Skip to content

NFL morning after: Filling in the playoff picture

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Ten NFL Sundays down and seven to go, and I know who’s making the playoffs.

OK, I might be wrong about a few, and in seven weeks you might remind me of this column and point out all the places where I was wrong and make me eat my words. But I actually think that as you go through the NFL standings right now, you can get a pretty accurate picture of how the final standings are going to look seven weeks from now. Let’s go through it:

NFC East: Dallas. Despite Sunday night’s massacre in New Orleans, I still favor the 5-5 Cowboys over the 5-5 Eagles, largely because the Cowboys have already won at Philadelphia. The Cowboys and Eagles meet in Week 17 in Dallas, and I think the Cowboys will complete the season sweep and seal the division title on the last day of the season.

NFC North: Detroit. The Lions’ win over the Bears gives Detroit a one-game lead, and considering how easy the Lions’ schedule is, plus the fact that the Packers are down to Scott Tolzien at quarterback, we can pencil in the Lions to win the North.

NFC South: New Orleans. The 7-2 Saints, whose offense looked amazing on Sunday night in Dallas, will hold off the 6-3 Panthers.

NFC West: Seattle. After San Francisco lost to Carolina on Sunday, the Seahawks have a two-game lead over the 49ers, and Seattle has a head-to-head win over San Francisco as well. This is Seattle’s division.

NFC wild cards: Carolina and San Francisco. The 49ers and Panthers are currently a game ahead of the pack at 6-3, and I’ll be shocked if they don’t end up as the two NFC wild card teams. The 5-4 Bears, Packers and Cardinals are all in the mix, as are the 5-5 Eagles, but the Panthers and 49ers are pretty clearly the two best in the wild card chase.

AFC East: New England. The Patriots lead the Jets by two games in the standings and will win this division for an amazing 11th time in Tom Brady’s 12 years as their starting quarterback.

AFC North: Cincinnati. The Bengals missed a golden opportunity to put the division away on Sunday in Baltimore, but they’re still a game and a half ahead, and they’re going to win this division.

AFC South: Indianapolis. The Colts looked terrible against the Rams on Sunday, but Indianapolis is still two games ahead of Tennessee, and Houston and Jacksonville have no shot. It’s the Colts by default.

AFC West: Denver. This is the only division that I don’t think the current first-place team will win. I expect the 8-1 Broncos to sweep the 9-0 Chiefs, winning this week in Denver and then winning in Kansas City in Week 13, and Denver will win this division.

AFC wild cards: Kansas City and New York Jets. The second-place team in the AFC West will be the top wild card team, so let’s pencil the Chiefs in for that spot. The biggest question mark on the board is the sixth and final AFC playoff spot: As of right now the Jets would get it, and I think they’ll hold onto it holding off the Dolphins, Chargers, Browns, Ravens and Titans.

A lot can change in the next seven weeks, especially if a key player is injured. (It’s worth noting that before Aaron Rodgers went down, I thought the Packers had a very good chance of getting to the Super Bowl, and now I’m picking them to miss the playoffs.) But I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ve got this whole playoff picture figured out. Here are the rest of my observations from Sunday:

Another terrible game for Trent Richardson. With five carries for two yards in Sunday’s loss to the Rams, Richardson now has 88 carries for 250 yards, an average of 2.8 yards a carry, in seven games as a Colt. It’s looking more and more like the Browns fleeced the Colts when Indianapolis shipped a first-round draft pick to Cleveland in the Richardson trade.

Another terrible game for Ray Rice, too. Rice had 18 carries for 30 yards in the Ravens’ win over the Bengals on Sunday. He’s now averaging 2.5 yards a carry this season. That’s a stunningly bad average for a three-time Pro Bowler who had never averaged less than 4.0 yards a carry in any season of his career before. Rice has no room to run behind a terrible Baltimore offensive line.

The Seahawks’ secondary is sensational against tight ends. One of the things that really stands out when you watch Seattle is the way strong safety Kam Chancellor and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner cover tight ends. On Sunday Seattle played one of the best tight ends in the league, Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, and totally kept him in check: Gonzalez didn’t catch his first pass until it was basically garbage time, with the score 26-3 Seattle in the third quarter, and Gonzalez finished the day with just three catches for 29 yards.

Clay Matthews looked like Art Jimmerson at UFC 1. Matthews is playing with a massive club on his broken right hand. He’s a tough guy for wanting to be out there, but he looked like he was struggling and had a quiet day in the Packers’ loss.

That’s the Tavon Austin the Rams thought they were drafting. Through the first nine weeks of the season, Austin looked like one of the NFL’s more disappointing rookies, averaging just 6.7 yards a catch. On Sunday, Austin had touchdown catches of 81 and 57 yards and threw in a 98-yard touchdown on a punt return as well. I still have my doubts that Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is the right guy to find ways to get Austin the ball in space consistently, and it’s worth pointing out that Schottenheimer only called four plays for Austin (three passes, one run) all game on Sunday. But there’s no doubt that Austin has game-breaking talent.

Welcome back, Jake Ballard. It was nice to see Ballard catch a pass for the Cardinals on Sunday in his first live game action since the Super Bowl almost two years ago. As the Giants’ starting tight end in that Super Bowl, Ballard suffered a major knee injury in the game and hadn’t been able to get all the way back to 100 percent healthy for more than a year. Both the Giants and the Patriots released Ballard, but he signed with the Cardinals last week and is already contributing to the offense.

Giovani Bernard has some learning to do. Bernard, the Bengals’ rookie running back, is a superb young talent who’s a threat to break off a long gain every time he touches the ball. But he needs to learn that there are times when you just need to lower your shoulders and run straight ahead, and one of those times is when you get the ball on fourth-and-2 in overtime. Bernard tried to dance around after catching a swing pass from Andy Dalton, and he ended up losing 11 yards. Those 11 yards helped the Ravens greatly when they won the game with a 46-yard field goal on the next possession.

What happened to Colin Kaepernick? The 49ers’ quarterback was awful against the Panthers on Sunday. Since throwing for 412 yards in Week One, he’s only reached 200 passing yards once. On Sunday he completed 11 of 22 passes for 91 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.

Did the Jaguars just cost themselves the No. 1 pick? It’s nice that Jacksonville won a game and assured itself of avoiding the fate of the 0-16 Lions of 2008. But did the Jags cost themselves the chance to draft their franchise quarterback of the future (maybe Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater) with the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft? Actually, I don’t think so. Looking at the rest of the schedule, I think there’s still a good chance the Jags will finish 1-15. And while the Buccaneers are currently winless, they have a few winnable games the rest of the way and should finish more like 2-14 or 3-13. The Jaguars are so far out of the playoff race that they can’t even see the leaders, but they’re still in the pole position in the race for the No. 1 overall pick.

Permalink 92 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Features, Rumor Mill, Top Stories
yo

Report: Seahawks expected to pursue Tramon Williams

Tramon Williams AP

If Byron Maxwell leaves Seattle in free agency, the Seattle Seahawks will be in need of help at cornerback this offseason.

According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Seahawks are expected to pursue Green Bay Packers free agent cornerback Tramon Williams to replace Maxwell opposite of Richard Sherman.

Per McGinn, the Seahawks have made their intentions to pursue Williams clear to him and his agent.

Maxwell is the top free agent cornerback on the market and will likely be too expensive for Seattle to retain. The Seahawks have committed large contracts to the three other starters in their secondary – Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor – and are still looking to extend Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson and potentially Bobby Wagner this offseason.

Jeremy Lane will also likely miss a significant portion of the season after tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl, leaving Seattle with just Sherman, Tharold Simon and Marcus Burley available at the position. Deshawn Shead and Steven Terrell can also play the position in a pinch, but have been more often used as safeties.

Williams was signed by the Packers when Seattle general manager John Schneider was still a member of Green Bay’s front office in 2006. He could be a cheaper veteran option to replace Maxwell.

This is all assuming Williams doesn’t agree to extension from the Packers prior to the start of free agency next week. The Journal-Sentinel reports Williams turned down a two-year, $8 million offer from the Packers.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Saints looking to trade linebacker Curtis Lofton

Curtis Lofton Getty Images

In a continued effort to purge excess salary cap commitments, the New Orleans Saints are looking to trade linebacker Curtis Lofton, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

The Saints were close to $28 million over the salary cap prior to the release of running back Pierre Thomas on Wednesday. New Orleans will have much more to do in order to get under the cap by the start of the league year next week.

Lofton appeared in all 48 games over the last three seasons in New Orleans. He racked up 144 tackles and a forced fumble last season for the Saints.

However, Lofton is owed a $4.5 million roster bonus next week and is scheduled to count $9.5 million against the salary cap, according to Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Trading Lofton would get the Saints off the hook for the roster bonus and save the team $5.25 million.

More trimming would still be required to get in compliance with the salary cap but dealing Lofton would put a sizable dent in the Saints’ cap overage.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Former Packers No. 1 pick Tom Bettis passes away at 81

Green Bay Packers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Former Packers linebacker Tom Bettis, the No. 5 overall pick in the 1955 NFL Draft, died Saturday at age 81. His passing was announced in a Legacy.com obituary.

Bettis played nine NFL seasons (1955-1963), the first seven of which were with Green Bay. He finished his career with one-season stints with Pittsburgh and Chicago. A Chicago native, Bettis played collegiately at Purdue and played on NFL-champion clubs with the Packers (1959) and Bears (1963).

Bettis would go on to have a long career as a defensive position coach and defensive coordinator for multiple NFL clubs, with coordinating stints with the Chiefs, Cardinals and Browns. He served as an assistant on the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV-winning team.

Bettis was the Chiefs’ interim head coach for the final seven games of 1977, leading Kansas City to a 1-6 record. He retired from coaching in 1995.

In his final years, Bettis lived in Katy, Texas. He is survived by three daughters, a brother and a sister.

DairylandExpress.com and the Green Bay Press-Gazette earlier reported the passing of Bettis.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

NFLPA vote gets complicated if there’s a 16-16 tie

NFLPA

As more and more (and more) candidates emerge for the position of NFLPA executive director, the chance of no candidate getting a majority of the 32 player representative votes on the first ballot increases.

If that happens, the top two candidates will square off.  And if the top two candidates finish in a 16-16 tie, things get a little more complicated.

According to the NFLPA, the tie would be broken based on the total number of dues-paying members of the 16 teams whose reps voted for one candidate versus the total number of dues-paying members of the 16 teams whose reps voted for the other candidate.

The full roster of candidates will be finalized at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, when the window closes for the submission of nominations.  For now, five challengers to DeMaurice Smith have obtained the minimum of three nominations:  Sean Gilbert, Andrew Smith, John Stufflebeam, Arthur McAfee, and Robert Griffith.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Eagles can trade picks into 2018 draft, once the 2015 draft opens

Mariota Getty Images

With Eagles coach Chip Kelly further putting his imprint upon the Eagles while also subtly twisting the team’s beak into a duckbill, the notion that he’ll try to trade up from No. 20 in the draft to secure the player he see as the surest of sure things becomes stronger.  But there’s an important thing to remember regarding the potential all-in-and-then-some effort to slide up into the top five, the top two, or all the way to No. 1.

There’s a limit to how many picks the Eagles can trade.

According the the league office, trades conducted before the draft begins can include draft picks in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Once the draft starts (i.e., the moment the Commissioner declares the draft to be open and places the team with the first pick on the clock), trades can include picks from 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

With the Eagles having a long way to go to get in position to select quarterback Marcus Mariota, the message is clear:  Waiting until the draft commences provides even more flexibility.

It’s unclear what it would take to get the Eagles from No. 20 to wherever they’d need to go to reunite Kelly with Mariota.  Three years ago, Washington gave up the sixth pick, a 2013 first-rounder, a 2014 first-rounder, and a 2012 second-rounder to move up only four spots for quarterback Robert Griffin III.  If a fourth first-round pick is necessary to get the Eagles where they need to be, they can throw the 2018 selection onto the pile, if they wait until the draft begins.

Permalink 13 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Adrian Peterson suggests concerns linger after Wednesday meeting

Peterson Getty Images

In the wake of his four-hour meeting with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and G.M. Rick Spielman, running back Adrian Peterson has issued a statement that suggests his concerns were not resolved during the get-together.

“I appreciate Rick [Spielman] and Coach [Mike] Zimmer coming down to see me today,” Peterson said in a statement issued to Josina Anderson of ESPN.  “We had a great dialogue and they were able to understand where I was coming from and concerns my family and I still have.  We respect each other and hopefully the situation can pan out so that everyone involved is content.”

By using the phrase “still have,” Peterson’s statement suggests that Wednesday’s meeting failed to resolve them.

Zimmer has twice told PFT Live that, if Peterson is dead set on leaving the Vikings, Zimmer would accommodate the player.

Peterson’s father, Nelson, has confirmed that Adrian believes Vikings COO Kevin Warren worked with the NFL to keep Adrian off the field for the balance of the 2014 season.  The truth may be that the NFL was determined to keep Peterson from playing, with or without the team’s consent.  If so, the team’s best play would have been to cooperate with the league office.  Resistance wouldn’t have changed the outcome, and may have simply angered the powers-that-be.

Permalink 33 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Robert Griffith joins NFLPA executive director fray

Griffith Getty Images

With one day remaining for securing the three player representative nominations necessary for placement on the ballot for the NFLPA executive director position, another candidate has emerged.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that former NFL safety Robert Griffith has obtained the requisite nominations from player representatives holding votes in the upcoming election.

Griffith played for the Vikings, Browns, and Cardinals in a career that began in 1994 and ended in 2006.

Griffith joins Sean Gilbert, Andrew Smith, John Stufflebeam, and Arthur McAfee as the five challengers to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.  The deadline for submitting three nominations is Thursday, March 5 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Permalink 5 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Peyton’s incentives are tied to winning AFC title, Super Bowl

Peyton Getty Images

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is betting on himself while in return giving the Broncos cap relief.

Chris Mortensen and Jeff Legwold of ESPN reports that the $4 million in incentives that Manning can earn in lieu of $4 million in salary are tied to getting to the Super Bowl and winning it.  Specifically, Manning gets $2 million if the Broncos get to the Super Bowl, and another $2 million if the Broncos win it.

The move means that Manning’s cap number will drop by $4 million this year.  Any money earned under the incentive package will count against the 2016 salary cap.

The report mentions no specific playing-time minimum to qualify for the money.  If there is none, it means that Manning could earn the money even if he gets injured and unproven fourth-year backup Brock Osweiler leads the team to the Super Bowl.

Sandler, Eli — you can stop laughing now.

Permalink 29 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Adrian Peterson says meeting with Vikings went well

Vikings AP

On Wednesday, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer traveled to Houston to meet with running back Adrian Peterson.  After the four-hour sit-down between the three men, Peterson said the session went well, according to ESPN.com.

How well or why it went well isn’t known; Peterson opted not to share any of the details.

By agreeing to meet face-to-face with his head coach and by not cutting it off before four hours passed, that’s a very good sign for the continuation of Peterson’s career in Minnesota.  Coupled with the Vikings’ apparently willingness to pay Peterson the full $12.75 million he’s due to earn in 2015, it could be that Peterson will let bygones be bygones and return to the franchise with which he has spent his entire career.

One source with knowledge of the team’s thinking believes that’s exactly what will happen.  While it’s too early to call it a done deal, there’s suddenly some reason for optimism that Peterson will be wearing purple come Week One.

Permalink 31 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Cowboys agree with LB Keith Rivers

Keith Rivers, Matt Forte AP

With three key linebackers slated to be unrestricted free agents, the Cowboys have added some depth at the position.

Dallas has reached agreement on a one-year contract with ex-Bills linebacker Keith Rivers, Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas reported Wednesday.

The 28-year-old Rivers has been an outside linebacker in 4-3 schemes throughout his pro career. He recorded 16 tackles in 12 games (three starts) for Buffalo in 2014.

The No. 9 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Rivers (6-2, 235) played his first four seasons with the Bengals, then had a two-season stint with the Giants (2012-2013) before joining Buffalo, which released him in February.

Cowboys middle linebacker Rolando McClain can test the market next week, as can outside linebackers Justin Durant and Bruce Carter.

Permalink 3 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Broncos initially sought a bigger pay cut for Manning

Peyton Manning AP

Peyton Manning didn’t want to say much about his pay cut, which could have been even bigger than $4 million he gave back.

According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, the Broncos actually asked for more of a concession than the $4 million, before settling on the figure with Manning today.

It’s the first pay cut of Manning’s career, so you can imagine it wasn’t anything he wanted to discuss at length.

“I don’t talk about my contract. I never have in 18 years and I’m not going to start now,”Manning said. “I’ve been working real hard and I’m excited to be back with the Denver Broncos. Can’t wait for April 13 to get here when the team can finally come together. I’m excited to get to work and get to know the new coaches and looking forward to trying to make 2015 a special year.”

Manning will have a chance to earn the money back, but the next order of business will be his physical tomorrow at Broncos headquarters, of which he said: “I see that as being pretty routine.”

Once that’s taken care of, he’ll sign the new deal, and then split until team conditioning begins on April 13.

And having just gone through this process, you can imagine how he responded when asked about finishing out his contract in 2016.

“I’m tired of talking about the past and the future,” Manning said. “I’m excited to talk about now.”

Now, the question is whether the savings will help the Broncos keep any of their free agent targets, or whether this was just a pay cut they forced on Manning because they could.

Permalink 38 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: 49ers offering LB Michael Wilhoite in trade

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The 49ers are reportedly open to dealing one of their reserve inside linebackers.

According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, the club has placed fourth-year pro Michael Wilhoite on the trading block.

With Navorro Bowman (knee) missing the entire season and Patrick Willis (toe) sitting out the final 10 games, the 28-year-old Wilhoite was a 16-game starter for San Francisco in 2014, notching 87 tackles, six passes defended and two picks.

However, Wilhoite figures as a backup this season, and the 49ers are willing to move the exclusive-rights free agent, the Bee reports. The club seeks a sixth- or seventh-round pick, the newspaper said.

Permalink 30 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Peyton can earn back his $4 million

Buffalo Bills v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Broncos taketh away, and the Broncos potentially giveth back.

Per multiple reports, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning can earn as incentives the money he agreed to sacrifice in 2015 base salary.  In other words, his $19 million base salary has become a $15 million base salary plus up to $4 million in incentives.

The triggers aren’t yet known.  It’s also not known whether Manning took a portion of his 2015 base salary as a signing bonus, creating even more 2015 cap room (but pushing extra cap room into 2016).

The type of incentives also becomes important.  So-called “likely to be earned” incentives count as 2015 cap dollars, with a credit in 2016 if not earned.  “Not likely to be earned” incentives count as 2016 cap dollars, if earned.

Permalink 15 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Chris Canty expected to visit Jets Friday and Saturday

Baltimore Ravens v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Defensive end Chris Canty played his home games in MetLife Stadium before moving to the Ravens in 2013 and he could be headed back there, although he’d be headed for a different locker room.

Canty played for the Giants in his previous New Jersey stint, but the Jets are reportedly showing interest in him after his release from Baltimore. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Canty is scheduled to visit the Jets on Friday and Saturday.

The Jets don’t have a need for a starter at defensive end as Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are two of the best players at their position in the league, but Canty has experience playing inside in some fronts and would be a useful part of a rotation up front for the Jets in 2015.

Canty isn’t the only place the Jets are looking for help on the defensive line. Kendall Langford is slated to visit and the team announced Wednesday that they have signed defensive end Ronald Talley as a free agent. Talley last played in the regular season in 2013 when he saw action in six games for Arizona. Jets coach Todd Bowles was the Cardinals defensive coordinator at the time, which probably didn’t hurt Talley’s efforts to get back into the league.

Permalink 6 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Chip Kelly: We wanted Cole back, but couldn’t agree on pay cut

Chip Kelly AP

The Eagles formally announced the release of linebacker Trent Cole on Wednesday afternoon and confirmed that a failure to agree on a reworked contract preceded their decision.

Cole was set to count $11.6 million against the cap and said earlier in the offseason that he was open to doing something to pare that number down, but coach Chip Kelly said in a statement announcing Cole’s departure that the Eagles wanted him to pare it down further than Cole was willing to go.

“We spoke with Trent and his agent and expressed a desire to have him back,” Kelly said. “We have been talking for a couple of weeks. However, at this point, we think it’s best to let him explore other options around the NFL.”

The phrasing suggests that the Eagles would still be open to a return if Cole’s exploration of those options gives him a different view on their offer. With free agency close to opening, that might not mean much if the Eagles find something more to their liking.

Cole would also have something to do with that possibility and his apparent response to being released after 10 years in Philly — a tweet reading “no respect” — may be a sign that he’s ready to fly the coop for good.

Permalink 23 Comments Feed for comments Back to top