The Bears’ hire of Mike Martz as offensive coordinator is being criticized in some parts and praised in others. At Monday’s introductory press conference, Martz touched on some of the developments that led up to his new position and his plans for the Bears’ offense.
Martz oozes confidence at first press conference
Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith made a quick recovery from a knee injury he picked up against the Lions on Thanksgiving and was on the practice field with his teammates on Wednesday.
For a little while, anyway. Dietrich-Smith stepped on someone else’s foot during the session and wound up with a sprained right ankle while doing team drills. It was a frustrating turn of events for a player who was planning on playing through the knee injury against the Falcons this week.
“Good times, right? Just keep piling them on,” Dietrich-Smith said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The most frustrating part is just doing anything. You’re getting back to where you’re feeling close to 100 (percent). It’s one thing after the other. But you can’t let it get you down. Football is football, you’re going to get hurt.”
Dietrich-Smith isn’t sure about his chances of playing with this new injury thrown into the mix. It’s also not clear how the Packers will shuffle the line to replace Dietrich-Smith if the need to replace him. Right guard T.J. Lang will likely move to center, but Marshall Newhouse struggled in his place last week so they may look elsewhere this time around.
Panthers safety Mike Mitchell has made plenty of big (and expensive) hits this year, but he was putting his backpedal on display Wednesday.
“I don’t really think he’s a soft player,” Mitchell said, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “Obviously he’s a very, very, very good quarterback, and I have a lot of respect for what he’s done as a player and what he’s done in this league.
“It was really just more of a comment on the rule changes. It was really a 15-minute interview where someone took 45 seconds and made an article out of it.”
Well, yeah. That’s kind of how articles get made. So apparently that means Mitchell didn’t really mean the thing that fell out of his mouth, since many other things did too.
The Panthers safety has made a bit of a habit of saying silly things this year, and you get the feeling the Saints might linger on the original comments more than the attempt to soften them.
I had MDS right where I wanted him.
Down five games for the season, we differed on five games for Week 13. And Week 13 was as unlucky for me as it could have been.
MDS pulled the rare five-game sweep via several close games that could have gone either way (I thought adding that would make me feel better, but it doesn’t). And now he’s up by 10 with 64 regular-season games to go.
For the week, he was 13-3 and I was 8-8. For the year, he’s 126-66. I’m 116-76.
This week, we disagree on four games. Which means I’ll be down 14 by next week.
Texans at Jaguars
MDS’s take: A truly terrible Thursday night game that will be interesting only to Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater to help them figure out where they’ll be playing next season. (And Bridgewater can’t watch because he has a game of his own on Thursday night.) The Jaguars have actually been playing pretty decent football over the last few weeks, but I see Case Keenum putting up a good game against the Jaguars’ defense.
MDS’s pick: Texans 27, Jaguars 20.
Florio’s take: There’s a juggernaut in Jacksonville, with the home team winning three of four games since the bye week. After beating the Texans in their own building, the Jags should win more easily in a rematch occurring on a national stage, even if the theater is largely empty.
Florio’s pick: Jaguars 20, Texans 10.
Vikings at Ravens
MDS’s take: Don’t look now, but after playing lousy football for most of the year, the defending Super Bowl champs are very much alive in the AFC playoff race. Baltimore should take it to Minnesota and improve to 7-6.
MDS’s pick: Ravens 31, Vikings 17.
Florio’s take: The Ravens are making a push for the playoffs. The Vikings aren’t. Advantage Ravens.
Florio’s pick: Ravens 23, Vikings 14.
Colts at Bengals
MDS’s take: This game may determine which team gets the AFC No. 3 seed and which gets the No. 4 seed — which is big, because hosting the AFC No. 6 seed will be a much better first-round playoff draw than hosting the likely No. 5 seed, Kansas City. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, the Colts just have too many injuries and I can’t see them beating a good team on the road.
MDS’s pick: Bengals 28, Colts 14.
Florio’s take: Cincy hasn’t lost at home all year. The Colts haven’t looked good since they beat the Broncos and Peyton Manning at home in October. And yet they’re both 8-4. That’ll change on Sunday, possibly in a big way.
Florio’s pick: Bengals 31, Colts 17.
Browns at Patriots
MDS’s take: Remember 2010, when a Browns team that was going nowhere blew out a Patriots team that was on its way to a 14-2 season? Yeah, that’s not happening this time around.
MDS’s pick: Patriots 34, Browns 14.
Florio’s take: If the Browns can’t beat the Jaguars at home, the question is whether they can stay within 30 points of the Patriots in their own building. I have faith. Barely.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 42, Browns 14.
Raiders at Jets
MDS’s take: The Jets are in such a free fall that I’m not sure it’s wise to pick them against anyone. So I’ll pick the Raiders to win a low-scoring game.
MDS’s pick: Raiders 10, Jets 7.
Florio’s take: The Jets have broken their win-one-lose-one trend with three straight losses. If that number stretches to four via a home loss to the Raiders, coach Rex Ryan should just go ahead and pack up his stuff. While he eventually may be packing up his stuff anyway, it probably won’t happen immediately after Sunday’s game.
Florio’s pick: Jets 20, Raiders 12.
Lions at Eagles
MDS’s take: This is a huge game in the NFC playoff race, with the Lions leading the NFC North by one game and the Eagles neck-and-neck with the Cowboys in the NFC East. With Nick Foles playing lights out and the Lions sporting one of the weakest groups of cornerbacks in the NFL, I just can’t see Detroit keeping Philadelphia’s passing game in check.
MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Lions 17.
Florio’s take: Philly continues to make a push toward an unlikely playoff berth, with an unlikely franchise quarterback. Detroit didn’t get it done last month in Pittsburgh; the Eagles are even better than the Steelers.
Florio’s pick: Eagles 30, Lions 24.
Dolphins at Steelers
MDS’s take: Although you wouldn’t know it from the 6-6 and 5-7 records, this is a big game in the AFC wild card race. Both of these teams are thoroughly mediocre, but I’ll take the home team to win and take a significant step toward a potential 9-7 record, which might just be good enough to make the playoffs.
MDS’s pick: Steelers 17, Dolphins 13.
Florio’s take: The Steelers saw their playoff hopes largely evaporate when they failed to win on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore. Even worse, the offensive line once again has been banged up, which will make it hard for the Steelers to do much of anything against a Dolphins defense that remains underrated and overlooked.
Florio’s pick: Dolphins 24, Steelers 20.
Bills at Buccaneers
MDS’s take: These are the December doldrums games, two teams that are out of the playoff hunt just playing out the string. I think the Bucs have shown a little more fight recently, so I’ll go with Tampa Bay.
MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 24, Bills 21.
Florio’s take: If you want to complain about a December NFL game with no playoff implications, think of how you’ll feel two months from now, when there are no NFL games at all. For this specific meaningless game, I’ll go with the team that has shown a bit more fight in recent weeks.
Florio’s pick: Buccaneers 24, Bills 21.
Chiefs at Redskins
MDS’s take: Kansas City probably can’t catch Denver in the AFC West, but the Chiefs will almost certainly be the No. 5 seed in the AFC. Beating bad teams has been the Chiefs’ specialty, and they’ll take another step toward the playoffs with another win over a bad team.
MDS’s pick: Chiefs 28, Redskins 17.
Florio’s take: The Chiefs have lost three straight games. A loss on Sunday means that Washington will have lost three straight at home. The Chiefs need to get back to winning, and they have the offense to outscore Washington. Andy Reid completes the sweep of the NFC East.
Florio’s pick: Chiefs 31, Redskins 21.
Titans at Broncos
MDS’s take: The Broncos clinch a playoff berth with a win, and they’ll get it easily against a Titans team that has played well at times but tends to find ways to lose against better opponents.
MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Titans 20.
Florio’s take: The Titans are praying for snow. They should be praying for so much snow that they can’t get to Denver.
Florio’s pick: Broncos 48, Titans 20.
Rams at Cardinals
MDS’s take: Arizona isn’t out of the playoff race yet, and the Cardinals’ defense should make quick work of a Kellen Clemens-led Rams offense.
MDS’s pick: Cardinals 20, Rams 10.
Florio’s take: The Rams came from behind to beat the Cardinals way back in Week One. Both teams are better (even though the Rams don’t have Sam Bradford), but the Cards have improved even more. Home team gets the edge, as Arizona continues an unlikely playoff push.
Florio’s pick: Cardinals 23, Rams 20.
Giants at Chargers
MDS’s take: The Eli Manning vs. Philip Rivers storyline has been largely overlooked this week because their teams are going nowhere and this week’s slate of NFL action has so many other good games. But it is an interesting quarterback matchup, even if it’s also a matchup of two bad teams, and I think Rivers will have a big day in a Chargers victory.
MDS’s pick: Chargers 30, Giants 17.
Florio’s take: Eli Manning can’t remember why he didn’t want to play in San Diego. He gets to go there, during a season he can’t wait to forget.
Florio’s pick: Chargers 27, Giants 20.
Seahawks at 49ers
MDS’s take: Now this is a great football game. The Seahawks are the best team in football right now, but they’re going on the road against a tough opponent that’s going to be motivated to come with some knuckles against them. I think the Seahawks will eke out a close win in an exciting and physical game.
MDS’s pick: Seahawks 27, 49ers 24.
Florio’s take: Seattle visits Candlestick Park one last time. San Fran needs it more, and the Seahawks need to hold back a little something in the event there’s a rubber match. For Seattle, the best move could be to ensure there won’t be one.
Florio’s pick: Seahawks 16, 49ers 12.
Falcons at Packers
MDS’s take: As of the time I’m making this pick, I don’t know if Aaron Rodgers or Matt Flynn will start, but either way I’ll go with Green Bay, as the Packers still have playoff hopes while the Falcons are out of it.
MDS’s pick: Packers 27, Falcons 24.
Florio’s take: With or without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have the better team and the far bigger incentive. The Lions can be counted on to stumble down the stretch, which means the Packers still have a chance at getting to the playoffs.
Florio’s pick: Packers 30, Falcons 21.
Panthers at Saints
MDS’s take: The Saints have a short week to bounce back from their loss in Seattle, and if they lose to the Panthers they’re in big trouble in the NFC South. But I expect the crowd in New Orleans to be just as boisterous as that Monday night crowd in Seattle, and home-field advantage will be the difference.
MDS’s pick: Saints 23, Panthers 20.
Florio’s take: The Seahawks don’t lose in Seattle. And the Saints don’t lose in New Orleans. Short week or not, Sean Payton and company rise to the occasion, taking a big step toward the division title and the No. 2 seed.
Florio’s pick: Saints 31, Panthers 28.
Cowboys at Bears
MDS’s take: The Bears are running out of time to catch the Lions in the NFC North. Chicago’s offense should have a big day against the Dallas D, and the Bears will snap their two-game losing streak.
MDS’s pick: Bears 34, Cowboys 31.
Florio’s take: Like each of the past two years, the Cowboys get to eight wins. The real question is whether they can get a ninth. At least the Bears won’t miss the playoffs this year with 10 wins.
Florio’s pick: Cowboys 27, Bears 17.
Bills CEO Russ Brandon is looking at everything, but he’s happy with their training camp location.
It’s December, and the Colts are still looking for answers at WR.
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley held onto his team while they were losing games.
Manning watched it snow, but didn’t do much else at Broncos practice Wednesday.
The Chargers could be looking at another blackout this week.
The Cowboys should still be looking to run this week, despite reduced options.
The Bears are getting a new middle — of Soldier Field sod.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the Saints’ travel problems were “unfortunate,” but didn’t think they’d be a factor this week.
The Seahawks aren’t expecting soft and sane from the 49ers.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the NFL’s most popular player, at least as measured by fan Pro Bowl voting.
The NFL has announced that Manning is leading all players in fan voting for the Pro Bowl, with 926,432 votes. Pro Bowl voting will continue for three more weeks.
After Manning, second place goes to Saints quarterback Drew Brees with 793,685 votes. Next are Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
In addition to fan voting, players and coaches will vote for Pro Bowlers as well, with each group’s votes counting for one-third of the selection criteria.
The NFL has done away with the AFC-NFC format, so once the players are chosen, honorary captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will pick the Pro Bowl teams. The Pro Bowl will be played on January 26, a week before the Super Bowl.
Tuesdays are normally a day for coaches to watch film and devise game plans for the upcoming opponent, but the Saints spent theirs trying to get home after Monday night’s game against the Seahawks.
Coach Sean Payton said that the delay didn’t stop the Saints from getting to work on preparations for Sunday night’s clash with the Panthers. Technology offered the team a helping hand and a way to kill the time until their plane back to New Orleans was finally ready to get off the ground.
“Everything is on the iPads now. Anytime you play a Monday night game, you don’t have the time to go back through and necessarily cover that opponent, the game you just played like you normally would because you are on a short week,” Payton said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. ”We got in around 3, 3:30, came over to the offices and started our work. But the iPads had all the games of Carolina, cut-ups, everything that you necessarily needed. I don’t think there is a big adjustment or a big deal about getting back in the next day as opposed to 6 a.m.”
The Saints will hold their usual Wednesday practice on Thursday and they’ll work on Friday and Saturday as well before facing the Panthers. During his own Wednesday presser, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he thought the Saints were “beatable” after watching them against the Seahawks but didn’t think the travel delay would hurt their preparations or make them an easier opponent come Sunday.
With the Saints back in the Superdome, that’s probably a wise approach.
The 49ers spent most of the season scrambling to find enough wide receivers to fill out their roster, which makes it a bit funny to see that they may wind up with too many receivers for the available spots as the year winds down.
Mario Manningham returned from his knee injury last month and Michael Crabtree returned from his Achilles injury last week to give the unit a much needed shot in the arm. Now rookie Quinton Patton is practicing in full and totally off the injury report with the broken foot that kept him sidelined from Week Four until Wednesday.
Patton had one catch in the first four weeks, but the team thought enough of his ability to keep him on the 53-man roster until he’s healthy. Now they’ve just got to find space for him in the roster. Anquan Boldin joined Crabtree and Manningham in the lineup last week with Jon Baldwin inactive alongside Patton. Wide receiver Kassim Osgood was active, but he’s a special teamer and rarely sees offensive snaps.
He’s not likely to come out of the lineup, so the 49ers would have to find a player at another position to deactivate to find room for Patton on Sunday. Injuries to tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati could keep them off the field this week, which may provide a solution if the 49ers don’t need to add linemen to the mix for gameday.
Giants running back Brandon Jacobs wasn’t happy last year, even though he was on a much better team.
And now that being back home is taken care of, there’s the small matter of being able to run, which isn’t as clear.
“There is no place in the National Football League I’d rather be than 1925 Giants Drive. Nowhere,” Jacobs said, via Jordan Raanan of the Newark Star-Ledger. “We could have went 0-16, I would be happy and smiling in this locker room because I’m a Giant at heart. I love this organization. I love these fans. I love that ‘NY.’
“There is not a better place for me. I’d rather be here than go somewhere and be undefeated. This is where I belong.”
Of course, he’s on the side now, missing last week’s game with a knee injury, one of four he’s missed. He admits he’s not close to 100 percent, and will need surgery this offseason.
He topped 100 yards in his only start for the Giants this year, against the Bears. But he might not be able to offer much more.
“Right now, it’s just a lot of wear and tear. I might wake up tomorrow and say coach, ‘I’m hurt.’ I might not,” Jacobs said. “I’m gonna go out a solider. I’m gonna go out fighting. That’s just it. They’re going to have to drag me through the dirt. Put me in a body bag and ship me home. Just do it after the battle is fought. . . .
“I wish like hell my knee was 100 percent. I just wish it was 85 percent. I’d take 80. It would be different. It would be nasty.”
Of course, nasty describes a lot of things about the Giants this season, even if it’s not so bad to wipe the smile off Jacobs’ face.
A lot of people are talking about Aaron Rodgers’ injury and his future.
But consider Raiders safety Charles Woodson an expert on the topic, or at least one with the context necessary to know what he’s tallking about.
Rodgers, who missed nine games last year with a second broken collarbone, only to return for the playoffs, said he thought the Packers should shut down the quarterback if they’re out of contention.
“[If] you don’t have the confidence or the doctors’ don’t have that confidence in that shoulder that you can go out there and the same thing is not going to happen again, I think you shut him down,” Woodson said in an NFL Network interview, via Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com. “I went through the same thing last year and I wanted to come back Week 12, 13, 14. But the scans never gave us that confidence, so I didn’t come back until the playoffs. So if they don’t have the confidence in those scans, you shut him down.”
Woodson knows Rodgers as a former teammate, and knows how difficult that would be to sell to him as well. But he thinks the right thing to do for the future would be to shelve him if they lose to the Falcons to kill any hope of the postseason.
“With having a guy that you’re going to pay over $100 million, [if] you’re out of the playoffs, I would shut him down,” Woodson said. “I know Aaron and if he’s healthy, it depends on what his scans are telling him, (but) I know he’s kicking and scratching trying to get back in the game. But having your franchise guy go out there and there is no chance at making the playoffs and you’re not really sure what’s going on with that shoulder [is a mistake].”
Rodgers has insisted that he wants to get back on the field as soon as he can, regardless the scenario.
The Washington Redskins were forced to deal with a critical officiating mistake late in their loss Sunday night against the New York Giants that left head coach Mike Shanahan believing they had converted a first down when head referee Jeff Triplette said otherwise.
It left the Redskins facing a fourth-and-one instead of a second-and-10 after a pass play that Shanahan likely wouldn’t have called if he was informed of the correct down and distance for the prior play.
It’s been just one of several clear officiating gaffes this season. While officials aren’t perfect and mistakes will be made, Redskins’ receiver Santana Moss feels like the level of officiating has reached a new low.
“It’s probably been worse this whole year as a total, not just this team. But I’ve watched a lot of football this year. It’s been the worst that I’ve ever seen,” Moss said, via Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
Moss is in his 13th season in the NFL. He complained about inconsistencies between crews in rulings, specifically on what is and isn’t a catch. He hopes the league takes a closer look at the rules this offseason in an attempt to eliminate the variance in the rulings between officiating crews.
“I understand [there are] so many things being changed,” Moss said. “But at the end of the day, some of that stuff is crap. So hopefully somebody who’s in a higher position that can really watch this season alone and see some of the stuff that’s being called and hasn’t been called, they can go and try to critique that because it’s been the worst by far since I’ve been in the league.”
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has a reputation in the league as being a nasty, sometimes dirty, player. It’s a reputation that Suh himself knows he’s earned due to various transgressions on the field over his career with the Lions.
However, Suh is working to try to improve the way he’s viewed as a player. Suh joined Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt on Sirius XM NFL Radio and spoke about the image he’s created for himself over his first four seasons in the NFL and how he’s trying to change that perception. He points to the incident on Thanksgiving in 2011 when he stomped on Green Bay Packers’ center Evan Dietrich-Smith as the defining moment that has helped shape the reputation he now has as a player.
“It’s obviously tainted me and given me a bad rep, and well-deserved in that instance, but I don’t think one moment in somebody’s life is going to define them,” Suh said. “I’ve vowed, not only to myself personally, but to my family and my teammates and coaches not to have that happen again and not have situations like that that’s going to hurt them or make them feel that they can’t be proud of me or want me as a teammate.”
“That’s one thing that I just hope and wish people have the opportunity and take the light to be unbiased and really kind of take a look at my track record and not define me by one instance and one mistake in my life that I’ve had.”
Suh says he’s become a more mature player this season.
“I think I’ve definitely grown up quite a bit just understanding that if you’re not growing up, you’re just moving backward,” Suh said. I’m a person that always wants to move forward, always want to grow and learn and not be the smartest person in the room, because when you’re not the smartest person in the room, you’re always learning things. I’m a learner. That’s how I got to where I am now.”
Suh is playing fantastic football for the Lions this season. Detroit is leading the NFC North by a game over the Chicago Bears and hold the tiebreaker due to winning both head-to-head matchups this season. Barring a late season collapse, Suh and the Lions appear destined to make a return trip to the postseason after a down season last year.
Brandon Browner may ultimately be unable to play again for the Seattle Seahawks this season. However, it appears as though his health won’t be the reason that keeps him sidelined.
Browner returned to practice for the Seahawks on Wednesday after missing the last two games due to a groin injury. Browner came up lame in a game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10. He’s been unable to work with the team the last three weeks because of the injury that Pete Carroll initially labeled as “serious.”
Carroll indicated Browner would likely be out at least four-to-six weeks due to the injury. However, Browner has responded much faster than the team anticipated.
“It was in a place that we found out he could recover quickly so he’s come back much faster than we thought,” Carroll said. “We thought he would be out a solid six weeks when it happened so he’s just responded tremendously.”
Browner was limited in his first practice back with the team. Carroll said he’s unsure at this point whether Browner has a chance to play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers in a game that could clinch the NFC West for Seattle. However, reserves Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane stepped up and played well last week against the New Orleans Saints and are trusted to carry the load if necessary.
“We’re really excited because I know they’ll be more comfortable and they’ll continue to grow with the opportunity, so we’re in good shape there,” Carroll said.
Browner still may not play another game for Seattle this season. He’s awaiting a decision on an appeal of a possible suspension for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. The Seahawks are left waiting to hear a ruling on the appeal to see if Browner will be able to be a part of their playoff run in January.
“I don’t know any more than you guys know. So we’ll see what happens,” Carroll said.
Seahawks fans have managed to buy a brick at the new 49ers Stadium. As the Seahawks prepare to play their last game in the 49ers’ current home, the 12th Man plans to bid the venue a proper farewell.
Via CSNBayArea.com, 100 fans have pooled $1,800 to fly over Candlestick Park for 15 minutes prior to Sunday’s game a banner reading GO HAWKS-12.
The development comes at a time when the Seahawks’ intensely loyal fan base seems to be getting more active, more vocal, and more numerous.
The biggest challenge will come in February. If/when (when) the Seahawks secure a berth in the Super Bowl, will the 12th Man make the cross-country trek to New Jersey, where just one ticket will cost more than Sunday’s banner?
Earlier this year, a pair of young men managed to get Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik and former Bills G.M. Buddy Nix on the phone at the same time. Not realizing the breadth and the potency of the federal wiretapping laws, the men recorded the call and sold it to Deadspin for $200.
The authorities pursued federal charges against the men, Joshua Barber and Nicholas Kaiser. Now that the message has been sufficiently communicated to them and to anyone else who may do the same thing in the future, a deal has been cut.
Per the Associated Press, the charges have been dismissed. The men must abide by certain conditions for the next 18 months. (The terms presumably include no more wiretapping.)
The prank apparently began with the men hoping to get tryouts from various professional sports teams. They called Nix, posing as Dominik. (Which makes the whole tryout story seem a little odd.) Then, as Nix believed he was calling back Dominik, the men got through to Dominik on another phone, posing as Nix. They put the phones on speaker and started to record the conversation.
In October, Deion Sanders was fired by the charter school he co-founded. He was quickly reinstated.
Nearly two months later, Prime Prep Academy has once again fired the Hall of Famer.
Via the Dallas Morning News, school superintendent Rachel Sanders (no relation to Deion) made the decision. The chairman of the school’s board disagreed with the move, and the issue is expected to be addressed during a Friday board meeting.
“I never dreamed this,” Deion Sanders said, via WFAA-TV. “I just dreamed of having the best academic and athletic institution in the country, and we are going to have it. We are going to have it. . . . We just have to get this mess out.”
Roughly 75 students walked out of class in protest. After meeting with Deion, they returned.
“This is nonsense. We are sick of it,” Sanders said. “The kids don’t deserve it. Overpaid, underqualified administrators never worked in a school in their life. Total chaos. We have a formula to restore what was the dream at Prime Prep.”
It’s unclear what the formula is. Maybe it entails Deion getting fired a few more times. Inevitably, there will be litigation.
At some point, the Texas Education Agency likely will show up and start poking around, possibly finding enough irregularities to shut the whole place down.