‘Concussion’ movie critical of NFL

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LOS ANGELES (AP) “Concussion” delivers a hard hit to the NFL as it deals with data linking repeated blows to the heads of its players to dementia and a host of other problems.

The league’s rocky dealings with Dr. Bennet Omalu, who identified a degenerative disease in football players known as CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, are the focus of the movie’s second hour.

Starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin, “Concussion” had its premiere Tuesday night at AFI Fest in Hollywood. Among the audience at the TCL Chinese Theatre was the wife of Justin Strzelczyk, the Steelers offensive lineman killed in a car crash, and the wife and daughter of Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself to death. Strzelczyk was later found to have brain damage, while Seau had CTE.

Smith plays Omalu, a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh who knows nothing about football when he performs the autopsy on former Steelers center Mike Webster. Omalu discovers CTE in Webster’s brain, setting him on a journey that exposes the concussion crisis.

Omalu quickly finds the NFL demanding he retract his CTE findings while accusing him of fraud. The doctor is the target of threatening phone calls and his wife is followed while driving alone.

The movie names real people and uses footage from real NFL games showing the kind of blows to the head that can injure and permanently damage players.

Smith’s character seeks a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (played by Luke Wilson), who calls for a concussion summit where Omalu isn’t allowed in the room. Instead, Baldwin’s character, former Steelers physician Dr. Julian Bailes, presents Omalu’s findings.

Bailes tells Omalu the summit was staged so the NFL can say it listened.

“The league has kept everyone in the dark,” says Bailes, who explains he was chosen to speak because he was “one of the league’s own.”

At league offices in New York, grim-faced executives are informed of newspaper stories about CTE that are on the front page, not relegated to the sports or science sections.

Former NFL safety Dave Duerson, who worked for the league, is shown rejecting desperate pleas for help from Andre Waters, a hard-hitting safety who said his mind wasn’t right. Both Duerson and Waters died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Duerson was found to have evidence of CTE, while Waters had brain damage.

The movie ends with news of Seau’s death followed by statistics of the toll CTE has taken on NFL players and the concussion lawsuit filed by dozens of retired players.

Director Peter Landesman again denied a recent New York Times report that the movie was altered to placate the NFL.

“It’s almost laughable,” he said on the red carpet. “Anybody who sees this movie knows this movie is a shot between the eyes of the NFL. Not because we’re going after the NFL. Just because the truth is our defense you know and it’s a powerful movie about human beings. It’s not a hit piece about corporate America.”

The movie reveals nothing new about the long-term implications of repeated blows to the head. Its focus is on Omalu’s struggle to tell the truth and the tragic deaths of men who played the billion-dollar sport that is America’s favorite.

“The only criticism we’ve received is from people who haven’t seen the movie,” Landesman said during a post-screening Q & A. “None of us wanted the movie to be confrontational or judgmental. Everyone has a point of view. I love football. We’re not out to wag our finger and say don’t do it.”

The movie opens Dec. 25.

Broncos double-digit favorites on Sunday night vs. winless, depleted Giants

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The Denver Broncos head into Sunday night with the largest spread they have had at home after a bye week in at least 25 years. The Broncos are 11.5-point favorites against the winless New York Giants with a 38.5-point total for the Week 6 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Denver is 6-1 straight-up and against the spread in post-bye week games dating back to 2010. There’s a similar long-running trend of Denver being 7-2 SU and ATS in home games following a bye week since 2003. However, this is the first time since 1996 that Denver has been a double-digit favorite in that scenario.

The Giants, which are 0-5 SU and 2-3 ATS, had three wide receivers, including Odell Beckham Jr., sustain season-ending injuries last week. That has left QB Eli Manning with WR Roger Lewis (15 career catches) and WR Tavarres King as his main outside targets. Slot WR Sterling Shephard (sprained ankle) could be inactive.

While team performances tend to gravitate toward the mean with time, the Giants will need to show something new – with replacement-level personnel – in order to move the ball against a Denver pass defense which allows only 6.2 yards per pass, fifth-best in the NFL.

The Broncos’ top-ranked defense, led by OLB Von Miller, is also first in run defense and has every starter healthy. While NFC teams are a combined 1-10 SU on the road against Denver since 2012, the Giants are a solid 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games against the AFC.

Denver, 3-1 SU and 2-1-1 ATS, has been quietly efficient on offense. The Broncos, with QB Trevor Siemian, are in the middle of the NFL pack in yards per pass, but they are facing a Giants secondary that is minus CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (suspension) and has also had inconsistent play from CB Eli Apple.

Denver, 7-2 ATS over its last nine home games in October, has been good at opening holes for the tandem of C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who are each capable of making things happen in the open field if the tackling gets sloppy. New York also won’t have DT Olivier Vernon drawing double teams up front and keeping blockers off MLB Damon Harrison.

Unless the Broncos stop themselves, they should be able to grind out a workmanlike win.

The total has gone over in three of the Giants’ last four games against the Broncos, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. The total has gone over in six of the Broncos’ last seven games as a favorite of 11.0 points or more.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Watch Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks live on NBC

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The Seattle Seahawks host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football as both teams look to get back to .500.

Russell Wilson will be the focal point of the Seahawks offense after throwing for a career-high 373 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort vs. the Titans in Week 3. Wilson’s ability to avoid the rush and use his legs will be on full display as Seattle’s offensive line continues to struggle.

On the defensive side, the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” will look to get back on track at home in a raucous environment against Colts QB Jacoby Brissett who is filling in for an injured Andrew Luck.

If the Colts have any chance to pull off the upset on the road, Brissett will have to use his legs and connect on some deep throws to T.Y. Hilton.

Football Night in America

Start time: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app

Colts vs. Seahawks

Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app