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Dublin: 1 °C Tuesday 28 January, 2020

The Assassin, the XFL and your NFL week 15 preview

The Patriots and Steelers meet this week and both teams know all too well just how dangerous football is.

The moment Darryl Stingley's life changed forever.
The moment Darryl Stingley's life changed forever.
Image: YouTube

Originally published at 0.05am

WHEN HE DIED at the age of 61 in 2010, the New York Times obituary of former Oakland Raider Jack Tatum described him as one of the most feared hitters in football who “came to be a symbol of a violent game.”

It was a reputation Tatum embraced both during and after his NFL career and, in his 1980 book They Call Me The Assassin, he even went as far as saying:

“I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault.”

That Tatum felt comfortable writing that line just two years after his tackle on New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley in a preseason game resulted in the 26-year-old fracturing two vertebrae in his neck — severely damaging his spinal cord and leaving him a quadriplegic — is jarring.

He drew widespread outrage for initially refusing to apologise for the hit — which was not against NFL rules at the time as it was a shoulder to the head — but later in life said:

When the reality of Stingley’s injury hit me with its full impact, I was shattered. To think that my tackle broke another man’s neck and killed his future.”

Despite his injury, Stingley would go on to earn a degree in physical education from Purdue University and serve as executive director of player personnel for the Patriots before his death in 2007 at the age of 55 as a result of pneumonia and heart disease complicated by his quadriplegia.

Though football is a violent sport, such catastrophic injuries at the top-level are, mercifully, rare.

Sadly, they still happen and Dennis Byrd, Mike Utley, Reggie Brown and, most recently, Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills in 2007, have all left an NFL field paralysed.

UPI 20171022 Ryan Shazier before his injury. Source: UPI/PA Images

Thankfully, Brown and Everett both managed to walk again under their own power while Byrd has some mobility but the immediate dangers of the sport — which are often overtaken by the long-term concerns about head trauma — were thrown into sharp focus again recently when Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier was injured tackling Cincinnati Bengals receiver Josh Malone in week 13.

The 25-year-old immediately grabbed his back and waved to medical staff before he was carted off the field, seemingly unable to move his legs. He had spinal stabilisation surgery on 6 December and has begun his rehabilitation but, at this stage, it’s unclear if he’ll ever play football again.

Given that football can be so dangerous when players are not incentivised to hurt each other, it’s interesting that rumours abound this weekend about a return of the WWE-backed XFL.

When it was launched in 1999, Vince McMahon’s league took pride in being more physical and violent than the NFL.

That’s problematic for most people in 2017 but, given that the President of the United States has claimed football is too soft, would it surprise anyone if that kind of league found an audience?

Sunday – 1.25am

LA Chargers (-1) @ Kansas City Chiefs

There’s a good chance that you’re reading this preview after this game has already taken place so I’m either going to look like a genius or, staying on brand, an idiot. There’s no doubting the Chargers are on an impressive win streak but the Chiefs had their ground attack motoring last week against the Raiders and, with the return of Marcus Peters, should repeat their comfortable victory over the same opposition in week three.

Verdict: Chiefs against the spread

Sunday – 6pm

Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills (-3.5)

Somehow we’ve reached week 15 of the season with the Miami Dolphins (fresh off beating the Patriots) and Buffalo Bills (fresh off a win in the best snow game we’ve had in ages) are still in the playoff hunt. Tyrod Taylor is expected to return at quarterback this week for the hosts and the weather forecast is only for light snow showers. Which is a shame really.

Verdict: Bills to cover

Green Bay Packers @ Carolina Panthers (-2.5)

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers breaks collarbone, could miss rest of season This was supposed to be the last play of Aaron Rodgers' season but he's back. Source: Jeff Wheeler/PA

It would be too much to expect a quarterback to come back from a long injury layoff, slot right in and guide his team to an unlikely playoff spot. But it’s Aaron Rodgers, so that’s exactly what we expect. The Panthers need to win out to win the NFC South, but you have to wonder if there’s something up with Cam Newton; the quarterback has thrown for less than 200 yards in five of his last six games.

Verdict: Packers against the spread

Baltimore Ravens (-7.5) @ Cleveland Browns

The Browns with Josh Gordon are miles better than the Browns without the talented wide receiver. Sadly, that still makes them the Browns.

Verdict: Ravens to cover

Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars (-11.5)

The Jags are staring to look like the Broncos with the ghost of Peyton Manning in 2015 and serve as a timely reminder not to make stupid promises on the internet.

Tweet by @Steve O'Rourke Source: Steve O'Rourke/Twitter

Cincinnati Bengals @ Minnesota Vikings (-11)

Vikings Panthers Football The Vikings will hope to bounce back this week. Source: Mike McCarn/PA Images

One statistic that stood out from last week’s loss to the Panthers was that the Vikings offensive line gave up six sacks and 20 quarterback pressures. However, they were missing three starters, two of whom should return this weekend and, besides, they’re playing a Bengals team whose season is already over.

Verdict: Vikings to cover

New York Jets @ New Orleans Saints (-16)

This is one of the bigger spreads of the season but, with Bryce Petty starting at quarterback and facing one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Marshon Lattimore, you’d fancy it won’t be too much of a task for the hosts.

Verdict: Saints to cover

Philadelphia Eagles (-7.5) @ New York Giants

Will we get the 2013 version of Nick Foles who, in 10 games, threw 27 touchdowns and just two picks with the league’s best passer-rating of 119.2? Or will we get the version we’ve seen in the 26 games he’s played since — throwing 23 TDs and 20 interceptions with a passer rating of just 77.6?

Verdict: Eagles to cover

Arizona Cardinals @ Washington (-4)

UPI 20171210 It has been another wasted season for Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Source: UPI/PA Images

A game with little to no relevance — other than draft position — on a weekend when there are so many crucial games.

Verdict: Cardinals against the spread

Sunday – 9.05pm

LA Rams @ Seattle Seahawks (-2.5)

It’s so difficult to predict what the Seahawks will do in any single game. They were poor against the Jags last weekend and brilliant against the Eagles the week before. The Rams remain one of the most consistent teams in the NFL and that might be enough in this divisional clash.

Verdict: Rams against the spread

Sunday – 9.25pm

New England Patriots (-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers

These two could well face off again in the AFC Championship game with the result of this clash deciding where this game is played. The only stat you need to know is that, since 2003, the Patriots’ record is 43-7 straight-up in the wake of a defeat (86%), well in excess of the next best team — coincidentally Pittsburgh who are 53-29 (64.6%).

Verdict:Patriots to cover

Tennessee Titans @ San Francisco 49ers (-1)

San Francisco 49ers vs. Chicago Bears Jimmy Garoppolo has made an immediate impact with his new team. Source: Brian Cassella/PA Images

The Tennessee Titans are doing that thing they seem to do every year which is stay in contention for the AFC South only to fall by the wayside at the end of the season.

Verdict: 49ers to cover

Monday – 1.30am

Dallas Cowboys (-3) @ Oakland Raiders

The Giants without Eli Manning and OBJ, the Chiefs without Marcus Peters, the Cowboys without Zeke Elliott and, next week, the Eagles without Carson Wentz. The football gods have been kind to the Oakland Raiders and they’ve returned the favour with some exceptionally bad football.

Verdict: Cowboys to cover

Tuesday – 1.30am

Atlanta Falcons (-6) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Falcons know that winning out will put them in the playoffs and they’ve bigger fish to fry this season than the Bucs but could this be a case of looking past a divisional rival and finding themselves in a trap game? No, but only because Tampa Bay are terrible.

Verdict: Falcons to cover

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Steve O'Rourke

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