AROUND THE NFL

The DB can identify three scenarios that would yield a credible Week 17 Sunday night Flex opportunity for NBC and the NFL.

 

AFC A – The Chargers beat Baltimore, Indianapolis (the Giants) and Tennessee (Washington) win at home.  Indianapolis at Tennessee then is very likely (Houston is a factor) a play-in game for the 2nd Wild Card spot.  Both teams have played reasonably well of late and have their starting quarterbacks healthy.  This would seem to be the preferred game.

 

NFC A – Washington (at Tennessee) and Philadelphia (Houston) both win, Minnesota loses at Detroit.  Then Philadelphia at Washington will be a Week 17 play-in game.  With back-up quarterbacks.

 

NFC B – Washington, Philadelphia and Minnesota all have the same result.  The Philadelphia at Washington game would stay on Sunday and the winner would move ahead of the Vikings.  Then, Chicago at Minnesota would move to Sunday night with the Vikings getting the 2nd Wild Card spot if they win, the winner of Philadelphia at Washington getting it if the Vikings lose.  In this scenario, the Bears could be playing for a bye if they can tie the Rams, or they could be playing for nothing.

 

So these are the three most likely ways things could play out for a clean Sunday night game, but there are quite a few other balls in the air.

 

Here are the clinching scenarios for Week 16 (with ties cut for space):

 

The Saints, Rams, Cowboys, Seahawks, Vikings, Chiefs, Texans, Patriots and Steelers can all clinch either playoff berths, divisions or seeds this week.

 

Those nine teams all have scenarios that would allow them to clinch something, be it home-field advantage, a first-round bye, a division or a playoff berth.

 

The Bears have already clinched their division, and the Chargers have already clinched a playoff berth, but they have no further clinching scenarios in Week 16.

 

Here are the Week 16 playoff scenarios, as distributed by the NFL:

 

NFC

 

CLINCHED:

Los Angeles Rams – NFC West division title

New Orleans Saints – NFC South division title

Chicago Bears – NFC North division title

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-2) (vs. Pittsburgh (8-5-1), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, CBS)

 

New Orleans clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

 

NO win OR

CHI loss or tie + LAR loss

 

New Orleans clinches a first-round bye with:

 

NO tie OR

CHI loss or tie OR

LAR loss

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-3) (at Arizona (3-11), Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, FOX)

 

Los Angeles clinches a first-round bye with:

 

LAR win + CHI loss or tie OR

LAR tie + CHI loss

 

DALLAS COWBOYS (8-6) (vs. Tampa Bay (5-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FOX)

 

Dallas clinches NFC East division title with:

 

DAL win OR

 

PHI loss + WAS loss

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (8-6) (vs. Kansas City (11-3), Sunday night, 8:20 PM ET, NBC)

 

Seattle clinches a playoff berth with:

 

SEA win + WAS loss or tie OR

SEA win or tie + MIN loss OR

SEA win + SEA clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over WAS OR

SEA win + MIN tie + SEA clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over MIN OR

 

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-6-1) (at Detroit (5-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FOX)

 

Minnesota clinches a playoff berth with:

 

MIN win+ PHI loss or tie + WAS loss

 

AFC

 

CLINCHED:

Kansas City Chiefs – Playoff berth

Los Angeles Chargers – Playoff berth

 

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-3) (at Seattle (8-6), Sunday night, 8:20 PM ET, NBC)

 

Kansas City clinches AFC West division title and a first-round bye with:

 

KC win + LAC loss

 

Kansas City clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

 

KC win + LAC loss + HOU loss or tie OR

KC win + LAC loss + KC clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over HOU

 

HOUSTON TEXANS (10-4) (at Philadelphia (7-7), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS)

 

Houston clinches AFC South division title with:

 

HOU win or tie OR

IND loss or tie + TEN loss or tie

 

Houston clinches a first-round bye with:

 

HOU win + NE loss or tie

 

Houston clinches a playoff berth with:

 

BAL loss or tie OR

PIT loss OR

TEN loss or tie + HOU clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over BAL

 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (9-5) (vs. Buffalo (5-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS)

 

New England clinches AFC East division title with:

 

NE win or tie OR

MIA loss or tie

 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-5-1) (at New Orleans (12-2), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, CBS)

 

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North division title with:

 

PIT win + BAL loss or tie

 

Pittsburgh clinches a playoff berth with:

 

PIT win + IND loss + TEN loss

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

The rookie season of RB KERRYON JOHNSON is over.  Kyle Meinke of MLive.com:

 

Another one bites the dust.

 

The Detroit Lions are expected to place running back Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve, according to ESPN. This comes one day after the Lions placed defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand on injured reserve.

 

That’s the club’s top two rookies, gone for the year, along with other starters like receiver Marvin Jones, cornerback/return man Jamal Agnew, guard T.J. Lang and tight end Michael Roberts.

 

Johnson has missed the last four games after suffering a knee injury against Carolina on Nov. 18. It seems the Lions were waiting to be eliminated from the playoffs before placing the rookie on IR, although that doesn’t square with what coach Matt Patricia said this week about not treating IR any different now that Detroit is out of the postseason hunt.

 

“If there’s a situation where guys that we feel are in a situation where they can help us go win and they’re ready to go from that standpoint, then we’re going to go win,” Patricia said. “We’re going to go try to win. If there’s a situation where guys can’t or they’re not ready to go or whatever the case may be from the injury that they’re dealing with day-to-day, then we’ll address it then for those guys individually. But, we’re just trying to get everybody ready to go and just keeping our focus moving forward.”

 

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS is not a given to start Sunday in the Meadowlands for the eliminated Packers.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Joe Philbin plans to start Green Bay Packers players who are healthy. It remains to be seen if that group includes Aaron Rodgers.

 

Days after saying the quarterback would play if healthy, the Packers interim coach wouldn’t definitively state whether Rodgers would practice Wednesday or play Sunday versus the New York Jets.

 

“I’m hopeful he’s going to practice, and I’m hopeful he’s going to play,” Philbin said Wednesday, via Rob Demovky of ESPN.

 

Rogers suffered a groin injury in Sunday’s loss to the Chicago Bears. The signal-caller said the injury bothered him “a little bit” in the second half.

 

It’s possible the Packers could use the groin tweak as an excuse to shut down the quarterback for the final two weeks of the season. If that’s the plan, Philbin is not letting the cat out of the bag yet.

 

That said Rodgers is adamant he wants to play.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Rodgers took a different approach when he spoke to reporters later in the day. Rodgers had previously chafed at suggestions he’d shut it down with the Packers out of the playoff race and said he would be playing this weekend despite the team’s dismal spot in the standings.

 

“Yes — It’s about leadership, how can I stand here and say these games don’t matter … that’s not the way I lead. I’m super competitive,” Rodgers said, via Josh Tolentino of The Athletic.

 

Some with the Packers might prefer to move in a different direction given the knee and groin injuries he’s already dealt with the season and the size of his contract in the years to come, but it appears those hopes will go unrealized.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Tim McManus of ESPN.com with an update on QB CARSON WENTZ, including a previous back problem:

 

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz had a separate stress fracture in his back that was discovered while he was redshirting during his freshman year at North Dakota State, a league source tells ESPN.

 

The injury, from his adolescence, was completely healed by the time he was in college and is unrelated to Wentz’s current injury, the source said.

 

Wentz’s medical report, given to teams at the NFL scouting combine prior to the 2016 draft, referred to a healed stress fracture in his back, the Philadelphia Daily News first reported.

 

It also did not affect his draft stock, as he was selected No. 2 overall by the Eagles.

 

The current stress fracture was discovered following a CT scan last Tuesday, according to Eagles coach Doug Pederson.

 

Wentz sat out last week’s victory against the Los Angeles Rams, and it appears he’ll be sidelined again Sunday, as Pederson has named Nick Foles the starter for the Eagles’ upcoming game against the Houston Texans.

 

“He’ll be listed as week-to-week. We will not put him on [injured reserve],” Pederson said of Wentz. “Obviously when he’s healthy, he’s our quarterback, and we’ll go from there.”

 

 

WASHINGTON

S MONTAE NICHOLSON won’t play Saturday for the Redskins after getting arrested in Loudoun County, VA.

 

A day after Washington safety Montae Nicholson was arrested for assault and battery, video has emerged showing the attack, and the team has announced he will not play on Saturday.

 

Washington coach Jon Gruden said today that Nicholson, who has played in all 14 games this season, will not be active for Saturday’s game at Tennessee. Gruden said he wasn’t sure whether the team would term it a suspension or merely keep him on the bench.

 

“He won’t play this week,” Gruden said. “We’ll have a discussion right after practice and then decide what to do if we’re gonna put him on a list.”

 

Nicholson’s female companion is also in trouble.

 

Safety Montae M. Nicholson, 23, of Ashburn, was charged with assault and battery and drunk in public following the incident. Another suspect, Sydney A. Maggiore, 24, of Vienna, was reportedly with Nicholson at the scene. She has been charged with malicious wounding and assault and battery.

 

According to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, deputies responded to the 20400 block of Exchange Street shortly before 2 a.m. for a report of a fight.

 

The reported victims, an adult male and adult female, were located at the scene. They were allegedly assaulted by Nicholson and Maggiore, according to authorities. An investigation determined Nicholson assaulted the male victim, while Maggiore assaulted both the male and female victims. Maggiore is believed to have struck the female victim with a bottle.

 

One of the victims said the altercation started after either Nicholson and Maggiore honked a horn at them. A verbal confrontation ensued and escalated to a physical altercation.

 

Both victims were taken to a local hospital for serious but non-life threatening injuries.

 

Nicholson was released from the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center on a $2,500 secured bond, while Maggiore remained held at the detention center without bond.

 

Nicholson was drafted by Washington in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of Michigan State. He has played in each of the Redskins’ games this year, starting the first seven. He has recorded 41 tackles on the season.

 

The video is here.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

WR JULIO JONES has a hip injury and is iffy for Sunday with the Panthers.  It adds to a long list of injuries Atlanta has endured this season – two elite safeties, the two best linebackers and this reminds us about the missing RB DEVONTA FREEMAN.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Whatever hopes the Atlanta Falcons had on running back Devonta Freeman getting back on the field before the end of the season effectively ended Wednesday morning.

 

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who weeks ago expressed an openness on Freeman potentially being activated to the active roster, announced during an appearance on 92.9 The Game that Freeman won’t return from injured reserve.

 

“He won’t make it back,” Quinn said, via via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 

 

Like the Falcons, Freeman’s season ends in disappointment after groin and knee injuries shelved him on Oct. 16.

 

He appeared in just two games on the season, totaling 68 yards rushing on 14 carries and 23 yards receiving on five catches, and the Falcons’ ground attack sputtered in Freeman’s absence. After finishing the 2017 season ranked 13th in the league (115.4 yards per game) and 2016 ranked fifth (120.5), the Falcons enter Week 16 ranked 30th in the league in rushing (90.7).

 

 

CAROLINA

Add QB CAM NEWTON to the list of folks sitting out the last two weeks.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

After further consideration, the Carolina Panthers will make the sensible move and shut down Cam Newton for the rest of the season.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Panthers are expected to sit Newton now that they are essentially out of the playoff race. Backup Taylor Heinicke will start Sunday versus the Atlanta Falcons.

 

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney later confirmed that Newton will be inactive for Sunday’s game. Rookie Kyle Allen will serve as the backup signal-caller.

 

The move is a no-brainer for the Panthers, who have lost six straight games. At this point, the hope is that rest will allow the quarterback’s shoulder injury to heal during the offseason.

 

Newton hasn’t looked right the past several weeks. Monday night’s loss to the New Orleans was brutal to watch, with the quarterback tossing careening passes that had turf worms ducking for cover.

 

Newton began sitting out of practice around Week 8 due to lingering soreness in his shoulder. First described as maintenance days, the issue has been exacerbated in recent weeks and culminates with the QB being placed in bubble wrap to close the season.

 

The 29-year-old’s struggles with the shoulder issue came to a head in Monday night’s loss, a game in which Newton finished with his worst statistical output of the season in nearly every category: Completion percentage, 55.2; passing yards per attempt, 4.5; passing yards, 131; passer rating, 52.5.

 

After the defeat, a clearly frustrated Newton was transparent about not fully knowing how the shoulder issue was affecting him.

 

“I wish I could say what the injury is because I don’t really know what it is either,” Newton said after the loss. “No matter how much you push, no matter how much you ice, the anti-inflammatory you take. Trust me, I’ve done it. Acupuncture, massages. There’s not a night that goes by without me getting some type of work done on my arm. You just don’t have the strength. From the range of motion, you work on the range of motion then come game time and you never know how the game can play out. Of course you try to stay under 25?30 throws, but if you surpass that or you get hit on it or you have to run or you get tackled and fall on your shoulder, certain things happen. That’s the game of football. As far as stiffness, just muscle tension, there’s a lot going on. At the end of the day it’s not something that hasn’t got worse over the weeks or hasn’t got better over the weeks. It’s just been the same.”

 

Late in 2016, Newton had issues with his shoulder, leading to one of the most erratic stretches of his career. The signal-caller underwent surgery in March 2017 and pushed to return before the season. His problems in 2018 appear to stem from that same shoulder problem.

 

The Panthers allowed Newton to play through injury last time. They allowed him to hasten his return before the 2017 season.

 

Despite Ron Rivera clinging to the “slim glimmer” of playoff hope, the Panthers will make the prudent move this time around and shut down Newton.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

WR DeSEAN JACKSON may have gotten healthy for the Cowboys.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Buccaneers receiver DeSean Jackson returned to practice Wednesday, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The Bucs’ practice report will indicate whether Jackson was a full participant or whether he was limited.

 

Jackson has missed the past three games with a left thumb injury.

 

Jackson said earlier in the week he was “hopeful” of returning this week against the Cowboys.

 

Jackson originally injured his thumb in the season opener. He continued to play with it until re-injuring it in the Week 12 game against the Giants.

 

In 11 games, Jackson has made 40 catches for 750 yards and four touchdowns.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Sooo, if the Raiders play next year in a city other than Oakland or Las Vegas – say San Diego, or Santa Clara or Anaheim or San Antonio, should they be known as:

 

a) the Oakland Raiders

b) the Las Vegas Raiders

c) the Raiders

d) the xxxx (say San Diego) Raiders

 

– – –

 

Jon Gruden thinks he can salvage QB NATHAN PETERMAN.  NFL.com:

 

Nathan Peterman will get another shot in the NFL.

 

The ex-Bills quarterback is signing with the Oakland Raiders practice squad, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed of the situation.

 

Peterman will join his former Buffalo preseason teammate AJ McCarron backing up Derek Carr.

 

The Bills cut Peterman more than a month ago. At the time, the signal-caller ranked dead last in QB rating (30.7) among NFL quarterbacks this season with a minimum of 50 passing attempts. In four appearances in Buffalo this season, including two starts, Peterman completed 44 of 81 passing attempts with one touchdown pass and seven interceptions. On his career, Peterman has thrown 12 interceptions on 130 pass attempts — one INT every 10.8 throws.

 

Raiders coach Jon Gruden, an ESPN analyst at the time, glowed about Peterman before the 2017 draft, declaring the Pitt product “the draft’s most pro-ready QB” in a year that included Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky.

 

“Peterman is ready to walk in and be a contributor from day one,” Gruden wrote at the time. “He just looks like a pro quarterback — coming out of the huddle, running an offense with different formations, shifting, motioning, different patterns that other colleges don’t run. Peterman will recognize route combinations and associate formations. Most importantly, he will be able to get in a huddle from day one and look at 10 grown men and tell them where to go and what to do and handle a versatile snap count. He has a vast amount of experience, not only in running different offenses but dealing with a lot of different teammates in the huddle.”

 

Gruden also compared Peterman to Bengals QB Andy Dalton in the same article.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

For all his mobility, QB DESHAUN WATSON is being sacked like he was David Carr or something.  Jordan Goodwin of ESPN.com:

 

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has broken a slew of franchise records and a handful of NFL records in his hot start to his career, but there’s one record Houston would like to keep as far away from him as possible.

 

In 2002, quarterback David Carr was sacked 76 times as a rookie in Houston’s inaugural season, the NFL record for sacks taken in a season.

 

With Watson sitting at 52 with two games remaining, he likely won’t come close to Carr’s record, but considering only six quarterbacks in NFL history have been sacked 60 times in a season, keeping him as close to 52 would be ideal for Watson’s future as well as Houston’s playoff hopes.

 

With two games remaining, no team has allowed more sacks than the Texans’ 52. They allowed 54 last season, finishing 31st in front of only Indianapolis (56).

 

Youth, inexperience and injuries have all been a factor for Houston’s offensive line, but Texans coach Bill O’Brien defended the unit after his team allowed six sacks in a 29-22 win against the Jets on Sunday.

 

Clarifying his point, O’Brien said on Monday that there might be more factors at play in the sacks.

 

“It’s not good — no doubt about it,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got to try to fix it, but what I think I was trying to say, and it’s true, after the game was that it’s always pinned on the offensive line. There are certain things that, without giving you all the details, that we have to do better on the offensive line, but there’s also route running involved.

 

“There’s so many things that go into a sack. The backs — are the backs protecting the right guy? Is Deshaun holding the ball a little bit? Could the ball come out quicker? Is the receiver running the route the same way? Is the playcall a great playcall in that situation? There are so many different things that go into the end result of a sack.”

 

In Week 6, the Texans allowed a season-high seven sacks in a 20-13 win against Buffalo. For two games after that, they seemed to have it all figured out, allowing just one sack in a 20-7 win at Jacksonville and not allowing any in a 42-23 win against Miami in Week 8. Since then, however, they’ve given up 26 in six games.

 

Against the Jets, the Texans actually had more yards lost through sacks (55) than they did rushing yards (47). Jets defensive end Henry Anderson — who entered the season with three sacks to his name in 29 career games and entered last Sunday with three sacks this season — sacked Watson three times and hit him one other time.

 

Aside from Anderson, the Jets also blitzed their linebackers as well as defensive backs, with strong safety Jamal Adams picking up a sack. O’Brien said his offense’s handling of the different blitz packages was “not great.”

 

Houston’s sacked percentage of 10.77 is by far the NFL’s worst. If it holds, it would be the worst sacked percentage since Jacksonville’s 11.31 percent in 2014.

 

“We’ve got to figure that out,” O’Brien said. “We have to really try to get that cut down. It’s not going to be easy, because now we’re going against [Michael] Bennett, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. It only gets harder. That’s what we’re spending time on today trying to get figured out.”

 

The Texans (10-4) will visit Philadelphia on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) to face an Eagles team (7-7) that has 35 sacks but has struggled with the pass rush in the second half of the season. The Eagles have just eight sacks in their past five games, being held under three sacks in four of those games.

 

It always amazed the DB that at the peak of his greatness – 2004-06 – Michael Vick was sacked more than 40 times per year on average.  Some mobile QBs still get sacked a lot, and some less mobile QBs like DREW BREES don’t. 

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

What exactly is a Pro Bowl snub? 

 

Some are in an uproar that RBs ALVIN KAMARA and CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY did not make the initial NFC team this year, but as the DB sees it, there was an unfortunate convergence of the five best RBs in the NFL this year in one conference.  Would Kamara and McCaffrey be worthy Pro Bowlers?  Absolutely. 

 

But the DB doesn’t see it as a “snub” unless someone significantly less worthy, not a coin flip, but less worthy made the team.  And to put Kamara on the NFC team, who are you going to take off from TODD GURLEY, SAQUON BARKLEY or EZEKIEL ELLIOTT?

 

Yes, they are better than MELVIN GORDON and heart-warming AFCers JAMES CONNER and PHILLIP LINDSAY.  But Kamara and McCaffrey are in the NFC – and they were not snubbed except by the rules of team composition.

 

On the other hand, in Indianapolis, they are trying to figure out how LB DARIUS LEONARD – who meets the eye test and stats test didn’t make it.  Here’s Robert Klemko of SI.com with a similar preamble to what we just wrote:

 

NFL Pro Bowl snubs—you hear about them every year. Do they matter in the great big scheme of things? Probably not. But like the NFL Hall of Fame voting, targeting rules and representative democracy, there’s definitely a better way to get the job done. Case in point: The biggest Pro Bowl snub in recent memory.

 

I’m not talking about Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey or Mike Evans. The competition was stacked against those guys, and it’s hard to argue against the players who did get picked at their positions—you can’t tell me Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott shouldn’t make the NFC team. Secondly, and more importantly, those guys are already household names. Kamara, McCaffrey and Evans aren’t hurting for marketing opportunities, many of which are predicated on things like Pro Bowls.

 

No, I’m talking about Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, the second-round pick out of South Carolina State who found himself without an invite to Camping World Stadium in Orlando. (I know, I know, the location sounds lame. But Disney World!).

 

Leonard is the biggest snub because his case encapsulates everything that’s wrong with Pro Bowl voting. He’s leading the league in tackles (as a rookie) with 146, 22 more than the next guy (Luke Kuechly!). He’s on pace to set the record for tackles by a rookie, and he’s not just dragging guys down at the second level. Among players with more than 100 tackles (there are 22 right now), he leads the field in sacks (7), comes in second in tackles behind the line of scrimmage (12) and second in QB hits (8) and seventh in pass breakups (6). You want big games? How about Leonard sacking Deshaun Watson and turning in 12 tackles and a pass breakup in a Week 14 win over the Texans, or Leonard stuffing Ezekiel Elliott behind the line of scrimmage and batting away a Dak Prescott fourth-down pass in the fourth quarter of a Week 15 win against the Cowboys.

 

Leonard’s competition on the AFC roster? There’s Texans linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, a standout standup linebacker finally getting his due. And then there’s Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is, at this point, living off reputation. Mosley’s a fine player, but with his 91 tackles, three pass breakups and half a sack, amounting to a 65.5 PFF grade, No. 37 among linebackers, he’s not an impact player at the moment. But Leonard is, so how does this happen?

 

Three bodies vote on Pro Bowlers: Coaches, players and fans. Necessarily, primetime broadcasts have a big influence on all three groups. Every coach won’t even see every linebacker in the opposite conference, because he’s only preparing for the teams his team will face in a given year. Same goes for players. But all three groups regularly watch primetime games. How many primetime games did the Colts get in 2018? One: Thursday Night Football on Oct. 4, vs. the Patriots (and it was the lone game Leonard missed this season due to injury). That was during Indy’s 1–5 start, when everyone wrote off the Colts, before they rattled off five wins in a row and became serious contenders in the AFC. Darius Leonard, like his team, snuck up on people. You know who he didn’t sneak up on?

 

NFL writers, PFF, Football Outsiders, Sports Info Solutions (To name a few)—folks who have the time and mandate to know the identity of the best football players in the NFL, regardless of whether Cris Collinsworth is drooling over them during the Sunday Night Football broadcast. Give the media ballots and weigh them as one-fourth of the vote, along with the three existing parties. Then you might just avoid the embarrassment of average players making Pro Bowls over great ones.

 

But Mike Sando of ESPN.com talked to some “league insiders” and they didn’t give him Leonard’s name, although there was a Colt:

 

Four snubbed players stood out in my conversations with personnel evaluators after the NFL released its initial rosters. These are the select few.

 

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Patrick Mahomes (starter) and Philip Rivers were obvious choices at quarterback in the AFC. Tom Brady beat out Luck for one of the other backup spots. That is not exactly a travesty given Brady’s greatness, but Luck seems to be having the better season.

 

Luck trails only Mahomes in touchdown passes with 34 (Brady has 24). Brady has a higher percentage of explosive passes (those gaining more than 15 yards), while Luck has converted with greater success on third down, both overall and when adjusting for distances.

 

“Tom is going to make it as long as he is playing,” a personnel director said, “so you might as well find another quarterback to talk about.”

 

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

So many wide receivers in the NFC are putting up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers that we could make the case that Beckham simply fell short. That is a superficial case in the eyes of evaluators who differentiate between productive receivers and truly elite ones.

 

Adam Thielen has more receptions for more yards and more touchdowns than Beckham has produced this season. He’s having a Pro Bowl-caliber year from a production standpoint, without question. Making the case for Beckham requires stressing quality.

 

Beckham lines up outside, where the coverages faced are often more challenging, about 75 percent of the time (it’s 37 percent for Thielen). Beckham’s average reception has been made 11.5 yards downfield (it’s 8.9 for Thielen). Beckham’s average reception has gained 13.7 yards (12.0 for Thielen). More than 36 percent of Beckham’s receptions have gained more than 15 yards (it’s 22 percent for Thielen). Even though Thielen is catching passes that are much shorter on average, Beckham still averages slightly more yards after the catch.

 

“Thielen has all that yardage and is very good, but it depends on the criteria of the Pro Bowl,” an evaluator said. “Odell is just overall a better player. Mike Evans is as well.”

 

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Evans has more yards than Thielen on 31 fewer receptions while aligning outside 88 percent of the time and catching passes 15.7 yards downfield on average. He has made explosive gains on 47 percent of his receptions, most in the league among the 39 wide receivers with at least 50 receptions this season.

 

David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers

Evaluators might agree that Pro Bowl NFC tackles Tyron Smith, Terron Armstead and Trent Williams are more physically gifted than Aaron Rodgers’ blind-side protector. Bakhtiari seems at least as deserving because he has played so effectively while starting every game. Smith, Armstead and Williams have all missed time to injuries.

 

“Those guys are all more talented,” an evaluator said. “The problem is, they did not play enough.”

 

Leonard is not taking it well, which is bad news for the Giants.  Mike Wells of ESPN.com:

 

Eli Manning, Saquon Barkley and the rest of the New York Giants offense should be on the lookout for Indianapolis Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard in Sunday’s game.

 

Leonard, the NFL’s leading tackler, said he wants to get 40 tackles against the Giants to make up for not being named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday.

 

“He told me he wanted 40 tackles, but I told him it’s humanly impossible,” Colts Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron said. “He doesn’t care… Things like [the Pro Bowl] should really go by statistics rather than names. He’s one of the all-time great rookie linebackers statistically in a long time.”

 

Leonard acknowledged Wednesday that he was stunned when he got the call from coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard telling him that he didn’t make the first of what may be many Pro Bowl appearances.

 

“I was heartbroken at first because I thought I did enough, but it is what it is,” Leonard said.

 

When asked how upset he was based on a scale of 1-to-10, Leonard said, “Twenty. Just knowing that I put everything on film and still not enough. So I’ve just got to keep improving.”

 

Leonard, a second-round pick out South Carolina State University, a Football Championship Subdivision school, has a league-leading 146 tackles, which is 22 more than Luke Kuechly. Leonard also has seven sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. Leonard was beaten out by Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney, Kansas City’s Dee Ford and Denver’s Von Miller as the outside linebackers on the AFC team. Leonard was named as an alternate.

 

“Like I always say, numbers don’t lie,” Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “[Leonard] is playing phenomenal, especially as a rookie. You just don’t see that.”

 

Ebron and guard Quenton Nelson were the only Colts named to the Pro Bowl. Hilton, quarterback Andrew Luck, center Ryan Kelly and defensive lineman Denico Autry were also named as alternates.

 

“I’m biased,” Reich said. “Guys like Darius and Andrew, those guys I feel like are playing as good as anybody at their position. But we understand how this thing goes, and certainly I think the players do as well. You just keep going out and doing your thing.”

 

Leonard would easily beat the NFL’s record for tackles in a game if he comes close to his goal of 40. Kuechly and David Harris share the record for most tackles in a game at 24.

 

Leonard routinely shoots for 25 tackles in a game. His season high in tackles is 19, against Washington in Week 2.

 

“Impossible? There is nothing impossible,” Leonard said about the 40 tackles. “If you play a lot of snaps you’ve just got to get on every play possible.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Rich Cimini of ESPN.com goes all in for Mike McCarthy as the next coach of the Jets.

 

The Green Bay Packers are coming to New Jersey this weekend without the man who led them for 13 years — recently fired coach Mike McCarthy, who nevertheless will be part of the narrative Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

 

The New York Jets are expected to commence a coaching search in 12 days, and that search likely will include McCarthy. Let’s put it this way: He’d better be on their short list, because not only he is qualified for the job, he’s the best fit out there.

 

McCarthy has three things going for him that have been in short supply at One Jets Drive:

 

Previous head-coaching experience, a winning pedigree (see the Super Bowl ring on his finger) and expertise with offense and quarterbacks.

 

The Jets have been hiring the same guy over and over, from Al Groh to Herm Edwards to Eric Mangini to Rex Ryan to Todd Bowles — highly-regarded defensive assistants with no experience in the big chair. Their last recycled head coach was Bill Parcells, who didn’t stick around long enough but did a terrific job while he was here.

 

At this stage of their development — Year 2 of a so-called rebuild — the Jets need someone with credibility, a coach who can walk into the room and show off his pelts (to use a Parcells term). They don’t need another on-the-job training situation because that would add more time to the rebuilding process. Enough is enough.

 

McCarthy is a known commodity, not a projection. He was 125-77-2 with the Packers, capturing six NFL North titles and one Super Bowl championship. A coach with that kind of resume doesn’t hit the open market that often, and the Jets, of all teams, are in no position to look the other way.

 

Winning aside, McCarthy is attractive because he’s an offensive-minded coach who could develop quarterback Sam Darnold, who is everything to the franchise. For a change, the Jets need a leader who sees the game through the eyes of the quarterback and can build a program in that fashion.

 

Under McCarthy, the Packers were a top-10 scoring offense for eight consecutive years, from 2007 to 2014. He was blessed with great quarterbacks, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, but it’s not like they were surrounded by an all-star cast. Only two non-quarterbacks made multiple Pro Bowls on offense — fullback John Kuhn and guard Josh Sitton.

 

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh would be a solid candidate as well, if he’s fired, but the difference between him and McCarthy is Harbaugh never built a consistently strong offense. His background is special teams. If the Jets want a CEO-type of leader, they should make a strong play for Harbaugh, who also has a Super Bowl ring. But they need to consider the current and future landscape of the NFL — offense, baby! — and that’s why McCarthy makes the most sense.

 

“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever gone up against,” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick once said.

 

McCarthy isn’t the perfect candidate. Some of the criticisms:

 

He won only one Super Bowl with one of the best quarterbacks in history. If you’re comparing every coach-quarterback tandem to Belichick and Tom Brady, yeah, it’s disappointing that McCarthy and Rodgers won only once. (By the way, they reached four NFC Championship Games.) But should the Jets, who haven’t won anything in 50 years, hold that against him? Come on, man.

 

He didn’t get along with Rodgers. Probably true, but it happens with long-term relationships in the NFL. It’s also not an easy situation when the player thinks he knows more than the coach.

 

His offense became predictable. There may be some truth to this, as the Packers finished 26th last season in total offense, the worst ranking under McCarthy. But let’s not forget Rodgers played only seven games. They’re back up to 10th this season, although they don’t scare anyone. He might need to re-invent his offense, but a fresh start can do wonders for a coach. Call it the Andy Reid Factor.

 

It would take quite a sell job to get McCarthy out of his comfy life in Green Bay, where he has strong roots. His wife is a Green Bay native and together they have five children, including four school-age kids. McCarthy will get paid through the 2019 season by the Packers (his contract averaged $8.5 million per year), so he might be content to sit out the year and start fresh in 2020.

 

It’ll take a lot of green to get him out of Green Bay, but the Jets owe it to themselves and their fans to give it a shot.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

CONSIDERING THE 2019 QB FREE AGENT MARKET

Five ESPN experts are asked who is going to be the Kirk Cousins of 2019:

 

Which QB likely on the open market this March will get the most guaranteed money, and from which team?

 

Bowen: Teddy Bridgewater, Jaguars. I’m going with the upside of Bridgewater when I look at this group of QBs. Invest in a quarterback with a higher ceiling at a position that must be upgraded in Jacksonville.

 

Graziano: Teddy Bridgewater, Giants. He’s still only 26, which means he probably can secure a longer deal than any of the other guys can. Everybody who has played with him seems to like him, and he still comes with some level of untapped promise. I know he hasn’t played this year, but the way some other guys did play this year might help Teddy’s case. At least he didn’t do anything to hurt anyone’s opinion of his abilities.

 

Kimes: Joe Flacco, Jaguars. I would prefer that the Jaguars spring for Bridgewater, but they reportedly passed on the young quarterback earlier this year. So it seems more likely to me that they’ll go with what they perceive to be a safe option in Flacco, even though he had an underwhelming passer rating of 84.2 (currently ranked 27th in the NFL) and was averaging 6.5 yards per attempt (30th) before going down with an injury this season.

 

Sando: Joe Flacco, Jaguars. Jacksonville basically got Blake Bortles and Andrew Norwell for what it would have cost to land Kirk Cousins. The team should feel pretty desperate at the position this coming offseason. Flacco would presumably command more guaranteed money than a player with Bridgewater’s injury history. This is a difficult projection to make without knowing the coaching landscape for 2019, which is a huge variable.

 

Yates: Nick Foles, Giants. The NFL is very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and Foles stands to benefit from that. He’s the reigning Super Bowl MVP and is set to start again for the Eagles this weekend after a strong Week 15 showing against the Rams. If he can propel the Eagles back into the playoffs, he’ll be coveted in a major way this offseason.