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What to expect when the Deshaun Watson circus comes to H-Town this Sunday

What to expect when the Deshaun Watson circus comes to H-Town this Sunday
Deshaun Watson returns to NRG this Sunday. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey may have pulled up stakes five years ago, but the NFL’s long-delayed freak show is coming to town Sunday at NRG Stadium.

Deshaun Watson, the Houston Texans one-time prodigal son turned accused serial lech, will be at quarterback for the visiting Cleveland Browns. After missing most of the past two years due to a combination of pouting, investigations and punishment over alleged sexual misconduct with dozens of massage therapists, Watson was reinstated to the Browns roster this week after serving an 11-game suspension.

Nothing will ever convince me that the NFL didn’t determine the number of games to sideline Watson so he could return for the Browns 12th game against the Texans in Houston. What's that they say about the alleged suspect always returns to the scene of the alleged crime?

You couldn’t script it any better. Remember, Watson demanded to be traded from the Texans before any masseuses started claiming that Watson acted inappropriately with them. What followed were transcripts of charges and testimony by the women that made Penthouse letters look like Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

Two grand juries failed to indict Watson on any criminal charges and the quarterback settled out of court with most of the accusers. The NFL eventually suspended Watson and ordered him to get counseling and to use only team-approved massage therapists in the future. Watson has complied with the NFL's demands.

So what will happen when Watson takes the field Sunday? It’s likely that the stadium announcer will downplay Watson’s presence. This will mark 700 days since Watson last threw a pass in an NFL regular season game. Will he come out rusty or will seething anger and revenge fuel Watson to his former All-Pro talent? He was the most productive quarterback in the NFL in 2020, his last season of action for the Texans.

While the game won’t be a matchup of Super Bowl contenders, Watson v. Texans will be dripping with controversy and intrigue. Sex sells, and Watson may now be a villain, at least in Houston, whose alleged sexual misbehavior will forever stain his reputation. If the crazy needed a cherry on top, Tony Buzbee, attorney for most of Watson's accusers, has said he will bring 10 of the masseuses to NRG Stadium on Sunday just to … whatever Buzbee thinks that will accomplish. Buzbee is not averse to publicity and this time it's personal.

Watson did nothing to tamp down the controversy surrounding Sunday’s game when he failed to meet the media on Wednesday, the day NFL quarterbacks typically hold a press conference. That might have been a calculated and understandable decision by the Browns. Watson has a history of putting his foot in his mouth by apologizing for his behavior and then seemingly taking it back. He did talk with the media on Thursday but would not address any non-football issues.

If Ringling Bros promised a three-ring event, Sunday's Texans and Browns clash is a no-rings circus. The Texans and Browns are two of only four current NFL teams that have never appeared in a Super Bowl. Stop guessing, the other two teams are the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans are the one and only team that has never even sniffed a conference championship game.

True, Sunday’s game at NRG Stadium is a stinker on paper. The Texans are a dismal 1-9-1, the worst record in the NFL and trending in the wrong direction. The Browns are 4-7, tied for last place in the AFC North.

CBS is treating the game with the lack of respect and importance it deserves. The network will not be sending its No. 1 announce team, Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson, to Houston. Nor will CBS be dispatching its No. 2 team, Ian Eagle, Charles Davis and Evan Washburn. Instead calling the action will be Spero Dedes, Jay Feely and Aditi Kinkhabwala.

On top of that, CBS will air the game only in a small sliver of Southeast Texas plus Lubbock. It will be, by far, the least visible game on CBS’ roadmap of America. Games between the Jets-Vikings, Broncos-Baltimore and Steelers-Falcons will carve up the rest of the country in Sunday’s noon game slot.

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Allen had high praise for Diggs. Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images.

Impersonal as it might seem to have their dynamic on-field relationship end with an exchange of phone texts, Bills quarterback Josh Allen made it clear on Thursday how much receiver Stefon Diggs meant to him during their four seasons together in Buffalo.

Allen made no mention of Diggs’ mercurial temperament or the occasional sideline flare-ups by expressing only praise in his first opportunity to discuss his now-former teammate being traded to the Houston Texans earlier this month.

“Just thanking him for everything that he did for me, and (I’ll) always have a spot in my heart for him. I’ll always love that guy like a brother. And I wish him nothing but the best,” Allen said, in disclosing what he texted to Diggs. “My lasting memory of Stef will be the receiver that helped me become the quarterback that I am today.”

Brought together in March 2020, when Buffalo gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire Diggs in a trade with Minnesota, the duo went on to re-write many of Buffalo's single-season passing and scoring records, and lead the team to four straight AFC East titles.

Diggs, now 30, also brought an inescapable sense of drama with him in raising questions about his commitment to the Bills and whether his tight relationship with Allen had soured.

A day before being traded, Diggs posted a message, “You sure?” on the social media platform X in response to someone suggesting he wasn’t essential to Allen’s success.

Whatever hard feelings, if any, lingered as Buffalo opened its voluntary workout sessions this week were not apparent from Allen or coach Sean McDermott, who also addressed reporters for the first time since Diggs was traded.

“Stef’s a great player, really enjoyed our time together. Won a lot of games and he was a huge factor in winning those games. We’ll miss him,” McDermott said. “You never replace a player like Stef Diggs, and we wish him well.”

Allen turned his focus to the future and a Bills team that spent much of the offseason retooling an aging and expensive roster.

Aside from trading Diggs, salary cap restrictions led to Buffalo cutting respected center Mitch Morse, the breakup of a veteran secondary that had been together since 2017, and the team unable to afford re-signing No. 2 receiver Gabe Davis.

“I don’t think it’s a wrong thing or a bad thing to get younger,” said Allen, entering his seventh NFL season. “I think it’s an opportunity for myself to grow as a leader. And to bring along some of these young guys and new guys that we’ve brought in to our team. And that’s an opportunity, frankly, that I’m very excited about."

Despite the departures, the Bills offense is not exactly lacking even though general manager Brandon Beane is expected to target selecting a receiver with his first pick — currently 28th overall — in the draft next week.

Receiver Khalil Shakir enters his third year and tight end Dalton Kincaid enter his second following promising seasons. Buffalo also added veteran experience in signing free agent receiver Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins.

While Beane acknowledged the Bills lack a true No. 1 receiver, he noted there’s less urgency to fill that spot now than in 2020 because of how much the offense has developed under Allen.

“Now that Josh has ascended to the player he is, is that a requirement? I don’t think so,” Beane said.

Diggs’ role also began diminishing in the second half of last season, which coincided with Joe Brady replacing Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator. Brady placed an emphasis on adding balance to a pass-heavy attack and getting more receivers involved, which led to an uptick in production for Shakir and Kincaid.

While Diggs’ numbers dropped, Buffalo’s win total increased.

With the Bills at 6-6, Diggs ranked third in the NFL with 83 catches, seventh with 969 yards and tied for third with eight TDs receiving. Buffalo then closed the season with five straight wins in which Diggs combined for 24 catches for 214 yards and no scores.

”(Diggs) meant a lot. You look at the statistics, they don’t lie,” Allen said, in referring to Diggs topping 100 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons in Buffalo. “I don’t get paid to make changes on the team. I get paid to be the best quarterback that I can be and try to lead the guys on this team.”

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