The Daily Briefing Wednesday, January 17, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

We don’t know what the demand is going to be for tickets to Super Bowl 52, but the NFL thinks the tickets are more valuable than last year.  Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com looks at the market:

 

In the unlikely event that you have an elite Super Bowl LII ticket connection that isn’t going to charge even a penny over face value, well, pack a warm coat and a lot of cash.

 

With ticket brokers anxiously waiting to see if the Minnesota Vikings drive the market into the stratosphere, a source with intimate knowledge of this year’s Super Bowl ticket release provided Yahoo Sports with the face values of this year’s batch. Despite expected frigid temperatures in Minneapolis, the site of next month’s Super Bowl, face value (the price printed on the ticket itself) will be predictably rich. A raise in prices has this year’s seats ranging from $950 in the worst nosebleed offerings all the way to the $5,000 club seats that are typically gifted to sponsors, executives and other VIPs by the league.

 

Those are the “zero markup” prices, mind you. The secondary market could be much higher, potentially astronomical if the Vikings beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game on Sunday. How high could they go? Multiply the face value of tickets by four, five or six times their printed price. Or more.

 

 “Let’s just say that if the Vikings win, there will be a lot of bass fishing boats for sale next week in Minnesota,” one broker joked.

 

This is the week when Super Bowl tickets start trickling to the market, establishing a true “get in” price – which is known as the cheapest price to enter the stadium. But the league’s face values printed on the tickets themselves usually give a road map to how wild the aftermarket price hikes will get in certain areas of the stadium. Those face value prices don’t typically surface until later this week, but a source with knowledge of pricing data provided Yahoo Sports with an overview of the baseline costs for this year’s Super Bowl.

 

The four most intriguing takeaways:

 

Delta Sky360 Club seats behind the NFC sideline – comprised of five premium lower bowl sections between the 20-yard lines – have a face value of $5,000 per seat. This swath of tickets typically falls into the hands of super VIPs such as the biggest league sponsors, family of high ranking executives and celebrities. To put that price in perspective, one Vikings season ticket (encompassing 10 games) in this area costs $4,000 per year. That’s $1,000 less than the face price of one Super Bowl ticket in the same section. That’s a bargain compared to what the secondary market price could demand if the Vikings advance to the Super Bowl. StubHub currently has listings in this section starting at $17,500 per seat.

 

The nosebleed seats will be found in 24 sections of the outer rims of the stadium overlooking each end zone. These are the seats that most commonly find their way into the hands of the average fans via lotteries, giveaways or “budget” Super Bowl travel packages. A Vikings season ticket in this area runs $500. A Super Bowl face value ticket is $950. As of Monday night, StubHub aftermarket prices for a Super Bowl ticket in these sections start at $4,250.

 

Perhaps the most interesting price point for the NFL in Super Bowl LII is the second-worst nosebleed seats – 18 sections in the upper bowl stadium “corners”. Those are still a pricey $1,250. According to a handful of NFL agents who spoke to Yahoo Sports, many of their players have been landing seats in these sections from the allotments given to NFL teams. StubHub’s early listings in this area are starting at $4,350.

 

In between the prime seats and the nosebleeds, the NFL’s face values for all lower bowl seats start at $2,700 each. Second-tier club seats – in the Medtronic and Hyundai clubs – are listed at $3,500 apiece. That’s roughly the same amount as a Vikings season ticket in the same section. StubHub’s cheapest ticket in this section starts at $9,000.

 

A Vikings win is good for the scalpers while an Eagles win is good for the Twin Cities hotel industry.  Both sides are probably hoping for New England over Jacksonville.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Michael Renner of ProFootballFocus on the strength of Philadelphia’s rushing attack:

 

While analyzing the top rushing attacks in the NFL, it’s clear many have their own unique style. The Los Angeles Rams want to run you sideline to sideline. The Pittsburgh Steelers want to punch you in the mouth. The Philadelphia Eagles, on the other hand, want to keep you off balance.

 

Philadelphia operates one of the most diverse rushing attacks in the league, executing an attack that’s willing to throw any concept at you at least once. One they keep coming back to, however, is the ultimate ‘off balance’ run concept: the trap.

 

When it comes to executing trap plays this season, there’s the Eagles, then there’s everybody else. They’ve run 43 traps this season (seven more than next closest team) for 280 yards (94 more than any other team), gaining 199 yards after contact (109 more than any other team). That’s more than two a game for 6.5 yards a pop.

– – –

This is the core principal of the Eagles’ rushing offense at work. The best-schemed running games don’t need five linemen executing to perfection to be effective; they thrive off regularly putting offensive linemen into favorable situations.

 

The reason that Philly can continually run traps yet still keep the defensive off-balance is because they’re simply not going back to the same well. They have a myriad of different ways they can draw it up.

– – –

From a personnel standpoint, it’s a play the Eagles are uniquely capable of executing. LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi are both physically imposing backs that are unfazed by arm tackles when they have a head of steam.

 

On the season, Blount ranked third among all running backs, gaining an average of 3.49 yards after contact per attempt.

 

Ajayi ranked fourth just behind Blount at 3.41 yards after contact per attempt.

 

Traps allow Blount and Ajayi to get that head of steam, as their job is to sprint through the defined point of attack. It’s part of the reason why they’re both in the top-5 for yards after contact per attempt this season.

 

There’s no doubt that the Minnesota Vikings know Philadelphia will dial up at least a couple more traps on Sunday, but the big question is, will they be quick to recognize it when it happens?

 

Interesting that no one, not even the Eagles, runs as many as one trap play per quarter.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

If there was or should be a doubt, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network is reporting that OC Steve Sarkisian will be back for the Falcons in 2018 – with just a slight hedge:

 

Dan Quinn won’t be making a change at offensive coordinator next season.

 

Barring something unforeseen, the Atlanta Falcons are expected to retain Steve Sarkisian for the 2018 season, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday.

 

Per Rapoport, Sarkisian will return with the “full confidence” of Quinn and his staff.

 

Sarkisian has been the punching bag in Atlanta, taking the brunt of the blame from fans and pundits across the country for the Falcons’ woes this past season.

 

With Kyle Shanahan at the OC helm in 2016, quarterback Matt Ryan won the MVP, the Falcons averaged 415.8 yards per game (second in the NFL) and Atlanta made the Super Bowl.

 

Under Sarkisian in 2017, numbers across the board dropped. Ryan’s passer rating went from 117.1 to 91.4. The team averaged 51 yards fewer per game. The Falcons lost in the Divisional Round, largely because of their inability to move the ball on the Philadelphia Eagles and punch in a winning touchdown despite having a first-and-goal from the Eagles’ 9-yard line at the end of the game.

 

Quinn, though, said repeatedly this season the criticism of Sarkisian has been unfair. On Saturday, Quinn told reporters: “There’s a lot of things that Sark has brought to our team that we really like in terms of, that could take a long time to go through the different spots. So it’s easy to place blame all onto one person. That’s a shared responsibility when we don’t achieve at the level that we would like to.”

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

As the final fateful seconds unfolded, Coach Sean Payton’s eyes were not glued to the field.  Josh Katzenstein of Nola.com:

 

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton admitted to taunting Minnesota Vikings fans late in Sunday’s divisional-round playoff loss.

 

Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who now does radio work for KFAN in Minneapolis, first reported seeing Payton doing the ‘Skol clap’ that Minnesota fans do throughout games at U.S. Bank Stadium. Payton reportedly made the gesture at some point after the Saints took a 24-23 lead with 25 seconds remaining. 

 

Photos on Twitter later corroborated the report, and Payton explained his decision during a news conference Tuesday.

 

“There was just a group of fans; it was good playoff fun,” Payton said.

 

The Vikings, of course, got the last laugh as wide receiver Stefon Diggs scored on a 61-yard touchdown reception as time expired to win 29-24 and advance to the NFC Championship.

 

It’s unclear what exactly the fans Payton was referring to were doing that led him to mock the Vikings chant.

 

This was the second time this season cameras caught Payton making an ill-advised gesture on the sidelines. In Week 14, Payton did a choking sign toward Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, and Payton expressed remorse for that move a couple weeks later.

 

Vikings fans surely will find a way to remind Payton of his ‘Skol clap’ when the Saints return to Minnesota for a matchup next season. 

– – –

More from QB DREW BREES on staying in New Orleans.  The AP:

 

Drew Brees dispensed with technicalities regarding his contract and spoke as if his return to New Orleans next season was virtually assured.

 

“It’s the same way I felt two days ago. It’s the same way I felt 12 years ago. I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me,” Brees said Tuesday in the locker room at Saints headquarters, where players were packing up for the offseason following their dramatic elimination from the playoffs in Minnesota last weekend.

 

Brees acknowledged he’d have leverage if he chose to listen to offers from other clubs, but asserted that he has no plans to do so for professional and personal reasons.

 

The Saints have pieces in place to be a contender in upcoming seasons, having nearly advanced to the NFC title game with a roster featuring numerous first- and second-year regulars.

 

“Do I feel like this team has what it takes? Yes, I do,” Brees said.

 

Then there are Brees’ ever-deepening ties to New Orleans. He was 27 and childless when he arrived. Now he’s a father of four who turned 39 on Monday.

 

“Certainly, the relationship with this city will always play a strong role in me wanting to be here and … wanting to finish my career here,” Brees said.

 

And there’s no guarantee he’ll have better synergy with any coach than he’s had with Sean Payton.

 

“We have a great history together,” Brees said, recalling how Payton courted him in 2006 while he was still rehabilitating from major throwing-shoulder surgery. “I’m here because he believed in me.”

 

Brees has since passed for 58,097 yards and 408 touchdowns, won a Super Bowl and led New Orleans to six playoff berths. This season, his completion rate of 72 percent set an NFL record.

 

Payton on Tuesday declined to discuss how the team will address Brees’ contract, saying now is “not the time.”

 

But letting Brees go would be costly for New Orleans — financially and on the field.

 

Brees’ contract technically runs through 2018, but voids automatically when the new league year begins on March 14. That was done for two reasons. The Saints received salary cap flexibility they needed in 2016 by spreading Brees’ guaranteed money over two more years. Brees gained leverage because the Saints lose $18 million in salary cap space in 2018 if they fail to re-sign him.

 

That’s given Brees confidence that an extension is inevitable.

 

“I don’t plan on this being something that goes until March 14th,” said Brees, who also spoke about the 2018 Saints as if presuming he’ll be their QB.

 

Now with 70,445 pass yards, Brees will go past Peyton Manning and Brett Favre who are in the high 71,000s sometime in October for first on the all-time list.  Brees and TOM BRADY both have 488 career TD passes, in need of 52 more as they chase Manning’s record of 539.

– – –

One Saint who may not be returning is T ZACH STRIEF.

 

New Orleans Saints veteran offensive lineman Zach Strief has a tough decision this offseason.

 

The 34-year-old sees reasons to come back for a 13th NFL season, but he also knows how tough it will be to mentally prepare himself to play again after recovering from surgery to repair two ligaments in his knee.

 

At some point, Strief will decide whether he wants to retire or play again in 2018, but he wasn’t ready to commit to anything on Tuesday.

 

“Obviously there’s part of you that says, ‘Maybe it’s time,'” Strief said. “And there’s part of you that says, ‘I don’t want to finish like that.’

 

“So, I’ll take some time and talk with my wife, and we’re expecting our first child in a week. So, we’ll kind of probably let that settle in for a little bit, and then I’ll make a decision after that.”

– – –

Strief said he still thinks he can play at a high level. His performance in 2016 was among the best of his career, and he thought he had a strong training camp. But, in addition to recovering from his knee surgery, he’ll also have to summon the mental energy to play another season.

 

“I think physically it’s something that I could do,” he said. “The reality of this job is that there’s as much mental preparation as physical, and I think the question will come down to more, ‘Am I mentally ready to do what’s necessary to play another season?'”

 

Strief suffered a knee injury in Week 1 that forced him to sit Weeks 2 and 3. Then, he exited Week 4 with a knee injury and went on injured reserve. There was a thought that Strief could come back late in the season as one of the Saints’ designated players to return from IR, but ESPN reported that Strief had surgery on his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in November, ending such speculation.

 

Now, Strief plans to take some time off to consider his emotional decision.

 

“I was talking to Max Unger yesterday, and no matter how you feel in the moment, sometimes when you’re in training camp and you’re in your 12th year, you’re like, ‘Man, this ridiculous. I’m tired of this,'” Strief said. “But the reality is that we all love some part of this game, and there’s a part of that that’s just in us. So, it makes it very difficult always when that happens, when that time comes. And like I said, I think take some time, really make that decision away from football and make it with your family.

 

“When it is time, I will have no regrets. I know that … this has gone on so much longer and so much better than I ever could have imagined, and the amount of gratitude I have for this organization and for the guys that I’ve gotten to play with, I couldn’t express to you guys. So, when it’s time, it’s time, and I’ll move on. And I just don’t know yet if it’s now.”

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The last Cardinals coach was a Pennsylvania native.  The two guys getting second interviews both have Keystone State ties, as well.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Cardinals have yet to hire a head coach to replace the retired Bruce Arians, but they’ve reportedly identified a couple of candidates they want to talk to a second time.

 

Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Media report that the team is expected to set up a second interview with Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak. In addition to Munchak, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports that the team is also expected to take a second chance to speak with Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.

 

With the Steelers season over, Munchak is free to speak to Arizona at any time and could also be hired immediately. DeFilippo could not meet with them again until next week whether the Eagles win or lose the NFC Championship Game and could only be hired once they are done playing.

 

The Cardinals have spoken to several other candidates, although Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur have each been linked to other head coaching openings.

 

Bruce Arians – York, Pa born.

 

Mike Munchak – Scranton born, Penn State. 

 

John DeFilippo – born in Youngstown (which is culturally Western Pa), high school at Radnor H.S. while his dad was A.D. at Villanova.

 

Doesn’t it seem like DeFelippo should coach Garoppolo at some point?

 

 

SEATTLE

As DC Kris Richard is officially fired and replaced by Ken Norton, Jr., the Seahawks announce Brian Schottenheimer to replace Darrell Bevall as OC.  This from NFL.com:

 

The Seattle Seahawks have hired a new offensive coordinator.

 

Former Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer was named the team’s offensive coordinator on Tuesday.

 

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll offered Schottenheimer the job last week. Schottenheimer was their top choice, and the Seahawks wanted to get him before other teams potentially offered him positions, Rapoport added.

 

Schottenheimer’s addition to the Seahawks’ coaching staff comes less than a week after the team ended offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s seven-year run in Seattle. Schottenheimer, 44, previously served as offensive coordinator for the New York Jets (2006-11) during their back-to-back trips to the AFC title game and was the Rams’ OC from 2012-14.

 

Following his two-year stint with the Colts, Schottenheimer will be tasked with diversifying a Seattle offense that has been too dependent on quarterback Russell Wilson. The do-everything signal-caller became the first player in NFL history this past season to account for 100 percent of his team’s passing yards while chalking up at least 30 percent of the squad’s rushing yards.

 

Schottenheimer will try to accomplish that by injecting life into a ho-hum running game that was hampered by a committee of underwhelming performers in 2017. Seattle ranked 23rd in league rushing (101.8) and no one other than Wilson rushed for more than 250 yards on the ground. Injuries played a role, but Mike Davis, Chris Carson, J.D. McKissic and Eddie Lacy couldn’t get the job done. Schottenheimer likely will have a few new players to work with in the backfield once general manager John Schneider tinkers the roster.

 

Although Schottenheimer’s Colts offense fared better than the Seahawks on the ground — thanks to the efforts of Frank Gore — it remains to be seen if he’ll be an upgrade over Bevell in helping Carroll’s steer Seattle back into the playoffs.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Bengals fans are paying it forward after Andy Dalton’s Foundation was enriched by folks from Buffalo.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It’s not quite at the point (yet) that it reached two weeks ago when Bills fans donated in droves to Andy Dalton‘s foundation after the Bengals beat the Ravens to deliver a playoff berth to Buffalo, but Bengals fans are now showing their appreciation to Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles for eliminating Cincinnati’s chief rival from the postseason.

 

Via FirstCoastNews.com, more than 100 Bengals fans have give more than $5,000 collectively to the Bortles’ BB5 Foundation since Sunday’s win by Jacksonville in Pittsburgh.

 

“Fans are at the core of the football experience and it’s truly exciting and rewarding when they band together, regardless of the team they cheer for, to make a positive impact in the lives of others,” Bortles said. “I greatly appreciate the support displayed by Bengals fans and they should know their support will make a difference.”

 

 

CLEVELAND

Hue Jackson is going to have an offensive coordinator in 2018 – and it could be the former head coach of the Giants.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Fired Giants coach Ben McAdoo is interviewing for the Browns offensive coordinator job today in Berea, a league source told cleveland.com.

 

McAdoo, fired by the Giants on Dec. 4 along with GM Jerry Reese after the team went 2-10, has ties to new Browns GM John Dorsey and would be a strong candidate to call plays for coach Hue Jackson because of his experience.

 

McAdoo spent seven years in Green Bay with Dorsey from 2006-12. He served as Packers tight ends coach from 2006-11 and quarterbacks coach in 2012-13.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Yesterday, it sounded like BEN ROETHLISBERGER wouldn’t mind Todd Haley’s departure.  Today, not so much.  Mike Chiari of Bleacher Report:

 

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger downplayed potential issues with offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Tuesday, two days after Pittsburgh’s playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

According to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, Roethlisberger said he met with Haley on Monday and described the situation in a tweet: “There’s always issues in a competitive field … you might butt heads at times, it doesn’t mean you have any personal problems.”

 

On Sunday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said Haley and the Steelers are “at a crossroads” and reported that his relationship with Roethlisberger is “strained.”

 

While the Steelers put up 42 points in their AFC Divisional Round loss to Jacksonville, they still fell 45-42.

 

With regard to his squabbles with Haley, Roethlisberger told Kinkhabwala, “I think it’s perceived as a bigger deal than it was.”

 

Haley’s contract is up, but Roethlisberger didn’t make an effort to push him out of town Tuesday.

 

Per a tweet from Kinkhabwala, Big Ben pushed the importance of continuity heading toward the 2018 campaign: “The least amount of change the better. We don’t want to have big changes because we’re right there, we’re on the cusp … We feel we have some great things going for us.”

 

The Steelers have ranked in the top 10 in both total yards and scoring in each of the past four seasons under Haley.

 

In 2017, they were third in total offense and eighth in points scored.

 

That said, Coach Mike Tomlin isn’t in a rush to re-up Haley.

 

Tomlin doesn’t sound as if he’s in a rush to decide whether Haley will be back next season.

 

Tomlin sidestepped several attempts to endorse Haley’s return on Tuesday as the AFC North champions continued to dissect what went wrong in an upset home playoff loss to Jacksonville . Asked if he anticipated any changes to his staff, Tomlin demurred.

 

“I don’t know where these roads are going to lead,” Tomlin said. “Some contracts are up. Some aren’t. I’m not ready to discuss that.”

– – –

There are actually rumblings in Pittsburgh about Tomlin according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com who travels in those circles:

 

Plenty of Steelers fans currently are upset with the performance of coach Mike Tomlin, given the team’s inability to get back to the Super Bowl or, more specifically, to get past the Patriots. (And now the Jaguars.) A small group of Steelers fans who own pieces of the franchise’s equity are particularly miffed with Tomlin — sufficiently miffed that they want to see a change get made.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, some of the team’s limited partners intend to lobby owner Art Rooney to fire of Tomlin and to hire a new coach.

 

The limited partners, who became involved nearly a decade ago as member of the Rooney family sold their interest in the team after acquiring gaming interests that violate league policy, have no authority over the management of the team, but they have a pipeline to owner Art Rooney. Per the source, they plan to utilize it.

 

The group of limited partners includes Rob Citrone, Paul Evanson, Larry Paul, Stephen Paul, Bruce Rauner, Paul Sams, John Stallworh, Benjamin Statler, Scott Swank, David Tepper, Thomas Tull, Peter Varischetti, and Mike Wilkins.

 

The concerns relate to the increasingly obvious issues with decision-making in key moments of the game, also known as “situational football.” The absence of a plan in the final seconds of the loss last month to the Patriots was one thing; the frittering away of the final 47 seconds on Sunday against the Jaguars, when Pittsburgh was five yards from the end zone and down 10 points, only made it worse. (The source specifically pointed to those key 47 seconds, noting that the players were moving without any real sense of urgency as the clock was ticking and the Steelers needed two scores.)

 

The limited partners who will be pushing for a new coach also are concerned about the team’s lack of discipline, with last year’s Facebook Live fiasco from receiver Antonio Brown a prime example of it.

 

Tomlin drew criticism from many in November for talking openly about meeting the Patriots both in the regular season and in the playoffs, before Pittsburgh had even clinched a postseason berth. One of Tomlin’s key players, running back Le’Veon Bell, proclaimed via social media after New England beat Tennessee on Saturday night that the Steelers would have a pair of regular-season rematches in the playoffs — one against the Jaguars on Sunday and another against the Patriots the following Sunday.

 

Yes, Tomlin has won a Super Bowl and taken the team to another one. But the last appearance in the NFL title game came seven years ago; there’s currently a sense that the Steelers are underachieving under Tomlin. As one source observed, Pittsburgh would be undefeated if Bill Belichick were the coach, given the talent on the roster.

 

The Steelers have had only three coaches since 1969, with Chuck Noll yielding in 1992 to Bill Cowher, who resigned after the 2006 season. It’s believed by some that Art Rooney II preferred Russ Grimm as the replacement for Cowher, but that the late Dan Rooney wanted Tomlin.

 

Now that Art II is running the team, Art II can make the call on whether to change coaches. While it’s not believed he’ll give the limited partners’ plea any credence on its own, if Art II already is thinking about making a change, the coming effort by the limited partners to advocate for change could at least be a factor.

 

Pete Prisco tweets:

 

@PriscoCBS

The talk of firing Mike Tomlin is absurd

– – –

The mystery deepens as to why the Steelers don’t run QB sneaks.  Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com:

 

Ben Roethlisberger’s big frame seemingly makes him an ideal candidate for quarterback sneaks. After Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, many were wondering why the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t let Big Ben put his head down and try to burrow through the Jags’ line on a pair of fourth down plays.

 

Speaking on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Roethlisberger said the team’s long-running aversion to running sneaks is coach Mike Tomlin’s decision and that he doesn’t even “have the freedom to check to a quarterback sneak because we don’t have that call if we’re not in the huddle.”

 

“I truly have never said I don’t want to run it,” Roethlisberger said, who added that Tomlin laughs when he lobbies to run a QB draw at the goal line. “I have asked for it. I am fine with it. If they want to call it, I’m all for it.”

 

The Steelers failed to convert on fourth-and-one on two occasions during Sunday’s loss — Le’Veon Bell lost four yards on a first-quarter try and a pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 12:50 left in the game fell incomplete.

 

“It’s been a while since we’ve run the quarterback sneak,” Roethlisberger said in the postgame news conference. “I’m for it, but it’s kinda over my head why we don’t do it. I’m not going to second guess why we don’t run the quarterback sneak. I don’t know.”

 

Tomlin gave a somewhat different characterization to how the team decides to deploy the QB sneak while speaking at his season-ending news conference Tuesday.

 

“We make decisions that we deem appropriate in circumstances,” Tomlin said. “Whether we choose to call it at a specific moment is up for debate. To suggest there’s a resistance to it, the concept, I’m not willing to say that.”

 

Roethlisberger’s last rushing attempt came against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12 of the 2015 season, per NFL Research. His last carry attempt on fourth-and-one came in Week 4 of the 2014 season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

Roethlisberger has 18 first downs on 19 QB sneaks during his career (highest success rate — 94.7 percent — of any QB over 10 attempts since 2004). Tomlin and the Steelers likely don’t want to risk injury to the heartbeat of their offense, but Sunday’s game provides a legitimate argument for a possible exception to Pittsburgh’s apparent no-sneak rule for Big Ben.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

The Jaguars have made the AFC Championship Game without their best receiver.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Jaguars’ 29-7 win over the Texans in the first week of the regular season gave the first signs of what the team would be able to do this season, but it wasn’t an entirely happy day.

 

Allen Robinson was lost for the season when he tore his ACL after making one catch for 17 yards, which left Jacksonville’s passing game without its top receiver. As their presence in the AFC Championship Game attests, the Jaguars were able to overcome the loss but it’s hard not to think their offense might be even better like with deep shots to Robinson off play action in the mix.

 

It’s not a sure thing that they’ll have that wrinkle back next season. Robinson is set for free agency and a torn ACL can change plans about the future. Robinson is doing his best to quiet any of those concerns.

 

“Everybody knows the plays I’m capable of making and being 24 years old, I’m expected to make a 100 percent recovery,” Robinson said, via the Florida Times-Union. “I know I’ll be at 100 percent relatively soon.”

 

The franchise tag is an option for Robinson and he says he wouldn’t be surprised if the Jaguars went that route to ensure they get the chance to see if he can make good on that prediction.

– – –

RB LEONARD FOURNETTE is uninjured and uncharged in a daylight auto accident.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette was uninjured after being involved in a minor car crash Tuesday, the team announced.

 

According to Sgt. Dylan Bryan from Florida Highway Patrol, Fournette was rear-ended during a three-car, chain-reaction collision. He was not at fault in the crash, and he drove home after the incident.

 

Before leaving the scene, Fournette autographed his bumper and gave it to a Dept. of Transportation worker who was cleaning up the crash site, according to Bryan. He also posed for a photo with a child who was in one of the other cars involved. The child, according to Bryan, recognized Fournette and said “I loved him at LSU.”

 

This tweet from the Florida Highway Patrol:

 

@FhpJacksonville

Special Thanks to @Jaguars Leonard @_fournette for being a true professional. He took the time to take a photo with boy involved in crash and to thank our trooper for his service. We are glad to hear of no injuries in this crash.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal says the Patriots could lose Sunday because their opponent is Synthetic Kryptonite:

 

For all the New England Patriots’ playoff success, there is one team that historically terrified the defending Super Bowl champions this time of year. They pressured Tom Brady. They controlled the ball and shortened the game. They relied on discipline that matched New England’s robotic expertise.

 

That team was the New York Giants, which used this blueprint to beat the Patriots in two Super Bowls. Which is why the Patriots should be frightened this weekend: Their opponent in Sunday’s AFC Championship game is basically the Giants, except in helmets featuring a snarling cat and funny black and teal uniforms.

 

“Here,” said Jacksonville Jaguars safety Barry Church, “we have the same type of formula.”

 

Until last weekend, most signs pointed to another Patriots-Steelers showdown in the AFC Championship. But Pittsburgh has had its chances against New England and let them slip away. There was this year’s regular-season thriller, decided by a controversially overturned catch and then a crushing interception, and last year’s AFC Championship game. The Patriots won both times—and the previous three meetings, too.

 

Meanwhile, the Jaguars, the team that upset the Steelers last weekend, may also be the team with a better chance at upsetting the Patriots. It’s a bizarre notion. Few expected the Jaguars to reach the postseason in the first place, or make it this far once they did. But that doesn’t mean Jacksonville is yet another doormat for New England to stomp en route to the Super Bowl. That’s because the Jaguars are built in the mold of the team that bewildered the team that’s usually infallible.

 

The key to beating New England is often as straightforward as it is hopeless. You have to find a way to contain Brady. Many have tried. Most have failed. Except the Giants, who kept the Patriots’ vaunted offense to 14 and 17 points in two Super Bowl meetings.

 

The Jaguars are the one team in the NFL this year uniquely capable of making Brady’s afternoon hellish. They relentlessly pressure the quarterback without sending extra blitzers. They have the best pass defense in the league. They can play an extended game of keepaway with a bruising running game that eats away at the clock.

 

And they also have Tom Coughlin, whose crimson face still haunts New Englanders. The former head coach for the Jaguars and Giants was brought back to Jacksonville before this season as the team’s executive vice president. His fingerprints are all over this team that prides itself on hard-nosed football sans much glitz or glam. He’s also the rare coach who owns Bill Belichick: Coughlin is 5-2 in their seven matchups.

 

Jacksonville’s hopes boil down to a simple truth. There are two traditional ways to win the Super Bowl: You can have one of the best quarterbacks. Or you can be better than everybody else at terrorizing the other team’s quarterback. The Jaguars are the latter.

 

There are basic numbers that show how good Jacksonville’s defense was this season: It gave up the fewest passing yards per game, the second fewest points and produced the second most turnovers.

 

But what makes the unit particularly nefarious for an opposing quarterback is how it attacks. The Jaguars generated 55 sacks this season—the second most in the league—despite blitzing the fourth-least often. No team pressured the quarterback on a higher percentage of passes, according to Stats LLC.

 

This is precisely what neutralized Brady against the Giants. New York didn’t need to blitz, either. It had pass rushers like Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul who could menace Brady without additional help. That meant they could leave almost everyone else in pass coverage without sacrificing pressure on the quarterback.

 

The same depth on the line has turned Jacksonville into a nightmare for opposing offenses all year. They had the most productive tandem of pass rushers in the league this season, meaning they don’t need any help either. There were 10 players with at least 12 sacks this season. The Jaguars had two of them: Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue.

 

This imposing front is even more intimidating when you realize who plays behind them: Two of the best cornerbacks around. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye led a secondary that held opposing quarterbacks to the NFL’s lowest completion percentage (56.8%) and passer rating (68.5). Essentially, they spent the entire season turning opposing passing attacks into something that resembled the Cleveland Browns.

 

“There’s nothing that they don’t do well,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

 

And as crazy as it might sound, the old Giants and current Jaguars’ offenses aren’t wildly different. Blake Bortles may not be Eli Manning, but both are erratic passers who can combine head-scratching plays with huge downfield passes in the space of a single drive.

 

More than personnel, the similarity stretches to style and a capacity to control the tempo of the game with long, grueling drives. Running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw did that for New York, and Leonard Fournette does the same for Jacksonville. The rookie ran for 1,040 yards this season despite missing three games due to injury. In Sunday’s 45-42 win against the Steelers, he rushed 25 times for 109 yards and three touchdowns. The more he runs, the more time ticks off the clock, keeping the ball out of Brady’s hands.

 

There’s also the Coughlin effect. While Doug Marrone is the team’s coach, Coughlin spent the last win over Pittsburgh scribbling notes and grunting comments to fellow Jacksonville executives in the press box. He surely has notebooks full on the Patriots: He’s the only coach to beat Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. He did it as coach of the Giants twice.

 

Even though Coughlin looks on from afar on game days, players say the Coughlin effect can be felt throughout the building. They say his notorious emphasis on discipline has become deeply ingrained in the DNA of a team that transformed from one of the NFL’s worst teams into one of the final four still standing.

 

“He just changed the whole culture around here,” Church said. “This is a job and you’re going to treat it like a job. That’s what we needed.”

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets feel compelled to lower most of their ticker prices.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Jets have missed the playoffs for seven straight years and watching their attempt to avoid an eighth straight year out of the postseason will cost many of their ticket holders less money.

 

The team announced Tuesday that they will be decreasing the price of season tickets for more than half the seats at MetLife Stadium. The average decrease will be 11 percent and seats without reductions will see prices remain flat for the 2018 season.

 

“Every year, we look at what is going on around league, prices for sporting and other events in New York, and in the secondary market,” team president Neil Glat said in a statement. “We have had some price decreases in the past, but this will be the largest decrease in average price since the building opened.”

 

The team also said that season ticket holders that renew by March 1 will have a two-year freeze on the prices of their seats. The Packers, Vikings, Texans, Colts and Broncos will join the rest of the AFC East on the 2018 home slate.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Well, any hope that Thursday night football will go the way of the dodo bird are out the window.  Not only do NBC and CBS want to retain part of the package, FOX and ABC are bidding as well.

 

The NFL will soon be selling the rights to Thursday Night Football, at least for 2018 and possibly longer. And all four of the major broadcast networks have placed bids on the package.

 

Via Bloomberg.com, FOX has joined ABC and the two networks that split the package in 2016-17, CBS and NBC, in submitting bids for the Thursday night contract.

 

Per the report, FOX has submitted multiple proposals involving FOX and FS1; however, with the games already televised on NFL Network, it’s unlikely the league would place game content on anything but a three-letter broadcast network.

 

FOX’s interest is a bit of a surprise. In October, FOX CEO James Murdoch blamed the Sunday ratings drop on oversaturation arising in part from the Thursday broadcasts. The NFL tried to undermine Murdoch’s complaints by pointing out that FOX doesn’t participate in the Thursday night package.

 

Some bidders have proposed changes to the game, according to the report. Revisions include scheduling only teams that have had a bye the preceding Sunday, along with moving some of the games to other days of the week.

 

Under the broadcast antitrust exemption, the league can’t televise games on Fridays or Saturdays from early September through early December.

 

According to the report, CBS and NBC hope to pay less than the combined $450 million paid by the two networks in 2016 and 2017. The networks also have funded the production of the NFL Network-only games.

 

The league hopes to announce its decision regarding the TNF package either shortly before or shortly after the Super Bowl.

 

The DB reminds folks that FOX is flush with cash (or at least Disney stock) after selling a variety of assets including its regional sports networks recently.  This from Bloomberg.com, making the same point:

 

Football is still the most-watched program on TV, a vital lure of advertising sales and fees from cable operators. A Thursday night game would boost Fox, which ranks last among the broadcast networks in total audience and is tied for second among viewers 18 to 49.

 

“Fox needs it because their entertainment programming has been so weak,” said Michael Nathanson, an analyst with MoffettNathanson. Buying the rights would also signal to sports leagues and fellow media companies that Fox plans to be a player for many years to come.

 

Something to Prove

Fox agreed last month to sell cable channels FX and National Geographic, its movie and TV studio and international assets to Disney. If that deal gets approved by regulators, the new Fox will be much smaller, with broadcast, news and sports channels. The Murdoch family, which runs the company, wants to prove to the market that it’s still very interested in sports, the people said.

 

The league has few other options on TV. Turner Sports has considered bidding on NFL rights in the past, but it’s unlikely to bid on “Thursday Night Football,” in part because it’s awaiting the outcome of a Justice Department lawsuit against AT&T Inc.’s takeover of parent company Time Warner Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter.

 

“Perhaps the balance of power is more even,” Nathanson said. “I think CBS for the first time would walk away.”

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com offers this Mock Draft:

 

Bradley Chubb might be the “safest” prospect in this class, and to some, Lamar Jackson may carry the most risk. I think there’s a good chance they’ll both “ace” the predraft process, which will lead to them being picked somewhat early in Round 1 after illustrious collegiate careers.

 

The Buccaneers would be an outstanding fit for Chubb, and he’d be the team’s best pass-rusher right away. The Cardinals are one of the teams outside of the top 10 in need of a quarterback, which means Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold likely won’t be available when they go on the clock.

 

Jackson won’t come without some questioning, but he could transcend the quarterback position due to his electric combination of run and pass capability.

 

NFL MOCK DRAFT – 01/15/2018

ROUND 1

 

1. CLEVELAND BROWNS

Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California: The Browns plan for the future with Darnold, but it comes with a caveat. With plenty of cap space, I think Cleveland adds a veteran to start the 2018 season under center.

 

2. NEW YORK GIANTS

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: A similar situation here in New York, with Eli grooming Rosen for a full-time starting role in 2019. And if Manning struggles, expect the call for Rosen to be deafening. In an ideal world, Rosen takes time to learn the ropes in the pros, but he’s talented enough to learn on the field as a rookie.

 

3. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama: With Fitzpatrick and safety Malik Hooker, the Colts would have two young, lengthy super athletes in the secondary. Fitzpatrick can lock up the outside at corner or shift to strong safety on occasion.

 

4. CLEVELAND BROWNS (FROM HOUSTON)

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: GM John Dorsey would be tempted to pick an offensive tackle here, but Barkley’s game-breaking ability is too tantalizing to pass up. With Cleveland’s underrated offensive line, Barkley can be a foundational piece of the offense right away.

 

5. DENVER BRONCOS

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: I’m jumping aboard the “the Broncos are coaching Mayfield at the Senior Bowl so they’ll draft him” train for the time being. Mayfield’s passion and, more importantly, ability as a passer will be very enticing to John Elway and Co.

 

6. NEW YORK JETS

Connor Williams, OT, Texas: The Jets could move into the top five to grab a quarterback. If they don’t, they’d be fine with Williams at No. 6, a refined pass-blocker who has his best football in front of him.

 

7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State: Dream come true for the Buccaneers, who are in dire need of pass rush and must get better against the pass. Chubb is a Ryan Kerrigan-type prospect who is ready to be a three-down producer and doesn’t lack consistency in any phase.

 

8. CHICAGO BEARS

Courtland Sutton, WR, Southern Methodist: Can’t change this one. Sutton has the makings of being a No. 1 receiver due to his size, elusiveness, and high-pointing domination.

 

9. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame: Another selection stays the same from a week ago. Nelson is the best overall linemen in this draft class and will fortify the protection up the middle for Jimmy Garoppolo.

 

10. OAKLAND RAIDERS

Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia: Smith is a linebacker who can transform a defense with his play-recognition skills, speed to the football, and coverage ability. That’s precisely the type of player the Raiders need.

 

11. MIAMI DOLPHINS

Derwin James, SS, Florida State: Another defense in need of a dynamic playmaker outside the front four, the Dolphins could take a big step on that side of the ball with the multi-dimensional James in Round 1.

 

12. CINCINNATI BENGALS

Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma: The Bengals let Andrew Whitworth walk in free agency, and the Rams offense took off after he signed in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Cincinnati struggled running the football and keeping Andy Dalton clean in the pocket. Brown has franchise left tackle ability.

 

13. WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: I can’t buy the Redskins transition-tagging Cousins at nearly $29 million or franchise-tagging him at $34 million in 2018. Just can’t see either happening. Therefore, quarterback is the clear-cut question mark for next season. Allen will need to take better care of the football in the NFL than he did in 2017 and lean on the run game and defense as a rookie.

 

14. GREEN BAY PACKERS

Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: The Packers have been good at planning ahead at the receiver spot, and with Jordy Nelson nearing the end of his career in Green Bay and Randall Cobb getting more expensive, Ridley would be exquisite reinforcement in the pass game.

 

15. ARIZONA CARDINALS

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: A bit of a wild-card here, but the Cardinals are in need of a quarterback and we don’t know who their next head coach will be. I do trust GM Steve Keim’s team-building philosophies and believe he could be ready to get progressive on offense. Jackson, like the other young quarterbacks in this class, needs some schooling to succeed in the NFL ranks but made huge strides as a passer in college.

 

16. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: The Ravens like what Alex Collins brings to the field, and with Guice, Baltimore would have a powerful duo in its backfield. Wide receiver could be considered as well, but Guice is too talented to pass on here.

 

17. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Vita Vea, DT, Washington: With Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Vea, the Chargers would have the makings of the best defensive line in the NFL. Vea has the size and strength of a massive nose tackle and the athleticism of someone much smaller.

 

18. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA: Davenport is a prime candidate to be a “riser” over the next few months due to his length and polished pass-rushing ability. He played at University of Texas-San Antonio, which started its football program in 2011.

 

19. DALLAS COWBOYS

James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys need speed on the outside. Washington will undoubtedly bring that to Dallas’ offense. He averaged 19.8 yards per reception in his collegiate career.

 

20. DETROIT LIONS

Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan: Haloti Ngata might be done in Detroit, and the Lions need to add more pass rush on their defensive line regardless of where it comes from. Hurst is the most effective interior backfield disruptor in the class.

 

21. BUFFALO BILLS

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: The Bills need a signal caller and Rudolph is a big pocket quarterback who will need time to mature a bit but is an experienced passer. He’ll be fun in Brian Daboll’s offense that’ll feature some collegiate run-pass option wrinkles.

 

22. BUFFALO BILLS (FROM KANSAS CITY)

Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford: Phillips is more effective against the run than he is getting after the quarterback, but his low center of gravity and excellent hand use will help him generate pressure up the middle for the Bills defense.

 

23. LOS ANGELES RAMS

Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa: The Rams may be in need of cornerback reinforcement this offseason if Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman aren’t retained. Jackson is an impressive cover man who wins with plus agility, ball skills, and technique.

 

24. CAROLINA PANTHERS

Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis: The Steve Smith comparison for Miller are too obvious to ignore. Both are small wideouts whose toughness, quickness, and contested-catch capabilities allow him to thrive on the outside.

 

25. TENNESSEE TITANS

Taven Bryan, DT, Florida: The Titans play a lot of different fronts on defense, and Bryan may be the most versatile top-flight defensive line prospect in this class. He can be a successful player at every position.

 

26. ATLANTA FALCONS

Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: The Falcons are all set on the edge of their defense. It’s in the middle that could use an upgrade. Payne is young and plays well beyond his years as a run-stuffer.

 

27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Virginia Tech: Edmunds can play off the ball at linebacker on first and second down then shift to the edge on third down. He’s a big, superb athlete at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. With coaching, he can be one of the premier linebackers in the league in a few years.

 

28. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Malik Jefferson, OLB, Texas: Jefferson, like Edmunds, is a springy athlete already with NFL size for the linebacker spot. If he learns how to shed blocks more efficiently, he can be a tackling monster for the Steelers.

 

29. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma: Marcedes Lewis has given the Jaguars fantastic return on their 2006 investment, but at this point, he’s a quasi-offensive lineman. Andrews is a true field-stretcher with the size to create major matchup issues for opposing defenses.

 

30. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State: The Eagles roster looks good heading into 2018. On defense, they’re super stout up front and could really load up its secondary with Ward, a shorter but technically sound corner.

 

31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma: Okoronkwo is a multi-dimensional outside rusher who plays with outstanding leverage when setting the edge and flourishes with speed and bend as a pass-rusher.

 

32. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan: Okorafor can bolster Minnesota’s offensive line that was better this season but is still in need of work. He has all the size, athleticism, and balance to become a franchise left tackle for the Vikings.