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PFT’s Week 16 picks

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The proverbial pink champagne is on ice.

Yes, with a clean sweep in the three games on which we disagreed last weekend, I’ve now built a seven-game lead over MDS, with only 32 games to go.

The problem for MDS is that we probably won’t disagree on seven games in the final two weeks.  Even then, he needs to be right on all of them.

For Week 16, we disagree on three.  So I’ll lead by at least four and possibly by 10 by the time the fat man in the red suit breaks into my house, eats my cookies, and leaves behind a bunch of stuff for everyone but me.

For the week, I was 12-4 to a 9-7 from MDS.  On the year, I’m at 146-77-1, good for 65.1 percent.  MDS is 139-84-1, still at 62.0 percent.

Falcons at Lions

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have been severely inconsistent this season, with the Falcons consistently managing to pull out wins when they don’t play very well, and the Lions consistently managing to pull out losses when they play competitively. So after a week in which the Falcons blew out a good team and the Lions got blown out by a bad team, I’m picking both teams to revert to their inconsistent ways. Does this logic make sense? Maybe not, but I’m going to have to pick some upsets to catch Florio.  So what the heck?

MDS’s pick: Lions 21, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Lions to close out a disappointing year with a pair of home wins over postseason contenders from Atlanta and Chicago.  It would be fitting, but after seeing the Lions lay an egg against the nine-eggs-in-a-row-laying Cardinals, it’s impossible for me to think the Lions can take down a Falcons team that put a goose egg on the Giants.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 31, Lions 17.

Giants at Ravens

MDS’s take: Both of these teams once looked like locks to win their divisions and now look desperate. Former Giants coach Bill Parcells liked to say that in games like this, you go with the more desperate team. That’s the Giants, who probably need to win out to make the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Giants 24, Ravens 13.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens are desperate for a win.  The Giants are more desperate for a win.  Even though Eli Manning’s Giants have lost to two teams that Peyton Manning’s Broncos played previously and beat, the third time needs to be a charm, or Eli will have no chance to chase his third ring.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Ravens 20.

Raiders at Panthers

MDS’s take: A couple weeks ago this looked like it could be a game to determine the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But the Panthers have won two in a row, and the Raiders won last week, and so now it looks merely like a game that could help shape the Top 10 of the draft. Which makes it an even less interesting game than it otherwise would have been.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 31, Raiders 10.

Florio’s take:  Ron Rivera is making it very hard for the next G.M. to hire a new coach.  It will keep getting harder.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 31, Raiders 20.

Saints at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Dallas secondary is going to struggle mightily against the Saints’ passing attack, but with the season on the line I see Tony Romo having a big game against the Saints’ defense.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Saints 31.

Florio’s take:  A loss to Dallas is a win for the Saints, since it makes it more likely that there won’t be a place with the Cowboys for Sean Payton.  Even though the Saints won big over the Bucs, the Cowboys are chasing a playoff berth no one thought they’d secure.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 30, Saints 24.

Titans at Packers

MDS’s take: Tennessee has actually played some reasonably good football in the five weeks since owner Bud Adams put the team on notice following a humiliating loss to the Bears: In those five weeks the Titans have blown out the Dolphins, ended the Jets’ playoff hopes and played a very close game against the playoff-bound Colts. But Green Bay in December is a tough place to play, and the Packers won’t have too much trouble putting the Titans away.

MDS’s pick: Packers 35, Titans 21.

Florio’s take:  Green Bay is reached for a No. 2 seed.  The Titans are reaching for a lower draft pick.  Advantage Packers.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Titans 17.

Vikings at Texans

MDS’s take: It’s impressive that the Vikings are still playing meaningful games this deep in the season, but this is where it comes to an end.  The Texans will clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by spanking the Vikings, and the loss will severely damage the Vikings’ playoff hopes.

MDS’s pick: Texans 41, Vikings 20.

Florio’s take:  The Texans may not be able to stop Adrian Peterson, but they’ll likely come through in the most important statistical category — points scored versus points allowed.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 31, Vikings 20.

Patriots at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Patriots can’t be feeling good about themselves after Sunday night’s loss to the 49ers. They’ll take it out on the Jaguars in the day’s biggest blowout.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Jaguars 3.

Florio’s take:  Five years ago, these two teams squared off in the playoffs.  The closest the Jaguars ever get to returning comes from periodically losing to New England.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 41, Jaguars 14.

Colts at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Let’s just stop and reflect for a moment on how important the quarterback position is in the NFL: In 2010, with Peyton Manning, the Colts were a playoff team. In 2011, with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins, the Colts were the worst team in the league. In 2012, with Andrew Luck, the Colts will beat the Chiefs on Sunday and clinch a playoff berth.

MDS’s pick: Colts 28, Chiefs 14.

Florio’s take:  The team that lucked into the top pick in the 2012 draft faces the team that won’t have the same good fortune finding a quarterback with the first or second overall selection in 2013.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Chiefs 13.

Bills at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Amazingly, the Dolphins are still in playoff contention, although they would need a lot of help in order to get there, even if they win out. They’ll at least take care of their end by winning on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 24, Bills 20.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins are surprisingly still alive for the postseason.  The Bills unsurprisingly aren’t.  Edge to the home team and the team that still have something to play for, which in this case is the same team.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 20, Bills 17.

Redskins at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Redskins just need to win out and they win the NFC East. No way they get tripped up by the Eagles, who are just playing out the string. Who would have figured before the season that the Redskins would be playing for a division title while the Eagles would be long since eliminated from playoff contention?

MDS’s pick: Redskins 31, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s likely the final home game for Eagles coach Andy Reid.  And Reid surely would love to spoil Washington’s chances to get to the postseason.  Of course, Reid also would have loved to have had the kind of year that would have made Sunday’s game not his final home game.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 24, Eagles 14.

Bengals at Steelers

MDS’s take: The game of the day is in Pittsburgh, where these two teams will be fighting for the one open playoff spot remaining after the Colts take care of business. I like the Steelers to summon everything they have left and put themselves in prime position to clinch in Week 17.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 21, Bengals 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are 0-9 in their last eight games against the Steelers and Ravens.  And the Steelers are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.  And the Steelers desperately need a win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.  This isn’t a game the Steelers lose.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 23, Bengals 13.

Rams at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: I was surprised the extent to which the Bucs looked on Sunday like they’ve given up on the season. Greg Schiano and Jeff Fisher both have rebuilding jobs on their hands, but Fisher’s Rams appear to be closer to getting that job done than Schiano’s Bucs.

MDS’s pick: Rams 17, Buccaneers 9.

Florio’s take:  The Bucs play their final home game of the season while in a full-blown free fall.  Since it’s potentially cornerback Ronde Barber’s final home game of his career, look for the Bucs to find a way to turn things around against a Rams team that saw its unlikely postseason run slam to a halt in Week 15.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 28, Rams 17.

Browns at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Broncos just need to beat two bad teams, the Browns and Chiefs, in order to ensure that if they rematch the Patriots in the playoffs, that game takes place in Denver. Peyton Manning and Co. will take care of business.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, Browns 10.

Florio’s take:  The Broncos are closing in on a bye.  The Browns are closing in on saying “bye” to their coach and G.M.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Browns 14.

Bears at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Bears need to win out and get some help to make the playoffs. I’m not sure if they’ll get the help, but with only the Cardinals and Lions left on the schedule, they should win out.

MDS’s pick: Bears 27, Cardinals 9.

Florio’s take:  No one’s ass is getting crowned as a result of this one.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 20, Cardinals 10.

49ers at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Sunday night game is a big one, matching the two teams that may be playing the best football in all of the NFL right now. On a neutral field I’d probably take the 49ers, but in Seattle I give the Seahawks the edge.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 21, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  The “what’s your deal?” rivalry suddenly has become one of the best in the game, making the frosty relationship between the two coaches an afterthought.  The Seahawks could have, and should have, won the last time these teams met.  This time, the Seahawks are even better.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, 49ers 17.

Chargers at Jets

MDS’s take: Greg McElroy may get the loudest ovation at home that a Jets quarterback has received since Joe Namath. I don’t think McElroy is the long-term answer, but I do think he’ll play competently, and the Jets’ defense will play well, and Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow will stand together on the sideline awkwardly watching the McElroy-led Jets win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Jets 13, Chargers 10.

Florio’s take:  The McElroy era begins with a Bolt.  Or maybe a butt fumble.  There’s too much drama this week in the locker room for the Jets to come together and win.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 17, Jets 10.

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Washington loses Chris Culliver to torn ACL in practice

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Getty Images

It’s getting harder for Washington to be thankful today.

According to John Keim of, Washington cornerback Chris Culliver is out for the season, after suffering a torn ACL in practice today.

Culliver joined the team in free agency in March, but hadn’t exactly lived up to his four-year, $32 million contract. He was also suspended a game earlier this season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Washington is reasonably deep at the position, considering they’ve been working veteran DeAngelo Hall at safety. But with Culliver’s injury coming so late in the season, there will be some reasonable concern as to whether he’ll be ready for next year’s opener.

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Lions dominate as Eagles quit on Chip Kelly

Calvin Johnson AP

After the Eagles’ debacle last week against the Buccaneers, there was talk that their Thanksgiving game against the Lions would be a referendum on Chip Kelly.

The verdict is in: The Eagles have quit on their coach.

In an epic 45-14 beatdown in Detroit, Kelly’s team was embarrassed before a national audience, falling behind the Lions in the second quarter and never putting up much of a fight after that.

Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez will get a lot of the criticism, but there’s plenty of criticism to go around. His offensive line didn’t help him, his receivers didn’t help him and running back DeMarco Murray continues to look totally out of place in Kelly’s offense.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had by far his best game of the season, as did receiver Calvin Johnson. Stafford threw five touchdown passes, three of them to Megatron, marking the second week in a row that the Eagles’ defense allowed the opposing quarterback to throw five touchdown passes.

Jim Caldwell has his Lions playing good football despite an ugly 1-7 start. They’re now 4-7 and showing that they’re going to be a tough team to beat down the stretch.

But the Eagles look beaten. They’re now 4-7 as well, and with a tough remaining schedule (New England, Buffalo, Arizona, Washington and the New York Giants) they could easily finish 4-12. Which would likely result in Kelly getting fired.

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The rout is on in Detroit

Eric Ebron, Walter Thurmond AP

It’s getting ugly in Detroit.

The Lions are putting a Thanksgiving Day beatdown on the Eagles, with three Calvin Johnson touchdowns leading the way on offense and three Ziggy Ansah sacks leading the way on defense.

Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez has been battered and beaten, but it’s far from only his fault. The Lions’ defensive line is getting the better of the Eagles’ offensive line, and Philadelphia’s receivers aren’t getting much separation downfield.

Meanwhile, the injury-plagued secondary of Philadelphia simply can’t do anything about Johnson. This game is almost unfair.

Chip Kelly is having a very bad Thanksgiving. And he’s still got a quarter to play.

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Eagles lose Nolan Carroll with broken ankle

Nolan Carroll AP

A bad season just got a lot worse for the Eagles.

Starting cornerback Nolan Carroll has a broken ankle, the team announced. Carroll suffered in the injury in the first half of Thursday’s game at Detroit.

Carroll, 28, spent his first four seasons with the Dolphins before joining the Eagles in 2014. He became a full-time starter in Philly this year, which given his contractual status could be his last with the Eagles.

Carroll has been replaced by rookie second-rounder Eric Rowe, who possibly will become the replacement for the rest of 2015 and beyond.

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It feels like now or never for Chip Kelly in Philly

Chip Kelly AP

Four days after being blown out, 45-17, by a team that won two games in all of 2014, the Eagles are down 24-7 through 30 minutes of a game against a team that had won one game in the first half of 2015.

And with Philly and coach Chip Kelly on track to lose a third game in a row, questions will get louder and more persistent about his future. While USC indeed remains a possibility, the primary NFL option is the one that first became obvious after Kelly couldn’t strike a deal to land former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft.

The Titans already have fired their head coach, and interim coach Mike Mularkey hasn’t done enough to merit serious consideration for the permanent gig. If Tennessee ownership has interest in Kelly (and if they know what they’re doing, they should), a reunion makes plenty of sense.

It wouldn’t be nearly as complicated as some have suggested. As PFT previously has explained, the Titans simply need to call the Eagles and ask whether it’s possible to work out a deal that would allow the Titans to hire Kelly, if he’s interested in making the leap. With each additional loss, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie presumably will become more willing to let Kelly go in exchange for reasonable compensation — especially if Lurie already is thinking about making a change.

Of course, Kelly also would have to want to make the change. If Kelly does, maybe he simply would try to force his way out, which would allow him to go straight to Nashville without the Titans giving up draft picks that otherwise would help Kelly put talent around Mariota.

While it’s a point of pride (supposedly) for a coach to be traded for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million in cash like the Bucs did for Jon Gruden nearly 14 years ago, those selections would have helped Gruden put a team on the field that may have allowed him to do better than 60-57 in Tampa.

Ultimately, this one comes down to: (1) whether the Titans want Kelly; and (2) whether Kelly wants the Titans. The Eagles likely wouldn’t force Kelly to stay for another year, especially if what has become a disastrous third season continues.

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Lions take big lead into halftime on Megatron TD

Mark Sanchez, Ezekiel Ansah AP

Matthew Stafford is dealing, and Mark Sanchez is struggling.

Stafford hit Calvin Johnson in the end zone for a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining in the second half to give the Lions a 24-7 lead heading into halftime, and it’s been pitch-and-catch for the Lions’ offense.

The Eagles’ offense had one good drive that ended with a Sanchez touchdown pass to Brent Celek, but for the most part it’s been an ugly half of offense. Chip Kelly needs to figure something out at halftime.

Detroit fans cheered as their team went to the locker room. You can bet Philly fans are grumbling over their Thanksgiving dinners.

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Eagles score after Lions lose Glover Quin to leg injury

Glover Quin AP

The Eagles’ offense is starting to get moving, and the Lions’ defense has lost a key player.

Lions safety Glover Quin suffered a leg injury late in the first quarter and hasn’t returned to the game. He appeared to be in pain, and frustrated that he couldn’t run on the sideline. Quin went to the locker room and the Lions said he was questionable to return with an ankle injury.

The Eagles, taking advantage of a depleted secondary, took the lead with a two-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez to Brent Celek. That tied the score at 7-7.

Philadelphia also suffered a loss in the secondary, as starting right cornerback Nolan Carroll went down in the second quarter. Carroll was carted off the field, wearing the look of a player who knows he had just suffered a significant injury.

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Lions take early lead on Theo Riddick touchdown

Theo Riddick AP

Heading into this week, Detroit’s Theo Riddick was the leading receiver among all NFL running backs. He’s getting more work done today.

Riddick has two catches for 31 yards in the first quarter against the Eagles, and his second catch was a touchdown to give the Lions an early 7-0 lead.

After an ugly first drive that went backward, the Lions’ offense settled down and got contributions from Riddick, Golden Tate and Ameer Abdullah on the second drive. Matthew Stafford also threw a beautiful pass to Brandon Pettigrew that could have gone for a touchdown, but Pettigrew dropped it.

Now the Mark Sanchez-led Eagles’ offense will have to answer.

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Eagles left tackle Jason Peters suffers leg injury

jasonpeters Getty Images

Eagles left tackle Jason Peters has had more than his share of injury problems, and now he has another.

Peters suffered an apparent leg injury on the first drive of the game when Lions defensive end Jason Jones rolled up on him from behind. Peters was able to get up and walk off under his own power. The Eagles said he was questionable to return.

The Eagles’ offense moved the ball well on its first drive, but a facemasking penalty on Lane Johnson, who moved to left tackle to take Peters’s place, pushed Philly back and Caleb Sturgis missed a 50-yard field goal.

The Lions’ offense could do nothing with its good field position after that, and there was an exchange of punts. Not much action so far on Thanksgiving.

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Report: Manziel lied to Browns about recent photos

Johnny Manziel AP

As if Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel hadn’t already given the team more than enough reasons to never trust him again, here’s another. According to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, Manziel lied to the Browns about the circumstances surrounding the photos that surfaced following his bye-week excursion to Texas.

Per Glazer, Manziel not only told the team that the photos weren’t taken over the weekend but also recruited others to vouch for the falsehood.

The news underscores the fact that Manziel simply isn’t ready to be a full-time NFL starter, and perhaps never will be. Apart from the medical condition that resulted in a 10-week stay in rehab, Manziel has shown a troubling lack of maturity and self-awareness.

After getting the starting job for the rest of the season, with a chance to parlay that six-game audition into the full-time gig for 2016 and perhaps beyond, Manziel didn’t dedicate himself to doing everything he could to becoming the best quarterback he could be. (Manziel should read Peter King’s article on Carson Palmer’s approach to absorbing a game plan for an example of the level of commitment required.) Instead, Manziel opted to take a break, going to a place where he knew alcohol would be unavoidable, putting himself in position to be photographed partying, and then concocting a flimsy fabrication to cover it all up.

So, basically, Manziel squandered in one weekend whatever trust he had rebuilt with the team following his disastrous rookie season. Coach Mike Pettine would be foolish to trust Manziel a third time, and at this point the only reason to keep Manziel around is to eventually try to unload him onto Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for a draft pick or two.

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Bucs receive notice of Kwon Alexander suspension, subject to appeal

Kwon Alexander AP

It’s official, sort of.

The Buccaneers have received notice that linebacker Kwon Alexander has been suspended for four game for violating the league’s PED policy, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. The suspension is subject to appeal, and Alexander has five days to file the paperwork challenging the outcome.

Stroud reports that Alexander will play Sunday in Indianapolis. The rookie likewise will be permitted to keep playing until his appeal is resolved.

Alexander has acknowledged the positive test; he has blamed it on an energy drink he has been using since high school.

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Bradford inactive; Peters, Kelce, Megatron, Slay active

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Although key players on both teams were listed as questionable on the Thanksgiving injury report, the Eagles’ and Lions’ inactives were exactly as expected.

Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford is inactive today in Detroit, meaning Mark Sanchez will start for the second straight week. The Eagles will have left tackle Jason Peters and tight end Jason Kelce, both of whom were listed as questionable as well.

The Lions will have their best offensive player, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and their best defensive player, cornerback Darius Slay, active. Both were also listed as questionable.

The Lions’ inactive are defensive tackle Gabe Wright, receiver T.J. Jones, offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle, offensive tackle Corey Robinson, defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, safety Isaiah Johnson and tight end Tim Wright.

The Eagles’ inactives are Bradford, running back Ryan Mathews, receiver Jonathan Krause, cornerback Denzel Rice, offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson, tight end Zach Ertz and defensive end Brandon Bair.

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Belichick expresses gratitude to media, high school football

Bill Belichick AP

There’s a perception that Patriots coach Bill Belichick never has anything to say at his press conferences, primarily because the regular examples of Belichick not having anything to say at his press conferences become the sound bites from those press conferences. (Except when he’s making My Cousin Vinny references.)

But Belichick often provides lengthy, instructive answers to good questions about football, showing that he’s not generally disinclined to talk, but that he merely is reluctant to talk in response to questions that he deems to be bad or uninteresting.

On Thursday, Belichick added a finally comment at the end of his press conference, not in response to any specific question.

“I’ll jump in there and just wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving,” Belichick said. “I appreciate the professional way that this group covers us and being the conduit of information from the team to the fans. We have great fan support.

“Today is also a day to be recognized with the high school football level with so many traditional and rivalry games taking place. Having been at high school and played in those games myself, we always had a traditional Thanksgiving Day game between Annapolis and Severna Park, and I know how important that was to the teams, the families and really the whole school body that supported us. It’s such a good traditional way to capture and bring a lot of things together — family, community, friendship — and do it in a competitive way but also in a way that bonds friendship and community support. And just recognizing the high schools, the great job the coaches and those programs do to develop players that eventually become our players and how impactful they are to our players.

“When I talk to players at the [scouting] combine in the spring and so forth usually the two most influential people for kids are their parents or in some cases one parent and then the high school football coach or maybe a junior high school football coach — somebody who mentored them along the way or kind of helped them develop as young men. All of us who have had that opportunity have certainly gained from it and taken from it. So just reaching out to them with our level of appreciation for what they do for kids that we eventually see at this level and for all the support that the parents and the families and the high schools gives those teams and those players and how it brings everybody together. And again, thanks to all of you for taking time on your Thanksgiving morning to accommodate us, and we look forward to seeing you out in Denver. Happy Thanksgiving.”

It’s a rare public glimpse of the human side of Belichick, which often is kept within the hard shell of a lifelong football coach who has been involved in the game since a very early age, helping his father, Steve, break down film at the Naval Academy. Belichick usually stays true to the job, but every once in a while we get a reminder of the fact that there’s more to him than the gruff, stern, abrupt, and aloof persona he adopts when in full-blown coaching mode.

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Will Mike Shula finally get NFL head-coaching consideration?

Cam Newton, Mike Shula AP

When listing assistant coaches who could be NFL head coaches in 2016, names like Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels sit near the top of the stack. One name has yet to crack the assistant coach “A” list.

Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

In early 2014, PFT made the case for Shula to be considered for the vacancy in Washington, given his work with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Carolina had just finished a 12-4 campaign, with the 11-1 finish after a 1-3 start sparked in large part by Shula’s decision to scour Newton’s film from Auburn in search of plays and concepts that would work.

Shula didn’t get any sniffs then, he wasn’t mentioned last year after a late-season surge carried the Panthers to a second straight NFC South title, and his name has come up recently only in connection with the University of Miami vacancy.

It’s unclear why Shula, who has helped transform a spread-offense, one-read, simplistic-playbook college quarterback into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, hasn’t gotten more attention. His father, Don, was one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Mike Shula’s brother, David, was one of the worst of the last 25 years. And Mike had a shot with Alabama, but he was fired — and he was followed by Nick Saban, who took the program back to its houndstooth heights.

Still, there’s a fundamental difference between coaching in college and coaching in the NFL. The pro game places a major premium on quarterback play, and with so many college quarterbacks not ready for the NFL, a guy who has accomplished what so few coaches can should at least be getting talked about as an NFL head coach.

Shula’s next chance to make a name for himself while carrying one of the most recognizable names in football comes later today, when the Panthers square off against the Cowboys. In past years, players like Randy Moss and Robert Griffin III have used that spot for coming-out parties.

This year, if/when (when) Newton is throwing touchdown passes and dancing in the end zone, maybe someone who will be looking for a head coach will at least make a note of Shula’s role in that process.

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Undefeated Panthers still have Marty Hurney’s fingerprints on roster

17529d1296072619-panthers-gm-marty-hurney-says-quarterback-teams-marty-hurney Getty Images

When Panthers fans gather around their televisions this afternoon to watch their 10-0 team, there are many people for whom they should be thankful.

But one of the unheralded architects of their current success is a guy they fired over three years ago.

Fourteen of the 53 players on the Panthers roster were acquired by former General Manager Marty Hurney, before he was fired on Oct. 22, 2012. And while that’s just over a quarter of the team, he’s responsible for most of their biggest stars.

Their offense has been built from the inside out with his draft picks, with quarterback Cam Newton, center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart. Throw in trade acquisition Greg Olsen and free agent fullback Mike Tolbert, and the guts of their offense have been in place for years.

On the other side of the ball, former defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly, linebacker Thomas Davis, defensive end Charles Johnson and breakout cornerback Josh Norman were all drafted by Hurney.

The rest of his guys on the roster include backup quarterback Derek Anderson, punter Brad Nortman, safety Colin Jones, long snapper J.J. Jansen and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. Three other players he acquired (Amini Silatolu, Nate Chandler and Frank Alexander) are on injured reserve.

That’s not to say current G.M. Dave Gettleman hasn’t done a good job building a championship-level roster, he has with good drafting and strategic forays into free agency. Gettleman’s also had to do it while digging out from salary cap problems, and those get pinned on the guy he replaced. But with time to look back on the glut of deals Hurney signed in 2011, it’s worth wondering how much of that cap consequence might have been avoided if owner Jerry Richardson would have let him extend some of those players before the lockout. Instead, Richardson effectively handcuffed his own roster to prove a larger labor point, at a time he was helping Roger Goodell negotiate a new CBA.

But Hurney’s best move might have been hiring first-time head coach Ron Rivera, and allowing him to develop. Rivera looked like a guy in over his head at the time Hurney was fired (he was 7-15 at that point), but has grown into a legitimate coach of the year candidate, having won 14 straight regular season games with a style built on being steady.

The greater point might be that the Panthers have allowed such a strong core of players and coaches to grow together, and the three years of stability have as much to do with their success as the individual identities of the players or coaches.

But the guy who put them there deserves at least a little credit too.

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