AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Dan Wetzel of YahooSports.com on no change coming in 2020 at the top of the Lions hierarchy:

 

On Sunday, during another Detroit Lions loss, amid another lost Detroit Lions season, the Detroit Lions fans who still bother to attend Detroit Lions games tried to send a message to the team’s detached ownership.

 

It begged for Martha Firestone Ford to either fire general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia or sell the team to someone who would.

 

There were T-shirts, homemade signs and paper bags covering their heads. Fans chanted. Fans shouted. Fans all but begged Firestone Ford to put an end to a regime that has driven a team that seemed capable of actually doing something a couple years ago into a 3-10-1 embarrassment.

 

On Tuesday, Firestone Ford responded, summoning the team’s beat reporters and informing them that: a) she wasn’t selling and b) Quinn and Patricia would be back for a fifth and third season respectively.

 

Bad records, a bad roster, bad excuses … it doesn’t matter.

 

May everyone have a happy holiday and a boss as forgiving as Martha Firestone Ford is with Quinn and Patricia. You can overpromise, under-deliver, hire your friends and run the company into the ground … but you’re still welcome to another chance to fix your own disaster.

 

These are the Lions, of course, the worst franchise in professional sports, the owners of a single playoff victory since 1957. That’s 62 years and counting. Sixty-two! The oft-derided Jacksonville Jaguars have been to twice as many AFC championship games as the Lions have playoff victories. Detroit wishes it had the Jags.

 

This is a franchise that isn’t famous for heartbreak because it is so abysmal it never gets to a place where hearts can break.

 

Left in the middle is a generationally beaten-down fan base stuck shouting into a vacuum at a family that inherited their money, their team and their stature, yet keeps telling the fans to ignore what they see with their own eyes or hear with their own ears.

 

These people gave Matt Millen eight years as general manager, after all.

 

After all these decades of being wrong, they are due to be right one of these days, correct? Maybe. Anything is possible, of course. Maybe these are the next San Francisco 49ers, ready to make a quantum leap no one (other than Martha Firestone Ford) saw coming.

 

It would require remarkable clairvoyance.

 

Consider this scenario: Almost exactly five years ago, the Fords hired Bob Quinn as general manager even though he had never been a general manager. He came from the New England Patriots, so there was hope he knew what he was doing. He inherited a club with a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford who was one season removed from 11-5.

 

In his four drafts he has selected just one player who became a Pro Bowler, and that was for special teams. The Lions went 9-7 in each of his first two years, but he decided that he needed to fire the coach, Jim Caldwell, because Caldwell didn’t appear to be capable of winning a Super Bowl.

 

“I think we have more than a competitive team to be competing for championships,” Quinn said at the time. “… At the end of the day, it’s wanting to take this team to the next level … To me, that’s winning championships, that’s winning playoff games and that’s winning the Super Bowl.”

 

Quinn wasn’t necessarily wrong. Caldwell didn’t maximize those Lions teams. They were capable of more.

 

However, as his replacement, Quinn hired Patricia as head coach even though he’d never been a head coach. He came from the Patriots, so there was hope he knew what he was doing (and this wasn’t just Quinn hiring his old buddy.)

 

The team that went 9-7 and 9-7 suddenly went 6-10. Now this, 3-10-1 and counting.

 

Just for the record: The Lions didn’t win the Super Bowl last season and won’t this season.

 

They did, however, complain about injuries this year. It’s true, injuries decimated a thin roster. Then again, who is responsible for the thin roster?

 

And the team wasn’t doing anything when it was healthy. Stafford was great before getting hurt. Detroit was 3-4-1.

 

But why dwell on that when you can sell Martha Firestone Ford on being the victim of misfortune?

 

Despite this track record of two guys with no track record other than Bill Belichick once hired them as entry-level assistants for the NFL’s greatest dynasty, the Fords are still convinced they’ll get it this time. 

 

This is who she entrusts for an offseason where Detroit will likely have the No. 3 overall draft pick, about $50 million in salary-cap space and are likely to trade Pro Bowler Darius Slay because he hasn’t exactly expressed much confidence in the team. Someone who knows what they are doing could do a lot with that.

 

It actually stands to reason everyone will be back in 2021, too. The new goal is not to win the Super Bowl, but merely be in “playoff contention.”

 

With a last-place schedule, the return of Stafford, a top-three pick and some free agents, being in “playoff contention” would be nearly impossible not to achieve. Just get to 7-9 or 8-8 and everyone will probably get another year due to “progress.”

 

Perhaps Lions fans should save their signs.

 

 

MINNESOTA

RB DALVIN COOK may not be available for the big Monday night game with the Packers.

 

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is unlikely to play in the big showdown with the Green Bay Packers on Monday night because of a shoulder injury, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday.

 

Cook, the Vikings’ leading rusher with 1,135 yards, was injured at the beginning of the third quarter during Sunday’s 39-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Cook was leading Minnesota in rushing with nine carries for 27 yards.

 

The Vikings can clinch a playoff berth with a victory Monday. Minnesota (10-4) trails Green Bay (11-3) by a game in the NFC North, but the Packers hold the tiebreaker.

 

On second-and-3 on the Vikings’ first drive of the third quarter Sunday, with Minnesota leading by nine points, quarterback Kirk Cousins pitched the ball to Cook, who shuffled to his right before being wrapped up around the ankles by Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman. Cook instantly went down and was tended to on the field by trainers. He walked to the sideline, disappeared inside the medical tent and was ruled out shortly thereafter.

 

The Vikings’ backfield is down to Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone and fullback C.J. Ham. Minnesota entered Week 15 without Cook’s backup, rookie Alexander Mattison, who is dealing with an ankle injury.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The father of RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT has a problem.  Jason Owens of YahooSports.com:

 

The father of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is facing 21 charges after he allegedly illegally owned and released a wild African cat that attacked a neighbor’s dog and was later fatally shot by police.

 

According to The Columbus Dispatch, Stacy Elliott, aka Stacy El-Muhammad, faces nine charges from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and 12 charges from other Ohio agencies.

 

El-Muhammad allegedly set cat free in Ohio suburb

Sheriff’s deputies searched a Columbus-area property owned by El-Muhammad on Oct. 13 after responding to a call that a bobcat was attacking a neighbor’s dog, according to the Dispatch. When the deputies arrived on the scene of the call, they shot and killed the cat that they felt was a threat.

 

The dog survived, according to the report.

 

What is a serval?

That cat wasn’t a bobcat, but a serval, a wild cat native to Africa. According to the San Diego Zoo, servals are “small, slender cats with long legs, a lean body, a short tail and a small head.”

 

Mature servals range from 23 to 36 inches in length, 17 to 24 inches in height and weigh anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds. They live up to 19 years in the wild.

 

El-Muhammad denied that he was the owner of the serval when asked by department of agriculture, according to the Dispatch. But investigators traced the cat to El-Muhammad from data in a microchip that showed that he purchased the serval.

 

It is illegal to own a serval in Ohio without a permit.

 

Charges include a felony

The Fairfield Area Humane Society and Fairfield County dog warden also pressed charges against El-Muhammad on Tuesday that include a fifth-degree felony charge for intentionally allowing an exotic animal to escape.

 

The charge for owning an exotic animal without a permit is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to the Dispatch.

 

Other charges include failure to notify of a dangerous wild animal escape, obstruction of official business and failure to have dangerous wild animal signage on cage, according to the report.

 

El-Muhammad worked on former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s staff from 2015-17.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

It looks like we will get the eagerly-awaited matchup of rookie QBs on Sunday.  Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

Quarterback Daniel Jones took most of the first-team reps Wednesday after missing the past two games with a high ankle sprain. Jones said he felt “good” and believes he can do all the things he needs to do in order to start Sunday against the Redskins. Even though coach Pat Shurmur said the Giants will wait to see how Jones does this week, it’s sure trending in the direction of a Jones return, with Eli Manning heading back to the bench. –

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

QB CAM NEWTON wants to stay in Carolina.  Jonathan Jones of CBSSports.com:

 

— Less than a week after foot surgery and just hours after waking up with an upset stomach, Cam Newton is at a Charlotte men’s shelter — standing on his right leg while resting his left knee on his three-wheeled scooter — serving dinner to more than 200 men for an hour.

 

Some of these men he’s seen in the Charlotte streets before, and they’re quick to remind him. Others use their few moments to thank Newton for what he’s doing.

 

It’s here, at the fifth hour and end of his sixth annual Christmas charity drive across town styled as “Santa Cam’s Surprise Sleigh,” that you can spot a different side of Newton. Through his foundation on this Tuesday, Newton will give more than $130,000 in money and gifts to schools and their staff, an after-school program, a food bank and to this shelter.

 

But here is where he can be real. These men have seen enough in their life to spot a phony immediately. So as Newton puts chicken tenders on their plate, he shares brief moments of honesty, and levity, with them.

 

“I’m just saying,” one man shouts, “they don’t appreciate you.”

 

“Aye, that’s Cam!,” another exclaims as he gets to the front of the line. “I thought they was playing!”

 

“All the trash talk is on Sunday. Ain’t nobody got nothing to say now,” a third man smiles to Newton.

 

CBS Sports was one of three media outlets invited to cover the event. The day began around 2:30 p.m. at Berry Academy where Newton donated $15,000 to the school’s athletic program and did a Q&A with a select group of high school student-athletes. He then went to Westerly Hills Elementary and gave $100 Visa gift cards to all school staff. Next, a trip to the UrbanPromise after-school camp where he donated $25,000 to the majority-minority program.

 

Newton deals with children with his usual aplomb: play some music, encourage dancing, dispense wisdom on the importance of following your dreams. With the elementary school staff, he entertained 50 or so teachers for 30 minutes like the comedian who warms up the crowd before a late-night show.

 

He admits that this year’s edition of the charity drive is “a little different” than years previous. Newton hasn’t played since September and, in about three months, he may no longer be the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback. But in a quick interview, Newton isn’t interested in that sort of reflection at the moment.

 

“I don’t want to keep dwelling on the negativity of 2019 has been,” he says. “It’s been such a blessing for me to have these experiences like this, going to different venues to put people in the holiday cheer. That’s what it was curated for and that’s what we want to keep doing.”

 

To be sure, Newton wants to remain in Carolina. That’s what he has shared with people near and far to him. He made it a point to greet Panthers owner David Tepper on Sunday when he watched the Seahawks-Panthers game from his suite.

 

The Panthers will either trade or keep Newton in the final year of his contract. Outright release should not be an option for Carolina. Newton stands to count $21.1 million against the cap next season, which is both manageable enough to keep him and tantalizing enough to trade for.

 

Complicating things is Newton’s recent mid-foot surgery to his Lisfranc injury. It’s the third time in two-and-a-half years that he’s gone under the knife, and he’s winless in his last eight injury-riddled games since 2018. What would fair trade compensation be for the former MVP? How much would Carolina want to roll the dice, again, on his health?

 

Part of the equation is who the new head coach will be. Tepper is shading toward a younger, offensive-minded head coach. Will that man, who will already be in a sort of arranged marriage with general manager Marty Hurney and a to-be-named assistant GM, want to also start his offseason program with an injured quarterback?

 

The truth is that no decision has been made. Tepper doesn’t know yet what he’s going to do at the quarterback position, though the last six weeks has made it crystal clear that Carolina won’t be going into Week 1 of the 2020 season with Kyle Allen as the starter.

 

Back at this charity drive, Newton stops at a food bank to donate $25,000 to its volunteer program before heading to the men’s shelter. “This is our guy and we have to be careful with him,” says Second Harvest Food Bank CEO Kay Carter to those in attendance. “He’s valuable to us and he’s valuable to Charlotte.”

 

Before Newton, there was no superstar in Charlotte. Yes, Michael Jordan owned the Bobcats before the Panthers took Newton first overall in 2011, but no one here has ever felt a strong tug to claim Jordan as a Charlottean.

 

Newton would, in his early years with the Panthers, lament seeing so many car flags and jerseys representing different NFL teams. The Carolina franchise was nationally irrelevant and mattered in Charlotte for three hours on 16 Sundays out of the year. Slowly, he changed the culture and the perspective of many fans here.

 

But when a fan of another team crept through the dinner line at the men’s shelter, Newton had fun. He’d demand a Raiders fan take his hat off. He tells a Steelers fan to zip up his outer layer to cover the logo. “Have you ever met Dak? Well you’re meeting me,” Newton jokes with a Cowboys fan.

 

Newton quickly finds things to relate to these men. One is looking for a vegan option instead of the chicken. This man’s been vegan for two years, and Newton says “that’s what’s up. I’m coming up on a year myself.” Newton’s also been growing out his hair for more than a year, and when a dreadlocked man waits for his food, Newton is stunned to hear he’s been growing his hair out for 13 years.

 

And when Newton picks up on a slight accent of one man in a navy windbreaker, he asks where he’s from.

 

“Africa,” the man says.

 

“Me too!” Newton exclaims.

 

Multiple times in this hour men tell Newton how they want him to stay in Charlotte. They’re telling him not to leave the city and the Panthers. Each time Newton points out he’s under contract with the team for 2020. Plus, he doesn’t want to leave.

 

 

“That’s the plan. That’s where I want to be. …You can’t get rid of me that easily,” he says.

 

“Listen let me tell you something,” Newton says later. “In order for me to leave, they got to get rid of me.”

 

Of course, there has to be that guy. You know, that one guy who’s feeling himself and wants to puff out his chest for the other fellas around. It happens as Newton begins to wheel out of the eating area and people are trying to get their selfies with him.

 

A man in a tan sweater stands up in the back and comments on the lack of a Super Bowl in Carolina’s 25-year history. Newton began the evening prepared for a little trash talk coming his way and here it was.

 

“Be patient. I’ve been trying,” Newton said back. “You don’t think I’ve been trying for you?”

 

Newton stuck around for 10 more minutes of conversation and selfies and pictures with an oversized check and eventually—apparently — the Tan Sweater Man realized he may have been out of line.

 

He approaches Newton in a crowd of people to say one last thing.

 

“Hey Cam, you put us on the map,” he says. “Thank you.”

 

 

TAMPA BAY

There sure is a rash of hamstring injuries in Tampa.  Jenna Laine of ESPN.com:

 

With wide receivers Mike Evans and Scotty Miller going to injured reserve with hamstring injuries, all attention shifts to Chris Godwin. But he has yet to practice this week coming off his hamstring injury Sunday. That leaves Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson as quarterback Jameis Winston’s two big receiving targets. Perriman caught three touchdowns last weekend against the Lions. Don’t forget tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, though: Winston told them, “Hey, y’all are going to get that rock.” —

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

CB RICHARD SHERMAN is making a hasty return to the 49ers lineup this week.  Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

Less than two weeks after suffering a Grade 2 right hamstring strain, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman is set to return to the lineup after missing one game.

 

Sherman was a full participant in practice for the second day in a row Wednesday as the Niners prepare for Saturday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams. While Tuesday was a walk-through, Sherman went through an actual practice Wednesday without an issue.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be out there on Saturday,” Sherman said. “There’s no question. There’s nothing I need to show them. I have gone through practice. Today, we had a full speed practice with no tweaks, nothing to be concerned about on my end, so we feel comfortable about that, they feel comfortable about it.”

 

Sherman’s return comes in a week in which he was voted to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time in his career, the first with the Niners and his first bid since he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in November 2017 as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.

 

Now more than two years removed from the injury, Sherman has mostly regained his previous All-Pro form. In 13 games, Sherman has 53 tackles, three interceptions, six passes defended and a touchdown. According to Pro Football Focus, Sherman has allowed a passer rating under 50 when targeted this season.

 

On Wednesday, Sherman acknowledged that his long road back from the injury makes this Pro Bowl bid a little more special.

 

“It definitely means a lot,” Sherman said. “Just being able to show yourself you can believe something all you want but to be able to accomplish it and be able to go out there and get it done is a whole different thing. … But I think at the end of the day, the hard work, the perseverance, the hours that I’ve put in, everything came to fruition and I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. Obviously, we have bigger goals at hand, but it’s definitely something to check off the list.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Even in defeat, they are loving QB DREW LOCK in Denver.  Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com:

 

Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Drew Lock, a Kansas City native, had a rough homecoming on Sunday, as he completed 18 of 40 passes in the Broncos’ 23-3 loss to the Chiefs.

 

Lock also threw an interception, one that seemed forced. On first-and-10 in the Chiefs’ red zone and down 20 points in the third quarter, he lobbed a jump-ball into double coverage for tight end Noah Fant, a pass that was intercepted by safety Juan Thornhill.

 

“The pick that Drew had in the red zone, I mean, obviously we don’t want a pick, but I respect taking chances like that,” Fant told Yahoo Sports. “I respect him trying to make a play. He’s out there competing, you know. So I definitely respect that.”

 

Fant’s take revealed how much this team, which had the league’s most boring passing offense, needed the shot in the arm Lock brings. Fant said when they walked to the sideline, he told Lock “it’s good.”

 

Despite offering biting comments on the overall state of the Broncos, Von Miller stood up for Lock, saying after the defeat, “We found our quarterback. We’ve got a great quarterback. Everybody else has to come up.”

 

The outing was a learning experience for these young Broncos, and if they’ve hit on Lock, who was good in two starts before Sunday, they’ll be competitive in the AFC West much sooner than anyone realizes with the promising and impressive young core of Fant, running back Phillip Lindsay and receiver Courtland Sutton.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

The Chiefs thwarted a possible bid by LB TERRELL SUGGS to return to the Ravens – and the veteran calmly showed up in KC ready to work.  Adam Teicher of ESPN.com:

 

Defensive end Terrell Suggs said he didn’t need the hard sell from coach Andy Reid or other team officials after being claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Chiefs this week.

 

“I was really uncertain about my future last week, but I talked to Coach and it was a brief conversation and I was like, ‘OK,”’ Suggs said Wednesday as he joined the Chiefs for his first practice session. “I asked Coach, ‘I just learned the hard way that a player like me just [doesn’t] fit in anywhere.’ He was like, ‘Trust me, you’ll fit in here.’

 

“It’s hard to turn down [playing with] the reigning MVP [Patrick Mahomes] and a playoff team and just the exciting things they’re doing, this atmosphere.”

 

The Chiefs recently lost defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Alex Okafor for the season with injuries, so the timing was perfect for them late last week when the Arizona Cardinals placed Suggs, a seven-time Pro Bowler, on waivers.

 

“You’ve got to make sure he can still play,” Reid said. “That’s important. And then, how do they fit in your locker room? We’ve got a good locker room and a strong locker room. We have some very good leaders in this team, so how do they fit into that? You don’t want to bring somebody in that’s going to disrupt things. That’s not where we’re at right now.”

 

To that end, general manager Brett Veach approached defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who helped coached Suggs as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 and 2014.

 

“Steve goes, ‘The guy loves football, he’s a great teammate,”’ Reid said. “That’s all Brett needed to hear. The rest was Brett making it happen.”

 

Reid also said that Suggs didn’t need much convincing to report to the Chiefs.

 

“He’s not familiar with this, so did I tell him about what’s going on here and did he want to hear it?” Reid said. “Sure. He wanted to know what was going on. He’s a thorough guy. But did I have to put the hammer down on him or anything? No. He had some questions, which guys do when they’ve been around. I think he liked what he heard. It wasn’t a recruiting-type situation.”

 

The Chiefs have Suggs, 37, listed on this week’s depth chart as the top reserve at left defensive end behind Tanoh Kpassagnon.

 

“Hopefully I can come in and contribute right off the bat,” Suggs said. “This was a team that was a penalty away from the Super Bowl last year, so they’re not missing much. Hopefully I can add that extra addition that we can kind of potentially do something special.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Taylor Perez of YahooSports.com has a coach to match with the troubled Browns.

 

I know what Cleveland’s Odell Beckham said Wednesday: that he plans to stay with the Browns, and that he “wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.”

 

But where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and there has been plenty of heat regarding Beckham’s general unhappiness in Cleveland for a while. What’s more, there was at least one report of other players saying to “come get them” from the Browns, including receiver Jarvis Landry, who also pushed back on that assertion strongly on Wednesday.

 

Look, we don’t know what the truth is here. But the first of the “Things I Noticed” in the recent NFL week was the Browns’ body language, which stunk during their 38-24 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the reports of general unhappiness in Cleveland are mostly true.

 

At one point Sunday, Landry was openly bickering with head coach Freddie Kitchens on the sideline.

 

We also saw Landry and Beckham, heads down on the bench, seemingly wondering how the hell they got there, playing for a 6-8 team and losing to the Cardinals. Even Kareem Hunt noticed, publicly noting that some players weren’t giving 100 percent.

 

Whenever players aren’t giving their all in this league, it’s a coaching deal. And if the Browns were to get rid of Kitchens, they need to make sure they bring an adult into the room, someone with a résumé who commands respect and a reputation for winning over both players and the media.

 

Don’t sleep on the importance of the latter, either. Cleveland’s history of losing has made it a place where negative headlines pop up quickly. Having a liked and respected head coach would help quell that, and my vote would be for former Carolina boss Ron Rivera, who checks all those boxes and even prefers a run-oriented, play-action heavy offense that would take advantage of the strengths of quarterback Baker Mayfield and stud running backs Nick Chubb and Hunt.

 

He wouldn’t even have to switch defensive coordinators — the Browns’ current defensive boss, Steve Wilks, was Rivera’s defensive coordinator in Carolina a few years ago.

 

If the Browns are gonna make a head coaching move, that would be a great one.

 

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com says the Browns made the wrong choice when they went for Freddie Kitchens over Gregg Williams:

 

The Cleveland Browns stumbled into something last season. They finally had an identity besides lovable losers. They were disciplined. They played with purpose. They played as a team. Their best players led the way.

 

Believe it or not, for half a season the Browns were a formidable outfit under interim head coach Gregg Williams. They didn’t beat themselves. They didn’t act out. They actually strung wins together once unburdened of former head coach Hue Jackson and all of that baggage, and they actually flourished, finishing 5-2 down the stretch and pushing the AFC North champion Ravens to the brink in Week 17 before finally watching their improbable playoff dream die.

 

The team’s brass had, on the fly, concocted a coaching model that for the first time under Dee and Jimmy Haslam’s ownership, was professional grade. The combination of a grizzled, no-nonsense, gruff-but-respected defensive-minded head coach (Williams), teamed with an affable, eager, younger, first-time offensive play caller worked wonders on both sides of the ball, with first-overall pick Baker Mayfield responding with a historic rookie quarterback campaign, and all signs pointing toward greater things to come in 2019.

 

The Haslams and the front office hadn’t had weeks to plot and plan and meander their way through a prolonged coaching search. This process couldn’t get bogged down with too many ideas or too many candidates or too many variables, because it was an immediate in-season reaction to the lingering malaise and dysfunction of the Jackson regime. Couldn’t over think it. Only had a few viable options.

 

Turns out, Williams was precisely what the franchise needed. He led the Browns to an unprecedented run of good form and quality play the likes of which had never been seen before under the Haslams. There were firm rules, there was clearly one voice in charge, and it didn’t matter whether you were the hotshot top draft pick or the 53rd guy on the roster – you knew what would and would not be tolerated, and the days of guys showing up late to meetings or late to the team plane or skipping treatment were over.

 

The Browns are a mess, Drew Brees’ legend is growing and the 2020 draft is just four months away. Brady Quinn, Ryan Wilson and Will Brinson break down all that and more on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.

 

Finally, there was order. And this is a franchise and locker room – as evidenced by the near weekly transgressions of this season –that badly, badly, needs order. Just consider a bevy of fines and an ejection in Week 1, constant penalties, Mayfield’s on-field regression and tendency to speak out on matters best left to others, Odell Beckham and others asking opponents to “come get me” before and/or after games, their best player getting suspended for the second half of the season for nearly cracking Mason Rudolph’s head open with his helmet, Dee Haslam wearing a winter hat in Myles Garrett’s honor the following week and then Freddie Kitchens’ ridiculous wardrobe decision after that … and that’s just off the top of my head.

 

There are lessons to be learned from yet another lost Browns seasons, but you have to wonder if the proper introspection is in order from ownership on down. Yet again, they find themselves as bizarre outliers in the NFL – not a single winning season this decade – engulfed in one self-made crisis after the next. The focus, seemingly, is always on a T-shirt or a beanie or a quarterback’s facial hair. The circus remains in town.

 

I’d suggest they look back to what went right last season for clues to the future. They were on to something with the division of labor a year ago. The paradigm of bad cop defensive head coach and good cop rising coordinator might make a heck of a lot of sense to the Browns as they assess why they are once again left as playoff outsiders despite all of the renewed expectations. They must consider what steps might finally get them on the other side of this perpetual misery.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Brooke Prior of ESPN.com on the chances that WR JuJU SMITH-SCHUSTER will play on Sunday:

 

For yet another week, the biggest injury question on the Steelers is JuJu Smith-Schuster’s availability. A week ago, the wide receiver was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, but wasn’t able to finish Thursday. He did too much too fast and ended up missing Sunday’s game against the Bills. The Steelers are trying yet again to work him into practice and see how his knee reacts. He was a limited participant Wednesday, but the biggest indicator will be how much he’s able to do Thursday and Friday. If he’s able to to play, it would be for the first time since Nov. 14, when he sustained the injury against the Browns.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The Buccaneers don’t have their complement of receivers for Saturday’s showdown wit hthe Texans – and Houston now has its own questions at the position.   Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Texans practiced without a key part of their offense on Wednesday.

 

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins did not take part in the team’s second session of the week. Hopkins was out due to an illness and Thursday should bring an update as to the possibility that it impacts his availability for Saturday’s game against the Buccaneers.

 

Running back Carlos Hyde was also out of practice after limited participation to kick off the week. He was listed with an ankle injury on Tuesday and a not injury-related designation was added on Wednesday, so it would appear to be a rest day.

 

Linebackers Jacob Martin (knee) and Bernardrick McKinney (concussion) were the other two Texans out of practice Wednesday. Safety Jahleel Addae (Achilles) went from not practicing to limited participation. Wide receiver Will Fuller (hamstring) and tight end Darren Fells (hand) were also limited participants.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

An arbitrator didn’t like the way the Jaguars were fining irresponsible players.  The NFLPA piled on – and owner Shad Khan has fired Tom Coughlin.  Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:

 

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan fired executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin on Wednesday, two days after the NFL Players Association warned players of potentially signing with the franchise because of excessive fines and player grievances.

 

Khan said he initially decided to make the move once the season ended, but the letter the NFLPA sent to its players clearly accelerated his timetable.

 

“I determined earlier this fall that making this move at the conclusion of the 2019 season would be in everyone’s best interests but, in recent days, I reconsidered and decided to make this change immediately,” Khan said in a statement. “I thank Tom for his efforts, not only over the past three years but for all he did from our very first season, 25 years ago, to put the Jacksonville Jaguars on the map.

 

“My expectations, and those of our fans, for our final two games and the 2020 season are high.”

 

In a statement to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Coughlin said he was thankful for his time in Jacksonville.

 

“As head of football operations for the Jaguars for the last three years I was responsible for all things related to football,” he said. “I take great pride in our accomplishments, especially in 2017. I’d like to thank Shad Khan for the opportunity to come back to Jacksonville, all the players and staff for their efforts, and the great fans here for their support. I was the first coach of this franchise and I will always be supportive of the Jaguars.”

 

When asked if this is the end footballwise for the 73-year-old Coughlin, agent Sandy Montag told Mortensen: “The only thing I would say is there is plenty of football left in Tom Coughlin.”

 

The Jaguars (5-9) close the season at Atlanta and at home against Indianapolis. Khan did not offer any insight into the status of general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone, only saying each will report directly to him in the interim.

– – –

The apparent last straw for Khan was the letter the NFLPA sent to every player in the league that announced it won a grievance filed against the Jaguars for requiring former player Dante Fowler to attend rehab and doctor appointments in Jacksonville during the offseason and fining him more than $700,000 when he didn’t.

 

The letter also warned players about potentially signing with the Jaguars in the future because it said more than 25% of the grievances filed by NFL players have been against the club and that players “continue to be at odds with Jaguars management over their rights under the [collective bargaining agreement] far more than players on other clubs.”

 

This is the second time the Jaguars have fired Coughlin. He was the coach and GM from 1995 to 2002, and though he drafted very good players early in his tenure (Boselli, Fred Taylor, Kevin Hardy, Tony Brackens) and a couple late (Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, his final two first-round picks), he had some busts, too, particularly receiver R. Jay Soward, who played only one season before being suspended by the league for violating its substance-abuse policy.

 

RB LEONARD FOURNETTE also proclaims that he is richer after having a Coughlin fine rescinded.

 

The NFLPA has won another grievance against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Running back Leonard Fournette confirmed to reporters Wednesday he won a grievance against the Jaguars to get a $99,000 fine rescinded, per the Associated Press’ Mark Long. The fine, per Long, stemmed from executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin’s disdain for Fournette’s conduct while he was inactive for the team’s 2018 finale, during which Fournette spent the game sitting on the team’s bench, Long added.

 

The grievance decision is the second won by the NFLPA on behalf of its members (Fournette) over the Jaguars in three days. The union told its members Monday it won a grievance over the Jaguars’ requirement for injured players to rehab and see doctors at the team facility during the offseason.

 

Fournette has had his share of on- and off-field issues while with the Jaguars, but this decision in close proximity of another unrelated to him suggests a rigid environment in which players seem to bristle at the desires of the front office. Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye expounded on that notion while speaking with reporters Wednesday.

 

“In the offseason, you have players from other leagues, they come and ask me about the fines, like, ‘is it true y’all getting fined for stuff like this?'” Bouye said. “They laugh at us because they think that I’m lying. Now that stuff like this is coming out, it’s true, we got fined for it.

 

“Maybe we’ll fix it ahead of time, but one thing I can say: We get fined here, we learn from it and we try to avoid it from here on out.”

 

Bouye himself went on to explain that he too has been the subject of one fine during his time in Jacksonville, but he described the fine, which came from him opting to try something different than what the team wanted, as “just miscommunication.” Bouye added he learned he should do what the team asks of him, even if he knows it won’t benefit him, in order to avoid being fined.

 

The NFLPA noted in a memo to its members Monday more than 25 percent of grievances filed league-wide have been in relation to players’ issues with the Jaguars. With two becoming public in three days, that detail now seems more believable.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com hears that Coughlin didn’t need to be pushed.

 

Yes, it was time for Jaguars executive V.P. of football operations Tom Coughlin to go. In hindsight, it arguably was a mistake to hire a lifelong coach to be anything but one. But Jaguars owner Shad Khan could soon regret the rush to fire Coughlin.

 

Per multiple sources, the two-time Super Bowl winner was planning to retire at the end of the season. One source suggested that Coughlin had planned to announce next week that he’d leave the organization upon conclusion of the Week 17 game against the Colts.

 

But if he indeed had to go today, in the aftermath of a series of player grievance rulings confirming that the time for his hard-line tactics with players has come and gone, why not give him a chance to leave on his own terms? Through a spokesman, Jaguars owner Shad Khan has admitted that Coughlin was not given an opportunity to resign or retire before being fired.

 

He should have been. He likely would have accepted, and he could have left with some degree of dignity, in a way that minimizes the impact of such a difficult outcome on Coughlin and his family.

 

Coughlin didn’t undergo an organic personality change when he returned to Jacksonville. He is who he’s always been. And that no longer works in the NFL, especially when still acting like a coach while in a job other than coach.

 

So why not let him walk away, with his head held semi-high? Instead, Khan gave in to the mob mentality that has emerged via comments from current players and a stinging rebuke from their union, which expressly warned all members to think twice before signing with the Jaguars.

 

It’s too late to take it back, too late to let Coughlin resign or retire. There are few certainties in this business, but here’s one that can be guaranteed: Khan will regret the way this one was handled.

 

Florio also thinks that Khan is signaling that he will fire neither GM David Caldwell or Coach Doug Marrone:

 

The decision of Jaguars owner Shad Khan to fire V.P. of football operations Tom Coughlin on Wednesday evening did not include a decision to fire coach Doug Marrone and G.M. Dave Caldwell. So are they safe?

 

Some would say the statement issued by Khan on Tuesday implies that their fate hinges on the remainder of the season. “My expectations and those of our fans, for our final two games and the 2020 season, are high,” Khan said.

 

Common sense arguably suggests otherwise. Surely, Khan won’t be hinging the future of his franchise on a final exam of sorts consisting of two games played by a team that has nothing for which to play. The fact that he made a decision to move on from Coughlin earlier this year potentially implies that he made a decision to keep Marrone and Caldwell.

 

If so, it’s the right decision. As explained earlier this month, Caldwell and Marrone discovered and groomed, respectively, rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew, who could become the team’s franchise quarterback with a full offseason to grow into the job as the unquestioned No. 1. There’s value in keeping in place the people who are responsible for Minshew’s presence on the roster, because a new G.M. and/or a new coach likely would want their own guy, and that guy may not be Minshew.

 

Regardless, it wouldn’t make sense to give Marrone and Caldwell two meaningless games to keep their jobs. Their body of work either justifies continued employment or warrants termination. The fact that they stayed on the same day Coughlin went seems to mean that, at least for now, Khan plans to keep Marrone and Caldwell into 2020.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

The Patriots look to be without one of their key defenders in the big game with Buffalo.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

It would now be a surprise if top slot cornerback Jonathan Jones (groin) plays Saturday against the Bills, and here is why that is significant: Of the 24 CBs who have faced more than 30 passes in the slot, Jones has the lowest completion percentage against him, which reflects his excellence. Meanwhile, the Bills run three-receiver packages 69% of the time, which is fourth-most in the NFL, so a good slot CB is a necessity against them and top slot receiver Cole Beasley. So not having Jones, who is the Patriots’ fastest defender, would be a significant blow.

– – –

Is Patriots CB STEPHON GILMORE the Defensive Player of the Year?  Gilmore thinks so, as does Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Not since 2010 when safety Troy Polamalu took home the award has a defensive back won the DPOY honors. The year prior marked the last time a corner was given the hardware, Charles Woodson. Outside of a Luke Kuechly anomaly in 2013, the rest of the decade the award has been about getting to the passer.

 

One of this year’s current favorites, however, is New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who has dominated opposing receivers. Asked on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak and Bertrand Show on Wednesday if he’s the DPOY, Gilmore didn’t hesitate.

 

“I mean, my play speaks for itself,” Gilmore said, via the Boston Globe. “If you really watch the tape each and every game, it’s no question.”

 

Gilmore’s play has been studly this season, smothering opponents and wiping out opposing stars seemingly with ease. The rest of the secondary in New England earned fantastic seasons as well, but Gilmore’s ability to live on an island and dominate allows Bill Belichick’s defense the freedom to operate.

 

The raw stats back up the 29-year-old’s claim to the DPOY trophy.

 

His six INTs are tied for most in the NFL (with Bills corner Tre’Davious White), and he’s one of just three players with multiple pick-sixes. Gilmore’s 82 targets allowing zero touchdowns are tops in the NFL. His 32.8 passer rating when targeted this season is the second-lowest in the NFL, among CBs with a minimum 100 coverage snaps — only his teammate J.C. Jackson is lower at 28.6.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

PROJECTING THE VETERAN QUARTERBACKS

Former NFL QB David Carr tries to figure out which of the senior QBs will be around next year:

 

Sunday sure felt like Eli Manning’s swan song at MetLife Stadium.

 

The 38-year-old quarterback led New York to a 36-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins — his first win as the Giants’ starter this season — and was widely celebrated when he walked off the field with two minutes left in the game. Manning received a prolonged standing ovation that lasted through the remainder of the game and well after.

 

Manning struggled early in the season and was benched for rookie Daniel Jones prior to Week 3. The 16th-year pro remained the backup until Jones suffered an ankle injury in Week 13, putting Manning back in the starting lineup for the past two weeks. With Jones fully participating in practice on Wednesday — and taking most of the first-team reps — it appears the rookie is ready to take the reins again, sending the two-time Super Bowl MVP back to the sideline.

 

Eli’s overall decline prompts an obvious question: Is he still good enough to be an NFL starter next season?

 

Of quarterbacks who are 35 years old and older (I’ll get to the rest of the lot in a minute), Manning is the player with the most physical limitations. I could see a QB-needy team signing him as a bridge quarterback until a young guy is ready — like the Giants originally envisioned this season — but that’s pretty much where it ends. He doesn’t have the mobility to buy time in the pocket, and there’s not a ton of zip on his throws. I know Eli wants to play — and mentally, he knows the game better at this point in his career than he ever has. But his aging body might not allow him to do so.

 

Eight more notable quarterbacks will be at least 35 years old by the start of the 2020 regular season: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. Rodgers, Roethlisberger and Ryan still have several years and lots of dough on their respective contracts, so I expect those three will be starters next season barring health issues. (Big Ben’s ongoing recovery from September elbow surgery will obviously be something to monitor in the spring and summer.)

 

But what about the others? Which veteran QBs are still good enough to start in the NFL next season? The simple answer is all of them. But let’s look at each remaining player individually.

 

Tom Brady (currently age 42): The oldest of the bunch, Brady is far from his prime, but I’m not convinced that his time’s up. Think back to when Peyton Manning was nearing the end. It was clear and obvious. I don’t see that with Brady — even with this reported elbow injury. The GOAT still has zip on the ball, can buy time in the pocket and go above the X’s and O’s to continue drives and games. His biggest issues are that he doesn’t possess the mobility young quarterbacks do and he’s not on the same page with his current crop of receivers. New England runs a complicated system, and it’s apparent that many guys are still adjusting — notably trade acquisition Mohamed Sanu and rookie N’Keal Harry, who didn’t see game action for the Patriots until the middle of the season. And now the one guy who has a great rapport with Brady, Julian Edelman, is battling an injury.

 

Regardless, Brady is still a starting NFL quarterback in my book, whether he’s playing in New England or somewhere else. A younger QB could certainly possess more arm talent and mobility than the six-time Super Bowl champion, but there isn’t a young guy who will come in and be better than Brady from a leadership and mental standpoint.

 

Drew Brees (40): After watching the Drew Brees show on Monday night, I’m not sure what more I can say that will convey what he brings to an NFL team. At 40 years old, Brees is still playing at an unbelievable level. In his transcendent performance against the Colts on Monday night, Brees not only broke the NFL record for career touchdown passes, but he set the NFL single-game completion percentage record (96.7), completing 29 of his 30 pass attempts and finishing the game with 22 consecutive completions. According to Next Gen Stats, he had a 0.0048 percent chance of completing those 22 passes consecutively. Yeah, I’m confident saying he’ll be welcomed back by the Saints for as long as he’s doing this sort of thing. Wow!

 

Philip Rivers (38): Now, Rivers is another story. He’s a turnover machine, having coughed the ball up 21 times (including 18 interceptions), with four coming in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota. Rivers can still make some outstanding throws, but he consistently undermines those with poor passes. Quarterback play permeates throughout the offense, so if he’s not careful, the entire unit and team will suffer — like the Bolts often have this season. In October of last season, Rivers made a comment that struck me:

 

“Whatever the numbers are, I really don’t care anymore. I do, in that if you play well, you give your team a chance to win. But where you stack up and all of those things, unless there’s a direct correlation to winning, that’s really what it’s all about.”

 

I understand what he’s saying to a certain extent, but he is playing recklessly and it’s affecting his team. The “numbers” might not bother Rivers, but they should. If he doesn’t start holding himself accountable and playing better, he’s going to bury himself just like Brett Favre did with extremely reckless play toward the end of his career.

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick (37): Fitzpatrick is enjoying one of the best campaigns of this entire group because he’s doing more with less. He brings an X-factor to every offense he’s been part of over the years, and the same has been true in Miami. Fitzpatrick’s completion percentage this season (61.6) is higher than his career average, and he’s still a student of the game in terms of reading defenses. He’s not going to be a long-term answer for any club, but he’ll find a way to win some games. It feels like the bearded journeyman might play forever at this rate.

 

Joe Flacco (34): This leaves Flacco, who is a player with an above-average arm and experience. But the Super Bowl XLVII MVP certainly has his limitations. He doesn’t do as much as Ryan does above the X’s and O’s, and he can’t offer what Brady brings from a game-management standpoint. As expected, rookie Drew Lock has gone through ups and downs in his three starts, but he’s shown enough promise to keep rolling him out there. Whether Flacco is the Broncos QB1 next season will depend largely on Lock’s progress in the offseason.