odds to +7500. The Panthers beat the Saints 26-7 in Week 2 and handled the Jets, 19-14, in the opener.

At Wynnbet the Raiders are now +1000 to win the AFC West from an opening price of +2500.

The FanDuel Super Bowl market reveals the most dramatic shift for the Panthers at +5500 to win the Super Bowl. At opening kickoff in Week 1, the odds for the same bet were +9000.

The Raiders, who started at +7500 are now +5000 and Arizona spiked from +4800 to the current odds of +3400.

–Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (14) returns to the locker room following warmups before a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Wilson: 5 bold predictions for 2021

Be bold, be bullish, be all-in when it comes to ultra-big, ultra-athletic and ultra-skilled Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf.

Metcalf is an extremely reliable breakout candidate and my prediction for huge NFL numbers in his third NFL season.

Here’s why:

At a sculpted 6-foot-4, 235 pounds with 4.33 speed in the 40-yard dash, Metcalf has freakish size and speed and knows how to use his superior traits to full advantage.

He had at least 100 yards or one touchdown in 10 of 16 games last season, finishing with 83 receptions for 1,303 yards (seventh in the NFL) and 10 touchdowns. He was targeted at least four times every game.

In two NFL seasons, he has 141 career catches for 2,203 yards and 17 touchdowns.

In his third NFL season, look for even greater production from Metcalf. He could emerge as the top wide receiver in the game.

Russell Wilson has built a strong chemistry with Metcalf and will make it a point to throw him the football frequently. That conclusion doesn’t require sources. It’s just a matter of fact and practicality.

The game is slowing down for Metcalf and he’s gained greater knowledge of the Seahawks’ offense and excellent timing with how Wilson likes to play.

As they say, “Let Russ cook.” How about, “Let Russ and Metcalf collaborate as co-chefs to cook a delicious meal of touchdowns.”

The Seahawks hired Shane Waldron as offensive coordinator, which could help Metcalf maximize his talents. Look at how much production the Los Angeles Rams, Waldron’s old team, have had at wide receiver and the diversity of their schemes under Sean McVay.

There could be extra pockets for Metcalf to operate.

Metcalf should also benefit from the presence of rookie D’Wayne Eskridge, who’s capable of being an effective weapon in the slot and as an outside receiver.

Metcalf lined up in the slot 16.6 percent of the time last season. That number could increase under Waldron’s direction. Plus, Metcalf has upgraded his route-running skills.

Under Waldron, the Seahawks are expected to increase their tempo with quick passing game strategies.

Metcalf is also an imposing red-zone target, where he scored five times last season.

And Metcalf has the requisite attitude for the job.

“Hungry,” he said. “Still hungry. Be better than last year, that’s always the goal.”

Here are four more bold predictions for the 2021 season:

Chiefs win it all

Yes, Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the talent to repeat. And they looked good in a dramatic season-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Here’s saying they won’t repeat. And it’s not because of any obvious deficiencies with the Buccaneers.

The Kansas City Chiefs are just that good.

Between a fully healthy Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and an upgraded offensive line led by Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown, the Chiefs are primed to win a Super Bowl rematch over the Buccaneers.

Bills are in the mix

The Buffalo Bills are a sleeper Super Bowl candidate around the league.

The emergence of strong-armed mobile quarterback Josh Allen makes them a legitimate contender.

The addition of Stefon Diggs last season and general manager Brandon Beane’s steady roster moves to improve a loaded defense makes the Bills Mafia extremely happy.

This team is on the cusp of accomplishing big things.

Browns take over AFC North

The way the Baltimore Ravens’ running back situation has been decimated by injuries — including the losses of J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill for the season — could prevent them from remaining ahead of the pack in the division.

Lamar Jackson is a dynamic presence, but can only do so much given the injury situation in the backfield.

The Cleveland Browns are poised to ascend.

A two-running back system with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, a playmaking quarterback in Baker Mayfield, the return of Odell Beckham Jr. from an ACL injury and a defense that has Myles Garrett makes the Browns the heavy favorite in this division.

Colts take a step back

It’s hard to believe in Carson Wentz resurrecting his career with the Indianapolis Colts.

Wentz’s confidence and mechanics were shot in Philadelphia. Even having Frank Reich around to coach him up again won’t be enough to get Wentz back to where he began his career.

Look for the Tennessee Titans to rule the AFC South because of powerhouse running back Derrick Henry, the addition of Julio Jones and the play-action skills of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The defense, led by Jeffery Simmons, is improving.

–Field Level Media

Feb 1, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; General overall view of Verizon 5G advertisement prior to Super Bowl LIV.. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NFL, Verizon announce 10-year tech-related partnership

The NFL and Verizon agreed to a 10-year-deal, extending a longtime partnership between the two sides that will broaden the league’s digital capabilities.

Financial details for the deal were not announced. The previous agreement was to have expired in 2023.

The new agreement puts an emphasis on 5G technology to improve how fans see the game both inside the stadiums and at home. It also could help teams with their operations.

“For the past decade, Verizon has been one of our key technology partners, helping with everything from digital distribution of NFL content, engaging our fans at the NFL’s biggest events, enhancing communications throughout the NFL ecosystem and upgrading technology within stadiums across the League,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a news release. “As we look to the next decade … Verizon will help us capitalize on the promise of 5G technology, paving the way for the future of the game and delivering incredible experiences for millions of NFL fans.”

In time for the new season, 25 NFL stadiums have been equipped with Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband service, accessible in parts of the venues. As the agreement goes on, the NFL could use the technology on the management side, with teams utilizing it for components such as scouting, training, health and safety, and game-day operations.

The NFL recently extended billions of dollars in agreements with other key media partners, including Disney, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, Fox and Amazon.

–Field Level Media

Feb 7, 2020; Tampa, FL, USA;  General view of the NFL Shield logo on the field before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

NFL, NFLPA agree to weekly COVID testing for vaccinated players

The NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed Monday that vaccinated players and team staff members will now undergo COVID testing once every seven days.

Previously, the NFL’s vaccinated personnel had been required to take a COVID test once every 14 days. The testing now will take place each week on the three days following a game.

All unvaccinated players will continue to be tested daily. Vaccinated players with vulnerable cohabitants can choose to be tested daily, as well.

As of last week, approximately 93 percent of NFL players and 99 percent of staff members were fully vaccinated. Those numbers are expected to change as NFL teams continue to trim their rosters with the start of the regular season approaching.

–Field Level Media

Feb 7, 2020; Tampa, FL, USA;  General view of the NFL Shield logo on the field before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

NFL pushing for mandatory vaccinations for players

The NFL on Thursday said it has been pushing for a vaccination mandate for players amid dueling proposals with the NFLPA about a new cadence for testing the vaccinated.

The comments by NFL general counsel Larry Ferazini came during a media teleconference regarding the state of the league’s COVID preparedness ahead of the 2021 season. The first regular season game is two weeks from Thursday.

“We would still love to see that mandate go into effect tomorrow,” Ferazani said.

However, union president and Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter said Wednesday that the league never asked for a mandate.

“It’s the NFL’s choice on the mandate,” Tretter told ESPN Radio. “They didn’t enforce one. There was never really any talk about having a mandate.”

The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills said Thursday that nearly 93 percent of all NFL players have been vaccinated, leaving roughly 200 players leaguewide who remain unvaccinated.

With that as a backdrop, the NFL is proposing to test vaccinated players weekly vs. bi-weekly while the NFLPA wants daily testing for vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. (Unvaccinated players already get tested daily.)

“The COVID environment is constantly changing and our success last year was built not only on a foundation of cooperation, but more importantly, on listening to our experts,” the NFLPA said in a statement to ESPN on Thursday. “It is clear with what we know about the Delta variant and with what we have seen already with clubs, testing needs to be a greater focal point.”

That testing cadence would seem to be the battlefield as Tretter said Wednesday that the ship has sailed on a vax mandate.

“I think that time has already passed,” Tretter said on ESPN Radio. “The NFL is not mandating the vaccine for players so I don’t think there’s any going back on that at this point. I think we move forward how that is.

“We know the protocols we used last year worked, got us through a season. So we’ll continue to refine those protocols, continue to enforce those protocols. That’s our goal again, to get through a season, avoid transmission within the building; that’s what caused us problems last year.”

–Field Level Media

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell watches the Lions during a team practice at Ford Field on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021.

Fordfieldpractice 080724

NFL restricts media locker room access in 2021

The NFL has circulated a directive to all 32 teams to restrict locker room access for a second straight season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The policy requires that a maximum of only 50 vaccinated personnel will have access to locker rooms while players are present.

Non-team media will not be allowed.

Those restrictions represent a second straight season in which outside media will not be allowed inside of locker rooms. Instead, teams are allowed to designate three internal communications staffers to handle media duties inside of locker rooms.

The NFL is still relaxing some restrictions on in-person interviews, allowing socially distanced news conferences, postgame news conferences and small group availabilities. In accordance with those moves, Zoom media call requirements have been removed.

The NFL regular season kicks off Thursday, Sept. 9 when the Dallas Cowboys visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

–Field Level Media

May 25, 2021; Ashburn, Virginia, USA; A general view of an NFL ball on the field during a Washington Football Team OTA at Inova Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Football to generate more than $20B in legal sports bets

The NFL and college football could generate more than $20 billion in legal sports betting during the upcoming season, according to projections released Tuesday by PlayUSA.

It would result in as much as $1.5 billion in revenue for sportsbooks, per PlayUSA.

“The U.S. sports betting market looks entirely different than it did just one year ago. There is no question that it will be a historic football season unlike any we’ve seen before,” said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for the PlayUSA.com network.

The projections are at least $12 billion wagered on NFL games and roughly $8 billion on college football, per the report.

The total football-related handle was about $7.5 billion for the 2020 season.

Since the end of the 2020 football seasons, Michigan and Virginia have launched sports betting to emerge as the fifth- and seventh-largest markets in the U.S., respectively, per PlayUSA.

Another 11 states could launch or expand betting initiatives during this upcoming football season.

–Field Level Media

Jun 10, 2021; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Football Team running back Lamar Miller (35) carries the ball between Washington Football Team running back Payton Barber (25) and Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (24) during drills as part of minicamp at Inova Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

NFL cuts: Tim Tebow, Lamar Miller let go

Tim Tebow’s comeback bid with the Jacksonville Jaguars ended when NFL teams trimmed their rosters from 90 to 85 on Tuesday.

Tebow was released along with four others in Jacksonville — wide receivers Josh Imatorbhebhe and Tim Jones, defensive tackle Daniel Ross and cornerback DJ Daniel — after attempting to return from a brief minor-league baseball career with the New York Mets.

First-year Jaguars coach Urban Meyer was allowing Tebow, a Heisman and national title winner at Florida under Meyer’s watch, to attempt a move to tight end.

–Running back Lamar Miller was released by the Washington Football Team.

Miller has played in only one regular-season game since 2018 due to injuries and was one of six running backs in training camp with Washington.

Another longtime NFL back, Alfred Morris, was released by the New York Giants.

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Richard Rodgers (85) is carted off the field after suffering an injury against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Looser IR rules to return for 2021

Keeping a rule change first installed during the pandemic-ravaged 2020 season, NFL teams will be allowed to place an unlimited number of players on injured reserve during 2021 and those players will be eligible to return after a minimum of three games rather than eight.

NFL Network reported the update Tuesday, citing a league memo sent to the 32 clubs.

It is not clear if the NFL intends to keep the change long-term, but with the pandemic still active around the U.S., it chose to allow teams to have that flexibility for at least another season.

Normally, players placed on injured reserve cannot return from IR until they’ve missed at least six weeks’ worth of practice and eight weeks’ worth of games. Further, teams are usually allowed to activate only two players from IR during the course of a season, while any others must remain on IR for the rest of the season.

The league’s reserve/COVID-19 list remains separate from the standard injured reserve.

–Field Level Media

Jun 15, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham (4) participates in a drill during the New England Patriots mini camp at the New England Patriots practice complex. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham has successful back surgery

New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham had successful back surgery earlier this week, according to a report from NFL Network. The veteran is expected to be out of commission for approximately 12 weeks.

The nature or severity of the back injury has yet to be reported or disclosed by the team. At the start of camp, he was placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list for “pain in his right shoulder and back while throwing the football,” per an earlier report from The Athletic.

If his recovery proceeds as scheduled, he should be available to return to provide quarterback depth in mid to late October.

Stidham, 24, was expected to be the No. 3 quarterback behind Cam Newton and rookie Mac Jones this season.

He has appeared in eight games in his career for the Patriots after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, throwing for 270 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions.

On Wednesday, the Patriots claimed Jake Dolegala off waivers from Green Bay. Dolegala should compete with veteran Brian Hoyer for a roster spot this preseason.

–Field Level Media