Skip to content

NFL morning after: The four best teams advance

marshawn AP

Let’s be honest: That wasn’t a very good weekend of football.

Now let’s look on the bright side: That’s because the four teams we’ll watch in the conference championships on Sunday — San Francisco at Seattle in the NFC and New England at Denver in the AFC — are the four best teams in the NFL. By a lot.

The 49ers, Seahawks, Patriots and Broncos were all considered strong Super Bowl contenders heading into the season, they all went 13-3 or 12-4 during the season, they were all favored to win this weekend and they all won in convincing fashion. What we have are four superior football teams advancing to the conference championships.

That doesn’t happen every year. The Ravens were 10-6 in their Super Bowl-winning season last year. The Giants were 9-7 the year before that and the Packers 10-6 the year before that. In the NFL in the last few years, the Super Bowl hasn’t featured the best teams. It has featured the teams that got hot in the playoffs.

I like it better this way. The Seahawks and 49ers are great teams with a great rivalry. The Broncos and Patriots are great teams with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have battled each other for more than a decade. The combined record of the four teams still in the title hunt is 50-14, the best combined record of the final four teams in the playoffs in the last 15 years. This is what championship football should be like.

Here are my notes from the weekend:

For three quarters, the Broncos looked like the most complete team in the NFL. We all know Denver’s Peyton Manning-led passing game is great, but the Broncos were good all over the place for the first three quarters against the Chargers. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball were a very strong 1-2 punch running the ball. Denver’s defense held a very good San Diego offense in check for most of the game. Early in the game, even the Broncos’ bad plays looked like flukes, not like major problems. But the Broncos’ fourth-quarter letdown may be a concern: A comfortable 17-0 lead turned into a closer-than-it-should-have-been 24-17 win. The Broncos will need to play well for four quarters to beat the Patriots.

LeGarrette Blount is something special. The Patriots made Blount the focal point of their offense on Saturday, and he rewarded them in a major way, carrying 24 times for 166 yards and four touchdowns. (Blount has only played in one postseason game, and he has more career postseason rushing touchdowns than Barry Sanders and Walter Payton combined.) Blount has always had a phenomenal combination of speed and power, but after a great rookie season in Tampa Bay in 2010, he was largely a forgotten man with the Bucs. Now the Patriots are getting the most out of his talents. One of the primary differences between a bad coach like Greg Schiano and a great coach like Bill Belichick is that Schiano saw Blount as a problem to get rid of, while Belichick saw Blount as an opportunity to make the most of.

Marshawn Lynch is a beast in the playoffs. Lynch has only played in five postseason games in his career, and he has topped 130 rushing yards in three of them: He had 140 yards in Sunday’s win over New Orleans, 132 yards in last year’s win over Washington, and 131 yards in Seattle’s playoff win three years ago over New Orleans, the game in which Lynch reeled off one of the greatest runs in NFL history. Only two players in NFL history — Terrell Davis with five and Thurman Thomas with four — have more 130-yard games in the playoffs than Lynch’s three.

Dan Skuta got the weakest flag of the weekend. Skuta, a 49ers linebacker, made a great play to fight through a block, hit Cam Newton and wrap him up for a sack in the fourth quarter. But the referee somehow claimed that Skuta had committed “roughing the quarterback” by hitting Newton in the head. I’m all for player safety, but the idea that a linebacker can’t tackle a quarterback the way Skuta tackled Newton is ridiculous.

The Panthers needed more from their running backs. Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams, who just finished the third season of a five-year, $43 million contract, gained 13 yards on five carries on Sunday. Carolina fullback Mike Tolbert, who just finished the second year of a four-year, $8.2 million contract, gained 20 yards on eight carries. (Running back Jonathan Stewart, who just finished the second year of a five-year, $36.5 million contract, was inactive with a knee injury.) A team that’s devoting as much salary cap space to running backs needs a lot more production from them than that. Cam Newton, who had 54 yards on 10 carries, was the only Panther who was a consistent threat on the ground.

The Trent Richardson trade was terrible. There are no two ways about it, the Colts made a huge mistake when they gave up their 2014 first-round draft pick to acquire Richardson from the Browns. Richardson ended the playoffs with four carries for a grand total of one yard, with one fumble. That’s horrific. In the regular season Richardson gave the Colts 157 carries for 458 yards, a pathetic average of 2.9 yards a carry. If Richardson can’t show significant improvement in the offseason and the 2014 preseason, can he even make the Colts’ 53-man roster next year?

The Saints’ clock management was abysmal. There will be plenty of blame to go around in New Orleans this week after the Saints’ loss at Seattle. But a big share of the blame should go to coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, both of whom were responsible for some atrocious clock management. Twice in the fourth quarter Payton and Brees wasted timeouts because they couldn’t get the play called and the offense set in time to avoid a delay of game penalty. And Payton wasted the Saints’ final timeout challenging a Seahawks catch that was clearly ruled correctly on the field. You simply can’t waste all three of your timeouts when you’re trying to come from behind in the fourth quarter, but that’s what the Saints did.

The trumpet national anthem was awesome. Instead of famous singers who try way too hard to put their own spin on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Carolina Panthers got trumpeter Jesse McGuire to play the national anthem, and he was outstanding. How about bringing him back for the Super Bowl, NFL? That was an anthem fit for a great game, which this year’s Super Bowl — whether it’s the 49ers or Seahawks, Broncos or Patriots — is virtually guaranteed to be.

Permalink 108 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Features, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Rumor Mill, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Top Stories
yo

Chris Harris optimistic on Manning’s return, has faith in Osweiler

Denver Broncos practice at Dove Valley in Englewood, CO. Getty Images

During his appearance on Friday’s PFT Live, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris expressed optimism Peyton Manning would return in 2015, noting the lousy taste the divisional-round loss to former team Indianapolis had to leave with the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

“I believe he’s coming back,” Harris said. “I think nobody wants to go out losing to their former team and the new quarterback that replaced you. I don’t think Peyton wants to go like that at all, so I think he’ll definitely come back.”

Teammate Demaryius Thomas, an earlier guest on Friday’s PFT Live, was more hopeful than certain on Manning’s return.

“I think he will,” Thomas said of Manning playing in 2015.

But Thomas added this: “I say that because I want him back, but I really don’t know.”

If Manning does step aside, it could open the door for backup Brock Osweiler to take the job. A three-season understudy to Manning, Osweiler has thrown just 30 NFL regular season passes.

Both Thomas and Harris believe Osweiler is capable of stepping in if needed.

Said Thomas: “I got all the faith in Brock Osweiler. He’s been around Peyton for three years now. He’s grown every year he’s been there.”

Thomas, for his part, told PFT’s Mike Florio that he would have no qualms returning to Denver if Osweiler, not Manning, were the starter. Thomas is slated to be an unrestricted free agent in March and figures to draw significant interest.

Harris, meanwhile, said he had “a lot of confidence” in Osweiler, a 6-8, 240-pound Arizona State product.

“He’s kind of like a young Joe Flacco,” Harris said of Osweiler. “He has that arm. I think him and (Broncos head coach Gary) Kubiak, I think they’re going to fit perfect together. With the way he ran the offense with the Ravens with Joe Flacco, I see Brock as a similar quarterback.”

Permalink 2 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Roger Goodell sounded less optimistic about playoff expansion Friday

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptq1nwezy2uyzjnhywq4zjlhyjcyzmmzymjlmtvjmzdi AP

At his pre-Super Bowl press conference last year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that he thought there were a lot of benefits to expanding the postseason.

Among the benefits he cited were a “more competitive” league with better matchups as the regular season nears its conclusion and “more excitement” for the league’s fans. Talks about adding two teams to the postseason never came to a vote with the owners last spring and there was debate about the need to involve the NFLPA, but Goodell continued to sound optimistic about it when it came up in 2014.

He didn’t sound so optimistic about it during Friday’s pre-Super Bowl press conference.

“The possibility of expanding the playoffs has been a topic over the last couple of years,” Goodell said. “There are positives to it, but there are concerns as well, among them being the risk of diluting our regular season and conflicting with college football in January.”

The latter concern wasn’t aired last year and the better matchups that Goodell mentioned would seem to run counter to the risk of diluting the regular season, so it seems significant that they were specified while the positives were left undiscussed. Owners like John Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney II have come down against the idea since it was broached last year and Goodell’s tone may suggest he’s heard likewise from other owners heading into this offseason.

Permalink 1 Comment Feed for comments Back to top

Rainy day in Arizona forces Seahawks indoors for practice

NOAA WEST AP

The host committee has clearly gone overboard making the Seahawks feel at home, dialing up a cloudy, rainy day in Phoenix.

As a result, the team that ought be to used to it is going inside.

Via Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who is serving as the pool reporter this week, the Seahawks will be using the practice bubble at Arizona State for today’s practice.

There’s a chance of more rain tomorrow, but the forecast looks clear for Sunday. With a retractable roof on University of Phoenix Stadium, the conditions can be controlled for the game, and the Seahawks elected not to soak themselves today.

Permalink 14 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Greg Jennings: Not having Adrian Peterson had a great impact

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwrmnzfknwiwzjjkzwm1nmyxmze2ogy3zdviyzk1ymix AP

Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings doesn’t have any more information than anyone else about whether running back Adrian Peterson will be back with the team for the 2015 season, but he doesn’t have much doubt that the team wants him back.

During an appearance with Mike Florio on PFT Live Friday, Jennings said that he thinks everybody from the front office down would be eager to welcome Peterson back to the team. That’s not too surprising, since he also thinks that not having Peterson in 2014 was a blow to the offense.

“It had a great deal of impact. Obviously when you’re talking about a guy like Adrian who any one of the other 31 teams would love to have as their running back, he changes the course of every game. … Not having him definitely impacted what we were able to do offensively,” Jennings said.

If Peterson does return, Jennings thinks he’ll find a coach in Mike Zimmer that has instilled the right culture for the organization and a quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who impressed Jennings with his poise and maturity as the season progressed.

To find out what else Jennings shared during his visit to the show, check out the video of his entire visit.

Permalink 29 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

San Diego mayor creates stadium task force, including Jim Steeg

Kansas City Chiefs v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

While Roger Goodell was talking about the potential for the Rams to move to Los Angeles, another possible suitor was talking about plans to stay put.

Via David Garrick of U-T San Diego, mayor  Kevin Faulconer announced a nine-member task force to create a proposal for a new Chargers stadium.

The group includes longtime NFL executive Jim Steeg, who worked for the Chargers for five years, but left in 2010. Steeg spent 26 years working for the league prior to that stint.

The group also includes local business leaders, but having Steeg on board will provide the kind of insight into league business they need, if they’re going to find a viable way to keep the Chargers for looking elsewhere.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell urged Faulconer to get moving during his press conference Friday.

“I’m glad to hear he’s got a task force going,” Goodell said. “But they’ve been working at this for 12 years, and it’s something we need to see tangible results sooner rather than later.”

That’s a fairly broad swipe at the city, which hasn’t been able to come up with a deal to upgrade one of the worst stadiums in the league.

 

Permalink 20 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

No decision on Marshawn Lynch fine until after Super Bowl

Marshawn Lynch AP

Among the questions that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fielded at his press conference Friday was one on the possibility that Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch will face a fine from the league as a result of his appearances in front of the media this week.

Lynch has stuck to his routine of answering every question from reporters the same way with Tuesday’s “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” gaining the most attention this week. He’s also worn a hat promoting his own Beast Mode line of clothing, which Adam Schefter of ESPN reported could draw a fine because it isn’t licensed by the NFL.

Goodell said Friday that any decisions about fines will be announced after the Super Bowl and offered no comment about his thoughts on potential penalties.

“It’s part of your job,” Goodell said of speaking to the media. “There are things in your job that you might not necessarily want to do. I think Marshawn understands the importance of the Super Bowl and the importance of his appearance and the importance of him as an individual in this game.”

Goodell also responded to Lynch’s teammate Richard Sherman’s suggestion that Goodell be forced to meet with the media every week by saying that he’s available to the media almost every day.

Permalink 26 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Shad Khan “very optimistic” about Justin Blackmon returning in 2015

Justin Blackmon, Chris Harris AP

It’s been a long time since wide receiver Justin Blackmon has played a game for the Jaguars, but owner Shad Khan thinks that will change in 2015.

During an interview with the Florida Times-Union, Khan was asked whether he would welcome Blackmon back to the team. Khan said that he would and that he feels good about the wideout’s chances of playing for the team next season.

“Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I’m very optimistic. I think he’s paid his dues. I think he’s got his life together. I think he can be a role model for people who have gone through hard times. We’re waiting for him,” Khan said.

Blackmon is free to apply to the league for reinstatement from his substance-abuse suspension. He’s spent time in a treatment program since being suspended and recently pleaded no contest to marijuana possession charges related to an arrest last July. Once Blackmon applies, the league has 60 days to make a decision.

Permalink 21 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Deflategate and franchise relocation dominate Goodell press conference

goodell AP

If you had told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a few months ago that when he gave his Annual “State of the League” press conference before the Super Bowl he wouldn’t have been peppered with questions about Ray Rice and domestic violence, he surely would have been shocked — and surely would have breathed a sigh of relief.

But at Goodell’s press conference today, domestic violence was not the primary focus — or even a focus of the questions at all, as questions regarding Deflategate and franchise relocation dominated the discussion.

We’ll have plenty to say here at PFT about Goodell’s answers to various questions, but right now let’s take a look at the questions themselves. Here are the 26 questions Goodell took, grouped into their topics:

Deflategate

Bob Kravitz, WTHR in Indianapolis: Robert Kraft said you owe his team an apology if nothing comes of Deflategate. What are your thoughts?

Howard Eskin, Fox 29 TV: Will you hold Bill Belichick to the same standards in Deflategate as you held Sean Payton to in Bountygate? And why aren’t you available to the media every week, as Richard Sherman suggested?

Mike Reiss, ESPN: Has the NFL ever tested the air pressure of footballs in the middle of a game, and how important is that as a frame of reference in this investigation?

Heather Yako, NBC News 11 in Arizona: Why was Arizona chosen to host the Super Bowl and has Deflategate detracted from the game?

Bart Hubbuch, New York Post: Richard Sherman suggested that you may show favoritism to some owners, including Robert Kraft. How do you react to that?

Jason Cole, Bleacher Report: How is throwing a deflated ball drastically different from throwing a spitball in baseball?

Mark Maske, Washington Post: Will the standards you laid out after Spygate for teams complying with rules continue to apply in Deflategate?

Franchise relocation and ownership issues

Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: What is the league’s level of commitment to keeping a team in St. Louis and have the Rams’ owners followed the league’s relocation guidelines?

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times: 2015 marks the 20th year without a franchise in the nation’s largest market. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has the resources to move a team to Los Angeles. What criteria will the league use to determine whether a team moves to Los Angeles and what if an owner goes rogue and moves without the NFL’s blessing?

Amber Dixon, NBC Las Vegas: Las Vegas has long expressed interest in having a pro sports team. Could Las Vegas sustain a professional team?

Vic Carucci, Buffalo News: In light of the new ownership in Buffalo, what’s your perspective on the need for a new stadium?

Kevin Acee, San Diego Union-Tribune: Can you speak to the fans in San Diego about whether they need a new stadium and has Dean Spanos done enough to demonstrate that he’s tried to work things out locally?

Jeff Duncan, New Orleans Times-Picayune: A lawsuit has been filed in New Orleans questioning Saints owner Tom Benson’s ability to run the team. In your opinion, is Benson mentally and physically capable of running the team?

International expansion

John Sutcliffe, ESPN: It’s been since 2005 since the league has had a regular-season game in Mexico City and the fans don’t understand why. Can you explain why?

Neil Reynolds, Sky Sports: Why have earlier kickoff times been used for London games?

Ian Walker, London Evening Standard: What more does London need to do to grow the game and have a franchise there?

Goodell’s job performance

Barry Wilner, Associated Press: What do you plan to do, specifically, to restore face in the league and in the quote-unquote, Shield?

Darren McKee KKFN, Denver: A lot of people who had a job like yours would probably resign. Can you imagine any circumstances that would lead you to resign?

Rachel Nichols, CNN: A lot of issues have had a conflict of interest. When you hire an outside investigator like Ted Wells, you’re still paying him and Robert Kraft is still paying you. What steps can you take to mitigate some of those conflict of interest issues?

Ron Mott, NBC News: How would you describe your relationship with the players and how will you improve that relationship going forward?

Ken Belson, New York Times: Do you believe you deserve a pay cut for your performance?

Dan Kaplan, Sports Business Journal: Do you think you’ll reach your goal of growing to the point where the NFL will have $25 billion in revenue?

NFL’s youth football and Play 60 initiatives

Jason Winik, Dallas Sports Source: What can you do to get more participation in youth football?

Bobby Sena, NFL Play 60 Super Kid: “Play 60 is an important part of my life, but how do you play 60? I told you it was a tough question.”

Ticket prices

Dave Briggs, CNBC: The average ticket is more than $10,000. Is that a concern that the league has looked into?

Media

Mike Garafolo, FOX Sports 1: Marshawn Lynch’s cooperation or lack thereof with the media has become a big story. What’s your take on how he handled the media this week and will he be fined?

Permalink 80 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Demaryius Thomas: Some Broncos looked past Colts

SiriusXM At Super Bowl XLIX Radio Row Getty Images

On Friday’s PFT Live, Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was asked what went wrong for the Broncos, who crashed and burned as big favorites in the divisional round to Indianapolis in January.

While Thomas pointed to injuries as one of the reasons for the club’s exit, he also indicated that the 2014 Broncos were lacking in other areas, too.

“I feel like some guys, you know, didn’t have the fight or whatever it was,” Thomas said Friday. “It was totally a different team than last year.

“I think we had more talent this year, but it was a little more fight in that team last year, I think.”

In a follow-up question, PFT’s Mike Florio asked: “How did it go wrong this year, then, from the fight standpoint?”

And here, Thomas indicated that Denver might have taken its off the ball against Indianapolis.

“I think one thing was, I feel like guys kind of looked over the Colts,” Thomas said. “You had guys always talking the night before the game, you had, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to New England and play New England.’ And I think that was one of the big things.”

The Broncos fell 43-21 at New England in November, and they likely would have been underdogs in a rematch. But we’ll never know whether these Broncos could have turned the tables with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

Permalink 33 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Roger Goodell says Tom Benson is in “complete control”

Tom Benson AP

Saints owner Tom Benson’s daughter and grandchildren claim that he’s not fit to retain control of his team.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell disagrees.

Goodell said he felt Benson was “in complete control” of the Saints, and perfectly confident in his ability to handle his business.

He said he spoke with Benson recently, describing him as “energetic” and engaged about league issues.

It was an expected vote of confidence for Benson, who wants to transfer control of the Saints and Pelicans to his wife Gayle.

Permalink 8 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Jared Allen: Bears hired a “win-now” coaching staff

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears AP

When defensive end Jared Allen was looking for a team last offseason, he said he was looking for a team that could at least contend for a spot in the playoffs.

Allen signed with the Bears, who fell well short of that goal during a 5-11 season that cost head coach Marc Trestman and most of his coaching staff their jobs. Allen was a guest with Mike Florio on PFT Live Friday and said he thought what Trestman and the other coaches were selling “didn’t come across.” He’s yet to meet with new coach John Fox or defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, but Allen said he thinks it’s a group that can send a message that will get across.

“What the organization’s done is they’ve really put together a coaching staff that’s a win-now type of staff. I think with the talent we have on our roster this can be a staff that can maximize everything that we do,” Allen said.

For the rest of what Allen had to say about quarterback Jay Cutler, his work to provide homes for wounded veterans and more, check out the video below.

Permalink 26 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Roger Goodell: Rules more important than competitive advantage

Super Bowl Football AP

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said early in his press conference that the investigation into the #DeflateGate is continuing, but was careful to not draw comparisons to previous investigations.

Asked specifically about his “ignorance is no defense” ruling on Sean Payton during the Saints bounty scandal, Goddell said it was not fair to compare the two.

“We don’t know enough in this case to know who is responsible, or if there was an infraction,” he said.

While it would be convenient to keep them separate, the issues about the league’s handling of these cases continues to come under question.

He also called the NFL “a game of rules” when asked about the potential of punishment for balls being

“Whether a competitive advantage is gained or not is secondary in my mind to whether a rule is violated,” he said.

Permalink 49 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Bret Bielema says talks to coach Dolphins in 2012 broke down over Russell Wilson

Penn State v Wisconsin Getty Images

Every team in the NFL except the Saints and Raiders passed on Russell Wilson at least once in the 2012 NFL Draft before the Seahawks selected him in the third round.

If Bret Bielema had been able to convince the Dolphins that Wilson was worth taking earlier on, Sunday’s Super Bowl might be very different. Bielema is now the coach of Arkansas, but he was the coach of Wisconsin during Wilson’s final collegiate season and was interviewing with the Dolphins about their head coaching job in early 2012 when Wilson’s name came up.

Bielema said he told General Manager Jeff Ireland and others that he thought the Dolphins should draft Wilson in the second round, but the team disagreed with his take.

“They all looked at me like, ‘You can’t say that,'” Bielema said, via ESPN.com. “That’s the difference between college and pro. He’s undersized. He can’t throw.’ I was like, ‘OK, all right,’ and I honestly, that day, kind of pulled myself out of it.”

The Dolphins wound up drafting Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick after hiring Joe Philbin to be their head coach and Tannehill’s college coach Mike Sherman as their offensive coordinator, setting up a pretty sizable “What if?” to consider about the trajectory of Miami and Seattle over the last three years.

Permalink 43 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Goodell: League is committed to keeping teams in markets

St. Louis Rams v Oakland Raiders AP

Even though Rams owner Stan Kroenke has been doing more than just making eyes at Los Angeles, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated a degree of support for St. Louis.

“We want all of our franchises to stay in their current market,” Goodell said, when asked about the league’s stance on the stability of the Rams.

That was followed by the annual question about the league’s interest in the L.A. market, and Goodell largely sidestepped the issue of Kroenke’s plans to build a stadium there.

“There have been no determinations of us going to Los Angeles,” he said, saying that covered any particular team or stadium.

It doesn’t seem like Kroenke got that memo, as he’s made plans that seem to be well-received by the league.

Permalink 21 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year extension

Chicago Bears Rookie Minicamp Getty Images

The Bears have signed one of their defensive reserves and special teams contributors to a new deal.

Chicago has extended linebacker DeDe Lattimore’s contract through 2016, the team said Friday.

Lattimore appeared in 10 games for Chicago in 2014, notching five special teams tackles, per club statistics. A South Florida product, Lattimore signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent last May. Lattimore turned 24 on Friday.

The Bears also made a coaching staff move Friday, retaining wide receivers coach Mike Groh, the team said. He has served as Chicago’s receivers coach the last two  years. He previously was an assistant at the University of Alabama.

Permalink 4 Comments Feed for comments Back to top