The Daily Briefing Tuesday, January 24, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

SUPER BOWL XLI

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News goes to the heart of the matter – the Patriots will be playing against Roger Goodell on February 5.

 

I can’t pick against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots when we all know they’re dying to run it up, shout to the sky and conquer their arch-rival so embarrassingly that reputations will be ruined and history will be rewritten.

 

So, watch out there, Roger Goodell.

 

Oh, the Atlanta Falcons are involved in Super Bowl LI, too, and actually might benefit a little from all the attention and tension that surrounds the relationship between the Patriots and NFL commissioner and will build all week in Houston leading up to the Feb. 5 game.

 

But there’s no doubt that the marquee emotional match-up will be Brady vs. Goodell — one of the greatest players in NFL history going for his record-tying fifth Super Bowl title in a season he began under Goodell-ordered suspension.

 

For the Patriots, this is about revenge, it’s about justifying an entire era of dominance, it’s about the frustrations of the long legal slog Brady went through (and ultimately lost) trying to deny Goodell’s right to suspend him for the “DeflateGate” scandal.

 

And it’s all channeled into this upcoming football game.

 

Which means there’s no way I can pick against the Patriots, even though this kind of single-minded fervor in such a large moment sometimes does more harm to a team than good.

 

The Patriots aren’t like other teams, though; they’ve got four Super Bowl trophies to prove that, the last one coming two weeks after they were first accused of intentionally deflating the balls in the January 2015 AFC Championship Game against Indianapolis.

 

The Belichick-Brady era Patriots aren’t perfect in the Super Bowl, but this is their seventh trip in 16 seasons, and their only two defeats came against the same team — the New York Giants.

 

And this season, for the whole season, they focused on enduring the Brady suspension (they went 3-1 in those games) and then launching into the playoffs and finally, after Sunday’s 36-17 crushing of Pittsburgh, another berth in the Super Bowl.

 

Goodell wasn’t in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Sunday because he attended Atlanta’s 44-21 victory over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, but he won’t be able to skip the Patriots’ next game.

 

Of course, if the Patriots beat Atlanta, Goodell will present the trophy to New England.

 

And Brady will be right there.

 

I don’t know if that will be hostile or fake diplomatic or what — that would be up to the Patriots, and I’m quite certain that the Patriots want Goodell to be apprehensive about what might happen in this nationally televised ceremony.

 

You have to go back more than three decades to find a similarly heated Super Bowl scenario, when commissioner Pete Rozelle had to hand the trophy to Raiders owner Al Davis during Davis’ bitter legal battles with the league to win the right to move to Los Angeles.

 

But that wasn’t in this digital age and it didn’t involve a player or a fan base like this.

 

This is Brady, who seemed to be extra emotional in the moments after Sunday’s victory, and there probably isn’t a need to guess why.

 

And it’s the main reason I’m picking the Patriots to win this game — not by a ton of points, because none of their four Super Bowl victories has been by more than four points, but I don’t see them losing.

 

Beyond the Goodell grudge, I also like the Patriots in each of the three categories I use to pick Super Bowl winners…

 

* If one team has a historically superior defense, that team always wins.

 

Neither Atlanta nor New England is anything close to a historically superior defense this season, but if you had to pick one to save a game for you, it’d definitely be the Patriots’ unit.

 

Confession: I badly underestimated Denver’s defense leading up to last year’s Super Bowl, which led me to pick Carolina, and that didn’t look very smart by the end of Denver’s stomping.

 

* The team with the historically great coach usually wins.

 

Atlanta Dan Quinn is definitely an up-and-comer, but this one is obviously Belichick by a landslide.

 

* If the other two categories aren’t definitive, the team with the better, hotter quarterback usually has the edge.

 

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is the MVP-to-be, and he’s bolstered by superstar receiver Julio Jones and offensive coordinator and presumptive 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.

 

I think the Falcons are going to score some points in Houston, because they can score points on anybody, anywhere.

 

But Brady can out-score them because he is an all-time great, playing with anger, in a great system.

 

And once he gets going in this game, I don’t think he’s going to stop until Goodell is standing next to him on the postgame podium, and then who knows what will happen next.

 

Dieter Kurtenbach of FOXSports.com hopes for a good game to erase the taste of most of what has preceded it:

 

We didn’t expect too much coming into this season’s NFL playoffs.

 

We knew there were a few teams in the fold that had no chance to win the Super Bowl, and that was OK.

 

We knew that there weren’t many balanced teams — the teams with the good offenses didn’t stack up on defense, and the good defensive teams couldn’t put points on the board — and that was fine too.

 

But we did expect some entertainment.

 

And on the whole, we did not get that this January.

 

Only two — count ’em, two — playoff games were truly competitive: the Steelers’ win over the Chiefs and the excellent Packers-Cowboys game.

 

And only one of those games was a joy to watch. For those of you who didn’t partake in viewing the six-field goal, zero-touchdown Pittsburgh win, it was the latter of the two games.

 

These playoffs were so boring that you might have forgotten that the Texans won a playoff game with Brock Osweiler at quarterback.

 

Yep, that’s a thing that happened. You were probably running errands.

 

After three weeks of uneventful, uninspiring, and nearly unwatchable football, we have one game left.

 

And it might just be good enough to redeem everything.

 

Super Bowl LI might not be the sexiest matchup — it’s not the Aaron Rodgers – Tom Brady showdown so many wanted.

 

(That matchup seemed like a great thing but would have certainly become nauseating before the teams even arrived in Houston.)

 

It’s not even Steelers – Packers, two of the league’s titan franchises with prop-riddled fan bases.

 

(Consider yourself lucky that you get to avoid the local news features on Terrible Towels vs. cheeseheads.)

 

This is all a roundabout way of saying that no one outside of Georgia (fine, perhaps there’s a bit of South Carolina and Alabama in there too) wanted the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

 

Those people were wrong.

 

From a neutral standpoint, there’s a ton to like about this New England-Atlanta showdown.

 

Can Atlanta stop Tom Brady and company? Probably not.

 

Can the Patriots stop Matt Ryan and the historically good Falcons’ offense, which has been wildly entertaining this postseason (blame their opposition for the poor games)? Probably not.

 

Can we expect points to be put on the board? Absolutely.

 

Salvation might be coming in the form of two elite offenses.

 

Super Bowl LI’s opening total of 57.5 is already the highest mark in the game’s history, and while the 3-point spread is a bit audacious (it should be closer to New England minus- 5), it does show that there’s not much separating these two teams.

 

Do you recall how enjoyable that Packers-Cowboys game was two weeks ago? The back-and-forth action kept America glued to their TV sets.

 

We could absolutely see something like that in the Super Bowl.

 

Perhaps that won’t return the three hours you spent watching Connor Cook start his first NFL game against an elite-level defense, or the evening we had to lie to ourselves and pretend that Eli Manning is still an average NFL quarterback, or the 15 minutes we needed to figure out that the Lions were going to get smoked in Seattle. It’s going to take a lot for us to forget all of that bad. (But in time…)

 

And yes, after building up the AFC and NFC Championship games — Championship Sunday is really the NFL’s best, right? — it’s hard to forgive that for the first time since the Carter administration, both games were decided by 19 or more points.

 

Clunk.

 

Was this the worst postseason ever? Maybe.

 

It’s hard to say because we typically only remember the last game of the playoffs — the Super Bowl.

 

And in Houston, we’re going to have two great quarterbacks (one who has major beef with the commissioner) surrounded by tons of offensive weapons and playing defenses that can’t win the line of scrimmage and are generally winging it in the defensive backfield.

 

Coaches might hate the all-22 film, but if the game is in any way competitive — and for now we can do nothing but pray that it is — the entertainment factor will be off the charts.

 

Now we just have to survive two more weeks.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

A game ball for a player’s wife?  It happened on Sunday.  Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com:

 

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn revealed an unusual first-time winner of a game ball after Sunday's NFC Championship Game for showing the type of grit he expects from his players.

 

Left guard Andy Levitre's wife, Katie, earned national recognition after sitting through the Falcons' 36-20 divisional-playoff win over Seattle despite going through labor.

 

As the Falcons prepare for the Super Bowl after Sunday's 44-21 win over the Green Bay Packers, Quinn on Monday made sure to recognize her dedication by awarding her a game ball.

 

"We gave Andy Levitre's wife a game ball because it was a week late, and we put 'ultimate toughness' on it," Quinn said. "She had gone into labor during the game, but waited it out. So we thought that was definitely worth the game ball. ... She doesn't know that yet, so if she's watching, Andy will bring that today."

 

Levitre told Fox 5 in Atlanta that he didn't know his wife was in labor until after the game, when a team staffer told him.

 

"I went and showered up, came outside, we went home for like an hour, went to the hospital and then she gave birth," Levitre told Fox 5.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com thinks Pete Carroll’s candor about a player who never missed a snap and barely missed any practices is going to cost the Seahawks dearly:

 

All coach Pete Carroll was trying to do was to praise the tenacity, professionalism and dependability of cornerback Richard Sherman, a day after the Seattle Seahawks were eliminated by the Falcons from the NFC playoffs.

 

But in applauding Sherman, who was a notch below his usual Pro Bowl standard this year, Carroll blew the whistle on his Seahawks when he noted that Sherman had played with a "significant knee [injury] the whole second half of this season, and it was a struggle to try to get him out there."

 

The Seahawks coach described the injury as an "MCL" in one of Sherman's knees. His revelation is now being matched up against the team's public injury reports. In Week 8, Sherman missed a Wednesday practice that was listed as "not injury-related." That certainly was understandable, considering the Seahawks had played an exhausting five-quarter overtime tie against the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals two days earlier on Monday Night Football.

 

But Sherman missed one or more practices every week from that point on, and his absence was listed as "not injury-related." The interpretation often was that Sherman was being given a veteran's rest day. Only once, on Nov. 27, did the Seahawks attribute a missed practice to an "ankle" injury.

 

Carroll said he was not aware that Sherman's knee injury was not submitted on injury reports, in part because "he never missed anything" because of the knee, even though he had just described it as "significant." And Sherman did play in almost 98 percent of the Seahawks' game snaps. When Carroll says he was unaware the team had not revealed the knee injury, it can be noted that the coach is not the one who submits injury reports to the league.

 

From the policy itself: "It is the club Public Relations Director's responsibility to obtain and disseminate accurate injury and practice participation information. It is the responsibility of the clubs to review unusual situations with their Conference Football Communications Director to determine if a player should be included on the Practice Report. When in doubt, it is best to include a player on the report."

 

Fair or not, the NFL describes it as a clear violation of the league's injury-reporting policy that has been under investigation since Carroll's revelation this week. Because the Seahawks have been repeat violators of league policies for which they were punished at accelerated levels, they could lose a second-round draft pick in this year's draft, in place of the fifth-rounder they had been docked because of their third offseason violation, per league sources.

 

The NFL tried to improve its injury-reporting policy during the 2016 season, but it doesn't really absolve the manner in which Sherman's injury was handled.

 

Why is this a big deal? Many moons ago, the integrity of injury reporting was explained rather bluntly to a reporter: "We don't want degenerate gamblers poking around in the shadows, with incentive, knowing that there is injury information to be gained because teams are not forthright. The integrity of the game is at stake, period. Use your imagination. You'll get it."

 

The counterargument is that while a team must list an injury, specifics can be somewhat vague, such as a quarterback who is listed with a "shoulder" injury. You seldom see it listed as a right or left shoulder, unless the media has independently reported it. The team, or the player himself, has federal laws to protect health privacy. It's complex in a sport that basically has a 100 percent injury rate.

 

Regardless, that still invites a motivated gambler to dig deeper on the specificity of an injury, if you buy into that belief.

 

Why wouldn’t the Seahawks have just put down “knee”?

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Why did Wade Phillips leave Denver?  Charlie Walter of Walter Football has a report that causes a conniption.  Cameron Wolfe at the Denver Post:

 

Wade Phillips’ departure from Denver came as a surprise to many around the NFL. The long-time defensive coordinator led an elite Broncos defense for the past two seasons, but the two sides did not agree on a new deal before Phillips’ contract expired this month.

 

Phillips was hired as the Rams defensive coordinator last week.

 

Campbell’s report said: “The Los Angeles Rams’ hire of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator was met with a lot of acclaim. That was understandable, as Phillips’ defense led the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory a year ago. Many criticized the Broncos for allowing Phillips to leave with the transition to Vance Joseph. Sources with the Broncos, however, say that Phillips divided the locker room and pitted the defense against the offense. The divided locker room was toxic at the end of the season, and that was why the Broncos felt they would be better off to have Phillips depart. Sources in Houston say that Phillips stirred up some similar problems in the Texans’ locker room during the 2013 season, but not to the same extent as in Denver last season.”

 

Phillips vehemently denies that he divided the Broncos and responded to Campbell on Twitter voicing his disdain with the report.

 

@sonofbum

@DraftCampbell your sources about me and dividing the team are an out and out lie--I resent u saying that -ask any off coach or player.

 

Shortly after the tweet by Phillips, cornerback Chris Harris sided with his former defensive coordinator. Guard Max Garcia referenced “alternative facts” in response to Campbell’s report.

 

@ChrisHarrisJr

@sonofbum @CameronWolfe @DraftCampbell lol extremely false

 

@MGarcia_76

2017, the year of #AlternativeFacts

 

The responses by Harris and Garcia coincide with the thinking of others around the Broncos that there was no sign of a problem with Phillips in regards to dividing the locker room.

 

The Broncos promoted defensive backs coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator once Phillips accepted the Rams’ job. Denver saw Woods as an up-and-coming coach who is ready to become a defensive coordinator.

 

Woods received defensive coordinator interest from the Washington Redskins prior to his promotion. The Broncos found themselves needing to choose between the younger, cheaper Woods or Phillips, who will turn 70 in June and would have required a much larger check to retain.

 

Phillips has a daughter who lives in Los Angeles and he was free to negotiate with any team once he became a free agent.

 

Many of the Broncos players love Woods and said there will not be much of a drop-off with him as defensive coordinator.

 

Phillips will be loved by Rams fans for his witty news conferences, brilliance as an aggressive defensive coordinator, self-deprecating humor and creative use of Twitter.

 

 

OAKLAND

With Ken Norton still on the staff, John Pagano has joined the Raiders for 2017.  Jerry McDonald of BayAreaNewsGroup:

 

The Raiders hired former San Diego Chargers assistant John Pagano on Monday with the hope of upgrading their defense, a hire that likely will impact the duties of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

 

Pagano, 49, was the defensive coordinator for the Chargers for the past four years until new coach Anthony Lynn hired Gus Bradley to take over that role.

 

The Raiders struggled on defense in 2016, finishing 26th in the NFL in yards per game, 24th in passing defense, 23rd in rushing, 20th in points per game and giving up an NFL worst 6.1 yards per play.

 

Despite the presence of Khalil Mack, the Raiders finished last in the NFL with 25 sacks.

 

When the Raiders’ season ended, it was at least a minor surprise that Norton was retained and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave departed after his contract expired, with coach Jack Del Rio promoting quarterbacks coach Todd Downing to run the offense.

 

The hiring of Pagano will give the Raiders three coaches with experience as a defensive coordinator, given Del Rio’s tenure running defenses in Carolina and Denver.

 

Pagano was given the title of “assistant head coach/defense.” He knows the AFC West, having coached for the Chargers since 2002, starting out as a quality control coach, moving on to linebackers and being named defensive coordinator in 2012.

 

The Chargers defense under Pagano was ranked 13th last season and tied for the NFL lead with 18 interceptions. He came available when new Chargers coach Anthony Lynn hired Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator.

 

Norton’s spot on the staff is said to be secure despite Pagano’s addition and it remains to be seen how the addition will change the Raiders when it comes to defensive play-calling and scheme.

 

Under Pagano, the Chargers used a 3-4 defense as their base alignment. From 2004-06, Pagano worked in San Diego under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, whose 3-4 scheme helped the Denver Broncos to last year’s Super Bowl 50 championship in Santa Clara.

 

The Raiders have utilized a mix of 4-3 and 3-4 the past two seasons under Norton and Del Rio. Norton’s background with Seattle before coming to the Raiders was in a 4-3 defense.

 

Pagano, 49, worked with Del Rio when Del Rio got his start in coaching with the New Orleans Saints in 1997 under Mike Ditka. He is the younger brother of Chuck Pagano, the Indianapolis Colts head coach who was a Raiders defensive assistant in 2005-06 under Norv Turner and Art Shell.

 

No other major changes are expected to the coaching staff.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The NFL knows it has a mess on its hands of its own making with the Chargers unwelcome move to L.A.  Adam Schefter of ESPN.com wrote this:

 

As much as the Chargers' move to Los Angeles angered San Diego, it angered NFL executives and owners just as much, if not more.

 

Since the move was announced, the NFL has been "besides itself," in the words of one league source. "There are a ton of owners very upset that [the Chargers] moved," one source said. The source added that the NFL wants the Chargers to move back, though nobody believes that possibility is realistic.

 

But some NFL owners and some league officials are still hoping, now that the move has been made official, that Chargers chairman Dean Spanos will wake up one morning soon, recognize this situation has been "bungled so bad," and take his team back to San Diego, where it spent the past 56 years. Again, the chances are at best remote that this happens.

 

But some owners and league officials are still praying that the longest of long shots occurs and the Chargers bolt back to San Diego.

 

Mike Florio with more:

 

While there may be some who believe that the Chargers shouldn’t have moved and who may be pushing that agenda now, the prevailing view in league circles is that it’s a done deal. Indeed, it was a done deal a year ago, when the owners specifically gave the Chargers a 12-month window to move to L.A.

 

There was no equivocation or hesitation. The die was cast in January 2016, there was never a peep about it being a mistake for the ensuing 12 months, and then the Chargers opted to utilize the right to relocate.

 

As one source who is very well connected regarding franchise dynamics told PFT in response to theESPN.com report, “I have heard nothing about it.”

 

There simply aren’t “a ton of owners” upset about the move. The more likely reality here is that some in the league office are sensing that the Chargers’ move to L.A. is going to be a debacle, and that they want to be able to say “I told you so” if/when the Chargers fail in L.A.

 

Regardless, the owners had a clear opportunity a year ago to tell Chargers owner Dean Spanos “no” to a move. The owners overwhelmingly allowed the Rams to move right away, and to give the Chargers the ability to do the same more than a year ago.

 

In the ensuing 12 months, there was never a public or private sense of remorse or regret. Yes, there was a periodic impression that owner Roger Goodell wanted to keep the team in San Diego, but there was never any report with the kind of specificity that has now emerged, far too late for it to matter.

 

Even if the Chargers would turn tail and return to San Diego, what would they do about a stadium? That’s the problem; the money isn’t available to build a stadium — unless Rams owner Stan Kroenke would be willing to write a very, very large check for exclusive rights to the L.A. market.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

A released police video does not place CB ADAM JONES in the best of light as the long-supressed Pacman emerges from hiding.  Katherine Terrell at ESPN.com:

 

In a video released Monday by Cincinnati police, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones went on a tirade against an arresting police officer, shouting profanities and racial slurs from the back of a police car after a Jan. 3 incident for which he is facing multiple charges.

 

Jones also tells the officer, "I hope you die tomorrow," and later says, "You're gonna be out of a job tomorrow."

 

"This video will be part of the review of the incident under the personal conduct policy," an NFL spokesman told ESPN's Adam Caplan.

 

Jones also appears to repeatedly spit on the floor or seat of the police car and later tells the officer he would "spit on your ass if I could." According to court documents, Jones later did spit on a female nurse who was trying to examine him.

 

Jones' attorneys released the following statement on his behalf:

 

"Adam Jones is deeply embarrassed and remorseful for his conduct and language after being arrested in early January. Mr. Jones has the utmost respect for law enforcement and the difficulties police encounter on a daily basis.

 

"Adam loves Cincinnati and considers it home. He sincerely apologizes to the officers, the Cincinnati Bengals organization and all the fans in Cincinnati."

 

Jones, 33, was arrested on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, assault and obstructing official business and a felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance.

 

In the video, Jones repeatedly asks the officer what he is being charged with -- even after the officer has answered the question -- and insists that the cop did not ask Jones what happened in the incident and that he was hit first.

 

Jones, who has been with the Bengals since 2010 and was voted a team captain for the first time this past season, also said, "All I do for the city and this is what you're doing?"

 

The Bengals also released a statement on Jones' misconduct.

 

"We are extremely disappointed with Adam's behavior. The behavior in the video is not what we expect from our players. The Club is aware that Adam has put forth his own apology, however, we also offer an apology to the public and to our loyal fans."

 

 

Jones apologized publicly to a group of reporters when he was released from jail earlier this month, but he also said that the charges "did not make sense" and he anticipated everything would be dismissed.

 

Officials said Jones was arrested at a downtown Cincinnati hotel after allegedly pushing a security guard and poking him in the eye. Jones refused to enter the police car and allegedly kicked and head-butted an officer, according to court documents.

 

Jones was charged with a felony after spitting on the hand of a female nurse while he was being booked at the Hamilton County Justice Center, according to court documents. He was "disorderly and combative throughout the booking process," according to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

 

 

CLEVELAND

The Browns have agreed to a four-year extension with LB JAMIE COLLINS per Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

One down, one to go.

 

The Browns set out this offseason to extend their two biggest impending free agents, and they wrapped up one for four years Monday in 2015 Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins.

 

The other is receiver Terrelle Pryor, whom Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown said he'd also like to wrap up, preferably without using the franchise tag. Currently, the Browns don't appear close to signing Pryor.

 

Collins' blockbuster deal makes him one of the highest-paid outside linebackers in the NFL. In fact, his per-year average is believed to be about fourth in the league behind only Denver's Von Miller ($19,083,333), Kansas City's Justin Houston ($16,833,333) and Green Bay's Clay Matthews.

 

A source told NFL Network that Collins' average exceeds that of Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly ($12.36M). Another source told cleveland.com that the Browns had to pay Collins more than his market value -- which was in the $10 million -- to get him to stay.

 

Will he be worth the money? The Patriots didn't think so, which is why they traded him to the Browns on Oct. 31 in exchange for a 2017 compensatory pick at the end of the third round.

 

Collins, 27, stepped right in and started all eight games for the Browns at outside linebacker, finishing third on the team with 69 tackles, including 48 solo. He had three games with double-digit stops, and played every snap in six of his eight starts with the Browns. All told, he had 112 tackles in his 14 starts, including six in New England. He also finished the season with three sacks, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

 

Used primarily as coverage linebacker in New England, Collins rushed more here and was used in multiple ways. He doesn't have the same level of talent around him here that did in New England, but the Browns plan to upgrade in the offseason, through free agency, the draft and trades.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

An update from TheRedZone.org on the start of the Colts’ GM search:

 

The Indianapolis Colts have requested permission to interview Minnesota Vikings assistant GM George Paton And Seattle Seahawks co-directors of player personnel Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer for their general-manager vacancy according to the team's official website.

 

In-house candidate Jimmy Raye III is also in the running for the position and may possibly be viewed as the favorite but it sounds like Colts owner Jim Irsay is doing his due diligence. Paton is viewed as the favorite for the 49ers' GM spot after Kirchner and Fitterer bowed out of the running earlier in the process. Andrew Luck's presence as a young franchise QB on a long-term deal makes the Colts' vacancy a very appealing position.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

DE MARIO WILIAMS and LB KOA MISI make up the list put together by James Walker ofESPN.com of Dolphins players who may be cap casualties:

 

The Miami Dolphins had their most successful season in recent memory in 2016, but not everything went according to plan for Miami.

 

Here are a couple of players with sizable contracts who could become salary-cap cuts this offseason:

 

No. 1: DE Mario Williams

 

2016 stats: 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks

2017 salary: $8.5 million

 

Analysis: It is almost certain Miami will make the decision this offseason to move on from Williams and save on his $8.5 million salary. The former four-time Pro Bowler was the team’s most disappointing acquisition last year. The Dolphins signed Williams to a two-year, $17 million contract with the expectation he would replace 2015 sack leader Olivier Vernon. Instead, Williams was mostly a non-factor and registered a career-low 1.5 sacks. Injuries played a part, but Williams also didn’t look anything close to the dynamic pass-rusher we once saw with the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans.

 

No. 2: LB Koa Misi

 

2016 stats: 22 tackles

2017 salary: $4.2 million

 

Analysis: Misi missed 13 games in 2016 with a serious neck injury, and he hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2010. The former second-round pick has been too injury prone over the years for Miami to continue to count on him as a starter. The Dolphins are expected to have a major overhaul at linebacker, and they can use the $4.2 million savings by cutting Misi. Miami was 29th in total defense and 30th against the run this past season in part due to poor linebacker play and injuries at the position.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com reminds us how far ahead of anyone else TOM BRADY is on the postseason stage:

 

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is already the owner of several Super Bowl records, and he’ll add to those records in Super Bowl LI. Here’s a look at the records Brady owns:

 

Games played: Brady and former Broncos and Bills defensive lineman Mike Lodish are tied for the most Super Bowls played, with six. Brady will play in No. 7 and have the record to himself after Super Bowl LI.

 

Super Bowl MVPs: Brady and former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana are the only players to win the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award three times. Brady could make it four against the Falcons.

 

Pass attempts: Brady already has the record at 247, and he’ll almost certainly have the record by more than 100 after Super Bowl LI: Peyton Manning is second in Super Bowl history, with 155 passes thrown.

 

Pass completions: Brady has the all-time record, with 164. Peyton Manning is again second, with 103. Brady also owns the Super Bowl records for completions in a game, with 37 in Super Bowl XLIX, and for consecutive completions, hitting 16 in a row in Super Bowl XLVI.

 

Passing yards: Brady owns the all-time record with 1,605. With a huge game he could reach 2,000 career yards in the Super Bowl; second is Kurt Warner, with 1,156 career Super Bowl yards.

 

Touchdown passes: Brady has thrown 13 touchdown passes, two more than second-place Joe Montana, who threw 11 touchdown passes in his four Super Bowls.

 

Put it all together, and Brady is 164-for-247 for 1,605 yards, with 13 touchdowns, in six Super Bowl games.

- - -

Judy Bautista at NFL.com on the drama that may await around 9 EST on February 5.

 

- The seasons have a way of blending into one another in New England, the AFC Championship Game being the thread that binds the years together. These are so routine here -- this was the sixth in a row for the Patriots -- that getting to one is no longer considered much of an accomplishment. Those four Lombardi Trophies, after all, cast quite a shadow over everything else, even being one of the top four teams in football, moments that would be signal achievements for other teams.

 

It was a few hours after another one of these games two years ago -- that was a Patriots win, too, of course -- that word first came about underinflated footballs and a league investigation.

 

The New England Patriots have never been quite the same since, stained by the suspicion of scandal, furious about an investigation and penalties they thought were unfair and unbelievable. They won the Super Bowl immediately after Deflategate first erupted, long before anybody knew much about the Ideal Gas Law and pressure gauges and the toll it would all take on the league and the team that was one of its model franchises. But the thread that began with an email from the Indianapolis Colts general manager in the days before that game, alerting the league to the suspicion of football tampering, is wrapped still around the Patriots and this weekend; it felt like it was tied in a neat bow.

 

Little more than 24 hours after Ryan Grigson, author of that fateful email, was fired by the Colts, the Patriots won another AFC Championship, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 36-17. They are headed to their seventh Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady era, a remarkable accomplishment under any circumstances, but particularly staggering considering Tom Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season for what the league believes was his role in those footballs being underinflated in that other AFC Championship Game. Brady has put a mostly sunny veneer on his season since he returned -- he turned a question from CBS' Jim Nantz about his personal satisfaction after the season he had into an ode to how many people help the team perform during the season -- and outwardly, there has been little to be unhappy about. The Patriots, after all, have lost just one game on Brady's watch in the 14 games he's played this season, and he's thrown 33 touchdowns and four interceptions.

 

But just beneath the surface, Brady continues to simmer and seethe, only occasionally allowing it into view, letting others do the talking for him. The anger is still so palpable that the team's owner, Robert Kraft, voices it openly, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to attend a game at Gillette Stadium since, an absence noted by fans who derisively chanted his name and painted his face on made-up milk cartons Sunday night. On the podium, with the Lamar Hunt Trophy -- which goes to the AFC champion -- in his hands, Kraft was a thinly veiled allusion to the trials of the last two years.

 

"For a number of reasons, all of you in the stadium understand how big this win was," Kraft said.

 

Patriots president Jonathan Kraft was more pointed about the irony of the timing of Grigson's firing just before Sunday's game kicked off, noting in a local radio spot on 98.5 The Sports Hub that "that game might have been Ryan's pinnacle."

 

Ouch. But also accurate. Getting to an AFC Championship Game is a pinnacle for other teams, and it is a fine one. The Colts have that, although they are clearly not satisfied with that, either.

 

But the Patriots have Brady, fueled this season by those who questioned his honesty and integrity, by the embarrassment and distraction of hearings and court sessions and appeals and a saga that stretched over the course of the entire 2015 season, with the penalty finally infecting this one. Whatever Grigson unleashed two years ago, the rest of the AFC is paying a price for it now. Brady is the first quarterback to appear in seven Super Bowls.

 

There was, of course, no greater testament to Bill Belichick's exceptionalism than the Patriots going 3-1 without Brady, and even without, for part of the time, Brady's backup, Jimmy Garoppolo. Belichick sent Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins packing, and the defense was the best overall in the league. Belichick is going to his seventh Super Bowl as a head coach, a record, and whatever else may be thought about this franchise by fans and foes, Belichick is unquestionably the greatest coach of his -- and perhaps any -- era. When he was handed the trophy, he grabbed it like a paperweight and barely glanced at it. Being one of the final two is not the goal. Belichick said he did not even know Atlanta had won the NFC title, because he had not watched the game.

 

"Every year has its own challenges, whatever they are," Belichick said. "Every team faces them. We've dealt with them. It's a special year because it's a special team. But there are always challenges we have to overcome. Whatever they are, they are."

 

They were big enough that they would likely have doomed another team. But Brady has been extraordinary since his return, and the circumstances of his season were such that it largely overshadowed the fact that Brady is playing his best football at age 39. He went 32 of 42 for 384 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Steelers. If the Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons in two weeks in Houston, Brady would be the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls, passing his childhood idol, Joe Montana. The delicious spectacle of Goodell and Brady meeting again with confetti falling on their heads is not a scene any fan in New England will fail to record for posterity.

 

Brady is a smooth professional. He was asked what he thought about the fans chanting Goodell's name, and he said he didn't hear it, but did hear a sing-along to Bon Jovi. None of those questions will go away for two more weeks, and it is possible the extra motivation Brady derives from how he was treated will never entirely dissipate. He demurred when faced with the first of what will be two weeks of questions about how much motivation he draws from his suspension.

 

"Nah, this is my motivation," he said, pointing to the teammates arrayed in front of the podium for the postgame trophy presentation, each wearing a new AFC Championship T-shirt over their uniforms. "All these fellows right in front of me. Mental toughness, that's what it's all about. This team's got it. We'll see if we can write the perfect ending in a couple of weeks."

 

It is a story two years in the making.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

Johnny Manziel has re-emerged as an advisor to the 45th president.  ESPN.com:

 

Johnny Manziel deleted his Twitter account on Monday, shortly after he tweeted advice to President Donald Trump on using the social media platform.

 

"Yo, POTUS even I know to stay away from the notifications section on twitter. S--- will drive you crazy, lead the country and let them hate," Manziel tweeted Monday afternoon, followed by a tweet that read: "Control what you can control and let the rest fall by the wayside."

 

The tweets quickly went viral and even got a stamp of approval from former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

 

@AriFleischer

When you're right, you're right. Johnny Manziel is right. (I can't believe i said that.)https://twitter.com/jmanziel2/status/823614425621876736

 

It is not known if the removal of Manziel's account was related to his tweets to President Trump.

 

"He told me [Twitter is] not a priority and he's trying to eliminate distractions," Manziel spokesperson Denise Michaels told ESPN.

 

Manziel's Instagram and Snapchat accounts were both still active Monday.

 

He sent a message to ESPN's Ed Werder late last week, saying he has achieved sobriety without professional assistance and is determined to resume his career in the NFL. One day earlier, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback tweeted that he is trying to be a better person and thanked those who helped him during a "rough" 2016.

 

Manziel, 24, is scheduled to make his first announced promotional appearance since leaving the NFL. He will sign autographs in two memorabilia shops at Texas malls during Super Bowl week.

 

Manziel, whom the Browns selected with the 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL draft, spent 10 weeks in rehab after his rookie season. He was released by the Browns last March and was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

 

He reached an agreement last month with the Dallas County district attorney's office to have domestic violence charges dropped if he meets certain conditions throughout the year. He was accused of hitting and threatening his former girlfriend during a night out last January.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Richard Dietsch at SI.com talks to the man known as Z:

 

Long before he became the lead producer for Fox’s top NFL team and before he worked under the famed CBS Sports production arm of Bob Stenner and Sandy Grossman, Richie Zyontz worked as a security guard for CBS Television in midtown Manhattan.

 

It was the late 1970s, and a temporary agency placed Zyontz, then a Boston University college student, to log some hours at CBS’s research department. That placement proved fortuitous: Zyontz made some important contacts at CBS including at the company’s personnel department. And upon graduation, Zyontz took a fulltime security job at CBS’s headquarters on West 52nd Street as a way to get his foot in the door of the television industry. “I had my oversized blue suit and a clip-on tie, and I kept CBS safe for democracy,” Zyontz said.

 

Soon after working in security, a fulltime job opened up at the research department. Zyontz took it, and it was there he made contact with Van Gordon Sauter, who was then the president of CBS Sports. Zyontz said Sauter saw his obvious love for sports—the George Gervin poster next to Zyontz’s desk helped the case—and when CBS expanded its sports division, Van Sauter hired Zyontz for the production department.

 

“I’m so lucky and thankful and I’ve always remained grounded,” Zyontz said. “I appreciate the people I work with. I never take the job for granted.”

 

On Feb. 5, when the Patriots and Falcons meet in Super Bowl LI in Houston, Zyontz will sit in the lead production chair, his voice in the ear of game announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. This will be the fifth time (Super Bowls XXXIV, XLII, XLV and XLVIII) Zyontz has served as the lead producer for the main Super Bowl broadcast, an assignment maybe 20 or so on earth can say they’ve done.

 

Prior to working for Fox, Zyontz and Rich Russo, who will direct the game, were part of the NFL group at CBS Sports and trained under Stenner and Grossman, who spent years as the producer and director for Pat Summerall and John Madden. This is Zyontz’s 11th Super Bowl overall for Fox or CBS.

 

“I feel more nervous when I am sitting at home watching CBS or NBC do this game, and I’m not sure why that is,” Zyontz said. “Maybe its because I know what it’s like and I know what they are going through, especially if it’s close. I feel nervous watching it at home. I don’t feel nervous at the game. I am an anxious person by nature but for some reason at my job, I feel relaxed and can enjoy the moment.”

 

This will be a quiet week for Zyontz as far as production but a busy one personally. After spending Monday at his home in northern Virginia, about an hour west of Washington D.C., he will visit his 93-year-old mother and his sister in New York City. Then it’s back to Virginia for a couple of days before heading to Houston next Monday. “There’s not a lot of prep stuff this week,” Zyontz said. “My bosses and I will coordinate on certain things because the Super Bowl brings a whole level of commitment. But generally this week I am just antsy about getting there.”

 

Zyontz’s crew has not had New England this year, but they have broadcast two Atlanta games including the NFC Championship. Once the Fox group gets to Houston, Zyontz and Russo will likely watch tapes of both teams. The production crew did a preseason game in Houston and have been to NRG Stadium a few times to examine the camera positions. Zyontz said it’s a good stadium to work in, and the broadcast booth is oversized for television.

 

“I think we are good now with Atlanta having just done this game,” Zyontz said. “And New England is one of those teams that when they play their hurry-up pace, it’s another layer for us to be aware of. But we have had teams, like Green Bay, that play fast and we are familiar with New England from years past.”

 

The one thing a game producer wants for a Super Bowl outside of a close game and no major plays or replays missed are players that viewers are familiar with. Obviously, both the Falcons and Patriots have star quarterbacks with Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. That will be an advantage.

 

“People [in our business] fell in love with Dallas for the ratings that they bring, but a fresh team, an exciting team, that maybe the country does not know much about yet in Atlanta is a lot of fun,” Zyontz said. “This is one of the great offensive teams we have seen in a while. I think it’s going to be a good one.”

- - -

Michael McCarthy in The Sporting News on the social media criticism of CBS analyst Phil Simms:

 

Viewers could either laugh or cry at how lopsided the AFC and NFC championship games were Sunday, and they chose to laugh — mostly at the expense of poor Phil Simms of CBS Sports.

 

Simms and, to a lesser extent, play-by-play partner Jim Nantz, have become popular targets on social media in recent years.

 

Maybe it's the duo having to call "Thursday Night Football" games, on top of CBS' top Sunday afternoon games, that's produced "Simms fatigue."

 

But Simms mockery seemed to reach a crescendo Sunday.

 

The Super Bowl XXI MVP was trending on Twitter during the Patriots' 36-17 win over the Steelers.

 

And not in a good way.

 

The general consensus was that CBS should put somebody else, anybody else, in his analyst chair. If not retired quarterback Peyton Manning, then maybe CBS' No. 2 announce team of Dan Fouts and Ian Eagle should get the top job, fans said.

 

To be fair to Simms and Nantz, they didn't have much to work with Sunday. The Patriots completely outplayed the Steelers. There was little suspense.

 

But Simms and Nantz didn't have a good telecast either on Sunday.

 

Nantz got things off on the wrong foot by confidently predicting during the pre-kickoff intro that CBS' game would be more competitive than Fox Sports telecast of the Falcons' 44-21 demolition of the Packers.

 

Not.

 

Simms was at his Captain Obvious worst during the game. He said the Patriots receivers can more easily catch the ball because Tom Brady throws "perfect spirals."

 

@FanSportsClips

sonofthebronx: Phil Simms believes QBs throwing perfect spirals makes it… CBS NFL Playoff: …https://www.clippituser.tv/c/vwbqm

 

You don't say?

 

That goes for most starting NFL quarterbacks — outside of Brock Osweiler.

 

Simms' scintillating description of a Pats substitution went like this: "Four new players come in, four go out."

 

Generally, that's how it works Phil.

 

@FanSportsClips

sonofthebronx: Phil Simms on Patriots: "Four new players come in, four g… CBS NFL Playoff: …https://www.clippituser.tv/c/zderg

 

Sometime you wondered whether you were watching the same game as Simms and Nantz.

 

The duo bumbled and stumbled their way through a key fumble, leading Simms to admit to viewers: "I'm confused."

 

Great.

 

The viewers were confused by the Patriots retaining the ball on what Simms himself said was "definitely" a fumble by Brady.

 

But CBS' No. 1 announce team did nothing to clear it up. Instead, Nantz and Simms confused things more.

 

Later in the game, Nantz seemingly referred to the call by admitting, "My bad."

 

Meanwhile, Simms got player names wrong.

 

He called Patriots defensive lineman Malcom Brown "Jamal" Brown.

 

At one point, Patriots defender Patrick Chung wrapped up Steelers tight end Jesse James before the pass arrived.

 

Simms' analysis?

 

"Good coverage."

 

Huh?

 

@FanSportsClips

sonofthebronx: Phil Simms labels Patriots defender having "good coverage… CBS NFL Playoff: …https://www.clippituser.tv/c/rrkkn

 

After Ben Roethlisberger threw a bad interception, Simms said the Steelers QB played a "really solid, good game."

 

The Steelers had scored 9 points at that moment.

 

With the Pats up 36-17, and only 3:36 left in the fourth quarter, Simms warned viewers the game wasn't "over."

 

Sure.

 

Katie Nolan of Fox Sports had some fun at Simms' expense.

 

@katienolan

@richarddeitsch when is Phil Simms' contract up? Asking for a friend or whatever

 

Again, you can't blame Simms and Nantz for Sunday's AFC title game game being a dull, one-sided affair. Give them a classic like Packers-Cowboys and you would have seen a much different team.

 

But fans still showed no mercy to Simms on Twitter.

 

One tweeted: "As an air travel controller if I was as bad at my job as Phil Simms everyone flying would die. #PITvsNE."

 

Others looked on the bright side.

 

@salmaiorana

America, our nightmare is over. No more Phil Simms for nine months.

 

The most interesting part of the CBS telecast was the postgame trophy presentation where Nantz interviewed Pats owner Robert Kraft and Brady.

 

With Deflategate and Brady's four-game suspension still hanging over the season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell chose to travel to Atlanta rather than New England on Sunday.

 

Kraft obliquely referenced Deflategate by saying the win was satisfying "for a number of reasons."

 

The DB would normally defend the “perfect spirals” comment because not every QB throws with spiraling perfection.  That said, we looked at the clip in question and the spiral in question seemed to be somewhat imperfect.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Now that QB DeSHAUN WATSON has played his way up to the top of the draft and down to the dregs of the league, Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com wonders if he should do an Eli and pitch a fit about being banished to Cleveland:

 

Thirteen years ago, quarterback Eli Manning successfully avoided playing in San Diego, thanks to a campaign launched and sustained by his father, Archie. Three months from now, could quarterback Deshaun Watson do the same when it comes to Cleveland?

 

Maybe, at a time when the Media Draft Machine is shaming Watson for choosing to rest on his performance against Alabama over spending a week in Alabama potentially making this worse instead of better, Watson simply doesn’t want to play for the Browns. If that’s how he feels, who could blame him?

 

It’s not a knock on the Browns. It’s a knock on a system that prevents players from deciding where they will live, who they will work with, and which organization they will provide services to. Incoming college football players get to pick their schools. Incoming pro football players should get to pick their teams.

 

They don’t, but some have a lot more leverage than others. If a quarterback isn’t all in, an NFL team shouldn’t want him. Maybe Watson hopes that the Browns will get the message — without him having to deliberately send it.

 

Peter King of TheMMQB.com addressed the issue on Monday based on the assumption that Watson wants (and should want) to play for the Browns. With the difference in the money not nearly as significant as it used to be at the various spots at the top of the draft, maybe he’d prefer to play for Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers or some other team in the top 10 that needs a quarterback.

 

Rarely does an incoming quarterback make his desire to avoid a given team obviously known. Five years ago, Robert Griffin III had no desire to be drafted by the Colts. While the Colts may never have changed their minds about Andrew Luck, the lack of any effort by Griffin to get the Colts to think twice made it a no-brainer.

 

Maybe Watson would rather not play for the Browns. And maybe the best play for both sides is to be subtle and discreet about it. The last thing the Browns need is Watson launching an Eli-style anti-Browns campaign, and the last thing Watson needs is the Browns and others publicly or privately wagging a finger at him and possibly causing him to go a lot lower than No. 2.