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Patriots come back for incredible Super Bowl LI win

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Joe Montana might have had an argument. Before tonight.

Tom Brady just led the Patriots to a fifth Super Bowl title, with a 34-28 win in overtime against the Falcons which ought to cement his place as the coolest quarterback under pressure in the history of the game.

While running back James White plowed in with the game-winning touchdown run, it was Brady who defined the comeback.

No one had come back from more than 10 points in a Super Bowl, but no one has played Super Bowls the way Brady has.

He was 43-of-62 passing for 466 yards and two touchdowns. It was an incredible night of work after a flat first three quarters, which saw the Falcons build a 28-3 lead.

The Patriots won the coin toss and didn’t get the ball back, driving 62 yards in eight plays, leaving the Falcons looking gassed.

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PFT’s Super Bowl picks

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The Super Bowl arrives Sunday. Which means it’s time for me to quit going back and forth about who I think will win the game and finally make a pick and stick to it.

Whether MDS or I agree on the outcome of the Patriots-Falcons game doesn’t matter; he already has clinched the postseason contest, which is a nice bookend to his regular-season victory in our picks competition.

Still, everyone wants to get the last game of the season right, and either we both will — or we both won’t.

MDS’s take: The oddsmakers in Vegas are expecting this to be a high-scoring game, with the over-under set at 58.5, the highest ever for a Super Bowl. And I think it may be an even higher-scoring game than that.

Tom Brady and Matt Ryan aren’t just the media darlings during Super Bowl hype week, they’re the two best players in the NFL right now. Brady shook off his four-game Deflategate suspension to turn in what may have been his most impressive individual performance ever, while Ryan is expected to collect his first ever regular-season MVP award on Saturday night.

So how does this shootout play out? I see the Patriots and Falcons going back and forth in an exciting game, but the Patriots’ defense making a late fourth-quarter stop that turns out to make the difference. After a postseason full of dull games, I like the Patriots to win a classic at Super Bowl LI.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 35, Falcons 31.

Florio’s take: Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a history of concocting a defensive game plan that takes away what the opposing offense does best. It’s widely believed that, as it relates to the Falcons, Belichick will try to eliminate receiver Julio Jones.

Beyond Super Bowl XXXVI, where Belichick dared the Rams to run the ball and coach Mike Martz stubbornly didn’t, the template for this one possibly comes from Super Bowl XXV, when Belichick convinced the Giants defensive players that the way to outscore the Bills would be to let them run the ball.

“You guys have to believe me,” Belichick told his players, via David Halberstam’s The Education of a Coach. “If [Thurman] Thomas runs for a hundred yards, we win this game.”

It was hard sell, given that the team’s defense had been premised on shutting down the run. But Belichick got his players to embrace the strategy, and the Giants won the game by a single point.

While Belichick may not have spent the last two weeks lobbying the Patriots to let Devonta Freeman and/or Tevin Coleman to rush for more than 100 yards, Belichick is likely to ensure that the Atlanta passing game and running game won’t generate yardage in big chunks, forcing the Falcons to patiently work their way down the field and sustain drives and set up showdowns in the red zone, where New England’s defense has improved dramatically throughout the course of the season.

So it’s about more than taking away Jones. It’s about taking away quick-strike touchdown drives and shortening the game.

That’s why the New England offensive game plan will be critical, too. Running plays and short passes that simulate runs should be the preference, with Tom Brady showing the kind of patience that Belichick will try to force the Falcons to display. By keeping Matt Ryan and company on the sidelines for as long as possible, they’ll have fewer chances to wreak havoc or to get in the kind of a rhythm that has seen them rack up big leads in both playoff wins.

Ultimately, the goal will be to keep the game close and trust Brady and/or the defense to deliver with the championship on the line. That’s how the six prior Brady-and-Belichick Super Bowls have gone, with four of them going the way of the Patriots and the other two resulting in defeat only when Eli Manning managed two of the most impressive clutch throws the NFL has ever seen.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 27, Falcons 24.

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Full list of 103 players entering 2017 draft early

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The NFL announced on Friday that 103 players have been granted early entry rights to the 2017 draft. The full list of those players appears below.

Jamal Adams, S, LSU

Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida

Budda Baker, S, Washington

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida

Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State

KD Cannon, WR, Baylor

Devin Childress, WR, North Park

Michael Clark, WR, Marshall

Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

James Conner, RB, Pitt

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech

Jeremy Faulk, DT, Garden City CC

Tarean Folston, RB, Notre Dame

Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech

D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia

Davon Godchaux, DL, LSU

Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State

Isaiah Golden, DT, McNeese State

Jermaine Grace, LB, Miami

Derrick Griffin, WR, Texas Southern

Chad Hansen, WR, Cal

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech

Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming

Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech

Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

Titus Howard, DB, Slippery Rock

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC

Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State

Aaron Jones, RB, UTEP

Josh Jones, S, N.C. State

Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina

Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami

Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Tim Kimbrough, LB, Georgia

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

Jerome Lane, WR, Akron

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State

Keevan Lucas, WR, Tulsa

Marlon Mack, RB, USF

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee

Damien Mama, OL, USC

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia

Deon-Tay McManus, WR, Marshall

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami

Montae Nicholson, S, Michigan State

David Njoku, TE, Miami

Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

Marcus Oliver, LB, Indiana

Aaron Peak, DB, Butler County CC

Jabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan

Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

Elijah Qualls, DL, Washington

Devine Redding, RB, Indiana

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

John Ross, WR, Washington

Travis Rudolph, WR, FSU

Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson

Curtis Samuel, WR, Ohio State

Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland

David Sharpe, OL, Florida

Garrett Sickels, DE, Penn State

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama

Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss

Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State

Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford

Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

Darius Victor, RB, Towson

Khari Waithe-Alexander, DE, Southern Illinois

Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin

Marcus Williams, S, Utah

Stanley Williams, RB, Kentucky

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Howard Wilson, CB, Houston

Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

Joe Yearby, RB, Miami

Ishmael Zamora, WR, Baylor



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PFT’s conference championship game picks

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The season is getting closer and closer to its final act. The last Sunday with more than one game has arrived, and MDS and I are separated by only one game with three left.

Last week, I correctly picked three of the four games. MDS was 2-2. He’s 6-2 and I’m 5-3 so far in the postseason.

This week, keep reading to see what we think about the two games that will determine the Super Bowl participants.

Packers at Falcons

MDS’s take: Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are playing the quarterback position better than anyone else in the league right now. So this game should be a shootout, with 300-plus passing yards from both quarterbacks, and 30 or so points for both teams. The difference, I think, will be the Falcons’ ability to make plays both on the ground and through the air. I expect Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman to combine for more than 100 rushing yards and to help the Falcons protect a late lead. The Falcons will win a close one and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 33, Packers 30.

Florio’s take: Before Week One, I picked the Packers to get to the Super Bowl and win it. And then came the playoffs, where I had a chance to pick the Packers over the Giants, and didn’t. Next came the divisional round, where I had a chance to pick the Packers over the Cowboys. And didn’t. So now the Packers are one game away from making my September prediction at least half-accurate (the Ravens were my AFC choice), and I’m sorely tempted to pick against them again.

I’m stupid, but not that stupid. Aaron Rodgers has reached a higher level of performance, and he has sustained it regardless of who is running routes and catching passes. Yes, the Falcons have been great. The Falcons are good enough to advance. But in a toss-up game, I’ve got to go with the guy who made one of the best tosses we’ve ever seen to earn the spot in the NFC finals.

Florio’s pick: Packers 37, Falcons 31.

Steelers at Patriots

MDS’s take: Both of these teams’ offenses struggled in the divisional round, with the Patriots throwing as many interceptions in one game as they had thrown in 16 games of the regular season, and the Steelers failing to get to the end zone and winning on field goals. I think the AFC Championship Game may be a defensive struggle as well, perhaps with a defensive touchdown making the difference. In the end, I like the Patriots to win a close game and get to their seventh Super Bowl in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 24, Steelers 20.

Florio’s take: Bill Belichick likely will try to take away Antonio Brown, forcing the Steelers to run the ball into a two-gap front that could make Le’Veon Bell hesitate a little more than he already does before hitting the hole. Forcing the Steelers to sustain drives without mistakes on one hand and moving the ball largely at will against a defense that Tom Brady traditionally has managed to crack adds up to the Patriots emerging from the game with at least one more point than the Steelers.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 27, Steelers 20.

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Brady, Ben, Peyton are 14 of the last 16 AFC Super Bowl quarterbacks

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For the 14th time in the last 16 years, the AFC Super Bowl team will be quarterbacked by Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning.

That became certain when Brady’s Patriots and Roethlisberger’s Steelers won this weekend to meet in the AFC Championship Game. Either Brady will start his seventh Super Bowl, adding to his own NFL record, or Roethlisberger will start his fourth. Manning also started four.

The only other quarterback to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in the last 13 years was Joe Flacco, whose team topped Roethlisberger’s Steelers to win the AFC North in 2012, then beat Manning’s Broncos in the divisional playoffs and Brady’s Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Before that, the last other quarterback to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl was Rich Gannon, whose 2002 Raiders dethroned Brady’s 2001 Patriots as reigning AFC champions.

Sunday will be, incredibly, the 11th time Brady has started in the AFC Championship Game. It will be Roethlisberger’s fifth AFC Championship Game. Manning also started five AFC Championship Games.

Since 2001, the Patriots have advanced to 11 AFC Championship Games, the Steelers six (five with Roethlisberger, one without), the Colts four (three with Manning, one without) and the Broncos three (two with Manning, one without). So counting this year, those four teams will have accounted for 24 AFC Championship Game appearances since the 2001 season, with the other 12 AFC teams accounting for a combined eight AFC Championship Game appearances.

Here’s a list of the starting AFC quarterbacks in the Super Bowl for every season in the 21st Century:

2001: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2002: Rich Gannon, Raiders.

2003: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2004: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2005: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers.

2006: Peyton Manning, Colts.

2007: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2008: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers.

2009: Peyton Manning, Colts.

2010: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers.

2011: Tom Brady, Patriots.

.2012: Joe Flacco, Ravens.

2013: Peyton Manning, Broncos.

2014: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2015: Peyton Manning, Broncos.

2016: Brady or Roethlisberger.

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Tom Brady adding to long list of postseason records


When the Patriots face the Texans tonight, Tom Brady will break a record of his own just by stepping on the field, and then he’ll break more of his own records as the game goes on.

Brady will be playing in the 32nd postseason game of his career, which is the most in NFL history. He’s the first player ever to play the equivalent of two full seasons in the postseason. Here are all the career postseason records Brady owns:

Games played: Brady set the record of 31 last year, surpassing his old teammate Adam Vinatieri, who has played in 30 career postseason games. Tonight will be Brady’s 32nd career postseason game. Brady’s Patriots are 22-9 in the games he’s started; no other quarterback has been on the winning team more than 16 times.

Pass attempts: Brady has thrown 1,183 passes in the postseason, 156 more than second-place Peyton Manning. Brady will keep adding to that record tonight, and it’s a record no one will approach for many years, if ever: Ben Roethlisberger, with 540 career postseason passes, is second among active players, and he’s not even halfway to Brady’s total.

Pass completions: Brady owns the record with 738 postseason completions, 89 more than Peyton Manning. Again, no active player is close: Roethlisberger is second among active players with 334.

Yards gained: Brady has 7,957, which is 618 more than Peyton Manning. Roethlisberger is the active leader with 4,249.

300-yard games: Brady has 10 games of at least 300 yards passing, one more than Peyton Manning. Brady has thrown for at least 300 yards in each of his last three postseason games, and if he does it again tonight he’ll have four in a row, which would tie Dan Fouts for the most consecutive 300-yard postseason games.

Touchdown passes: Brady has 56 career postseason touchdown passes, 11 more than second-place Joe Montana. Aaron Rodgers is second among active players with 31.

Brady also owns the single-game postseason completion percentage at 92.9 percent, going 26-for-28 in a 2007 game against the Jaguars. And he co-owns the single-game postseason touchdown record, with six touchdowns in a win over the Broncos in 2011.

However, Brady also has to worry about setting one record he’d prefer not to set: Brady has thrown 28 career postseason interceptions, just two fewer than the all-time record holder, Brett Favre. When you play in as many postseason games as Brady has, you’re bound to throw a few picks. If he throws a few more, he’ll have one dubious record to go with all his extraordinary records.

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PFT’s divisional round picks

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I usually stink more than usual when it comes to picking playoff games, so I was relieved to go 2-2 last week. And then MDS went 4-0.

So with a two-game lead and only seven games left, I’m already screwed.

I can shave the deficit in half this week if the one game on which we disagree goes my way. For all of our picks for the divisional round, keep reading.

Seahawks at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Seahawks’ defense played well in shutting down the Lions last week, but the Falcons’ offense is a different animal. Matt Ryan played at an MVP level all season, and Julio Jones when healthy is the best receiver in the league. I’d like Seattle’s chances better if Earl Thomas were playing, but as it stands I’m having a hard time seeing the Seahawks’ secondary keeping the Falcons’ passing game in check.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 30, Seahawks 20.

Florio’s take: Seattle’s offensive instantly becomes more diversified with a potent Thomas Rawls and a healthy C.J. Prosise. But will that be enough against a Falcons offense that is as good as it’s ever been, with 9.3 average yards per pass and Matt Ryan performing at an MVP level? Ryan has struggled in past postseasons, but he’s never had a season like the one he had in 2016. With a defense that has improved quickly under head coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons can close out the Georgia Dome (unless Green Bay wins on Sunday) with a victory.

Florio’s pick: Falcons 24, Seahawks 21.

Texans at Patriots

MDS’s take: I can’t remember a more lopsided playoff game. The Patriots blew out the Texans during the regular season, and that was with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. With Tom Brady now back at the helm, I’ll be shocked if the Texans even keep this game close into the fourth quarter, let alone win.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Texans 16.

Florio’s take: Yes, Houston lost 27-0 in New England against a Patriots team that lacked Tom Brady. Sure, the Texans are favored to lose by 16. Of course, the Patriots are more determined than ever to get back to the Super Bowl and win it. To reverse those dynamics (and to close the dramatic the talent gap), the Texans need to score early, pressure Brady consistently, and avoid mistakes on special teams. They need to. They won’t.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 31, Texans 10.

Steelers at Chiefs

MDS’s take: This is the toughest game to pick this weekend. The Steelers’ offense is rolling right now, and I’m tempted to pick them on the road in a small upset. But the well-rested Chiefs defense should at least be able to slow the Steelers’ offense down, if not stop it. And in what should be a close game, I think a big play from the Chiefs’ great special teams will be the difference.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 28, Steelers 27.

Florio’s take: The Steelers plastered the Chiefs in Week Four, but that game was at home. Meanwhile, the Steelers lost a couple of road games to inferior teams; what happens at Arrowhead Stadium against a Chiefs team that continues to be overlooked as it continues to win far more games than it loses? The determination of running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown gives the Steelers a championship-caliber team. If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger really is fine after injuring his foot during garbage time of the wild-card round, the Steelers will be fine, too. Barely, but fine.

Florio’s pick: Steelers 27, Chiefs 24.

Packers at Cowboys

MDS’s take: Aaron Rodgers will make some plays with both his arm and his legs, but Green Bay will likely be missing Jordy Nelson, and that’s a huge loss. I like Dak Prescott to put up big numbers against the Packers’ defense and the Cowboys to win a shootout.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 35, Packers 31.

Florio’s take: One of the greatest quarterbacks in history faces the quarterback of the future. It’s a baton that won’t pass easily, not with the way Aaron Rodgers has been playing. But Dallas is good enough that it’s won’t be a duel between signal-callers. It will be a methodical smothering of Green Bay’s defense with an offensive line and a running game that chews the clock and keeps Rodgers in the one spot where he can’t hurt them — on the sideline. Unlike the Giants, the Cowboys will be able to convert any temporary Packers offensive sputtering into significant points, making it even harder for Rodgers to close the gap when he inevitably finds the gas pedal and mashes it.

Florio’s pick: Cowboys 30, Packers 22.

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NFL draft rules a raw deal for Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence

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If you’re watching tonight’s college football national championship game with an eye on seeing some future NFL stars, the first player you should look for is one who won’t be in the NFL until 2019.

Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence will be the most talented player on a field full of future NFL players when his team takes on Alabama tonight. But Lawrence is a true freshman, and NFL rules mandate that players must be out of high school for three years before they can turn pro, which means Lawrence will be toiling at the amateur level for two more seasons.

Lawrence will risk injury without earning the riches that a player of his talents should be allowed to earn. And there’s simply no reason that a 19-year-old adult shouldn’t have the right to earn a living at his chosen profession.

The NFL likes to claim that its draft rules protect young players who aren’t physically ready for the NFL. That’s preposterous. Lawrence is a 6-foot-5, 340-pound freakish athlete. He doesn’t need to be protected from anybody.

How freakish an athlete is Lawrence? Clemson says he runs the 40-yard dash in less than five seconds. At the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, the biggest defensive lineman to break 5.0 seconds in the 40 was Javon Hargrave, now a rookie starting at nose tackle for the Steelers. Hargrave weighed in at 309 pounds — about 30 pounds lighter than Lawrence.

Lawrence knows people say he’s a future first overall pick in the draft, although he’s modest about it. When told by Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports that an Alabama assistant coach had already proclaimed Lawrence the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Lawrence shrugged it off.

“It doesn’t matter now. I’m just a freshman,” Lawrence said. “I have a lot of technique I need to work on. . . . Little things. My pad level lower, hand placement, reading blocks quicker.”

But, of course, those are things Lawrence could be learning from NFL coaches while making millions of dollars a year, instead of learning from college coaches while getting room, board and tuition. Lawrence should be allowed to decide for himself whether he’s better off staying in college or playing professionally, and NFL teams should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they think he’s ready.

Instead, the league office decides that he can’t be drafted this year, or next year. That’s a raw deal for a great player.

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Full 2016 NFL All-Pro voting

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Here are the full vote totals for the 2016 NFL All-Pro team, selected by 50 members of the media chosen by the Associated Press:

Matt Ryan, Atlanta, 29; Tom Brady, New England, 15; Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, 5; Derek Carr, Oakland, 1.

Running Backs
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas, 47; David Johnson, Arizona, 3.

Tight End
Travis Kelce, Kansas City, 44; Greg Olsen, Carolina, 5; Rob Gronkowski, New England, 1.

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh, 43; Julio Jones, Atlanta, 30; Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants, 16; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay, 6; Jordy Nelson, Green Bay 5.

David Johnson, Arizona, 24; Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh, 18; Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants, 3; Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh, 1; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona, 1; LeSean McCoy, Buffalo, 1; Jarvis Landry, Miami, 1; Travis Kelce, Kansas City, 1.

Left Tackle
Tyron Smith, Dallas, 27; David Bakhtiari, Green Bay, 8; Joe Thomas, Cleveland, 7; Trent Williams, Washington, 3; Jason Peters, Philadelphia, 2; Taylor Lewan, Tennessee, 1; Donald Penn, Oakland, 1; Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati, 1.

Right Tackle
Jack Conklin, Tennessee, 27 1-2; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City, 6; Marcus Cannon, New England, 6; Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay, 5 1-2; Zach Strief, New Orleans, 2; Ryan Schraeder, Atlanta, 2; Marcus Gilbert, Pittsburgh, 1.

Left Guard
Kelechi Osemele, Oakland, 47; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore, 2; James Carpenter, New York Jets, 1.

Right Guard
Zack Martin, Dallas, 40; David DeCastro, Pittsburgh, 5; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore, 4; Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati, 1.

Travis Frederick, Dallas, 29; Alex Mack, Atlanta, 14; Rodney Hudson, Oakland, 5; Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh, 1, Brandon Linder, Jacksonville, 1.

Edge Rushers
Khalil Mack, Oakland, 46; Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta, 30; Cameron Wake, Miami, 3; Olivier Vernon, Miami, 3; Jadeveon Clowney, Houston, 3; Brandon Graham, Philadelphia, 3; Michael Bennett, Seattle, 2; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans, 2; Danielle Hunter, Minnesota, 2; Cliff Avril, Seattle, 2; Everon Griffen, Minnesota, 1; Joey Bosa, San Diego, 1.

Interior Linemen
Aaron Donald, St. Louis, 47; Damon Harrison, New York Giants 16; Ndamukong Suh, Miami, 12; Calais Campbell, Arizona, 7; Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay, 7; Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia, 6; Geno Atkins, Cincinnati, 5.

Bobby Wagner, Seattle, 48; Von Miller, Denver, 47; Sean Lee, Dallas, 41; Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo, 4; Luke Kuechly, Carolina, 2; C.J. Mosley, Baltimore, 1; Zach Brown, Buffalo, 1; Zachary Orr, Baltimore, 1; Alec Ogletree, Los Angeles, 1; Dont’a Hightower, New England, 1; Bernardick McKinney, Houston, 1; Lavonte David, Tampa Bay, 1; Whitney Mercilus, Houston, 1.

Aqib Talib, Denver, 27; Marcus Peters, Kansas City, 23; Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants, 17; Malcolm Butler, New England, 8; Casey Hayward, San Diego, 8; Richard Sherman, Seattle, 7; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota, 5; Chris Harris Jr., Denver, 4; Dominique-Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants, 1.

Landon Collins, New York Giants, 47; Eric Berry, Kansas City, 31; Devin McCourty, New England, 4; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay, 4; Earl Thomas, Seattle, 3; Harrison Smith, Minnesota, 3; Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati, 2; Kam Chancellor, Seattle, 2; Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia, 1; Eric Weddle, Baltimore, 1; Quintin Demps, Houston, 1; Darian Stewart, Denver, 1.

Defensive Back
Chris Harris Jr., Denver, 14; Dominique-Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants, 6; Malcolm Butler, New England, 5; Eric Berry, Kansas City, 3; Casey Hayward, San Diego, 3; Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia, 3; Patrick Peterson, Arizona, 2; Marcus Peters, Kansas City, 2; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota, 2; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay, 2; Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants, 2; Aqib Talib, Denver, 1; Darius Slay, Detroit, 1; Devin McCourty, New England, 1; Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay, 1; Richard Sherman, Seattle, 1; Eric Weddle, San Diego, 1.

Justin Tucker, Baltimore, 50.

Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles, 42; Marquette King, Oakland, 4; Pat McAfee, Indianapolis, 2; Brad Wing, New York Giants, 1; Sam Martin, Detroit, 1.

Kick Returner
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota, 41; Tyler Lockett, Seattle, 5; Tyreek Hill, Kansas City, 5.

Punt Returner
Tyreek Hill, Kansas City, 50.

Special Teamer
Matthew Slater, New England, 14; Nate Ebner, New England, 12; Dwayne Harris, New York Giants, 6; Justin Bethel, Arizona, 3; Matt Develin, New England, 3; Michael Thomas, Miami, 3; Chase Reynolds, Los Angeles, 3; Eric Murray, Kansas City, 2; Chris Maragos, Philadelphia, 1; Eric Weems, Atlanta, 1; Josh Bellamy, Chicago, 1.

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PFT’s 2016 awards

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In 29 days, the NFL will unveil the official 2016 awards. And, since it will happen the night before the Super Bowl, no one will care.

Speaking of things about which no one cares, here are the PFT 2016 awards.

In compiling them, I seek input from the full PFT staff. So blame them when you complain about the selections in the comments.

Offensive rookie of the year: Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. (Runners-up: Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill.)

Defensive rookie of the year: Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa. (Runners-up: Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones.)

Offensive player of the year: Cardinals running back David Johnson. (Runners-up: Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan, Saints quarterback Drew Brees.)

Defensive player of the year: Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack. (Runners-up: Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.)

Comeback player of the year: Packers receiver Jordy Nelson. (Runners-up: Dolphins defensive end Cam Wake, Ravens receiver Steve Smith.)

Coach of the year: Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. (Runner-up: Dolphins coach Adam Gase, Patriots coach Bill Belichick.)

Executive of the year: Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie. (Runner-up: Jerry Jones/Stephen Jones, Cowboys, Lions G.M. Bob Quinn.)

MVP: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. (Runner-up: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.)

And that’s that. No dinner, no prize, no press release, no plaque, no commemorative pen or pencil. Just the satisfaction from knowing that a bunch of guys who don’t know what they’re talking about know how to post content to the Internet.

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PFT’s wild-card picks

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Yes, MDS barely won the regular-season competition. With that and a dollar he can buy a newspaper. If they still sell newspapers.

The contest re-sets for the postseason. We start with four games. We disagree on half of them.

For our picks and #analysis, keep reading.

Raiders at Texans

MDS’s take: If Derek Carr were starting, I’d definitely pick the Raiders. If Matt McGloin were starting, I’d probably pick the Raiders. But with Connor Cook starting? A rookie who has never started an NFL game? I think I’m going to have to take the Texans. I don’t have much faith in the Texans’ quarterback, Brock Osweiler, either. But the Texans’ strong defense should make life miserable for Cook in what probably won’t be a very entertaining game, unless you enjoy watching overmatched quarterbacks.

MDS’s pick: Texans 16, Raiders 9.

Florio’s take: The easy take is, “Connor Cook? Riiiiight.” The more complex analysis is that Brock Osweiler, re-installed as the starter after playing poorly enough to get the hook, may be worse not better for the experience of being benched. And the team may not find much motivation in the reality that a win likely means a return trip to New England, where the Texans lost 27-0 to a team that lacked Tom Brady. Throw in lingering rumors that coach Bill O’Brien could be on the way out, and the Texans become a unexpectedly shaky proposition to advance.

Florio’s pick: Raiders 20, Texans 16.

Lions at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Seahawks haven’t been the same team since Earl Thomas went down, but the Lions haven’t been the same team since Matthew Stafford injured a finger on his throwing hand. Seattle is a tough place to play, and the Lions haven’t played well in a month, so I’ll take the Seahawks.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 30, Lions 17.

Florio’s take: The down-and-up Seahawks are vulnerable, with alternating losses and wins over the last six games. But the Lions have lost three in a row to cap a season that includes no wins over a team that made it to the playoffs. While an upset isn’t out of the question, the safer choice is the home team, which has been very hard to beat at home in the playoffs.

Florio’s pick: Seahawks 27, Lions 17.

Dolphins at Steelers

MDS’s take: Pittsburgh did the smart thing last week, resting Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. With their three key players fresh, the Steelers should roll over an injury-plagued Dolphins team.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 31, Dolphins 17.

Florio’s take: Three times before, these teams have met in the playoffs. Each time, the winner of the game went to the Super Bowl. The Steelers seem to be better equipped to climb the playoff tree, especially with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown all playing in a postseason game for the first time. While the Dolphins, who beat the Steelers handily during the regular season, seem to be on the cusp of annual contention, simply getting to the playoffs is an accomplishment that should be fully appreciated.

Florio’s pick: Steelers 31, Dolphins 23.

Giants at Packers

MDS’s take: Eli Manning has been a below-average quarterback this season, while an excellent Giants defense has won a lot of games despite the offense struggling. Unfortunately for the Giants, Aaron Rodgers may be playing better football right now than any quarterback the Giants have faced. I like the Packers to win on a cold day at Lambeau Field.

MDS’s pick: Packers 24, Giants 16.

Florio’s take: The best game of the weekend is the toughest one to pick. The Packers are performing arguably as well as they ever have, but “Postseason Eli” brings the kind of magical calm that can propel the Giants all the way to the Super Bowl. The wild card is receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In his first career playoff game, will he be dominant? Will he be motivated by the endless ESPN #hottakes regarding his day-off trip to Miami? Will he score a pair of touchdowns? Will he pretend to drop his pants and rub his rear end against the goalpost, in the ultimate homage to Randy Moss? Six straight wins have been impressive for the Packers, but the Eli-Odell factor can’t be ignored. If Beckham comes up big on the biggest stage, the Giants will be very hard to beat.

Florio’s pick: Giants 24, Packers 23.

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Playoff teams’ records vs. other playoff teams


Here’s the record for each of this year’s playoff teams in games against other playoff teams:

Patriots: 4-1 (beat Dolphins, Texans, Steelers, Dolphins; lost to Seahawks)

Seahawks: 3-1 (beat Dolphins, Falcons, Patriots; lost to Packers)

Packers: 5-2 (beat Lions, Giants, Texans, Seahawks, Lions; lost to Cowboys, Falcons)

Cowboys: 3-2 (beat Packers, Steelers, Lions; lost to Giants, Giants)

Giants: 3-2 (beat Cowboys, Cowboys, Lions; lost to Packers, Steelers)

Chiefs: 3-2 (beat Raiders, Falcons, Raiders; lost to Texans, Steelers)

Falcons: 2-2 (beat Raiders, Packers; lost to Seahawks, Chiefs)

Steelers: 2-3 (beat Chiefs, Giants; lost to Dolphins, Patriots, Cowboys)

Texans: 2-3 (beat Chiefs, Lions; lost to Patriots, Raiders, Packers)

Dolphins: 1-3 (lost to Seahawks, Patriots, Patriots; beat Steelers)

Raiders: 1-3 (beat Texans; lost to Falcons, Chiefs, Chiefs)

Lions: 0-5 (lost to Packers, Texans, Giants, Cowboys, Packers)

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Playoff Power Rankings

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The regular season is over, which means that 20 teams are now 0-0. Which means that I have no interest in ranking those teams as the postseason looms.

But I do have interest in ranking the remaining playoff teams. Which I’ll do right now.

1. Patriots (14-2): The No. 1 seed in the postseason will see Matt McGloin, Connor Cook, Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, Matt Moore, or a banged-up Ryan Tannehill in the divisional round. In other words, the Patriots will be hosting the AFC title game.

2. Cowboys (13-3): They need to root for the Lions to beat the Seahawks. Otherwise, the Giants or Packers will get a chance to beat the Cowboys in their own building in the divisional round.

3. Chiefs (12-4): They can spend the entire bye preparing for the Steelers, not because the Steelers definitely will win on Sunday but because a Dolphins upset would deliver Oakland or Houston to Kansas City.

4. Steelers (11-5): For the first time ever, the Steelers will play a postseason game with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell in the lineup.

5. Giants (11-5): “Postseason Eli” isn’t a very flashy name for a superhero who makes rare appearances, but there’s nothing flashy about the Giants quarterback so it works.

6. Falcons (11-5): An upset loss by the Cowboys in the divisional round could mean that the last game in the Georgia Dome would be the NFC title game.

7. Packers (10-6): They managed to win six in a row. They’re capable of winning four more in a row.

8. Dolphins (10-6): Next year at this time, the Dolphins could be sitting pretty with the No. 1 seed.

9. Seahawks (10-5-1): Upset alert in Seattle, where the team isn’t as good as it’s been and the wound is still oozing from the final play of Super Bowl XLIX.

10. Lions (9-7): They’re good enough to earn the right to go back to Dallas and lose by 21.

11. Raiders (12-4): Can Rich Gannon get in game shape by Saturday?

12. Texans (9-7): Can David Carr get in game shape by Saturday?

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Doug Whaley press conference excerpts regarding Rex Ryan and the coaching search

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[Editor’s note: On Monday, Bills G.M. Doug Whaley made himself available to the media for the first time all season. The Bills have circulated a full transcript of the lengthy session. PFT has edited the transcript to include relevant questions and answers relating to the decision to fire coach Rex Ryan and the search for a new coach.]

Q: A press conference of this consequence, why do we not have ownership or the team president here with you and why are you out here on your own?

A: As season-ending review of the football operation department, I speak for the ownership and the team president, and I speak for our football operation department.

Q: Doug, you said that you represent ownership so we haven’t had a chance to hear from Terry or Kim [Pegula] regarding Rex Ryan’s firing. Walk us through. Why was he fired? What was the thought process?

A: We had just finished our weekly phone conversation with Terry, myself, and Rex. Rex asked to speak to him privately. After that, I was informed that Rex would no longer be our coach. I wasn’t privy to the conversation so I cannot get into those details.

Q: Did his not making the playoffs have anything to do with his firing?

A: Again, I was not privy to the details of the conversation.

Q: Doug, you mentioned the last coaching search was done by committee approach. What was your personal recommendation in January of 2015 on Rex Ryan?

A: I will not get into that.

Q: So are you not responsible for the hiring of Rex Ryan? Was that not your guy?

A: It’s a Bills hire, so I’m part of it. Yes.

Q: Along those lines, why do you think they didn’t have faith in you to make that hire yourself? You’re the General Manager, that’s one of the jobs that a General Manager does. What gives you any more credibility now?

A: Back then, we’d have to talk to the Pegulas but we decided, as a group, that we would make it a committee approach and they would have the final say. This time, I have faith – the ownership has faith in me and I have faith in myself. We’ll see where it goes. And I understand the gravity of the situation and I understand that it’s falling square on my shoulders and I accept the challenge.

Q: But you not taking ownership of the previous thing, you know part of that committee — you said you don’t want to get into it. If you agreed with the hire —

A: I did.

Q: You agreed with it?

A: I did. It’s a Bills hire. Correct.

Q: Does that give you even less credibility now, then, considering what happened with the hire?

A: I’ll let you debate that but I would say that it was —

Q: Well, there’s a lot of debate about it.

A: Then we won’t debate it.

Q: Who was part of that committee two years ago?

A: It was myself, [team president] Russ Brandon, Kim and Terry Pegula.

Q: Will Russ be part of the committee this time?

A: With Russ’s expanded responsibilities with [Pegula Sports Entertainment], he will not be.

Q: My follow-up is because you just made a reference to Russ’s expanded role with [Pegula Sports Entertainment]. Is something new or are we just talking about the fact that —

A: Yeah, he’s in charge of all — yeah, I don’t even know what he’s in charge of. I just know he’s in charge of a lot.

Q: The decision to made Rex Ryan was made weeks ago I was told.

A: I’ll answer that one; then you have a lot more information than I did. I wasn’t privy to any part of Rex Ryan being fired until I was told by Terry Pegula.

Q: Really? Not even as the General Manager?

A: We usually have those discussions at the year-end evaluation along with all the players, all the staff, all my staff. So again, I wasn’t privy to that information so I can’t answer that and maybe you can shed some light on that. Now, according to Tyrod [Taylor], we’re still in the playoff hunt and until it’s zero, we’re trying to win every game so we’re trying to put the best team out there to win.

Q: Regarding an explanation to the fans, how can you speak for ownership if you were not privy to the details?

A: I can’t give you the particulars of what happened in that conversation. I can just tell you that I was informed that he would not be our head coach going forward.

Q: How does that happen though? You’re the G.M.

A: Because, again, we usually hold those conversations after the season. Season-end evaluation of not only coaching staff and my staff but players.

Q: You had no input?

A: Again, I was not privy to that conversation.

Q: You said you understand the narrative earlier when Rex was fired and you or ownership didn’t speak. Do you worry about how that makes the organization look when you are trying to appeal to prospective head coaches?

A: I don’t because there was going to be a narrative no matter what we had done that day. That painted us any picture that you guys wanted to paint us.

Q: Did you ever get the sense that Rex was in trouble with the Pegulas? Were you ever moved to maybe come to his defense?

A: I’ll have to say this again, we hold those conversations at the end of the year, usually for the evaluations. So I had no need to go and talk to them about Rex. We were focused on the season. We always focus on the game ahead.

Q: You had no word that he was in trouble though?

A: No.

Q: You didn’t know that he might get fired?

A: No.

Q: Speaking for ownership, have they communicated or given an explanation to you why, with regards to all of this, why they would only put out a statement and do not want to directly address the fans?

A: They haven’t talked to me about it and I don’t need them to talk to me about it.

Q: Just to be clear, you didn’t have full responsibility in the hiring of Rex, you didn’t have responsibility in the firing of Rex, you said you never had a hunch that he was on a hot seat with ownership. So to you as the G.M. of the team, is it frustrating that you don’t have that sort of power, any sort of say in the situation? Because on the outside looking in, it doesn’t look like you have much power here.

A: Everybody has a boss, and the Pegulas, when the hiring of Rex, it was a committee approach, Pegulas had to sign off on it. This one, I will lead the search, the Pegulas still have to sign off on it. The head coach reports to the Pegulas.

Q: As the head of football operations, it seems like you’re not making all of the football decisions. Some of those decisions are coming from the Pegulas and if they want to fire the coach, they’re the owners. Is that the owners job to be making football decisions, or do they have somebody—you—who runs the football department and if they succeed, congratulations. If they fail, you’re in trouble.

A: I mean it doesn’t matter, no matter what. It’s their organization, their franchise. So they’re going to have the ultimate stamp no matter what. If it’s on me in charge over the coach, or the coach and I at the same level, it’s still ultimately their decisions.

Q: Did you agree with the decision to fire Rex?

A: I won’t get — I’ll say this much, I haven’t even thought about it. My focus now is going ahead.

Q: You didn’t have any kind of ‘Well, OK I agree,” or ‘Wait a minute, I’m a football guy and you’re not football people. Maybe we should talk about this?’ Just to have a discussion?

A: That wasn’t in my thought process.

Q: So you have not thought about the decision to fire Rex Ryan?

A: I have not because my job is to go from the decision, and move this organization forward. So that would be wasted time, and I’d rather put that time and effort into going forward.

Q: So whether it was a good call or bad call, that never came up in your mind?

A: No. It’s onward and upward.

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Tracking the 2017 coaching/G.M. searches

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The regular season is over and the coaching carousel is spinning around the league.

The Rams, Jaguars and Bills didn’t wait for the end of the season to fire their coaches and the Chargers and 49ers didn’t wait long after the final whistle to do the same. The Broncos job opened up when Gary Kubiak stepped down, which left six openings before Black Monday even arrived.

We’ll be tracking all the interviews and signs of interest in candidates for head coaching jobs right here. We’ll also have all the people involved in General Manager searches.

Buffalo Bills

Fired Rex Ryan before final game of the season. Expected to interview interim head coach Anthony Lynn. Expected to interview Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. Asked for permission to interview Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Have reportedly spoken to Eagles about interviewing offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Interviewed McDermott. Interviewed Lynn. Scheduled to interview Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard. Having a second interview with McDermott, who is expected to get the job. Offered the job to McDermott and announced that he accepted the job on January 11.

Denver Broncos

Gary Kubiak stepped down after the final game of the season. Requested permission to interview Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Will interview Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub and Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Hired Joseph as their head coach.

Indianapolis Colts

Fired General Manager Ryan Grigson on January 21 and made Jimmy Raye their interim G.M. Requested permission to interview Seahawks execs Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer. Requested interview with Vikings assistant G.M. George Paton. Requested interview with Packers exec Eliot Wolf. Requested interview with Chiefs exec Chris Ballard. Reportedly requested interview with Ravens exec Eric DeCosta, but the Colts announced Ballard, Kirchner, Fitterer, Raye, Paton and Wolf would be the only six people interviewing for the job.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Fired Gus Bradley with two games left in the regular season. Interim coach Doug Marrone is expected to be a candidate. Interviewed Tom Coughlin before final game of regular season. Scheduled for interview with Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. Scheduled interview with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Scheduled interview with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Expected to interview Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Expected to interview Bills interim coach Anthony Lynn. Hired Marrone on a permanent basis and named Coughlin their executive vice president of football operations.

Los Angeles Rams

Fired Jeff Fisher with three games left in regular season. Will interview interim coach John Fassel. Expected to interview Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. Scheduled interview with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and would like to talk to Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Scheduled interview with Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Requested permission to talk to Jaguars interim coach Doug Marrone. Reportedly interested in Saints coach Sean Payton, but Payton said he’s staying in New Orleans. Requested permission to speak to Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Bills interim coach Anthony Lynn. Expected to interview Panthers assistant head coach Steve Wilks. Requested permission to interview Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Interviewed McVay and Goodwin. Interviewed Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. Scheduled a second meeting with McVay. Scheduled a second interview with Lynn. Hired McVay on January 12.

San Diego Chargers

Fired Mike McCoy after Week 17 loss. Requested permission to interview Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Requested permission to interview Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Requested permission to interview Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub. Requested permission to interview Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Requested permission to interview Mike Smith. Requested permission to interview Chargers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Interview with Joseph did not happen as Joseph was hired by the Broncos. Scheduled a second interview with Lynn. Hired Lynn on January 12.

San Francisco 49ers

Fired head coach Chip Kelly after Week 17 loss. Will interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. List of candidates also includes Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable, Bills interim coach Anthony Lynn, Jaguars interim coach Doug Marrone and Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Scheduled interview with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Scheduled interview with Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Interviewed Lynn. Expected to interview Cable after Seattle’s Wild Card round game. Scheduled an interview with Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. McDaniels withdrew name from consideration. Shanahan is expected to be the team’s next coach.

Fired General Manager Trent Baalke after Week 17 loss. Requested permission to interview Chiefs exec Chris Ballard, but Ballard reportedly has declined. The 49ers also have interest in speaking with Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, Vikings assistant general manager George Paton and Seahawks co-player personnel directors Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer. Expected to interview Packers execs Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst. Scheduled interview with Riddick. Scheduled interview with Paton. Expected to interview Colts exec Jimmy Raye. Expected to interview Kirchner and Fitterer after Seattle’s Wild Card round game. Scheduled an interview with Panthers exec Brandon Beane. Scheduled an interview with Cardinals VP of player personnel Terry McDonough. Expected to hold second interviews with Gutekunst, Wolf and Paton. Wolf and Gutekunst pulled out of the running and signed new deals with the Packers. McDonough and Paton set to interview a second time on January 28.

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