AROUND THE NFL

With an eye on Eric Bienemy of the Chiefs, Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__YahooSports.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=mOmBgTPz5hHbw24xTkL4LBJl6nHlCXkGyCdB7ywCeqs&e=> is worried about the dearth of African-American head coaching hires:

Another head coach hiring cycle is about to close, and again the most embarrassing issue concerning the NFL has taken center stage.

I don’t say that lightly considering this is a league that has been navigating various clown shows for the better part of two decades.

Still, it was striking to see the visceral reaction of many pundits and former players on social media Tuesday once the New York Giants’ decision to hire Joe Judge and the Carolina Panthers’ choice to hire Matt Rhule became public.

Both those franchises chose those men to lead their organizations into the future, largely because they truly believed they were the best men for the job. Rhule is respected for his forward-thinking nature and ability to develop players and men, while Judge is a highly respected special teams coach who is regarded as a smart guy with good schemes and a “presence.”

In a vacuum, both men deserve a shot to show what they can do as NFL head coaches, and both teams are free to hire whoever they feel is the best fit for their organization.

In the minutes, hours and days after their hirings, however, the conversation surrounding Judge and Rhule quickly shifted to another coach who deserves a chance to show what he can do leading a club, one with a strong résumé — that includes a seven-year apprenticeship in pro football’s most fruitful coaching tree — a long list of players who love him and reputation for being a stickler for details.

That coach is Eric Bieniemy, and he is the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs. He is African American, and in a league that’s 70 percent black, his inability to get a head coaching job, despite all his positives, is baffling to many.

“I think it’s discouraging, to say the least,” said Bieniemy’s agent, Brian Levy, who also represents several African American coaches in college and the NFL. “We’re really trying to find out what the standard is, and every year the standard changes. We’re just trying to swim against the current.”

The current is strong. People generally hire who they know, and when all but two of the NFL’s team owners (Jacksonville’s Shad Khan and Buffalo’s Kim Pegula) and one general manager (Chris Grier) are white, it helps explain why minorities have such a hard time breaking into leadership positions, despite résumés that should get them in the door.

Take Bieniemy, for instance. Over the past two years, the 50-year-old — who carved out a nine-year career as a running back — has helped the Chiefs finish first (2018) and sixth (2019) in total offense. He has helped coach the NFL’s reigning MVP in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and during that same period he had seven head coaching interviews. If he fails to land the Cleveland job, which is reportedly expected to be decided by the end of the week, he will go 0 for 7.

It’s a fate that has befallen far too many black assistants in this league, despite the large swath of interview opportunities that take place because of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for available head coaching and senior football operations positions.

Currently four of the league’s 32 franchises are guided by minority coaches — Rivera in Washington, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, Anthony Lynn in Los Angeles and Brian Flores in Miami. And of the five new head coaching openings this offseason, three went to white men (Judge, Rhule and Mike McCarthy) while the fourth went to Rivera, who is Hispanic.

Even though the Rooney Rule has been in place since 2003, the fact we’re looking at another disappointing hiring cycle for African American coaches — not to mention the fact that we have only one more minority head coach (four) in 2020 than we did when the rule was first enacted — has led some to ponder whether the rule needs to be revisited or tweaked.

The latter can be explored. After all, almost everything can be done better. But it’s more important to remember that the actual problem isn’t the rule — the problem is the people doing the hiring, starting with ownership.

Sure, the Rooney Rule has not worked perfectly. But by simply putting a lot of black and brown faces in position to impress the people doing the hiring, the rule has certainly been a net positive for the African American coaches, despite frustration over the fact the people doing the hiring have yet to adequately tap into the pipeline of minority coaches who are ready and eager to relate to a workforce full of players who look just like them.

“There’s no doubt every interview is an opportunity,” Levy said. “Years ago, I worked with Mike Tomlin and everybody suggested the odds were stacked against him getting the Pittsburgh or Miami job. But in the end, you take those interviews because you go in there and blow someone’s doors off, you can get hired.”

As Tomlin was, at the age of 34. Since then, he’s won a Super Bowl and was a runner-up in another, posted a .642 winning percentage and earned a reputation as a superb leader of men who has a rare gift for reaching players.

Bieniemy’s wait for a similar opportunity has been much longer than Tomlin’s. He has been an assistant coach at the college and pro level for 19 seasons now. Levy is confident it will eventually come.

“His mentality is to keep moving forward,” Levy said. “Eventually there will be a team that’s smart enough to hire him, and they’ll reap the benefit.”

In the meantime, Bieniemy has been using the head coaching interviews as an opportunity for self improvement — another underrated benefit of the Rooney Rule.

“They can learn a ton about other organizations and how they’re run, and expectations there,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, in general, of assistants who interview for head coaching jobs. “That either gives them another opportunity down the road or something that they can file away, for whether it’s this year or the following year.”

After last year’s round of interviews, for example, Bieniemy took the feedback he got and worked on his presentation, the organization of his thoughts and details of his coaching books.

“He’s learned something from every interview he’s had and he’s had some great people in it,” Levy said of Bieniemy. “He’s met close to 25 people in front-office positions in the last year that he has a connection with. Where else are you getting that exposure?”

Until Bieniemy lands a head coaching job, and more black coaches also get a shot at similar gigs, team owners can look forward to this being an annual topic every January, an ugly scar on the forehead of one of America’s stodgiest, most old-moneyed leagues during the most exciting time of the season.

And if that’s something the owners truly want to change in their precious game, it will have to go beyond potential Rooney Rule tweaks. It must first start with those in charge taking a long, hard look in the mirror.

We were thinking about Marvin Lewis apparently not getting a job this time around and found this from Doug Samuels of Football Scoop from back in April:

Since that historic hire three decades ago, a total of 22 black head coaches have gone on to hold NFL head coaching jobs. Before the Rooney Rule it was a major uphill battle for minority candidates to even be a part of the interview process, much less actually land the job. The Rooney Rule was introduced in 2003 into ensure that ethnic-minorities are interviewed for head coaching and senior football operations positions in the league. In the 14 seasons before the Rooney Rule, the league had five black head coaches. In the 15 years that have followed 18 minority coaches (17 of them black) have led NFL franchises.

While most people firmly believe that the Rooney Rule still doesn’t provide the same opportunities to minorities that it does to white coaches, there’s another layer to this story that doesn’t get talked about enough.

@hbryant42

Since Art Shell was hired to coach the Raiders 30 years ago, two-thirds of the black head coaches in the NFL never received a second job. They are the original One and Done. #FullDissidence

Looking back at the 22 black coaches who have held NFL head coaching jobs, or interim head coaching jobs, since the appointment of coach Shell, just NINE were hired a second time (not counting those that served in an interim head coaching capacity for any length of time).

Only about one-third of black head coaches have been given a second chance to lead an NFL team again on a full-time basis (excluding interim stints).

Those coaches?

Hue Jackson (8-8 with the Raiders and 3-36 with the Browns)

Jim Caldwell (26-22 with the Colts and 36-28 with the Lions)

Romeo Crennel (24-40 with the Browns and 4-15 with the Chiefs)

Lovie Smith (81-63 with the Bears and 8-24 with the Bucs)

Herm Edwards (39-41 with the Jets and 15-33 with the Chiefs)

Tony Dungy (54-42 with the Bucs and 85-27 with the Colts)

Ray Rhodes (29-34 with the Eagles and 8-8 with the Packers)

Dennis Green (97-62 with the Vikings and 16-32 with the Cardinals)

Art Shell (Raiders x2 – 54-48 in his first stint, and 2-4 in his second)

Of those five, six left their first job with winning records, while Crennel, Edwards, and Rhodes were the three that landed second opportunities despite a losing record in their first stop.

Obviously, two coaches on that list have gone on to land opportunities to lead college programs after their second NFL head coaching stint; Smith at Illinois and Edwards at Arizona State.

The coaches who didn’t, or have yet to receive a second NFL opportunity?

Marvin Lewis (Bengals: 2003-18) – 131-129 overall

Terry Robiskie (Redskins: 2000, Browns: 2004) – 1-2 with Redskins, 1-4 with Browns

Emmitt Thomas (Falcons: 2007) – 1-3 as interim HC

Mike Singletary (49ers: 2008-10) – 18-22 overall

Raheem Morris (Bucs: 2009-11) – 17-31 overall

Perry Fewell (Bills: 2009) – 3-4 as interim

Leslie Frazier (Vikings: 2010-13) – 21-32 overall

Eric Studesville (Broncos: 2010) – 1-3 overall

Todd Bowles (Jets: 2015-18) – 24-40 overall

Vance Joseph (Broncos: 2017-18) – 11-21 overall

Steve Wilks (Cardinals: 2018) – 3-13

(This list excludes Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who was hired in 2007 and is still employed by the team.)

Sure, you could make the argument that none of those records are over .500, but neither did the following current NFL white head coaches: Jets head coach Adam Gase (23-25 with the Dolphins), Giants head coach Pat Shurmur (15-34 with the Browns), or Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone (31-35 with the Bills). Not to mention the guys who were named to head coaching jobs without any head coaching experience at all this past hiring cycle.

Only one black head coach has went from leading a team strictly as an interim head coach to landing a full-time head coaching job at the NFL. Anthony Lynn, heading into his third season as the Chargers head coach, went 0-1 as an interim coach of the Bills in 2016, and after being hired by the Chargers has gone 9-7 and 12-4 in his first two seasons.

Of that list, there are surely guys like Marvin Lewis (and perhaps a few others) that will get another chance at leading an NFL team, provided it’s something they still have a passion for doing.

We wonder what the percentage is for white coaches getting a second job?  Besides Lewis, is there anyone on that list that you could make a good case for another go-round?

Of the 11 names above who have not had second jobs, we think Raheem Morris (still only 43 yearsr old) is starting to get some luster back and could be back in the head coach saddle if Atlanta has success this year.  The same with Vance Joseph (age 47) if Arizona surges behind a revitalized defense.

NFC NORTH

MINNESOTA

A memorabilia collector will undo the wrong done to TE KYLE RUDOLPH by an anonymous member of “the media.”  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ESPN.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=uslDCKz1DUaVgXnW0wU2lJKvsdceC6toW_UHK6w1A_s&e=>:

Kyle Rudolph thought he was donating the gloves he wore while catching the winning touchdown in overtime to lift the Minnesota Vikings past the New Orleans Saints to a charitable cause. It turns out the tight end was duped by someone who went directly to eBay to sell his game-worn memorabilia for profit.

Rudolph expressed frustration Wednesday with a situation that played out postgame Sunday inside the visitors locker room at the Superdome.

@flamingbagofpoo

@KyleRudolph82 You probably already heard this, but looks like someone sold your gloves from the Saints playoff game on ebay already.  Hope they didn’t deceive you for a quick buck.

@KyleRudolph82

I saw this.. it’s disappointing. A member of the media in the locker room after the game asked if he could have my gloves for a charity benefit, so I said of course and I will even sign them for you! Well he got me, sold on eBay 3 days later..

@KyleRudolph82

“And to clarify it was not anyone I knew.. so wasn’t a local reporter I see daily or national reporter,” a follow-up tweet read. “Locker room was a zoo, he asked for them, I said of course and even offered to sign them…”

Fortunately, there’s a happy ending to this story.

Jason King, a lifelong Vikings fan from Woodbury Heights, New Jersey, purchased Rudolph’s gloves around 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday after he saw them being sold on eBay. King is a member of a “Minnesota Vikings Game Used/Issued Memorabilia Group” on Facebook and an avid collector of sports memorabilia. The 34-year-old verified the gloves’ authenticity by matching a thread hanging from the left middle finger to a photo taken by Getty Images of Rudolph spiking the ball after his touchdown.

King messaged the account to get more information about the gloves and was told the seller received them “directly” from Rudolph. Nowhere in their message exchange, or the product’s post, does the seller detail anything about the proceeds from the gloves being donated to charity.

Rudolph’s gloves, which were listed on Wednesday, had a starting bid of $280 and a “buy it now” price of $375, which is the amount King paid.

Shortly after making his purchase, King began to see news of the scam circulating on Twitter. Upon seeing Rudolph’s post, King tweeted the tight end that he was the buyer of the gloves and would gladly donate them to charity.

Rudolph responded, directing King to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, where he and his wife, Jordan, have done extensive charitable work throughout his nine-year career with the Vikings. Rudolph then said he would send King the gloves he plans to wear during the Vikings’ NFC divisional playoff matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

King has yet to receive confirmation from the seller that the gloves are on the way to his home in New Jersey.

“If I end up receiving the gloves, I would like them to be displayed at the children’s hospital in honor of Kyle,” King told ESPN. “I have four kids myself, and I really appreciate the work he does off the field.”

If he does not receive his purchase, King said he plans to donate the money he spent on the gloves toward Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone, a 2,500-square-foot space designed to help children and teenagers find a place to play, relax, engage in healing therapies and socialize at Masonic Children’s Hospital. He tweeted to encourage others to donate as well.

NFC EAST

DALLAS

Todd Archer of ESPN.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ESPN.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=uslDCKz1DUaVgXnW0wU2lJKvsdceC6toW_UHK6w1A_s&e=> was there as Mike McCarthy is introduced as the 9th coach of the Cowboys:

As Jerry Jones sought the ninth coach in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, winning experience mattered.

The Cowboys are entering their third decade since their most recent Super Bowl victory. And in introducing Mike McCarthy as coach on Wednesday, it was clear Jones believes McCarthy will get his team back to a place it has not been since 1995.

“One of our primary goals in selecting the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys was to focus on a proven team-builder and winner. Someone who’s got a proven track record of winning not only consistently, but at the highest level,” said Jones, the team owner and general manager. “[In] Mike McCarthy, we found a coach who not only checked those boxes, but also has the experience of taking an NFL team to the biggest stage, the Super Bowl, and completing the job.”

The 56-year-old McCarthy, who won one Super Bowl in his 13 years as coach of the Green Bay Packers, said he understands the expectations.

“I’m just going to say this to the fans: The commitment will be unwavering,” McCarthy said. “I won my first Super Bowl here in North Texas at AT&T Stadium. I just want to tell you I am anxious and excited to get to work on winning the next Super Bowl for the Dallas Cowboys.”

McCarthy, who has a 125-77-2 regular-season record, was short on details regarding his staff, although Kellen Moore is expected to remain as offensive coordinator. In addition, Mike Nolan (defensive coordinator), John Fassel (special teams), Jim Tomsula (defensive line) and Joe Philbin (offensive line) will serve under McCarthy.

McCarthy did not want to get into whether Dallas would remain in a 4-3 defensive scheme or if he would call plays on offense, although he did say that how his Cowboys will do things “will be similar to the way I’ve always done it.”

Cowboys wide receiver Randall Cobb, who played for McCarthy in Green Bay and is scheduled to be a free agent, was among the players in attendance at Wednesday’s news conference. So were Dallas linemen Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Antwaun Woods. Staff circled the atrium at Ford Center at The Star as McCarthy and Jones and his son, Stephen, the Cowboys’ executive vice president, spoke for nearly 48 minutes.

If Wednesday wasn’t about what is to come, it was about the excitement of what McCarthy inherits. He faced both Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2016, when his Packers ended the Cowboys’ season in the divisional round of the playoffs.

“I’ve always been impressed with him,” McCarthy said of Prescott. “You’re going to able to run the whole offense and then some. I think he has an incredible foundation to build off of. And our offensive system will be built around making the quarterback successful. That’s the way I’ve learned it. That’s the way I believe you play offense. We have a great one here to work with.”

Elliott has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three of his first four seasons and has been the focal point of the Cowboys’ offense.

McCarthy doesn’t expect that to change.

“I think first off with Zeke, he’s going to get the football. Let’s make no mistake about that,” McCarthy said. “I think you have to clearly understand when you saw the offense is going to make a quarterback successful, the best way to make him successful is a great run game. We clearly understand what we have here and how we could build off of that.”

The five-year agreement between the Cowboys and McCarthy came together after an interview that lasted 12 hours on Saturday. It became clear to Jones and his son that McCarthy would be their guy.

As only Jerry Jones can, he spun a family tale to connect to his affection to McCarthy.

“My sister explained to my dad one time when she was explaining why she wanted to divorce,” Jones said. “Dad loved her husband, and he said, ‘What’s gotten into you?’ And she said, ‘I don’t hear bells.’ He said, ‘Bells? Bells? I haven’t heard bells for the last 30 years.’ The bottom line is that is a dad trying to advise his daughter on the right move.

“But the bottom line is, I heard bells.”

Let’s try to name the first eight – Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Dave Campo, Chan Gailey, Bill Parcells, Jason Garrett.

We missed one – the fairly obvious Wade Phillips.  Gailey came before Campo, Phillips after Parcells and before Garrett.

Now, McCarthy.

The reaction of QB AARON RODGERS:

Still in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers is preparing for the Packers’ NFC Divisional Round showdown with the Seahawks at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

It will be the quarterback’s first playoff game without Mike McCarthy on the sidelines.

McCarthy meanwhile was introduced Wednesday as the new coach of the Cowboys.

Rodgers offered some comments regarding his old coach’s new job.

“We’ve had a lot of success down there, and I think that was probably one of the reasons [he took the job],” Rodgers said via the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Ryan Wood. “We obviously won the Super Bowl there, but we won some big games down there over the years. So I’m not surprised that Jerry [Jones] had an infatuation with Mike, because we’ve had some really good performances.”

During their time together in Green Bay, McCarthy and Rodgers went 7-3 against the Cowboys, including two playoffs wins — the last a 34-31 triumph in Dallas on Jan. 15, 2017 in the NFC Divisional Round. And of course their biggest win during their joint tenure, though it wasn’t against the Cowboys, still came in Dallas as the Packers won Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011 at AT&T Stadium.

While he wasn’t surprised that Jones wanted to bring in McCarthy, Rodgers added he was a bit taken aback that McCarthy landed in Dallas.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I thought maybe he would go somewhere where he had maybe some GM opportunity as well, but I’m happy for him. I sent him a text and he sent me a text back.”

PHILADELPHIA

GM Howie Roseman signals a youth movement in Philly.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ProFootballTalk.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=jZGDUzxGfqIJSmeiIt1-oyWsQcgLS6oQPaTkIcDZgik&e=>:

When the Eagles had quarterback Carson Wentz on that cheap rookie contract, it was easy to trade draft picks for veteran help to insulate him.

Now that they’re actually paying him, they’re recognizing the need to balance the books with some rookie-scale contracts.

“Going forward, we need to infuse youth in this team,” General Manager Howie Roseman said, via Dave Zangaro of NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=EDtVHOsL1JEpTmZCQLYiY_N4yLe22JwMOFQpuJUpBGc&e=>. “We think we’re going to have 10 draft picks in the draft. We’re excited about that.”

The Eagles had one of the oldest rosters in the league last year (only the Patriots and Falcons were older), and they’ve only drafted 10 players total the last two years, as they were clearly in a win-now mode.

“We have a lot to do going forward,” Roseman said. “When we look at our team from 2017 to 2019, we knew that we had one team. Really, a team that we were going to basically stick with. We didn’t have a lot of resources in terms of draft picks. That’s on me.”

Seeing some young players buoy them late in the season was also a metaphor, as they tried to run Darrren Sproles out there one last time before he got hurt and Boston Scott ever got a chance.

“It’s a great lesson. You have to let young players play,” Roseman said. “It’s natural for us to want to have a safety net at every position. We have to allow these young players to play and get some experience. Just the energy they injected into the team and obviously the production that they had. We have to balance that.”

That means Roseman will need to change some habits he’s built over recent years. But the recognition is an important step in that process.

NFC SOUTH

CAROLINA

Matt Rhule is non-commital on QB CAM NEWTON.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__NFL.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=faMgT26yEheMyuBGgKbQAWMQHDlhdgyCQXASYuJ7xBQ&e=>:

Carolina Panthers new head coach Matt Rhule is billed as a builder, motivator and innovator coming out of Baylor.

The first step in building any NFL program is the quarterback.

During his introductory press conference Wednesday, Rhule was asked about the question on the mind of every Panthers fan: What is the plan with Cam Newton?

“I probably haven’t had a chance with regards to really any player to get to talk to Marty [Hurney] and Mr. Tepper in terms of long-term vision, so I would never want to speak out of school or uneducatedly,” Rhule responded. “What I will say is this: I had a chance to talk to Cam yesterday, and I have the utmost respect for him and what he’s done, and I love the way he talked to me, to be quite honest. He didn’t want to talk about the past. He wanted to talk about the future. But other than that, I would much rather talk to those guys and kind of get a feel for not just Cam but all those players on the roster and really have a good process moving forward for the entire roster.”

The question about Newton’s future in Carolina has swirled for months. The former NFL MVP missed all but two games of the 2019 campaign due to a foot injury. The latest injury comes after Newton dealt with shoulder issues the previous two years. With Cam entering the final year of his contract, there has been rampant speculation that the Panthers could move on.

At this early stage, Rhule wasn’t willing to dig into any eventuality at the quarterback position.

Rhule later told NFL Network’s Tiffany Blackmon he plans to dig into the QB position in short order.

“At the end of the day I know this: I know you need to win with a quarterback,” Rhule said. “And I know Cam’s done a lot of winning and so I look forward to working with him but at the same time I’ll talk to our ownership and GM and kind of really establish all the guys in the locker room — him, Kyle Allen and Will Grier as well.”

Newton wasn’t the only player Rhule declined to discuss. The first-time NFL head coach said he’s waiting to put together his staff and evaluate the entire roster before plowing forward in 2020.

“I can’t talk in great, great depth (about the roster),” Rhule said. “I know there are some key pieces. Yesterday, I tried to watch some games. I watched three, four, five games. … My next steps are to really start to get to know the guys, start to watch the tape, and then hire a staff. And, so, I’d hate to talk without having a great sense of what I’m going to say. But I’ve started that process, and started getting to know some of the guys as well.”

If his introductory press conference is any indication, Rhule is a master motivator who will have every Panthers player who is on the roster ready to run through a wall for him in his first season.

“Keep Pounding is not just a slogan. It’s a way of life,” Rhule said emphatically.

Other notes from Rhule’s first press conference as the Panthers’ coach:

» Much like his response to players, Rhule was evasive about plans to round out the coaching staff.

“I’ll have a diverse staff and a mixed staff,” he said. “I have I think one of the best staffs in football at Baylor. A lot of my guys I’ve gotten to Baylor from the NFL, so a lot of guys have NFL experience. … There’s a lot of guys that I know that are interested in coming here, and there’s a lot of people that are really excited about this organization, and they’re really excited about what Mr. Tepper and Marty have already started and so I’m getting calls from guys that say, ‘Hey I want to be a part of that.’ I think what you see here is alignment, you see an owner, a general manager and a head coach that aren’t forcing themselves to do things, they see things the same way. And people understand that that’s how you win in this league. When everyone’s on the same page, you’re gonna be successful. I’ll probably get here and starting working with Marty today or tomorrow, whenever, and start working on getting some people here. The one thing I’ve learned and the advice I’ve gotten from so many people in this league is ‘Don’t rush, get the right people’ and so that’s what we’re doing.”

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON

Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ESPN.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=uslDCKz1DUaVgXnW0wU2lJKvsdceC6toW_UHK6w1A_s&e=> looks at QB DESHAUN WATSON’s status as a Natural Born Winner.

Every coach says it differently, but they describe essentially the same thing.

Deshaun Watson’s high school coach, Bruce Miller, said his quarterback “made us state champions.” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney likened Watson to basketball legend Michael Jordan, who won six NBA championships.

Watson’s current coach summed it up succinctly. “He knows how to win,” Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien said, “and there’s not too much more you can say about it.”

Watson latest triumph — a comeback victory over the Buffalo Bills for his first NFL playoff victory — is nothing new for those who have watched Watson since his teen years. Before lopsided defeats to the Ravens and Broncos this year, Watson couldn’t recall the last time his team lost by double digits.

“What separates him from the other guys is in the biggest moments and the pressure moments, when has he ever wilted? Never in high school,” said Michael Perry, Watson’s offensive coordinator at Gainesville High School in Georgia. “You saw what he did against Alabama. It was the best of the best at that level. And then what he did [against Buffalo] … I mean, he just thrives on pressure. Most guys can’t take it or shrink away in that moment. He just thrives. And that’s what he’s made for.'”

It’s that knack for winning that gave Watson instant credibility when he first walked into the Texans’ locker room in 2017.

Watson won a state championship in high school and reached two national championship games at Clemson, winning one, three years ago Thursday. After tearing his ACL as a rookie and a subpar performance in his first career playoff game last season, Watson’s winning ways returned in 2019 with victories in the Texans’ biggest games — over the Chiefs, Colts, Titans and Patriots. Watson put last year’s disappointment in the past tense with the sensational comeback against Buffalo.

– – –

“I’ve always had the mentality to compete and do whatever it takes to win, and if I lose, get back up and keep pushing forward,” Watson said. “But I’ve always had that mentality and always wanted to win and compete hard. … But it’s definitely in my DNA to go out there and compete and try to win in everything I do.”

‘You don’t coach that’

Perry remembers the first time he realized Watson had the chance to be a superstar. During Watson’s sophomore year in 2011, he led Gainesville High School to the state semifinals in Georgia while ending top-ranked Sandy Creek’s 41-game winning streak.

“Everybody thought we were going to get killed by them,” Perry said.

In that game, Watson made a play similar to the never-say-die plays he’s made in the NFL.

“During the game, our center snaps it high, over his head, and somehow he leaps up and tips the ball back to himself. And there’s a Sandy Creek edge rusher who is completely unblocked, coming right at him. So he tips the ball to himself. … Deshaun catches the tipped ball back to himself, and he then fires a quick out and it’s a perfect, in-stride throw. …

“When I saw that, I was like, this kid’s gonna be playing on Sundays one day.”

Watson made spectacular plays in the team’s biggest games.

“In the state championship game, one of our linemen gets blown back in the backfield four yards deep,” Miller said. “Deshaun steps up where the guy blew our linemen up and goes 40 yards down to about the 20. And you don’t coach that.”

Watson’s attitude and mindset quickly rubbed off in the Texans’ locker room, just as it had in high school.

“In 2012 [when we won state], it was a very average football team,” Miller said. “[Watson] raised the level of our players to be state champions.”

In two-plus seasons as the starter, Watson led Clemson to a 32-3 record its first national championship in 35 years in 2016. The Tigers rallied to beat Alabama on Watson’s game-winning touchdown pass on his final college throw.

Swinney said then that NFL teams that passed on Watson in the draft would come to regret it. Watson was picked No. 12 overall.

Three years in, it’s proving to be true.

AFC EAST

BUFFALO

Sounds like the end of the line for RB FRANK GORE – at least in Buffalo where RB DEVON SINGLETARY has taken over.

Frank Gore said after the Bills’ playoff loss that he’s unsure whether he wants to play in 2020. If he does decide to play, he may need to go elsewhere.

Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said Gore has to decide whether he wants to keep playing, and then the Bills have to decide whether they’d have room for him in their backfield.

“To where he goes next, I’m not sure,” Beane said. “At the end of the year, a guy at his age—It was super awesome to watch him climb into third in the rushing stats. But we’ll let him decide what he’s going to do and we’ll self-inventory ourselves and make a decision. But nothing has been determined from him, whether he wants to continue playing. And then on the other end, whether we would have a spot for him back.”

Gore was not as effective as rookie Devin Singletary, and if he wants to keep playing at all, it’s likely as a backup. Gore doesn’t play special teams, which is usually expected of a backup running back, and he averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry in 2019. Gore will turn 37 in May, and the running back who seemed ageless may finally be ready to hang up the cleats.

At 14,770 yards, Gore sits 4th on the all-time list behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.  He needs 500 more yards to pass Sanders.

Adrian Peterson, now at 13,318, needs over 1,400 yards to pass him, so two more good years.

After that, LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch, both in the 10,000s, seem about out of gas.

Then among active backs, you go all the way to Mark Ingram at 6,007, in 90th place on the all-time list.

Gore could be in the top 5 for quite a while.

THIS AND THAT

QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__ESPN.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=uslDCKz1DUaVgXnW0wU2lJKvsdceC6toW_UHK6w1A_s&e=> with some informed speculation of where the available QBs might end up, as well as other predictions:

This 2020 NFL offseason will be defined by one position.

“More names at QB that are pending free agents than I can remember,” one general manager said. “I bet there will be some interesting movement at the position.”

Tom Brady is one of at least eight quarterback free agents with extensive starter’s experience. And that’s not counting Cam Newton, whose future is uncertain because of health issues.

We asked league execs and coaches to make predictions about that position and what else is next for the NFL this year. From officiating to surprise playoff teams, nothing is out of bounds:

The Saints will go all-in on Taysom Hill in 2020

Sean Payton opting to build his offense around a third-string quarterback with 13 career regular-season passing attempts would qualify as the boldest move of the offseason. But Drew Brees’ pending free agency leaves the Saints to ponder all options — especially cheaper ones.

But this isn’t a typical third-stringer. Hill has shown the athleticism to handle every function of the Saints’ offense, from bull-rushing for first downs to outrunning corners for red zone touchdown catches to 55-yard bombs out of the pocket. His efforts nearly took down Minnesota in the wild-card loss, rushing for 50 yards on four carries with two catches for 25 yards and a touchdown. His 50-yard completion to Deonte Harris traveled nearly 60 yards in the air.

He’s 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds of gadgetry at a time the game is enjoying the reemergence of mobile quarterbacks.

Is that enough to replace one of the game’s best ever in Drew Brees, who just came off a career-best 116.3 passer rating? Perhaps not. But Brees is coming off a two-year, $50 million contract and — despite remarkable consistency the past few years — looked a step slow in the loss to Minnesota. As a restricted free agent, Hill would cost a maximum of $4.667 million for a first-round tender, according to projections from Over The Cap.

“Wouldn’t come as a total shock to see Sean Payton move forward with Taysom Hill as the starting QB,” one NFC exec said. “Sean always has been intrigued by athletic quarterbacks and how to utilize them. Taysom is a talented guy.”

With Brees still among the league’s best, and free agent Teddy Bridgewater going 5-0 as a fill-in starter, this move would be a wild bet on untapped potential — and also a nod to where the game is going.

The thought of Payton drawing up chaotic misdirection with Hill and Alvin Kamara on a full-time basis should excite New Orleans fans.

Tom Brady will go back to New England … with help

The stage is set for the most important free-agent quarterback since Peyton Manning to hop out of black Suburbans and into the offices of various team headquarters as media frantically track his flights.

The notion that Brady could be a Charger, a Raider, a Cowboy feels closer than ever.

But asking several execs and coaches elicits the response: Just can’t imagine him going the Joe Montana route and leaving the team he has helped win six Super Bowls.

“He’ll stay with the Patriots — with a better supporting cast on offense,” one exec said.

That’s a must. Brady clearly needs help, most notably a field-stretching tight end up the seam and at least one outside receiver with size to work the sideline. That frees up Julian Edelman to work the slot. Rob Gronkowski is still working out and hasn’t filed retirement papers. Maybe someone can sway a return.

The numbers illustrate: Brady completed 59.3% of his passes to wide receivers in the regular season, his lowest since 2004. He went 7-of-20 passing (35%) targeting wide receivers in the wild-card loss to Tennessee, his worst in a playoff game. He was 4-of-15 to wide receivers other than Edelman (3-of-5).

New England could give Brady a three-year deal to get him to his desired retirement age of 45 while including voidable years for salary-cap purposes.

But that doesn’t address the wild card: Two decades of the Patriot Way might have worn him down. Even the best need to feel wanted.

“I don’t know that that’s the case there anymore,” one AFC scout said. “Both sides might want a change.”

The Redskins will make the playoffs

Most seasons feature at least one bad team from the previous year that catches a rhythm the next and sneaks into the wild-card round.

One exec believes Washington will be that team in the NFC.

“The front seven has talent and is going to be so much better,” the exec said. “And coaching will make a big difference.”

That front seven can add Ohio State pass-rusher Chase Young with the No. 2 overall pick, and first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins showed signs of promise late in the season. New coach Ron Rivera will give Washington an adult in the room.

This roster is not void of ability, and Rivera is generally an above-.500 coach when he has at least marginal talent. Maybe Washington’s remade training staff can entice Trent Williams to return and fortify the offensive line. Terry McLaurin and Derrius Guice (if healthy) are quality young playmaking pieces.

The NFL will dump pass-interference review

The first year of reviewable pass interference led to confusion from fans and frustration from coaches who simply gave up. Coaches failed on 20 of 21 challenges during one early-season stretch.

It was no secret that league owners never wanted the review in the first place. They basically passed it at the NFL owners meetings to appease angry coaches in the aftermath of the blown no-call against the Saints in the NFC title game.

Now it has reached a boiling point.

“They have to do something — either get rid of it or alter it,” one AFC exec said. “But there’s no clean way of changing it.”

That exec offers to expand the automatic review time at the end of each half from two minutes to four minutes, or to encourage officials to set clearer standards on holds.

.

An AFC coordinator said he could see the league taking it out of the coach’s hands, with the New York office having the sole ability to challenge calls. Surely that would go well.

“It’s amazing that you have officials who can review plays, and you have New York looking at these things, and they still can’t get it right,” a separate AFC exec said.

Philip Rivers will sign with the Colts

With Indy looking to add quarterback competition for Jacoby Brissett in 2020, multiple league execs say the Colts could turn to Rivers, who threw 92 touchdown passes from 2013 to 2015 with Frank Reich as his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Current Indy coordinator Nick Sirianni was also an assistant on that Chargers staff.

“He’s not mobile and his arm strength looked questionable at times, but he’s still a year removed from an MVP-type season. And the Colts have a window,” one exec said.

But here’s the other side: Adding Rivers, whose contract is up in L.A., might not align with the personality of general manager Chris Ballard, who covets young talent he can mold. He could opt for a QB in the draft. And the team hasn’t totally given up on Brissett, who started hot in 2019.

Indy has $93,628,216 in 2020 cap space, more than enough for two veteran-quarterback contracts. Ballard said at his end-of-year news conference that he wished he bolstered the team’s depth with all that space in 2019.

Lamar Jackson will keep doing Lamar Jackson things

Most evaluators are convinced that running quarterbacks slow eventually. It might take 10 years or it might take two, but injuries or durability or defensive scheme always end the party.

The consensus is that won’t happen in 2020 — not even close. The Ravens haven’t lost a game since September, and Jackson’s MVP-caliber season is far from the only reason.

“I believe the versatility keeps expanding in those types of offenses that allows them to do so many different things in how they go about attacking the defense,” one AFC coach said. “Situationally and on possession downs, they have so many different looks they can throw at you, and when the quarterback is the best athlete on the field, it’s just really hard to stop in the open field. You have to win up front, but Baltimore is really stout there.”

The Ravens already have the multilayered running game with Jackson, Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, and this offseason they can add outside receiving help opposite Marquise Brown. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has a good chance to return to Baltimore in 2020.

Ryan Tannehill will earn a massive contract extension — before Dak Prescott

Tannehill’s market climbs with every Titans win, and his league-high 117.5 passer rating makes him an attractive free agent.

But a Tannehill deal with Tennessee is considered easier to finalize than Prescott’s because of where both quarterbacks stood with their teams a year ago.

Prescott aimed to become the league’s highest-paid quarterback, and since the Cowboys haven’t been willing to give him that honor, both parties seem destined for the franchise tag.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tannehill and Tennessee come to an agreement before free agency,” one NFC exec said. “They have a good thing going, and the money shouldn’t be outrageous. They can work something out.”

Maybe something in the three-year range, with the money well over $20 million annually. It’s doubtful he would take much less.

Their futures were much brighter five years ago.

“Former No. 1 and No. 2 picks who might face life as backups — that’s one of the biggest stories of the year,” an AFC exec said about Winston and Mariota.

Mariota has lived that life for about three months, and Winston remains a beautiful disaster in Tampa, becoming the NFL’s only member of the 30-30 club for touchdowns and interceptions.

The consensus among NFL people: Mariota has a home somewhere that needs competition and a potential bridge starter, and Winston gets one more year in Tampa.

“I could see Chicago [for Mariota],” one exec said. “Ryan Pace wants to stick with Mitch [Trubisky], and this way Mariota can start games but isn’t a total replacement, leaving room for Trubisky to regain his confidence and play well.”

Mariota fits Trubisky’s style of play as a former read-pass option maven.

As for Winston, many are expecting Tampa Bay to franchise tag him, giving him another chance at $26.7 million without committing long-term money in case he flails again.

But there’s good quarterback depth in the draft, and Bruce Arians knows it.

THIS WEEK’S OFFICIALS

Football Zebras.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__Zebras.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=KjUy4XqrAPDikPsK_uTsVk1IeJVDPJVbiYbC8BnQ0rw&e=> with the lineup of officials for the Divisional Playoffs.  If the past is indeed prologue, the Super Bowl officials will come from this group which includes past Super Bowl referees Walt Anderson, Clete Blakeman and Bill Vinovich – plus up-and-comer Shaun Hochuli (2nd season as ref but big games as Pac-12 referee).

We also note that Sarah Thomas is a down judge on Saturday afternoon in Santa Clara.

This year, the NFL has moved to four alternates for the early postseason rounds, up one from previous years. In the past two seasons, no alternates were assigned in the umpire position, in order to ensure a white hat alternate was available in every game. Now, the alternates officials are a referee, an umpire, a line of scrimmage official (down judge or line judge), and a deep official (field judge, side judge, or back judge).

The prior playoff experience that is listed for the crew chief includes his service as an NFL official, including as referee and any other crew position (excluding alternate assignments). Also of note, the eventual Super Bowl officials are on the field for this weekend’s games, but not all are from the same crew.

Saturday, Jan. 11

NFC Divisional: Vikings at 49ers, 4:35 p.m. NBC

Walt Anderson is the referee, who is in his 24th season and 17th as referee. This is Anderson’s 18th postseason assignment, including 8 Wild Card Playoffs, 3 Divisional Playoffs, 5 Conference Championships, and Super Bowls XXXV and XLV. His first Super Bowl assignment was as a line judge.

                                                           Yrs       2019 crew         College

R          66         Walt Anderson               24                                 Texas

U          115       Tony Michalek               18         Rogers               Indiana

DJ        53         Sarah Thomas                 5        Torbert               Mobile

LJ         9          Mark Perlman                19         Vinovich            Salem

FJ        31         Mearl Robinson                3        Vinovich            Air Force

SJ        41         Boris Cheek                  24         Corrente            Morgan State

BJ        93         Scott Helverson             17         Wrolstad           Iowa

Replay official: Brian Matoren

Replay assistant: Kevin Stine

Alternates: Craig Wrolstad (R), Carl Paganelli (U), Greg Bradley (LJ), David Meslow (FJ)

AFC Divisional: Titans at Ravens, 8:15 p.m. CBS

Bill Vinovich is the referee, who is in his 14th season and 11th as referee. This is his 13th postseason assignment, including 3 Wild Card Playoffs, 5 Divisional Playoffs, 4 Conference Championships, and Super Bowl XLIX.

                                                              Yrs    2019 crew         College

R          52         Bill Vinovich                     14                              San Diego

U          20         Barry Anderson                 13      Allen                  North Carolina State

DJ        79         Kent Payne                      16      Rogers               Nebraska Wesleyan

LJ         45         Jeff Seeman                     18      Cheffers            Minnesota

FJ        36         Anthony Jeffries                  2     Corrente            Alabama-Birmingham     \

SJ        103       Eugene Hall                        6     Cheffers            North Texas

BJ        12         Greg Steed                       17      Rogers               Howard

Replay official: Mike Chase

Replay assistant: Marv LeBlanc

Alternates: Brad Allen (R), Steve Woods (U), Walt Coleman IV (LJ), Matt Edwards (BJ)

Sunday, Jan. 12

AFC Divisional: Texans at Chiefs, 3:05 p.m. CBS

Shawn Hochuli is the referee, who is in his 6th season and 2nd as referee. This is Hochuli’s 4th postseason assignment, and his first as referee. His first three assignments, 1 Wild Card Playoff and 2 Divisional Playoffs, were as a back judge.

                                                                 Yrs 2019 crew            College

R          83         Shawn Hochuli                       6                             Claremont

U          121       Paul King                            11   Hochuli                  Nichols College

DJ        134       Ed Camp                             20   Hochuli                  William Paterson

LJ         101       Carl Johnson                       16   Hussey                 Nicholls State

FJ        72         Michael Banks                     18   Cheffers                Illinois State

SJ        125       Chad Hill                               2  Novak                    Mississippi

BJ        88         Brad Freeman                        6  Hussey                  Mississippi State

Replay official: Carl Madsen

Replay assistant: Tyler Cerimeli

Alternates: Tony Corrente (R), Rich Hall (U), Danny Short (DJ), Joe Larrew (FJ)

NFC Divisional: Seahawks at Packers, 6:40 p.m. FOX

Clete Blakeman is the referee, who is in his 12th season and 10th as referee. This is Blakeman’s 10th postseason assignment, including 4 Wild Card Playoffs, 3 Divisional Playoffs, 2 Conference Championships, and Super Bowl 50.

                                                                   Yrs             2019 crew              College

R          34         Clete Blakeman                     12                                Nebraska

U          128       Ramon George                        4 Novak                      Lenoir-Rhyne

DJ        8          Dana McKenzie                     12 Corrente                   Toledo

LJ         32         Jeff Bergman                         28 Kemp                        Robert Morris

FJ        50         Aaron Santi                            5 Rogers                      Southern Oregon

SJ        104       Dale Shaw                              7 Kemp                        Allegheny

BJ        46         Perry Paganelli                     22  Blakeman                 Hope College

Replay official: Jimmy Oldham

Replay assistant: Yvonda Lewis

Alternates: Clay Martin (R), Dan Ferrell (U), Tim Podraza (LJ), James Coleman (SJ)

Before we read the following analysis from Ben Austro of FootballZebras.com<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__FootballZebras.com&d=DwQFaQ&c=uw6TLu4hwhHdiGJOgwcWD4AjKQx6zvFcGEsbfiY9-EI&r=Tu0vFt63od6M5xgv_wnECeQcedGJhNEXOL-oWguwyCk&m=UIqMxM1B79j4K2wQe3iUKFy0WWp4M8UvVIEVehSnGco&s=z2CH8FOQ_CmR14aZUAh8JZL7RUbctYmuUzOGSgdbNZA&e=>, we think Walt Anderson will be the Super Bowl referee.  We like Ron Torbert as one of the Championship Game refs – and maybe John Hussey, doubling up from the Wild Card round for the other.

Every year, we try to sift through the tea leaves and narrow down the likely candidates for the Super Bowl. Given a combination of factors in previous years, once we were correct in December, other times we were a little guarded in the second week of the playoffs, and last year we were flat out wrong.

This time, entering the divisional playoff round, we have a high degree of certainty we know the referee for Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2: Clete Blakeman.

Again, we have an asterisk on there just to make sure the Clete Blakeman Fan Club does not start booking flights to Miami. Anything is possible, but based on past scheduling patterns, we feel confident here.

To start, the Super Bowl officiating crew gets a second assignment in the divisional playoff round split among the four playoff games. We have confirmed that Walt Anderson, Clete Blakeman, Bill Vinovich, and Shawn Hochuli are the divisional playoff referees.

We can scratch Hochuli off the list, because he has not worked a playoff game in a previous season at a referee, a mandatory requirement for working the Super Bowl in the referee position. This is his second season wearing the white hat, and longstanding practice is that first-year referees are not eligible for a playoff assignment, other than as an alternate.

Walt Anderson and Bill Vinovich both worked as alternates in the wild card round. The officiating department has never given more than two assignments to any one official, on-field or alternate. This is a wobbly pin in the rack, as there’s no confirmation that this precedent would absolutely be adhered to. But the only reason to break that precedent is that there is such a dearth of qualified officials, that they had to triple assign referees for the first time. We also cannot rule out an overhaul to the system, and that the Super Bowl officials are not necessarily assigned in the divisional playoffs, as was the case most recently in 2011, but for now it appears to be a safe assumption as well.

This leaves Blakeman, who was the referee for Super Bowl 50 between the Broncos and Panthers. He was a Tier 1 official — the so-called championship tier — last season, as he and Vinovich both worked a conference championships last year. We do know that there was a provision in the collective bargaining agreement — and very likely still in the current one — that an official that ranks first in grading in two consecutive seasons cannot be passed over for another official. It is possible that referee John Parry was very close in the grading to Blakeman, and was given the assignment last year since Blakeman had a more recent Super Bowl.

Using the above procedures, we can also place umpire Barry Anderson and side judge Boris Cheek in the final game. There are two possibilities for down judge and field judge, three for line judge, and we cannot narrow down the back judge position.

Casual fans may remember that Blakeman was the referee for the Lions-Packers game on Monday night in Week 6 in which two fouls were called for illegal hands to the face, when there clearly was no foul. Those were not Blakeman’s flags — they came from the umpire — so they are not downgrades on his record.

Including the divisional playoff assignment this week, Blakeman’s playoff résumé is impressive. He has 4 wild card playoffs, 3 divisional playoffs, and conference championship games in the last 2 preseasons to go along with the Super Bowl assignment. The only two seasons he did not get an on-field assignment are 2012 and 2016. He is in his 10th season as a referee and 12th as an official.

Blakeman will work the Seahawks-Packers game on Sunday. The Super Bowl crew is typically confirmed a few days after the divisional playoff games.