Neil Reynolds' Week 9 Mailbag

We're into November and the race to the Super Bowl is heating up nicely. On the field, you could make a case to me for 12 teams to win the whole darn thing and I wouldn't have a problem with it. Off the field, the league continues to be a soap opera and a headline writer's dream. So, there is plenty to discuss in this week's mailbag.

What are your thoughts on the Los Angeles Rams' approach of dealing for proven (but older and more expensive) players? Is it the way forward or are they digging themselves into a hole longer term? – Rich Saxton.

I think more teams should take a leaf out of the aggressive wheelings and dealings of Rams general manager Les Snead. It may come at a cost, but at least he knows what he is getting with proven vets. He knows who Jalen Ramsey is. He knows that Matthew Stafford is a big-time NFL quarterback.

I'm actually surprised more teams are not coming around to this way of thinking, given that so many draft choices never pan out. They are like lottery scratch cards – some turn out good, others are bad and end up costing you money.

The Rams' last first-round choice was in 2016 and their next is in 2024. In that same period, the Miami Dolphins will have used 12 first-round selections. They have very little to show for that return with three players no longer on the team, others barely playing and questions galore around quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Rams are 7-1, the Dolphins are 1-7.

And for those who worry that short-term success is being traded for long-term pain, I would say this… the Rams have produced four winning seasons in a row, reached the playoffs every year and have been to a Super Bowl. I also think they will be competitive for years to come so why not go for it? At least they are fun and interesting to follow.

How did the Pittsburgh Steelers not have someone else in the squad who can kick for when the only kicker – Chris Boswell – goes off injured? Given the number of points a kicker contributes in most games, it seems unbelievable not to have a backup. – Stuart Pollock.

Your question really got me thinking, Stuart. At first glance, I was thinking, 'Don't be silly, of course they're only going to have one kicker on the roster.' And that is still true. The spots are just too valuable and kicker injuries are too rare to have another kicker in reserve.

But I think you are right to raise the issue of somebody else in the team being able to kick the occasional extra point. The NFL is so specialized that occasions where players from other positions have attempted conversions and field goals is extremely rare. Punters are often called up in reserve with mixed results and the likes of wide receiver Wes Welker and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh have also attempted kicks.

I don't think it even occurs to NFL teams to have a Plan B. I've been to many NFL training camps over the past 20 years – almost every club – and I can say with certainty that I have never seen any contingency plans being worked on when it comes to kicking. It would make total sense to have a few other guys who can kick a little bit. Clearly, the Steelers had no one who fitted that role as they completely ignored the kicking game in the second half.

They couldn't even ask punter Pressley Harvin to attempt kicks at goal. He couldn't even keep the ball with a field that is more than 53 yards wide when kicking off. How was he going to split uprights that are just 18 feet and six inches apart?

Who would you like to see play in the NFL London Games in 2022 and will we ever see the Green Bay Packers in London? – Jonathan Tudge.

It would be very easy for me to say teams who are contenders and who have winning records. But, the reality is that teams can change so quickly from year to year so that is not as easy a selection as you might think.

We almost had the Kansas City Chiefs over during the pandemic year and that would have been an amazing watch. But if the Chiefs had come this year, we would be seeing a middle-of-the-pack team led by an up and down quarterback who are struggling with turnovers.

In 2020, the Miami Dolphins won 10 games and were unlucky not to squeeze into the AFC playoff field. So, when they were tabbed for a return to London, I was excited to see a team on the rise. Miami lost in London and now sit at the bottom of the AFC rankings with just one victory.

I will say this on the Packers, who are the only team not to play in London. It is so hard to get them over. They will never be able to give up a home game at Lambeau Field given there is a waiting list of at least 30 years just to get a season ticket and these tickets are also being left to family members in wills. When the Packers play on the road, they are often the protected game so then that contest is not offered up internationally. But Green Bay… please don't be the first team to play in Germany! Don't break our hearts that way… come and play at least one in London first!

Should Frank Reich be under more pressure? – David (@davidmnufc).

Not at all. I think he is a very good head coach and a wonderful play-caller. I have interviewed Coach Reich at length and he is a great leader who has really set a competitive but family-first tone in Indianapolis.

I know last Sunday's loss to Tennessee was tough to take and there are some who felt Jonathan Taylor should have been more involved as he only carried the ball 16 times. But it was the Colts' quarterback, Carson Wentz, who buried the team with two late interceptions.

Taylor was heavily involved in Thursday night's 45-30 shellacking of the New York Jets as he touched the ball 21 times for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Wentz was also much tidier as he threw for 272 yards, three touchdowns and no picks.

The Colts are now 4-5 and one of seven four-win teams looking to grab the sixth and seventh spots in the AFC playoff race. Reich has kept this team together through a perilous run of injuries. I don't think the Colts are a Super Bowl team this year, but they are well coached and Reich is the man to lead them forward.

Can the Tennessee Titans still make the playoffs without Derrick Henry? – Jason Etherington.

There are, of course, going to be concerns around the loss of such a pivotal player, but the Titans have bought themselves some breathing room in the AFC South. They lead the Colts by three (effectively four given the tiebreakers) with nine to play. I think they can hang on

Adrian Peterson is 36 years old but still runs with great power. He fits the physical profile of Henry and we'll find out if the threat of the run is going to be enough to allow Ryan Tannehill to thrive through play-action passes. Tannehill's quarterback rating drops by around 20 points when Henry is not on the field. If defenses force Tannehill to lead from the front as a drop-back passer, that will be a very interesting test. And possibly a season-defining one.

The reason I think these Titans can make the playoffs is because they too are well coached. Mike Vrabel was a tough, no-nonsense player and he is the same as a coach. He doesn't blink in the face of adversity and his time doesn't mind the big moments. Tennessee were down by 14 last week and fought back to beat Indianapolis. And that victory was their seventh in their last eight overtime games. That tells me something.

The loss of Henry is massive, but I think we will see Tennessee in the playoffs in January. And I hope we see their star man return to the field at that time. That would be a fantastic story in a season filled with incredible headlines.

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