Mike Florio is joined by PFT Managing Editor, Michael David Smith, to make their weekly NFL picks. Which expert is going with the upset special in Detroit? Can the Buccaneers prove they’re headed in the right direction with a win over the Rams? Even though the Chargers vs. Jets game is completely meaningless to the playoff picture, are both guys picking the young, inexperienced Greg McElroy to lead New York to the victory?This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
PFT Live: Week 16 PFT picks
When the Broncos drafted Montee Ball in the second round of the 2013 draft, the idea was to acquire a running back who would establish himself to the point that playing in the final preseason game of the summer wasn’t a necessary part of the program.
That’s not the case this year. Ball spent the offseason looking like the first guy off the bench behind C.J. Anderson, but his workload and playing time have gone down as the preseason played out. Ball had eight carries the first week and has eight in the two games since then, including last week’s game against the 49ers that saw Juwan Thompson get in the lineup ahead of him. Ronnie Hillman is also ahead of Ball in the pecking order, which Ball admitted caught him “off guard.”
He’s not giving up hope of convincing the Broncos to rethink the depth chart, however.
“It is tough because I feel like I really haven’t had the opportunities in these preseason games, but there’s still one more [preseason game] left and I feel like I’ll have some playing time in this one, and I’ll show them what I can do,” Ball said, via ESPN.com.
One factor working against Ball is special teams work since the Broncos want their backup running backs to have a role in that phase of the game. Hillman and Thompson both do and Ball doesn’t, which could make for a tough decision this week in Denver about Ball’s future with the franchise.
Bills running back LeSean McCoy has been sitting out the last two weeks with a hamstring injury, but the team has indicated that it’s confident McCoy will be good to go when the regular season starts.
And a league source tells PFT that McCoy himself is confident he’s going to be good to go for Week One.
However, Josina Anderson of ESPN reports that the Bills now worry that McCoy won’t be able to go when they open the season on September 13 against the Colts. A source told Anderson that McCoy is “not even close” to full speed and has missed so much work that there’s “no way he can be in great football shape” when the season starts.
“I can’t say for sure he’s going to be with us Week One. I can’t say that at all,” the source said.
If the Bills are concerned about the status of McCoy for Week One, it makes the decision to cut running back Fred Jackson more surprising. The other running backs expected to make the Bills’ 53-player roster are Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown and Karlos Williams, and they’d all be likely to share carries if McCoy is out.
Tight end Khari Lee will need to brush up on his John Fox impersonation.
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Texans have traded Lee, who got a spotlight on Hard Knocks thanks to his ability to mimic Texans coach Bill O’Brien, to the Bears. McClain reports that the compensation is a 2017 sixth-round pick.
That would be pretty good return for a player that the Texans signed as an undrafted free agent this summer and likely would have been cut on Saturday if not for the trade. Lee wasn’t picked after being named a D-II All-America in his final year at Bowie State and has caught five passes for 71 yards for the Texans in preseason action. The move leaves Houston with Garrett Graham, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin at tight end.
Lee won’t have much time with the Bears before the start of the regular season, but it’s hard to imagine they would have spent a draft pick to acquire Lee without planning to keep him on the 53-man roster. Martellus Bennett will start at tight end for the Bears, who also have Dante Rosario, Zach Miller and Bear Pascoe as veteran options at the position.
When Randall Cobb landed on his right shoulder Saturday against the Eagles, he thought he had broken his collarbone.
So his relief was as tangible as the Packers’ when he found out it was merely a shoulder sprain.
“I don’t plan on missing a game,” Cobb said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “I’m doing everything in my power to get back before then, but we still don’t know severity. We’ve still got to get a lot of the swelling out. It definitely is a lot better then what we all thought it was in the beginning. . . .
“Obviously, it could’ve been a lot worse. For not being what we thought it could’ve been is definitely a blessing.”
With Jordy Nelson out for the year with a torn ACL, they need him at full strength this year. Cobb wasn’t practicing yesterday, and he won’t play in the preseason finale (such that he would have anyway). And he said that even if he doesn’t practice prior to the Sept. 13 opener against the Bears, he thinks he’ll be fine to play.
“I don’t think it really matters,” he said. “I’m going to go out and play football whenever I’m on the field. I didn’t practice much going into the Bears back in 2013, and I came back after 10 weeks [recovering from a broken fibula]. So I don’t think it really matters.”
While I’m sure his coaches will love the fact their carefully planned practices aren’t necessary, they can at least take comfort in the fact Cobb should be back in the lineup by the time the season starts.
The Seahawks traded center Max Unger to the Saints last spring, have had multiple players shift positions over the last three weeks and even have a new starter who used to be a defensive lineman. After all that, though, the Seahawks believe they have their offensive line.
“I think we’re kind of settled in as to where we are going,” offensive line coach and assistant head coach Tom Cable said Tuesday.
Those five are, from left to right, Russell Okung, Justin Britt, Drew Nowak, J.R. Sweezy and Garry Gilliam. Britt started all 16 games last year at right tackle but was moved inside after the first preseason game this year, at which point this line began to take shape.
“They’re just getting started,” Cable said.
Nowak is the wildcard. He’s never played on the offensive line during a real NFL game and was on the Seattle practice squad last year as part of his transition from college defensive lineman to center, a transition that started in 2012 with the Jaguars.
“He looks terrific for how far he has come,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Nowak. “You really shouldn’t be able to learn [center] that fast, almost. It would be a surprise to most people.
“But he’s doing really well. So we just take it one step at a time, and he is fitting in. Surprised us some, but we felt like we needed a guy to jump up, and he did it.”
Nowak started camp behind Lemuel Jeanpierre at center. Gilliam was moved from backup left tackle to right tackle when Britt was moved to the guard and the spot that was last year held by James Carpenter, who went to the Jets in free agency.
The Colts defensive line looks like it will be missing a key player for a while.
Earlier this week, word was that defensive tackle Arthur Jones would be seeing an ankle specialist after having an MRI to determine what was wrong after he suffered an injury against the Rams. The word wasn’t what either Jones or the Colts hoped to hear.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Jones has torn ligaments in the ankle that will need to be surgically repaired. Rapoport adds that there may also be joint damage, which will be determined during the operation, and that the best case scenario for Jones this season may be a spot on injured reserve with the designation to return. Should there be joint damage as well, Jones could wind up missing the entire season.
Jones signed a five-year, $33 million contract with the Colts before last season, but missed seven games with a high ankle sprain that limited his contributions to the defense. The hope for this season was that he’d upgrade the team at the point of attack against both the run and the pass, but it seems they’ll have to look elsewhere for much or all of 2015 if they want better results up front.
Defensive end Cameron Wake said recently that 2015 will “definitely” be the year that the Dolphins hop off the mediocrity treadmill they’ve occupied for the last three years and make the playoffs, something that’s right in line with the other optimism we’ve heard from Miami this offseason.
On Wednesday, we’ll find out more about why Wake feels that way when he joins Mike Florio as a guest on PFT Live. They’ll discuss what it’s like playing on the same defensive line with Ndamukong Suh, what Wake has seen from quarterback Ryan Tannehill in practice and more about the Dolphins as Week One draws closer and closer.
Marshall Faulk of NFL Network will also join the show to talk about a variety of stories from around the league. We’ll also see who the Hall of Famer thinks will be the standout teams and players in the 2015 season during his visit.
As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.
It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour by clicking right here.
When wide receiver Reggie Wayne signed with the Patriots recently, the reaction in Indianapolis was not popular.
Seeing the longtime Colts star sign with a team that has been a frequent playoff opponent and recent vanquisher of the home team lead fans and media members to wonder if Wayne was a traitor for joining up with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. During an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Eisen asked Luck for his feelings on that topic.
“There’s a lot of things said and written about a lot of people, but Reggie will always be one of the great Colts in my mind and a great, great teammate,” Luck said. “You can’t control what people write. It doesn’t really matter what’s fair or not fair, necessarily, but I know Reg is no traitor to me at all.”
Luck’s right, of course. Colts fans may not like seeing Wayne in a Patriots uniform, but that doesn’t make him a traitor to the organization any more than the Colts were traitors to themselves for not making an offer that ensured Wayne would remain in Indianapolis. Both sides made business decisions about what they thought was best for them in 2015, just as the Colts, Texans and Andre Johnson made business decisions that left Johnson in a Colts uniform.
That won’t make it any easier to take should Wayne help the Patriots beat the Colts in October, but that outcome wouldn’t make it any less true either.
The Saints will reportedly be starting the regular season without one of their starting cornerbacks.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Keenan Lewis had hip surgery on Tuesday. Lewis is expected to miss 4-6 weeks as a result of the operation, which would put his return sometime in October. The Saints face the Cardinals, Buccaneers, Panthers and Cowboys in the first four weeks of the season.
Lewis’s injury continues a run of medical issues in the secondary for New Orleans. Cornerback Brandon Browner missed time with a leg injury while safety Jarius Byrd has been on the PUP list with a knee issue that may leave him out of action for much of the time that Lewis is set to miss. The team also has played without safety Kenny Vaccaro in the last two preseason games and they placed cornerback P.J. Williams on injured reserve this week.
Browner and Vaccaro are expected to be in the lineup for Week One and Delvin Breaux will likely replace Lewis in the starting lineup. The Saints are trying to turn around a defense that flopped in 2014, but the injuries will make that task more difficult early in the season.
Former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his prison cellmate.
Phillips, who is currently serving a 31-year sentence at Kern Valley State Prison for crimes including auto theft, assault with a deadly weapon and spousal abuse, is accused of murdering a convicted murderer named Damion Soward. Authorities say Soward (a cousin of former NFL player R. Jay Soward) was strangled in the cell he shared with Phillips.
The 40-year-old Phillips is not facing the death penalty but could be sentenced to life in prison.
Off-field problems have always overshadowed Phillips’s career, dating to his days as a college star at Nebraska. Despite questions about his character, the Rams selected Phillips with the sixth overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft. In addition to his legal problems in the NFL, Phillips was a bad player on the field and averaged just 3.4 yards a carry in his NFL career.
There’s a team in Canada that would like to sign Justin Blackmon. But the team in America that holds his rights doesn’t seem inclined to let him go.
According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, the Jaguars would “most likely not” release the former No. 5 overall pick from his contract to pursue a career in the CFL.
Sportsnet.ca reported that the Toronto Argonauts added him to their “confidential” negotiating list in August (though it didn’t stay that way for long). That would give them Blackmon’s exclusive rights if he ever played in the CFL.
But before that would happen, the Jaguars would have to release him, and the NFL would have to reinstate him. He’s still serving a substance abuse suspension that has kept him off the field since 2013. The CFL has agreed to honor any NFL suspensions since people howled about Ricky Williams playing there in 2006.
So while the Jaguars aren’t banking on getting anything from Blackmon — which is smart — they’re also not just washing their hands of him yet either.
For much of the offseason, it was believed that 2013 first-round quarterback EJ Manuel faced the loss of his roster spot if he couldn’t regain his starting job. Now, the Bills could end up getting rid of the veteran for whom they traded in March.
The Bills already paid Cassel a $500,000 roster bonus, but they would avoid a $4.15 million base salary by moving on before Week One.
The Bills sent a 2015 fifth-round pick and a 2016 seventh-round selection to the Vikings for Cassel and a 2015 sixth-rounder. Cassel lost the starting job to Tyrod Taylor, a free agent the Bills signed to a three-year, $3.35 million contract. He has a base salary of only $750,000 this year.
If the Bills cut Manuel, they’d still owe him $1.2 million for 2015 and $1.6 million for 2016. However, the Bills would get credit for any money Manuel earns elsewhere.
Usually, the chatter about Nick Saban being unhappy happens at the point on the calendar approaching the opening of the window for getting more money from his current employer. The near-annual accounts of Saban’s misery have arisen sooner than usual.
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead shares an account that Saban may be on the way out of Alabama, due to apparent misery and frustration. (Then again, Saban isn’t happy unless he’s miserable and frustrated.)
If Saban is somehow trying to position himself for his inevitable next job, it’s not a surprise. The excellent biography of Saban from Monte Burke paints the picture of a tortured perfectionist who still strives for the approval of a long-deceased father, who apparently was even more tortured and even more of a perfectionist. Saban has achieved ridiculous success at the college level, winning national championships at LSU and Alabama and almost making Crimson Tide fans drop their collection of houndstooth hats into the “yard sale” box.
Faced with the choice of trying to climb once again the same mountain he has mastered on many occasions or taking care of unfinished business — like the spots Saban used to obsessively remove while washing cars at his father’s filling station — Saban could choose a return to the NFL.
Sure, Saban was miserable in Miami, leaving after only two seasons. But he was miserable because the salary cap and the draft kept him from stacking the deck the way that his recruiting skills allow him collect as many first-round picks as he can convince to come to Tuscaloosa. What if he were hired by a team that already had a stacked deck at the most important position in the game?
Bob Kravitz of WTHR recently wrote that the pressure is indeed on Colts coach Chuck Pagano in 2015. Adding to the pressure has to be the reality that the presence of quarterback Andrew Luck would allow owner Jim Irsay to lure any coach he wanted to town. If Irsay wanted Saban, would Saban listen?
Saban would want control over the operation, which means that G.M. Ryan Grigson would have to be fired, or at least neutered. An effort by Irsay to hire Saban in 1998 (the year Peyton Manning was drafted) went nowhere because G.M. Bill Polian wouldn’t have given up his authority.
With Luck running the offense and Saban crafting his NFL-style defense, it could work, and it could work well.
Saban clearly has what it takes to coach at the NFL level. As former LSU quarterback Matt Mauck told Monte Burke for the unauthorized Saban bio, “His meetings were so focused. I had Mike Shanahan and Jeff Fisher in the pros, and their meetings were jokes compared to Saban’s.”
Saban’s recruiting skills also overshadow his eye for talent.
“He’s like someone who can identify a Thoroughbred racing horse at a young age,” former Saban assistant Glen Mason told Burke. “He can just look at a high school player and say, ‘That guy is a winner.'”
At LSU, Saban spotted a high-school player named Jacob Hester, an undersized, two-star prospect. Saban turned Hester into a contributor at the college level, and Hester went on to play six years in the NFL.
For the Colts, the defense continues to be the problem. Who better than Saban, the guy Irsay wanted to hire at the outset of Peyton Manning’s career, to engineer the kind of defense to go along with the kind of quarterback who already can run the offense like a coach on the field?
There’s a long way to go before Saban would ever declare publicly that he’s not going to be the Indianapolis coach. But if Saban ever were going to return to the NFL, it surely would happen only with a team that has a franchise quarterback. And there’s no better team with a franchise quarterback than a team with a franchise quarterback on the front end of the prime of his career.
In the NFL, the team that best fits that description right now is the Colts.
Kelly says that he now knows the NFL allows quarterbacks to get hit after handing the ball off, if the defender isn’t sure if the quarterback still has the ball.
“Those are the rules, so if you’re handing the ball off, you can be hit,” Kelly said this week. “Whether you’re underneath the center, it doesn’t matter what run play you have. It was explained to us that you could have your back turned to the defense and if there’s potential for you to bootleg out of it, then you can be hit.”
Kelly said that whether you call the play a zone read, a read option, a shotgun handoff or anything else, the rule is the same.
“It has nothing to do with the play; that was the biggest thing that we came away from it with,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t matter what play you’re running — if you’re handing the ball off and there’s a potential that you could keep it on a bootleg or whatever, you can be hit. So, those are the rules. We’ll practice with the rules they got.”
It’s hard to blame Kelly for being confused at first, considering that the referee working the Ravens-Eagles game was confused as well: Suggs was flagged for “roughing the passer” on the play, even though the league has since confirmed that Suggs’s hit was legal, and roughing the passer is only to be called on plays when the quarterback presents a passing posture.
Kelly doesn’t seem to like the rule, but now he gets it.
After the dramatic conclusion to Super Bowl XLIX, when the pendulum swung sharply toward an inevitable Seattle win (after the latest uncanny catch on a potential game-winning drive in a title game against the Patriots) and then flew just as sharply the other way with an uncanny interception at the goal line, it was clear that the Seahawks would have a hard time getting over it.
It wasn’t nearly enough for coach Pete Carroll to display his usual effervescent confidence within the locker room after the game. Carroll took his case to the Today show, in the apparent hope that family members of players to whom he would have no access until the middle April would understand why Carroll did what he did — and in turn would prevail upon players having a hard time getting over the decision to pass instead of run to put it behind them.
In March, quarterback Russell Wilson did what Carroll couldn’t do. Wilson organized a large group of veteran players and took them to Hawaii for informal workouts.
Everyone knew about the Hawaii trip when it happened, thanks to the social media accounts of some of the players who went. Greg Bishop of SI.com has provided more details that reveal how bad it had gotten.
“[T]here was tension,” receiver Doug Baldwin told Bishop. “People thinking we should have done this, we should have done that [in the Super Bowl]. There were a lot of questions that needed to be answered. And a lot that needed to be asked.”
First, Wilson had to convince players to go on the trip. He persuaded Baldwin to help, and they then recruited safety Kam Chancellor.
“Kam was pivotal,” Baldwin said. “He’s like the godfather of the locker room. Any problems, any issues, you go to him.” (By the way, Chancellor is currently holding out, with no end in sight.)
Chancellor helped persuade more defensive players to attend the carefully-planned retreat that included daily workouts, outings, and dinners. As Bishop explains it, however, “the tension endured” throughout the trip, with some of the players skipping “a handful” of workouts.
On the sixth day of the trip, a bus took the players to the edge of a cliff for what the Seahawks now call a “come to Jesus” meeting. The 45-minute session included comments from all players in attendance, with “harsh words” uttered and “all grievances” being aired. Players who thought that the decision to pass the ball was aimed at delivering the Super Bowl MVP trophy to Wilson said so, per Bishop. Players who thought teammates had not taken responsibility for their role in the outcome said so, too.
Wilson said the meeting gave him “chills,” but that doesn’t mean all is well.
“We didn’t know if the trip was going to work,” Baldwin said. “We still don’t.”
The Seahawks won’t know whether it worked until the pressures of a new season threaten to refresh the tensions of February. Will the defense be more inclined to grouse about the offense if the offense struggles in a given game, half, quarter, or drive? Will defensive players resent Wilson’s $21.9 million-per-year extension, especially with the Wilson deal (and the one given to linebacker Bobby Wagner) sparking the decision to cut defensive tackle Tony McDaniel and contributing to the refusal to re-work Chancellor’s deal?
Is Marshawn Lynch, who didn’t attend the trip to Hawaii, OK with what happened? He’s the guy who went on TV in Turkey to espouse the notion that someone didn’t want him to be the MVP and, in turn, the “face of the nation.”
Last year, the Seahawks overcame plenty of internal strife to return to the Super Bowl. This year, it will be even harder to do that, since the Seahawks will be trying to overcome disappointment of a magnitude that no NFL team has ever previously experienced.