High-flying adventures in the Research Notes: Week 7


Every Wednesday, Dan Hanzus combs through the expert findings of the NFL Media Research Department to share nuggets (also known as "nugs") that interest, fascinate, frighten or change him on a fundamental level. This is the Week 7 edition of High-Flying Adventures In The Research Notes.


I've come to expect things from modern life in the last few years. Dumb tweets from powerful people. Brilliant Nathan For You episodes. Saints 7-9 seasons. But the continued success of Sean Payton's team -- on both sides of the ball, no less -- is making me reconsider their place in an NFC South that houses a defending conference champion giving off the smell of month-old milk right now.

Ultimately, it's the same as it's ever been for the Saints. As long as Drew Brees is healthy and slinging it, the offense will score points. And when you have a generational talent like that behind center, all you really need is a league-average defense to sniff relevant January football. What we've seen the last three weeks is what happens when a Brees offense is paired with a legitimate, opportunistic D.

Will they keep it up? Hard to say, but we're getting a good look at this team's surprisingly high ceiling. In a wide-open, Rodgers-free NFC, it's more than enough to get the gumbo bubbling in Nawlins.

(See, I tried to close this "nug" with a trusty local delicacy reference. Just don't think I pulled it off.)


One of the craziest playoff games of the decade occurred in January 2016, a sordid Saturday night affair between the Steelers and Bengals on a rainy, cold night in Cincinnati. It ended up as another crushing postseason setback for the Bungles, and it featured some of the ugliest behavior you'll ever see on a football field. It wasn't a great look for anyone, but hell if it wasn't memorable.

Many of the key figures from those two teams are still in the mix, which explains why we continue to see laundry flying all over the field. This is a huge game for both teams: A win by the Bengals can actually put them within a half game of first place -- unthinkable for a team that started 0-3. The Steelers, meanwhile, can take control in the division with a big road win.

Announcers like to say trite things like, "These teams really don't like each other." But in this particular case, these teams really don't like each other. Don't be surprised if we see more fireworks on Sunday.


I'm a big Yankees fan (this is the bone the Sports Gods threw me because I also support the Jets and Knicks.) In the ALCS -- a seven-game series that decides who represents the American League in the World Series -- the home team won each of the first four games of the series. The Yankees are 5-0 overall at home in the playoffs compared to 1-4 on the road.

Point being, home-field advantage plays a huge role in the baseball playoffs. I wish I had an explanation why the same hasn't applied to the NFL this season. Honestly, I'm kind of at a loss. Maybe fans need to yell louder? Perhaps the stadiums have too many plush amenities set up for the visitors? Offer your own theories in the comment section.


The Aaron Rodgers injury was just ... the worst. Hell, it was seven days ago in this very column that I was belting out the man's praises like peak Mike Bolton. And now he's gone. This is a quarterback league, which makes the above factoid so troubling for the NFL. We're already dealing with a dearth of talented starters. (You don't even want to know about the backups.) Consider passable passers an endangered species. We must, as a people, do everything in our power to protect them.

And since I didn't have any plausible explanation for the home-field disadvantage situation, I'll make up for it with an honest-to-goodness potential solution here. You're going to think I'm trying to be funny, but I assure you that is not the case. Here it goes:

Bring the red non-contact jersey to real football games ... with one important distinction. The red jersey must be earned by checking the box on one of three qualifiers. Have you won an MVP award? You get a red jersey. Earned multiple All-Pro selections? Rojo, baby. Have more than 12 years of NFL service time? Get red.

Star quarterbacks -- the lifeblood of this beautiful but violent game -- will be treated as the precious national resource that they are. Think it's crazy? Believe I'm nuts? Well, my league still has Aaron Rodgers in the league and yours does not. Let's get nuts.


Consider it ironic that the Bills brought in Rex Ryan to give the team an identity on defense and that didn't actually happen until they pushed him out the door. It's quite an indictment of Sexy Rexy, who's been reduced to doing "Between Two Ferns" knockoff bits on ESPN.

If you can have empathy of a fan base that isn't yours, you really want the Bills to finally find a way to win 10 games. It's remarkable that Buffalo hasn't achieved a double-digit win total since 1999 (also their last playoff season). I mean, 10-6 isn't even that great a season! Even the Browns did it once in that span. This shouldn't be an impossible bar. And you look at Buffalo's schedule you see the path. They come out of their bye at 3-2 and their next three opponents are all at or below .500. Their next two games -- against teams (Bucs and Raiders) with beat-up quarterbacks -- are in Orchard Park. And while we detailed above the issues teams have had defending their home turf in 2017, Buffalo remains a reliably tough road venue.

This is shaping up as one of the strangest seasons in recent memory. It only makes sense that this is the year the Bills finally break their infernal playoff drought. Ten, man. That's it.

Until next week ...

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