Sunday will mark the first game of the 2019 NFL London series. Luckily for us fans, the storylines are juicier than ever. The game will also provide the winner with the first ever NFL victory at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which was designed specifically to accommodate the NFL a few times a year. Our Sports Gazette team was on scene to keep up to date with all the latest news.
First to arrive in London were the Oakland Raiders, who have been shrouded in unwanted off field storylines and on field suspensions so far this season. Despite the adversity, they have battled to a 2-2 record, putting them in 2nd in the AFC West Division. The most recent hurdle for the Raiders came last week when notorious linebacker Vontaze Burfict was ejected from the field against the Indianapolis Colts. Burfict was removed from play after a jarring helmet to helmet hit on tight end Jack Doyle was deemed dirty and excessive. Following the game, Burfict was handed a suspension for the rest of the season (including playoffs). The NFL has been trying to cut out hits on defenseless players from the game, and because Burfict has a history of malicious tackles in the past, he was the first sacrificial lamb. When asked about Burficts suspension, Quarterback Derek Carr did not hold back, “ I think he is one of the most misunderstood people in the NFL.”
“I don’t think he was trying to hurt that man; the man was going down.”
“We see other people choking people out, and they’re going to play this Sunday. We see other people hitting people in the helmet, and they’re going to play this Sunday. And Vontaze Burfict won’t play the rest of the year? I think that’s a little excessive, if you ask me. I don’t think it’s fair, if we really got to know the guy. If the people making the decision really knew the guy that we know, inside our building … he’s a great person, his heart is broken because he’s not playing football. The guy just wants to play football. We don’t get a lot of time to play this game in our lives.”
It was an admirable defense of his linebackers character, but we will let you decide the morality of last Sunday’s hit for yourselves.
KICK VONTAZE BURFICT OUT FOREVER!!! pic.twitter.com/91IQghasuf
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 29, 2019
The other big storyline coming out of the Oakland camp is their first meeting with ex outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Mack is arguably the best defensive player in the game, making the pro bowl in each of the last four years and already averaging a sack per game so far this year. Mack was traded from the Raiders to the Bears in September 2018, after failing to reach terms on his contract. After arriving at the Bears, he was quickly made the highest paid defensive player in the league. Since then, the Bears haven’t looked back, priding themselves on their defensive performances. They have allowed the second fewest amount of points so far this season, only beat out by the New England Patriots. Despite a cordial history with Mack, Derek Carr expects a battle on Sunday.
“I’m absolutely looking forward to it. That’s my brother, I love him to death, everyone knows that. He’s one of my best friends, and we’ll be friends when we are all old… [but] this week is different, we’re competing against each other, so it’s back to the pool basketball mentality from here… we’re still buddies but we will still punch each other.”
When prompted on what he would say after a potential sack of Derek Carr, Khalil Mack responded with the indifferent coolness of an assassin, “I mean, if it happens, it happens, I’m not looking forward to it or planning what I’m gonna say, you know what I mean?”
Either way, the Oakland Offensive Line will have their work cut out for them. Stifling the most dynamic pass rush in football is no easy feat.
On the other side of the ticket, the Chicago Bears arrived in London mid Friday morning. The Bears are fresh off a big win that provided fans with mixed emotions. They were able to fend off the challenge from the visiting Minnesota Vikings with a 16-6 victory, but it came at a price. Starting Quarterback Mitch Trubisky left the game early after dislocating his left shoulder. Luckily for the Bears faithful, backup Chase Daniel was a cog capable of fitting seamlessly into the well-oiled Chicago offense. He finished the day with 195 passing yards and a TD to boot. At the Bears open practice on Friday evening, Daniel opened up about the boost that performance gave to his confidence.
“It was good, it gave me the confidence to just go out there and play ball. I trust our guys, they made some really big plays against a good defense… For me, can a backup Quarterback transition into a game on short notice, run the offense seamlessly and not have anything change. I thought we did that last week for the most part.”
“I feel like I have a really good sense and feel in the huddle of how these guys want their Quarterbacks to act so it does not miss a beat when I’m in… You just gotta trust your guys, trust the system, trust your routine.”
“I’m a point guard so all I need to do in this offense is get the ball to our playmakers and they do the rest.”
For Chase Daniel it will be a game all about staying in rhythm, and avoiding any deviations from the normal flow of things. To avoid a defensive battle, the Chicago offensive line will have to work extra hard to give Daniel the time and space to pick out his targets.
The Bears also welcome the return of linebacker Roquan Smith back to the field after missing last week due to ‘personal reasons’. Head Coach Matt Nagy was able to confirm that Smith will play Sunday barring unforeseen setbacks. It is just another weapon in the Chicago defense’s already dangerous arsenal. Khalil Mack is confident in his defensive unit, now back to full strength.
“You can put us in Australia, China… The Chicago Bears are going to be ready to play ball on Sunday.”
Mack was also asked to ponder his accomplishments with the Bears so far, “I can’t really say yet. I feel like a championship is the ultimate thing to be proud of and that’s what we are working towards. Until we get there, I can’t say much.”
For Khalil Mack, the focus is only on the game ahead. Don’t miss him and the rest of the Bears go to battle against the Raiders on Sunday night.