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NFL power rankings 8.0: Steelers rise to No. 1 spot
SportsPulse: For the first time this season, and the first time in a long time, the Pittsburgh Steelers have taken the number one spot in the power rankings. Mackenzie provides the biggest risers and fallers of the week.
Welcome to the crew, Antonio Brown.
Now for a quick scouting report on your new teammates in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ receivers room, seemingly ready to embrace you as their newest member:
“It’s a really unselfish group,” Chris Godwin, one of the resident star wideouts, said earlier this week. “I think we’re all happy to see each other succeed and we understand that when one person is successful, that is going to help the entire group as a whole.
“We’re looking forward to adding another really good piece. Hopefully, he’s able to come in and really contribute to our culture and buy into the whole thing. Looking forward to it.”
Team football. What a concept.
Brown’s arrival Wednesday starts the acclimation process – and ramps up the scrutiny.
Will he be a good fit?
There’s no disputing what the 32-year-old dynamic playmaker can add to the Bucs offense after his eight-game NFL suspension ends next week and he picks up the system. Yet the swing factor in this arrangement is whether a man whose enormous talent is overshadowed by off-field drama – including allegations of sexual assault – will disrupt the chemistry of a unit that seems poised to contend like no Bucs team in many years.
Bruce Arians, the refreshingly down-to-earth Bucs coach who may also remind you of your cool uncle, maintains that Brown has “matured.” Maybe that’s what an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, on top of counseling prescribed by the league, can do for a mercurial player joining his third team in a little more than a year since flaming out with the Steelers.
We’ll see. In this case, the talk is cheap, given the track record.
Yet there’s no doubt that for Brown to thrive in an offense that includes Pro Bowl wideouts in Godwin and Mike Evans, he’ll have to check his ego at the door.
Remember, Brown’s package has included lively action on social media – complete with taunting then-teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Maybe Tom Brady can provide some perspective. The Bucs quarterback was all-in on Brown’s shot last year with the New England Patriots, eager to help the receiver get up to speed in a new offense. But they were teammates for less than two weeks and for all of one game, as the Patriots released Brown after he sent intimidating text messages to a woman after her allegations of sexual misconduct were revealed in a Sports Illustrated story.
Think Brady warned Brown of factors that could derail this new opportunity with the Bucs?
“I’m not getting into personal conversations we’ve had together,” Brady said when asked about Brown’s mindset and chances of meshing with his new team.
It was telling how Brady continued with his response. He mentioned the names of every single receiver and tight end on the roster – even adding that tight end O.J. Howard, lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, is missed.
The inference was clear. It isn’t about one player. That’s the typical tone from Brady.
“We’ve got a good group and we’re all expected to go out there and work every day,” Brady said. “Do our best to help the team win. … We’re here to do a job.”
Brown, whose one-year deal carries a maximum value of $2.5 million, will be eligible to practice next week and play in the Week 9 showdown against the New Orleans Saints. Although his suspension will end the day after the Bucs face the New York Giants on Monday night, he is cleared to attend meetings and engage in conditioning work this week.
“Adding one of the greats at the receiver position to our room, it’s scary,” said second-year pro Scotty Miller, who is coming off the first 100-yard game of his career and, like Brown, is 5-10. “So, I’m just excited to meet him and really excited to learn from him. I think we’re similar-type receivers, as far as deep threats and smaller guys, stuff like that. I think he can really help my game out in the future.”
Arians called Brown “an insurance policy” when assessing the addition.
Sure, Evans was gimpy in playing through a sprained ankle during the Week 5 loss at Chicago, and Godwin is now out after surgery this week for a fractured finger, the latest in a string of setbacks that included him missing time due a concussion and a hamstring injury.
But Brown, a four-time All-Pro and All-Decade selection, is no mere insurance policy. With his credentials, big-play prowess and knack for uncanny catches, he’s more like a Lloyd’s of London policy.
Yet still: What happens the first time Brown gets just two targets in a game?
Such a scenario might tell us a lot about whether Brown will jell with a group that touts unselfishness. Evans certainly exemplified the expectation after the past two games.
The Bucs scored 45 and 38 points in thrashing the Las Vegas Raiders and Green Bay Packers, but Evans was targeted just twice in each of the victories. He caught two passes for 37 yards at Las Vegas, which followed a one-catch outing against Green Bay.
Despite the minimal production, there hasn’t been even a hint of griping from Evans.
“Mike is one of the most unselfish superstars in the league,” Miller said. “He only had two catches (Sunday), the past couple of games. But that’s really because he’s double-teamed the whole game. That’s just making it so much easier for me and everybody else. So, you really have to have that mindset, because we have so many weapons. You’ve got to be ready when your name’s called.”
Brown will soon get his chance to show just how ready he is to buy into such a culture.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.