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Monday, August 20, 2018

Stories by Grey Papke:

10 NFL teams that could surprise in 2018

Philip Rivers

There is a pretty strong consensus as to who’s going to contend for playoff spots and potentially win the Super Bowl, and it generally consists of the usual suspects. Expectations are already fairly cut and dried for everyone — who’s going to be good and who’s going to be bad.

There are, however, a few teams capable of beating those expectations. It may be that they’re underestimated, or little is expected of them this season. It may be that they’re expected to be downright awful but have the potential to be more than that.

Here are ten teams that may beat the expectations set for them during the 2018 NFL season.

10) Detroit Lions

There’s been almost no buzz about the Lions this offseason, and it’s easy to forget that they held themselves in the playoff race pretty late into last season. In fact, expectations are such that the failure to get there despite a fairly forgiving schedule cost Jim Caldwell his job. He’s been replaced by Matt Patricia, and the Lions still have a quality quarterback in Matthew Stafford. They’ve also aggressively tried to fix their moribund running game, with rookie Kerryon Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount now part of the fold. The NFC’s toughness may be their biggest enemy, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Eagles say Carson Wentz will get practice reps daily going forward

Carson Wentz

The news continues to be good for Carson Wentz as he gets back to regular work in practice.

According to coach Doug Pederson, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback will get a bit of 11-on-11 work every day going forward, and no further shutdowns are anticipated as he comes back from knee surgery.

“Every day, he’ll get a little something,” Pederson said, via Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Pederson wouldn’t go into depth on whether it meant that Wentz would have the green light for the regular season opener, but he did admit that regular practice reps are a big step in his recovery.

“It’s big,” Pederson said. “It’s big to begin to evaluate him and see where he’s at and get him back in there with the guys.

“It’s still a slow process, but at the same time, it’s still exciting for us to get him back out there.”

Wentz had been limited to individual or 7-on-7 drills since late July, so any step forward is an important one. Last we heard, Wentz was aiming to be ready for that game, though his status remains unclear.

Florida Atlantic player says school has become ‘the Alabama of Florida’

Lane Kiffin FAU

It’s safe to say that, in the minds of Florida Atlantic football players, Lane Kiffin has put the school firmly on the map.

In fact, one leading FAU player, cornerback Herb Miller, made a very bold claim about the Owls’ status as a football school in the state of Florida.

“All of a sudden, FAU is the Alabama of Florida,” Miller said, via Jake Elman of the Palm Beach Post. “Everybody wants to come here now.

“You look around, everybody is talking about FAU. They all want to come to FAU but two years ago, nobody wanted to come here. Everybody looked at me crazy like, ‘Why you want to go here?’ It’s good to see us get the program turned around.”

The Owls did go 11-3 in Kiffin’s first season after three consecutive 3-9 seasons, so the turnaround is undeniable. However, they do share a state with a UCF team that went unbeaten last season, as well as a Miami team that looked for a time like a legitimate College Football Playoff contender. It’s safe to say it’s a bit of an exaggeration.

Of course, Kiffin kind of wants to take Florida Atlantic to play Alabama. He seems to know how it would end, though.

Didi Gregorius could land on disabled list with heel injury

Didi Gregorius

The New York Yankees could be without shortstop Didi Gregorius for a bit after he injured his foot during Sunday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Gregorius bruised his left heel in the first inning when he collided with Toronto’s Kendrys Morales while running out an infield single. Gregorius stayed in the game for two innings before ultimately departing.

Manager Aaron Boone characterized the injury as “significant” and admitted it could land Gregorius on the disabled list.

Gregorius would be a tough loss for the Yankees. He had been hitting .270 with 22 home runs.

Between this and Aaron Judge, the Yankees are dealing with some major position player headaches right now. They’re unlikely to win the AL East no matter what, though, so as long as they consolidate the first wild card spot, they’ll be doing as well as they could be.

White Sox calling up top prospect Michael Kopech

Michael Kopech

The Chicago White Sox are finally bringing another one of their top prospects to the big leagues.

On Sunday, the team tweeted that top pitching prospect Michael Kopech would be called up to make his MLB debut on Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins.

Considered one of the top 20 prospects in baseball, Kopech has a 3.70 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 129 innings for Triple-A Charlotte this season. He was one of the prizes of the Chris Sale trade, and has been known for being able to post some pretty impressive velocities on the radar gun. With the White Sox well out of the race and in the middle of a rebuild, they apparently feel that the 22-year-old is ready to show what he has to offer at the Major League level.

Yu Darvish leaves rehab start early with potential injury

The Chicago Cubs may be bracing themselves for more bad news about Yu Darvish.

Darvish made a rehab start at low-A South Bend on Sunday, and according to Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times, he lasted just one inning and appeared to experience discomfort during warmups.

Considering Darvish has been struggling with an elbow injury, this is extremely worrying news for the Cubs, who had been hoping to get their prize free agent acquisition back soon. He’s made just eight starts for the Cubs this year, posting a 4.95 ERA as he looks to be headed toward a lost season. If this is a significant setback, it’s only going to add fuel to the fire of those who think A-Rod might have been on to something with his recent comments.

Report: Bengals release starting safety George Iloka

Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals have abruptly released starting safety George Iloka, according to a report.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that Iloka fell victim to a financial decision, but will hit the open market immediately.

Iloka would have been due $5.3 million this season had he remained on the Cincinnati roster.

Iloka has been a mainstay in the Bengals’ secondary for nearly his entire career. In 76 career starts, Iloka has picked off nine passes — one of them on the unique side — and collected 230 solo tackles. He re-signed with the Bengals on a five-year deal prior to the 2016 season.

Iloka likely won’t have to wait long to find a new home. Starting-caliber safeties in their prime don’t hit the market often, especially in August.

Joe Flacco has indifferent response to Jalen Ramsey criticism

Joe Flacco

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has heard it all before.

In light of Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey saying Flacco sucks, the Ravens veteran’s response was essentially “welcome to the club.”

“I don’t really have much of a comment,” Flacco said Saturday, via Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun. “I don’t really care. There’s plenty of people out there saying things. Just add one more to the list. No big deal.”

Flacco is facing a pretty big season after the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson in the first round, but he has apparently shown signs of responding. That remains to be seen, but having to answer questions about his peers saying he sucks is probably not his ideal way to traverse the preseason, even if he doesn’t care about it.

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