ProFootballTalk: AFC divisional round recap
After the Eagles and Bears both won games with major NFC playoff implications in Week 14, the NFL decided to give their meeting in Week 16 a prime time audience.
The Bears-Eagles game in Philadelphia has been moved from its previously scheduled 1 p.m. Eastern kickoff on FOX to Sunday Night Football on NBC. Chicago is currently tied with Detroit for NFC North supremacy (though the Lions own the tiebreaker), while Philadelphia is currently one game ahead of Dallas in the NFC East. That makes Bears-Eagles a big game.
The Patriots-Ravens game in Baltimore that had been scheduled for Sunday Night Football on December 22 has now been moved to a 4:25 p.m. kickoff on CBS. Although the Patriots and Ravens are both fighting for playoff spots, Bears-Eagles is the game that will draw the bigger audience.
There’s a good chance that either the Bears or the Eagles will play on Sunday night in Week 17 as well. The NFL tries to put a game with playoff implications for both teams in the final prime time matchup, and the most likely Week 17 candidates are Eagles-Cowboys as a battle for the NFC East or Bears-Packers as a battle for the NFC North. The Week 17 prime time game will be announced after Week 16, when all the playoff scenarios are known.
With the season drawing to a close, even teams in the playoff hunt are thinking about the future.
According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, the Dolphins are poaching safety Michael Thomas off the 49ers practice squad.
The 49ers had given Thomas a raise over the practice squad minimum recently, but couldn’t offer a spot on a 53-man roster, which the Dolphins did.
Thomas, who can also play nickel cornerback, played at Stanford under 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
It might be a move of short-term expedience for Thomas, as the 49ers could need depth there. Donte Whitner’s a free agent after the season, and Eric Reid has suffered a pair of concussions already. Otherwise, their safeties are primarily special teamers,
The 49ers have been able to talk practice squaders out of leaving before, hanging onto players such as wide receiver Ricardo Lockette and guard Al Netter.
The Colts have already clinched the AFC South, and the Broncos and Seahawks have both clinched playoff berths. Those three teams can be joined by as many as six others on Sunday.
The NFL has released this week’s playoff scenarios, and they show that the Chiefs, Patriots, Bengals, Saints, Panthers and 49ers all have the ability to clinch playoff berths this week. Here’s a look at what each team has to do:
Chiefs: Clinch playoff berth with a win, or a loss by either the Dolphins or Ravens.
Patriots: Clinch the AFC East with a win. Can also clinch at least a wild card if they lose and the Ravens lose.
Bengals: Clinch the AFC North with a win and a Ravens loss.
Saints: Clinch a playoff berth with a win. Can also clinch a playoff berth if they lose and the Cardinals and either the Cowboys or Eagles lose.
Panthers: Clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by both the Cardinals and 49ers, plus a loss by either the Cowboys or the Eagles.
49ers: Clinch a playoff spot with a win, a Cardinals loss and either a Cowboys or Eagles loss.
The Broncos can also clinch the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss, and they can clinch the AFC West and a first-round bye with a win and losses by both the Chiefs and the Bengals. The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West and a first-round bye with a win and a 49ers loss, and they can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win and losses by both the 49ers and the Saints.
In just about every realistic scenario, five of the AFC playoff spots will go to the Broncos, Chiefs, Patriots, Bengals and Colts, and four of the NFC playoff spots will go to the Seahawks, 49ers, Panthers and Saints. The remaining battles are for the final AFC wild card spot (Baltimore and Miami are currently tied at 7-6), for the NFC East (Eagles or Cowboys) and NFC North (Lions, Bears or Packers).
If you’re a fan of one of the teams that can clinch, that’s obviously what you’re hoping for. Otherwise, hope for the teams that can clinch to lose. The more teams are still fighting for playoff berths, the more fun we’ll have in the final weeks of the season.
It’s fairly easy for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to get dressed for work, since he always wears the same thing.
But when his footwear failed to keep him upright during a scuffle, he had to make an adjustment.
He still wears the same khakis and black pullover, with the same red pen on a lanyard, but Harbaugh has started wearing cleats on game-days, after he slipped while trying to break up a fight during a game against the Titans earlier this year.
“The first thing that prompted it was that scuffle I was trying to break up in Tennessee,” Harbaugh said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “I had no traction.
So being the creature of habit he is, he wore them the following week in London.
But then after returning to the United States, he wore his regular shoes in games against the Panthers and Saints. Losing both caused him to go back to cleats.
“I’ve been wearing the cleats because we’ve won every time I’ve worn the cleats,” he said. “So there was a time I was superstitious about not being superstitious. Now, I’m suddenly superstitious a little bit.”
You don’t say, Jim.
The Cowboys’ defense has a lot of problems it needs to fix, but owner and General Manager Jerry Jones says there’s no one he’d rather have to fix it than defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Jones indicated in an interview on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas that he still believes in Kiffin, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and the rest of the Cowboys’ defensive staff.
“To fix what we’re doing, there’s nobody I’d rather have than him and Rod Marinelli, and where we are today to get this fixed over the next week, two weeks, three weeks,” Jones said. “There’s nobody I’d rather have than him to fix it. First of all, he knows what we’re doing better than anyone, and if there are adjustments to be made, he’s the right man for the job right now.”
So for anyone thinking the Cowboys should do this year what the Ravens did last year — fire an under-performing coordinator and attempt to turn the team around late in the season — Jones says that’s not going to happen. Instead, Jones said, he expects Kiffin to get to work at improving the defense to get the Cowboys to the playoffs.
“He takes it personally. It’s hard on him. It’s very hard on him. He’s been doing it a long time at his age and he’s had a lot of different experiences,” Jones said. “He doesn’t in any way reject the responsibility. As a matter of fact, he invites it on himself.”
Jones says the Cowboys are disappointed to now be a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East, but they’re still optimistic, knowing that if they win their last three games (including a Week 17 meeting with the Eagles), they win the division.
“That’s hard to take, and particularly hard to take under the circumstances. We start the weekend off thinking about really having a good situation as far as our next three ballgames are concerned, and now our backs are against the wall and we have a real challenge on Sunday,” Jones said.
And Kiffin will be the man getting the Cowboys’ defense ready for that challenge.
Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live will spend a lot of time talking about a pair of AFC South teams that will miss the playoffs this season.
While both the Jaguars and Texans are falling short of the postseason, there’s a different feeling around the two teams. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has instilled some optimism about the future with four wins in five games while the Texans are looking for a new coach after firing Gary Kubiak amid a losing streak that’s reached 11 games.
Bradley will join Mike Florio to talk about what’s accounting for the improved results in Jacksonville and what he plans to do in the offseason to make sure that there isn’t a repeat of this year’s season-opening eight-game losing streak. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle will also be on the show to discuss the Texans’ coaching search and other changes that may be coming to the team.
You can watch it all live at noon ET by clicking right here.
The NFC North is the NFL’s only remaining three-way division race, and it’s a race that looks like it will go down to the wire.
Detroit, at 7-6 and with every tiebreaker advantage, is in control of the division. If the Lions win their final three games, home against the Ravens, home against the Giants and at Minnesota, they win the NFC North no matter what else happens.
But Green Bay and Chicago both have to like their chances. The first reason is simple: The Lions have a tendency to lose games they should win. Detroit hasn’t won three straight at any point this season, so the Bears and Packers can feel pretty good about the possibility that Detroit will find a way to lose one over the last three games of the season.
And if Detroit loses a game, then the Bears and Packers both just need to win out to win the division. If the Lions lose one and the Bears and Packers win their next two each, then the winner of the Week 17 Bears-Packers game would win the NFC North.
So how likely is it that the Bears and Packers will each win their next two? The Packers are on the road at Dallas and at home against the Steelers the next two weeks. If Aaron Rodgers is cleared to return, Green Bay is probably the favorite to win both of those games. Without Rodgers, winning both would be a tall order.
The Bears have to go on the road to Cleveland and then to Philadelphia before hosting the Packers in Week 17. Going 2-0 in those two is a tall order as well, although if the Bears play in the next two weeks like they played on Monday night, those are games they can win.
The Lions have lost three of their last five and aren’t inspiring much confidence right now. But the good news in Detroit is that the two games they won in the last five were against the Bears and Packers. And that’s why the Lions remain the favorites to win the division. Barely.
An initial round of tests on his injured foot showed no Lisfranc injury and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson reportedly got good news after a CT scan as well.
Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press reports that a team official confirmed that the results of further testing on Monday confirmed that Peterson will not need to have surgery to repair the injury. That leaves the door open for a return to the field this season.
A report from ESPN.com on Monday evening had Peterson unlikely to play in Week 15, but Murphy reports that no decision will be made about Peterson’s playing status will be made until he’s out of the walking boot he’s currently wearing to protect his foot. Peterson obviously isn’t going to play if he doesn’t get out of the boot, but it appears we’ll have to wait until late this week for any definitive word.
Coach Leslie Frazier also said Monday that the team’s record would be a factor in how they proceed with Peterson over the rest of the season. With no shot at the postseason, it might behoove the Vikings to start Peterson’s offseason a little early and go for as high a draft pick as possible in hopes of finding a long-term answer at quarterback.
Monday night was another rough one for the Cowboys defense.
They didn’t stop the Bears once all night en route to a 45-28 loss, which is bad enough for a team that needs every possible win to assure they finish in front of the Eagles in the NFC East this season. The night was even worse, though, because linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter both need MRIs on Tuesday to determine the extent of their injuries.
Lee had to leave the game, his return to the lineup after missing two games with a hamstring injury, after hurting his neck in the third quarter. Carter left the game a short time later with a hamstring injury, leaving the Cowboys with a linebacking corps of Kyle Wilber, Ernie Sims and Cameron Sheffield.
Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News reports that Lee said he plans to play in Week 15 and Carter also said that he thinks he’ll be OK, but the results of the MRIs will provide more clarity about their status for Week 15. The defense hasn’t been particularly good when both men are healthy, but it’s certainly preferable to have all hands on deck at this point in the proceedings.
For teams and players out of the playoff race, the last three weeks are about an eye to the future, and changes that are coming.
But even though the next three weeks could be his last in Houston, Texans running back Ben Tate said he’s trying to keep those thoughts at arm’s length.
“That’s something I can’t really answer right now,” Tate said when asked if he wanted to return, via Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle. “Just the fact so many things are going to change once the season’s over — different head coaches, different people fired everywhere else. That’s something I haven’t really thought about yet. That’s something I’ll probably think about after the next three weeks.”
Not knowing who the coach will be is one thing. But Tate’s in the final year of his rookie contract, and the Texans’ next coach will inherit Arian Foster’s new deal as well. So the likelihood of Tate hanging around are slim.
He’s shown toughness this season, playing through broken ribs. And while the market for backs hasn’t been strong, he should still be able to find a role of his own and a raise elsewhere.
The Dolphins weren’t expecting to get running back Daniel Thomas back in the lineup two weeks after he hurt his ankle, but it’s a good thing they did.
Thomas was needed to play a featured role in the offense in the second half against the Steelers because Lamar Miller was forced out of the game with a concussion. Miller is in the league’s concussion protocol now and his status will be monitored throughout the week in hopes that he can be cleared in time to face the Patriots.
If he can’t, the Dolphins will need to hope for more of the same from Thomas. Thomas ran for 105 yards in Sunday’s win, which earned him praise for playing hurt from offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
“There is a certain amount of mental toughness that plays a part in it,” Sherman said, via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “He wasn’t 100 percent but he played as if he was. There’s one thing to play with some pain and another things to play well with some pain, and he certainly played well.”
The Dolphins lost to the Ravens, giving Baltimore the tiebreaker should the two teams finish in tie when the regular season comes to a close. The Dolphins, therefore, can’t really afford a loss and they may have to lean heavily on Thomas again this week to avoid one.
If the Titans were in a major market or otherwise relevant, the stream of recent reports regarding the franchise’s immediate future would have gotten more attention.
But because the Titans have largely been forgettable since squandering the No. 1 seed in 2008 with a home playoff loss to the Ravens, no one has seemed to notice or care much about the news that: (1) coach Mike Munchak likely will be fired; (2) the 2011 CBA-driven fifth-year option on quarterback Jake Locker’s rookie contract most likely won’t be picked up; (3) running back Chris Johnson most likely won’t be back; and (4) the team could be interested in quarterback Jay Cutler, who played college football at Vanderbilt.
The flaw in items two through four is that each of those outcomes depend in large part on the identity of the head coach. Even if G.M. Ruston Webster remains in the job, the next head coach surely will have input on the question of whether the team does or doesn’t want Locker, does or doesn’t want Johnson, and/or does or doesn’t want Cutler.
If Munchak goes, that would be a shame. Beyond the fact that Munchak has spent more than 30 years working for the same organization as both a player and a coach, it’s not clear how much blame Munchak should get for the decision to draft Jake Locker in 2011, Munchak’s first year as the head coach. With a roster that generally is viewed as being more mediocre than stellar when it comes to talent, it’s possible that Munchak has whipped up the best possible batch of chicken salad that he can.
Assuming there’s a new coach, the new coach possibly will want to see what Locker can do. Even if the Titans don’t pick up a fifth-year option that would grossly overpay Locker in light of what he has accomplished, they have him under contract for one more year, at a fully-guaranteed salary of $2.09 million. If he can stay healthy and play well within the confines of an offense aimed at keeping him in one piece, a new contract for 2015 and beyond not driven by the inflated fifth-year option becomes at least possible.
As to Johnson, the fourth year of his current deal carries an $8 million non-guaranteed base salary with no triggers that force a decision in March or April. It’s therefore too early to assume he’ll be cut. He could be traded to St. Louis, where he’d be reunited with former Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Johnson also could accept a renegotiated contract that better reflects his current market value. Without an obligation to pay him a lot of money early in the 2014 league year, the Titans can let things play out deep into 2014 calendar before making a final decision.
Here’s an important factor to consider when it comes to Johnson, who remains on track for the sixth 1,000-yard season of his six-year career. If he’s not on the team, who will the fans be paying to watch? On a roster bereft of star power, keeping Johnson could still be the best strategy for putting butts in the seats.
Again, the final decision will at least be influenced by the identity of the coach. Unless the Titans already have decided to fire Munchak and to replace him with someone who definitely doesn’t want Chris Johnson on the team, it’s too early to predict with certainty what will happen to him.
And that brings us to Cutler. It’s impossible to know whether the Titans would want Cutler without knowing who the coach is. What if they hire Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose first order of business as the head coach in Denver was to trade Cutler?
Will the Titans be “interested” in Cutler if he hits the open market? Sure they will. Any team without a franchise quarterback would at least have some interest in a guy who could still become in the right circumstances a true franchise quarterback — especially if the price is right.
Will Cutler be the quarterback in Tennessee? A lot of dominoes will have to fall a certain way before that ever happens.
The first domino to fall would be a Hall of Fame offensive lineman with a very long history of loyal service to the franchise. Here’s hoping that the full scope of Mike Munchak’s contributions to the team and his responsibility for its current state are considered before he’s pushed out the door.
Here’s also hoping the Titans are sure they’ll be able to find someone who’ll be able to get more out of a roster that resides far from the top of the league when it comes to assessing overall football talent.
The Raiders have lost five of their last six games, ensuring that they will finish with a losing record for the second straight year and miss the playoffs for the 11th straight season.
Coach Dennis Allen feels the team is making progress, however, and that he and General Manager Reggie McKenzie have not wavered from their plan to bring the team back to being a winner. That was as close as he got to making his case for sticking around when he was asked whether he has heard from ownership about his future with the organization.
“Listen, that’s not what my job is,” Allen said, via Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group. “My job is to try to get this team better, get this team ready to play against the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m not going to talk about speculation or anything like that. I’m going to worry about winning a football game this week.”
The Raiders have been looking toward this offseason for a couple of years because it offers them an escape from cap hell and allows them a chance to upgrade the talent on the roster. Allen would surely like to get a chance to coach that roster, but the team will need to finish with more strength than they’ve been showing to assure that happens because eight losses in nine games isn’t the best taste to leave in the boss’ mouth.
Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson insisted he’d be ready to go for Sunday’s game against the Jets.
The Panthers could have used him Sunday against the Saints.
Johnson returned from a two-week absence caused by an MCL sprain (which was caused by Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon’s leg-whip), but didn’t make much of an impact in Sunday’s loss. He was in the backfield on his first snap, and played 51 of the team’s 65 defensive snaps, but didn’t have a sack.
He was still sore and icing, Monday, saying he knew he needed to improve.
“I mean it was good to just get out there and get the feel of it,” Johnson told Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “Put a new brace on it and just got to keep getting better from what I did. . . .
“We didn’t get after [Saints quarterback Drew Brees] like we wanted to. They had a good game plan and we didn’t execute like we’re used to. When he holds on to the rock we’ve got to get after him. When you got one-on-ones, you got to win. I feel like we could have helped out tremendously, and we’ve just got to learn from our mistakes.”
Of course, Johnson wasn’t alone disappearing. The only sack from the defensive line came from backup end Mario Addison.
For the Panthers to bounce back over the last three games, they need more from a recovering Johnson along with partner Greg Hardy, who was equally quiet Sunday while Brees picked them apart.
Why does Mike Shanahan still have a job? There are seven millions reasons for it.
Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder currently are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken regarding whether Shanahan will leave with or without a buyout of the final year of Shanahan’s contract. Shanahan apparently wants to be fired, so that he’ll be paid. Snyder surely hopes Shanahan will finish what he reportedly started in January, walking away and getting nothing.
The next tangible development will come when Shanahan decides whether to shut down quarterback Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season. If Shanahan does, and then if Snyder overrules the coach, Shanahan arguably would have enough ammunition to claim that his contract has been violated. Which possibly would allow Shanahan to walk away while also getting paid.
Thus, if Shanahan makes good on his suggestion that Griffin will be shut down in order to ensure that Griffin will be healthy throughout the offseason program and training camp (when there’s undoubtedly a new coach), Snyder will have to decide whether to do nothing as his alleged BFF sweats out whether Kirk Cousins plays well enough in the final three games to cause a schism in the fan base over whether Cousins or Griffin should be the starter in 2014.
The best outcome for both sides would be to find a middle ground that allows Shanahan to make, for example, half of the money and move on. That outcome could be far easier said than done, given that both Shanahan and Snyder got to where they are in large part because they are stubborn and strong willed.
Whether Shanahan is sufficiently strong willed to shut Griffin down with a straight face is something we’ll learn soon enough.