AROUND THE NFL

What happens if the Vikings and Bears tie (or if you can imagine it, the Steelers and Bengals)?  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It’s been 45 years since any NFL team had multiple tie games in a season, so if you’ve never given any thought to what would happen in the NFL standings when a team has two ties, that’s understandable.

 

But this year, there are two teams fighting for playoff berths that have already played a tie game: The Steelers and Vikings, both of which are 8-6-1. So what happens if one or both of them ties on Sunday, and finishes 8-6-2?

 

They would be treated as if they’re 9-7. The NFL treats a tie as half a win and half a loss, so a team with eight wins, six losses and two ties would be treated the same as a team with nine wins and seven losses.

 

For the Vikings, an 8-6-2 record would clinch a playoff berth. Minnesota would be tied with 9-7 Philadelphia (if Philadelphia beats Washington) and 9-7 Seattle (if Seattle loses to Arizona). The Eagles would be eliminated from that three-team tie based on its conference record, and then the Seahawks would win the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Vikings. So the 9-7 Seahawks would be the No. 5 seed, the 8-6-2 Vikings would be the No. 6 seed, and the 9-7 Eagles would be out of the playoffs. If the Seahawks win and it’s only two teams tied for the last NFC playoff berth, the 8-6-2 Vikings would win the head-to-head tiebreaker with the 9-7 Eagles.

 

For the Steelers, an 8-6-2 record would leave them needing the 9-6 Ravens to lose. If the Ravens lose to finish 9-7, they would be tied with the 8-6-2 Steelers for the AFC North title, and the Steelers would win the tiebreaker based on the better division record. But if the Ravens win to finish 10-6 (or tie to finish 9-6-1), they would have a better record than the 8-6-2 Steelers, and the Ravens would win the division and the Steelers would be eliminated from playoff contention.

 

An 8-6-2 record is an unlikely result, but it’s not impossible. And now you know what happens if the unlikely happens.

 

If you threw out the ties, an 8-6 record is .571 by percentage, while 9-7 is .563.

 

– – –

The NFL has a list of GM candidates if you need one.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It’s not clear how many true General Managers jobs will be available in early 2019 — jobs that may or may not entail full and complete control over the roster and/or the draft.

 

For any G.M. jobs that come open, whether those that have final say or that don’t, the NFL’s Career Development Advisory Panel has compiled a list of viable G.M. candidates. PFT has obtained the list from a league source with knowledge of its contents.

 

They are as follows, in no particular order: Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, former Giants G.M. Jerry Reese, Vikings assistant G.M. George Paton, former Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, Saints assistant G.M. (and former Dolphins G.M.) Jeff Ireland, 49ers senior personnel executive (and former Lions G.M.) Martin Mayhew, Jaguars G.M. Dave Caldwell (who is available for a G.M. job that entail control over the football operations, since he doesn’t have it in Jacksonville), Washington senior V.P. of player personnel Doug Williams, Cowboys assistant director of player personnel Will McClay, Patriots V.P. of player personnel Nick Caserio, Ravens assistant G.M./G.M. in waiting Eric DeCosta, and Chargers senior executive (along with current AAF Salt Lake G.M. and former Seahawks and Saints G.M.) Randy Mueller.

 

Some General Manager positions come open in January. Others come open after the draft. The number of expected vacancies this year is far from clear.

 

We sort of thought Doug Williams and Dave Caldwell already were GMs and Jerry Reese, Reggie McKenzie, Jeff Ireland, Martin Mayhew and Randy Mueller have already sat in the big chair, so there aren’t too many true developmental candidates on that list.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Coach Matt Patricia thinks he’ll be back in 2019, but he doesn’t seem to know it.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Detroit Lions fired Jim Caldwell after back-to-back 9-7 seasons believing they needed a change to get over the hump. In his first season, Matt Patricia has taken Martha Firestone Ford’s team backward, sitting at 5-10 heading into Week 17.

 

Despite the drastic step back, Patricia is convinced he won’t be a one-and-done head coach after meeting with the owner.

 

“I’m pretty confident,” Patricia said, via the Detroit News. “Everything for me, right now, is just keep moving forward and getting ready for the game this weekend. Like I said, I meet with Mrs. Ford every week, so they’ve been great. Her and her family have been great.”

 

The Lions handed Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn matching five-year contracts hoping to turn Detroit into the New England Great Lakes Chapter.

 

Thus far the change has been rocky. There were early-season rumblings about players being unhappy about rigorous training camp practices. Most of the complaints have been brushed off as a product of changing systems and the sliding expectations that come with the differences in head coaches.

 

Patricia, however, has come under scrutiny during a losing season for how he handles certain aspects of the job. The Lions coach went after a media member for apparent poor posture during a press conference earlier this year.

 

Now there are accusations that Patricia has been late to meetings. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press cited an anonymous ex-Lion who said the coach was “consistently late” during his months in Detroit.

 

Perhaps it’s a former player with an ax to grind. Perhaps Patricia has a good reason to be late for certain meetings. None of this would matter if the Lions weren’t a five-win team.

 

Was he ever late to meetings as a Bill Belichick assistant?

 

 

GREEN BAY

The Packers have interviewed the last two Indianapolis coaches.  NFL.com:

 

The first head coach interview of the season is in the books.

 

The Green Bay Packers interviewed former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell on Wednesday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed. Along with Caldwell, the team also recently interviewed Chuck Pagano, Rapoport added.

 

The Packers fired Mike McCarthy no more than a few hours after their Week 13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals and promoted Joe Philbin to interim head coach. The team has gone 2-1 since the change. Now the team has started the process to fill the vacant position.

 

Caldwell spent three years (2009-2011) with the Indianpolis Colts (26-22 record) and then four years (2014-2017) with Detroit (36-28 record).

 

Caldwell guided the Lions to the playoffs two of the last three years, but the team fired him after failing to make the playoffs his last season.

 

Pagano was a guest on the “Rapsheet and Friends” podcast and discussed his hope to return to the sidelines armed with experiences.

 

“Knowing what I know now, having a chance to sit back and reflect and evaluate a lot of things that we did both good and bad, now you have an opportunity to hopefully — if you have another opportunity, whether it’s a head coach, a coordinator or assistant coach, it doesn’t matter,” Pagano said. “I just love coaching. I love competing. I love the players. I love the coaches. I love the camaraderie, the competition, games, that’s what you really miss.”

 

In six seasons as the Colts head coach, Pagano posted a 53-43 regular-season record and was 3-3 in the postseason.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com on what might be QB ELI MANNING’s last game in blue:

 

Eli Manning doesn’t know whether Sunday will be his final game as the New York Giants’ starting quarterback. He will enter the offseason for the second straight year unsure of how his future will play out.

 

Manning will be 38 next week and has one year remaining on his current contract, which calls for him to count $23.2 million against the salary cap. Only two quarterbacks (Case Keenum and Dak Prescott) have started at least 15 games and thrown fewer touchdown passes. The Giants can part ways with Manning this offseason without any debilitating financial repercussions.

 

“I don’t know,” Manning said Wednesday about whether he expects to be the Giants’ starting quarterback next season. “I have not gotten into that, or thought much about that. Just worried about doing my job and finishing this season.”

 

That is the approach Manning and the Giants are taking into Sunday’s season finale at MetLife Stadium against Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. Coach Pat Shurmur is expecting Manning to start and finish the game. Manning is treating it as the last game of this season.

 

“And that’s it,” he said.

 

Discussing his future will be a topic for 2019. Manning said there haven’t been any talks about reworking or extending his contract.

 

He also hasn’t been given any guarantees he’ll be returning for another season. The Giants (5-10) have now missed the playoffs in six of the past seven years.

 

“We’ll handle all of that after the season,” Manning said.

 

Shurmur wasn’t about to get into any discussion regarding the team’s future four days before the season finale. He has been selling for weeks that they’re concentrating on finishing this season strong so it can carry over into next year.

 

Rookie Kyle Lauletta may again be inactive on Sunday, and the team’s future at the quarterback position doesn’t appear to be a consideration in how they prepare for the Cowboys.

 

“No, not really. Eli’s our starter, Eli gives us the best chance to win, and he’s going to play on Sunday. That’s where we’re at,” Shurmur said. “I think when the game is over and we start talking in-depth about what’s going to happen moving forward, that’s when you worry about it. I’m not worried about that. Again, you’re talking to the coach. I’m worried about the game.”

 

The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback conceded this is the second year in a row he’ll enter the offseason with uncertainty. Last year was similar with the Giants clearing out the front office and the possibility existing that the team could start from scratch.

 

Manning has been the franchise quarterback each of his first 14 years with the Giants. But this is his reality regardless of the late-season push in which he has played better (11 touchdowns, four interceptions in seven games since the bye week) than the first half of the season.

 

“Yeah, when you get to Year 15, these things come up,” Manning said.

 

There still isn’t anything special planned (or at least announced) with his future dangling in the air. Shurmur was asked whether he would consider, if the situation permitted, something in which the fans could acknowledge the quarterback whom many consider to be the best in franchise history.

 

“That’s an in-game thing that happens when it happens,” Shurmur said. “We’re trying to win a game, and Eli is our quarterback.”

 

He’s hoping it will all take care of itself.

 

“Hopefully, what I expect him to do is lead us to victory. Nothing would be better than for him to assume the victory formation and take a knee, and beating the Cowboys,” Shurmur said. “That’s what we’re looking to do.”

 

 

WASHINGTON

Jay Gruden on why S D.J. SWEARINGER was sent packing.  Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post:

 

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden made it clear Wednesday that D.J. Swearinger was cut for insubordination after being warned multiple times about his criticism of the team to media.

 

The safety called out the play-calling of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky after the 25-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, a defeat that effectively eliminated Washington from postseason contention. Swearinger also implied that he works harder than members of the coaching staff when it comes to film-study preparation.

 

“I’ve had many talks with him in the past,” Gruden said. “Obviously, I didn’t get through to him so, again, that’s my responsibility. . . . Obviously, he wasn’t happy. He voiced his displeasure many, many times. At the end of the day, we thought it was best for him to let him go and best for us moving forward.

 

“If you read the articles, I think those aren’t constructive. Having a suggestion whether to play zone or man is a suggestion and that’s fine in-house. With a microphone in your mouth, it’s not productive for anybody.”

 

Gruden said he did not make the decision alone and the move was in the best interest of the organization. He expected players to be frustrated as they lose a close friend and teammate, but “at the end of the day, we just can’t have that.”

 

The coach added that he hopes this is a teachable moment. “When you work for a company or work for a team, it’s best that you try to be positive with your remarks,” he said.

 

Gruden attempted to take blame for the situation.

 

“Obviously, I didn’t make it clear to certain people that we don’t talk about our business to the media,” Gruden said. “For me to allow that to creep in is ultimately my fault. D.J. did some great things here without a doubt. We wish him nothing but the best. But at the end of the day, that’s something that this franchise or any franchise in my mind can’t afford to have, so we moved on.”

 

Players in the locker room seemed torn as they returned from a short Christmas break. There was widespread support for Swearinger, but also an understanding that sounding off to the media was not the wisest course of action. They are also aware that they are now without one of their best defensive players and will be shorthanded at safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Deshazor Everett are the starters with recently-signed Jeremy Reaves, Harlan Miller and Alex Carter behind them in the rotation. The team is already short at the position with Montae Nicholson out for the year on the reserved/non-football illness list following an arrest for assault after a fight outside of a bar.

 

“That one comment, I didn’t agree with it, but you’re entitled to your own opinion,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “That’s what social media is for, to get your message out there. If he felt that was the best thing to do, cool, good for him. I’m not knocking him, I just disagree with what he said. That’s just my opinion. Don’t hate the guy, still love the guy. Unfortunate what happened. Wish him nothing but the best.”

 

Swearinger is a Pro Bowl alternate, and should he make the game, he won’t have to wear a Redskins helmet.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com makes the connection:

 

It’s not often that a player gets cut after making a Pro Bowl team, but D.J. Swearinger was cut by Washington and claimed by Arizona this week — after being chosen as a Pro Bowl alternate last week. That raised a question: Which team’s helmet will he wear if he plays in the Pro Bowl?

 

PFT put that question to the league office, and we were told that if Swearinger plays in the Pro Bowl, he will wear a Cardinals helmet.

 

Swearinger said after he was released that he’d like to wear his South Carolina helmet from college in the Pro Bowl. The NFL wouldn’t allow that.

 

It’s unclear whether Swearinger will be active on Sunday, but it’s entirely possible that he won’t be, as five days might not be enough time for him to learn the defense. It could turn out that his first game wearing a Cardinals helmet will be the Pro Bowl.

– – –

A massive shakeup in the Washington front office, but it has nothing to do with football.

Ben Krimmel at 106.7 The Fan:

 

Brian Lafemina and Dan Snyder talked for nearly a year before Snyder was able to lure Lafemina out of the NFL league office to be his President of Business Operations and COO. He is no longer with the organization as of Wednesday afternoon, fewer than eight months on the job.

 

Lafemina, Steve Ziff, the Chief Marketing Officer, and Jake Bye the Senior VP of Consumer Sales and Marketing are all no longer with the organization, according to 106.7 The Fan Redskins reporter Craig Hoffman.

 

Redskins Chief Commercial Officer Todd Kline is also no longer with the organization, a source told 106.7 The Fan’s Chris Russell.

 

All four of the executives joined the Redskins organization during 2018, with Lafemina joining in May 2018.

 

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder hired Lafemina to a newly created role to oversee all of the team’s business operations. A position that would “report directly” to Snyder.

 

“I am thrilled to welcome Brian to the Washington Redskins,” Snyder said at the time. “Brian has been one of the most highly regarded NFL executives amongst league ownership for many years because of his deep understanding of our business, his focus on partner relationships and his genuine belief that fans must be at the center of every decision we make. Brian is coming to Washington with fresh thinking and big ideas to implement, and I have full confidence that with Brian’s addition and with Bruce Allen continuing as team President, the Redskins’ success will continue to grow, both on and off the field.”

 

The Redskins turned down requests for interviews with Snyder or Allen. 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen cited a team statement that read: “We don’t discuss personnel matters.”

 

 

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

If RB JERICK McKINNON is the benchmark, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution thinks someone will part with some decent coin to land free agent RB TEVIN COLEMAN.

 

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

 

The comparison for Coleman is San Francisco running back Jerick McKinnon, a former Sprayberry High and Georgia Southern star, who landed a four-year, $30 million deal with the 49ers last offseason after four seasons with Minnesota.

 

McKinnon, 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, was selected in the third round (96th overall) in the 2014 NFL draft. He played in 58 games and made 14 starts over his first four seasons.

 

Coleman, 6-1 and 210 pounds, was drafted in the third round (73rd overall) in the 2015 draft. He’s played in 55 games and made 19 starts heading into the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay.

 

 

Coleman’s four-year numbers are better than McKinnon’s four-year numbers, except pass receptions.

 

McKinnon’s rushing totals (2014-17): 474 rushes, 1,918 yards and seven touchdowns.

 

Coleman’s rushing totals (2015-18): 520 carries, 2,295 yards and 17 touchdowns.

 

McKinnon’s receiving totals: 142 catches, 984 yards and five touchdowns.

 

 Coleman’s receiving totals: 91 catches, 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns.

 

McKinnon overall: 616 touches, 2,902 yards and 12 touchdowns.

 

Coleman overall: 611 touches, 3,296 yards and 28 touchdowns.

 

The problem for the Falcons is that they signed running back Devonta Freeman to a six-year, $43 million deal Aug. 9, 2017.

 

They likely can’t fit two $40 million plus running backs under the cap.

 

Coleman’s negotiations will start at the four-year, $30 million that McKinnon received and based on his productivity, his market value is higher.

 

 

CAROLINA

It won’t be TAYLOR HEINCKE under center for the Panthers.  Instead, someone even more obscure gets the call.  Jeff Tarpley of 247Sports.com on KYLE ALLEN:

 

Former Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen left College Station in a swirl of controversy and lost his starting job after his transfer to the University of Houston. He went from being a five star prospect who started as a freshman to a free agent just hoping to find a team after he left the Cougars to try to make a living in the NFL.

 

Now, with the end of the season in sight, Allen has gone from just trying to make the practice squad in the summer to making his first NFL start. Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera confirmed that Allen would be the starting quarterback for the Panthers in their Week 17 season finale against the New Orleans Saints after backup Taylor Heinke was placed on Injured Reserve and starter Cam Newton was put on the shelf after not being able to get over a shoulder injury that has dogged him all season.

 

“Kyle had an opportunity to come in and play for a little bit of a quarter, and (I) thought he did a nice job,” said Rivera. “I thought his decision-making was good, I thought he threw some nice balls. He took pretty good control – It was kind of interesting to watch him, though. He has a tendency to walk towards the bench to get the signals, and we don’t have to signal anymore ’cause they’ve got the helmet (radio) hooked up. I think that’s a little something he’ll have to learn and get used to.”

 

Allen’s rollercoaster ride in the league mirrors what he went through in college. He was rated as the best drop back quarterback in the country in the class of 2014 and won the starting job midway through the 2014 season. He led A&M to a 3-2 record in his five starts and being was named the Liberty Bowl MVP. However, he was dissatisfied with how he was handled after A&M brought in another five star, Kyler Murray, to compete with him. Allen lost his starting job and won it back before announcing he was leaving the program and eventually transferring to Houston. Murray also transferred out a few days later. Allen started a few games in 2017 after losing his starting spot much like he did at A&M but still entered the NFL Draft despite having a year of eligibility left.

 

Allen went undrafted, was signed by the Carolina Panthers, and was able to make the Panthers’ practice squad following the preseason. However, he was released shortly the season started and was out of football for most of the first half of the season. He came back to the practice squad in October came to an end and was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster in order to serve as a backup to Heinicke last week. Allen completed all four of his passes for 38 yards after Heinke was injured and now inherits the starting spot for the season finale.

 

“Over the years you build up this confidence that you know what you can do as a player and you know what you can do when you have confidence in the players around you,” Allen said after making his NFL debut. “I’ve been coached all year to do this stuff, so when your number’s called you’ve got to do your thing.”

 

Allen was appreciative of the opportunity.

 

“I’m not going to quit,” said Allen. “I’m going to keep coming to work every day whether they call me, cut me, they bring me back. I’m going to come and I’m going to do my thing every day. I think it’s a testament to my mindset. I appreciate them trusting me, I appreciate them giving me that opportunity to go out there.”

 

Allen was benched during Texas A&M’s third game last year after somehow throwing 3 INTs against Texas Tech.  If you can throw 3 INTs against the Red Raiders, that has to be the starting point for the over-under Sunday in the Superdome.

– – –

TE GREG OLSEN seems ticketed for a post-career TV job, but he hopes it is not in 2019.  Grant Gordon of NFL.com:

 

To the surprise of many, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen came back this season after sustaining a broken foot.

 

Following a rupture to his plantar fascia, though, his season concluded with a trip to injured reserved.

 

However, hoping to surprise many again, the top-notch tight end indicated Wednesday he isn’t done yet.

 

Olsen told Panthers.com on Wednesday that he wants to keep playing and believes surgery will “fix his foot for good,” though his “future isn’t clear yet.”

 

Olsen missed nine games in 2017 with a broken foot and then broke it again early this season before hitting the comeback trail only to be derailed by plantar fascia.

 

Over these last two injury-plagued seasons, Olsen has combined for just 482 yards receiving following three consecutive 1,000-yard years. This season, Olsen had 27 catches for 291 yards and four touchdowns in nine games.

 

Olsen’s Panthers (6-9) are a game against the Saints away from finishing a tumultuous season in which quarterback Cam Newton struggled with a shoulder injury and has been shut down and the team has lost seven in a row to put the playoffs out of reach and longtime coach Ron Rivera’s job in jeopardy.

 

“This year was a huge disappointment,” Olsen said. “I don’t think anyone would say otherwise. But to think we would get better by making rash changes — I think that’s the easy thing. Everyone always thinks the grass is greener. That’s sports.”

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

We’re thinking the Saints will treat the Panthers on Sunday like a Week 3 preseason game.  Josh Katzenstein of NoLa.com:

 

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is 8 passing yards shy of his 13th consecutive season with 4,000 yards, but he said he doesn’t care if he reaches the milestone in Sunday’s season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

 

“It doesn’t define me at all,” he said Wednesday.

 

Brees, like the rest of the Saints, is worried about how this team can best set itself up for a run at the Super Bowl.

 

As the Saints prepare for Sunday’s game, it’s unclear how much they’ll rest players in the contest that has zero bearing on their postseason position. The Saints clinched the No. 1 seed by beating the Steelers last Sunday, so it stands to reason players like Brees and other veterans will rest for all or most of the game.

 

Brees said Wednesday he hasn’t heard yet if he’ll play Sunday, and none of the players know what Sean Payton will do with regards to playing time.

 

“Whatever I’m asked to do, I’m ready to do,” he said.

 

With that in mind, Brees made it clear that he doesn’t expect to play the entirety of Sunday’s game. He said there’s “no doubt” backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play at least a portion of the game, and Brees is excited to see Bridgewater have an opportunity.

 

“Of course, I think efforts are going to be made to rest guys where appropriate and make sure that they are as healthy as they can be for when we’re playing for keeps,” Brees said. “We can’t move up or down in regards to our playoff position at this point. We’re where we want to be, but we are going to play to win. So, whoever is out there, whenever they’re out there, we’re playing to win.”

 

In 2009, when the Saints had secured the No. 1 seed, Brees didn’t play in the season finale. The Saints won the Super Bowl that season, and Brees said he’s not worried that sitting Sunday would hurt the momentum of this year’s team because they’re approaching practice as they usually do.

 

Meanwhile, if Brees plays, he said he won’t be cautious or worry about the possibility of suffering an injury.

 

“If I’m out there, I’m playing,” he said. “I’m playing to win, playing to move the ball, playing to score points, and then when it’s time to come out, it’s time to come out, and there we go.”

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Never-happy WR DeSEAN JACKSON isn’t happy.

 

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson wants to move on from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after two seasons, sources told ESPN’s Josina Anderson.

 

Jackson is signed for next season with a base salary of $10 million, none of which is guaranteed, but sources told Anderson that Jackson wants a fresh start with a different team.

 

Sources told ESPN that Jackson had a verbal exchange with coach Dirk Koetter over him not practicing with a hand injury in the week following the team’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12. Sources told ESPN’s Jenna Laine that Koetter was frustrated over what he perceived was a lack of effort from Jackson, who couldn’t practice fully because of the injury.

 

Quarterback Jameis Winston and Jackson connected on just 3-of-8 against the 49ers. Afterward, Koetter arranged a meeting with the two in which they broke down film in an effort to “find common ground.”

 

Jackson missed the next three games and returned in Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys, finishing with one reception for 24 yards.

 

Jackson’s guaranteed money is up after this season and it has long been believed that he won’t be brought back next year due to his level of frustration and the emergence of Chris Godwin as a No. 2 receiver.

 

Jackson has grown increasingly frustrated over his use in Koetter’s offense and lack of chemistry with Winston. Jackson had publicly advocated for Ryan Fitzpatrick to continue starting after Winston returned from suspension.

 

This season, Winston and Jackson are 14-of-34 (41.2 percent, no drops), the lowest receiving percentage of all Bucs receivers, and one touchdown. With Fitzpatrick this year, Jackson is 27-of-38 (71.1 percent) and three touchdowns.

 

Is there any team that wants Jackson at $10 million?  He’s 32 years old.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Sunday’s game with the Browns is worth an extra $1 million for S ERIC WEDDLE.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

After the Ravens beat the Chargers last Saturday, safety Eric Weddle opined that no one in the NFL wanted to see the team in the playoffs because they have “the ingredients to win.”

 

Weddle’s bank account will be pretty happy in the event the Ravens steer their way clear of the Browns and lock down the AFC North title this Sunday. Weddle’s contract calls for him to make a $1 million bonus in the event the safety makes the initial Pro Bowl roster in the same year that the team qualifies for the postseason.

 

Weddle was named to the Pro Bowl last week so he’s halfway home.

 

“I would trade one million bucks for a chance at the playoffs any second,” Weddle said, via ESPN.com. “That’s just where I’m at. It’s not that I don’t appreciate money or how much money it is, but that’s not my incentive to try to go to win.”

 

Weddle said he’d forgotten about the bonus before General Manager Ozzie Newsome mentioned it to him heading into Week 17 last season. Weddle was selected for the Pro Bowl, but the Ravens didn’t get the win they needed against the Bengals.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Some sensitive media folks think it was bad form for QB BAKER MAYFIELD to “stare down” his former coach now in Bengals garb.  Mayfield responds as reported by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has a strong message for anyone who didn’t like him staring down Hue Jackson during Sunday’s 26-18 victory over the Bengals.

 

“I don’t get why people have a problem with football being a competitive sport,’’ he said. “‘You’re supposed to play with emotion. You’re supposed to play with passion. Quite honestly, if you don’t like it, whatever. Football is not meant to be a soft game. I could care less.”

 

Mayfield took heat from Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd and others for the staredown, in which he glared at Jackson while jogging sideways downfield past him for about 25 yards during David Njoku’s game-clinching 66-yard catch-and-run. He also backpedaled to keep staring daggers at Jackson after he passed him, and then turned back around for another icy look after going forward.

 

@TheHerd

 “He’s a very accurate thrower of the football, and he also yesterday taunted a coach…Long-term I’ll take a grown up. I’ll take Wilson, Luck, Darnold. I won’t take taunting a coach who got fired & crazy, took another job.”@ColinCowherd on Baker Mayfield staring down Hue Jackson

 

In fact, Cowherd went on a three-minute anti-Mayfield rant on The Herd on Fox Sports 1 on Christmas Eve day, and Mayfield responded by wishing him a Merry Christmas even though he’s a grinch.

 

@bakermayfield

 Merry Christmas to everybody!!! Enjoy your time with loved ones during this special time of the year!! ….. even to you @ColinCowherd ya Grinch

 

 “I said this after I went on (Cowherd’s) show,’’ said Mayfield. “He’s very good at what he does. He gets an opinion going in the media, and then once you go onto his show, he’s very cordial and professional and then as soon as you leave he’s back at it.

 

“It creates viewers. It creates money and revenue flowing through his stuff, and I think he’s a very good businessman. Now if that is his real opinion or not, I don’t know, but in person he was very nice and it’s just funny to see how he gets people riled up. It’s entertaining.”

 

The staredown came on the heels of Mayfield rebuffing Jackson’s hug attempt after the Browns’ 35-20 victory over the Bengals in Cincinnati on Nov. 25, and Mayfield calling Jackson “fake’’ the next day in response to ESPN First Take’s Damien Woody telling him to grow up.

 

Might he pushing things too far?

 

“That sounds like the exact questions I got before the (NFL) Combine,’’ Mayfield said. “Not one bit.”

 

He defended his actions, which are similar to some of the things he did at Oklahoma, including planting the flag at the ‘Shoe after being Ohio State, and grabbing his crotch toward the Kansas sideline.

 

“Everybody’s different,’’ he said. “That’s how it is. I’ve said it, I’m not a cookie cutter quarterback, but everybody’s different. Everybody leads a different way. Everybody’s competitive in a different way. I’m not trying to be anybody else. I’ve been who I am and that’s gotten me here. I’m going to continue to do that, because I try to improve every week and I have that mindset, and so that’s why I said a few weeks ago, I’m not trying to get anybody’s approval.

 

“I’m trying to win football games and do this for as long as I can. That’s the goal. And the guys inside this locker room know that. They know I’ll fight for them. They know I’ll take a bullet for them and to me that’s what matters. I don’t have to make any friends outside this locker room. I’m not trying to do that. Once they’re in there, they know exactly what they’re going to get and that’s what really matters.”

 

Mayfield also denied making a lewd gesture during a sideline celebration with offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens over his TD pass to tight end Darren Fells. During the gesture, which circulated on social media, Mayfield appears to be pretending to expose his private parts.

 

Was it what it looked like on the video circulating in social media?

 

“I honestly couldn’t tell you. I don’t know,’’ he said. “We have a lot of stuff within our locker room, within what we have going on in the offense, a lot of inside jokes. Who knows what it was?”

 

So you don’t know what it was?

 

“No, I try and stay off social media, so everything trending that you’re talking about … “

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers expect to have Pro Bowl RB JAMES CONNER for their win-and-hope game at Cincinnati.  This tweet from reporter Ray Fittipaldo:

 

@rayfitt1

James Conner is listed as a full practice participant. First time with that designation since the injury occurred Dec.2. Sean Davis and Vince Williams did not practice.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

QB ANDREW LUCK is 10-0 in his career against the Titans.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Andrew Luck carved up the Titans for 297 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-10 win earlier this season that continued his history of success against the AFC South team.

 

That win was the 10th in 10 tries for the Colts with Luck as their starting quarterback and upping that mark to 11-0 on Sunday would send the Colts to the playoffs. On Wednesday, Luck insisted that the history of success against Tennessee had no bearing on what will happen this weekend.

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Luck said, via the Indianapolis Star. “We talk about going 1-0 this week, and that the cycle starts over. What happened previously, what happened in previous years, it doesn’t matter. What happened last weekend does not matter.”

 

The Broncos went 10-0 against the Patriots with John Elway starting at quarterback and no other quarterbacks have been part of such lopsided success against a particular opponent. We’ll find out on Sunday if Luck can better his fellow Stanford alum by extending Indianapolis’ season for at least one more week.

– – –

The Colts sent their plane to Nashville Wednesday, but it wasn’t to advance the team’s Sunday visit.  It’s all about something that will make the Music City Bowl special:

 

With an assist from the Indianapolis Colts, Tyler Trent will be in Nashville, Tennessee, to serve as honorary bowl captain when the Purdue Boilermakers play in Friday’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

 

Colts owner Jim Irsay flew Trent and his family to Nashville on Wednesday so they could be on hand for the game against the Auburn Tigers (1:30 p.m., ESPN, ESPN+).

 

Trent, a former Purdue student and Boilermakers superfan, is suffering from osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that is now in its terminal stage. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm befriended Trent last year, before his health worsened, and said the young man has been an inspiration to his team and countless others.

 

Trent’s father, Tony, tweeted a photo of his son on board the Colts’ plane on Wednesday.

 

@TonyTrent10

 A huge thank you to @JimIrsay  and @Colts  for helping us make our goal to get to Nashville. So @theTylerTrent can be the bowl Captain this weekend at the Purdue game. @MusicCityBowl

 

Trent received the Disney Spirit Award at the College Football Hall of Fame earlier this month.

 

The Colts, too, have found inspiration in Trent’s fearlessness and positive attitude. In October, he got a visit from kicker Adam Vinatieri, and Colts mascot Blue is a frequent guest at his home.

 

Earlier this week, Trent wrote about what he was grateful for, and the Purdue football team figured prominently. He talked about a grueling surgery he underwent in October, just before the Boilermakers hosted Ohio State. Trent was on the sideline with the team for the game, a 49-20 win by Purdue, and had predicted the upset victory.

 

“I am extremely grateful that … I was able to attend that football game with my family and experience all the love and support. Not only from Purdue fans, but from across the nation, including Ohio State fans.

 

“Though I am in hospice care and have to wake up every morning knowing that the day might be my last, I still have a choice to make: to make that day the best it can be. To make the most of whomever comes to visit, texts, tweets or calls me.

 

“Yet, isn’t that a choice we all have every day? After all, nobody knows the amount of days we have left.”

 

Trent will join both teams’ captains on the field for the coin toss Friday.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

QB BLAKE BORTLES will return for what could/should be his final game in Jaguars gear.  The AP:

 

Blake Bortles is getting another start for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

It could be his last.

 

Coach Doug Marrone announced Wednesday that Bortles will start the season finale at Houston (10-5), giving the embattled quarterback a chance to close out a subpar season on a positive note.

 

“The toughest part about it is you have no idea,” Bortles said about his future with the franchise. “It’s not like anybody tells me anything or talks to my agent or tells him what they’re going to do with me, so it’s kind of just unknown. I would imagine most people that go through situations like this or anything close to it, there’s just a lot of unknown.

 

“Obviously, here, right now, got one more chance, one more opportunity to play this week and finish this year out and then kind of they’re in control of what happens for me next, so whatever happens I’ll be ready.”

 

Marrone said Bortles’ mobility gives the Jaguars (5-10) a “better chance” against the Texans.

 

Bortles came off the bench at Miami last Sunday and led Jacksonville (5-10) to the go-ahead score in a 17-7 victory . He completed 5 of 6 passes for 39 yards and carried four times for 25 yards, including scampers of 14 and 13 yards on a field-goal drive that broke a 7-all tie.

 

Bortles looked considerably better than Cody Kessler, who was sacked five times and lost a fumble for the third consecutive week.

 

Bortles has been up and down in five seasons, posting a 24-48 career record. Because of his inconsistency, it seems unlikely he will return to Jacksonville in 2019. The third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft also is due to count $21 million against the salary cap, and the Jags can save $9.5 million by cutting him with a post-June 1 designation.

 

“I signed a contract here for three years so I’ve got every reason and purpose in my mind to play here for that amount of time or until they let me go,” Bortles said. “Then I’ll figure that out.”

 

As mediocre as Bortles is, hard to believe anyone (other than Hue Jackson) thought Kessler was a better option.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2019 DRAFT

The best quarterback who could be in the 2019 draft, won’t be in the 2019 draft.  ESPN.com:

 

Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert will return to school for his senior season, he announced Wednesday in a statement released by the university.

 

Oregon Football

@oregonfootball

 There was one more present under the tree. #GoDucks

 

“We couldn’t be more excited for Justin to return for his senior season. He is a special talent on the field, but, more importantly, a special person and leader off the field,” coach Mario Cristobal said in a statement.

 

ESPN’s Mel Kiper had Herbert ranked No. 6 overall among all NFL draft prospects in his latest Big Board. ESPN’s Todd McShay has Herbert at No. 20 in his latest rankings of the top 32 prospects.

 

The 6-foot-6, 233-pound Herbert completed 59.6 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 2,985 yards with 28 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while leading Oregon to an 8-4 record and a berth in the Redbox Bowl against Michigan State (3 p.m. ET Monday).

 

Earlier this month, Herbert declared himself healthy for the bowl game after suffering what was described by Cristobal as a “deep bruise” on his shoulder during the Ducks’ victory against Oregon State on Nov. 23.

 

Herbert will have a chance to throw passes to his brother next season. Patrick Herbert, a tight end prospect, committed to Oregon in May and signed his letter of intent last week.

 

For his career, Justin Herbert has thrown for 6,904 yards with 62 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.