It’s unofficially reunion weekend across the NFL. A number of old friends will become reacquainted with each other, and in some instances, there’s even some bad blood.
One of the juicier storylines involves Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler making his return to Denver just seven months after leaving the Broncos in free agency. The Broncos aggressively pursued Osweiler to take over for Peyton Manning, but he opted to sign with Houston instead. Shortly after Osweiler made his decision, Broncos general manager John Elway appeared to throw shade at the 2012 second-round pick.
"We’ve stayed true to our philosophy of building a team with players who want to be Denver Broncos and want to be here. That’s been a successful approach for us," Elway said in a statement. "While we did offer a very competitive and fair long-term contract to Brock, we ultimately had to remain disciplined while continuing to assemble a roster that can compete for championships."
The line about only signing players who want to be Broncos seems to be the jab at Osweiler, considering he only received an extra $2 million per season from the Texans. Denver also reportedly offered Osweiler more than $30 million guaranteed.
It’s clear that head coach Gary Kubiak’s decision to bench Osweiler midway through last year’s season finale in favor of Peyton Manning didn’t sit well with him. Though the Broncos won five out of the seven games Osweiler started, Kubiak never returned to him for the playoffs. Manning kept his job all the way through the Super Bowl, despite only posting a modest 75.4 QB rating in the postseason. Osweiler, 25, was stapled to the bench.
The grudge hasn’t appeared to dissipate with time. Osweiler skipped the Broncos’ Super Bowl ring ceremony, opting to attend OTAs for the Texans. It doesn’t appear as if cornerback Chris Harris has forgotten the slight. “We know he left us. It is what it is,’’ he said, via USA Today. “I’m pretty sure he wants to win. We want to beat him bad. Get a lot of interceptions.’’
Linebacker Brandon Marshall echoed those sentiments, saying the Broncos want to punish their former teammate. “It’s competition and we want to shut him down,” he said. “Just because it’s Brock. We know Brock. He came from here and we just want to kill him. That’s what we want to do.’”
With Ben Roethlisberger expected to miss four to six weeks with a torn meniscus, there’s an opening at the top of the AFC. The Broncos or Texans are both in position to capitalize on that, which makes Sunday’s game so intriguing.
Texans (4-2) at Broncos (4-2): Though the season is only six weeks old, the Texans may be having some buyer’s remorse with Osweiler. He’s been mediocre in Houston so far, posting a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But the way he engineered the Texans’ comeback win against the Indianapolis Colts last week represents a glimmer of hope that he can play like a $72 million quarterback going forward.
Osweiler threw the game-tying touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz with just 26 seconds to go and also led the Texans down the field in overtime. That’s the kind of boost the Texans couldn’t get over the last two years from their mishmash assortment of six different starting QB’s. In order to be worth the money for the Texans, Osweiler doesn’t have to be great. He just has to be solid.
On the other side of the field, the Broncos are winning once again on the strength of their defense. Linebacker Von Miller leads the league in sacks and they’ve allowed the ninth-fewest number of points.
Sophomore Trevor Siemian, Osweiler’s replacement, was off to a nice start before injuring his left shoulder earlier this month. He appeared to be limited in last Thursday’s contest against the San Diego Chargers, only passing for 230 yards despite throwing the ball 50 times.
But if Siemian is at full strength, he’s shown enough glimpses to indicate he can be a productive starting quarterback. The leash for Osweiler in Houston isn’t indefinite, but he’ll have several more chances to prove his worth with a team that he seems committed to. Though the breakup was messy, it’s worked out for both parties.
That’s not the only reunion in this game, either. Kubiak was the head coach of the Texans, and Wade Phillips was his defensive coordinator, before both were fired. Two years later, they won a Super Bowl together with the Broncos.
Though Minnesota’s ferocious defense receives most of the credit for the team’s 5-0 record, Bradford deserves accolades as well. He’s posted a 109.7 passer-rating this season and hasn’t thrown an interception in five games. Earlier this week, Bradford told reporters he’s looking forward to returning to the City of Brotherly Love.
“It was a great experience. I’m sure some people find that hard to believe,” Bradford said of his time with the Eagles, via USA Today. “I learned a lot about myself as a person, and as a player.”
Bradford appears to view the Eagles more favorably now than he did after they drafted Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick this spring. Despite receiving a two-year, $36 million deal from the Eagles at the start of free agency, he reportedly asked for a trade and staged one of the saddest holdouts ever. Winning football games goes a long way when it comes to washing away bad blood.
Though Bradford has started to realize his potential in Minnesota, he was disappointing in Philadelphia. The Eagles shouldn’t have regrets when it comes to dealing Bradford, since it didn’t appear likely he was going to turn it around with them. If Wentz can be their quarterback of the future, they made the right call.
So far, it seems as if Wentz belongs in the league. He won the starting job with an impressive preseason and carried over that play into September. He’s scuffled a bit over the last two weeks — he turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter against the Lions and posted a 77.7 QB rating against Washington — but the Eagles should feel like they’ve found a keeper.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is getting the best out of Bradford in Minnesota, something he was unable to do in Philly, and Doug Pederson is coaching up Wentz. There’s no reason for any side to hold a grudge heading into Sunday’s matchup.
Result: Bradford and the Vikings dropped their first game of the year, 21-10. Bradford was under pressure all day and his former teammate, defensive end Brandon Graham, told CSN Philly after the game, “We knew Sam don’t like to get hit and I mean, we tried to hit him within the rules as much as we could.”
Cleveland Browns (0-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-4): There are no hard feelings between the Bengals and Hue Jackson. In fact, Marvin Lewis says he “misses the hell out of” his former offensive coordinator.
“When my phone rings at 5 o'clock in the morning, I know it's only one person," Lewis said, via NFL.com. "It's not Chad (Johnson) either, it's Chad's former coach, Hue. I watch their games every week, and text or call him. He's coaching his tail off, as we knew he would."
The Bengals’ offense has struggled without Jackson. They’re ranked 25th in points scored and have failed to turn some gaudy Andy Dalton passing numbers into touchdowns. After making the playoffs for five straight years, it seems as if they’ve plateaued.
If the Bengals had held onto Terrelle Pryor, perhaps their fortunes would be different. They Pryor as a quarterback in May 2015, but released him after only five weeks. He’s come into his own as a receiver in Cleveland and Lewis says he laments the decision to let him go.
"I'm very impressed, and I am happy for Terrelle when he's not playing us,'' Lewis said this week, via Cleveland.com. "He's just done an outstanding job. I'm disappointed he is not doing that here for us."
Predictably, it’s been a rough start for Jackson in Cleveland. The winless Browns are starting a third-string rookie quarterback, Cody Kessler, thanks to injuries to Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. Pryor’s emergence as a bonafide No. 1 receiver is one of the few bright spots for them so far.
With Lewis saying this week he wanted Jackson to take over from him in Cincinnati, perhaps Jackson is feeling some regret about taking over for the Browns. The numbers say the Bengals could still use him, and Lewis seems willing to express that to anyone who will ask.
Result: The Bengals’ offense found life against the Browns’ defense, and near the end of the game, Jackson was so fed up that he took off his headset and gave up play-calling. The Browns are still winless.
Oakland Raiders (4-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3): Jack Del Rio made it to his ninth season as coach of the Jaguars before he got the boot following a 3-8 start to 2011.
Along the way he racked up a 68-71 record, leading the team to the postseason twice, but never earning an AFC South crown. Eventually, the team gave up on a coach who seemingly couldn’t get the team to be anything better than a .500 franchise.
In hindsight, maybe keeping the team at .500 was more impressive than it seemed at the time. Since Del Rio was fired, the Jaguars are 18-56 and haven’t even had a six-win season.
"I would say there's always appreciation to go back to the place where you spent a good portion of your career," Del Rio told media on a conference call earlier in the week. "I spent nine good years there, a place where Mr. Weaver gave me my start as a head coach in this league. Lot of fond memories, lot of good people there, lot of friends and our family gets back there quite a bit so from that standpoint, it's always good to go compete against the people that you went up against.
In Oakland, Del Rio is trying to earn his first-ever divisional championship and the Raiders enter the week in first place in the AFC West. The team is led by a young offensive core of players, but Del Rio has taken a personal stake in turning around a defense that has disappointed so far.
In the Raiders secondary is Reggie Nelson, the Jaguars’ first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, who struggled early in his career but blossomed after he was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Result: The Raiders cruised to 33-16 win and the team gave Del Rio the game ball. “With him coaching here before, we definitely wanted to have his back. We wanted to get him this ‘W,’” Raiders cornerback David Amerson told CSN Bay Area.