AROUND THE NFL

If The Season Ended Today – there is a huge difference between conferences.  In the AFC four teams are tied for the final Wild Card and the Browns lurk a game back with 2 games left with Cincinnati.  In the NFC, five teams including two Wild Cards seem set but with plenty of positioning to be fought for.  The only drama in the playoff field is whether Dallas or Philadelphia will get to host a powerful Wild Card.

 

The NFC:

 

                                                Overall        Div Rk      Conf

 

1          San Francisco   West    10-1             1           7-1

2          New Orleans     South     9-2             1           7-2

3          Green Bay         North     8-3             1           5-2

4          Dallas                East      6-5              1           5-3

5          Seattle               WC       9-2              2           6-1    

6          Minnesota         WC        8-3              2           6-2

7          LA Rams                         6-5              3           4-3

8          Chicago                          5-6               3          4-4

9          Philadelphia                    5-6               2          3-5

10        Carolina                          5-6               2          2-6   

 

In the AFC –

                                               Overall          Div Rk       Conf Rec

 

1          New England  East         10-1              1             6-1          

2          Baltimore         North         9-2              1             6-2

3          Houston           South        7-4              1             6-2        

4          Kansas City     West          7-4             1              5-3        

5          Buffalo             WC            8-3             2              6-2

6          Pittsburgh        WC            6-5             2              5-3          

7          Oakland                             6-5             2             4-3          

8          Indianapolis                       6-5             2             5-5          

9          Tennessee                         6-5            3              4-4

10        Cleveland                           5-6            3              5-3

 

– – –

 

Here is how Peter King sees the job market for head coaches with five weeks to go:

 

I think these men are coaching for their jobs in the last five weeks of the season (not including Bill Callahan, who has less of a chance to coach Washington than I have of succeeding Bruce Allen):

 

• Dan Quinn, Atlanta. Well, no kidding. Falcons are 1-4 at home, including some terrible losses—such as Sunday’s no-show against Tampa Bay. Talent like theirs cannot go 3-8.

 

• Jason Garrett, Dallas. Jerry Jones truly does not want to fire Garrett. He loves him. But the sound of his voice after a listless loss in Foxboro on Sunday evening tells me the Cowboys had better get very hot very fast or Jones will be putting out feelers to Lincoln Riley and who knows who else in five or six weeks.

 

• Doug Marrone, Jacksonville. Shad Khan’s not giving Marrone a mulligan this season after giving him one last year. Since losing a heartbreaker to the Patriots in the 2017 AFC title game, the Jags have played 27 games. They’ve lost two-thirds of them. Going 9-18 with a good team for a veteran coach with no titles to his name is not good.

 

• Ron Rivera, Carolina. Not saying this should happen, because Rivera’s a good coach and he’s had to play with a backup QB after the stunning loss of Cam Newton. But David Tepper, the new owner, is an impatient man, and you got the impression he was thinking of making a move last January but held off. The Panthers finish with the Seahawks, Colts and Saints, and it won’t be easy for Rivera to end strong.

 

2. I think there are a few others whose seats are a little less hot, but also worth mentioning. They are:

 

• Pat Shurmur, N.Y. Giants. He probably returns, but John Mara’s angry at the development of his team, and New York has lost seven in a row. Merits watching.

 

• Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland. He isn’t totally in the clear. To ensure he returns, Browns will have to be more disciplined and win more games down the stretch.

 

• Zac Taylor, Cincinnati. It’s not like Cincinnati owner Mike Brown to be impatient—he did allow Dave Shula to coach his team for 4.5 years—but we’ll see if Taylor goes 0-16.

 

• Matt Patricia, Detroit. Normally I’d say no way, and I really doubt the Lions will act here. But he just lost to the worst team in NFC on Sunday, and he’s 1-7 in the last two months. And the great Matt Patricia defense? Lions have given up 28.8 points a game in the last eight games.

 

HALL OF FAME SEMIFINALISTS

 

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Three first-year eligible players were among the list of semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020, which was announced this afternoon.

 

The initial list of 122 nominees was pared to 25, and that group includes first-timers including safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker Patrick Willis.

 

Four other players were semifinalists for the first time, despite being previously eligible: Linebacker Carl Banks, running backs Fred Taylor and Ricky Watters, and defensive tackle Bryant Young.

 

There’s a little more room for new faces than in past years, since the Hall has siphoned off coaches and contributors as part of a Centennial Class which is voted upon separately.

 

The other 18 semifinalists include running backs Edgerrin James, wide receivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Hines Ward, offensive linemen Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca, and Steve Hutchinson, defensive linemen Simeon Rice and Richard Seymour, linebackers Clay Matthews, Sam Mills, and Zach Thomas, and defensive backs Steve Atwater, Ronde Barber, LeRoy Butler, John Lynch, and Darren Woodson, and special teamer Steve Tasker.

 

That group will be voted to 15 finalists, which will be announced in January, with the final deliberations and voting for a class of five modern inductees to be conducted the day before the Super Bowl.

 

In last year’s voting, the five players who made it to the final 10 but fell just short of induction were Boselli, Faneca, Hutchinson, Atwater, and James. The ones who made the top 15 but not the top 10 included coaches Don Coryell and Tom Flores, Bruce, Seymour, and Lynch.

 

We don’t think Patrick Willis is a first-year slam dunk entrant.  Is Polamalu?  Is Wayne?  There are plenty of Hall of Fame worthy names on this list, but are any of them slam dunks?  We could see a very contentious deliberation with all five spots open for many candidates.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com takes the temperature of the Packers:

 

Good teams have bad days. It happens. But this is two bad days in a short stretch. Is it worth wondering how good the Packers really are?

 

The Packers didn’t look like Super Bowl contenders on Sunday. They were absolutely overmatched by the 49ers in a 37-8 loss. They didn’t look good in any aspect. Aaron Rodgers had 104 yards on 33 attempts. It was the worst yards per attempt of Rodgers’ career. It was the second-worst loss for the Packers in a game that Rodgers took a majority of the snaps (the worst was a 38-8 loss to Arizona in 2015, h/t to WTMJ). As we saw in that loss to the Chargers, and even in some wins like early-season games against the Bears and Vikings, when the Packers’ offense is bad it is really bad.

 

What do the Packers do at an elite level? Even if we want to believe Rodgers is still a top quarterback, the lack of weapons in the passing game makes him less dangerous. Nobody other than Davante Adams scares anyone. The Packers were 14th in points scored and 21st in yards gained before Sunday night’s game. They were 15th in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed. Their special teams are average at best; they somehow have minus-11 punt-return yards this season. Perhaps the best thing to be said about the Packers is they don’t turn the ball over. Their eight turnovers are tied for second-fewest in the NFL. That’s only going to take you so far.

 

It’s worth wondering if the Packers are even the best team in the NFC North. Their loss dropped them into a first-place tie with the Minnesota Vikings, who have looked like the better team recently. Minnesota is a more well-rounded squad. Even the longstanding argument that the Packers have the better quarterback might not be true this season. Kirk Cousins ranks third in Pro Football Focus’ grades, and Rodgers ranks seventh. If you don’t love PFF’s grades, Cousins has way more yards per attempt, more touchdowns, a better completion percentage and a better passer rating than Rodgers. Sorry Packers fans, these are facts. Maybe Rodgers will show up bigger when it counts, but it’s not like teams quake in fear of him anymore. It’s hard to figure out an area of the game in which the Packers are clearly better than the Vikings. And the second game between the teams, which comes in Week 16, will happen in Minnesota.

 

The Packers aren’t a bad team. It’s hard to get to 8-3 without being very good (though analytics folks will argue the Buffalo Bills are doing it). They’re very likely to make the playoffs even if the Vikings edge them in the division, and Rodgers is still capable of greatness. Nobody will want to see them in January because of Rodgers’ ability to get hot. But Sunday night showed that the Packers have flaws. Or, better yet, they don’t have any discernible strength. When they face a team like the 49ers, who do have plenty of obvious strengths, it’s harder to figure out how the Packers can make a playoff run, or even win their division.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

As expected, the Cowboys were told they were flagged for incorrect tripping calls.  Todd Archer of ESPN.com:

 

It will not change the outcome of Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots, but the Dallas Cowboys were informed by the league office that the two tripping penalties in the 13-9 loss should not have been called, a source told ESPN.

 

Center Travis Frederick was flagged for tripping on third-and-1, negating an Ezekiel Elliott first down on a 3-yard catch as the Cowboys were driving for a potential go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. On third-and-11, Dak Prescott’s pass to Randall Cobb was incomplete and his fourth-down pass to Amari Cooper that went for 20 yards was correctly overturned by replay, effectively ending the team’s chances to win.

 

In the first quarter, left tackle Tyron Smith was penalized for tripping, putting the Cowboys in a difficult second-and-23 situation that preceded the blocked punt by the Patriots, which led to the game’s only touchdown.

 

Jason Garrett had no comment on the calls during his Monday news conference.

 

As to the critical comments made by owner and general manager Jerry Jones at Garrett and to the coaching staff after the defeat, Garrett said, “We’ve just got to focus on coaching as well as we can and playing as well as we can. There certainly were some things in the game that we have to get better at, and we’re going to work on that as a staff and as a football team. But again, our eyes are forward on Buffalo.”

 

Only seven tripping calls had been made across the NFL in the first 11 weeks before the two flags flew in error on Sunday in Foxborough.

 

Hmmmm.  The referee for the most watched Sunday game in recent memory was Scott Novak (did he throw the flags?).  In any case, why was a first-year referee put in charge of this huge game?

 

Thoughts from Michael Hurley of CBSBoston:

 

–We should probably talk about those “tripping” calls, right? I mean. Tripping? You don’t see that called very often. In fact, prior to Sunday, it had been called just seven times all season across the league. So that’s … quick math … 161 games … just under 10,000 minutes of football … seven calls … OK. That comes out to one tripping call being made rrrroughly every 1,380 minutes in the NFL.

 

Yet on Sunday, in Gillette Stadium, two tripping penalties were called within 50 minutes of each other. Both were assessed to the Cowboys.

 

Time to hit ’em with the thinking emoji.

 

I would imagine that the Patriots might have seen something on tape and asked referee Scott Novak and his crew to keep an eye on it. Not dissimilar to when Rex Ryan made Jerome Boger’s crew call a penalty on the Patriots for … pushing. That’s probably not how things should work in the NFL.

 

–It would also be easier to feel sympathy for the Cowboys for that second tripping call if the head coach hadn’t kicked a field goal with 6:08 left in the game.

 

It’s not that a field goal — while trailing by 7 — is always the wrong call in that situation. If the score is, say, 37-30 with 6:08 left, then sure, kick the field goal. You’ve been moving the ball all day, so you should be able to get a stop and a touchdown to win the game. Sure. OK.

 

But the Cowboys kicked this field goal on their only drive of the second half that crossed midfield. This was their one chance to tie the game. And instead, on a day when they scored zero touchdowns, Garrett kicked a field goal so that his team would … need a touchdown on its next drive.

 

It kind of worked out, sort of, somewhat, because the Cowboys got the ball back. But they did so at their own 8-yard line, with 2:38 left to play. Surprise of all surprises, they didn’t mount the winning drive.

 

Garrett kicked the FG on 4th-and-7 at the 11.

 

More about the dissatisfaction of Owner Jerry Jones with his coaches from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants head coach Jason Garrett and his staff to understand that they’ll be out of work if Jones isn’t satisfied with their job performance.

 

Asked today on 105.3 The Fan how he feels about the coaching staff, whom he criticized after Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, Jones answered, “The same way that I felt then.”

 

Jones made clear that he will make the final decisions about the Cowboys’ coaching staff, and right now he doesn’t sound satisfied, suggesting that the Cowboys were out-coached by Bill Belichick and his staff.

 

“When you’re General Manager, which I am, those coaches are out there at my ultimate decision,” Jones said. “It’s very much within my realm of purview, if you will, to not only be standing there as an owner but be standing there as the General Manager who put the staff there to begin with. People seem to think it’s particularly harsh to have criticism and they think when you look at the other side of the field and call a job well done, that might mean that’s extraordinary criticism of the job you’ve done on the other side of the field.”

 

Jones said he’s beyond disappointed that the Cowboys lost on Sunday.

 

“Disappointed is not the word. There’s no question that we were given an opportunity, there were things we could have taken advantage of,” Jones said.

 

With five games remaining, Garrett is running out of time to impress his boss.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

A Tweet from Michael David Smith:

 

@MichaelDavSmith

Pat Shurmur has been a head coach for four seasons:

 

2011 Browns: 4-12

2012 Browns: 5-11

2018 Giants: 5-11

2019 Giants: 2-9

 

Maybe he just isn’t a good coach.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The former Julie Johnston, now the wife of Eagles TE ZACH ERTZ, is one of the world’s top soccer players.  Peter King spent some time with her – and she credits watching film like her football-playing husband as part of the reason she has risen to the top:

 

Ertz, married to Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, on what she’s learned from watching her husband prepare for football games:

 

“I would say how important it is to pay attention to detail. If somebody is in the wrong spot the whole play is kind of messed up. It just allows me to stay more aware where I am on the field … Also, obviously Zach is watching film all the time and they’re saying, Oh, cut one more yard off your route here. His awareness how to be that much better leads me to, ‘Well, if I was in this position I can help my team this much more. Obviously the sports are different but at the same thing I have been able to learn kind of how he looks at the game and how I can implement that in mine. I’ve definitely watched more film starting in Zach’s rookie year. That’s when I was a few years into the national team and trying to break in … and noticing how much he was doing it and how much it helped him. I wanted to do that. The second I started to do that it totally changed my view of my game in the sense of being able to see plays in a faster moment, which allowed me to play faster, which allowed me to get my team the ball in a better position on the field.

 

“The thing with film is it doesn’t lie. When I watch it I can see which pockets are available, which space I can take. You can almost do it without having to overthink. You can just naturally do it because you studied it and understand it. And the more prepared we feel the more confident we are. That is how I feel every time I step on the field.

 

My conversation with Zach and Julie Ertz can be heard in full on “The Peter King Podcast,” which drops on Tuesday, a day earlier than so that you can listen in transit to/from your Thanksgiving holiday. We taped this special Thanksgiving podcast two weeks ago at the Ertz home in Philadelphia. When we were finished and chatting, I asked Julie Ertz if she’d ever gotten a red card in a game. She hadn’t. “Show him that play on your phone,” Zach told his wife, and she pulled out her phone to show me a play from this year’s World Cup that should have been carded but was apparently unseen by the officials. An opponent, with the play headed in the opposite direction, jogged toward Julie Ertz and shoved her down from behind. No call.

 

“What’d you do to her? How’d you get back at her?” I said.

 

“I didn’t do anything,” she said.

 

“Nothing? Why?” I said.

 

She paused for a couple of seconds. She looked at me. It was a cold look. She said: “I just win.”

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers are not surprised by their success.  Kimberley Martin of YahooSports.com:

 

They knew it long before we did.

 

As far back as training camp.

 

As early as OTAs.

 

There was something special here.

 

Something different.

 

Something that potentially could shock the world. 

 

“They don’t understand,” Richard Sherman explained to Yahoo Sports. “But we understand what we have.”

 

Long before anyone believed in their dominance, the San Francisco 49ers quietly set their sights on the Super Bowl. Back in the summer. Back when few even gave them a fighting chance in their own division. So on Sunday night, in the aftermath of their most commanding performance of the season against a longtime foe — and against one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks — there was no bombastic trash talk or raucous postgame celebrations. There simply was a quiet confidence filtering through the 49ers locker room, and the clear understanding that the end result — a 37-8 victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers — was no fluke, but rather the expected outcome on the path to their ultimate end goal.

 

“Before OTAs even happened, I had a feeling we were going to be good,” 49ers safety Jimmie Ward said, in a near-empty locker room. “I just knew we’d be great. I knew what we had on offense. I knew we’d be great on defense. And defense wins championships.”

– – –

After the game, Sherman expressed his frustration with those who continue to criticize Garoppolo for being the so-called weak link on the team. “It’s like you’re nitpicking at the point,” Sherman told Yahoo Sports. “Aaron has earned the right. He’s a Hall of Famer, he’s a gold jacket-wearer, he’s a walking legend. Jimmy hasn’t technically earned the right. He hasn’t played enough games, so you can respect that. But the thing I don’t appreciate is that way people overly criticize him. They’ll say, ‘Oh, my God, they ran for 250, they must have a bad quarterback.’ But it’s like, maybe the run game was just dominant and you’re running for 250, so why throw it? If he throws a good game, then it’s like, ‘Oh, it was Arizona.’ The goalpost is constantly moving. I can appreciate being good enough that they have to make excuses for why you’re good.”

 

Sherman would go on to defend his teammate at the podium, telling reporters: “Jimmy Garoppolo is our leader and we will follow him into the darkest of dark. We’ll follow him into a dark alley, and I guarantee you, you won’t touch him.”

– – –

 “Hopefully they just keep sleeping on us,” Ward told Yahoo Sports. “Hopefully they think we’re going to lose to Baltimore and the Saints. That’s cool. All the critics and stuff, that makes the game more exciting.”

 

It’s OK if the rest of the world doesn’t see what they see.

 

The 49ers believe they know better.

 

In the offseason, they saw the makings of a great team. And, thus far, nothing has shaken their resolve.

 

“It sounded crazy then, but it doesn’t sound as crazy now,” Sherman said. “In training camp, guys were saying Super Bowl or bust because we knew the talent that we had. … But it’s not going to sound as wild now.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

With two first round picks headed to Jacksonville, the Rams needed to win their JALEN RAMSEY-MARCUS PETERS quarterback manuverings in the short term.  Not looking good.  Lindsey Thiry and Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

Apparently Marcus Peters had more hard feelings about the Los Angeles Rams’ decision to trade him to the Baltimore Ravens last month than the cornerback originally let on.

 

On Monday, after the Ravens embarrassed the Rams 45-6 on Monday Night Football, Peters engaged in a verbal altercation with cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whom the Rams acquired only hours after trading Peters away. Then, as Peters made his way up the L.A. Memorial Coliseum tunnel to the visitor’s locker room, he hollered a choice phrase in the direction of his former team.

 

“Kicking the Rams’ ass out of the playoffs,” Peters yelled.

 

The loss dropped the Rams to 6-5 and delivered a massive blow to their playoff chances a season after they appeared in Super Bowl LIII. The Ravens improved to 9-2 and are among the favorites to appear in Super Bowl LIV.

 

After the game, broadcast cameras showed Peters hugging a Rams staff member when Ramsey approached. The two engaged in a verbal altercation that required security and staff to intervene and separate them.

 

Ramsey would not entertain questions about the exchange after the game.

 

“If you’ve got questions about the game, I’ll answer that,” said Ramsey, who had one pass deflection and eight tackles. “Other than that, I ain’t going to answer no B.S.”

 

After his exchange with Ramsey, Peters eventually retreated to the visitors locker room while delivering a profanity-laced rant to no one in particular. Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant attempted to greet him, but Peters brushed him aside.

 

Peters was not among the five players brought to the Ravens’ postgame podium to address reporters.

 

Peters finished Monday with eight tackles and intercepted a pass from quarterback Jared Goff. The interception was his third in five games with the Ravens.

 

“Yeah, that one, yeah,” Goff said, shaking his head and trailing off when asked about Peters’ pick. “He’s a great player. Marcus is one of my favorite guys I’ve played with, and he made a great play.”

 

Asked what the game meant for Peters, Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon replied, “Everything, man. He wanted to come in and get this win. You always do when you go back home.

 

“I don’t care if I go back to Grand Valley. If I’m playing against them, I want to whoop them. … For him to get that pick late in the game really killed the momentum. Really killed everything — they had a little bit of momentum, they was getting first downs, and Pete came up with that huge pick, and he going to let you know about it. We love that guy in the locker room.”

 

“Marcus out there doing what he does best,” said running back Todd Gurley, who was among Peters’ closest teammates during his 20-month stay in L.A. “He going to make his presence known. He going to make you pay for it. That’s kind of what he did tonight.”

 

With no intention of signing him to a long-term contract, the Rams traded Peters to the Ravens last month in exchange for a fifth-round pick and linebacker Kenny Young. Later the same day, the Rams sent two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire Ramsey, who is in the fourth season of his five-year rookie deal.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

QB LAMAR JACKSON went all Hollywood on Monday and now he is the hype pick for MVP.  Jim Trotter of NFL.com was among those enthralled:

 

Lamar Jackson threw for five touchdown passes and ran for 95 yards in just over three quarters Monday night on the worn turf in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but that did not speak to the true brilliance of his performance in the Ravens’ 45-6 victory over the Rams.

 

Normally when a team scores touchdowns on its first six possessions while yielding only two field goals, when it sucks all of the oxygen out of the stadium with advantages of 14-0 in the first quarter and 28-6 at the half, the game advances from boring to unwatchable. But Jackson’s ability to turn the mundane into the spectacular caused fans across America to leave the remote on the table until they were sure his work was done for the evening.

 

I know this to be true because friends were texting me late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. One went so far as to call the game “fun” to watch. Why? Because Jackson has special gifts that allow him to do things no other quarterback in the game can do at this moment, at least not with the speed and flair that he possesses. He makes you hold your breath because you suddenly believe the impossible is possible.

 

The Rams (6-5) desperately needed a victory to keep their playoff hopes on life support. They acknowledged beforehand that this was a “must” game for them. And yet they looked hapless against Jackson. They had no answer for him as a passer or a runner.

 

He consistently made them pay for playing outside leverage in man coverage near the goal line, pinpointing passes to receivers who had taken inside releases, two of them for touchdowns to Marquise Brown in the first quarter. He was no less effective on called runs, at times leaving the Rams grasping at air because of his speed and cutting ability.

 

But what truly makes Jackson must-see TV is his ability to turn nothing into something. Like late in the first half, when he fumbled the snap while attempting a fake handoff from the shotgun formation. Instead of giving up on the play, he picked up the ball while keeping his eyes downfield, took off toward the line, split the defense and sprinted 29 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram.

 

“He’s amazing,” said Rams safety Eric Weddle. “He’s one of a kind.”

 

Jackson has been amazing during the Ravens’ seven consecutive wins, which matches their longest streak since 2000. He has thrown for 12 touchdowns over the last three games, his five on Monday tying for his career-high. He also has rushed for 568 yards over the last six games and is on pace to break the single-season rushing record for a quarterback that Michael Vick set in 2006 with 1,039 yards.

 

Vick was on hand for part of the game Monday, and a week earlier he acknowledged watching every snap in that weekend’s game win which Jackson threw for four touchdowns and rushed for 79 yards. And while their names often are mentioned in the same sentence, the truth is that they are not the same player. Vick was never the passer from the pocket that Jackson is.

 

Ironically, that was supposed to be the knock on Jackson coming out of Louisville — that he could not win from the pocket. Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian even suggested before the draft that Jackson move to wide receiver, a lazy analysis that was an insult to the player and everything he had accomplished.

 

Polian has since apologized, perhaps because Jackson’s success as both a runner and a passer are undeniable. But, for me, the apology means nothing if Polian scouts the next young, black, dual-threat quarterback in the same way he did Jackson. Changed behavior equals sincerity. His words matter because he is respected. It’s not a reach to say they could have impacted some personnel people, who passed on Jackson until retiring Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome traded back into the first round to select him with the last pick of the round.

 

Granted, Jackson did not fit the mold of the “traditional” NFL pocket passer. But more and more coaches and scouts are pointing out that the position is going through a transition. With so many colleges now relying on mobile, read-option quarterbacks, it was a matter of time before it infiltrated the NFL. Jackson and players like Arizona rookie No. 1 pick Kyler Murray could accelerate the process.

 

That said, it’s foolish to think you’re going to find a Lamar Jackson around every corner. Multiple members of the organization use the word “generational” when discussing him. In addition to possessing sublime talent, he has that “it” factor that makes others gravitate to him and rally around him.

 

“Everybody has been trying to define leadership for years, but you know it when you see it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said outside the postgame interview tent. “Lamar has genuine, unabridged humility. We have a saying: humility with a hard edge. He has all that. He’s one of the most humble and yet at the same time most confident people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s been raised the right way. Give his mom and his family a lot of credit.”

 

I will never forget the photo of Jackson and his mom essentially sitting alone in the green room at the draft, waiting to hear his name called as it started to look as if he would fall out of the first round in part because they were adamant that Jackson was a quarterback and was not willing to be a receiver, a returner or a gimmick. Their circle was small and tight. You didn’t have to believe in him because he believed in himself.

 

Credit also goes to Harbaugh for not dipping his toe in the waters with Jackson. He chose to build his offense around his quarterback’s skillset rather than make Jackson adjust to the system the Ravens had run under predecessor Joe Flacco, a pure pocket passer. Harbaugh changed offensive coordinators, promoting Greg Roman, who had experience working with a player with Jackson’s skills from his time as San Francisco’s coordinator when Colin Kaepernick was there.

 

When I spoke to Roman earlier this year about Jackson, he marveled at the youngster. “Lamar is a special talent,” he said. “I’m hoping he can become a great one.”

 

If he fails it won’t be from a lack of effort or focus. He finished 15 of 20 for 169 yards and five scores — he was 9 of 9 for 87 yards and three scores at the half — but refused to be satisfied. He mentioned the fumble late in the first half and said one of his passes to Brown did not have the proper placement.

 

None of this surprises the Ravens, or me. I met with Jackson the day after the draft and threw a hypothetical at him: If you could only have one or the other, a Super Bowl ring or a Hall of Fame jacket, which would it be?

 

Jackson didn’t hesitate. A Super Bowl ring, he said.

 

“If you’re winning Super Bowls,” he continued, “things like gold jackets can follow.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

Doug Marrone is sticking with his embattled DC, unlike last year when he jettisoned the OC.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett with five games left in the 2018 season, but they aren’t planning any big moves on the coaching staff with five games left in this season.

 

That was the word from head coach Doug Marrone on Monday. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash is the coach under the microscope this time as the Jags run defense has fallen apart during their three-game losing streak. They have allowed 699 rushing yards to the Texans, Colts and Titans in blowout losses that have pushed them out of playoff contention.

 

Marrone said “you have to look at the staff and see if there’s someone that can do it better” in order to make a change at this point in the year. He doesn’t see that kind of upgrade on hand this season.

 

“I don’t believe there’s a change I can make right now that would make sense for me — or this team — to help us win,” Marrone said, via the team’s website.

 

The Jaguars made a similar decision with Marrone, General Manager Dave Caldwell and executive vice president for football operations Tom Coughlin after a disappointing 2018 season. One imagines that it is unlikely to play out the same way if things don’t take a big turn for the better in the coming weeks.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald starts a rumor by purporting to stop it.

 

Sometimes stories take on a life of their own and grow into legendary tales. And sometimes stories take on a life of their own and grow into ugly, bleeding, false lies.

 

And this is about the latter.

 

To wit: Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross never told general manager Chris Grier to trade down during the 2018 draft and pick Lamar Jackson.

 

Multiple sources, including people in the Dolphins draft room at the time, insist over and over this never happened.

 

But the Dolphins’ fan base has repeated this falsehood time and again — and particularly on social media Monday night when Jackson threw five touchdown passes and ran for 95 yards in a Baltimore Ravens “Monday Night Football” victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

 

The fact Jackson is now a dynamic talent and is having an MVP candidate season has made people in South Florida crazy. They’re adding Jackson to the list of quarterbacks someone within the Dolphins organization wanted but decided not to land.

 

But Jackson cannot join Drew Brees on that list.

 

Because the reporting that began this rumor is incorrect.

 

So what really happened that fateful April day in 2018? Like many fallacies, this one is based on some truth. And the truth is this:

 

When the Dolphins were on the clock, with the No. 11 overall selection in the first round, Grier was convinced Minkah Fitzpatrick was his pick. And there was no debate about that until Ross, who has owned the Dolphins since 2009, suggested a different course than simply picking the Alabama defensive back.

 

Ross suggested the team consider trading down from the pick. He wanted to look around and see if his team might trade down, pick up an extra first-round pick, and perhaps still land Fitzpatrick or a player of similar talent. This has been confirmed for me by Ross himself in a 2018 email.

 

And, in hindsight, this would have been the smart approach. Multiple picks that came after No. 11 produced very good players while Fitzpatrick’s career span in Miami one full season before he was traded to Pittsburgh.

 

But Ross never went to the next step and said, “And let’s pick Lamar Jackson while we’re at it!”

 

Reports and columns claiming that secondary step occurred have been prolific. And even I wrote in September that if it happened, it would be a bad look for Grier. But in that same column I stated I had not been able to independently confirm those prior reports.

 

Well, now I have the answer.

 

Again … it did not happen.

 

End of myth.

 

By the way, Jackson was picked No. 32 overall. He was the fifth quarterback taken in the first round that year after Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. And looking back now, it suggests Jackson might be the best of the group based on his current play.

 

But I would be careful to say the Dolphins would be enjoying the fruits of what Jackson has become if they had picked him. In Baltimore, the entire organization has transformed itself top to bottom to make sure Jackson succeeds.

 

The philosophy changed. The offense changed. The offensive coordinator changed. The personnel was adjusted to fit Jackson’s abilities.

 

Jackson is in a perfect situation for him.

 

I have serious doubts the Dolphins would have and could have embraced similar significant changes to make Lamar Jackson work in Miami. And we’ll probably never know because no one in that Dolphins draft room suggested drafting him in 2018.

 

But left unsaid here is where the Dolphins might have valued Jackson.  What if Fitzpatrick was gone when the Dolphins picked later.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

MONEY MAKERS

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com looks at the free agents making money this season:

 

Once an afterthought in the loaded crop of 2020 free-agent quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill is playing his way onto the Titans’ roster a year from now.

 

Tannehill has earned future money and playing time during his five sturdy starts this season, the goal of any impending free agent. In Tennessee’s resounding 42-20 win over the Jaguars on Sunday, Tannehill played like a better version of Marcus Mariota, smarter about when to use his legs and more willing to make tight-window throws. No one will confuse Tannehill with a top-10 difference-maker, but league-average quarterbacks hold plenty of value, especially for this balanced Titans roster.

 

It’s hard to imagine the Titans letting go of Tannehill, who signed a one-year deal with Tennessee this March after being acquired via trade, with the 31-year-old making sense as part of a two-part plan at the position that also should include a draft pick. As the Titans learned this season and throughout the Mariota era, it’s dangerous to have all your organizational eggs in one basket at quarterback.

 

* * * * *

 

Tannehill’s money-making stretch got me thinking about how the upcoming free-agent market has changed since I ranked the top-25 free agents in August. In this week’s Debrief, I’ll take a quick tour around the quarterback position and beyond, examining which players have helped and hurt their free agency value in the first 12 weeks of the 2019 season.

 

The 2020 Quarterback Market, in a series of overly declarative sentences

1) The contracts of Tom Brady and Drew Brees make it nearly impossible to imagine them changing teams in the offseason. Though the voidable years on both players’ deals mean they are technically bound for free agency, the financial pain for the Patriots and the Saints would be too great to let them leave, because of the massive amounts of dead money the teams would incur.

 

2) It’s far more possible that Philip Rivers, carrying a 15:14 TD-to-INT ratio as the 37-year-old QB of a 4-7 team, will leave the Chargers after his current contract runs out this offseason than I ever would have expected back in August. His performance over the next five weeks looms large, but I’d expect there to be a market for Rivers if the Chargers try to lowball him to stay.

 

3) Based on the contract extension Bucs general manager Jason Licht signed before the season and the public comments of Bruce Arians, there’s likely a greater chance that Jameis Winston stays in Tampa in 2020 than Bucs fans want to believe. This will be especially true if Winston pulls off his patented post-playoff-relevancy strong December.

 

4) Dak Prescott will eventually be paid a lot of money to remain the Cowboys’ starting quarterback for a very long time. Even with Prescott having a career season in his walk year, the details of how they get to that point aren’t that fascinating, I promise.

 

5) After performing well as an emergency starter for New Orleans this season, Teddy Bridgewater should have a better market as a free agent than he did a year ago, when he signed on with the Saints for a one-year deal worth up to $12.5 million. But I still wouldn’t expect him to get true starter money over $20 million per year. Don’t discount the Saints trying to continue having their Brees King Cake and eating it, too, with Bridgewater staying as the backup-in-waiting. They will have to be creative to pull that off, though.

 

6) The Jaguars will be a wild card in the quarterback sweepstakes. After getting blown out in three successive weeks, it’s possible to imagine owner Shad Khan cleaning house completely, from the front office down to the coaching staff. That would only raise further questions about the futures of 2019 free-agency prize Nick Foles and rookie Gardner Minshew.

 

Free agents who have made themselves money this season

 

1) Bucs outside linebacker Shaq Barrett’s monster performance against the Falcons’ Jake Matthews on Sunday was a reminder that Barrett has mostly maintained his scorching start to the season. Barrett had a sack, a pass defensed, a forced fumble, four more quarterback hits and five hurries, according to Pro Football Focus, in addition to forcing a few backbreaking penalties by Matthews. Signed to a one-year contract worth up to $5 million before this season, Barrett will be a strong candidate for the franchise tag.

 

2) The Steelers surprised a lot of folks by paying Bud Dupree $9.22 million this season as part of the fifth-year option on his contract. The former first-round pick responded with a career season that includes excellent play against the run, seven sacks and 35 total pressures. PFF has him ranked sixth this season among 3-4 outside linebackers, and he figures to be a priority free agent for some team, possibly the Steelers.

 

3) Matthew Judon is following in a long line of Ravens edge rushers who have seen a jump in production and playing time in their contract year, leading to free-agency riches. I don’t think he’s as big a difference maker as Za’Darius Smith, who left Baltimore for a four-year, $66 million pact with the Packers last March, but the Ravens have learned the hard way how difficult it is to keep pass rushers. For once, it doesn’t appear that there is much young future talent in the pass-rushing pipeline.

 

4) Arik Armstead may be playing too well for the 49ers to keep him. San Francisco general manager John Lynch is going to have tough decisions to make, because so many of his players are performing like stars. Armstead’s 10 sacks and fantastic run defense have come out of nowhere after the 2015 first-round pick battled injuries and ineffectiveness early in his career.

 

5) Remember when Eli Apple was supposedly a first-round bust with the Giants? His excellent play at cornerback in New Orleans over the last 12 months reflects poorly on Big Blue, who traded him to the Saints in October of 2018.

 

6) Broncos safety Justin Simmons flashed big-time talent in his second season, took a step back in his third and put it all together under coach Vic Fangio this season. He’s a strong candidate for the franchise tag.

 

Other players who have grown their future paycheck: Saints safety Vonn Bell, Cowboys defensive tackle Maliek Collins, Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake and Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson.

 

Players who haven’t helped their value

1) Some team will take a chance on A.J. Green next offseason at a reasonably big price tag. The longtime Bengal is a Hall of Fame talent who has only produced when he’s played. There’s just no way, however, his contract will be as big as possible after he missed the first 11 games of this season. He’s missed 24 games and counting since 2016 started.

 

2) The Seahawks paid Ezekiel Ansah $9 million on a one-year prove-it contract this offseason. This is often the type of last big-ticket deal for formerly dominant players on the way down to the NFL’s middle class in pay structure. That should definitely be the case after a rough season for Ansah.

 

3) Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue figures to be among my top 20 free agents in March, possibly among the top 10. It’s hard to find a consistent pass rusher in free agency, and he qualifies. With that said, Ngakoue — who held out this summer, to no avail — could use a strong finish to the season, because he’s been less disruptive than in previous seasons. After averaging 73 total disruptions in 2017 and 2018, Ngakoue has 31 this season, according to PFF, despite an uptick in snap percentage.

 

4) The less said about Melvin Gordon’s holdout, the better. His play has picked up markedly after a slow return to the Chargers lineup in October, but he’s unlikely to be the flag bearer for getting running backs paid like he was hoping.

 

5) Eagles wideout Nelson Agholor is an example of when fifth-year options go wrong. He’s going to finish his five-year rookie deal without logging a single season over 800 yards. This year, though he’s had every chance to step up, he may log his third sub-500-yard campaign.

 

6) Some team will bring in Marcus Mariota as a quality backup quarterback next season, but it’s hard to imagine him getting a contract much better than what Teddy Bridgewater signed for in New Orleans this year.

 

7) Colts tight end Eric Ebron is an excellent role player, but his 13-touchdown 2018 season stands out as a career year rather than a sign of consistency to come for the former Lions first-round pick, who landed on IR on Monday.

 

Superstars who have solidified their place high on free-agent mountain

1) There is a worthwhile debate to be had about the efficacy of paying any defensive player more than $20 million per year in a salary-cap system, unless that player is in the prime of a Hall of Fame career. There is not a debate over whether Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney will get that type of money on the open market, because that’s what he’ll be worth in a system that doesn’t limit his choices. Clowney’s representatives smartly got the Seahawks to agree not to use the franchise tag on him when Seattle acquired him from Houston, Clowney just needs to make sure his current hip ailment doesn’t turn into a serious issue.

 

2) I don’t care that Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper was shut out against Stephon Gilmore on a windy, rainy day in Foxborough. He’s proven that he’s a true No. 1 receiver in Dallas and will make any offense substantially better. Imagine if the Raiders had a guy like this!

 

3) Perhaps Kansas City DT Chris Jones doesn’t have the name recognition of the guys above, but he plays like a superstar. The Chiefs will surely use the tag on him if necessary. Otherwise, he’d be my pick as the highest-paid non-quarterback in this free agency class.

 

Veterans earning another nice contract

1) Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy is the best front-seven player and the best pass rusher on the best defense in the league. There are enough Bill Belichick disciples around to drive up his value in free agency to its actual worth.

 

2) Robert Quinn’s burst in Dallas reminds me of his days as a St. Louis Ram. Previous back issues remain a concern, but they haven’t shown up in 2019.

 

3) 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan spent years pining for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was just acquired from the Broncos in October. Look for the 49ers to keep that relationship going.

 

4) Quality cornerbacks are hard to find, and the Eagles’ Ronald Darby has improved throughout the year since returning from ACL surgery.

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Big ratings for FOX.

 

The Cowboys’ annual Thanksgiving Day game frequently ranks as the NFL’s most-watched regular-season game. But their game against the Bills on Thursday will have a hard time topping what the Cowboys-Patriots drew Sunday.

 

The game received a 19.5 overnight rating and a 40 share nationally. That’s tied for the highest rating for any regular-season NFL game on any network since 2007, according to Fox Sports.

 

It tied for the most-watched Fox broadcast since 1996.

 

The Patriots’ 13-9 victory over the the Cowboys was the most-watched event on television since the Academy Awards in February, according to Sports Media Watch. It was the most watched sporting event since the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

 

Boston was the top-rated market for Sunday’s game with a 42.6 rating and 67 share. The game got a 32.5/62 in the Dallas market.

 

Unfortunately for the NFL, the teams will not meet again in the regular season for another four years.

 

What if it had been a better (defined here as higher scoring) game?

 

 

AIKMAN EFFICIENCY RATINGS

 

There is a new team atop the Aikman Combined Efficiency Ratings as Baltimore jumps from 3rd to 1st after Week 12 of the 2019 season following their Monday Night beating of the Rams. 

 

It’s practically a three-way tie among the three teams widely believed to have had the best seasons so far. 

 

The Ravens, now 174.4 in the Aikman Combined, are doing it with an Aikman Offense that is striving to become the first in Aikman Ratings history (back to 1995) to top 100.  The current season record is 99.8 by the 2013 Broncos.

 

The Patriots (174.2) are doing it with a dominating defense that now has a 93.8 rating.  In an age of offensive expansion, only three Aikman Defenses have ever topped a season-long rating of 90 – and none since the 2006 Ravens.  Last year, the top Aikman Defense, the Bears, were just at 81.2 as the only team above 75.

 

And the 49ers are doing it with the #2 Aikman Defense and the #10 Offense.

 

As a result, the three teams are collectively among the most dominating in Aikman history.  If they can stay in the 174 range, they will rank in the top five since 1995.

 

Top AIKMAN COMBINED RATINGS

 

2007       New England Patriots         177.8

2019      Baltimore Ravens              174.4

2019      New England Patriots        174.2

2019      San Francisco 49ers          174.1    

2000       Baltimore Ravens                               174.0      

2012       New England Patriots         173.9     

1996       Green Bay Packers             173.7                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                               

                                                                ——–     Aikman  ———            ——-               NFL        ———

Rank       W-L        Team                      Comb       Off        Def                      Off             Def         Comb

1                9-2        Ravens                  174.4      101.8      72.5                          2            11           13

2              10-1        Patriots                  174.2        80.4      93.8                        17             2            19

3              10-1        49ers                      174.1        86.1      88.0                          6              1              7

4                8-3        Vikings                   165.5        91.6      73.9                          8            15           23

5                6-5        Cowboys               164.3        92.2      72.1                          1              6              7

6                8-3        Bills                        160.7        84.4      76.2                        18             3            21

7                9-2        Seahawks             160.6        89.1      71.4                          5            23           28

8                9-2        Saints                     158.0        87.2      70.8                        12           10           22

9                6-5        Colts                       155.3        86.1      69.2                        22           13           35

10             7-4        Chiefs                    155.2        89.5      65.7                          3            25           28

11             8-3        Packers                 154.2        86.1      68.1                        21           28           49

12             5-6        Eagles                   152.9        82.4      70.4                        23           12           35

13             6-5        Titans                     152.5        83.6      69.0                        24           17           41

14             7-4        Texans                   151.4        89.9      61.6                          7            20           27

15             4-7        Buccaneers          149.2        82.4      66.7                          4            21           25

16             5-6        Browns                  148.1        79.8      68.3                        15           14           29

17             5-6        Bears                     148.0        72.9      75.1                        29             4            33

18             6-5        Steelers                 147.6        70.2      77.4                        28             7            35

19             6-5        Rams                     146.7        78.6      68.1                        16           16           32

20             3-8        Broncos                 146.0        72.3      73.7                        27           8              35

21             3-7-1    Lions                      145.7        83.8      61.8                          9            29           38

22            4-7        Chargers               145.6        78.0      67.6                        13             5            18

23             6-5        Raiders                  143.9        83.8      60.1                        14           24           38

24             5-6        Panthers                142.3        79.2      63.1                        19           19           38

25             4-7        Jaguars                 141.8        78.1      63.7                        11           18           29

26             3-8        Falcons                  141.6        81.0      60.6                        10           26           36

27             2-9        Giants                    141.4        73.7      67.8                        25           27           52

28             3-7-1    Cardinals              139.5        81.5      58.0                        20           31           51

29             4-7        Jets                         136.2        67.3      68.9                        31             8            39

30            0-11      Bengals                 128.3        65.8      62.5                        26           32           58

31            2-9        Redskins               128.2        63.2      64.9                        32           22           54

32            2-9        Dolphins                                124.2        68.9      55.4                        30           30           60

                                                                                                                                                               

                                NFL Average:       149.9      81.0        69.0