Lions running back Jahvid Best has been dealing with turf toe since Week Three, but practiced on Friday and is officially active for Sunday’s game against Green Bay.
Jahvid Best active against the Packers
The apples-to-apples comparison of last year’s conference championship games to this year’s conference championship games will be hampered by one major difference between the broader circumstances from this same weekend from 12 months ago.
Last year at this time, much of the northeast was buried in snow after a blizzard hit on Friday and Saturday, the two days before the AFC and NFC title games. So with millions snowed in, millions tuned in.
On average, 53.3 million watched the Patriots-Broncos game, which went down to the wire. The Cardinals-Panthers game, which was a blowout, averaged 45.7 million.
This year, with no snow and seasonably warm temperatures throughout much of the country, it will be very difficult for Packers-Falcons and Steelers-Patriots to match those numbers, no matter how compelling the games are.
Colts owner Jim Irsay finally has done that which seemed quite possible if not likely three weeks ago: He has fired G.M. Ryan Grigson.
At a press conference to announce the move, Irsay said that Peyton Manning will not be joining the team as the G.M. But Irsay may have taken his position on Peyton Manning a bit too far by claiming that Manning and Jon Gruden joining the team was “never in the cards.”
Multiple reports indicated that Irsay tried to woo Gruden and Manning as a package deal. The two men are close friends (it’s not quite The Odd Couple, but it’s close), and the goal was to get both of them. If those reports were all #fakenews, Irsay should have shot them down days ago.
Irsay said he has a list of G.M. candidates, that it could expand, and that he’ll interview current Colts executive Jimmy Raye III for the job. (I think Irsay knows who he’ll hire, but he’s trying to ensure the perception of a full and fair search.)
As to coach Chuck Pagano, Irsay explained that Pagano will be back for 2017, but it’s obvious he’ll be on the hot seat — especially if the new G.M. comes from outside the organization. Every coach wants his own quarterback and every G.M. wants his own coach, and half-measures of this kind rarely work.
The outrage over the holding call that wiped out what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion last Sunday night in Kansas City was entertaining but, ultimately, not accurate. Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher held Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
In his weekly officiating video, NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed the accuracy of the call made by referee Carl Cheffers, whose assignment on such plays when positioned on the right side of the quarterback includes watching the interaction between the left tackle and the man he’s blocking.
“We talk about position, body position,” Blandino said. “We talk about feet. If the blocker can maintain good feet and he can maintain position in front of the defender and if he can stay square to the defender and he can continue to move his feet, we’re not gonna have a foul for holding. If the defender gets outside his feet and the blocker has to reach, now he reaches with his left arm across the body of the defender and he’s gonna grab . . on the jersey. When we see that, now we have to look for restriction. Does he materially affect the defender’s ability to get to the ball carrier?”
The foul occurred when Harrison tried to break free from Fisher, and when Fisher knocked Harrison down.
“The other factor, we have a rip . . . technique,” Blandino said. “Where the defender’s gonna bring his arm under the arm of the blocker, try to gain leverage, and get through to the quarterback. When there’s a rip, there’s no foul for holding unless the defender’s feet are taken away. And you can see clearly the defender’s feet are gonna be taken away as he’s taken to the ground.”
The explanation is useful, but the simpler point is that it looks like holding, clearly and unmistakably. So while it was surely disappointing for the Chiefs to have two critical points taken from the board in the closing minutes of an elimination game, the foul occurred — and kudos to Cheffers for having the will to throw the flag at a time when plenty of officials take a “let them play” approach, which essentially means when obvious fouls aren’t called, “Let them cheat.”
The Packer have called in reinforcements for their ailing receiving corps.
Max McCaffrey, a rookie receiver who has yet to play in an NFL game, has been promoted from the Packers’ practice squad to their active roster. That means he could play tomorrow in the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons.
Three Packers receivers — Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison — are questionable for the game Nelson is dealing with an illness and broken ribs, Adams has an ankle injury and Allison has a hamstring injury.
McCaffrey signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL draft but did was cut at the end of the preseason. The Packers signed him to their practice squad in December. A three-year starter at Duke, McCaffrey is the son of former Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey and the older brother of potential 2017 first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey.
To make room for McCaffrey on the 53-player roster, the Packers placed offensive lineman JC Tretter on injured reserve.
If you’re wondering what Colts players think about the decision to fire G.M. Ryan Grigson, look no farther than the Twitter page of Colts punter Pat McAfee.
After Indianapolis radio personality and former college basketball coach Dan Dakich sneered at these observations from “the punter,” McAfee removed any doubt that he was talking about Grigson: “‘All Pro punter’ please and thank you.. also someone who has seen your best friend treat humans absolutely horrendously for 5 years.”
It’s stunning stuff from McAfee, but I’ll take honesty over robotic Foxboro cliches any day. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see whether any teammates join in the chorus or publicly dispute McAfee’s views about Grigson.
Nearly three weeks after the Colts’ season ended and a full week after it became obvious that owner Jim Irsay was courting Peyton Manning to run the team and Jon Gruden to coach it, Irsay finally has made a move.
With Irsay expected to announce that G.M. Ryan Grigson has been fired, the question becomes what will be Irsay’s next move?
Presumably, he already knows. And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.
It’s good because it means Irsay has achieved his obvious goal of landing an upgrade before dumping Grigson. It’s bad because it means that Irsay could have a hard time complying with the Rooney Rule, if it’s widely believed that Irsay already knows who he is going to hire.
For that reason alone, don’t expect Irsay to name a successor — unless he has pre-complied with the Rooney Rule. Which would mean that he has been interviewing candidates while Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano have been hanging out to dry.
Grigson has three years left on his contract, which means he’ll be paid by Irsay minus whatever he makes elsewhere. And “elsewhere” could potentially be a return to the Eagles front office, where Grigson worked before being hired by the Colts.
After five seasons and little progress, Ryan Grigson is out as the General Manager of the Colts.
Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay fired Grigson today, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports. The Colts have announced that Irsay will speak to the media later this afternoon, but they have not confirmed that Grigson is out.
It has been widely reported that Irsay would love to change the structure of his front office and work out a deal to put Peyton Manning in charge. It is unclear if firing Grigson is a step toward hiring Manning, or whether Irsay just decided to can Grigson and start searching for a new G.M. now.
It is also unclear whether head coach Chuck Pagano’s job is safe.
The Colts will now get a very late start on the offseason, as most teams have their front office personnel in place and are already making preparations for free agency and the draft. But Grigson had ample opportunity to build a team around Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, and he failed to do so. As a result, he’s out.
In fact, heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Brady has a career postseason passer rating of 87.4. That happens to be exactly the same career postseason passer rating as both Manning brothers.
The three players are tied for 15th in NFL history in career postseason passer rating.
Brady is often described as the most “clutch” passer in NFL history, Peyton is often described as the greatest regular-season passer but largely a postseason disappointment, and Eli is often described as a player who has delivered his best performances in the biggest games. There may be less to that than meets the eye, however: We remember Brady as having a great playoff game when he passed his team into field goal range and Adam Vinatieri makes it, while we remember Peyton as having a bad playoff game when he passed his team into field goal range and Mike Vanderjagt missed it.
As far as the NFL’s official passer rating stat is concerned, the three are equals in the postseason.
The Packers have added running back Christine Michael to their injury report.
The team lists Michael as questionable for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game due to a back injury.
On Friday the Packers listed three wide receivers — Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison — as questionable. There were no changes announced Saturday, so all three presumably made the trip to Atlanta and will be given a chance to play, as coach Mike McCarthy said they would.
Nelson had been away from the team on Friday due to illness. He didn’t play last week because he’s dealing with broken ribs.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is already the all-time leader in career postseason victories, and so each time he wins it sets a new record, and it hardly even seems worth mentioning.
But Belichick is going for a milestone win on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game: No. 25.
Belichick is 24-10 in the postseason as a head coach, putting him four wins ahead of Hall of Fame Cowboys coach Tom Landry for the most ever. Belichick got his first postseason win with the Browns in 1994, and has added 23 more with the Patriots.
If the Patriots beat the Steelers tomorrow to advance to Super Bowl LI, the Super Bowl will be Belichick’s 36th postseason game coached, which will move him into a three-way tie with Landry and Don Shula for the most postseason games ever. Those three coaches are far ahead of the rest of the pack; Chuck Noll is a distant fourth with 24 postseason games coached.
A win tomorrow would also improve Belichick’s career postseason winning percentage to .714, which would allow him to leapfrog Joe Gibbs and tie Bill Walsh for the highest postseason winning percentage among coaches who coached at least 10 postseason games. Only Vince Lombardi (9-1) and Tom Flores (8-3) have better postseason winning percentages.
Belichick’s place in Canton is already assured, but with each postseason game he’s making a stronger case that he’s the greatest coach in NFL history.
New Broncos coach Vance Joseph hoped to retain defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. New Rams coach Sean McVay lured Phillips to Los Angeles.
So how did McVay pull it off? He explained the coordinator coup during a visit to Friday’s PFT Live.
“The one unfortunate part of this business is you don’t get a chance to see your family as much as you’d like, and he has a daughter that lives out in the L.A. area,” McVay said regarding Phillips. “Then being fortunate enough to work with Wes, his son, the last couple years in Washington. We’ve developed a really close relationship; I consider him one of my closest friends in this profession and really just in life in general. [I’ve] gotten to know Wade a little bit better through that, and I’ve always admired his career from afar. I think his resume speaks for itself, so just those different connections . . . and it doesn’t hurt when you’ve got some pretty good players that you’ll get a chance to come in and coach right away.”
The Rams definitely have some good defensive players. It may not yet be as potent as the Broncos defense, but it’s good enough to help the team turn things around — especially if McVay can fix an offense that currently has a lot more in common with the Greatest Show on Earth than the Greatest Show on Turf.
Cowboys receiver Brice Butler’s NFL career may not last very long, but at least his name will be attached to an obscure rule, at least until the next time the rule is applied. It’s quite possible that the rule wasn’t applied correctly as to Butler.
NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino explained in his weekly officiating video the quirk that saw the Cowboys penalized 15 yards after Butler entered and exited the huddle area without participating in a snap last Sunday against the Packers. Blandino said that the so-called (at least by me) Brice Butler Rule is aimed at preventing teams from deliberately fooling opponents by sending players on and off the field. Blandino admitted that the officials have discretion in this regard, when for example a team facing fourth and short initially decides to punt and then sends the offense back onto the field.
Blandino added that the rule has been on the books since the 1950s, and that it was last called in 2014 during a game between Washington and Dallas. (The NFL’s excellent Game Pass feature includes the Week Eight Washington at Dallas game, but neither the broadcast footage nor the coaches film show what Washington tight end Logan Paulsen did before the snap to draw a 15-yard penalty.)
Blandino’s explanation was reasonable, and it all makes sense. But it seems to conflict with the plain language of the rule book.
“The rule is pretty straightforward in terms of the way it reads,” Blandino said. “It says an offensive substitute who moves onto the field inside the numbers and leaves without participating in one play, that’s a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. There’s a second part of the rule that talks about coming into the huddle and communicating with a teammate and then leaving, but really once a player’s inside the numbers and then leaves but doesn’t participate that’s going to be the foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Here’s the full language of Rule 5, Section 2, Article 2:
“The following are applicable to any offensive substitute who is entering the game:
“(a) He must move onto the field of play or the end zone as far as the inside of the field numerals prior to the snap to be a legal substitution. If he does not, and is on the field of play or end zone at the time of a legal snap, he is an illegal substitute.
“(b) If he approaches the huddle and communicates with a teammate, he is required to participate in at least one play before being withdrawn. Violations of this rule may be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.”
The first part of the rule seems to apply only where the substitute tries to sneak onto the fringe of the field. Moreover, the foul under the first part of the rule arises only if the player “is on the field of play or end zone at the time of a legal snap.” Thus, because Butler’s foul had nothing to do with being on the field at the time of the snap, the first part of the rule simply doesn’t apply.
The second part of the rule becomes the focal point of the analysis. By its plain terms, a violation occurs only if the player “approaches the huddle and communicates with a teammate” but doesn’t participate in at least one play.
The video included with Blandino’s explanation doesn’t show Butler communicating with a teammate — unless slapping the hand of the player who was exiting as Butler was entering counts as communication. Instead, Butler enters the huddle area, immediately turns to the sideline, realizes he shouldn’t be in the game, and then leaves. (That fact that Blandino glossed over the second part of the rule seems to confirm that he doesn’t believe that there is evidence of “communication” with a teammate.)
The discretion to which Blandino referred is codified in a note to the rule that explains the overall intention “to prevent teams from using simulated substitutions to confuse an opponent.” The question of whether discretion should be exercised if relevant, however, only if the two key elements of the violation have occurred: (1) the player has approached the huddle; AND (2) the player has communicated with a teammate.” If the player approaches the huddle and doesn’t communicate with a teammate, there’s no reason to exercise discretion because a potential violation has not occurred.
So, based on the language of the rule, there was no foul absent proof that Butler communicated with a teammate once he arrived at the huddle. If there is no such evidence, it’s entirely possible that this is yet another example of a discrepancy between the rules as written and the rules as enforced.
If that’s the case, the rule needs to be rewritten to match the enforcement, or the enforcement needs to be changed to respect the language of the rule.
There’s never a shortage of eventually-failed football leagues, and with two of them angling to join the list of ventures that will later pull the plug, they’re both trying to stand out for at least a little while, before the inevitable demise.
The new Spring League, which received some advance notoriety when the #fakenews of NFL involvement emerged last month, has found another way to make a headline. Via Rob Maadi of the Associated Press, Spring League CEO Brian Woods explained that the door is open for big-name players who want to get back to the NFL.
“If Johnny Manziel is serious about a future in the NFL, the Spring League is willing to provide him with a platform to prove he’s still relevant,” Woods said. (The kids and/or the adults who want to seem cool would call that throwing shade.)
Woods also mentioned Ray Rice and Vince Young as potential additional to the upstart league. Even though the goal is to employ players in their mid-20s, the Spring League realizes that any publicity is good publicity, when it comes to staving off what surely will happen within the first three or four years of the league’s launch.
Former NFL players who already have signed up for the Spring League, which will be based at the Greenbrier in my home state of West Virginia so maybe I should be a little less unrealistic about its chances of success as a gesture of hospitality, include receiver Jalen Saunders, cornerback Ellis Lankster, and safety Pierre Warren.
So, yes, the interest in Manziel, Rice, and Young is obvious. It’s surprising the Spring League also hasn’t made a pitch for a certain football player turned baseball player who definitely needs a platform to prove he’s still relevant.
Stephen Jones has a big role in the operations of the Cowboys, but when it comes to the biggest decision the team will make this offseason — what to do with Tony Romo — Stephen knows that his father is still the owner and G.M.
Asked on KRLD-FM about Romo’s future, Stephen Jones answered, “You got the wrong guy on the phone right now.”
In other words, it’s going to be Jerry Jones who makes that call.
So how will it be worked out? Stephen Jones said he thinks his dad and Romo can come up with something that suits everyone’s interests.
“I’m sure as we move forward, obviously, there’s two really important people in this mix,” Stephen Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. “First and foremost will be Jerry and then, of course, Tony. I read where Jason said his wish is that Tony, whatever happens here, is happy. I’m sure most people feel that way. At the same time, we all know we’re in a business. It’s something here that will be, obviously, handled with, if you will, kid gloves. And something that we’ll work through and when we’re ready to have any comments about it, I know Jerry and Tony will be the ones to do that.”
Romo has lost his starting job to Dak Prescott, and there’s no getting it back. And there’s no way the Cowboys are going to keep a backup with a cap hit of more than $24 million in 2017. So the only question is whether Jones can find a team willing to trade for an old, injured, expensive quarterback, or whether Jones will release Romo. That’s something the two of them may work out between now and the start of the new league year, which is less than two months away.
The Rooneys own the Steelers, but Tom Brady owns Mike Tomlin.
In the 10 years since Tomlin became head coach of the Steelers, Brady and the Patriots have faced Pittsburgh six times. And in those six games, Brady has absolutely embarrassed Tomlin’s defense.
According to NFL Research, Brady has 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in six games against Tomlin’s teams. Brady’s passer rating in those games is 127.5, his highest against any head coach he’s faced at least three times. His completion percentage against Tomlin’s defense is 71.2 percent and he has averaged 314.8 yards a game.
Brady has never failed to throw for at least two touchdown passes against Tomlin’s Steelers. Tomlin may need to find a way to reverse that on Sunday if he wants to get to the Super Bowl.