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: 12, 2018 6:23 am
: 22.06.2018
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Even with last weeks huge swing in fortunes by the Bills Ondrej Palat Jersey , Giants, Seahawks, Lions and Browns, there remain lots of questions about each of them.

At least they arent winless.

Then there are the projected contenders who are struggling through three games: New England, Atlanta, Green Bay, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and the Chargers.

Several figure to get going: the Patriots always seem to, and get Julian Edelman back in Week 5; the Packers when Aaron Rodgers is healthier; the Steelers if things ever calm down in the locker room.

Unfortunately, the injuries that have ravaged the Falcons might be too much to overcome.

Still, they have a win, which is more than Houston , Oakland and Arizona can say. Man, are things getting ugly in those places.

Its frustrating, says Texans coach Bill OBrien, whose team has been outscored only 74-59. It is, but thats the way it is. Thats the NFL. These are close games and its the team that doesnt beat themselves that ends up winning, and weve been beating ourselves too much.

As have the Raiders , who cant hold onto a lead. They are the second team in the past 20 seasons to start the season with three straight losses after leading the first three games at halftime.

Nobody cares right now. They want results, returning coach Jon Gruden insists. We want to win. I think the players see a lot of things to be confident about, but we know we got to finish football games much better.

The Cardinals need to start and finish games much better. They were blown out in their first two matches, then led Chicago for most of last Sundays game before folding.

The guys are disappointed, theyre down, but they understand right now its still early, new coach Steve Wilks says. We need to find a way to finish football games, as we did not do (Sunday).

Wilks is correct that it is still early, and 0-3 is not a sentence to purgatory for the remainder of the schedule. Last season, the Chargers began 0-4 and nearly made the playoffs.

The difference between these three 2018 stragglers and the 2017 Chargers is, for one, talent.

Lets start with Oakland.


When Gruden and upper management opted to deal Khalil Mack, it not only was a massive hit to the linebacker position Patrick Onwuasor Jersey , but to the entire defense. Super defenders such as Mack are like a Tom Brady on the other side of the ball, making everyone around them better.

His departure created a major void in the locker room as well. Sometimes a player is worth whatever hes asking, or close to it. This seems to be such a case.

Opponents can run on the Raiders, and theres virtually no one to fear as a pass rusher. Oakland has a total of three sacks and one takeaway.

Only Buffalo in the AFC has scored fewer than the Raiders 52 points. The passing game hasnt flopped, but Derek Carr has been picked off five times already; he threw 13 last year. Marshawn Lynch, to his credit, has three rushing touchdowns, but otherwise the ground game has been mediocre.

All of that enthusiasm in the Bay Area has been dampened by the Mack trade and the 0-3 record. Should the Raiders fall to the Browns on Sunday, whatever honeymoon period Gruden had would be over.


This is the least surprising of the early collapses. While Arizona went 8-8 last season, it lost so much offensive firepower and brain power that having scored 20 points so far the next-worse team is Dallas with 41 isnt shocking.

Coach Bruce Arians, all three quarterbacks, including solid veteran Carson Palmer, and wideouts John Brown and Jaron Brown are all gone. The new attack installed for Wilks by Mike McCoy has been a dud despite the presence of versatile running back David Johnson, who missed all but the opener last year, and all-time receiving great Larry Fitzgerald.

Only the Jets have more giveaways than Arizonas seven, and now rookie QB Josh Rosen gets the call. He likes to gamble, which could lead to a lot more turnovers.

The defense under Wilks can get to the quarterback. It hasnt done much else, though.


This slump is most confounding.

Unlike the Cardinals, the Texans got back a ton of skill in J.J. Watt the NFLs best defender when he has been healthy Whitney Mercilus and Deshaun Watson. Many prognosticators picked them to win the AFC South or contend for a wild card in an improved division.

Instead, the Texans have been perhaps the biggest disappointment of September. Watson hasnt been nearly as dynamic as in his six starts of 2017 before tearing up his knee. The offense has sputtered badly in the red zone.

Watt had a big second half against the Giants last Sunday, the first time hes looked like a star.

Of the three winless teams, though, Houston would seem to be the best bet to get headed in an upward direction.

Theres no magic dust, theres no magic wand we can just say, Hey, wave this magic wand and everythings going to be OK,' OBrien says. Its hard work, its trying to figure out what we do best, do it better, and the things were not doing well, either stop doing them or figure out how to improve them.

Theres no other way out of it. Theres no choice. You have to go to work and you have to figure it out. Thats sports Authentic Thomas Rawls Jersey , thats life and thats the way it is.

A year ago at this time the Vegas Golden Knights had one minor league player on an otherwise empty roster and no idea what to expect when an entire team was finally assembled.

Now, they are two wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup.

The best story in sports got even better Wednesday night on the Las Vegas Strip, where the Golden Knights continued their improbable run toward the Cup final with a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Before a raucous crowd of 18,477 newly minted hockey fans, the expansion team like no other won a second straight against the Jets to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference final.

As much as 500-1 to win the Stanley Cup in this gambling citys sports books when the season began, the players that like to refer to themselves as the Golden Misfits are now incredibly the odds-on favorites to win it all.

In a city built on losers, the first major pro franchise could be the winner no one expected even the players cast off from their former teams.

Misfits, theyre not. But many of them had never even met before last summers expansion draft, and now theyre on the brink of the Stanley Cup finals.

I dont think anyone saw us here, said Marc Andre Fleury, the three-time Stanley Cup winner who was left unprotected in the expansion draft by Pittsburgh. Im really proud to be part of this season.

On a night when Fleury made one spectacular save after another, the Knights were just good enough to take the advantage in the series. They held onto a one-goal advantage most of the third period, despite being outplayed and outshot by the Jets.

The grudges they once held against their former teams are gone. But theyve played the entire season with a chip on their shoulders after being judged expendable by their former employers.

We all came here with the right mindset, said James Neal, who had a goal and an assist in the win. No one likes to be left unprotected.

That the Knights were competitive in their first season wasnt a total surprise. The NHL set up the expansion draft so teams couldnt hold onto all of their top players, and the Knights wasted no time in making Fleury the backbone of the new team.

What did surprise a lot of people in hockey was that general manager George McPhee nailed just the right combination of speed up front to go with the stellar goalkeeping. And so far theyve held their own speed-wise in the series against the Jets, a team built on speed itself.

Theyre a quick team, for sure, Jets coach Paul Maurice said. When were fast we look faster, too. Its the ebb and flow of the game.

The Knights are not only the hottest ticket on the Strip, but the hottest thing in a city of 2 million. Las Vegans have embraced their first major pro franchise and opposing players often talk about the atmosphere inside the T-Mobile Arena.

Away from the arena its more of the same. Golden Knights merchandise is everywhere in the city and hundreds of fans show up just to watch practice at the teams facility in the suburbs. Homegrown baseball hero Bryce Harper is such a big fan he has bats with Golden Knights logos, and singer Carrie Underwood offered (it was declined) to sing the national anthem after her Nashville Predators were eliminated.

And if the Jets drove past Caesars Palace on their way to the game they might have noticed the statue of Caesar was holding a Knights hockey stick.

Fleury, who made spectacular back-to-back saves that left him sprawled across the ice while the Knights were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the third period, was asked after what he would have thought before the season if someone told him the team would be within two wins of the Stanley Cup finals.

Probably laugh a little bit, he said.

No one is laughing now as the Knights try and make history as an expansion team turned Stanley Cup champion. The team has defied the odds since the opening game of the season, and bookies are having a hard time finding anyone to bet against them now.

They were Vegas Strong, starting the season just after the murderous Oct. 1 rampage just down the street from the arena that took 58 lives in the worst mass shooting ever in the U.S. They became Vegas Born, which has resonated in a city where so many people are from elsewhere.

Call them what you want. But soon you may be calling them Stanley Cup champions.

Were just a bunch of hockey players that wanted to find a home, Jonathan Marchessault said a few games ago. And we did.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or

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