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PFT’s Week 15 picks

Peterson AP

Three weeks remain, and I’ve gradually built the lead back to four games.

But MDS has a chance to trim the gap down to one, if he’s right and I’m wrong on the three games on which we disagree.

And yes, Raiders fans, after four weeks of picking your team to lose, getting the exact score of two games right, missing a third exacta by one point, and correctly predicting the Raiders’ point total in all four games, MDS is picking your team to win this week.

Our picks on all Week 15 games appear below.  (Then again, where the hell else would they be?)

For last week, I eked out the win, 11-5 to 10-6.  For the year, I’m 134-73-1, a 64.4 percent accuracy rate.  MDS is 130-77-1, which keeps him at 62.5 percent.

Bengals at Eagles

MDS’s take: I’d been saying for weeks that the Eagles have given up on the season and wouldn’t win another game this year, and they proved me wrong with a spirited effort on Sunday, beating a Buccaneers team with playoff aspirations. So can they do that twice in a row? I don’t see it. Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins will lead a defense that will make life miserable for Nick Foles.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  The Eagles have now won more recently than the Phillies.  At least that can’t change until April.  Between now and then, the Eagles will change, plenty.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Eagles 17.

Giants at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Falcons are still the favorites to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but I think the Giants are the better team. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Giants win in Atlanta in December and then do it again in January.

MDS’s pick: Giants 30, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons need a win to prove they can win in the playoffs.  The Giants need a win to help ensure they’ll get to the playoffs.  This one feels like the NFC version of Texans-Patriots.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 31, Falcons 21.

Broncos at Ravens

MDS’s take: Baltimore’s decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron strikes me as a desperation move. The Ravens know they’re not as good as the three elite teams in the AFC, and the Broncos are going to demonstrate that on Sunday in Baltimore.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 24, Ravens 14.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens don’t match up well against Peyton Manning.  They never have.  Throw in a flat-tire offense that the Ravens are trying to change while the car is moving, and the late-season slide continues.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 28, Ravens 20.

Packers at Bears

MDS’s take: The Packers can clinch the NFC North with a win, and I think they’ll do just that. Lovie Smith has said from his first day as the Bears’ coach that his No. 1 goal is to beat Green Bay, and Smith’s seat will get even hotter when he fails to do that on Sunday at Soldier Field.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Bears 13.

Florio’s take:  If Jay Cutler doesn’t play, who’ll shove J’Marcus Webb when this one starts to go south?

Florio’s pick:  Packers 24, Bears 13.

Redskins at Browns

MDS’s take: The Redskins have been red hot lately, but the Browns are better than people give them credit for. Whether it’s Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins, the Redskins’ quarterback is going to have a tough time against Cleveland’s defense, and I like the Browns to win a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Browns 13, Redskins 10.

Florio’s take:  With or without RG3, the Redskins have found their groove and they’ll continue to push for the playoffs.  Still, this one could be the toughest challenge yet, notwithstanding wins over the Ravens, Giants, and Cowboys.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 24, Browns 21.

Colts at Texans

MDS’s take: The Texans don’t have much time to lick their wounds after the epic beating they took in New England, but Houston is a more complete team than Indianapolis and should put the Colts away and clinch the AFC South.

MDS’s pick: Texans 24, Colts 17.

Florio’s take:  The Texans may have never won in Indy, but they’ve finally figured out how to beat Indy in Texas.  Besides, the Texans need the win to stay ahead of the Pats for the top seed — and the Colts for the division crown.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 28, Colts 17.

Jaguars at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Neither of these teams is particularly good, but the Dolphins at least look like they’re going in the right direction, while the Jaguars look like they need to be torn apart and rebuilt from the ground up.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 20, Jaguars 7.

Florio’s take:  The Jags’ travel expenses will be low.  Their offensive output will be even lower.  And no one will notice.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 20, Jaguars 10.

Buccaneers at Saints

MDS’s take: Drew Brees will turn in a big game against a depleted Buccaneers secondary, and the Saints will put together a solid win, too late for it to matter in the playoff race.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Buccaneers 21.

Florio’s take:  Not long ago, both of these teams had a real shot at the postseason.  Now?  Not.  Though the Bucs have held their own in the Bayou in recent years, the Saints will be buoyed by their bounty victory.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, Buccaneers 23.

Vikings at Rams

MDS’s take: Raise your hand if you actually predicted before the season that this Week 15 game would have playoff implications for both teams. I’m betting on both of these teams falling just short, but I’m impressed that Jeff Fisher and Leslie Frazier have their teams playing well into December. I see the Rams’ defense forcing Christian Ponder into three interceptions and the Rams ending the Vikings’ playoff hopes.

MDS’s pick: Rams 21, Vikings 16.

Florio’s take:  I broke from my vow to never pick the Vikings again this year after their Week 11 bye, and it turned out to be a smart move.  For a change.  So why not do it again?  The young Rams remain inconsistent, and they’re due to lay an egg like the one they popped out against the Jets last month.  Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson is making a run at history.  What better way to take a big chunk out of the gap between A.P. and E.D. (that nickname isn’t as cool as it used to be) than to do it against the team with which he set the record?

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Rams 13.

Lions at Cardinals

MDS’s take: Neither team is playing particularly well, but at least the Lions are playing competitively. The Cardinals aren’t doing anything right.

MDS’s pick: Lions 20, Cardinals 6.

Florio’s take:  Something’s gotta give when a pair of crappy teams get together in Arizona.  The Lions are the lesser of two evils, thanks to the fact that they have the better of the two starting quarterbacks.  By far.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Cardinals 17.

Seahawks at Bills

MDS’s take: Seattle catches a break here, as a bad road team is going not to Buffalo but to Toronto, where the pro-Bills crowd won’t be quite as raucous. The Seahawks strike me as a team peaking at the right time, and they’ll beat Buffalo handily.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 34, Bills 17.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks are getting better on the road.  Especially when the road is more like the semi-neutral site that is Toronto.  The push continues for a playoff berth — and possibly the NFC West crown.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 33, Bills 20.

Panthers at Chargers

MDS’s take: Give credit to both of these teams: Late in a tough season, when it would be easy to mail it in, they’re both playing hard. So this should be a pretty good game, something you can’t often say about a December game when both teams have losing records. A big game from Philip Rivers will win it for the Chargers.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 31, Panthers 28.

Florio’s take:  Ron Rivera returns to San Diego, with inside information about the Chargers’ offense and a quarterback who seems to be finding his stride, again.  Sunday’s upset by San Diego over the Steelers was an aberration; the Panthers’ unexpected win over Atlanta wasn’t.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Chargers 20.

Steelers at Cowboys

MDS’s take: This might be the best game on a great NFL Sunday because both teams are desperate. Then again, the Steelers were desperate last week, too, and they laid an egg. Pittsburgh looks like it’s fading down the stretch.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 20, Steelers 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s a rematch of three prior Super Bowls, and each team’s ability to pursue another Super Bowl appearance rides on the outcome.  It’s hard to overlook that ugly home loss by the Steelers — and it’s even harder to ignore the sense that the Cowboys are finding a way to pull together after Saturday’s tragedy.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Steelers 17.

Chiefs at Raiders

MDS’s take: This might be the worst game on a great NFL Sunday because both teams have nothing to play for other than possibly getting the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. I like the Raiders to win and the Chiefs to take another step toward the top pick.

MDS’s pick: Raiders 21, Chiefs 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s the latest renewal of a once-great rivalry, and it continues to disintegrate.  If the Raiders can win at Arrowhead, they can hold serve at home.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 17, Chiefs 7.

49ers at Patriots

MDS’s take: In a potential Super Bowl preview on Sunday night, I think the Patriots will show they’re playing at another level from the rest of the league. Tom Brady will have a big game against a good 49ers defense, and Bill Belichick will have something up his sleeve for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  Another prime-time home game against a playoff-caliber team, another big win for a Patriots team that is poised to make another assault on a championship.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, 49ers 24.

Jets at Titans

MDS’s take: I don’t think the Jets are particularly good, but none of the teams they’re playing in December are particularly good, either. So I like the Jets to win this one, and probably win out to earn a surprising 9-7 record and even an outside shot at an AFC wild card berth.

MDS’s pick: Jets 14, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Jets keep moving toward an unlikely playoff berth.  The Titans keep moving toward an inevitable house cleaning.  Mittens off for Bud Adams!

Florio’s pick:  Jets 14, Titans 10.

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Report: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams expected to play

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 1: Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers looks for yards against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on January 1, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers called up a wide receiver from their practice squad on Saturday, giving themselves a healthy body at the position in the event that one or more of their three unhealthy ones isn’t able to play against the Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Max McCaffery may be headed for an afternoon as an observer, however. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison will all be in the lineup for the NFC Championship Game unless they have trouble during pregame warmups.

Nelson missed last week’s game with broken ribs suffered against the Giants in the Wild Card round and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Nelson ordered extra kevlar padding to protect his injury. Adams and Allison also drew questionable tags on the team’s injury report after missing practice during the week.

Safety Morgan Burnett is also expected to be available. He injured his thigh against the Seahawks in the divisional round.

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False fire alarm causes Steelers hotel to be evacuated

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 28:
A firetruck and ambulance leave the Capitol grounds as they drive down Constitution Avenue after gun shots were reportedly fired at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center March 28, 2016 in Washington, DC.  A gunman was reportedly captured and a police officer shot at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers had their night of sleep interrupted early on Sunday morning by a fire alarm.

Alarms began going off at the hotel where the team is staying ahead of Sunday evening’s AFC Championship Game around 3 a.m. and Rich Walsh of KDKA reports that the entire building had to be evacuated while the fire department responded. The ringing continued for 30 minutes before everyone was allowed back to their rooms.

Walsh reports hotel personnel told him that the alarm was a false one. The person responsible for triggering that false alarm isn’t known, but it would not be the first time that a visiting team (or one preparing for a neutral site game) had to deal with attempts to throw them out of their comfort zone.

The Steelers have the late kickoff on Sunday with their game against the Patriots getting underway at 6:40 p.m. ET.

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Packers couldn’t fly out of Green Bay, got to Atlanta late

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers consults with head coach Mike McCarthy during a timeout against the Oakland Raiders in the second quarter on December 20, 2015 at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Packers won 30-20. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The trip to Atlanta did not go smoothly for the Packers.

Although the team was supposed to get a flight from Green Bay to Atlanta, dense fog in Green Bay prevented that, as the plane that was supposed to take the Packers to their destination couldn’t land in Green Bay because of the fog.

As a result, the Packers had to board buses from Green Bay to Milwaukee, then fly from Milwaukee to Atlanta.

The Packers landed in Atlanta at 8:30 p.m. ET, much later than road teams usually arrive on a Saturday before a game. So while the Packers made it to their Atlanta hotel in time to get a good night’s sleep, it wasn’t as smooth a trip as they would have liked before the NFC Championship Game.

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Conference championship ratings almost certainly will drop

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23:  A woman walks in blizzard-like conditions on January 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Northeast and parts of the South are experiencing heavy snow and ice from a slow moving winter storm. Numerous deaths from traffic accidents have already been reported as the storm makes its way up the coast.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

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Jim Irsay: Peyton Manning won’t be joining the Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 07:  Peyton Manning (L) and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay hug during a press conference announcing that the Colts will release Manning at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on March 7, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joey Foley/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

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Blandino explains accuracy of Chiefs holding call

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 12:  Side Judge Carl Cheffers #51 listens in as the officials discuss a play during the game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears on September 12, 2004 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-16. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.”

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With three receivers hurt, Packers call one up from practice squad

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - NOVEMBER 28: Max McCaffrey #87 of the Duke Blue Devils stiff-arms Zach Dancel #9 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field on November 28, 2015 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

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Pat McAfee celebrates the firing of Ryan Grigson, apparently

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 24:  Pat McAfee #1 of the Indianapolis Colts reacts after throwing a first down pass on a trick play during the second quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

Thank God,” he tweeted not long after the news broke. He then followed it with an observation that “‘Unwarranted Arrogance’ just ran into a brick wall called karma.”

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.

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What’s Jim Irsay’s next move? Presumably, he already knows

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 24:  Jim Irsay Owner of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates their 30-17 victory of the New York Jets during the Lamar Hunt Trophy presentation after the AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 24, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

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Colts fire Ryan Grigson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 16: General manager Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during a rookie minicamp at the team complex on May 16, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

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Brady, Eli, Peyton have identical postseason passer ratings

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady AP

Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning have decidedly different reputations for playoff performance, and yet their postseason statistics are strikingly similar.

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.

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Packers add Christine Michael to injury report

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 8:  Christine Michael #32 of the Green Bay Packers fends off a tackle attempt by Romeo Okwara #78 of the New York Giants in the third quarter during the NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on January 8, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

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Bill Belichick going for postseason win No. 25

belichick

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.

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Family connection helped Rams lure Wade Phillips from Denver

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 16:  Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans waits on the sideline during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Reliant Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

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Enforcement of illegal substitution rule doesn’t match its language

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 20:   Brice Butler #19 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after catching a pass during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

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.

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