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Golden era for QBs, with great stories around NFL

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Golden era for QBs, with great stories around NFL

NEW YORK (AP) The two kids from Northern California burst from NFL afterthought to championship contender in eerily similar fashion a decade apart.

Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick, each playing in a conference title game this weekend, are bookends to a fortuitous moment in quarterback history. On one side are the likes of Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, still scintillating in their mid-30s.

On the other are Kaepernick, a second-year player, and the brilliant class of rookies with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson leading their teams to the playoffs.

Young, old and in between, the current crop of NFL quarterbacks is not only deep but dynamic and diverse.

``We're in a little bit of a boom right now. We're flowing a little bit, especially young players,'' Hall of Famer Steve Young said last week. ``If those guys continue to develop, we'll have a period of time here, kind of a Camelot of quarterbacking.''

The depth of the position shows in the other two guys joining the Patriots' Brady and the 49ers' Kaepernick in the conference championship games. Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco were first-round draft picks in 2008, and for all their successes, they're probably low on the list when fans think of the most dominant NFL quarterbacks.

Yet here they are a win away from the Super Bowl after leading stirring comebacks that answered many doubts about each.

Quarterback has long been the glamour position of all of sports, but it seems even a bit more glamorous right now. Rule changes favor a wide-open passing game, which makes a superior quarterback more valuable. Colleges and high schools run more sophisticated offenses, and the best athletes gravitate to quarterback then develop into polished passers who happen to be able to scramble.

``I can't remember - even though this is a quarterback-driven league - as many remarkable and compelling stories on the quarterback side as you're seeing this year,'' CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said.

There was that brief stretch less than 15 years ago when Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson won Super Bowls, and it seemed perhaps championship teams didn't need a star at the position. Since then, here's the roll call of victorious quarterbacks: Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, both Manning brothers, Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

Twenty-five of the 46 Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks, but now it's five of the last six. In the half-dozen years before that, four were non-QBs, including two defensive players.

``It ebbs and flows, no question. There's some dark times where you have two or three guys that can truly do it,'' said Young, Kaepernick's forerunner as a dual-threat San Francisco QB and now an ESPN analyst.

Jimmy Johnson, who won two Super Bowls with future Hall of Famer Troy Aikman as his quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, was talking to Bill Belichick last summer about the recent shift. Belichick has won three championships with Brady, but even as of a few years ago, both coaches believed a title was possible behind a strong defense and running game.

Not anymore, they agreed.

``Now, the only thing that matters is if you get a great quarterback,'' said Johnson, now a Fox commentator.

Of this year's playoff teams, the only one without great stability at quarterback was Minnesota. And the Vikings had a guy named Adrian Peterson.

The bottom of the standings is full of clubs with uncertainty at the position: from the Chiefs and Jaguars to the Eagles, Cardinals and Jets.

This year, 20 quarterbacks started every regular-season game, nearly two-thirds of the league. That's by far the most since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, according to STATS, four more than the previous high.

That record partly reflects a lack of injuries, in which all those rules protecting the QB may be a factor - along with, of course, sheer luck. But it also reflects how few teams benched their quarterbacks. Most clubs are quite happy with their current situation.

For all the quarterback intrigue in the playoffs, consider the big names who didn't qualify for the postseason: Brees, Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Cam Newton. And then there's Tim Tebow, who may never start again as an NFL QB but is still one of the most recognizable and polarizing athletes in all of sports.

This quarterback Camelot is about more than the deep field of effective starters. The playoffs oozed with stars popular not just for their performances but their personalities and pizazz.

``I marvel at how prepared these guys are - not only on the field, but the exposure they get off it,'' said Aikman, who will call the NFC title game for Fox. ``Whether it's through social networks or different platforms, they are given the opportunity to talk to the press and are much more well-rounded and prepared for all that comes with the scrutiny of the position than ever before.

``If you're on Park Avenue in New York (at league headquarters), you're pretty happy with the new representatives that will be the ambassadors for the league for the years to come.''

The quarterbacks in the postseason undoubtedly fascinate fans, but they do so in different ways.

``All with incredibly different kinds of stories, all with incredibly different ways of getting to the playoffs,'' said McManus, whose network airs next month's Super Bowl.

Nielsen/E-Poll calculates an ``N-Score'' to measure the endorsement potential of athletes. Peyton Manning has the top score of current QBs, but other players come out ahead in specific categories in the surveys.

In this high school yearbook of NFL quarterbacks, Brees is voted most appealing. Rodgers is the most confident, Newton the most dynamic, Griffin the most talented. Luck is considered the most intelligent and Brady the most attractive.

Their back stories sizzle. This season saw Manning return from neck surgery to lead the Broncos to the AFC's top seed and earn All-Pro honors. Brees was dealing with the fallout of the Saints' bounty scandal.

Unlike past rookie quarterbacks who reached the playoffs, Luck and Griffin were anything but caretakers riding a strong defense; both were vibrant leaders turning around franchises. And Wilson advanced deeper into the postseason than either of them.

Kaepernick is for the moment the best story of them all. The 2011 second-round draft pick opened the season as a backup to Alex Smith, who led the 49ers to the NFC championship game last year. Kaepernick played so well after Smith was injured that coach Jim Harbaugh took the gamble to stick with him - just as Belichick did with Brady 11 years earlier.

Now Brady is the grizzled veteran, though fans won't get that expected matchup with his longtime rival, Manning, after Baltimore stunned Denver.

``They're not going to last forever,'' Young said of the old guard, ``but you've got a feeling that there's some guys around that we're in pretty good shape in the next generation. Right now, as we speak, there's compelling stories all over the playoffs at the quarterback spot, which is kind of fun.''

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All but one NFL owner approves of Raiders' move to Las Vegas

All but one NFL owner approves of Raiders' move to Las Vegas

PHOENIX — NFL owners approved the Oakland Raiders' move to Las Vegas at the league meetings Monday.

The vote was a foregone conclusion after the league and Raiders were not satisfied with Oakland's proposals for a new stadium, and Las Vegas stepped up with $750 million in public money. Bank of America also is giving Raiders owner Mark Davis a $650 million loan, further helping to persuade owners to allow the third team relocation in just over a year.

Owners voted 31-1 to approve the move, with the Miami Dolphins opposed.

The Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 2016, and in January the Chargers relocated from San Diego to LA. The Raiders likely will play two or three more years in the Bay Area before their $1.7 billion stadium near the Las Vegas strip is ready.

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Las Vegas, long taboo to the NFL because of its legalized gambling, also is getting an NHL team this fall, the Golden Knights.

"Today will forever change the landscape of Las Vegas and UNLV football," said Steve Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission and a former member of a panel appointed by the Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to study the stadium tax funding plan.

"I couldn't be more excited for the fans and residents of Clark County as we move forward with the Raiders and the Rebels," Sisolak said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and a group trying to keep the team in Oakland, made a last-ditch presentation to the NFL last week. But that letter was "filled with uncertainty," according to Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Monday, she asked the owners to delay the vote, wanting to give her city a chance to negotiate with a small group of owners to complete a stadium deal at the Coliseum site.

"Never that we know of has the NFL voted to displace a team from its established market when there is a fully financed option before them with all the issues addressed," Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement. "I'd be remiss if I didn't do everything in my power to make the case for Oakland up until the very end."

Schaaf said the city has presented a $1.3 billion plan for a stadium at the Coliseum site that would be ready by 2021. She says the existing Coliseum would be demolished by 2024, with the Oakland Athletics baseball team either moving to a new stadium at the Coliseum site or somewhere else in the city.

The Raiders' move became more certain this month when Bank of America offered the loan. That replaced the same amount the Raiders lost when the league balked at having casino owner Sheldon Adelson involved and he was dropped from the team's plans.

Leaving the Bay Area is not something new with the Raiders, who played in Los Angeles from 1982-94 before heading back to Oakland. Davis was passed over last year in an attempt to move to a stadium in the LA area that would have been jointly financed with the Chargers. Instead, the owners approved the Rams' relocation and gave the Chargers an option to join them, which they exercised this winter.

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Proposed NFL rule change would eliminate Ravens' intentional holding strategy

Proposed NFL rule change would eliminate Ravens' intentional holding strategy

BY TYLER BYRUM, @theTylerByrum

It made everyone do a double-take, then it made perfect sense to non-Cincinnati and non-Pittsburgh fans.

Back in Week 12 when the Baltimore Ravens held off the Cincinnati Bengals 19-14, it wasn't a single touchdown that made national headlines. Rather it was a game ending safety that cut a seven-point deficit to only five. 

On the final play, numerous Ravens players held the opposing Bengals, who were setting up to receive punt, with 11 seconds left on the clock. Punter Sam Koch, just sat back, draining the clock before finally running out the back of the end zone with the clock at zero. 

SEE LINK FOR FULL RULE EXPLANATION

Thursday it was proposed to the NFL's Competition Committee to make plays like this illegal. 

While it may be considered unfair to some, making this new rule would simply add to an already expanding rule book and only be used for a select handful of plays a year, maybe. 

Eliminating cleverness of coaches that are well versed in the NFL rule book, should not be the approach of the of rule adaptations. There is no impact on player safety nor does it make the game 'more watchable' (like the extra-point rule).

Not only that, but the new proposed rule just leaves another set of loopholes for coaches to take advantage of at the end of a game. What if team trying to score on the last play commits two offensive penalties just to get another shot at the endzone?

But before making a massive overhaul to fix all of the loopholes in the NFL rule book, can we establish what a catch is first?

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