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The daily (sort of) coaching/G.M. search update

Whisenhunt Getty Images

One week since Black Monday, the list of vacancies has expanded back to five.

Here’s our daily (or thereabouts) look at the various openings and the status of each search.

For those of you who pointed out that we didn’t do one on Sunday, your partial refund checks are in the mail.  Don’t spend it all in one place.

The information below is based on the various reports that are circulating, most of which previously have appeared on the site with proper credit.

Or maybe we should just say, “NBC and media reports.”

Browns:  Interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Friday.  Interviewed Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Saturday.  Reportedly have no interview scheduled with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, and no plan to interview him.  Reportedly interviewed Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn last week.  Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase won’t interview until the Broncos’ season is over.  The Browns reportedly have interest in Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, and former Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

Redskins:  Interviewed Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott on Saturday.  Interviewed Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell on Sunday.  Will interview Giants defensie coordinator Perry Fewell.  Requested permission to interview Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt (pictured), 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.  Reportedly will interview Cowboys special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.  Reportedly will interview Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.

Vikings: Reportedly interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton.  Reportedly interested in Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, along with Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.  Reportedly interested in Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Lions: Interviewed Ravens offensive coordinator and former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell on Friday.  No other interviews are scheduled, but Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer are both believed to be candidates.  Per multiple reports, Whisenhunt appears to be the favorite.

Titans:  Interested in Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cowboys special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.

Buccaneers:  Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard reportedly is the leading candidate for the G.M. position.

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NFL morning after: A great time for great quarterbacks

kaepernick AP

The NFL is, more than ever before, a quarterback league. And we’ve got some great ones playing in these playoffs.

If the wild card weekend taught us anything, it’s that the NFL in 2014 is dominated by quarterbacks. When quarterbacks are playing great football, like Andrew Luck and Alex Smith played in Indianapolis on Saturday, the results are spectacular. When quarterbacks are playing badly, like Andy Dalton played in Cincinnati on Sunday, the result is a team with no chance to win, even when its defense plays well.

The good news for fans who like offense is that next weekend’s four games have what may be the best quarterback matchups in NFL history. Just think about how good the quarterbacks are in the four divisional round games:

Philip Rivers vs. Peyton Manning: Manning will win the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his career for his record-breaking 2013 season, and he’s the best passer in football. But after Manning, the next-best passer in the NFL over the course of the 2013 season was Rivers. Rivers completed a league-leading 69.5 percent of his passes in the regular season, had 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and took a team that looked before the season like one of the worst in the NFL to the playoffs. This will be a great matchup of great passers.

Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady: Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns as he got the first postseason win of his career on Saturday, and now he’ll travel to New England and face Brady, who has 17 career postseason wins. If the Colts can pull the upset, this could be a changing of the guard: The quarterback who has three Super Bowl rings giving way to a much younger quarterback who’s probably going to win multiple Super Bowl rings before his career is over.

Drew Brees vs. Russell Wilson: Brees topped 5,000 passing yards for the fourth time in his career this season; no one else has reached 5,000 yards more than once. Wilson, who grew up idolizing Brees, may be the most exciting player to enter the NFL in recent years: He scrambles like Fran Tarkenton and has a gun like John Elway.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Cam Newton: This is the one that has me the most excited because it’s the one that has the greatest potential to show us what the future of football will be. Running quarterbacks are here to stay, and in Kaepernick and Newton we have the two best running quarterbacks in football facing off. Kaepernick has two of the three best rushing performances by a quarterback in NFL postseason history, with his 181-yard game against Green Bay last year and his 98-yard game against Green Bay on Sunday. Newton led all quarterbacks in rushing in the regular season, with 585 yards, and he’s the all-time quarterback record holder for rushing touchdowns in a season.

Quarterback matchups don’t get any better than that, and that’s what I’m most excited about heading into the divisional weekend. Here are my observations from wild card weekend:

There were no 100-yard rushers. The flip side of the NFL being a league of great quarterbacks is that the running game has been de-emphasized. There wasn’t a single 100-yard runner in the NFL this weekend. In fact, it was a quarterback, Kaepernick, who led all runners in the wild card round with his 98-yard game against the Packers. Running backs just aren’t the NFL’s marquee players anymore.

Smith had a game like no other. Until Saturday, no player in NFL history had ever passed for 350 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and added 50 yards on the ground in any game, regular season or postseason. But Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith became the first player to do it on Saturday when he passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, and added 57 rushing yards. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be judged on wins and losses: When a quarterback plays the way Smith played on Saturday and leads his team to 44 points, he shouldn’t be judged harshly just because his team’s defense gave up 45 points. But the reality is that quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses, and so a lot of people will choose to remember that Smith overthrew an open Cyrus Gray on what could have been a touchdown pass, that Smith lost a fumble and that Smith’s intentional grounding penalty took the Chiefs out of field goal range late in the game. Me, I’ll remember that Smith turned in the game of his life.

Hilton stepped up in a big way. T.Y. Hilton, who became the Colts’ No. 1 receiver by default after Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending injury, had the best game of his career and one of the best games anyone has ever had in the playoffs on Saturday. Hilton’s 13 catches were tied for the second most in NFL postseason history, and his 224 receiving yards were tied for the third most in NFL postseason history. The Colts were very wise to take Hilton in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, the same draft in which they selected Andrew Luck. Those two are going to be a great combination for many years to come.

Two big changes for the Saints panned out. After the Saints’ Week 15 loss to the Rams, New Orleans coach Sean Payton decided he had seen enough of struggling kicker Garrett Hartley and left tackle Charles Brown. And so the Saints cut Hartley and signed Shayne Graham to take his place, and benched Brown and promoted rookie left tackle Terron Armstead to the starting lineup. Both moves looked very good in Saturday’s playoff win over the Eagles. Graham went 4-for-4 on field goals, while Armstead held his own against the Eagles’ pass rush and helped keep Drew Brees upright. Give Payton credit for recognizing two spots on his team that needed to get better, and making the necessary changes.

McCoy couldn’t get loose. During the regular season, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, averaged 5.1 yards a run and 10.4 yards a catch, and had 17 different plays of 20 yards or more. Against the Saints on Saturday, McCoy averaged just 3.7 yards a run and 3.8 yards a catch, and his longest play of the day was 11 yards. The ability of Rob Ryan’s New Orleans defense to keep McCoy in check was a huge part of the Eagles’ season ending on Saturday.

Lewis can build a defense, but he can’t build a quarterback. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has a well-earned reputation as a great defensive mind, and his defense was strong on Sunday, holding a good San Diego offense in check for most of the game. Unfortunately, Lewis has Andy Dalton as his quarterback, and Dalton was beyond terrible on Sunday, with three turnovers that pretty much handed the game to the Chargers. Lewis may need to sign or draft another quarterback this offseason because Dalton simply isn’t up to the task.

Keenan Allen plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. Allen, the rookie receiver who led the Chargers with 1,046 receiving yards, only had two catches for 21 yards on Sunday. So why am I singling Allen out for praise? Because I love the way this young man plays the game, even when he’s not getting the ball. Allen’s brutal but legal block to spring teammate Eddie Royal on a nine-yard run was my single favorite play of the weekend.

TV is better than being there. Three of the four teams that hosted games over the weekend had trouble selling out their stadiums, and no one should be surprised by that. The truth is, if you have an HD TV and a comfortable couch, sitting at home and watching the games for free is a lot better than paying a small fortune to sit in an uncomfortable stadium, often in terrible weather, surrounded by loudmouth drunks. I don’t blame the fans in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Green Bay who were slow to sell out their stadiums last week, and if anything surprises me, it’s that Philadelphia fans sold out their stadium within minutes of the Eagles putting playoff tickets for sale. If I lived in Philadelphia, I would have much rather been at home on Saturday afternoon, watching that great Chiefs-Colts second half, than in my car fighting traffic on my way to the game. And I would have rather been at home to watch my team lose to the Saints than sit in the cold on Saturday night. The best place to watch football is at home.

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PFT’s defensive player of the year

Mathis Getty Images

In his second season as a 3-4 linebacker and his first without Dwight Freeney to soak up the bulk of the attention, Colts linebacker Robert Mathis has a career performance.

The 11th year defender racked up a league-high 19.5 sacks, and that’s good enough to make Mathis the PFT defensive player of the year.

His previous high-water mark for any one season had been 11.5 sacks.

It would mean a lot,” Mathis recently said regarding potential recognition as the defensive player of the year.  “It’s definitely something coming in as a rookie that you couldn’t foresee, just trying to make the team.  But hard work pays off and I got a lot of teammates that I was able to lean on this year and they were able to help get to this spot right now.”

While it won’t be known for 29 days whether Mathis wins the official Associated Press version of the award, he can find some solace in securing the PFT version of the prize.

Other finalists were Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

Cast your own ballot below, and/or defend your selection in the comments.  Or criticize ours.

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Manning, Sherman and Mathis among AP first team All-Pros

Peyton Manning AP

We’ll have to wait a while for the NFL’s individual awards to be handed out, but the wait for the unveiling of this year’s Associated Press All-Pro team has come to an end.

The organization released the results of voting for the first and second teams on Friday and the identity of the first-team quarterback likely comes as no surprise. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning set new single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns in 2013, making him an easy choice for the league’s top quarterback during the regular season. It is the seventh time Manning has been named a first team All-Pro.

The AP did not name a second-team quarterback, the only position left unfilled on that unit, because Manning was a unanimous selection by the 50 voters.

The entire teams are:

First Team Offense

Quarterback: Peyton Manning, Denver

Running Backs: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia; Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

Fullback: Mike Tolbert, Carolina

Tight End: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans

Wide Receivers: Calvin Johnson, Detroit; Josh Gordon, Cleveland

Tackles: Joe Thomas, Cleveland; Jason Peters, Philadelphia

Guards: Louis Vasquez, Denver; Evan Mathis, Philadelphia

Center: Ryan Kalil, Carolina

Kicker: Justin Tucker, Baltimore.

Kick Returner: Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota

First Team Defense

Defensive Ends: J.J. Watt, Houston; Robert Quinn, St. Louis

Defensive Tackles: Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay; Ndamukong Suh, Detroit

Outside Linebackers: Robert Mathis, Indianapolis; Lavonte David, Tampa Bay

Inside Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Carolina; NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco

Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman, Seattle; Patrick Peterson, Arizona

Safeties: Earl Thomas, Seattle; Eric Berry, Kansas City

Punter: Johnny Hekker, St. Louis

Second Team Offense

Quarterback: None

Running Backs: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota; Eddie Lacy, Green Bay

Fullback: Marcel Reece, Oakland

Tight End: Vernon Davis, San Francisco

Wide Receivers: A.J. Green, Cincinnati; Demaryius Thomas, Denver, and Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

Tackles: Tyron Smith, Dallas; Joe Staley, San Francisco

Guards: Jahri Evans, New Orleans; Logan Mankins, New England, and Josh Sitton, Green Bay

Center: Alex Mack, Cleveland

Placekicker: Matt Prater, Denver

Kick Returner: Dexter McCluster, Kansas City

Second Team Defense

Defensive Ends: Mario Williams, Buffalo; Greg Hardy, Carolina

Defensive Tackles: Dontari Poe, Kansas City; Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets, Jurrell Casey, Tennessee, and Justin Smith, San Francisco

Outside Linebackers: Tamba Hali, Kansas City; Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco

Inside Linebackers: Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati; Karlos Dansby, Arizona

Cornerbacks: Aqib Talib, New England; Joe Haden, Cleveland, and Alterraun Verner, Tennessee

Safeties: Eric Weddle, San Diego; Kam Chancellor, Seattle, Jairus Byrd, Buffalo, T.J. Ward, Cleveland, Devin McCourty, New England, and Antrel Rolle, New York Giants

Punter: Brandon Fields, Miami

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The daily coaching/G.M. search update

Bowles Getty Images

With the interviews happening and new names emerging constantly, we’ll keep you updated on a daily (or close to it) basis on all the candidates for all the coaching (still four) and G.M. (still one) openings throughout the NFL.

Here’s the rundown as to the open jobs for the first Friday of 2014.

Browns:  Reportedly will interview Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles (pictured) on Friday.  Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has been flagged as possibly having the “inside track” to the job by former Rams G.M. Tony Softli.  Reportedly interviewed Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Wednesday.  Will interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Saturday.  Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase won’t interview until the Broncos’ season is over.  The Browns reportedly have interest in Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, and former Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

Redskins:  Reportedly will interview Cowboys special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.  Reportedly will interview Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.  G.M. Bruce Allen said Bill Cowher hasn’t been contacted, which makes sense since Cowher would want control over the draft and the roster, powers recently acquired by Allen.

Vikings:  Reportedly interested in Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, neither of whom can be interviewed until after Sunday’s playoff game, win or lose.  Reportedly will interview Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.  Reportedly interested in Broncos offensive coordinator Peyton Manning Adam Gase and Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Lions: Reported will interview Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell on Monday.  Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt reportedly is a strong candidate; he can’t interview until after Sunday’s playoff game, win or lose.  (Whisenhunt and G.M. Martin Mayhew were college teammates.)  Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable reportedly is — and reportedly isn’t — a candidate. The Lions had interest in Lovie Smith and Bill O’Brien, both of whom took jobs elsewhere.

Buccaneers:  Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard reportedly is the leading candidate for the G.M. position.

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PFT’s offensive player of the year

PeytonManning AP

Some of the postseason awards require a little thought.  Some require none.

Two years removed from a season lost due to multiple neck surgeries (he’s had four in all), Peyton Manning put together the greatest season for any quarterback in league history.  He set a record for touchdown passes with 55, beating the past record by 10 percent.  Manning also broke Drew Brees‘ two-year-old single-season passing yardage record, besting a mark that previously stood for 28 years.

In all, Manning completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 5,477 yards, 55 scores, and a passer rating north of 115.0.  He also ran for a touchdown on a once-per-half-decade naked bootleg against the Cowboys.

The other finalists, albeit distant, for the award included Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who became the team’s first NFL rushing champ since the days of Steve Van Buren with 1,607 yards and nine touchdowns.  McCoy added 539 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, pushing his yards from scrimmage above 2,100.

Browns receiver Josh Gordon generated the most receiving yardage in the league with 1,646, despite missing two games due to a suspension and dealing with a revolving door at quarterback.

Other finalists were Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (1,287 rushing yards, 693 receiving yards, 19 total touchdowns), Saints quarterback Drew Brees (5,162 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, 68.6 completion percentage), and Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (110 catches for 1,499 yards, nine total touchdowns).

Cast a ballot below for your favorite, and elaborate in the comments.

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The daily coaching/G.M. search update

Josh McDaniels AP

Now that the dust has settled (temporarily) on the array of coaches (six, so far) and General Managers (one, so far) to hear Donald Trump’s catch phrase, we’ll begin the process of keeping you updated on the candidates for the various jobs, with the goal of keeping you from shouting Arnold Drummond’s catch phrase.

Texans:  Fired coach Gary Kubiak with three games left.  Interviewed former Bears coach Lovie Smith, Texans defensive coordinator/interim head coach Wade Phillips, and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.  Hired O’Brien.

Browns:  Fired coach Rob Chudzinski on Sunday.  Reportedly interviewed Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Wednesday.  Will interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Saturday.  Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase won’t interview until the Broncos’ season is over.  Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles hasn’t decided whether to be interviewed.  The Browns reportedly have interest in Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, and former Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

Redskins:  Fired coach Mike Shanahan on Monday.  Reportedly will interview Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.  Requested permission to interview Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

Vikings:  Fired coach Leslie Frazier on Monday.  Reportedly will interview Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Reportedly interested in Broncos offensive coordinator Peyton Manning Adam Gase and Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Lions:  Fired coach Jim Schwartz on Monday. Reported candidates include Ravens offensive
coordinator Jim Caldwell and Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.  Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable reportedly is — and reportedly isn’t — a candidate. The Lions had interest in Lovie Smith and Bill O’Brien, both of whom took jobs elsewhere.

Buccaneers:  Fired coach Greg Schiano and G.M. Mark Dominik on Monday.  Hired Lovie Smith.  Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard has been mentioned as a potential candidate for G.M., as has former Bucs G.M. and current Falcons president Rich McKay.

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PFT’s wild-card picks

Harbaugh Getty Images

Yes, MDS won the regular-season PFT picks contest.  But with the 256-game marathon over, the standings are reset to 0-0 for the 11-game postseason sprint.

Last year, after MDS lost the regular-season challenge and prevailed in the playoffs, he claimed that the postseason prize meant as much or more.  A month from now, I may agree with him.

Here’s a look at our picks for the four wild-card games.  We disagree on half of them.

Chiefs at Colts

MDS’s take: When I look up and down these two rosters, I think the Chiefs are the more talented team.  Kansas City has a lot of good players on both sides of the ball, while Indianapolis has lost so many key players to injuries this season that there are a lot of holes on the Colts’ depth chart.  And yet it’s impossible for me to look past the fact that these two teams just met two weeks ago in Kansas City, and the Colts took it to the Chiefs.  Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and running back Donald Brown have already shown they can have a good game against the Chiefs’ defense, and the Colts’ defense has already shown it can keep Alex Smith from doing much of anything.  The Chiefs should be more competitive this time than they were two weeks ago, but the Colts will move on to the divisional round.

MDS’s pick: Colts 24, Chiefs 21.

Florio’s take:  The Colts shrugged off a November slump to finish 4-1, including a win over the Chiefs in Kansas City.  The Chiefs started 9-0 and finished 2-5.  Throw in the home-field advantage and last year’s experience in the wild-card round against the Ravens, and the Colts are ready to take the next step — which could indeed entail a trip to face Peyton Manning in Denver.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 27, Chiefs 23.

Saints at Eagles

MDS’s take: If this game were at the Superdome I’d take New Orleans, but on the road this year the Saints’ offense has looked out of sync and their defense hasn’t been the same without the loud crowd behind them. The Eagles are coming off back-to-back strong games against the Bears and Cowboys, and on Saturday I expect Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy to have a big game against a New Orleans defense that can be beaten on the ground. Chip Kelly wins his first playoff game and extends his first NFL season for at least another week.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 27, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  Sean Payton has plenty of NFL postseason experience.  Chip Kelly for now has none.  Coupled with the Saints being keenly aware of the perception/reality that they can’t win away from home with a forecast that calls for dry conditions, New Orleans could indeed pull off an upset, especially since the Eagles have been known to periodically lay an egg.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 24, Eagles 21.

Chargers at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Chargers’ offense is a threat to put a lot of points on the board against anyone, including even that excellent defense that Marvin Lewis has built in Cincinnati. But the Chargers’ defense is a mess, and I think that will be the difference in this game. The Bengals have so many talented offensive skill position players that I see the Chargers’ defense having fits trying to cover everyone. Cincinnati will win a high-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 34, Chargers 24.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals have won every game at home this year.  Their road wins included a victory at San Diego.  While the weather won’t be as unforgiving as it was 32 years ago for the AFC title game between these same teams, the Bengals will break a postseason winless streak that dates back to the week before they wrecked Bo Jackson’s hip.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 30, Chargers 20.

49ers at Packers

MDS’s take: This is the playoff game I’ve been hoping for since Week One, when these teams played a great game. The return of Aaron Rodgers last week got the Packers into the playoffs, and I expect him to have a big game on Sunday in Green Bay as well. The problem, however, is that the Packers are simply not a complete team. Frankly, Green Bay’s defense stinks. Colin Kaepernick has shredded the Packers’ defense in both of their previous meetings, and he’ll do it again.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 31, Packers 21.

Florio’s take:  An undeserved home-field advantage becomes nearly insurmountable with frigid temperatures and wind chills that will test the 49ers like never before.  The Packers, rejuvenated by the return of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb, already are living on house money.  It’ll become igloo money on Sunday, and the Packers will head to the divisional round for the fourth straight year.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 21, 49ers 17.

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PFT’s defensive rookie of the year

Richardson Getty Images

Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson recently declared himself to be the defensive rookie of the year.

We’re not inclined to tell him he’s wrong.  And so Richardson is the 2013 PFT defensive rookie of the year.

Drafted with the first-round pick acquired from the Buccaneers for Darrelle Revis, Richardson has emerged as one of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL.  Richardson started 15 games, appeared in all sixteen, and notched 3.5 quarterback sacks.

He also pulled a Refrigerator Perry, carrying the ball enough times this season to create a Jerome Bettis late-career single-game stat line:  four attempts, four yards, two touchdowns.

The other finalists were Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, who started 16 games, made 159 tackles, picked off four passes, and notched two sacks; Panthers defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, who started 16 games and helped make a good defense in Carolina even better; Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, whose stellar first season was cut short by a torn ACL; Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who started 14 games before breaking an ankle; and 49ers safety Eric Reid, who started 16 games and helped the team turn the page on the Dashon Goldson era.

Cast your own ballot below and/or share your views in the comments.

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PFT’s 2013 offensive rookie of the year

EddieLacy Getty Images

In a year that featured few rookie quarterbacks who played much and even fewer who had much of an impact, the primary candidates for the first of the annual PFT postseason awards come from the crop of guys to whom the quarterbacks handed or threw the ball.

The invisible PFT trophy for offensive rookie of the year goes to Packers running back Eddie Lacy.

A second-rounder from Alabama who plunged in the draft due to concerns regarding his ability to stay healthy and his passion for the game, Lacy piled up 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns for the NFC North champions.  Add 257 yards receiving, and Lacy gained more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage in his first NFL season.

With only 51 yards rushing in all of September, Lacy did the bulk of his damage in three months, with four 100-yard games and a season-high 141 on 21 carries in that epic come-from-way-behind win in Dallas.

Now that the Packers have been reminded after years of a healthy Brett Favre and a mostly healthy Aaron Rodgers that quarterbacks can indeed become injured and miss multiple games in a row, they finally have a consistent threat in the running game, who could help the team grind out tough yardage in the looming postseason tournament.

Other finalists for the award were Chargers receiver Keenan Allen (1,046 receiving yards and eight touchdowns), Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (860 rushing yards, 1,259 yards from scrimmage, eight touchdowns), Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (1,209 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns), Lions offensive lineman Larry Warford, and Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (2,020 total yards and nine total touchdowns).

Cast your own ballot in the poll below, and elaborate in the comments.

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Week 17 power rankings

Manning AP

1.  Broncos (13-3; last week No. 1):  At least they don’t have to worry about losing to the Ravens at home again.

2.  Seahawks (13-3; No. 2):  They suddenly have to worry about losing to the Packers at home.

3. Panthers (12-4; No. 3):  Defense  — and an offense that can do just enough to score some points — wins championships.

4. Patriots (12-4; No. 4):  LeGarrette Blount punched the Bills in the mouth.

5. 49ers (12-4; No. 5):  On Sunday, it will be nearly as cold in Green Bay as the average June night in San Francisco.

6. Saints (11-5; No. 6):  The team that recently can’t win on the road faces a team that until recently couldn’t win at home.

7. Eagles (10-6; No. 7):  Chip Kelly will have to get used to playing in a postseason game without naming rights.

8. Bengals (11-5; No. 10):  A playoff losing streak that began with the game in which the Bengals wrecked Bo Jackson’s hip could finally be ending.

9.  Chiefs (11-5; No. 9):  Steelers fans will forever spell Ryan Succop’s name with a K.  And an F.

10.  Colts (11-5; No. 11):  A pair of former No. 1 overall picks — Andrew Luck and Alex Smith — will square off on Saturday, with the right to face another one — Peyton Manning — on the line.

11.  Cardinals (10-6; No. 8):  They finished only one game better than the 2008 team that made it to the Super Bowl, but these Cardinals have created a sense that they can sustain their momentum.

12. Chargers (9-7; No. 13):  Yes, they made the playoffs.  But they barely beat the Kansas City “B” team to get there.

13.  Steelers (8-8; No. 14):  The Yinzers can finally tear down that Bill Leavy statue.

14. Packers (8-7-1; No. 16):  Based on the performance of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb, rust apparently doesn’t grow on cheese.

15. Ravens (8-8; No. 12):  These three and 50 blackbirds will be spending the offseason eating some humble pie.

16. Jets (8-8; No. 20):  The entire offseason should be devoted to getting better offensive personnel.

17. Cowboys (8-8; No. 15):  “Winning exactly as many as we lose, since 1997.”

18.  Bears (8-8; No. 17):  If Lovie Smith gets fired for 10-6, who gets fired for 8-8?

19. Dolphins (8-8; No. 18):  Miami continues to say “meh” when it comes to their local NFL team.

20.  Giants (7-9; No. 22):  Tom Coughlin is officially on the hot seat for the third time; the last two times, he won the Super Bowl.

21. Rams (7-9; No. 19):  Curiously stubborn about Sam Bradford as a franchise quarterback, the Rams should at least consider the possibility of an upgrade with the No. 2 pick.

22.  Bills (6-10; No. 21):  Some Buffalo fans may want the Bills to do what the Browns recently did.

23. Titans (7-9; No. 24):  Three-plus decades of loyal service should get Mike Munchak one more year to turn it around.

24. Lions (7-9; No. 23):  This franchise won’t become any better until their franchise quarterback begins to act like one.

25. Vikings (5-10-1; No. 26):  They’re reportedly interested in the Broncos offensive coordinator.  We didn’t know Peyton Manning wanted to go into coaching.

26. Jaguars (4-12; No. 25):  If they can find a good quarterback, the Jags can get back into contention.

27. Buccaneers (4-12; No. 27):  Is it really a surprise that a guy who was 0-11 against WVU while at Rutgers couldn’t make it longer than two years as an NFL coach?

28.  Browns (4-12; No. 28):  The next head coach immediately will be nicknamed Shemp.

29.  Falcons (4-12; No. 29):  If you told Falcons fans in September that their team wouldn’t lose in the postseason, they would have been pretty darn excited.

30.  Raiders (4-12; No. 30):  The best reason to keep Dennis Allen?  There’s a chance no one else would take the job.

31. Redskins (3-13; No. 31):  A year after the Redskins won seven in a row after starting 3-6, they lost seven in a row after starting 3-6.

32. Texans (2-14; No. 32):  It’ll be a lot cheaper to sign the first overall pick than it was the last time Houston earned it.

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NFL statement regarding Chiefs-Chargers game

[Editor's note:  The NFL has issued a statement acknowledging an officiating error at the end of regulation in Sunday's game between the Chiefs and Chargers, during an attempt by the Chiefs to win the game with a field goal.  The Chargers eventually won in overtime.  If the Chiefs had prevailed, the Steelers would have qualified for the playoffs.  The full text of the statement appears below.]

With 0:08 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, Kansas City faced a fourth-and-12 from the San Diego 23.  The Chiefs attempted a 41-yard field that was no good.

On the play, San Diego lined up with seven men on one side of the snapper.  This should have been penalized as an illegal formation by the defense.

Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b) (1) of the NFL Rule Book (page 51) states that “No more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap.”

The penalty for illegal formation by the defense is a loss of five yards.  This is not subject to instant replay review.  Had the penalty been assessed, it would have resulted in a fourth-and-seven from the San Diego 18 with 0:04 remaining, enabling the Chiefs to attempt a 36-yard field goal.

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2014 NFL Draft order

NFL logo and set are seen at New York's Radio City Music Hall before the start of the 2013 NFL Draft Reuters

Here’s the order of the first 20 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, at the conclusion of the regular season. Ties are broken by strength of schedule. The remaining picks will be determined by playoff results:

1. Texans

2. Rams (via Redskins)

3. Jaguars

4. Browns

5. Raiders

6. Falcons

7. Buccaneers

8. Vikings

9. Bills

10. Lions

11. Titans

12. Giants

13. Rams

14. Bears

15. Steelers

16. Cowboys/Ravens (coin flip)

17. Cowboys/Ravens (coin flip)

18. Jets

19. Dolphins

20. Cardinals

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NFL morning after: Return of Rodgers a magical moment

aaronrodgers AP

You couldn’t have scripted it any better.

The great thing about sport is that it’s the ultimate drama because even the players don’t know the ending. But sometimes a football season gives us that perfect ending that would have seemed contrived if it came from a Hollywood screenwriter. And that’s what happened with the Green Bay Packers this year.

After the Packers’ star quarterback got hurt against the rival Bears, after the Packers went to their second-string quarterback and then their third-string quarterback and their fourth-string quarterback in an effort to save the season, the star came back and — after shaking off some rust — threw the incredible touchdown pass in the game’s final minute to deliver his team the division title.

Aaron Rodgers‘ return to the Packers wasn’t perfect. He had two early interceptions and the Packers’ offense struggled to get into a rhythm. But the best moments in an athlete’s career are the ones in which he overcomes adversity, and when Rodgers shook off the rust of missing two months with a broken collarbone and made his biggest play at the biggest time, that’s what made this one of the great moments in NFL history.

It was heartbreaking for Bears fans, exhilarating for Packers fans, and a perfect culmination of a wonderful NFL season.

Now we bring on the playoffs. But first, some final thoughts on the final Sunday of the regular season:

Nice touch. The Falcons sent Tony Gonzalez to midfield alone, as the only captain representing the team for the pregame coin toss. It was a great way to give Gonzalez a moment of recognition before the final game of his Hall of Fame career. Gonzalez finished his career with 1,325 catches for 15,127 yards and 111 touchdowns.

Sheldon Richardson joins Refrigerator Perry. Richardson, the Jets’ rookie defensive tackle, ran for a one-yard touchdown on Sunday against the Dolphins. Richardson and Perry, the former Bears defensive tackle, are the only players in NFL history to have three sacks and two rushing touchdowns in the same season. Perry played under Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan when he did it in 1985, and perhaps Jets coach Rex Ryan is paying tribute to his dad by using Richardson on offense.

Eli Manning concluded a miserable season. Manning completed 10 of 24 passes for 152 yards, a touchdown and an interception before leaving Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. That gave Manning a whopping 27 interceptions on the season. Only Brett Favre, who threw 29 interceptions in 2005, had more interceptions in any season in the 21st Century. In the same year that his big brother Peyton clinched his fifth MVP award, Eli had a year to forget.

Cordarrelle Patterson is something special. Patterson had a two-touchdown game in Sunday’s win over the Lions and became the first player in NFL history to have four receiving touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns and two kickoff-return touchdowns in NFL history. Patterson also became the first player in NFL history to have a 100-yard kickoff-return touchdown, 75-yard receiving touchdown and 50-yard rushing touchdown in a season. Patterson had a whopping 2,020 all-purpose yards in his rookie year. What a weapon this guy is going to be in Minnesota for years to come.

Anquan Boldin will have a major impact on the playoffs. Boldin had an outstanding game in the 49ers’ win over the Cardinals on Sunday, catching nine passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. And Boldin also had a huge game in the 49ers’ Week One win over the Packers. Now that the 49ers are preparing for a playoff rematch against the Packers, I fully expect Boldin to have another big game. Even though there were salary-cap issues, if the Ravens had it to do all over again, I think they would have made the necessary roster moves elsewhere to keep Boldin under the cap, rather than ship him to San Francisco. That trade made the 49ers better and the Ravens worse.

Drew Brees had a great game to cap a brilliant season. Brees threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns as the Saints clinched a playoff berth on Sunday, and I can’t help but think that Brees didn’t get enough credit for his great season simply because everyone was so in awe of the season Peyton Manning was having. This was Brees’s third straight year with more than 5,000 yards passing. Overall, there have been eight 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history, and Brees has four of them. That’s incredible.

Robert Mathis wraps up his best year. The 32-year-old Mathis spent most of his career as the “other” pass rusher in Indianapolis, generally overshadowed by Dwight Freeney. But this year Mathis led the league with 19.5 sacks and played the best he’s ever played. I actually think Mathis is an even better fit in the 3-4 scheme of Colts coach Chuck Pagano than he was in the 4-3 scheme when he played for Tony Dungy — and Mathis was plenty good in that scheme, too. Mathis is my choice for defensive player of the year.

Joe Flacco was this season’s biggest disappointment. After his outstanding postseason run that culminated in a Super Bowl MVP 11 months ago, the Ravens rewarded Flacco with a six-year, $120 million contract. And Flacco did not reward the Ravens with a year worthy of that kind of money. Flacco finished his season completing just 59.0 percent of his passes, with 19 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and eight fumbles, and the Ravens missed the playoffs. If Flacco isn’t a whole lot better next year, that contract is going to start to look like a millstone around the Ravens’ necks.

It felt like the postseason started a week early. Wasn’t that a thrilling NFL Sunday? Packers-Bears and Eagles-Cowboys were essentially playoff games, and several more games had a playoff feel to them. It’s been a great NFL season. Let the playoffs begin.

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Chiefs should have gotten another chance to boot Steelers into playoffs


At a time when plenty of Steelers fans are griping about the decision to wipe what would have been a game-clinching fumble return off the scoreboard in overtime of the contest between the Chiefs-Chargers, all Steelers fans should be complaining about the failure of the officials to miss a blatant foul as the Chiefs tried to win in regulation.

As kicker Ryan Succop lined up on the right hash mark to try a 41-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, seven Chargers positioned themselves on the line of scrimmage to the left of the long snapper.  But a new provision added this year by the NFL to Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 states that “[n]o more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap” when Team A lines up in a conventional field goal formation.

Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL believes a flag should have been thrown.  The league office could acknowledge the error publicly as soon as Monday.

The seven Chargers lined up to the left of the Chiefs snapper in plain view of at least two members of referee Bill Leavy’s crew.  If the officials had called a penalty for illegal formation, the Chiefs would have had another chance to make what would have been the game-winning kick.

Succop’s shot at immediate redemption would have come from  36 yards out, with four seconds on the clock.  If good, the Chargers most likely would have had no time left for a Stanford-band attempt to win the game.

While it’s impossible to know whether Succop would have made his Mulligan, the point is that he should have had a second chance, due to the San Diego penalty that somehow wasn’t called.  If Succop had converted, the Steelers would be celebrating one of the most unlikely playoff berths in franchise history, courtesy of Week 17 losses by the Ravens, Dolphins, and Chargers.

Instead, Steelers fans will spend the offseason wondering whether their team could have replicated what the Steelers accomplished in 2005, when Pittsburgh parlayed the No. 6 seed into the long-coveted One for the Thumb.

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