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Vic Carucci's Inside the NFL: So-called tankers don't look so much like they're tanking

There's a point when tanking stops being a strategy favored by those who see success in what the future might bring and becomes a threat to those who see failure as having no place in the present.

The lines dividing these factions are the same as the ones that have long existed in sports, with talent selectors on one side and coaches on the other.

Eventually, if not immediately, the coaching side wants nothing to do with a tank because it only tends to increase the likelihood that someone else will end up guiding all of that future talent.

Just ask Hue Jackson.

The Cleveland Browns are 1-20 since he became their coach last year. Giving a vivid glimpse into his level of desperation, Jackson offered an exaggerated guess that his record was 1-30 as he spoke with reporters last Monday.

When asked about the confidence of rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, the starter through the Browns' 0-5 beginning to this season, the coach said, "My confidence is shaken, too."

Jackson didn't say it, but it would make perfect sense to conclude that some of that stems from the approach of a front office that has made the NFL's deepest dive into utilizing analytics to build its roster. Load up on draft picks. Lean on youth. Live with short-term pain for the sake of long-term gain.

In other words, the textbook definition of "tanking."

Just as with most of his roster, Jackson wasn't given much of a hand to play when trying to figure out who should be his No. 1 quarterback before the season. His choices were Kizer, a second-round draft pick from Notre Dame; Brock Osweiler, a free-agent bust whose $16-million salary the Browns took off the hands of the Houston Texans in exchange for a 2018 second-round choice, and 2016 rookies Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan.

Kessler, whom the Browns made a third-round pick from USC, flopped. So did Osweiler. When it came down to Kizer or Hogan, going with the presumed franchise quarterback of the future made sense over going with a player the Browns had originally acquired for their practice squad last year after the Kansas City Chiefs -- who had made him a fifth-round selection from Stanford -- released him.

Through the first half of last weekend's loss against the New York Jets, Jackson had finally seen enough. Kizer was benched and Hogan took over. He completed 16 of 19 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Hogan will be the new starter when the Browns face the Houston Texans Sunday.

Inside the Bills: Analyzing Buffalo's newcomers, and departures, through five weeks

Jackson isn't worried about next year or even next week. He wants to win now. He needs to win now.

The rules aren't any different for the coaches of this season's other presumed NFL tankers/semi-tankers, the Jets and the Buffalo Bills.

After an offseason of purging of key veterans, including wide receivers Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall and linebacker David Harris, the Jets prompted predictions of an 0-16 finish. When media critics learned that veteran Josh McCown would be their starter, they criticized the Jets for being only half-in with tanking. They wanted them to go Christian Hackenberg, who had provided no reason for hope that he would develop into a savior in the two preseasons since the Jets made him a second-round pick from Penn State.

Todd Bowles, in his third season as the Jets' coach, is more interested in his survival. He'll happily take all of the bashing the media want to deliver while owning a 3-2 record and a share of first place in the AFC East with the Bills and New England Patriots.

Sean McDermott, in his first year at the Bills' helm, also took some grief for "middling" what otherwise seemed to be setting up as a future-intensive mentality. Trading Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby to boost to six the Bills' total of picks through the first three rounds next year seemed to send a clear message that McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane were writing off the season. Going with a receiving corps devoid of a No. 1 target only appeared to amplify it.

But sticking with Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback, rather than going with rookie Nathan Peterman, sent a different message (although there has been nothing inspiring about any part of the offense). Still, with a solid defense, the Bills are far more relevant than expected at this point and in a division and conference short on dominant teams, they figure to be in the postseason conversation for awhile.

Grand plans for gathering draft capital that will lead to sustainable success are all well and good. The last time anyone checked, however, losing still gets people fired.

Quick reads

*If you want to know why it feels as if the NFL is as closely competitive as it has been in a long time, consider this: 71 percent of Week 5 games were decided by six or fewer points. That's the highest percentage of games in the league that have been that close in a single week in the last 25 seasons. The margin of victory also was the lowest since 2013.

*The NFL should feel very uncomfortable about billionaire Tilman Fertitta explaining why the $2.2 billion he recently spent to purchase the Houston Rockets was better than making the same investment for an NFL team.

"We really don't know where football is going," Fertitta told reporters. "Even people that I know in football are concerned that, 'Where is it going to be in 50 or 60 years?' I would have been scared to pay $2.2 billion for an NFL franchise today. And I know that NFL owners aren't going to like hearing that, but the NBA is where it's at."

He later explained on ESPN's Outside the Lines that the NBA's advantages were being a "world sport" with a younger audience. Fertitta cited the NFL's major disadvantages as brain injuries and resulting rules changes that are "taking a little bit of the excitement out of the game, because you don't get to see those wide receivers go across the middle anymore."

*On Feb. 4, Minnesota will host its second Super Bowl since Jan. 26, 1992, when the Bills faced the Washington Redskins in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. So much has changed in 25 years, beginning with a brand new venue, U.S. Bank Stadium.

The combination of elevated security concerns with an urban stadium in close proximity to highways, apartments, condominiums, restaurants, parking ramps, and a college -- not to mention the potential for severe winter weather -- creates what NFL senior vice president for events Peter O'Reilly described to the Minneapolis Star Tribune "as complex a Super Bowl as we've ever had to plan and lay out."

During a visit to Minneapolis earlier in the week for logistical meetings, O'Reilly pointed out that among the contingencies for which the NFL is preparing is a snowstorm that dumps 36 inches. There were no such weather challenges outside the Metrodome when the Bills faced the Redskins. The Bills just had to deal with the hardship of a second Super Bowl loss in as many years … with two more to follow.

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