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As Broncos coach Vic Fangio prepares for Trevor Lawrence, “mad scientist” aims to make things confusing for rookie quarterback



As Broncos coach Vic Fangio prepares for Trevor Lawrence, “mad scientist” aims to make things confusing for rookie quarterback

Since joining the Broncos in 2019, safety Kareem Jackson has regularly arrived at the team facility on a Wednesday morning and been greeted by a surprise.

A new coverage. A new pressure. A new disguise. All from coach/defensive play-caller Vic Fangio.

“He’ll put in something we haven’t done and I’m like, ‘Damn, where did that come from?’” Jackson said in an interview with The Denver Post. “That’s week in and week out. It’s going to be something new depending on who we play.”

Who the Broncos (1-0) play the next two Sundays are rookie quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the top two picks in this year’s draft by Jacksonville and the New York Jets, respectively. Lawrence is up first this Sunday.

Fangio may still be in prove-it mode as a head coach (13-20 with the Broncos), but he is universally respected for how he makes it feel like he has 14 defenders on the field and how he can bait young quarterbacks into back-breaking mistakes.

Since Fangio started calling defensive plays in 1995, his teams have gone 18-9 against rookie quarterbacks.

A sampling: Carolina beat Peyton Manning. Indianapolis beat Donovan McNabb. San Francisco beat Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill. Chicago beat Jameis Winston and Sam Darnold. And the Broncos have beaten Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa.

In those 27 games, the quarterbacks have combined for a 73.7 rating (32 touchdowns and 24 interceptions).

“That’s a testament to the groups of players he’s had, the scheme he’s put in place and the way guys are able to execute it,” said Jackson, who has 152 career starts at cornerback and safety. “He’s definitely a mad scientist in how he sees things and when it comes to implementing schemes.”

Disguising is critical

Fangio entered pro football with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars in 1984 and often refers to Jim Mora, Sr., and Dom Capers as his primary early-career mentors. Decades later, the Fangio Tree has branched out to the Chargers (head coach Brandon Staley/defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill), Chicago (coordinator Sean Desai) and the New York Jets (head coach Robert Saleh).

Staley was the Broncos’ outside linebackers coach in 2019 after following Fangio from Chicago. Sitting in a coffee shop not far from his house in Parker two years ago, he detailed some of the key components to a Fangio defense.

“One of the reasons why it’s special is we don’t have to pressure (with extra rushers) to have effective pressure,” Staley said. “What that allows us to do is play with disguise and have the math in our favor (downfield).

“If you look at it from the offensive side, when they don’t 100% know whether we have players dropping or rushing, it gives us an incredible advantage and that’s why you’ve seen edge-rusher production wherever Vic has been. We want to have the illusion of disguise and alignment flexibility.”

What makes Fangio unique as a play-caller/game plan designer?

“He’s really special in mitigating risks and he has the ability to stay patient when others wouldn’t,” Staley said. “And I think he has the ability to anticipate problems and play that chess match where he’s working steps ahead of the offense the whole time. You can see that by how he’s done against great quarterbacks. The flexibility we play with, the disguise — everything is meant to be hard on the quarterback. And he’ll get aggressive when you’re not counting on it.”

Exhibit A (aggressive) was last year’s win at New England. Fangio called a “Zero Blitz” — a seven-man blitz with across-the-board man coverage and no over-the-top help — to stop the Patriots on fourth down.

Exhibit B (patience) was last week’s win over the New York Giants. Confident in the four-man rush against quarterback Daniel Jones, Fangio kept things simple — two six-man rushes in 42 drop-backs.

Exhibit C (disguise) could be against Jacksonville. Have inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson stationed at the line of scrimmage before retreating into coverage at the snap. Because the Jaguars won’t know if they are blitzing, their interior linemen have to stay put and not help on the Broncos’ edge rushers.

Disguising the pre-snap look is a Fangio hallmark and he can trust his veteran safeties (Jackson and Justin Simmons) to carry out the fake. It forces the offense to guess. Right before the snap, Jackson could drop closer to the line of scrimmage, turning a two-deep look into a single-high feature. The trap is set.

“When you can present the same pre-snap look as often as possible and then get to different spots in the field, you not only throw off quarterbacks, you throw off coordinators, too,” defensive backs coach Christian Parker said. “We can play the same defense and it can look five different ways on five different plays.”

Said outside linebackers coach John Pagano: “You have to disguise in this league. Fifty percent of the game is getting aligned and disguising and knowing your assignment and the other 50% is when the ball is snapped and being in position to make a play. Vic’s system is one where you can attack and go make plays.”

Big bag of tricks

An easy prediction for Sunday is Fangio will have some tricks ready for Lawrence, but not at the expense of confusing the Broncos’ players.

“There’s no sense in making our guys uncomfortable for the sake of (confusing Lawrence),” Fangio said. “Hopefully we do a good enough job of disguising our intentions. A lot of people think pressuring a rookie quarterback is the way to go. But sometimes that makes it easy for him because it identifies the coverage and he gets the ball out quickly.”

That was Houston defensive coordinator Lovie Smith’s plan last week. He rushed four on nearly every drop-back save for two late-game linebackers’ blitzes. Lawrence had to throw 51 times because the Jaguars trailed 37-7 after three quarters and lost 37-21.

“It was pretty simple,” said NFL on CBS analyst Adam Archuleta in a phone interview. “They played maybe three snaps of man coverage and they did a good job executing zone coverage and I have to say that Jacksonville never did anything to get them out of that. It was Trevor having to do a lot.”

Lawrence made several terrific passes, but also threw three interceptions. The final turnover appeared be thrown right to linebacker Christian Kirksey, who was sitting in his zone when the football found him.

“That was me just trying to do too much,” Lawrence told reporters after the game. “I lost the ‘Mike’ (linebacker) playing zone in my sight of vision and just kind of forced it there.”

Archuleta, who was CBS’ analyst for Jaguars-Texans, agreed with Lawrence on over-pressing things down the field instead of taking the short profit.

“I just think the game got fast for Trevor,” Archuleta said. “He tried to make too much happen downfield and that’s when those windows get super, super tight. He needs more patience. The other thing is I felt like when he got interior pressure, he was really quick to slide and back-pedal to his left and that’s when his accuracy got away from him.”

If Fangio remains confident his four-man rush can harass Lawrence, it will follow a similar script to the last two years. He rushed five or more players on 25.3% of the drop-backs in five games against rookie quarterbacks, about the same as his season totals (20.1% in ’19 and 23% in ’20 per The Denver Post’s game charting). In those five games (3-2 record), the Broncos have averaged four sacks and 12.4 “disruptions” (sacks/knockdowns/pressures) per game.

What is definite: Fangio’s plan for Lawrence will be different from the plan he will have for the Jets’ Wilson.

“Just when you think he doesn’t have anything else in his bag of tricks, he adds more things to the arsenal,” Jackson said. “If you have multiple calls to throw off the offense, now they’re guessing what we’re in because everything looks the same before the ball is snapped.

“It’s a luxury to have this type of scheme and this type of coach.”

Upper hand vs. rookie QBs

During his NFL defensive play-calling career as a coordinator and coach for Carolina, Indianapolis, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and the Broncos, Vic Fangio has an 18-9 record against rookie quarterbacks. The Broncos face top overall pick Trevor Lawrence on Sunday. A look at the victories:


Player, team Year Statistics
Tony Banks, St. Louis 1996 15 of 29, 163 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Tony Banks, St. Louis 1996 14 of 33, 160 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Danny Weurffel, New Orleans 1997 13 of 32, 132 yards, 2 INT
Tony Graziani, Atlanta 1997 4 of 18, 24 yards, 2 INT
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis 1998 17 of 34, 225 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
Akili Smith, Cincinnati 1998 12 of 24, 122 yards


Player, team Year Statistics
Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville 2003 17 of 36, 231 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT

San Francisco

Player, team Year Statistics
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati 2011 17 of 32, 157 yards, 2 INT
Russell Wilson, Seattle 2011 9 of 23, 122 yards, 1 INT
Ryan Tannehill, Miami 2012 17 of 33, 150 yards, 1 TD
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay 2013 18 of 34, 179 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT


Player, team Year Statistics
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay 2015 15 of 29, 295 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
DeShone Kizer, Cleveland 2017 18 of 36, 182 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
Sam Darnold, N.Y. Jets 2018 14 of 29, 153 yards, 1 TD


Player, team Year Statistics
David Blough, Detroit 2019 12 of 24, 117 yards, 1 TD
Justin Herbert, L.A. Chargers 2020 29 of 43, 278 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami 2020 11 of 20, 83 yards, 1 TD

Rookie quarterbacks to beat Fangio’s teams: Patrick Ramsey (Washington, 2002), Leftwich (Jacksonville, 2003), Alex Smith (San Francisco, 2005), Wilson (Seattle, 2012), Derek Carr (Oakland, 2014), Carson Wentz (Philadelphia, 2016), Dak Prescott (Dallas, 2016), Gardner Minshew (Jacksonville, 2019) and Herbert (L.A. Chargers, 2020).

Total statistics: 18-9 record, 32 touchdowns, 24 interceptions, 55.3% completion, 4,783 yards and 73.7 rating.

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Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria need to stay off social media, except to honor Halyna Hutchins, crisis experts say



Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria need to stay off social media, except to honor Halyna Hutchins, crisis experts say

UPDATE: Alec Baldwin briefly returned to social media late Friday night to  retweet an article with a headline about how he was “Told Prop Gun Safe Before Fatal Shooting.”

The article from Variety cites an affidavit filed by investigators, which said that the gun handed to Baldwin on the New Mexico set of the film “Rust,” and used in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, was declared safe by the production’s assistant director.

Original story follows:

Alec Baldwin and his influencer wife, Hilaria Baldwin, have bolstered their careers by being extremely active on Instagram, with the highly opinionated actor regularly sharing his reflections on culture and politics and the couple constantly disseminating images of their happy life with their six young children.

But crisis management and public relations experts say that Baldwin and others close to him, especially Hilaria, face intense scrutiny in the coming weeks, due to Baldwin’s role in the shooting death Thursday of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of the actor’s latest movie, “Rust.”

For that reason, the “30 Rock” star and his wife need to keep a low profile and to take care with any public statements or in how they are seen in public, said Evan Nierman, founder of the crisis management and P.R. firm Red Banyan.

“Every gesture, every part of his appearance, every public statement will be scrutinized,” said Nierman. “He needs to be very cautious and controlled. … He even needs to make sure he’s not photographed out having dinner with friends, or laughing at a joke, or even seen smiling. It would be easy for someone to take a photo or video of him and spin it and attack him. If you’re a mega-celebrity, one of the ways you take away opportunities for people to do that is to stay out of the public eye.”

Staying out of the public eye also means that Baldwin needs to suspend sharing his views on social media about other topics, or promoting upcoming projects or even posting cute family photos, as if life in the Baldwin household goes on, Nierman said. It’s also important that Alec and others close to him not say too much about any hardships he or his family are suffering in the wake of Hutchins’ death and Souza’s injury.

“If he starts talking about other issues, he runs the risk of being criticized for not paying enough attention to what’s happened or not being empathetic to Hutchins’ family or not understanding the gravity of what’s happened,”  Nierman continued.

This restraint also applies to Hilaria Baldwin, 37, who reportedly left the couple’s Manhattan apartment Friday morning, the New York Post reported. Baldwin was photographed Saturday at a Santa Fe hotel with Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their 9-year-old son.

Hilaria Baldwin is known for regularly posting selfies, which show her executing yoga poses or trying to look alluring while breastfeeding one of their two babies. The Boston-born-and-reared Hilaria also continues to lament the way she’s been criticized on social media. Earlier this year, she was caught falsely presenting herself as “half-Spanish” for 10 years, likely to build a brand as a glamorous European immigrant.

About three hours before the shooting, Hilaria Baldwin shared an Instagram Story image of Baldwin on FaceTiming from New Mexico. The actor had had visible bags under his eyes and appeared drawn during the conversation.

“She reflects on his brand,” Nierman said. “It’s incumbent on her to adhere to those same practices. It would be advisable for her or him to do something on social media that expresses their grief for Hutchins, something very heartfelt that reflects the statement he put out on Twitter (Friday). Then let that be all the say for a time.”

In his two-tweet statement, Baldwin called the death of Hutchins on the set of the Western film “a tragic accident.” The actor, who has been a fixture in film, TV and theater since the 1980s, said there “are no words to convey my shock and sadness.”

Nierman praised Baldwin’s statement for being “short and sweet” and for also stating the fact that he’s fully cooperating with the police investigation. Nierman said that’s about all Baldwin or anyone close to him needs to say at this point.

Hutchins, 42, died Thursday after Santa Fe County Sheriff’s authorities say Baldwin fired a “prop gun” that also wounded the film’s director, Fremont native Joel Souza, 48. Souza was treated and released from a Santa Fe, New Mexico hospital.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Baldwin, also a producer on the film, was rehearsing a scene at the Bonanza Creek Ranch that involved a gun fight. The Times also reported that members of the camera crew had walked off the set to protest working conditions, which they said included complaints of long hours, long commutes and problems collecting their paychecks. Morever, crew members expressed concern about two accidental prop gun discharges that occurred days earlier.

In the coming days, weeks or months, Baldwin’s reputation and career depends heavily on what the investigation shows about what led to Hutchins’ death, said Eric Schiffer, chairman of the Los Angeles-based firm, Reputation Management Consultants.

“If this was a terrible accident, and Baldwin were my client, I would be advising him to keep a lower profile in the short term,” Schiffer said. “I would tell him to do what he can behind the scenes for the families and the crew who are shaken by this.”

Schiffer emphasized that “behind the scenes” means that neither Baldwin nor his wife should broadcast efforts he is making on behalf of Hutchins’ widower and family. It’s possible that these details could leak to the media, but Baldwin’s public efforts should come off “as authentic,” as if they “come from the heart,” Schiffer said.

On Friday, Hutchins’ widower, Matthew, declined to say much, but issued a statement to confirm that Baldwin had been in touch and was being “supportive,” the Daily Mail reported.

Schiffer said Baldwin also should do what he can to make sure that he’s as transparent as possible about his role in the shooting. Baldwin’s career is in a precarious, “debilitating” position, Schiffer said.

Having spent time on film sets, Schiffer is among many industry insiders who have expressed shock over how such an accident could happen in 2021, given all the strict safety protocols that are supposed to be in place when firearms are used on film and TV sets.

Schiffer, moreover, agreed that Baldwin is a polarizing figure in U.S. culture, known for his outspoken liberal politics, personal controversies, famous temper and fights with reporters. That means there’s a segment of the U.S. population that would be ready to pounce on any sign that Baldwin acted “outside the bounds” of proper procedures. As a producer of the film, he  may face added legal liability.

“If this was not an accident, or showed terrible judgement on his part, this will haunt him forever,” Schiffer said. “It will come down to whether producers and studios want to work with him again. I don’t think it will kill his career. But a pariah-set of clouds will follow him for some time. The incident will be tattooed to his forehead because it’s hard to unring the death of this person.”

But if authorities find that the shooting was an accident, Baldwin may become a hugely sympathetic figure, whose career could easily survive.

Nonetheless, Huchins’ death  is “a huge personal tragedy” for Baldwin, and it remains to be seen whether he will able to process the trauma enough that he can resume his career, Nierman added.

“If he doesn’t have a personal crisis or meltdown of his own, he will move past this,” Nierman said. “It ended a life but it won’t end his career.”

This story has been updated. 

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Race-blind redistricting? Democrats incredulous at GOP maps



Race-blind redistricting? Democrats incredulous at GOP maps

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A decade ago, North Carolina Republicans redrew their legislative districts to help their party in a way that a federal court ruled illegally deprived Black voters of their right to political representation. A state court later struck down Republican-drawn maps as based on pure partisanship.

So, as the GOP-controlled legislature embarks this year on its latest round of redistricting, it has pledged not to use race or partisan data to draw the political lines. Still, the maps Republicans are proposing would tilt heavily toward their party. Several publicly released congressional maps dilute Democratic votes by splitting the state’s biggest city, Charlotte — also its largest African American population center — into three or four U.S. House districts and giving the GOP at least a 10-4 advantage in a state that Donald Trump narrowly won last year.

As the once-a-decade redistricting process kicks into high gear, North Carolina is one of at least three states where Republicans say they are drawing maps without looking at racial and party data. But those maps still happen to strongly favor the GOP.

Democrats and civil rights groups are incredulous, noting that veteran lawmakers don’t need a spreadsheet to know where voters of various races and different parties live in their state. Plus, under certain scenarios, the Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of districts where the majority of voters are racial or ethnic minorities.

“This is the first redistricting round I’ve ever heard of this,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Texas Republicans over maps that the GOP said it drew without looking at racial data. “I suspect they’re trying to set up a defense for litigation. Because they know the race data — they know where the Black community lives. They know where the Latino community lives.”

Jason Torchinsky, general counsel to the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said ignoring racial data is proper in certain circumstances, as in the cases of North Carolina and Texas.

“It depends on where you are,” Torchinsky said.

The drawing of legislative lines is often a raw partisan fight because whichever party controls the process can craft districts to maximize its voters’ clout — and scatter opposing voters so widely they cannot win majorities.

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts cannot overturn unfair maps on the basis of partisanship. But state courts still can void maps for being too partisan and race remains a legal tripwire in redistricting.

If mapmakers explicitly try to weaken voters’ power based on race, they may violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. But the Voting Rights Act requires them to consider race if the state has “racially polarized” voting, in which white people consistently vote against candidates backed by a minority racial or ethnic group. The mapmakers must then create a district in which that minority comprises a plurality or majority of voters so they can elect their preferred candidates.

Republicans complain they cannot win.

“It’s truly a conundrum and has been for the last decade for the GOP, because when we look at race, we were told we shouldn’t have, and those maps were struck down,” said North Carolina state Sen. Paul Newton, who co-chairs that state’s redistricting committee. “Now that we’re not looking at race, the Democrat Party is telling us, ‘Oh, you should be looking at race.’”

North Carolina’s redistricting legal fight is part of why the new race-blind approach caught on.

The Republican-controlled legislature has complete control of redistricting; its maps cannot be vetoed by its Democratic governor. A federal court in 2016 found North Carolina Republicans improperly crammed Black voters into two congressional districts to dilute African American votes elsewhere. It ordered the map redrawn. That updated map was the basis of the 2019 Supreme Court case.

But, barely two months later, a North Carolina state court found the GOP advantage in some of the redrawn state legislative maps still violated the state constitution. Based on this and other rulings, Republicans redrew the maps once again in late 2019, this time saying they weren’t looking at racial or partisan data, and they passed legal muster.

Then, in August, the legislature formally adopted a rule that it wouldn’t consider race or partisanship in its latest line-drawing that would begin after the U.S. Census Bureau released data on population changes over the past decade. Lawmakers noted that, during the epic litigation of the prior decade, a federal court had found the state didn’t have racially polarized voting and didn’t require special attention to racial data.

Democrats and civil rights groups strenuously objected. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice wrote Republicans a letter warning they would be disenfranchising Black and Latino voters. “They’re not listening,” said Allison Riggs, head of the group’s voting rights program.

Other GOP-controlled states have followed North Carolina’s example. For the past five decades, Texas has been found to have violated federal law or the U.S. Constitution in redistricting, including by shortchanging Black and Latino voters. This time, Republicans who control the state Legislature said they wouldn’t consider racial data and their lawyers said that was OK.

“I’ve stated it, and I’ll state it again — we drew these maps race blind,” Texas state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican who drew that state’s maps, said in one Senate hearing.

Although almost all of Texas’ population growth has come from Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans, the maps do not create any new majority Black or Latino districts. That latter omission is at the heart of suits by Latino civil rights groups last week as Texas approved its maps.

“The only time that communities of color can get justice is going to the courthouse,” said Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Ohio Republicans are also enmeshed in litigation over their state legislative plan, which they said was drawn with no racial or partisan data. “It’s illegal to use race in drawing districts. That’s a violation of federal law,” Republican state Senate President Matt Huffman told reporters last month.

Ohio Republicans said that even though they didn’t use partisan data, they were targeted in a suit by several community and anti-gerrymandering groups for drawing a partisan map anyway.

“The way the map performs is to really skew partisan outcomes in Ohio,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, one of the plaintiffs. “It’s very likely they did use partisan data.”


Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writers Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.


Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 7: Last-minute moves



The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 7: Last-minute moves

UPDATE: 9:42 a.m. Sunday
The big roster news this morning concerns the NFL’s second-ranked tight end, Darren Waller. The Las Vegas standout with the injured ankle is expected to be a game-time decision, which is a huge problem for fantasy mavens since it’s a late afternoon game just off The Strip. Unless you can find a decent tight-end replacement prospect, we’re guessing you should roll the dice … get it, Vegas? … and keep Waller in your lineup when you set it in a couple of hours.

Two prominent running backs have been cleared to play. Chicago’s Damien Williams is off the COVID list and will start over Khalil Herbert, though the latter may still see goal-line duty. And Washington’s Antonio Gibson is also good to go, though possibly with a lightened load.

Other early injury notes: Indy WR T.Y. Hilton is out, Miami’s Devante Parker is doubtful and the Giants’ Evan Engram is a maybe.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s Pete Carroll says RB Alex Collins is good to go Monday night, so he’ll be the far-preferable fantasy choice over Rashard Penny against the Saints.

We’ll be back in an hour or so with any updates from the early inactive lists.

UPDATE: 10:54 a.m. Saturday
The Week 7 showdown between Jimmy Garoppolo’s injured calf and Trey Lance’s ailing knee has been settled, and the San Francisco 49ers head into Sunday’s game with Indianapolis with a questionable quarterback atop the lineup.

That QB is Garoppolo, who practiced in limited fashion on Friday. Lance is a no-go, so Jimmy G becomes a marginal starting option in this bye-depleted week.

The lineup news is a bit grimmer for two teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Antonio Brown in their game against Chicago, and the New York Giants will be even sadder this week without RB Saquon Barkley, and receivers Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay.

Seattle is facing a must-win against New Orleans, but the Russell Wilson-less team has more uncertainty at running back. Alex Collins, who played well last week, is said to be a game-time decision. So the starter could be Rashard Penny, who has been activated off the injured list.

The news is better in Tennessee, where WR Julio Jones is expected to play six days after exiting early during Monday night’s win over Buffalo. Good news for the Titans, and The Loop’s own Fantasy Juggernaut.

Notables ruled out over the past couple of days include two Ravens, RB Latavius Murray and WR Sammy Watkins, Carolina wideout Terrace Marshall and Washington WR Curtis Samuel.

Players listed as questionable as of this morning include Bears WR Allen Robinson, Jets RB Tevin Coleman, Indy wideout T.Y. Hilton, Miami receiver Devante Parker, and two Giants, tight end Evan Engram and WR Sterling Shepherd.

ORIGINAL POST: 12:00 p.m. Wednesday

With a newly expanded 17-game schedule, you would think the NFL has no reason to jam a ridiculous amount of byes into a single week. And you would be mistaken.

Some brilliant minds at 345 Park Avenue determined that the league should put six teams on hiatus this week, including some of the league’s top powers

Vikings fans are already well aware their cardiac-causing team is off for this week. They are joined on the sidelines by the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

When you break it down by position, the Week 7 absences range from serious to alarming:

Running back — Four of the top eight scoring leaders of 2021 are missing, and that doesn’t include the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook. How can you replace the likes of Austin Ekeler, Ezekiel Elliott, Najee Harris and James Robinson? You might still be able to pick up on waivers the Bucs’ Gio Bernard. Or the Colts’ Nyheim Hines. Maybe even Houston relic Mark Ingram.

Houston Texans running back Mark Ingram II (2) rushes for a gain against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Wide receiver — Four of the top 11 are out: Mike Williams, CeeDee Lamb and the Vikings’ duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. But the waiver wires in more than half of all leagues still have guys like Chicago’s Darnell Mooney, the Saints’ Marquez Callaway, Indy’s Zach Pascal and former Gophers star Rashod Bateman of the Ravens.

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman runs with the ball after making a catch against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Quarterback — Need a sub for top-10 stars like Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen or Kirk Cousins? You can pick up New Orleans’ Jameis Winston or New England’s Mac Jones. Feeling more adventurous? Then how about two currently struggling guys due for a rebound: the Panthers’ Sam Darnold or the Giants’ Daniel Jones.

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Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson (94) chases Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Tight end — Dallas surprise Dalton Schultz is the only top six TE off this week. There are plenty of options for those wishing to take a flyer, such as the Giants’ Evan Engram, New England’s Jonnu Smith or Hunter Henry, or the newest Arizona Cardinal, Zach Ertz.

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New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (88) sprints to the end zone for a touchdown after catching a pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Defense — Among those missing are top-ranked Buffalo, third-ranked Dallas and ninth-rated Minnesota. So look for someone playing a really lousy offense, such as Arizona (vs. Houston), Carolina (vs. Giants) or Denver (vs. injured-plagued Cleveland).

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Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Kicker — Four of the top 10 are out, including Greg Zuerlein, Greg Joseph and Tyler Bass. Kickers with good matchups this week include Miami’s Jason Sanders and New England’s Nick Folk.

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Miami Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders (7) kicks a field goal during the first half an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Probably not too many guys you can afford to sit during Byemegeddon but … Chicago fill-in running back Khalil Herbert looked very good last Sunday against Green Bay, but don’t even think he’ll repeat that performance against Tampa Bay. … Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon won’t post his usual strong numbers against the Ravens. … The Rams defense has been shutting down running backs all season. This week they’ll smother Detroit’s D’Andre Swift. … Seattle’s running game surprised with Alex Collins looking good in Pittsburgh, but he’ll have a tougher time Monday night against New Orleans. … And if we were playing by the rules of chess, you’d be better off resigning than starting any Texans against unbeaten Arizona.

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Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift (32) slips past Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) to score with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter of an NFL game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. The Vikings beat the Lions, 19-17. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Boy, is Matthew Stafford going to have fun going against his old Lions team on Sunday … Arizona will have no trouble with Houston, so we’re thinking Cards will be running more than passing, which means Chase Edmonds and James Connor are both worth starting . … Tampa Bay RB Leonard Fournette is now back in peak form and will score at least once vs. Chicago. … Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa looked good in his return last week and will look better against Atlanta for the now-desperate Dolphins. Same goes for WR Jaylen Waddle. … We said Green Bay TE Robert Tonyan would regress this year, and boy has he. But we smell a TD for him this week against Washington.

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Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) catches a pass in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis (24) during an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Cleveland’s injured list is bursting, but more on that later. … Baltimore lost RB Latavius Murray to an injured ankle, so both Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman snagged touchdowns last week. And they could again this week … It’s a tossup at the moment who will be quarterbacking the 49ers against Indy: ailing Jimmy Groppolo or ailing Trey Lance. … Washington RB Antonio Gibson was slowed again last week, so be wary. On the positive side, Seattle RB Rashaad Penny is expected to return, as is Cleveland WR Jarvis Landry. Players listed as questionable for this week include Giants WR Kadarius Toney, Bears RB Damien Williams, Cleveland WR Odell Beckham Jr., and two Indy wideouts, T.Y Hilton and Parris Campbell.

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Baltimore Ravens running back Latavius Murray (28) scores a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

You know we’re scrounging if we’re picking a running back who has yet to rush the ball during his short NFL career. But Cleveland running back Demetric Felton stands a good chance of seeing big duty Thursday night because of the injuries to starters Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and the substitution of Case Keenum for injured Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. This rookie from UCLA, who has caught six passes, one for a touchdown, this season, Someone has to constitute the Cleveland offense. Keep an eye on Chubb’s status on Thursday, as he could return. A lot of folks will flock to D’Ernest Johnson, but if you’re especially bye-week desperate, give this Bruin a try.

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Cleveland Browns running back Demetric Felton (25) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson, right, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Broncos at Browns (-3½):
Pick: Browns by 1

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Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws a pass during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

We’ll be updating our column, based on the latest injuries and innuendo, right up until Sunday’s kickoff. Go to

You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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