Cardinals interview Hue Jackson for offensive coordinator position

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Suddenly, 35-40 doesn’t look so bad.

The Arizona Cardinals, who surprisingly hired Kliff Kingsbury to be the next head coach despite a sub-.500 record as Texas Tech, have interviewed Hue Jackson to serve as Kingsbury’s first offensive coordinator, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

Jackson has compiled a record of 11-44-1 as a head coach, with stints at Oakland and Cleveland. In his first two years with the Browns, Jackson’s team won only one of 32 games.

But Jackson has thrived as an offensive coordinator, performing that job well enough to twice be hired as a head coach. In Arizona, Jackson would become part of the machinery aimed at developing quarterback Josh Rosen.

Damien Williams calls his run of success “the last thing I would have thought”

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Damien Williams was not expecting a big role in Kansas City.

Williams, who signed with the Chiefs in 2018 after four years in Miami, knew going in that he was going to be only a bit player behind Kareem Hunt, the unquestioned starting running back. But when the Chiefs cut Hunt after a video of him assaulting a woman surfaced, Williams was thrust into the starting role and the Chiefs haven’t missed Hunt at all.

“This is the last thing I would have thought,” Williams said, via ESPN. “I know the type of player I am and I knew I was going to be involved some kind of way, but being here in this position now, it’s amazing. If you know my history and where I started and where I am now, it means a lot to me.”

Williams’ history includes entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and never gaining even 200 rushing yards in any of his four years with the Dolphins. Williams barely played in 2018, either, until Hunt’s departure. But once Hunt was cut, Williams got to work at showing how replaceable running backs are in today’s NFL. In the Chiefs’ win over the Colts last week, Williams had 25 carries for 129 yards.

Now Williams may be the lead ball carrier in a game that could get the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. Not in his wildest dreams did he expect that.

Tom Brady gets called on claim that Pats are being disrespected

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The Patriots have crafted a narrative that the perennial AFC power has faced doubt and disrespect during the 2018 postseason.

“You know, everyone thinks we suck,” Brady said after the Pats thrashed the Chargers. “You know, can’t win any games. So we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”

During a Friday media availability, a reporter called Brady on his contention that no one believes in the Patriots, asking whether there’s a “genuine feeling of disrespect” within the locker room.

“I mean, we’re going against a team that’s the No. 1 seed in the league,” Brady replied. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are thinking they’re going to win. Everyone can have their own opinion. We certainly have an opinion, and we’ve got to go out there and execute our best in order to accomplish that.

“So, it’s going to be a tough game. I mean, we’re not certainly expecting to go 15 minutes into the game and think that it’s over. It’s going to go down to the end. They’ve got a great team. Like I said, we feel like we have a team that can compete well against anybody. We’re going to need to play really well, and that’s what makes for a championship game. Hopefully, we can have our best one of the year.”

Brady’s remarks come at a time when the New England and Kansas City fan bases are arguing incessantly over which team is actually the underdog. The betting line favors the Chiefs by three, which means (given that home-field advantage has a three-point value) that the game would be viewed as a toss-up at a neutral site.

Still, New England rarely finds itself getting points. Coupled with the sense that emerged in December that the window has finally slammed shut on the only post-salary cap dynasty, it’s easy for the Patriots to persuade themselves that the world views them differently than it recently did.

And if that helps get the coaches and players better motivated to do everything they need to do to win on Sunday, so be it.

Cowboys move on from Scott Linehan, calling it a “mutual decision”

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The mutual decision is making a mini-comeback.

Only four days after Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said that he plans to retain his coaching staff, Garrett and the Cowboys have moved on from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

“This was not an easy decision because of how highly we regard Scott Linehan as a football coach and as a person,” Garrett said in a statement. “He and I had some really positive, substantive and open discussions which took place in the latter part of this week, and we ultimately agreed that it would be in the best interest of all of the parties involved if we were to make a change at this position. This was very much a mutual decision, and there was a great deal of common ground and shared understanding between both of us during our meetings. Scott has had an incredibly positive impact on our football team. He has been instrumental in the development and success of a significant number of our veteran and younger players. He is an outstanding football coach, a great friend and we wish him and his family nothing but the absolute best moving forward.”

They wish him the best they can, in light of the fact that they won’t be employing him any longer.

The Dallas offense has received plenty of criticism for being too simple and unimaginative. Their meat-and-potatoes attack, grounded in pounding the opposing defense with a strong offensive line, a high-end running game, and a passing game fueled by play-action, either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, there’s no Plan B.

The organization will now move on to Plan B, with Linehan out and the Cowboys obviously looking to diversify its efforts to gain yards and score points.

All-time high 135 players leave NCAA eligibility behind to enter 2019 NFL draft

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More players than ever before are heading to the NFL while they’re still eligible to play college football.

The NFL announced today that a total of 135 players who could have retained NCAA eligibility have instead decided to enter the 2019 NFL draft. That includes 103 players who have been granted what the league calls “special eligibility,” mostly third-year juniors who have decided to turn pro, plus another 32 players who have already fulfilled their degree requirements and are allowed to enter the draft.

Last year 119 players entered the draft: 106 with special eligibility and 13 who had graduated.

In 2017 it was 103 players: 95 with special eligibility and eight who had graduated.

In 2016 it was 107 players: 96 with special eligibility and 11 who had graduated.

In 2015 it was 84 players: 74 with special eligibility and 10 who had graduated.

The sharp increase this year comes from players who have already graduated. Those players would be permitted to keep playing college football while working on advanced degrees, but it appears that increasing numbers of players are deciding that once they’ve had a bachelor’s degree paid for, it’s time to try to make money playing football or get to work on using that degree.

DeSean Jackson on returning to Bucs: We’ll see

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Word at the end of the season was that the Buccaneers and wide receiver DeSean Jackson were looking to part ways in 2019, but Bruce Arians’ arrival in Tampa may have changed the picture.

A report last weekend indicated that Arians wants to keep Jackson on the team and that one of the first things he did upon accepting the head coaching job with the Bucs was to ask for the wideout’s phone number. If he’s used it, it wasn’t at a time when Jackson was around to talk.

Jackson told TMZ that he has yet to speak to Arians and said “we’ll see” when asked if there was a way for things to work out with the Buccaneers.

“That’s what I got an agent for, bro,” Jackson said. “I don’t know, I just go play. That’s all I worry about.”

Jackson’s under contract for the 2019 season with a $10 million salary, but the Buccaneers would get all that cap space back if they do move in another direction.

Mahomes pushes back on talk that Brady is passing the torch to him

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Could the AFC Championship Game be a passing of the torch from the NFL’s greatest quarterback, Tom Brady, to its next great quarterback, Patrick Mahomes? That’s not how Mahomes sees it.

Asked about that possibility this week, Mahomes pushed back against that narrative, saying that he has a long way to go before he’s on Brady’s level — and that Brady has a lot more to doo before he passes the torch to anyone.

“I’ve seen it but there’s still a long way to go,” Mahomes said. “I’m a young guy. He’s done so much in this league and he’s still doing it today. He’s going to play for some more years to come. I’m going to strive to do some of the things he’s done, the Super Bowls he’s won. That’s the ultimate goal. He’s not trying to pass the torch any time soon. He’s playing at a high level this year and I expect him to keep playing at this level for at least another couple years.”

That’s the right answer. Mahomes had an all-time great first season as a starter, but it was just one season. He knows he’s going to have to keep producing at this level for many years before he’s in the same company as Brady.

Larry Fitzgerald respects Kliff Kingsbury, hasn’t decided whether to play for him

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Larry Fitzgerald may retire from the Cardinals this offseason, but if he does that wouldn’t be a reflection on their new coach.

Fitzgerald told TMZ that he’s never met new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury but thinks highly of Kingsbury’s offense.

Hell of a coach,” Fitzgerald said “Look at his resume. He’s innovative offensively. That’s somebody with a future right now. So, I’m excited for the chance to meet him.”

Regardless, Fitzgerald isn’t sure whether he’s going to retire or keep playing.

“I don’t know yet. Taking time to figure it out still,” he said.

The 35-year-old Fitzgerald isn’t the All-Pro he used to be, but the Cardinals have made it very clear that they’d love to have him back, despite his $16.85 million cap hit this year.

Chargers plan to start contract talks with Philip Rivers

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Philip Rivers, 37, has said he wants to play a handful more seasons. However long the quarterback plays, the Chargers want to ensure Rivers plays for them.

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said Thursday the team plans to begin conversations this offseason with Rivers about a new deal. Rivers has one year remaining on his current deal, paying him $11 million in base salary in 2019 and counting $23 million against the salary cap.

“I can tell you he’s not going anywhere, so he’s going to be here,” Telesco said, via Eric Williams of ESPN. “We’ll talk at the right point, as far as the moves we need to make in the offseason, the resources we have and how it all fits in. But yeah, he’s not going anywhere.”

Rivers said he wants to continue playing at least through 2020, so he can open the team’s new stadium in September of that season, which would be his 17th.

Rivers had one of his best seasons with a 68.3 completion percentage, 4,308 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and a 105.5 passer rating. He made his eighth Pro Bowl, though Andrew Luck will replace him in the NFL’s all-star game after Rivers withdrew with an ankle issue.

No injuries for the Rams, again

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On Wednesday, the Rams emerged from a walk-through practice with no injuries. On Thursday, they emerged from a full practice with no injuries.

With 17 games played, the Rams currently have no one on the injury report.

Most significant is the absence of running back Todd Gurley. Coach Sean McVay had said that Gurley, who missed two weeks late in the regular season wit ha knee injury, would be limited in practice. Instead, Gurley has fully participated, with no injury disclosure of any kind.

This means he’s getting no treatment of any kind, and that his knee is perfectly fine. Which is great news for the Rams as they hope to return to the Superdome and emerge with a different result.

Lamar Jackson: I want to be like Brady, win multiple Super Bowls

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Lamar Jackson became the youngest quarterback ever to start an NFL playoff game this season, and he believes his future is bright.

Jackson told Ray Lewis on Inside the NFL that he doesn’t see any limit to what he can do, and his goals are to have a similar impact in Baltimore to Tom Brady‘s in New England.

“Ain’t no ceiling,” Jackson said. “I already said it when I got drafted: I want to bring a Super Bowl to Baltimore. So I’m going to try to bring as much as I can. I want to bring the Super Bowl here. I want to be the Brady. I want to be the Brady. Bring multiple, if I could.”

If Jackson plays until he’s Brady’s age, he has 20 more years ahead of him. It’s probably not realistic to think anyone is going to have a Brady-like career, but Jackson has plenty of time to accomplish those lofty goals.

Report: J.J. Watt had knee cleaned up after season

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Texans defensive end J.J. Watt didn’t miss a game during the 2018 season, but he did appear on the injury report for much of the second half of the year with a knee issue.

Watt reportedly had the issue addressed after the team’s Wild Card round loss to the Colts. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Watt had the knee cleaned up surgically.

Rapoport reports it was a “minor” procedure and that it “sounds like he’s fine now.”

Whatever the trouble with the knee, Watt’s performance wasn’t overly affected. He had 68 tackles, 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles after coming back from a tibial plateau fracture and back injury that limited him to eight games over the previous two seasons. That led to a spot on the All-Pro team and Pro Bowl berth, although the knee cleanup could keep him from joining his brother T.J. in Orlando.

PFT’s conference championship picks

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It’s getting pretty good in the postseason.

My three-game gap has fallen to one, thanks to MDS going 4-0 in the divisional round by taking the four favorites in every game. (Chicken.) I foolishly trusted the Cowboys and Eagles, and now I need a New England win to clinch the playoff competition. Otherwise, it all comes down to the Super Bowl.

I fared better against the spread, going 2-1 to the 1-2 mark from MDS. This week, we disagree on both picks, when the points are applied.

Rams at Saints

MDS’s take: The Rams’ offensive line had an outstanding season, and last week’s win over the Cowboys may have been its best game yet. Andrew Whitworth, Rob Havenstein, Rodger Saffold, Austin Blythe and John Sullivan block so well that it really doesn’t matter which running back is behind them. There are going to be big holes for the Rams to run through. I expect the Rams to run the ball well against the Saints. At the same time, Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in football at recognizing the pass rush and getting rid of the ball quickly and accurately, which neutralizes the strength of the Rams’ defense. I see this as a high-scoring game, with both offenses able to do what they want. This feels like a close game that could come down to a fourth-quarter field goal. If that’s how it plays out, I think home-field advantage is the difference.

MDS’s pick: Saints 34, Rams 31.

Florio’s take: The one-two punch of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson could create problems for the home team’s front seven, especially with Sheldon Rankins out for the year. But the Saints earned home-field advantage, they’ve already beaten the Rams in the Superdome, and the noise that will be generated by a raucous New Orleans crowd creates a real benefit. Throw in the edge in playoff experience, a lingering sense of unfinished business from last year, and a lesson learned about starting slowly from last week and the Saints should be able to ride Drew Brees, Sean Payton, and company to a berth in the Super Bowl.

Florio’s pick: Saints 38, Rams 31.


Patriots at Chiefs

MDS’s take: This has the makings of a classic. A brutally cold night in Kansas City, with the legendary Tom Brady taking on perhaps the most talented quarterback ever to play the position, Patrick Mahomes. The stars are aligning for this to be an all-time great game. Or at least the sun, earth and moon are aligning, as the game will be played under a lunar eclipse. The Patriots’ defense is a lot better this year than it was last year, which is why I give them a chance: I think they’ll force a couple of turnovers, and maybe take an early lead. But I also think this is Mahomes’ year, and in the end no one is stopping him. The NFL’s brightest young star is heading for the Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 42, Patriots 35.

Florio’s take: The forecast has improved throughout the week, which is good news for the home team. The opponent continues to be the Patriots, which is bad news for the home team. The home team has Patrick Mahomes, which is the best news possible. But there isn’t enough around him, yet. Losses to the Patriots, Rams, Chargers, and Seahawks resulted not from Mahomes but from the lack of high-end talent around him. The Patriots, between talent and coaching and the resiliency of Tom Brady, can do to the Chiefs what won’t be easy to do: Score at least one more point in a single-elimination setting. Look for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to confound Mahomes, contain Tyreek Hill, control the clock, and ultimately prevail in the only stat that ever matters. Points scored vs. points allowed.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 30, Chiefs 27.

Tom Brady has rewritten the postseason record book, and no one is close

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has so thoroughly rewritten the postseason record book that there’s not even a close second on all the major records he owns.

Here are a few of the career postseason records that Brady owns, along with the player in second place.

Games played: Brady has played in 38 postseason games. Adam Viantieri is next with 32 playoff games.

Games started: Brady has started all 38 of his postseason games. Jerry Rice is next with 29 starts.

Games as winning quarterback: Brady has won 28 postseason games. Joe Montana is next with 16.

Passes thrown: Brady has thrown 1,508 passes in the postseason. Peyton Manning is next with 1,027.

Passes completed: Brady has completed 954 passes in the postseason. Peyton Manning is next with 649.

Passing yards: Brady has thrown for 10,569 yards in the postseason. Peyton Manning is next with 7,339.

Passing touchdowns: Brady has thrown 72 touchdown passes in the postseason. Joe Montana is next with 45.

Brady will attempt to add to all of those records on Sunday, and earn a trip to his NFL-record ninth Super Bowl.

Leonard Fournette officially has challenged the voiding of his guarantees

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Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette may be in a “really good place” as it relates to his relationship with the team, but he would be in a better place if his guaranteed money weren’t under attack by the organization.

Per a league source, Fournette has initiated a formal challenge to the team’s voiding of more than $7 million in remaining salary under his rookie contract.

An arbitrator ultimately will decide whether the team will be able to convert more than $2.9 million in 2019 and more than $4.1 million in 2020 from fully guaranteed to not guaranteed at all. As previously explained, the language of the contract supports an argument that a suspension arising from on-field misconduct doesn’t void the guarantees.

The Jaguars officially voided the guarantees based on the one-game suspension imposed on Fournette after he left the sideline and joined a fight during a game at Buffalo. The news came on the same day that executive V.P. of football operations Tom Coughlin publicly chastised Fournette and running back T.J. Yeldon for yucking it up during a season-ending loss to the Texans.