AROUND THE NFL

Even as NFL players get all indignant at how the owners take advantage of them, it should be noted that they take in about three times as much as they did in the mid 90s, when they still made quite a bit of money.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL’s salary cap is rising again.

 

The league announced today that the salary cap will rise to somewhere in the neighborhood of $190 million in 2019. The 2018 cap is set at $177.2 million.

 

“The NFL informed clubs today that the projections for the 2019 salary cap are in the range of $187.0 million to $191.1 million,” the league said in a statement. “This marks a 40% increase in just five years since the 2014 season ($133.0 million) and would be the 6th consecutive year the cap is projected to climb more than $10 million per club year over year. Total projected player costs, including benefits, will be more than $7.3 billion in 2019.”

 

The first year the NFL had a salary cap, in 1994, it was $34.6 million. That would be about $59 million in today’s dollars. So if the cap had merely kept pace with inflation, it would be less than one-third of what it will be in 2019.

– – –

Smith of PFT also has this on how six teams can punch their postseason dance card with a win this week:

 

So far we know three of this year’s 12 playoff teams. If everything goes as expected, that number will triple by the end of the week.

 

The Chiefs have already clinched an AFC playoff berth, and the Rams and Saints have already clinched their divisions. If all of the favored teams win in Week 15, six more teams will clinch playoff berths. Those teams are:

 

Patriots: Clinch the AFC East if they beat the Steelers. The Patriots are 1.5-point favorites.

 

Seahawks: Clinch an NFC wild card berth if they beat the 49ers. The Seahawks are 4.5-point favorites.

 

Bears: Clinch the NFC North if they beat the Packers. The Bears are 6-point favorites.

 

Cowboys: Clinch the NFC East if they beat the Colts, or if Washington and Philadelphia both lose. The Cowboys are 2.5-point underdogs, but Washington is a 7-point underdog and Philadelphia is a 9.5-point underdog.

 

Chargers: Clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Chiefs on Thursday night, or if the Steelers and Dolphins lose. The Chargers are 3.5-point underdogs, but the Steelers are 1.5-point underdogs and the Dolphins are 7-point underdogs.

 

Texans: Clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Jets and the Steelers and Dolphins lose. The Texans are 6.5-point favorites, the Steelers are 1.5-point underdogs and the Dolphins are 7-point underdogs.

 

Upsets can change everything, but if form holds we’ll have a very good idea of what the playoff picture looks like after Week 15. Which could mean some boring games in Week 16 and Week 17, as the teams that already know they’re in the playoffs start resting their starters and looking ahead to January.

 

Here is what The538.com says are each team’s chances of advancing.  We will do the sort by playoff chance, but you’ll note that some teams are much more likely or less likely to win the Super Bowl by The 538’s ELO calculations:

 

                                   Playoffs Division     bye          SB win

New Orleans    11-2                              95%         27%   

Kansas City      11-2                 90%        90%         21%   

L.A. Rams         11-2                             96%         14%

New England      9-4    >99%      98%        79%         13%   

L.A. Chargers    10-3   >99%      10%        10%           6%    

Dallas                  8-5     >99%        99%       <1%         4%    

Chicago              9-4     >99%        98%          8%         4%    

Seattle                 8-5    >99%       —           —             3%

Pittsburgh           7-5-1    62%        56%          1%         3%

Houston              9-4       96%         80%         18%       2%

Baltimore            7-6        55%        43%        <1%       2%    

Minnesota           6-6-1    57%         2%          —          1%

Tennessee          7-6        34%     12%            <1%     <1%

Indianapolis        7-6         27%      7%            <1%      <1%

Miami                  7-6         20%      2%            <1%     <1%

Philadelphia        6-7        18%       <1%         —        <1%    

Washington         6-7         10%      <1%         —        <1%    

Carolina              6-7          9%        –              —         <1%    

Denver                6-7         5%       —              —        <1%    

Green Bay          5-7-1      3%      —               —        <1%    

Detroit                 5-8         3%       —              —        <1%    

Atlanta                4-9         <1%      —              —        <1%    

N.Y. Giants         5-8        <1%       —             —        <1%    

Tampa Bay         5-8         <1%      —             —        <1%    

Cleveland           5-7-1       <1%     <1%         —        <1%    

Cincinnati           5-8           <1%   <1%           —        <1%    

 

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

OC and reputed QB wizard John DeFillippo is shown the door by Coach Mike Zimmer.  Ben Goessling in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

 

As Vikings coach Mike Zimmer explained his decision to fire offensive coordinator John DeFilippo the morning after the team’s 21-7 loss at Seattle, he fixated on a stretch that’s seen the team go from the top of the NFC North to a fight for the final playoff spot.

 

“We had to shake things up and try to get better as a football team together,” Zimmer said Tuesday. “I didn’t feel like we were going in that direction based on the past four or five weeks. It wasn’t about one game. It’s about the direction we were going throughout the latter part of the season.”

 

DeFilippo took the fall for a clunky offense that’s also sputtered because of a beleaguered offensive line and quarterback Kirk Cousins’ ill-timed turnovers. But his departure also comes at the end of a two-month span that revealed the philosophical gap between the 40-year-old coordinator and his boss.

 

Zimmer first publicly called for more offensive balance the day after the Nov. 18 loss to the Bears; sources have said his push to run more started internally around midseason. He reiterated concerns about the commitment to the run after a Dec. 2 loss to the Patriots.

 

The Vikings were eighth in the league in yards and 10th in points through seven games, after they put up a season-high 37 points on Oct. 21, improving to 4-2-1 with a victory over the Jets on a windy day at MetLife Stadium. In their six games since, they have averaged 324 yards and 17.5 points per game, ranking near the bottom of the league in both categories.

 

In three of those six games, the Vikings ran on a majority of first and second downs in the first half, though their commitment to the run has sometimes flagged, most notably at New England, when they ran only six times in the second half after averaging 9.6 yards per carry in the first.

 

The Vikings ran 21 times in their first 48 plays Monday, though they threw on four of five third-and-short situations while the game was still within reach, converting only one on a Cousins QB sneak. They came within minutes of their first shutout since a 34-0 loss to the Packers in 2007. By Tuesday morning, Zimmer decided he needed to make a change.

 

“I just didn’t think we were making enough advancement in this part of the season to continue to go forward the way we want to go forward,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not going to get into specifics about some of the things. I just felt it was in the best interest of the team to make this move now.”

 

Stefanski gets a look

 

Former QB coach Kevin Stefanski is the Vikings’ fourth offensive coordinator — and their second interim coordinator — in three seasons. Two years ago, Norv Turner’s resignation opened the door for Pat Shurmur to go from the interim job to the permanent spot, which in turn got him the job as New York Giants coach. Now, the Vikings will turn to Stefanski, whom they blocked from joining Shurmur after hiring DeFilippo last offseason.

 

When the Giants hired Shurmur, following a season where he had directed the 10th-highest scoring offense in the NFL, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman spoke of the team’s desire for continuity on offense. But instead of hiring Stefanski — the longest-tenured assistant in the organization and someone who was thought to be the early frontrunner for the job — Zimmer and Spielman flew to Philadelphia on Feb. 8 to hire DeFilippo hours after the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade.

 

In doing so, they landed a descendant of Andy Reid’s coaching philosophy who learned under Doug Pederson in Philadelphia. A young offensive mind who had already received head coaching interest following his work with Carson Wentz as Eagles quarterbacks coach, DeFilippo played a pivotal role in the Vikings’ decision to go after Cousins in free agency, and he met with Zimmer to revisit how the Eagles had dissected the Vikings defense in the NFC Championship Game. DeFilippo often threw to set up the run; Stefanski’s tutelage under Shurmur might prompt a return to more of what the Vikings did last season.

 

The Vikings’ offensive future, though, is far from settled.

 

Zimmer responded to criticism over the decision to block Stefanski at the combine in March, saying he had shown loyalty to his offensive coaches by not firing them after bad seasons, and he expected them to return the favor by not seeking promotions with other teams after good ones. Now, Stefanski will get a three-game audition in the job he wanted 10 months ago, with his contract believed to be expiring at the end of the year. Asked if Stefanski would be a long-term candidate, Zimmer said: “We’ll see how things develop here. Obviously, it would be in his best interest to do well.”

 

And multiple sources have said Zimmer’s and Spielman’s contracts are up after the 2019 season, meaning the Vikings could face decisions about new deals for both men this offseason If the situation is not resolved before the Vikings find their next permanent offensive coordinator, candidates — Stefanski or otherwise — will have to weigh the job’s inherent risks against the upside of an offense replete with weapons like Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Dalvin Cook.

 

Jim Souhan offers this explanation in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

 

Kirk Cousins is shrinking before our eyes, melting like sugar in hot tea, and unlike his frazzled and frayed predecessors, he is capable of detonating an entire franchise.

 

Cousins’ wobbly kneed performance Monday at Seattle got offensive coordinator John DeFilippo fired, a move that should be viewed as a preview of coming events should the current Vikings quarterback continue to look small as a theater mouse on a large stage.

 

If Cousins can’t demonstrate more mental toughness in big games, if he can’t deliver playoff victories to a team that signed him specifically to do just that, the general manager who paid him big money and the coach who was handed a fully funded team might be the next to forfeit their TCO Performance Center key cards.

 

Less than a year after playing in the NFC Championship Game with a backup quarterback, the Vikings are a .500 team with one of the league’s most expensive. They remain likely to make the playoffs, but Cousins’ inability to look even composed in three telling road games — at Chicago, New England and Seattle — has made the prospects of a playoff appearance unsavory.

 

The worst part of Cousins’ implosion is that he looks unnerved. Having covered the NFL since 1989, I don’t say this lightly.

 

Football players regularly display an astonishing level of physical bravery and mental fortitude. They accept a high risk of injury and the likelihood of pain. I wouldn’t question a football player’s resolve if squeamishness wasn’t so obvious.

 

The Vikings would have been better off in their past three losses if Cousins had channeled his inner Favre and tried to wedge passes between defenders — or if he had channeled his inner Bridgewater and maintained his cool. The Vikings would be better off if his problem was throwing interceptions. It’s easier to coach bad passes out of a quarterback than it is to teach aggression under pressure.

 

Of Cousins’ many unsightly moments Monday, two linger like bad smells: His backward pass to Latavius Murray and his forced pass to Kyle Rudolph in the end zone.

 

On his backward pass, he had Stefon Diggs open. He also could have taken a sack. Instead, he threw a risky pass with little chance of producing a positive play. Murray did well to avert disaster, but Cousins shouldn’t have put him in that position.

 

On the fourth-down pass into the end zone, Rudolph was not open, and Adam Thielen, just a few yards away, was alone. The only way a quarterback throws that pass to Rudolph is if he had predetermined that he will have no time to read the defense after the snap.

 

Here’s the problem: He did have time to recognize that Thielen was open for the touchdown.

 

There are other culprits here. DeFilippo wasn’t able to help Cousins, develop a running game or conjure the magic that Pat Shurmur did a year ago. The offensive line has regressed since its good-enough performance of 2017.

 

Zimmer needs to prove, after the promotion of Kevin Stefanski to replace DeFilippo, that he can get along with at least half of the offensive coordinators he has employed. And there are those in the organization, and close to the organization, who believed that Stefanski should have gotten the offensive coordinator job when Shurmur left. If Stefanski outperforms DeFilippo, the Vikings’ brain trust will have another decision for which to answer.

 

Zimmer’s punch card is filling up. If he parts with one more offensive coordinator, he likely will receive a no-expenses paid trip to his home in Kentucky.

 

The Cousins signing changed everything for Zimmer and the Vikings, turning them from a team admirably doing its best with what it had at quarterback into one supposedly built to win big. High expectations can end careers.

 

Cousins was supposed to erase the stigma of the Vikings’ decades-long inability to develop their own starting quarterback. Instead, in three nights in the mist and cold of a budding winter, he has endangered his reputation and the jobs of the people who depend on him.

 

TE KYLE RUDOLPH seems to think DeFillippo had stripped the Vikings offense of its identity.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com backs things up with some numbers:

 

The Minnesota Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on Tuesday after the team’s latest offensive flop.

 

Minnesota has totaled 300 yards of total offense in four of its last five games, averaging 15.6 points per game over that span.

 

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday the Vikings had lost their identity in recent weeks.

 

“I think it was public throughout the last month. The frustrations we were having on offense, we weren’t sustaining drives, we weren’t staying on the field converting third downs. We weren’t running the football enough. We really didn’t have an identity,” Rudolph said. “But then you go back a short two weeks ago, and we played really well on Sunday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers. We spread the ball around to all our playmakers. We moved the ball up and down the field. And then we got away from that the last couple weeks. Definitely could sense a frustration from everybody on offense, especially last night.”

 

It’s an oversimplification to simply say the Vikings need to run the ball more. With playmakers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the outside and a poor offensive line, the quick passing game is Minnesota’s strength. Teams throw the ball to get a lead, and run to close games out.

 

One issue under DeFilippo was situational game management. Too often in third-and-short the Vikings opted to pass instead of run for a first down. As we saw Monday night, the results were not good (2 of 10 on third down versus the Seahawks).

 

“It’s one thing, converting third-and-long in this league is really hard, but we had a lot of third-and-manageable last night that we weren’t able to execute on,” Rudolph said. “That’s what it always comes down to. No matter what the play call is, no matter what’s asked of us, we have to go out and execute as players and that’s where we came up short. Unfortunately, that cost somebody their job today because we didn’t execute well enough.”

 

Rudolph said the players must take ownership of the struggles and can’t expect a spark magically to happen after DeFilippo’s firing.

 

“As a guy on offense, I feel terrible for Flip that we didn’t do enough for him to keep his job,” Rudolph said. “Bottom line is the players are the ones out there on Sundays or Monday night and we didn’t execute well enough for him to keep his job. I feel bad for him. I wish we could have done better. With that being said, they felt like it was time to make a change.”

 

It’s fair and natural for players to blame themselves. DeFilippo, however, also shoulders much of the culpability. Aside from getting pass-happy for stretches, DeFilippo bizarrely went away from play-action, one area quarterback Kirk Cousins excels.

 

The Vikings used play-action on just 18.6 percent of dropbacks (seventh-lowest in NFL) this season under DeFillippo, per Pro Football Focus. Minnesota used play-action on 27.8 percent of dropbacks with Pat Shurmur as the offensive coordinator in 2018 (second-highest in NFL). Cousins has been one of the best QBs in the NFL on play-action passes since he became a starter in 2015. Cousins has thrown 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a 113.0 passer rating on play-action, ranking first in completion percentage (72.2), second in yards per attempt (10.0) and second in passer rating on such plays.

 

Minnesota, still clinging to a playoff spot at 6-6-1, hopes canning DeFilippo lights a fire down the stretch.

 

Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report takes things out on QB KIRK COUSINS:

 

The Minnesota Vikings offense is awful under the supervision of John DeFilippo, and quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn’t played anywhere near a level to validate his three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract.

 

DeFilippo and Cousins both fooled the Vikings organization.

 

General manager Rick Spielman discussed the hiring of DeFilippo with NFL Network in March, via Terry Horstman of USA Today’s Vikings Wire:

 

“The number one thing we wanted to do was get the offensive coordinator hired first. So when we were able to hire John DeFilippo, we sat down as a scouting staff, as a coaching staff and listened to what he’s going to do from an offensive scheme standpoint and evaluated all the quarterbacks on our roster and felt very good about the guys we had on our roster. We just felt that Kirk was such a unique opportunity that rarely comes out, especially at that position. He’s a young quarterback that’s been healthy, that’s been productive in this league.”

 

DeFilippo hasn’t transitioned well from being the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterbacks coach to Minnesota’s offensive coordinator, and being healthy and productive doesn’t automatically make someone an elite quarterback.

 

Minnesota entered the offseason thinking it was only one pivotal piece away from legitimate Super Bowl contention after last year’s 13-3 regular-season effort and a loss to Philly in the NFC Championship Game.

 

The team supposedly made it that far in spite of its previous starter Case Keenum, not because of him.

 

Monday night’s 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field exposed the flawed Vikings offense, which has fallen to 18th in scoring at 22.9 points per game (eight spots lower than in 2017). Forget the late touchdown. A garbage-time score means the team was shut out for nearly 60 minutes.

 

Cousins signed with Minnesota without the resume to back up his expected status. The team overlooked one simple thing through the free-agent process: Cousins has never been a top-end starter. He is a slightly above-average signal-caller who leveraged his situation in Washington like Bobby Axelrod from Showtime’s Billions in order to maximize profit.

 

@CBSSportsHQ

 With the Vikings’ loss to Seattle, Kirk Cousins’ career record vs. teams above .500 falls to 4-24

 

The 30-year-old is what he’s always been: A distributor who plays well within an offense’s structure yet fails to elevate the play of those around him or extend an offense beyond its natural setup.

 

Three straight 4,000-yard campaigns somehow marked him as one of the best free agents in NFL history. Why? Because he’s in his prime, and organizations typically don’t let quality quarterbacks hit the open market. Yet the entire process became overblown.

 

Cousins is a solid quarterback, but he’s not a franchise-changer. This became obvious when he was placed in a poorly constructed offense with a subpar play-caller. Monday’s performance is a microcosm of bigger issues.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Can NICK FOLES save the Eagles season Sunday night in LA? Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz won’t practice Wednesday due to a back injury, and the team could ultimately shut down the starting quarterback for the rest of the 2018 season.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Wentz is not expected to play Sunday versus the Los Angeles Rams, per a source informed of the decision. Rapoport adds that given the timing of the back issue, Wentz might not play again in 2018. The Eagles are still gathering information on his health.

 

Wentz dealt with a back injury earlier in the season. The team believed it was under control, but it flared up again this week. Coach Doug Pederson noted Wednesday the back soreness did not occur during Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

 

With the 6-7 Eagles still owning an outside shot at the playoffs, losing Wentz for this week is a blow. Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will take over under center. Foles started the first two games of the season as Wentz returned from a torn ACL, completing 65 percent of his passes with one touchdown and one interception as the Eagles started 1-1.

 

If the Eagles play it safe and shut down Wentz for the season, they’ll need Foles to recapture his postseason magic from a year ago to keep their waning playoff hopes alive.

 

The back injury is the latest in a string of issues for Wentz, who played through a rib injury early in his rookie campaign (missed preseason games) and suffered a season-ending ACL tear last December.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

The City of Oakland has decided, via a lawsuit, to effectively kick the Raiders out for 2019.  Todd Strain of NBCSanDiego.com connects the dots on where the Silver and Black might call “home” next year:

 

The city of Oakland has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit trying to recover damages for the Oakland Raiders’ upcoming move to Las Vegas.

 

This legal maneuver has led to speculation that the Raiders could be playing next season in San Diego.  Let’s slow our jets on that one, but there continues to be a path towards the Silver and Black in San Diego in 2019.

 

First, let’s go over the facts of the lawsuit, then we’ll tackle the speculation of the Raiders football future.

 

The suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the Raiders, the NFL and the other 31 clubs seeks lost revenue, money Oakland taxpayers invested in the Raiders and other costs. The suit does not ask the court to prevent the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas but asks for damages that will help pay off the approximately $80 million in debt remaining from renovations on the Coliseum.

 

The city says the defendants violated federal antitrust laws and the league violated its own relocation policies when the teams voted in March 2017 to approve the Raiders’ decision to move to Las Vegas.

 

The Raiders will not move into their new stadium in Las Vegas until the 2020 NFL season, so the suit puts into question where the Raiders will play in 2019.

 

The Raiders do not have a lease for a home next year and team owner Mark Davis has previously  said he will not play in Oakland if a lawsuit were filed by the city against the team.

 

So if the Raiders don’t play in Oakland next season, what are the Raiders options?

 

San Diego has long been rumored as a potential temporary home. As have San Antonio, Reno, Santa Clara, Fresno and Las Vegas.

 

San Diego has a strong Raiders fan base and an empty NFL ready stadium.  Although bringing San Diego Consumer Credit Union Stadium up to NFL standards will take a little work, but not much. However, the NFL adding another team to a crowded southern California market, the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers are still trying to gain traction in their new locations, seems like a long shot.

 

As for Santa Clara, the idea is that the Raiders will play in the 49ers Levi Stadium. While that is geographically close, Mark Davis and 49ers officials are reportedly against the idea of sharing the stadium.

 

Other options include an earlier than expected move to Las Vegas to play in UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium, or a move to  Reno’s Mackay Stadium on the University of Nevada Reno campus.

 

San Antonio has experience as a temporary NFL home, hosting the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina.  San Antonio has previously been tied to Raiders relocation plans and has the 64,000 seat Alamodome.

 

So, San Diego’s NFL future is very much like its recent past,  we’re just playing the waiting  game, waiting for an NFL team to decide if they want to play in San Diego and waiting for the league to decide our football fate.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

And, the Ravens are going with QB LAMAR JACKSON against Tampa Bay on Sunday.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Joe Flacco (hip) put in a full practice last week to signal he is close to returning, but there won’t be a quarterback controversy in Baltimore.

 

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday that Lamar Jackson is the starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Flacco as the backup.

 

Harbaugh added his decision was based on giving the Ravens the best chance to win right now and the head coach complimented how Flacco has dealt with the situation.

 

 

“Listen, there’s a very good chance we’re going to need Joe Flacco and any other player in that role, a backup role, to win us a game,” Harbaugh said.

 

The team’s decision to stick with Jackson doesn’t come as a big surprise when considering Jackson compiled a 3-1 record as a starter in Flacco’s absence to put the Ravens in postseason contention.

 

“I guess my overall thought about it is obviously disappointed that I can’t be a part of this team in the same capacity that I have been for a longtime,” Flacco said. “But, [I’ve] always gotta be ready and stay sharp and be ready for the call at any point.”

 

Jackson also provided a dynamic piece to the offense with his legs over the past four games, rushing for 334 yards and two touchdowns on 68 carries.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Kevin Patra of NFL.com sings the praises of rookie LB sensation DARIUS LEONARD:

 

It’s time the national football world takes note of Indianapolis Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard.

 

The second-round wrecking-ball has become a galvanizing force behind a better-than-expected Colts defense that sits on the doorstep of returning to the playoffs.

 

Despite missing one game due to injury, Leonard leads the NFL with 135 tackles this season, on pace to be the first rookie to lead the NFL in tackles since Panthers LB Luke Kuechly racked up 164 tackles in 2012. Second place is well behind: the Packers’ Blake Martinez at 118.

 

Leonard’s 11.3 tackles per game are the most by a rookie since 2000, edging out former Defensive Rookies of the Year Patrick Willis (10.9 tackles per game in 2007) and Kuechly (10.3 tackles per game in 2012).

 

Willis finished with a rookie record 174 tackles, which means Leonard would need to average 13 tackles per game the final three weeks to tie the first-year achievement. It’s a lofty goal, but Leonard already has four tilts with at least 13 takedowns — including a 19-tackle performance in Week 2.

 

“He’s been able to handle a lot of things and also be able to execute at a high rate,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said of Leonard, via the team’s official website. “So we are excited where he is and he just needs to keep getting the looks and just keep playing faster and faster and faster, and more physical and just making more plays. That’s what he’s there for.”

 

Watch any Colts game and No. 53 is always on the screen. Whether the ball is three yards behind the line of scrimmage or 20 yards down the field, Leonard will find it. He’s got a nose for pigskin like a truffle hog has for fungus.

 

When Leonard gets to the ball, the rookie linebacker rarely misses, bringing thunder to take down ball-carriers big and small. With speed to stick with quick backs and size to body tight ends, Leonard’s pass defense has been impressive for a rookie. The 23-year-old also has a knack for rushing the passer, earning seven sacks.

 

Eberflus, who had been an NFL linebackers coach since 2009 before joining the Colts as DC, said he’s never seen a rookie produce like Leonard.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Jets DE HENRY ANDERSON says it is “totally legal and fair” to blindside a kicker moseying downfield nowhere near the action.  The Bills disagree.  Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News:

 

Despite how it looked to those with a distinct rooting interest in the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets defensive end Henry Anderson insists his blind-side hit on Stephen Hauschka wasn’t dirty.

 

During an appearance Tuesday on former punter Pat McAfee’s show in a court-themed segment called “Attempted Murder of a Kicker,” Anderson, a former teammate of McAfee’s, said, “I would like to plead my case to you and say that was a totally legal and fair play.”

 

Anderson acknowledged that he “got a lot of Bills fans coming at me saying that was a dirty play.” He also has drawn negative responses from coach Sean McDermott and Hauschka’s wife. After Hauschka’s 49-yard field-goal attempt just before halftime was blocked, Anderson hit the kicker as the Jets tried running back the recovery. Hauschka suffered a hip injury and is listed as day to day.

 

“If I blocked him in the back, he would have fallen forward and on his face from it,” Anderson said on the program. “The way I hit him, I hit him on the side and extended my left arm out to make him fall backward and on his butt. The block in the back is not true because … he wasn’t falling forward at all.”

 

Anderson also said that Hauschka made a move toward the ball-carrier and that led to the hit.

 

“When the guy who picked up the fumble reversed field, he started angling toward the ball carrier and started positioning himself,” Anderson said. “He wasn’t in a dead sprint or anything, but he was working his way to cut him off and to try to make the tackle. I saw that and I know as a defensive player, the defensive coaches always tell you that the kickers are kind of under the same umbrella as quarterbacks. If they are trying to stay out of the play, you’re not supposed to tough them because they are protected by the rules. If they start making their way and positioning themselves to make a play on the ball, they are fair game and you can hit them.

 

“He almost slide-tackled one of our kick returners earlier in the game. If I don’t make a block there and he ends up somehow making that tackle then I’m going to get chewed out by (special teams coach) Brant Boyer. I figured that I would rather hit the kicker legally and within the rulebook then not hit him at all and potentially get chewed out by our special teams coach. I didn’t hit him helmet to helmet, I didn’t lower my head and spear him, I didn’t launch my body at him. I put my shoulder into him and extended my arms into him.

 

According to Anderson, the hit looked worse than it was because of the disparity in weight between him and Hauschka.

 

“The fact that he was that much lighter than I am made it look like I hit him that much harder than I did,” Anderson said. “I’m close to 300 and I’m assuming he’s close to 200. If I was really trying to (mess him up), I could have put a whole lot more force behind that hit … and done a lot more damage than I did. … I understand some of the Bills fans’ anger and frustration, but it’s within the rulebook.”

 

McAfee added, “Hauschka has to keep his head on a swivel. There is a danger zone on special teams.” He concluded by determining Anderson is “completely innocent of any disrespect for the brand.”

 

Hauschka’s wife, Lindsey, took to Twitter to address the exchange between McAfee and Anderson, saying, “This is everything that’s wrong with football. Laughing about seriously injuring another human being is disgusting. @HenryAnderson91 & @PatMcAfeeShow should be ashamed.”

 

McAfee responded with: “Mrs Hauschka. I am a huge fan of your husband. I think he has kicked balls incredibly for a long time.. I’ve been blindsided before, also blocked on a regular basis.. I think your husband has to respect the thought that @HenryAnderson91 was scared of his athleticism.”

 

Lindsay Hauschka, it should be noted, is a lawyer by trade.  Keep your head on a swivel for a subpoena, Mr. Anderson.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

AIKMAN RATINGS

The Saints stay atop the Aikman Combined Ratings as compiled by Sports Radar through Week 14.  They moved ahead of the Bears last week.  Chicago remains 2nd, followed by the Chargers.

 

No change on Aikman Offense with the Chiefs still first while the Bears continue atop Aikman Defense.

 

2018 Aikman Combined Ratings Through Week 14

————–

Aikman

————–

————–

NFL

————–

Rank

Record

Team

Comb

Off

Def

Off

Def

Comb

1

11-2-0

New Orleans Saints

166.6

98.6

68.1

7

14

21

2

9-4-0

Chicago Bears

165.7

84.9

80.8

22

3

25

3

10-3-0

Los Angeles Chargers

162.7

92.2

70.4

6

8

14

4

8-5-0

Seattle Seahawks

159.3

89.3

70.1

22

18

40

5

11-2-0

Los Angeles Rams

159.1

93.7

65.4

3

19

22

6

11-2-0

Kansas City Chiefs

158.6

100.9

57.7

1

30

31

7

7-6-0

Indianapolis Colts

158.1

89.8

68.3

8

11

19

8

7-5-1

Pittsburgh Steelers

157.5

91.4

66.1

4

7

11

9

7-6-0

Baltimore Ravens

157.4

88.0

69.4

12

2

14

10

9-4-0

New England Patriots

155.1

90.7

64.4

5

22

27

11

5-7-1

Green Bay Packers

154.7

88.2

66.5

11

16

27

12

8-5-0

Dallas Cowboys

153.8

81.2

72.6

20

4

24

13

6-6-1

Minnesota Vikings

153.7

78.5

75.2

17

5

22

14

9-4-0

Houston Texans

152.9

84.5

68.4

13

13

26

15

7-6-0

Tennessee Titans

152.0

80.0

72.0

28

9

37

16

6-7-0

Denver Broncos

151.6

83.9

67.7

16

24

40

17

6-7-0

Carolina Panthers

151.2

89.7

61.5

9

17

26

18

5-7-1

Cleveland Browns

150.4

84.6

65.9

15

31

46

19

6-7-0

Philadelphia Eagles

149.5

82.4

67.0

19

25

44

20

5-8-0

New York Giants

149.1

82.6

66.5

18

21

39

21

6-7-0

Washington Redskins

148.0

78.7

69.3

27

20

47

22

7-6-0

Miami Dolphins

142.2

76.8

65.4

29

29

58

23

5-8-0

Detroit

Lions

142.1

78.7

63.4

24

12

36

24

4-9-0

Jacksonville Jaguars

141.9

72.5

69.4

25

6

31

25

4-9-0

Atlanta Falcons

139.9

87.2

52.7

10

26

36

26

5-8-0

Cincinnati Bengals

139.7

87.0

52.7

26

32

58

27

5-8-0

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

139.3

85.2

54.0

2

27

29

28

4-9-0

Buffalo Bills

139.2

71.9

67.3

31

1

32

29

3-10-0

San Francisco 49ers

138.9

78.4

60.5

14

10

24

30

4-9-0

New York Jets

136.5

68.5

68.0

30

23

53

31

3-10-0

Oakland Raiders

135.6

78.4

57.2

21

28

49

32

3-10-0

Arizona Cardinals

133.7

70.6

63.1

32

15

47

NFL Average:

149.9

84.0

65.8

 

 

Aikman Offense Ratings Through Week 14, 2018

Aikman

NFL

Team

AER

1

1

Kansas City Chiefs

100.9

2

7

New Orleans Saints

98.6

3

3

Los Angeles Rams

93.7

4

6

Los Angeles Chargers

92.2

5

4

Pittsburgh Steelers

91.4

6

5

New England Patriots

90.7

7

8

Indianapolis Colts

89.8

8

9

Carolina Panthers

89.7

9

22

Seattle Seahawks

89.3

10

11

Green Bay Packers

88.2

11

12

Baltimore Ravens

88.0

12

10

Atlanta Falcons

87.2

13

26

Cincinnati Bengals

87.0

14

2

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

85.2

15

22

Chicago Bears

84.9

16

15

Cleveland Browns

84.6

17

13

Houston Texans

84.5

18

16

Denver Broncos

83.9

19

18

New York Giants

82.6

20

19

Philadelphia Eagles

82.4

21

20

Dallas Cowboys

81.2

22

28

Tennessee Titans

80.0

23

24

Detroit Lions

78.7

24

27

Washington Redskins

78.7

25

17

Minnesota Vikings

78.5

26

14

San Francisco 49ers

78.4

27

21

Oakland Raiders

78.4

28

29

Miami Dolphins

76.8

29

25

Jacksonville Jaguars

72.5

30

31

Buffalo Bills

71.9

31

32

Arizona Cardinals

70.6

32

30

New York Jets

68.5

NFL Average:

84.0

 

 

Aikman Defense Ratings Through Week 14, 2018

Aikman

NFL

Team

AER

1

3

Chicago Bears

80.8

2

5

Minnesota Vikings

75.2

3

4

Dallas Cowboys

72.6

4

9

Tennessee Titans

72.0

5

8

Los Angeles Chargers

70.4

6

18

Seattle Seahawks

70.1

7

2

Baltimore Ravens

69.4

8

6

Jacksonville Jaguars

69.4

9

20

Washington Redskins

69.3

10

13

Houston Texans

68.4

11

11

Indianapolis Colts

68.3

12

14

New Orleans Saints

68.1

13

23

New York Jets

68.0

14

24

Denver Broncos

67.7

15

1

Buffalo Bills

67.3

16

25

Philadelphia Eagles

67.0

17

21

New York Giants

66.5

18

16

Green Bay Packers

66.5

19

7

Pittsburgh Steelers

66.1

20

31

Cleveland Browns

65.9

21

29

Miami Dolphins

65.4

22

19

Los Angeles Rams

65.4

23

22

New England Patriots

64.4

24

12

Detroit Lions

63.4

25

15

Arizona Cardinals

63.1

26

17

Carolina Panthers

61.5

27

10

San Francisco 49ers

60.5

28

30

Kansas City Chiefs

57.7

29

28

Oakland Raiders

57.2

30

27

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

54.0

31

26

Atlanta Falcons

52.7

32

32

Cincinnati Bengals

52.7

NFL Average:

65.8

 

 

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

 

 

 

2019 DRAFT

Todd McShay of ESPN.com has a Mock Draft with 5 DLs off the board to start (and 15 out of his 32).

 

As the 2018 season enters the stretch run, many NFL teams already are looking ahead to next year and April’s draft.

 

Sure, a lot will happen between now and April 25. The draft order will shift as teams finish the season. Underclassmen will make their decisions about entering the draft or returning to campus before the Jan. 14 deadline. Free agency and trades will alter team needs over the course of the next four months. Player grades will fluctuate throughout bowl season, pro days and the combine. There are a lot of unknowns.

 

But that won’t stop us from projecting the Day 1 selections. Here’s our first run at all 32 first-round picks for the 2019 NFL draft.

 

Note: We used ESPN’s Football Power Index to project what the order will be at the end of the season, with all traded first-round picks accounted for. Underclassmen are denoted below with an asterisk, while third-year sophomores have a double-asterisk designation.

 

1. Arizona Cardinals

Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State*

The Cards have a lot of needs, but getting the best player in the draft to line up opposite Chandler Jones would be a big step in the right direction. Bosa fits well with Arizona’s 4-3 scheme with his power and length, and Markus Golden hits free agency after the season.

 

2. San Francisco 49ers

Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan*

The Niners are seeking an edge rusher — among other things — and Gary provides explosive closing burst and elite athleticism. He’s a nightmare to block and would provide a jolt to San Francisco’s defensive line.

 

3. Oakland Raiders

Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama**

Quinnen is my guy in this class. I love his first step and how disruptive he is in the middle of that Alabama line. Solid both against the run and in the pass rush, Williams would be a great get for the rebuilding Raiders, the first of three Day 1 selections.

 

4. New York Jets

Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson*

If I’m the Jets, I’m thinking about trading back here to address a multitude of needs, considering they don’t have a second-rounder. But taking Ferrell — who had 10.5 sacks in the regular season off the edge — would go a long way toward checking off one of those boxes.

 

5. Atlanta Falcons

Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson*

The Falcons plummeted this season all the way from the playoffs to a potential top pick, and I love the idea of using it on Lawrence, a big run-stopper who can fit in next to Grady Jarrett (if he returns to the Falcons). Atlanta has one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL.

 

6. Buffalo Bills

Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama*

When you draft a franchise quarterback, you’d better keep him upright. Williams is a plug-and-play option with quick feet and has the versatility to play anywhere on either side of the offensive line in front of 2018 No. 7 pick Josh Allen.

 

7. Jacksonville Jaguars

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon*

As the first team on the board with a big hole at quarterback (remember, no trades in this mock), it’s no surprise Herbert is the pick here. He has great size and arm strength, but he’ll have to iron out some consistency issues — that is, if he declares for the draft.

 

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Greedy Williams, CB, LSU**

Talk about value. Greedy is my No. 2-ranked prospect but falls all to the way to the Bucs here. With three edge rushers already off the board, Tampa Bay passes up on filling a big need and goes with the best available player to shore up a weak secondary.

 

9. Detroit Lions

Josh Allen, DE/OLB, Kentucky

Ezekiel Ansah might be done in Detroit, so let’s fill that hole with Allen, who does just about everything. He finished the regular season in the top 10 in college football in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles. He’d be a beast coming off the edge in Motor City.

 

10. New York Giants

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State**

The more I watch this kid, the more I think he’s a legitimate first-round talent. The Eli Manning era is nearing an end in New York, and Haskins addresses Big Blue’s most glaring need. You’d have to feel pretty good about an offense featuring Haskins, Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley. Now the Giants just need him to declare for the draft.

 

11. Cincinnati Bengals

Devin White, LB, LSU*

Hunting for a three-down linebacker? Lucky for Cincy, the best one in the draft is sitting on the board at No. 11. The Bengals really want a explosive playmaker of this caliber at the second level of their defense.

 

12. Cleveland Browns

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston*

I could definitely see the Browns going offensive line here, but this addresses another area of weakness in a big way. Plus, Cleveland could target a left tackle in free agency. Oliver explodes out of his stance and would provide an upgrade in the interior of the line over pending free agents Trevon Coley and Carl Davis.

 

13. Washington Redskins

Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma*

Washington will be monitoring Alex Smith’s recovery, and it definitely needs a wide receiver, but the offensive line woes are well-documented. Ford is a nasty mauler who has the versatility to play either right tackle or guard in the NFL.

 

14. Carolina Panthers

Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss*

Half of the Panthers’ offensive line will enter free agency, and the best replacement on the board is Little. I love his athleticism in the trenches, although he still needs some technique work. But he can certainly develop into a good starting left tackle in the NFL.

 

15. Green Bay Packers

Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State

The Packers need a wide receiver, but getting the rangy and quick Sweat to come off the edge would do Green Bay well and provide better value. They have two first-rounders, after all, and plenty of wideouts will be on the board when the Packers pick again at No. 32.

 

16. Philadelphia Eagles

Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia

Baker isn’t the biggest or fastest corner, but he shows the best instincts of the bunch and is a ball hawk. And you might have noticed that the defending Super Bowl champions could use a solid cornerback. Let’s see what he does against those big Texas receivers in the Sugar Bowl.

 

17. Miami Dolphins

Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida*

The Dolphins might look to move on from Ryan Tannehill, but there isn’t a QB available here worth the early pick. So let’s fill another need and get the athletic Taylor to help protect whomever is under center in Miami next season.

 

18. Denver Broncos

Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma*

Demaryius Thomas is gone and Emmanuel Sanders isn’t getting any younger. Brown is a burner, and the Broncos need help stretching the field, especially out of the slot. The Oklahoma receiver would fit nicely with last year’s picks, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, in a dynamic WR group.

 

19. Indianapolis Colts

Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

Wilkins’ versatility and instinctive play would come in handy for an Indianapolis defensive front looking for some help. He might not have the upside of fellow Clemson linemates Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence, but he has a great motor and would fit nicely with the Colts.

 

20. Tennessee Titans

Jachai Polite, OLB, Florida*

Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo will become free agents in the offseason, and Polite would be an immediate factor for Tennessee with his speed and slipperiness. His 11 sacks tied for sixth in the nation during the regular season. Imagine him bookending the linebacker corps with 2018 pick Harold Landry?

 

21. Baltimore Ravens

Devin Bush, ILB, Michigan*

Rather than reach for a wide receiver for Lamar Jackson, let’s snag this underrated three-down linebacker to slide in if the Ravens decide not to pay up for pending free agent C.J. Mosley (although Bush also could play the weak side too). Bush’s athleticism and instincts would jibe nicely with this superb Baltimore defense.

 

22. Minnesota Vikings

Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn*

Getting a prospect like this at No. 22 would be robbery. Brown is the type of pass-rushing tackle that Mike Zimmer loves, and Sheldon Richardson’s one-year deal provides an opening in the interior of that Minnesota line.

 

23. Pittsburgh Steelers

Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech

Ferguson is rising on draft boards rapidly, and I expect him to shine at January’s Senior Bowl. He can really overwhelm blockers with his speed to power and would be another asset for one of the better pass-rushing teams in the NFL.

 

24. Seattle Seahawks

Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State*

On talent alone, this would be a heist for a team potentially losing a good deal of its defensive line to free agency in the offseason. But it’s not just talent. Simmons comes with awareness and range, but he also has some off-the-field concerns.

 

25. Oakland Raiders (from Dallas Cowboys)

Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama*

With Quinnen Williams upgrading their front, the Raiders are freed up to boost the secondary with a real ball hawk in Thompson. It’s a perfect marriage of value (No. 14 in my rankings) and need (Marcus Gilchrist is a free agent after the season, and the unit was weak to begin with).

 

26. Oakland Raiders (from Chicago Bears)

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa*

Man, it must be nice to have a library of first-round picks. This one, courtesy of the Khalil Mack trade, gets the Raiders a real weapon in the passing game. Jared Cook isn’t signed past this season, and Derek Carr loves his tight ends. Fant is a true matchup problem for opponents.

 

27. Houston Texans

Michael Deiter, C/G, Wisconsin

The focus of Houston’s offseason should be entirely on upgrading that offensive line to protect Deshaun Watson. Deiter might be a slight reach, but he’s a proven player and anchors well with a good initial push in the running game. He has played all over, but he best projects as a guard or center at the next level.

 

28. Los Angeles Chargers

Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame

The Chargers definitely want some support in run defense, and this big, versatile lineman can press against the run and occasionally flash as a pass-rusher. Quarterbacks aren’t going to love coming out of the huddle and seeing Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Tillery staring them in the face.

 

29. New England Patriots

Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State*

Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton land on the open market after the season, so the Pats’ biggest concern will be shoring up the defensive line. Jones finally put it all together this season and exhibits a good motor and quick first step.

 

30. Los Angeles Rams

Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State

Free agency could hit the Rams’ defense pretty hard, so a lot of what Sean McVay does with his first-rounder will depend on how it all plays out. But Abram is a powerful finisher on the back end and would soften the potential loss of Lamarcus Joyner.

 

31. Kansas City Chiefs

Zach Allen, DE, Boston College

We all know the Chiefs need a corner, but I can’t ignore Allen’s potential impact on both the pass rush and run defense. He’s just so quick to the ball. Allen Bailey is a pending free agent off the edge, so there could be an opening.

 

32. Green Bay Packers (from New Orleans Saints)

A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss*

We’re getting Aaron Rodgers some help. It’s about time! Brown’s ability to go up and get the ball, as well as make tough catches in traffic, would be welcomed on an offense desperately looking for receiving options beyond Davante Adams.