AROUND THE NFL

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com thinks that the NFL should send a massive parting gift to QB COLIN KAEPERNICK.

 

It won’t be cheap, but it will be worth every penny.

 

Yes, the NFL should buy permanent peace with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. They should do it in order to end once and for all the debate about whether Kaepernick should have a job. They should do it in order to block a potential conclusion that the league colluded to keep Kaepernick unemployed. They should do it in order to avoid a My Cousin Vinny/Seinfeld finale-style trial, that will feature a parade of billionaires and multimillionaires who inevitably will contradict each other and themselves as they occupy the rare position of having to submit to authority other than their own.

 

They should do it in order to ensure that none of the testimony, text messages, emails, or other materials created by the litigation will ever see the light of day.

 

All of that can be done, if the NFL is willing to write a check big enough to get Kaepernick to agree to a deal. It would be not only a settlement of his collusion claim but also a full and final divorce between employer and employee, coupled with a broad and wide-ranging commitment to never talk about the collusion case, to never share any of the evidence obtained during the process with outsiders, and to never disparage the NFL or any of its teams.

 

That’s a big part of what the league would be paying for: Silence. And to ensure that there would be no violation, the league could divide the compensation package into annual payments from an escrow account, with the ability to block those payments if Kaepernick violates any of the terms of the settlement. If Kaepernick ever blabs, then the payments would stop.

 

Jason La Canfora of CBS recently reported that efforts to negotiate a settlement broke down, with the league and the NFL Players Association now planning for a full-blown collusion hearing, with two weeks in early 2019 eventually set aside for a real-life drama that unfortunately won’t happen in an open and public setting.

 

Settlement talks can resume at any time, and it’s often the impending commencement of a trial that will prompt an agreement on the proverbial (or literal) courthouse steps. But if the lawyers are too caught up in their own convictions to ever be objective when it comes to assessing the strengths of the opposition’s case, a middle ground can never be found — and one side will end up being stunned by the final result, if/when the arbitrator decides that the opponent’s presentation of the evidence and its application to the appropriate legal statements makes more sense.

 

For the NFL, the financial and P.R. consequences would be potentially too significant to justify the risk. At a time when the anthem controversy has almost entirely subsided (surely, some sort of a deal was struck between 345 Park and 1600 Pennsylvania to get a certain someone to quit tweeting about the issue), why pull the topic back to the front burner and turn up the heat? Even if the NFL wins, there will be dribs and drabs of documents and testimony that eventually land in the media, and the NFL will be fighting the battle to not look bad for weeks if not months to come.

 

The NFL often receives criticism for not being proactive. This case presents an ideal opportunity to identify a problem, creatively predict how it could mushroom into a much bigger mess, and come up with a way to keep it all from blowing up in the league’s face.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

The picks you make, and the picks you don’t make.  Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press gets a version of history, that may be correct, from former DL coach Jim Washburn:

 

All the decision makers were there, bunkered inside a conference room at the Detroit Lions’ Allen Park training facility a few days before the 2014 draft.

 

General manager Martin Mayhew. Head coach Jim Caldwell. Even owner Martha Firestone Ford sat in a room as coaches and scouts ticked down a list of players the Lions could take with the 10th overall pick.

 

Eric Ebron had his supporters; assistant head coach Ron Prince gave an impassioned plea on the tight end’s behalf. Some in the room marveled at what Odell Beckham could do. And when the talk turned to Aaron Donald, the undersized Pitt defensive tackle had his advocates, too.

 

“I was starting to get cranked,” Jim Washburn, the Lions’ defensive line coach at the time, recalled in a phone interview with the Free Press. “And I said this guy is a Jedi. Everybody looked puzzled and Mrs. Ford was sitting there and she couldn’t figure out what the heck a Jedi was. And I said a Jedi, he’s like Yoda. It’s like a Jedi, they see things before they happen, and I said Aaron Donald sees things before they happen. And he’s John Randle. Maybe when it’s all said and done, he’s better than John Randle.”

 

Washburn fell in love with Donald for obvious reasons, and early on in the process. I remember him gushing about the defensive tackle on a plane flight to Mobile, Ala., that January for the Senior Bowl.

 

Donald had 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in his senior season at Pitt and pulled what Washburn called “the trifecta of college football.”

 

Along with his ridiculous season, Donald dominated the Senior Bowl — “I’ve been there 20 times and there’s never been a performance like that, ever,” Washburn said — destroyed the NFL combine (where he ran a 4.68-second 40-yard dash) and for good measure followed that up with another eye-popping performance at his pro day.

 

Washburn and fellow defensive line coach Kris Kocurek were smitten, but they ran into some resistance in the room.

 

“That’s one I’ll never forget,” Washburn said. “They had one guy there that said, ‘What in the world are we going to do with a little guy like that? I thought we were trying to get away from little guys.’ I said, ‘Well you make the exception to the exception,’ and then I went off and stood up and Kris Kocurek did, too. We went on and on about Aaron Donald.”

 

The Lions wanted big, long defensive tackles for Caldwell’s new defense, and Donald, at a shade under 6 feet tall, certainly did not fit the bill.

 

Washburn did not want to publicly identify who in the Lions’ personnel department torpedoed Donald as the potential pick.

 

 “I used to push guys. I’d cheat by making a highlight film, putting selective films together (for others to watch),” Washburn said. “And you didn’t have to (with Donald). … Go watch his game against Georgia Tech. They gave him these giant splits between the guards and center. It was a license to kill. It was unbelievable. Every time I watched film on him — Kris and I watched separate, we watched 12 games, 13 counting the Senior Bowl — and every time we watched him I would get up and say, ‘God dang, come in here Kris. … Caldwell. Look at this.’ Just like unbelievable.”

 

NFC EAST

 

WASHINGTON

The Redskins, a team unbeloved by the national media due to their refusal to buckle on a name change, touch the third rail again with the claiming of LB REUBEN FOSTER on waivers.  RealClearLife.com collected some of the scornful tweets, even one from Britt McHenry:

 

Nevertheless, Washington’s decision was almost universally ripped.

 

Richard Deitsch

@richarddeitsch

 I don’t think Reuben Foster will ever play a down for the Washington Redskins but that organization just told you today what they think about domestic violence.

 

Ian Rapoport

@RapSheet

 Reaction to the #Redskins claiming Reuben Foster from the #Vikings Director of Football Administration Anne Doepner

@AnneDoepner

Just donated to my local domestic violence shelter:http://www.wadvocates.org

 

Leah Cohen

@lilLeahCohen

 Colin Kaepernick took a stand for social justice. Reuben Foster has repeatedly been accused of beating women. Only one of these guys is on an #NFL roster. It’s getting increasingly hard to be a female fan of football

 

Field Yates

@FieldYates

 Reuben Foster has been arrested three times in 2018 and was suspended for two games to begin the NFL season.

 

Less than 72 hours after being arrested on domestic violence charges and waived, a team claimed him on waivers, possibly to have him play right away.

 

Give me a break.

 

Britt McHenry

@BrittMcHenry

 Imagine being a team exec who thinks it’s necessary to hurriedly claim Reuben Foster off waivers just 72 hours after he was arrested AGAIN for domestic violence.

 

But wear pink in October, Redskins. Really showing a ton of support for women…..

 

Lawrence Tynes

@lt4kicks

 I just want to know who is in the room and how the conversation went when the #Redskins said lets claim Reuben Foster. Are there no Fathers of daughters, no brothers of sisters in this room?Do we really have to wait until photos/video are released to believe it happened?

 

The Washington Post has more vitriol:

 

“How can the Redskins claim Foster? Bad look,” said Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.

 

“Washington is pulling off the rare trifecta of being generally incompetent, racist AND supportive of accused domestic abusers,” tweeted Zac Rosenblatt, an Eagles beat writer for NJ.com.

 

“I’m old enough to remember when [Scot McCloughan] drafting good players and playing in January was somehow too much of an embarrassment for the Redskins,” ESPN’s Seth Wickersham said.

 

Sports podcaster Kevin Jones tweeted that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder “does not care what you think about domestic violence” and “obviously signed off on this move.” Jones claimed that Snyder had “bad blood” with San Francisco head coach and former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and that “part of him okaying this for the Redskins is to try and one-up the 49ers.”

 

Some compared the addition of Foster to the continued inability of Colin Kaepernick to latch on with an NFL team. The former 49ers quarterback, who has been a free agent since March 2017, has filed a grievance against the league for what he claims is collusion by team owners to punish him for originating player protests of racial injustice during the national anthem.

 

“Fascinating that teams are so afraid of blowback to Kaepernick that nobody will touch him, but obviously don’t fear strong enough backlash over a player repeatedly involved with domestic violence,” NFL.com’s Judy Battista said on Twitter. “What does that say about us as fans, esp. if the team is calculating correctly?”

 

“Only one way to get banned from the NFL,” tweeted Melissa Jacobs of TheFootballGirl.com. “Coincidentally, it’s the dude who was banned for kneeling who could actually help Washington stay afloat in the playoff race, not an underperforming LB facing suspension for DV.”

 

Adam Patrick

@Str8_Cash_Homey

 Stand up for human rights?

 

No thanks

 

Get charged with child or domestic abuse?

 

“What jersey number do you want?” – Redskins

 

Mike Jones of USA TODAY is mad:

 

Don’t give me any of that “character matters” bull crap.

 

Not from you, Dan Snyder. Not from you, Washington Redskins.

 

I don’t care how desperate you are to make the playoffs. There is absolutely no justification for adding Reuben Foster — who was arrested Saturday in Tampa and charged with domestic battery — to your roster.

 

But a domestic violence charge isn’t a big deal to the Redskins.

 

Sure, they issued a statement from VP of player personnel Doug Williams (no coincidence it came from the only member of the front office beloved by fans rather than oft-criticized team president Bruce Allen or Snyder himself). They claim that they take the allegations swirling around Foster very seriously after yet another arrest.

 

But if they truly did, they would have stayed far away. They wouldn’t have even had a discussion about whether to put in a waiver claim for Foster after the 49ers parted with the 2017 first-round pick following his latest transgression. He was also arrested on a felony domestic violence charge in April, but his accuser — the same woman as in this weekend’s alleged incident — later recanted.

 

But they did, and as the only team in the league to put in a claim for Foster, according to multiple reports, the Redskins were awarded the troubled player.

 

Here’s how the team tried to justify the move:

 

“Today we have claimed the rights to LB Reuben Foster,” Williams said. “The Redskins fully understand the severity of the recent allegations made against Reuben. If true, you can be sure these allegations are nothing our organization would ever condone.”

 

But that’s complete hypocrisy.

 

In 2014, after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down a stiff punishment to Ray Rice for beating his fiancée, Snyder issued a statement praising the move.

 

“Roger Goodell has always had the best interests of football at heart, both on and off the field,” Snyder’s statement read. “We are fortunate to have him as our Commissioner. The entire Washington Redskins organization strongly endorses his efforts to eradicate domestic abuse and the independent investigation into the Ray Rice assault.”

 

So, what changed four years later? Did those at the top of the organization forget how terrible they felt about domestic abuse back then?

 

Redskins officials let character go right out the window. They had fallen in love with Foster leading up to last year’s draft, though they passed on a chance to take him and instead selected his Alabama teammate, Jonathan Allen, with the No. 17 pick. But boy did the Redskins pounce once Foster became available again.

 

Team officials didn’t even consult some of the strongest leaders on the team to gauge their feelings on the move. They just had to have him.

 

Fortunately, the NFL has placed Foster on the commissioner’s exempt list while it reviews the incident that led to his arrest in Florida this weekend. That means he can’t play or even practice at this time.

 

But it shouldn’t have even come to this. No team should have even given Foster a shot.

 

Here’s my question: How will Snyder, Allen, Williams and coach Jay Gruden explain that it’s OK to employ a person that allegedly has abused a woman? How will they teach their sons the importance of respecting women?

 

Will they try to tell their loved ones that it’s OK to turn a blind eye to domestic violence as long as a man has talent? With this move, that’s exactly what the Redskins are saying.

 

Adding Foster indicates that none of those responsible for this decision care about the well-being of women. Taking a stand didn’t matter, because there are quarterbacks to sack and games to win.

 

This certainly isn’t the first example of physical ability trumping character. Even these same Redskins took a flier on Junior Galette after the Saints released the pass rusher was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, though the charge was later dropped.

 

But you know what’s laughable?

 

Last week, Washington lost quarterback Alex Smith to a broken leg. They have confidence in backup Colt McCoy as the new starter but needed to add another quarterback to the roster. The same men in charge of the franchise worked out proven scrubs, but couldn’t give Colin Kaepernick a sniff. Because, God forbid they kick the tires on a gifted athlete who protests by kneeling during the national anthem.

 

But a player looking for work immediately after an arrest on a domestic violence charge? You’re good, buddy — at least with this organization — no matter the cost or the offense. Hail to the Redskins!

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on the debate about whether or not Foster should have even been on claimable waivers before going to the suspended list.

 

An interesting argument emerged during Wednesday’s PFT Live regarding Washington’s decision to claim linebacker Reuben Foster on waivers: Should the league have blocked the move?

 

Chris Simms raised the possibility. While it has some appeal on the surface, the reality is that the league can’t tell a team to sign or not sign a player, unless and until that player is properly suspended under one of the various league policies that permit suspension. To simply swoop in and tell one or more teams not to acquire a player whose arrival would be unpopular would be a violation of the labor deal, and possibly collusion.

 

The league had to be tempted to try. At a time when the “focus on football” message from new P.R. chief Jocelyn Moore has worked well, the NFL surely didn’t want the top story on many sports shows to arise from the decision to make a waivers claim for Foster, especially when much of the discussion consists of criticism of the move. The better focus would be on the high-powered offenses and high-stakes games looming this week.

 

So maybe that’s ultimately why the league took the likely unprecedented step of keeping the identity of the team that claimed Foster on waivers a secret for roughly an hour on Tuesday afternoon. Maybe the league was trying to get Washington to reconsider its decision in ways far more subtle than issuing a mandate not to claim him.

 

The Tuesday night statement from Redskins PR in the name of Doug Williams implied an endorsement of Foster from some of his teammates at Alabama now on the Washington roster.  In the harsh light of Wednesday’s media frenzy, they were nowhere to be found, if indeed they had existed.

 

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

In the team’s initial statement about claiming linebacker/accused domestic violence committer Reuben Foster off waivers, they cited the large number of former Alabama players on their roster as part of their justification.

 

Specifically, the statement from senior vice president of player personnel cited “candid conversations with a number of his ex-Alabama teammates.”

 

That number couldn’t have been more than five, because two of Foster’s former Alabama products denied any knowledge of such requests.

 

According to Les Carpenter of the Washington Post, both safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said Wednesday they did not have any such conversations.

 

“I didn’t talk to Bruce [Allen] or nobody,” Clinton-Dix said.

 

It’s possible that Allen got such a detailed scouting report from linebackers Ryan Anderson and Shaun Dion Hamilton, defensive lineman Daron Payne, guard Arie Kouandjio, and wide receiver Cam Sims that no such elaboration from the two starters was needed.

 

Or, perhaps Allen made a cold and calculated play for a first-round talent without consideration to his recent arrest, and left Williams and coach Jay Gruden to answer to the “outcry” that naturally followed.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

The DB has said – beware the Browns.  Now Evan Bleier of RealClearLife.com makes the case for Denver as the late-closing AFC Wild Card dark horse:

 

Following his team’s 24-17 home win over the favored Steelers, Denver defensive superstar Von Miller was in a goofy mood when talking about his team’s next opponent, the Bengals.

 

Doing his best Bill Belichick impression, the Broncos pass-rusher answered questions with short, clipped, monotone sentences that ended with “We’re onto Cincinnati.”

 

Though Miller was kidding around following his team’s surprise win, Denver’s playoff chances, even with the team at 5-6, are no longer a joke.

 

The biggest reason for that is, in addition to the Bengals, the Broncos’ remaining games come against the 49ers, Browns, Raiders, and Chargers.

 

At 8-3, the Chargers are leading Denver in the AFC West and are almost assured of a wildcard playoff spot, but the remaining four teams on Denver’s slate are a combined 13-30-1 and are already playing for next year.

 

That means Denver should face little to no resistance over the next four weeks and has a legit shot at heading into the final week of the season against the Chargers at 9-6.

 

While there’s no way to know where the other teams (Ravens, Dolphins, Colts) that are in contention for the sixth and final playoff spot will be at that time, it’s a safe bet that none of them will be any better than 9-6.

 

Should that be the case, Denver’s chance at the playoffs could come down to that final game against the Chargers, a team they eked out a 23-22 win over in Week 11 on a Brandon McManus field goal as time expired.

 

Week 17 will be played at Mile High Stadium, where Denver’s defense plays well and kicks carry for days – so there’s no reason to think it couldn’t come down to a McManus yet again. If it does, the odds are pretty good he’ll nail it.

 

Who would have thought a month ago that the Week 15 nationally-televised by NFL Network Browns at Broncos game could have significant impact?

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

We wonder why the media seems determined to shut up QB BAKER MAYFIELD who is such a breath of fresh air.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the QB is unchastened for now:

 

Browns QB Baker Mayfield doesn’t regret his criticism of Hue Jackson, or even calling him fake, despite the national criticism he’s receiving.

 

“No, everyone likes to make things a bigger deal than they really are, that’s just how it is,’’ he said. “People took it as me personally attacking Hue, but that’s not it. It’s the fact that I get to have my own opinion on how it transpired and he gets to do what he wants. That’s how it is.

 

“Although I’m an athlete, I’m not a cookie-cutter quarterback, never have been, never will be. I speak my mind. That’s just how I am, so I didn’t like the move and people don’t have to care. I’m not looking for anybody’s approval. I don’t regret any of it. It’s about this team and what we have and we have to stick together and play together.”

 

But calling Jackson fake on Instagram in response to ESPN First Take’s Damien Woody telling Mayfield to grow up?

 

“There’s just things that happened inside the building that I’m not going to get into detail with, it’s in-house information and it doesn’t matter,’’ he said. “We’ve moved on. We have our coach right now. We have our play caller, and we’re having success, so we need to focus on that.”

 

Pressed to elaborate on what he meant by that, he said, “I get it, but I don’t have to get into details. That’s how it works.”

 

Asked about it another time later in his 15-minute press conference, he said to a reporter, “You’re caught up on that word, aren’t ya?”

 

He also had no problem with his brother, Matt Mayfield, chiming in after him on the First Take “grow up’’ video, saying that his brother wasn’t going to fake friendship or respect for a coach that “a) didn’t have your back and b) was both uniquely and statistically bad at their job.’’

 

“He’s protective,’’ said Mayfield. “That’s what you want family for. I expect some of these guys in this locker room to go to war with me, too. That’s just how it is.”

 

Meanwhile, Doug Farrar of USA TODAY sings the praises of the last man standing, OC Freddie Kitchens who inherited the Browns offense when both Jackson and Todd Haley were sent packing.

 

Freddie Kitchens had already led a pretty interesting football life before he became the Browns’ interim offensive coordinator on October 29, following the dual firing of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Kitchens was a plus-size quarterback at Alabama from 1995 through 1997, and after his collegiate playing career came to an end, he started his coaching path as an offensive assistant at Glenville State in 1999. He worked as a tight ends coach, quarterbacks coach, and running backs coach for the Cowboys and Cardinals from 2006 through 2017, and was installed as Cleveland’s running backs coach before the 2018 season.

 

When Kitchens was promoted following the Browns’ Black Monday–when head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired on October 29–it was imagined as yet another uninspiring move from a franchise that has had plenty of them since re-entering the NFL in 1999. But what Kitchens has done to invigorate Cleveland’s offense has few modern precedents. For a coordinator to come in mid-season, install his schemes, and see a massive uptick in efficiency and productivity?

 

That doesn’t generally happen. But it certainly has in Cleveland.

 

Per CBS Sports, the difference in rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield’s play under Kitchens has been jaw-dropping. Under Jackson and Haley, Mayfield threw eight touchdown passes to six interceptions. Under Kitchens, he’s thrown nine touchdown passes to just one pick. Moreover, as former NFL offensive lineman and SB Nation contributor Geoff Schwartz points out, the Browns have had 10 red zone opportunities in their last three games, and they’ve converted them all… with touchdowns. And per Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted efficiency metrics, only Drew Brees has been more valuable on a play-to-play basis than Mayfield since Kitchens took over.

 

Again, this just doesn’t happen. But it’s happening with the Browns, and Kitchens is the primary reason.

 

“He’s been fun,” left guard Joel Bitonio recently told Cleveland.com about his new play-caller. “Kind of a no-nonsense guy, he’s going to tell you how he feels and he has a good time with it. It’s been really cool to see, actually.”

 

That collaborative effort seems in stark contrast to the Jackson/Haley duo, who weren’t communicating with each other, never mind with their players. But none of that happy stuff matters if your team isn’t bringing it on the field. And that’s where Kitchens’ presence is truly remarkable—when you watch what the Browns’ offense has become in the last three games, you see a truly multiple offense in which concepts from many different masters are used in a highly effective fashion. And when you see how some NFL offenses feature the same staid concepts over and over, it makes what Kitchens has done all the more refreshing.

 

(Farrar has some photos and videos examining specific plays in his piece that you can see here).

 

Kitchens has a real knack for making simple route combinations work, and this touchdown pass to halfback Nick Chubb (No. 24) against Cincinnati shows another example. Chubb is running a drag/wheel combo with Callaway, and the intersection of the two players provides a natural rub that gives Chubb one-on-one coverage as he takes his route upfield. Safety Brandon Wilson (No. 40) actually does a great job of sticking with Chubb through the route, but the back makes an incredible catch to seal the deal.

– – –

“It was something, wasn’t it?,” Mayfield said after the game. “We threw a different look. We moved the ball well. It was just a thing to switch up the tempo, and I think it was great for our offense.”

 

Interim head coach Gregg Williams agreed.

 

“We have a good package of things that we wanted that group of players to come onto the field,” Williams said. “We also wanted to see how they would respond. How would they visualize or see the package? We had a good package of plays. We had a little no-huddle concept, also, if we needed to try to keep that package on the field. Very well-thought out on Freddie and the offensive staff on utilizing what we have here.”

 

So, there’s more for Kitchens to roll out in the Browns’ final five games. The tests will be tougher down the stretch, with the defenses of the Texans, Broncos, and Ravens among the NFL’s best. But with a 4-6-1 record and an offense that’s humming far beyond what anybody expected, the Browns are more than an interesting novelty–now, they’re must-see TV for anyone who loves to see creative offensive play-calling.

 

Whatever happens with Kitchens in the future–whether he stays with the Browns or winds up somewhere else in an off-season coaches’ coup–he’s proven to be one of the best in the business at what he does.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers know that RB JAMES CONNER, otherwise exemplary in 2018, is getting a reputation for fumbles.  Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

 

Mike Tomlin expects running back James Conner to be targeted Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Los Angeles Chargers in a prime-time matchup at Heinz Field.

 

Conner lost a fumble for the second time this season when he was upended after reception against the Denver Broncos. It was one of four turnovers the Steelers committed in the 24-17 loss that snapped their six-game winning streak.

 

Conner also lost a fumble in the opening week that helped the Cleveland Browns come back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

 

Tomlin said he hasn’t lost faith in Conner, but he knows the Chargers are aware of Conner’s fumbles.

 

“I will acknowledge as a feature ball carrier in this league, when you got some tape with some balls on the ground, people use that as motivation. I know we do,” Tomlin said at his weekly press conference. “If we’re playing a featured runner and in some recent weeks he’s got some balls on the ground, Wednesday morning that is being discussed. That’s the nature of my conversation with James – just understand how the other 31 teams function.

 

“Somewhere in L.A. Tomorrow, they’ll be talking about his balls on the ground. I’ll be excited about watching his response to that.”

 

Conner has 4 fumbles in 235 touches this year, losing two, two recovered by Pittsburgh.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

This from John McClain of the Houston Chronicle:

 

@McClain_on_NFL

An ESPN stat 4 those who say Texans haven’t beaten anybody: Their strength of victory percentage of .455 is tied for 4th N the AFC. Chiefs are 8th (.424), Steelers 10th (.422), Colts 14th (.379), Chargers 15th (.313). Titans are first (.545), NE second (.540), Denver 3rd (.464).

 

None of the eight wins are against anybody that would make you quake, except maybe the Colts now.

 

Indy, JAX, Dallas, Washington, Buffalo, Miami, Denver, Tennessee.

 

The Texans will go the entire season without playing Pittsburgh, the Chargers, Kansas City, New England, New Orleans, the Rams, Bears or Vikings to name on quick list of what might be the league’s best eight teams. 

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Appeals officer James Thrash turned down the plea of RB LEONARD FOURNETTE and he remains suspended for Sunday’s game with the Colts.  But recently acquired RB CARLOS HYDE is chomping at the bit to do more.  John Reid of the Florida Times-Union:

 

When Scott Milanovich works his first practice on Wednesday as the Jaguars new offensive coordinator, running back Carlos Hyde hopes more changes will be facilitated other than benching quarterback Blake Bortles.

 

Hyde, who was acquired in a trade from the Cleveland Browns in October, is not happy with his current role as a backup.

 

Playing behind both Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon, Hyde wants more carries and a bigger role.

 

Even with Fournette’s ejection in Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Hyde had only 10 carries for 33 yards.

 

Still, it was the most carries he’s had since his arrival to the Jaguars during Week 7.

 

“I went from starter [Cleveland] to not getting the ball at all, down to third string,” said Hyde, a former Ohio State star. “Yes, it’s frustrating but I have to be patient for my time to come back around. When it comes, I’ll be ready.”

 

The Jaguars rushed for a season-high 225 yards against the Bills, but were held to 53 yards in the second half after Fournette’s ejection.

 

Hyde got six carries in the second half. He ran the ball two times on the same possession only twice after halftime.

 

“The only reason I got more [carries] was because Leonard went out,” Hyde said. “I just want to play more and be more involved.”

 

After four games with the Jaguars, Hyde has only 27 carries for 93 yards.

– – –

We’ve been wrong before, but we’re not thinking QB CODY KESSLER will be much of an improvement, if any, over BLAKE BORTLES.  Mike Chappell with some numbers:

 

@mchappell51

Cody Kessler starts vs. Colts Sunday. First start since 2016 with Cleveland. 0-8 as starter that year, and in career.

 

It was one thing to keep Bortles around for 2018 after the chimera of the playoff run.  But an altogether another thing to settle on Kessler as his back-up.  Teddy Bridgewater?  Mike Glennon?  Even Sam Bradford?

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KINGSBURY

The DB thought Kliff Kingsbury would end up in LA, and it looks like he might.  These tweets from Gil Brandt:

 

@Gil_Brandt

The phone of former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has been ringing off the hook from NFL teams, including two that have given him firm offers. College offense has infiltrated the NFL and Kingsbury’s superb knowledge of it is in high demand.

 

@Gil_Brandt

The college phones seem to be working as well. Was told by college HC that USC is now the clear front-runner for Kingsbury. As these things tend to go, stay tuned. But for now, USC in drivers seat with OC opening.Gil Brandt added,

 

 

HOT SEATS

ESPN’s correspondents rank the security of NFL coaches.  We edited out comments on those Rating 2 or less, with one exception (full thing here):

 

Rating 5: Hot seat

 

Green Bay Packers (4-6-1)

Coach: Mike McCarthy (125-76-2 over 13 seasons)

A year ago, McCarthy’s seat was cool. He received a one-year contract extension through 2019 shortly before former general manager Ted Thompson was forced aside. The GM search was done in part to ensure McCarthy had a solid pairing, which he got with Brian Gutekunst, except for this: Gutekunst doesn’t have the authority over the coach; team president Mark Murphy took that on. Now, this season has spiraled in a way no one foresaw, and the feeling is that a second straight season without a playoff berth could result in a coaching change. No team wants a lame-duck coach, and how could the Packers do a new deal with McCarthy coming off a poor season? The perception that Aaron Rodgers isn’t fully in support of McCarthy doesn’t help matters, either. — Rob Demovsky

 

New York Jets (3-8)

Coach: Todd Bowles (23-36 over four seasons)

Bowles has lost 16 of his past 21 games and will miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. So, yes, he’s in serious trouble. It’s not all his fault, but someone has to pay, and it appears that general manager Mike Maccagnan is safe. Barring a miraculous turnaround, Bowles will be replaced by an offensive-minded coach who can develop quarterback Sam Darnold. — Rich Cimini

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)

Coach: Dirk Koetter (18-25 over three seasons)

The Bucs might have snapped a four-game losing streak, but they are still three games under .500 this season and seven games under .500 during Koetter’s tenure. Patience is wearing thin, and quarterback Jameis Winston, whom Koetter was brought in to develop, is showing the same ball-security issues he had when he came into the league four years ago. On top of that, Koetter had the opportunity to fire defensive coordinator Mike Smith at the end of last season but didn’t, a move that unquestionably cost the Bucs games this season before he was fired in October. — Jenna Laine

 

Rating 4: Warm seat

 

Arizona Cardinals (2-9)

Coach: Steve Wilks (new coach)

There’s no denying that this season has been an unmitigated disaster for Wilks, who has had to change starting quarterbacks and fire his offensive coordinator. Here’s why Wilks likely won’t be fired after the season, even if the Cardinals finish 2-14: The offense has made enough of a turnaround under interim offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich that it could save Wilks’ job. Give Wilks a whole offseason with Leftwich to implement his offensive system, and then see what happens. If the Cardinals get off to another start in 2019 like this one, Wilks will be on the hot seat by midseason. — Josh Weinfuss

 

Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

Coach: John Harbaugh (100-71 over 11 seasons)

The hot seat has cooled recently for Harbaugh, thanks to a rookie quarterback and a two-game win streak. Lamar Jackson has won his first two starts, and the Ravens are suddenly the favorites for the final playoff spot in the AFC. However, if Baltimore fails to reach the postseason — as it has done the past three years — Harbaugh’s run in Baltimore is likely over. Owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged this past offseason that he considered parting ways with Harbaugh, so the coach has been on notice the entire 2018 season. — Jamison Hensley

 

Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

Coach: Marvin Lewis (130-118-3 over 16 seasons)

It seemed almost inevitable that Lewis would leave at the end of the 2017 season, but he ended up reaching a two-year contract extension. While the Bengals certainly don’t work the way other teams do, it’s clear that fans are fed up, which shows in the declining attendance numbers at Paul Brown Stadium. Lewis has a built-in excuse with an extraordinary amount of injuries and a defense so bad that it resulted in the firing of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, but the way this season has gone has been disappointing after the team’s hot start. Lewis’ future is not set in stone either way. — Katherine Terrell

 

Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

Coach: Jason Garrett (73-58 over nine seasons)

If this question had been asked at the midpoint of the season, Garrett’s seat would have been not just hot but red-hot. Now a three-game win streak has the Cowboys in first place in the NFC East and in control of their destiny, but it doesn’t mean Garrett is safe. The pressure remains on him, especially now that the Cowboys look to be the favorites to win the division with five games to go. Owner Jerry Jones has maintained patience and belief in Garrett, who has two playoff appearances and one postseason victory in his tenure. Garrett has rallied the Cowboys at the most important time, but he’d better keep winning if he wants to find himself secure for 2019. — Todd Archer

 

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)

Coach: Doug Marrone (14-15 over three seasons)

The Jaguars have lost seven consecutive games, just fired their offensive coordinator and benched their starting quarterback, so some of the goodwill Marrone earned by taking the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game last season has eroded. If they fail to win another game — which isn’t out of the question because of the rash of injuries to the offensive line — Marrone’s job will definitely be in jeopardy. That would be 12 losses in a row, which would surpass the longest single-season losing streak in franchise history (nine in 2016). — Mike DiRocco

 

Washington Redskins (6-5)

Coach: Jay Gruden (34-40-1 over five seasons)

The Redskins have missed the postseason the past two years. A third straight miss? With a franchise suddenly having a hard time selling tickets? That would be a bad look. There’s no guarantee that Gruden will be fired if they miss out — not every problem stems from coaching, and players aren’t privately grumbling about him — so the number should perhaps be a 3.5. He isn’t exactly safe, but he isn’t exactly a lock to leave with a poor finish. Injuries have affected a second straight season, yet the Redskins remain 6-5 with a shot to win the NFC East. They do need to play better and can’t rely on injuries as an excuse if they miss the playoffs, especially if they stumble poorly down the stretch. Gruden has two years left on his contract thanks to an extension signed after the 2016 season. — John Keim

 

Rating 3: Lukewarm seat

 

Denver Broncos (5-6)

Coach: Vance Joseph (10-17 over two seasons)

Joseph’s seat is cooling because the Broncos won back-to-back games, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the building just how hard the team plays for Joseph. The Broncos have to show maturity and win games down the stretch, however. Joseph doesn’t have personnel power, so a lack of impact from the 2017 draft class and issues along the offensive line don’t really fall on his desk. In Joseph’s favor is the fact that the Broncos have slugged it out with the league’s best this season and still have a playoff shot. — Jeff Legwold

 

Miami Dolphins (5-6)

Coach: Adam Gase (21-22 over three seasons)

We’ve seen coaches get fired for under-.500 records through three seasons — just look at Mike Mularkey in Tennessee last season. But Gase seems more likely to return in 2019, even if Miami doesn’t make the playoffs, because owner Stephen Ross appears sympathetic to the injuries Gase has dealt with. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has missed 25 games the past three seasons, and the Dolphins have placed 10 players on season-ending IR this season, including key offensive contributors such as Josh Sitton, Daniel Kilgore, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant. Miami seems likely to undergo some change, but Gase — who made the playoffs in 2016 — seems set to get another chance to get it right as long as the team doesn’t mail it in down the stretch. — Cameron Wolfe

 

Rating 2: Cool seat

 

Atlanta Falcons (4-7)

Coach: Dan Quinn (33-26 over four seasons)

 

Detroit Lions (4-7)

Coach: Matt Patricia (new coach)

 

Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1)

Coach: Mike Zimmer (45-29-1 over five seasons)

 

Carolina Panthers (6-5)

Coach: Ron Rivera (70-52-1 over eight seasons)

 

New York Giants (3-8)

Coach: Pat Shurmur (new coach)

 

 

Rating 1: Cold seat

 

Buffalo Bills (4-7)

Coach: Sean McDermott (13-14 over two seasons)

ESPN’s Football Power Index projects the Bills to win 6.4 games, which will edge the preseason projection of 6.3 wins. McDermott’s second season has gone more or less as expected, with the Bills taking a step back as they transitioned from veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor to rookie Josh Allen. There are areas in which McDermott has opened himself up to criticism, such as his now-abandoned faith in Nathan Peterman, but the second-year coach will undoubtedly get at least another season to see through his rebuilding project, no matter what happens down the stretch. Expectations will rise in 2019. — Mike Rodak

 

Chicago Bears (8-3)

Coach: Matt Nagy (new coach)

 

Houston Texans (8-3)

Coach: Bill O’Brien (39-36 over five seasons)

 

Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

Coach: Frank Reich (new coach)

 

Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)

Coach: Andy Reid (62-29 over six seasons)

 

Los Angeles Chargers (8-3)

Coach: Anthony Lynn (17-10 over two seasons)

 

Los Angeles Rams (10-1)

Coach: Sean McVay (21-6 over two seasons)