Mike Florio answers fan tweets and calls from PFT Planet, including evaluating the New York Jets offseason, the sustainability of a potential NFL franchise in London and which teams will look to pursue signing recently-cut running back Chris Johnson.
PFT Planet: Where will CJ2K land?
The NFL’s current structure of four divisions per conference and four teams per division creates a neat, tidy, and symmetrical collection of franchises. It looks great on paper. And it makes it easier for the league to craft a scheduling formula that permits every team to play every other team every four years. It also gives season-ticket holders a chance to see every team in the league once every eight years. (Unless one of those interconference games gets shipped to London.)
But the structure has its flaws. To get to the playoffs — and to host a postseason game — a team needs only to be the best of four teams. No matter how bad any of those four teams are in any given year.
This year, four teams with bad records have congregated in the NFC South, where the Saints and Falcons stand at 4-7, the Panthers have a record of 3-7-1, and the Buccaneers sit only two games back, despite winning only two of 11 games.
The best cure to the problem would come from shifting back to three divisions per conference. The league used that structure before the Texans joined the NFL in 2002, with five divisions having five teams each and one sporting six. Now with 32 franchises, four divisions would have five teams, and two would have six.
Having at least five teams in a given division would make it much harder for a team to win a division with a non-winning record. Which would result in three divisions winners plus three wild cards per conference filling out the postseason dance card.
The next best alternative would be to remove the guaranteed home game in the wild-card round for a division winner. Give the four division champs plus the next best two teams tickets to the party, but seed them based not on division title but on overall record.
Some would say that would be an overreaction to the possibility that a five-win team will be hosting a playoff game in January. Actually, it would be an appropriate reaction to a trend that has forced better teams to travel to face lesser teams in the postseason.
Last year, the 12-4 49ers had to play the 8-7-1 Packers in Green Bay. The home-field advantage was exacerbated by dangerously cold conditions, but the 49ers overcame the inherently unfair requirement that a team with 50 percent more wins had to hit the road.
The prior season, a 10-6 Ravens team launched its Super Bowl run by hosting an 11-5 Colts team. While the difference in records wasn’t as glaring, the Colts had a better season than the Ravens. The game should have been played in Indianapolis.
After 2011, the 8-8 Broncos earned a home game against the 12-4 Steelers. Pittsburgh headed to Denver without safety Ryan Clark, whose sickle-cell trait prevents him from playing at altitude. If that game had been played at Heinz Field, Clark would have been available — and perhaps Tebowmania wouldn’t have fueled an unlikely overtime win.
The issue bubbled to the surface most conspicuously in 2010, when the 7-9 Seahawks hosted the 11-5 Saints. After Seattle won, some argued that the outcome validated the structure, since Seattle proved to be the better team. The truth is that the Seahawks rode an unearned home-field advantage to the win; if the game had been played in New Orleans, the Saints would have been far more likely to prevail.
Perhaps it will take an extreme outcome to provoke change. If, for example, the Saints finish 5-11 or 6-10 and defeat in the Superdome, for example, an 11-5 or 12-4 Seahawks team, maybe the league will take notice — and take action. That specific result also would represent the appropriate bookend to the game that first brought the biggest flaw of having eight four-team divisions into focus.
The Cardinals signed veteran running back Michael Bush this week, ending a spell on the unemployment line that started when Bush was released by the Bears in March.
Bush’s departure from Chicago came after two years with the team as the No. 2 behind Matt Forte, but Bush says the 2013 season isn’t one that he really counts. Bush, who ran the ball 63 times for 197 yards, feels like the Bears didn’t make enough use of him during Marc Trestman’s first year as a head coach.
“When people ask me how long I was in Chicago, I say one season because last year, where was I?” Bush said, via ESPN.com. “It has nothing to do with Forte because he played great. He’s a hell of a running back. I just think that I didn’t get a fair shake. And I’m not trying to complain or anything, but if you look at it, maybe two games I didn’t touch the field.”
Bush said he thinks that the limited usage hurt his efforts to get another job after parting ways with the Bears, although he may be underrating the impact that his mediocre first season in Chicago and being 30 had on team’s minds. Bush is fresh at a time in the season when that’s a rarity, however, and that should help him prove that the Bears and the rest of the league overlooked a player who still has something to offer.
And some of his teammates think that’s exactly the point.
“It gave him an opportunity to find himself, and it made him a better person, I think. For him to come back and be so energetic and ready to be a part of this process and be a part of this team, I’m glad to have him back. I think it’s a great thing.”
“We like Josh Gordon the receiver a lot better than Josh Gordon the used car salesman,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “I don’t think he ever lost our trust. He made some poor choices, I’m sure he’ll admit to them. But throughout his suspension, with the things that he did and the way he conducted and handled himself and came back in shape, he proved that he was a new person that had grown up from the situations.”
Thomas said he’s been impressed with the way Gordon has bounced back, and the professionalism he showed during the suspension.
That matters more than whether Gordon’s feelings are hurt, since producing on the field will heal any wounds that were there.
As the Seahawks prepare to face the 49ers on Thanksgiving night, Seattle coach Pete Carroll would be thankful if he could find a way to get better performance out of an offensive line that gave up seven sacks four days ago against the Cardinals.
“We had all kinds of problems,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, via Terry Blount of ESPN.com. “We got beat one on one, we had some scheme issues, and we held the ball too long. To have that kind of an onslaught it took a lot of stuff.”
The good news for the Seahawks is that 40 percent of the offensive line could be different this week. As noted by Blount, guard James Carpenter could be returning from an ankle injury. That would send Alvin Bailey to the bench.
The bad news for the Seahawks is that the 49ers have linebacker Aldon Smith, who produced a pair of sacks on Sunday in his second game back from a nine-game suspension. Smith now has 44 sacks in 45 career regular-season games.
The Seattle offensive line gets its next test on a national stage, in the annual prime-time Thanksgiving game. Fail, and they may fall to 7-5 — which could cause the Seahawks to stumble out of the playoffs.
Texans running back Arian Foster has missed the last two games while dealing with a groin injury, which has dropped him down the list of league leaders in rushing yards.
Foster’s descent on the leader board could be coming to an end. The running back practiced on Wednesday and coach Bill O’Brien liked what he saw from Foster during the workout.
“He looked pretty good,” O’Brien said, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
McClain reports that Foster will start against Tennessee this week unless he has a setback, something you can’t rule out after Foster practiced early last week and then wound up back on the sideline. If he can play, he may shoot right back up the stat sheet. Foster had 151 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns in Houston’s earlier victory over the Titans.
Justin Forsett has played for five teams in six years, but he’s ready to settle down.
And he might have finally found a spot where they want him to.
Forsett’s found a home in Baltimore, and said he hopes to sign a longer-term deal this offseason.
“Definitely, this is a great place, a great organization,” Forsett told Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “It’s hard not to want to be here. Definitely, I’m sure after the season sometime they’ll probably get something done.
“I would love to sign here. I’ve been waiting my whole career to find a home somewhere to not have to move every offseason. So, that would be nice.”
Forsett emerged from the early season chaos regarding Ray Rice, and took over as the lead back. He has a career high 903 yards and seven touchdowns, and has helped the Ravens to rank sixth in the league in rushing offense.
“I think this time of year you have to be able to run the football,” Forsett said. “You want to be able to control the clock. We have a dominant front with the offensive line that we have, and we’re able to wear guys out. When it comes to the fourth quarter in the back end of the season, it’s difficult to stay with us.”
Time will tell if he stays with the Ravens past this season. After all, he’s 29, and has done stints with the Seahawks, Colts, Texans, Jaguars before landing in Baltimore this offseason.
But the fact he’s as old as he is may make them think twice about making a long-term commitment.
For much of this season, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been the rare member of the Jets roster that isn’t an answer to the question of what’s wrong with the Jets this season.
A toe injury suffered last Monday night against the Bills looks like it will change that. Wilkerson has gone for further evaluations and an MRI this week and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be in the lineup when the Jets face the Dolphins next Monday. Wilkerson is in a walking boot and coach Rex Ryan indicated the team’s planning not to have him.
“It doesn’t look good for Big Mo,” Ryan said, via ESPN.com. “If you’re in a boot, that doesn’t look good for this week. But, hopefully, we’ll get him back as soon as we can.”
Defensive end Sheldon Richardson is also banged up and left the loss to the Bills with a back injury. He missed practice on Wednesday and losing both Wilkerson and Richardson would offer the Dolphins a big advantage in a game Miami can’t afford to lose if they’re going to make the playoffs, but Ryan said he expects Richardson to be in the lineup.
Here are the skill-position players listed on the injury report as of Wednesday. Key fantasy starters are bolded.
Finally, a friendly reminder three games will be played Thursday: Bears-Lions (12:30 p.m. ET), Eagles-Cowboys (4:30 p.m. ET) and Seahawks-49ers (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
DID NOT PRACTICE
Bears WR Chris Williams (hamstring). — OUT
Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu (not injury related).
Bills TE Chris Gragg (knee).
Bills TE Lee Smith (illness).
Broncos RB Montee Ball (groin).
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot).
Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle).
Browns WR Marlon Moore (hamstring).
Buccaneers TE Brandon Myers (calf).
Buccaneers TE Luke Stocker (concussion).
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee).
Chiefs TE Anthony Fasano (knee).
Chiefs WR Junior Hemingway (concussion).
Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle).
Colts WR Reggie Wayne (not injury related).
Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).
Falcons WR Roddy White (ankle).
49ers TE Derek Carrier (foot). — OUT
Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts (illness).
Panthers WR Corey Brown (illness).
Rams WR Kenny Britt (back).
Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).
Seahawks TE Cooper Helfet (ankle). — OUT
Steelers TE Heath Miller (not injury related).
Steelers WR Martavis Bryant (illness).
Texans WR Andre Johnson (not injury related).
Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (back).
Vikings TE Chase Ford (hamstring, foot).
Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson (knee).
Bears WR Brandon Marshall (ankle). — PROBABLE
Bills K Dan Carpenter (right groin).
Bills WR Robert Woods (ankle).
Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion).
Buccaneers RB Charles Sims (ankle).
Buccaneers TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back).
Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (hip/foot).
Cardinals WR John Brown (teeth).
49ers TE Vance McDonald (back). — QUESTIONABLE
49ers WR Bruce Ellington (ankle). — QUESTIONABLE
Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle, back). — QUESTIONABLE
Packers TE Brandon Bostick (hip).
Patriots RB Shane Vereen (ankle).
Patriots WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder).
Raiders RB Latavius Murray (concussion).
Rams TE Cory Harkey (thigh).
Rams TE Jared Cook (back).
Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (thigh).
Texans RB Arian Foster (groin).
Titans RB Dexter McCluster (concussion).
Titans RB Leon Washington (hamstring).
Vikings RB Matt Asiata (concussion).
Washington RB Silas Redd (rib).
Washington TE Jordan Reed (hamstring).
Broncos RB Juwan Thompson (knee).
Broncos TE Virgil Green (calf).
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (shoulder).
Chargers WR Eddie Royal (toe).
Chiefs WR Donnie Avery (groin).
Cowboys WR Terrance Williams (finger). — PROBABLE
Eagles K Cody Parkey (right groin). — PROBABLE
Eagles WR Jordan Matthews (knee). — PROBABLE
Eagles TE Zach Ertz (oblique). — PROBABLE
49ers RB Bruce Miller (shoulder). — PROBABLE
49ers RB Frank Gore (knee). — PROBABLE
49ers WR Brandon Lloyd (quadricep). — PROBABLE
Giants WR Odell Beckham (back).
Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle). — PROBABLE
Panthers RB Mike Tolbert (knee).
Patriots WR Julian Edelman (thigh).
Raiders TE Brian Leonhardt (concussion).
Saints RB Mark Ingram (shoulder).
Saints RB Pierre Thomas (ribs, shoulder).
Saints RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring).
Saints WR Robert Meachem (ankle).
Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (back). — PROBABLE
Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse (ankle). — PROBABLE
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).
Vikings WR Greg Jennings (rib).
Vikings WR Jarius Wright (hamstring).
Note: All injury information is cited from the NFL and clubs.
On the football field, the 2-9 Buccaneers currently are as strong as a stiff drink. Especially when the drink is mixed with some of the alcohol sold at the team’s stadium.
According to WFLA, at least one customer purchased on November 9 a shot of tequila that ended up being colored water.
Aramark, the concessions vendor at Raymond James Stadium, contends that the liquid accidentally had been poured from a bottle that was intended to be decorative.
Troy Sykes captured cell-phone video of his experience, with the bar manager explaining that the decorative bottles were filled with water. Aramark has said it will stop that practice going forward. Sykes quickly got a refund; it sounds like what he really wanted was his drink.
“To see the Bucs play, you have to have a lot of alcohol in your system,” Sykes said.
“No question,” Woodson said when asked about playing in 2015, per the Associated Press.
“I’m not thinking about going into the 40s but I don’t know. I’ll continue to say it: I feel great. Why that is, I have no clue. I’ll play this season out and we’ll see what happens after that.”
The 17-year veteran defensive back only signed a one-year deal to return to the Raiders this past offseason. He became the first player in NFL history to record 50 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career with a sack of Alex Smith last Thursday night.
Woodson did say he may reconsider he intention to play next year, or longer, based on how his body feels at the end of the year.
But for now, Woodson expects to be roaming the defensive backfield again next season with a preference to stay with the Raiders.
Defensive end Chris Long appeared in only the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings before having ankle surgery and landing on the injured reserve-designated to return list for the St. Louis Rams.
But Long appears set to return to the lineup for the Rams this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
“He’s coming on,” head coach Jeff Fisher said, via R.B. Fallstrom of the Associated Press. “We’ve missed him, we’ve missed his production.”
Long has been able to practice the last three weeks with St. Louis with a Monday deadline to activate him from the injured reserve list.
Long has tried to lobby himself back into the lineup last week against San Diego with the Rams ultimately electing to hold him out another week. The 10 games Long has missed are the first of his seven-year career with the Rams.
The Bills have added a veteran kick returner for the stretch run, claiming Marcus Thigpen on waivers from Tampa Bay on Wednesday, the club said.
The 28-year-old Thigpen was the Buccaneers’ punt and kickoff returner for the first four games of November, bringing back six kickoffs for 120 yards and four punts for 65 yards. His most extensive NFL experience came with the Dolphins, for whom he returned kicks for two seasons (2012-2013). Thigpen (5-9, 200) has returned both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in regular season play.
The Bills are without their primary punt returner (Leodis McKelvin) and their primary kickoff returner (C.J. Spiller). McKelvin is out for the season with a broken ankle, while Spiller (broken collarbone) is on short-term injured reserve. Tailback Fred Jackson returned punts in Monday’s win vs. the Jets, while wide receiver Marcus Easley returned kickoffs.
To make room for Thigpen, the Bills waived rookie defensive end Bryan Johnson, who was inactive for a pair of games after being promoted from the practice squad on November 12.
A cracked collarbone was supposed to sideline Eagles quarterback Nick Foles for six to eight weeks. Foles could be out even longer than that.
According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the initial assessment may have been a “generous” one. Per McLane, Foles’ collarbone must be “more than” healed in order to protect it against further harm.
McLane reports that the current best-case scenario for Foles would entail a Week 16 return against Washington.
Foles suffered the injury on November 2, and he has missed three games. The question becomes whether Eagles coach Chip Kelly automatically would replaced backup Mark Sanchez with Foles as soon as Foles is cleared, or whether Sanchez would continue to play.
If Sanchez continues to struggle — and if the Eagles lose at least two of the next three against the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Cowboys again — Kelly may want to get Foles back on the field ASAFP, since a strong return from the starter could be exactly what the Eagles will need to salvage a berth in the postseason.
Before the draft, the Browns tried to make everyone think they’d select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. That everyone included someone named Sammy Watkins.
“I met with [G.M. Ray Farmer] probably a week before the combine, so yeah, in my head I thought I was going to get drafted there because Josh Gordon got into some trouble. Yeah,” Watkins told Cleveland reporters in advance of Sundays game between the Bills and the Browns.
Ultimately, Watkins was on the board when the Browns were on the clock. The Browns traded down, the Bills traded up, and Watkins now works in Buffalo.
“Being a first-round pick and having someone come up and get you, that’s the best feeling ever,” Watkins said. “Having someone trust you and think that you’re good enough to come up and get.”
The Bills gave up a 2015 first-round pick (and a 2015 fourth-round pick) to get Watkins. Does that add pressure?
“Not at all,” Watkins said. “I think that I’ve met their expectations throughout the course of this year, and I’ve been getting better every week. I’m doing good, and I think I’m going to keep improving and getting better.”
Watkins has been very good. But other receivers taken in the first round have played well, too. In hindsight, wouldn’t the Bills be in the same shape if they’d waited for Odell Beckham Jr. and saved the first-round and fourth-round picks?
Still, Watkins and Beckham aren’t rivals. They’re friends.
“We’re very close,” Watkins said. “I text him. We talk, and I wish the best for him. We all push each other every week. I push him; he pushes me. I watch him play; he watches me. Yeah, I try to go out there every week and beat his numbers and beat everybody’s numbers. That’s the ultimate goal — to be the best. That’s what he’s been doing. He’s been proving to everybody that he’s an elite receiver, a top receiver, and I think I’ve been doing the same.”
Watkins is right, but Beckham has done something that none of the other rookie receivers — and few in league history — have accomplished. If that pushes Watkins to make a highlight-reel catch for the ages, everybody wins.
How much is Jadeveon Clowney’s surgically-repaired knee bothering him? Enough to keep him from practicing on Wednesday.
The first overall pick in the 2014 draft missed Wednesday’s practice due to a lingering knee problem.
After Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, Clowney said he’s still affected by the injury.
Last week, Clowney participated in all practices on a limited basis. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be taking a game off in the hopes of getting himself healthier.
The 5-6 Texans host the Titans on Sunday.