Nov 13, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) on the field before a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals, 49ers detour to Mexico in pursuit of Seahawks

Seventeen years ago, the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals traveled to Mexico City for the NFL’s first regular-season game played outside the United States.

The NFC West rivals are south of the border again Monday night with nearly 90,000 fans expected at Estadio Azteca.

Telemundo broadcast analyst Rolando Cantu, who was an offensive lineman on the Cardinals’ practice squad in 2005, compared it to a playoff atmosphere.

“That day, the fans were different. They were hungry to be a part of something unique,” Cantu said. “And the unique part about it was, this was a regular-season game. This game was going to count. It wasn’t an American Bowl. It wasn’t an exhibition game. This game was going to be remembered in the history books. If you got a ticket to go to Estadio Azteca, you were a part of history.”

The 49ers (5-4) have won two in a row and move into a first-place tie with idle Seattle atop the division with a victory.

The Cardinals (4-6) defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams 27-17 last weekend, a step closer to nudging their way back into the playoff picture.

The Cardinals are unsure who will start at quarterback. Kyler Murray missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury and backup Colt McCoy, who went 26 of 37 for 238 yards and a touchdown, tweaked his knee late in the victory. Both quarterbacks were limited participants in practice this week.

“I’m hoping at least one of them, yeah,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said when asked if either Murray or McCoy would be available Monday. “I think we should be able to get to that point hopefully by later in the week.”

Murray said he originally felt a tweak in Week 8 against Minnesota but played through it against Seattle the following week.

“I feel good,” Murray said. “I don’t know percentage or anything like that, but I feel a lot better. The way I play, I’ve got to be able to do what I do. I’ve played through those things, but there’s a fine line between making it worse and not making it worse. We’re on the right track.”

The Cardinals will be without tight end Zach Ertz, who suffered a knee injury against the Rams and is facing season-ending surgery. In addition, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring), offensive lineman D.J. Humphries (back), cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (back) and safety Budda Baker (ankle) have also missed practice.

The 49ers defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 22-16 last week in primetime, getting short touchdown runs by Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and three field goals from Robbie Gould to score the Sunday night win.

The 49ers’ offense is ranked ninth in the league but they’re just 18th in scoring with 22 points per game.

They scored two touchdowns on five trips inside the red zone against the Chargers. Their TD conversion rate of 57.8% inside the opponents’ 20-yard line is well below their league-leading rate of 66.7% from last season

“I do think there are a lot of things clicking,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “But you’re not going to get points if you move it and can’t score inside the 10. You’re not going to get enough points, that’s for sure.”

The 49ers practiced this week at Air Force Academy outside Colorado Springs, Colo., to get acclimated to the high altitude in Mexico City.

While relatively healthy offensively, the 49ers have practiced without defensive linemen Arik Armstead (foot/ankle), Samson Ebukam (quadricep/Achilles) and Javon Kinlaw (knee).

–Field Level Media

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) throws Buffalo Bills cornerback Josh Norman (29) aside as he rushes up the field during the second quarter at Nissan Stadium Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

Nas Titans Bills 001

NFL plans two MNF games Week 2

Tandem “Monday Night Football” games are scheduled for Week 2 of the 2022 NFL season.

The league is taking the long road to announce select games this season before releasing the full 2022 regular season schedule Thursday night.

Unlike the recent trend of back-to-back Monday games for Week 1, the NFL will overlap its primetime Monday offerings Week 2 this season.

The first game on Sept. 19 is the Tennessee Titans visiting the Buffalo Bills at 7:15 p.m. ET, an ESPN broadcast of a rematch of a 34-31 shootout in Week 6 last season.

In the second game, the Philadelphia Eagles host the Minnesota Vikings, an 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff airing on ABC.

–Field Level Media

Oct 6, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the field prior to the game with the Dallas Cowboys playing against the Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman take over ‘MNF’ booth

ESPN on Wednesday made it official with the announcement that Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will be the broadcast team for “Monday Night Football.”

The pair are coming off 20 seasons calling NFL games for Fox Sports. They will make their “MNF” debut on Sept. 12.

“Everything about Monday Night Football, including the broadcast, set the standard for the modern NFL experience,” Buck said in a statement. “My earliest memories of walking around football stadiums are tagging along with my dad as he called Monday Night Football on radio. To return to the stadium on Monday nights with Troy — who I have the utmost comfort with and confidence in — and begin a new chapter, for us and ESPN, has me excited about this season and our future.”

Terms were not released. However, the New York Post reported Buck was in line to receive a five-year deal worth between $60 million and $75 million. The Post reported that Aikman received a five-year, $92.5 million contract to make the jump to ESPN.

“The opportunity to be a voice on Monday Night Football, adding to its legacy and being a part of the future of the NFL on ESPN, has me motivated and reflective,” Aikman said. “As a kid in California, the voices of Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, and my mom’s personal favorite, Don Meredith, echoed throughout our living room each week. Joe and I are humbled to be part of that same tradition that has existed for more than 50 years across generations of football fans.”

ESPN announced that Lisa Salters would return for her 11th season as sideline reporter for “MNF” and that John Parry will be back as rules analyst.

Buck started with Fox in 1994. At age 25, he became the youngest full-time play-by-play announcer on NFL games. He has teamed up with Aikman since 2002.

Aikman was a three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

–Field Level Media

Jan 22, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; A San Francisco 49ers helmet sits idle against the Green Bay Packers in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Griese leaves ‘MNF’ to become 49ers’ QB coach

Longtime NFL quarterback Brian Griese is joining the San Francisco 49ers as their quarterbacks coach, leaving behind ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” booth, multiple media outlets reported Friday night.

Griese, who turns 47 this month, will take on a coaching role for the first time. The son of quarterback Bob Griese spent an 11-year playing career with the Denver Broncos (1998-2002), Miami Dolphins (2003), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004-05, 2008) and Chicago Bears (2006-07).

In 93 career games (83 starts), Griese threw for 19,440 yards, 119 touchdowns and 99 interceptions with a 62.7 percent career completion rate. He was a Pro Bowler in 2000.

Griese spent two seasons in the ESPN broadcast booth with play-by-play announcer Steve Levy and fellow analyst Louis Riddick. ESPN is reportedly pursuing Fox’s Troy Aikman in an effort to overhaul its “Monday Night Football” broadcast.

Riddick interviewed for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ general manager opening earlier this week, further hinting at a shakeup at ESPN.

Griese fills a vacancy on the 49ers’ staff that opened when Rich Scangarello exited last month to become the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Kentucky.

The 49ers are coming off an NFC Championship Game appearance. They are expected to trade starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and elevate Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft, to take his place.

–Field Level Media

Nov 15, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) looks to pass against the Denver Broncos during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens-Raiders dividing action ahead of MNF opener

The opening week of the 2021 NFL season concludes with a matchup of playoff hopefuls who also enter with as many unanswered questions as any teams in the league.

The Raiders will play a regular-season game in front of fans at Allegiant Stadium for the first time, with a sell-out crowd of 65,000 expected to be on hand. They dropped their final four home games last season to finish 2-6 in Las Vegas after opening with a promising 34-24 win against New Orleans last year.

Which Raiders team will show up? And which running backs will Las Vegas’ defense be attempting to corral?

The Baltimore Ravens have outscored their opponents a combined 177-26 in winning their past five season openers. But they also lost their top three running backs to season-ending injuries during a preseason that also saw cornerback Marcus Peters suffer a torn ACL.

The Ravens are still 4.0-point favorites at DraftKings, but the Raiders have been backed by 66 percent of the money and 64 percent of the spread-line bets. The betting action has been split, with Baltimore’s -220 moneyline drawing 56 percent of the money but 70 percent of the total bets backing Las Vegas at +180.

The Ravens’ -195 moneyline at BetRivers is drawing stronger support with 60 percent of the money and 73 percent of the total bets. However, the spread-line action has been split, with the total bets nearly 50-50 and the Raiders backed by 54 percent of the money as 4.0-point underdogs.

Of interest will be the atmosphere of the Raiders’ new $1.9 billion home with a packed house. Will it compare to the old “Black Hole” in Oakland?

“It’s go time on Monday night,” Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, wearing a T-shirt with the word “FINISH” on the front, said Thursday. “I don’t know how noisy this one is, but we’ve played in a noisy atmosphere before. It will be another game against a great all-around team. We’re going to have a Monday night fight. How about that? That’s what it’s going to be.”

The Ravens lost running backs J.K. Dobbins (knee), Gus Edwards (knee) and Justice Hill (Achilles) to season-ending injuries before the season even began. Baltimore will go with Ty’Son Williams, Latavius Murray and Trenton Cannon on Monday night, choosing not to activate recently-signed Le’Veon Bell or Devonta Freeman.

“(Bell) has to get his sea legs a little bit, football-wise,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on Friday. “Football shape does mean something.”

With the running back situation unsettled, it puts even more of a bull’s-eye on Jackson. The 2019 NFL MVP rushed for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns on 159 carries last season while also completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The Raiders brought in Gus Bradley to rebuild a defense that allowed 29.9 points per game and produced just 15 takeaways during an 8-8 campaign. Among the notable defensive newcomers are defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebackers K.J. Wright and Denzel Perryman and cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.

The offense will once again be led by quarterback Derek Carr (4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns, nine interceptions last year), tight end Darren Waller (107 catches for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns) and running back Josh Jacobs (1,065 yards, 12 TDs).

The 50.5 Over/Under has seen pretty even action at BetRivers, with the Over (-107) backed by 53 percent of the money and 60 percent of the total bets on the market. The same market at PointsBet has moved from 51 to 50 points, with the Under backed by 66 percent of the money and 51 percent of the total bets.

The Raiders have made the playoffs just once (2016) since their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season.

“We need to be a playoff team this year,” general manager Mike Mayock said. “We think we are going to be a good team. We’re not running from expectations.”

However, head coach Jon Gruden downplayed Mayock’s comments in an interview this week with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“I’m not going to sit here and talk about the playoffs,” said Gruden, who is entering the fourth year of his second stint as the Raiders’ head coach. “I’m going to talk Baltimore. They want to go to the playoffs, too. … I’m not going to get into that B.S. I’d be very, very upset if we weren’t very confident.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 15, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 36-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers heavily backed to steamroll Bengals

The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to have the perfect tonic to cure what ails them from a two-game losing streak.

It comes in the form of the two-win Cincinnati Bengals, who will start quarterback Ryan Finley in Monday night’s home game.

The Steelers (11-2) can clinch the AFC North with a win, and they’re 15-point favorites to do so by BetRivers and DraftKings. Pittsburgh is the -1000 moneyline favorite at both books, with 94 percent of the moneyline handle at BetRivers and 95 percent at DraftKings on the Steelers.

Bettors are also backing Pittsburgh with 88 percent of the spread handle at BetRivers and 75 percent at DraftKings.

Pittsburgh is 8-5 against the spread this season but hasn’t covered in its past three games. Meanwhile, Cincinnati (2-10-1) is 6-7 ATS and 1-4 in its past five games.

Both teams have hit the over just once in the past five games. That has led to bettors being split on the over/under, with 54 percent backing the Over at 40.5 at both sportsbooks.

The Steelers won the first matchup of the season 36-10 last month.

That was with Joe Burrow throwing for 213 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals. He went down with a season-ending knee injury the following week and Cincinnati has averaged only 10 points over the past four game.

That includes scoring only seven points in each of the past two weeks. Finley will start Monday night with Brandon Allen recovering from a knee injury.

Finley, 25, has completed 10 of 19 passes for 75 yards with two interceptions in four appearances this season.

Pittsburgh — which scored at least 20 points the first 10 games but has not reached that threshold the past three — also has been hurt by dropped passes, particularly the past three weeks.

“If you’re going to throw the football, you have to catch the football,” Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said.

Both teams have had injury problems that have affected consistency — specifically linebackers and offensive linemen for Pittsburgh, the defensive front and offensive line for Cincinnati.

–Field Level Media

Jan 5, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Bettors heavily backing Seahawks on MNF

The Seattle Seahawks enter Monday night’s game at the Philadelphia Eagles riding a three-game road losing streak and owning the league’s worst defense in terms of yards allowed per game.

That hasn’t dissuaded bettors from putting their money behind the NFC West leaders.

Seattle (7-3) is a 6.5-point favorite among sportsbooks including BetRivers and DraftKings. The Seahawks are being backed by 88 percent of the spread cover handle at BetRivers and a whopping 95 percent at DraftKings, where 91 percent of the total bets have been on the Seahawks.

The action has been similar on the moneyline, with both sportsbooks offering Seattle at -278. The Seahawks have been backed by 84 percent of the moneyline handle at BetRivers and 92 percent at DraftKings.

Bettors also expect plenty of points to be put up at Lincoln Financial Field.

While the defense has been on an historically bad pace most of the season, Seattle is third in the NFL with an average of 400 offensive yards per game. And the Seahawks are welcoming the return of running back Chris Carson from a foot injury.

Meanwhile, the Eagles (3-6-1) are hoping to get their floundering offense on track as they attempt to reclaim first place in the NFC East.

Averaging only 22 points through 10 games, Philadelphia will again be without tight end Zach Ertz.

The over/under at BetRivers moved from 51 to 49 points, with 87 percent of the wagers coming in on the over. The Eagles are 3-1 on the over-under in games against teams with winning records this season.

The over/under also settled at 49 at DraftKings, where 63 percent of the handle and 71 percent of the total bets have backed the over.

It’s an important game for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who enters with an NFL-leading 18 turnovers (14 interceptions, four fumbles). He has also been sacked a league-leading 40 times.

“In this city, it’s all about the QB and the head coach, and everybody else can almost go by the wayside, I guess,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “So it’s almost like a two-man band, but there is enough work to be done by all positions.”

Meanwhile, Seattle expects cornerback Shaquill Griffin (hamstring) and center Ethan Pocic (concussion) to return after missing multiple games.

This will be the Seahawks’ third trip to Philadelphia in the past 53 weeks. They posted a pair of 17-9 victories there last season, one of those occurring in the opening round of the playoffs.

–Field Level Media

Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; ESPN Sportcenter announcer/analyst Steve Levy during Monday Night Football between the Arizona Cardinals game against the New York Jets at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Levy, Griese, Riddick to call ‘MNF’ games

ESPN veteran Steve Levy will call the play-by-play on “Monday Night Football” games this fall, the network announced.

He will be joined in the booth by former NFL players Brian Griese and Louis Riddick, who will serve as analysts. Lisa Salters will return for her ninth season as sideline reporter on the telecast, and John Parry will serve as the officiating analyst for a second season.

They are replacing the duo of Joe Tessitore and Booger MacFarland.

The new team is scheduled to debut on the opening Monday of the season, Sept. 14, when the Denver Broncos host the Tennessee Titans at 10:10 p.m. ET.

That will be the second of two games to be televised on ESPN that evening. The network’s No. 1 college team, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, will call the Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants at 7:15 p.m.

“Steve, Brian and Louis are trusted voices of the NFL whose knowledge and love of football connects with fans,” said Connor Schell, ESPN executive vice president of content in a network statement. “We are thrilled that they will join Lisa Salters to make up our new Monday Night Football team and share their passion and insight with football fans in what promises to be a great broadcast each week.”

Levy, 55, is in his 28th year with ESPN. He has been calling college football games on ESPN and ABC with Griese since 2016. He also was the play-by-play announcer for several years on the networks’ NHL coverage, broadcasting games that included the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Griese’s NFL career began in 1998 when the Denver Broncos selected the Michigan quarterback in the third round of the NFL draft. In 11 seasons in the league, the now 45-year-old appeared in 93 games (83 starts) with the Broncos, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins.

He joined ESPN in 2009.

Riddick, a former defensive back who later worked in a pair of NFL front offices, played in 94 games over six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders. He has been with ESPN since 2013 and has been open in discussing his desire to fill the “MNF” job.

“Officially official,” he tweeted Monday morning. “Hard work pays off.”

ESPN turned to internal candidates after Peyton Manning and Drew Brees rejected overtures from the network. An attempt to work out a deal with NBC Sports to acquire the services of play-by-play legend Al Michaels also failed.

Brees eventually signed with NBC and will move into an analyst role after he retires as the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.

–Field Level Media