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Bears tabbed for ‘Hard Knocks,’ plus Chiefs could bench Harrison Butker for kickoffs and NFC South win totals

Written by on June 2, 2024

Welcome to the Friday edition of the Pick Six newsletter! 

I’m not sure if we skipped half of May, but it’s somehow the final day of the month, which doesn’t seem possible. The fact that the end of May is here means we’re just two months from the start of NFL training camps. And if training camps are almost here, that means the season is almost here. And if the season is almost here, that means summer is already over before it even started. 

I don’t want to think about summer being over, so let’s get to today’s newsletter. We’ve got the Bears on “Hard Knocks,” plus we’ll be taking a look at five teams that should take a major leap forward this year. 

As always, here’s your daily reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the newsletter. Actually, you don’t even have to tell all of your friends; just tell one and I’ll be happy. To get them signed up, all you have to do is click here

1. Bears tabbed for ‘Hard Knocks’ this year: Four things to know

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Bears QB Caleb Williams Getty Images

Every offseason, one of the biggest mysteries revolves around who will be the next “Hard Knocks” team, and this year, we got that answer Thursday with the NFL revealing that the Chicago Bears will be featured on the HBO show. 

Here’s what you need to know

  • Bears were an attractive choice for the HBO show. For the first time in six years, “Hard Knocks” will get to feature the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft in Caleb Williams. Before this year, the top pick had not appeared on the show as a rookie since the Browns did it in 2018 with Baker Mayfield. The Bears have an attractive offense that should make for good television with Keenan Allen, D.J. Moore and Rome Odunze, the last of whom was taken with the ninth overall pick. 
  • Bears didn’t actually want to do the show. Under the criteria for “Hard Knocks,” the NFL was only able to force three teams to be on the show this year: the Bears, Broncos or Saints. In the end, the NFL chose Chicago even though the Bears wanted nothing to do with it. At the NFL owner’s meeting in March, Bears chairman George McCaskey made it clear that he would prefer to see any team besides his on the show. “We’re told there is some interest in other teams being on the program and we welcome that interest,” McCaskey said.
  • Hard Knocks has now featured almost half the NFL. The Bears are the 15th team to appear on the training camp version of “Hard Knocks.” Chicago will join the Ravens (2001), Cowboys (2002, 2008 and 2021), Chiefs (2007), Bengals (2009 and 2013), Jets (2010 and 2023), Dolphins (2012), Falcons (2014), Texans (2015), Rams (2016 and 2020), Buccaneers (2017), Browns (2018), Raiders (2019), Chargers (2020) and Lions (2022).
  • The show will have three different versions this year. Not only will there be a training camp version of “Hard Knocks” with the Bears, but there will also be an offseason version of the show with the Giants that will debut on July 2. Not to mention, there will also be an in-season version of the show that will feature an entire division, although it hasn’t been announced which division that will be. 

The Bears’ version of “Hard Knocks” will debut on Aug. 6 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, and it will run every Tuesday thru Sept. 3. 

2. Five teams poised to make a major leap in 2024

With free agency and the NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, Jeff Kerr decided that now would be a good time to go through every roster in the NFL to try and decide which teams could make a major leap heading into the 2024 season. 

Kerr came up with five teams that could be serious Super Bowl contenders thanks to what they did this offseason. 

  • Packers. “The Packers retooled their secondary in free agency, highlighted by the offseason signing of safety Xavier McKinney and selecting safety Javon Bullard in the second round. They also added linebacker Edgerrin Cooper to compete an adjustment of the back seven, a unit that still has Jaire Alexander at cornerback. … The NFC North will be tough, but the Packers’ ceiling is high. If Love takes another step forward, Green Bay is a Super Bowl contender.”
  • Bengals. “The Bengals didn’t have any eye-popping moves, but some good signings in free agency. Geno Stone was signed away from Baltimore and Vonn Bell was brought back after one year in Carolina. Mike Gesicki was brought in at tight end to tandem with Drew Sample. … Any time Joe Burrow has played more than 10 games in a season, the Bengals have reached (at least) the AFC Championship, so there’s a reason for the organization to be optimistic as long as Burrow is healthy.”
  • Falcons. “The Falcons were a quarterback away from becoming a significant player in the NFC South. They decided to add two quarterbacks to the fray, signing Kirk Cousins to a four-year contract and drafting Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 in the draft. … The Falcons are banking on the quarterback to win the NFC South. Can Cousins end the playoff drought? Keep in mind they held the lead in the final minute of four games last season — and lost all of them. This team is closer to the playoffs than many think.”

If you want to see Kerr’s full list of five teams, you can do that here.  

3. Chiefs might bench Harrison Butker for kickoffs this year

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Chiefs K Harrison Butker  USATSI

The NFL’s new kickoff rule is going to lead to some drastic changes for the 2024 season, and one of those changes could be that we end up seeing KICKERS getting benched for kickoffs. Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub revealed Thursday that the team is thinking about benching Harrison Butker for kickoffs this season. 

Here’s why Kansas City is considering the move: 

  • The new rule will likely put kickers in harm’s way. The NFL is implementing a kickoff rule that was once used in the XFL, and after watching film of how the XFL kickoff works, Toub said that kickers were often involved in the tackle, which is not something he’s a fan of. “If you watched the XFL — we watched every play — I bet kickers were involved at least 25% to 40% of the tackles,” Toub said. “Either trying to make a guy bounce back or making the tackle or missing the tackle. We don’t want Butker in that situation.” Under the NFL’s old kickoff rule, the kicker was the last line of defense and was rarely involved in the tackle unless the opposing team made a big return. 
  • Chiefs’ plan at kicker will likely involve a position player. The Chiefs are thinking about letting Justin Reid handle kickoffs. The safety has experience as a kicker, plus the return team would have to account for him, which would be a bonus for the Chiefs because the return team doesn’t usually have to account for the kicker. “Justin can cover, he can kick, and he can go down there and make tackles,” Toub said. “He’s an extra guy they’re probably not accounting for. … A guy like Justin is a guy they have to worry about. They have to get him blocked and they have to give up blocking someone else.” 
  • Chiefs might also turn to former Rugby player Louis Rees-Zammit. “Louis has done above and beyond what I expected,” Toub said, via Arrrowhead Report. “He can kick field goals, he can be a kickoff guy for us. He’s every bit as good as Justin (Reid) is at moving the football and stuff like that on kickoffs.”

You can read more about Kansas City’s plan here

Although the Chiefs might keep their kicker on the bench, that likely won’t be a widespread strategy. Broncos head coach Sean Payton said Thursday that benching his kicker for kickoffs isn’t something his team is considering, but he did admit he might change his mind about things after watching how the new rule plays out over the first few weeks of the season. 

The start of the NFL season is still just over three months away, which is good news for special teams coordinators, because they’re going to need all of that time to figure out the new kickoff rule. 

If you want a refresher on how the new kickoff rule will work, you can check that out here

4. Ranking offensive rookie of the year candidates

Over the past 10 years, the offensive rookie of the year award has been almost to impossible to predict before the season, and that’s because it’s an award that doesn’t play favorites. Although quarterbacks certainly have the upper-hand when it comes to winning the award — because they play a high-profile position and they the ball on every play — the award has actually been pretty evenly split by position over the past decade. 

Since 2014, we’ve seen four quarterbacks, three receivers and three running backs win the award. With that in mind, Chris Trapasso decided to rank his top-eight favorites to win it this year. You can see his list below along with their odds for winning the award: 

1. Bears QB Caleb Williams (+135 — Bet $100 to win $135 in profit)
2. Giants WR Malik Nabers (+1800)
3. Commanders QB Jayden Daniels (+650)
4. Cardinals WR Marvin Harrison Jr. (+700)
5. Chiefs WR Xavier Worthy (+1800)
6. Patriots QB Drake Maye (+2200)
7. Chargers WR Ladd McConkey (+3000)
8. Bills WR Keon Coleman (+2500)

Although Trapasso has Williams at the top, he definitely didn’t stick to the Vegas odds for the rest of his rankings. Nabers is clearly the dark horse on Trapasso’s list. 

If you want to know how Trapasso came up with his rankings, you can check out his explanation here

5. NFC South win totals: Will Brinson’s best bet on each team’s over/under

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Bucs QB Baker Mayfield USATSI

It’s been a busy week for Will Brinson, who has spent the past few days going through the over/unders for every team in the NFC. Today, we’re going to hit the NFC South, and then on Monday, we’ll go through the NFC West. 

Let’s check out Brinson’s best bets for the NFC South: 

Atlanta Falcons
ODDS: Over 9.5 (-135) / Under 9.5 (+115)
LEAN: 
Under 9.5 (+115)
Brinson’s take: 
“It’s easy to see why people would be bullish on the Falcons with potential massive coaching and quarterback. But drawing the AFC West and NFC East is TOUGH. I really like the Falcons this year, will probably pick them to win the division, but banking on 10 wins without seeing Cousins on the field would be crazy at this stage of the offseason. I’d happily fade them if the win total got to double digits.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ODDS: Over 8.5 (+125) / Under 8.5 (-150)
LEAN: 
Over 8.5 (+125)
Brinson’s take: 
“The schedule is a little scary: the AFC West plus the NFC East plus first-place matchups against the Lions, Ravens and 49ers are brutal. The Bucs play Baltimore, Atlanta, K.C. and San Francisco in a four-week stretch, including the Chiefs and Niners back-to-back before their Week 11 bye. Ouch. That being said, I trust the roster and organization and lean over with the big plus money number here, I think.”

If you want to see how Brinson feels about the Panthers and Saints, you can get his take on those two teams here

6. Extra points: London Mayor wants a Super Bowl in England

It’s been a busy 24 hours in the NFL, and since it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you.

  • London wants a Super Bowl. London has been hosting NFL games since 2007, and now, the city is looking to get a Super Bowl. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is hopeful that his city can land the NFL’s biggest game. “The Super Bowl is really important for us,” he told The Athletic. “We have a number of American football games and I want it to come here because we want American sports fans in Europe to come to London to watch them, not just go to America.”
  • Drew Brees could have played another three years, but not really. The former Saints QB, who will be going into the team’s Hall of Fame this year, revealed this week that the only reason he retired is because of his right shoulder. Brees said the rest of his body was healthy enough to play for at least three more seasons. “Honestly, man, if my right arm was still working, I probably would’ve played another three years,” Brees told ESPN. “My body feels great. My body can play. My right arm can’t.”
  • Mike McCarthy not a fan of NFLPA’s proposal to revamp the offseason. The Cowboys head coach doesn’t like the NFLPA’s offseason proposal that would essentially give players four months off at the end of each season. If you want to know why McCarthy is against it, you can check that out here.  
  • Eagles OTA observations. Isaiah Rodgers, who missed all of last season due to a gambling suspension, was the star of Philadelphia’s OTA session on Thursday with a pick-six of Jalen Hurts. CBSSports.com’s Jeff Kerr was in Philly for the practice and filed a full report on the session, which you can check out here

The post Bears tabbed for ‘Hard Knocks,’ plus Chiefs could bench Harrison Butker for kickoffs and NFC South win totals first appeared on CBS Sports.


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