The Daily Briefing Friday, December 22, 2017

AROUND THE NFL 

Andrew Siciliano points out that the times are a-changing:

8 of the 12 spots in the @NFL Playoffs are currently held by teams that didn’t make the postseason last year.

To recap, the top 4 seeds at the moment in the NFC – the Eagles, Vikings, Rams and Saints – are among those 8, as are the Panthers.  In the AFC, the Jaguars, Titans and Ravens round out the new 8.

The Falcons, Patriots, Steelers and Chiefs are the holdovers.

Of the 8 on the outside, the Packers, Texans, Giants, Dolphins and Raiders will not be returninig.  The Lions, Cowboys and Seahawks are still alive, but it seems very unlikely that more than 1, if any, will make the dance.  If the Seahawks are eliminated, it will end a run of five straight years in which both Seattle and Green Bay have participated in the NFC playoffs.

In the AFC, another newbie, Buffalo, could make it, but at the expense of the Titans or Ravens.

So we are almost certain to have seven new members of the playoff family.

– – –

The NFL retroactively closes the means used by Gene Steratore to assess that Dallas had made a first down.  The AP:

The NFL has told its officials not to use index cards or any other paper to aid in measurements.

In Sunday night’s Cowboys-Raiders game, veteran referee Gene Steratore tried to slide what appeared to be an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain while measuring for a first down. When the card didn’t slide through, Steratore signaled a first down for Dallas. He said he had decided it was a first down before the odd measurement.

NFL officiating chief Alberto Riveron on Thursday confirmed what Steratore said.

“Using a piece of paper, that’s very unusual,” Riveron said. “The last time I saw it done was four to five years ago. That is not the norm. Gene made the decision strictly on visual affirmation that the ball made the line to gain.

“I will advise them not to use it again,” added Riveron, who replaced Dean Blandino this season. “I have already done that.”

Still no explanation as to why it is a bad idea.

NFC NORTH

GREEN BAY

From NFL.com:

No surprise here — Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said wide receiver Davante Adams won’t play Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings because of the concussion he suffered last week against the Carolina Panthers. Cornerback Davon House (shoulder/back) will try to play this week after returning to practice Wednesday. He is questionable for the game.

Linebacker Nick Perry (ankle, shoulder) is doubtful to play and guard Jahri Evans (knee) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) are questionable.

 

NFC EAST

NEW YORK GIANTS

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick is the latest to interview for the Giants’ GM job.  NFL.com:

The Giants announced Thursday they have interviewed former NFL player and personnel executive Louis Riddick for their GM vacancy. Riddick interviewed with Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch and former general manager Ernie Accorsi, who was recently retained by the team as a consultant for its GM search.

Riddick, 48, has 13 years of experience in league front offices, working for the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. He served as a pro scout for the Giants from 2001-04 before being promoted to director of pro personnel (2005-07). After joining the Eagles as a pro scout in 2008, he eventually worked his way up to the team’s pro personnel director, a position he served from 2010-13. He currently works as a football analyst for ESPN.

Riddick played six NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders in the 1990s.

Riddick’s meeting with the Giants’ brass comes a day after the team interviewed Dave Gettleman for the position. Prior to serving as the Carolina Panthers’ general manager, Gettleman was a personnel executive from 1998 to 2012 for the Giants.

The Giants fired general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo on Dec. 4.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA

From NFL.com:

Some good news for the Atlanta Falcons: Running back Tevin Coleman is out of concussion protocol and back at practice. “We’re pumped to have Tev back,” coach Dan Quinn said, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Quinn also said Julio Jones (ankle/thumb) will not practice Thursday, but he’s still on track to play in Sunday’s all-important NFC South showdown with the New Orleans Saints.

NEW ORLEANS

S KENNY VACCARO has gone to IR.

Kenny Vaccaro might have played his final game as a member of the New Orleans Saints.    Nick Underhill in the Baton Rouge Advocate:

After battling injuries throughout the season, the safety was placed on injured reserve Thursday, bringing his season to a close.

With free agency looming, Vaccaro battled through a wrist injury that bothered him from the start of the season. But it was a groin injury he suffered Nov. 5 that will end his season. It never healed as hoped and will require surgery to repair an adductor, according to a source.

Vaccaro tried to come back from the groin injury after missing two weeks but was knocked out of action again Dec. 7 against the Atlanta Falcons. After traveling to Minnesota to meet with a soft-tissue specialist who specializes in keeping players healthy, the safety was back on the field for last week’s game against the New York Jets.

At the time, he said he expected to be able to play through the injury and that he felt better than he had all season after seeing the specialist and having extra time to rest following the Thursday game against Atlanta. He responded with 10 tackles in a win over the Jets, but a source said Vaccaro was essentially “playing on one leg.”

Statistically, Vaccaro was enjoying what might have been his best season before suffering the injury. He had three interceptions in his first eight games, continuing a hot streak from the season before when he closed with two interceptions in his final four games. But the safety did not finish last season, either; he was suspended for the last month after testing positive for Adderall.

The Saints and Vaccaro will soon have a decision to make about his future. His contract is set to expire after this season, and he will reach free agency unless he first agrees to an extension. Despite his injuries, he should have plenty of suitors considering his ability to make plays while filling multiple positions.

NFC WEST

ARIZONA

He has a contract for next year, but WR LARRY FITZGERALD isn’t committing to playing in 2018.  Lakisha Jackson at NFL.com:

The 2017 season is coming to an end for the Arizona Cardinals. Could this Sunday be the last time fans see Larry Fitzgerald play in Glendale?

The future Hall of Famer wideout contemplated retirement last season but eventually decided to return. As for if he will play another season, he remains uncertain.

“I’m going to take some time,” Fitzgerald told Darren Urban of the team’s official website. “Figure it out. I’ll let you know, though.”

The Cardinals have been eliminated from postseason contention. They take on the New York Giants at home Sunday. The All-Pro wide receiver has played his entire 14-year career for the Cardinals. He said he doesn’t plan on treating this week any different from the others.

“I’ll do what I usually do, say hello to my guys on the other team and go to the locker room. No different,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald has recorded 92 catches for 982 yards and five touchdowns this season. He has 1,217 catches for 15,371 yards and 109 touchdowns for his career. Fitzgerald has fond memories of his tenure in Arizona — even if it does include recollections that would be viewed as particularly delightful.

“It’s been a good ride,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve met a lot of great people and made a lot of wonderful memories. I wish we would’ve had some more wins. That first game at Sun Devil wasn’t fun. I think it was against the Patriots. I remember [linebacker] Willie McGinest knocking me down on a crossing route and [safety] Rodney Harrison chasing me around, trying to hurt me. That wasn’t a good day.”

If this ends up being his final home game, the 11-time Pro Bowler has had an extraordinary career.

Fitzgerald is on the cusp of his 5th season with 100 catches and 1,000 yards.  The record is 6 such seasons by Brandon Marshall.  ANTONIO BROWN already has his 5th such season this year.  The others to reach 5 are Wes Welker and Andre Johnson.  GOAT Jerry Rice is among those with 4 100/1,000 seasons.

SEATTLE

The Seahawks get a $100,000 fine for failing to make QB RUSSELL WILSON go through the concussion protocol.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

In a decision that could have taken six hours and not six weeks, the league has imposed accountability on the Seahawks for the failure to keep quarterback Russell Wilson out of action until a concussion evaluation was performed on him in a Thursday night game against the Cardinals.

The NFL and NFL Players Association jointly have announced that the Seahawks have been fined $100,000 for failure to apply the concussion protocol to Wilson on November 9. Also, the Seattle coaching and medical staffs will be required to attending remedial medical training regarding the concussion protocol.

After taking an illegal hit to the jaw from Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, Wilson exited the game at the direction of referee Walt Anderson. Wilson, while sitting down as the blue medical tent was being unfurled around him, got up, grabbed his helmet, and re-entered the game.

“Once it is determined that a medical examination is warranted, a player may only be cleared to return by the medical staff,” the joint statement explains. “Mr. Wilson’s return to the field without a sideline concussion evaluation was therefore in violation of the concussion protocol.  Subsequently the team medical staff did examine the player and clear him per the protocol.”

The NFL and the NFLPA will update the protocol to instruct officials, teammates, and coaches to take the player directly to a member of the medical team for a concussion assessment. It’s an obvious tweak that already is implied by the very existence of the protocol, and via the application of common sense.

The $100,000 fine represents the maximum punishment for a first offense under the protocol. As the NFL and the NFLPA consider further changes to the protocol, perhaps they should consider making the penalty something more than, to a billion-dollar entity, the equivalent of a parking ticket.

Wilson has not offered to pay the fine and in fact wonders what the fuss is about.  Gregg Bell in the Tacoma News-Tribune:

After the series ended, Seahawks team doctor Edward Khalfayan stood in front of Wilson on the sideline in front of the team’s bench. With the quarterback’s helmet off, the doctor held each side of Wilson’s face along the jaw-bone line for an evaluation. Wilson went into the tent of obscurity for more evaluation. It was brief; he was out of it after maybe a minute or so, and went back to sitting on the bench reviewing his electronic tablet showing Arizona’s defensive alignments.

He then finished Seattle’s 22-16 victory.

“I guess that’s what they decided to do,” Wilson said Thursday before the Seahawks (8-6) practiced for Sunday’s game at Dallas (8-6). “I thought that everything was done in the right way. There was a lot of confusion on why I was coming out of the game anyway.”

The Seahawks and Wilson contend no one on the field made it explicitly clear to them why Wilson was sent off the field.

“I was completely clear,” Wilson said of his mind. “My jaw was messed up, but other than that…that’s what they decided.”

What will Wilson change the next time something like this may happen in a game?

“What should I change?” he said. “More than anything it was just playing ball. I felt completely clear, so there’s nothing really to change, quite honestly.”

His jaw injury from the hit had him on a liquid diet of smoothies and made it tough for him to talk for days following the game.

If players who are the victim of an illegal hit must miss x number of plays for a thorough examination, the DB thinks that the perpetrator of the illegal hit should be sidelined for the same number of plays up to say 15 plays.

AFC WEST

THE RAIDERS

The NFL lets RB MARSHAWN LYNCH have it with a $24,309 fine. The AP:

The NFL fined Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch $24,309 for his actions toward a game official near the end of last week’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

Television cameras showed Lynch yelling at a sideline official near the end of the game after Raiders quarterback Derek Carr fumbled the ball out of the end zone while diving for a touchdown. Lynch had to be pushed back by teammates as he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Raiders lost the game, 20-17.

This isn’t the first time Lynch has been disciplined by the league.

He was suspended one game in October after making contact with an official during a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Will Brinson of CBSSports.com says the Chargers still have a puncher’s chance of making the playoffs:

The good news for Chargers fans (there are like five of us and it’s all media members who picked them to win the division) is that the playoffs are not completely out of the question yet. In fact, there is at least one scenario where it is borderline likely the Chargers make the playoffs, even if the numbers say that’s not true.

According to Stephen Oh’s SportsLine model, the Chargers are a longshot for the playoffs, with just a 14.3 percent chance of making the postseason. They have just a 2.2 percent chance to win the division.

Cue Lloyd Christmas, and cue our first scenario for the Bolts making the playoffs.

Win the AFC West

Yes, that’s right, even after being swept by the Chiefs in the regular season and sitting a game behind them, the Chargers hopes of making the playoffs and hosting a playoff game in lovely, crowded StubHub Center still live on. Just not by much.

The situation here should be obvious: the Chiefs have to lose out to the Dolphins (home, Week 16) and Broncos (in Denver, Week 17) while the Chargers have to win out against the Jets (in New York, Week 16) and Raiders (home, Week 17). It’s a pretty unlikely scenario with the Chiefs sitting there as 10-point favorites against the Dolphins this week. In fact, it’s much more likely the Chargers lose to the Jets than the Chiefs lose to the Dolphins.

But the scenario exists, at least for another 72 hours or so.

The wild-card option

This is, of course, the much more likely scenario. Although it is also a lot less straightforward, at least in terms of simply being about the Chiefs losing and the Chargers winning. In fact, the Chargers need help from three different teams in order to make it as a wild card. Specifically, the Ravens, Bills and Titans.

Los Angeles is in a bad spot because it can only win in a two-team tiebreaker situation, thanks to their bad conference record. Anything that involves the Chargers in a three- or four-team tiebreaker is a loser for L.A. because of that.

So here’s what has to happen:

1. The Chargers win out: Obviously this has to happen. One loss and the Chargers are basically DOA for Week 17 against the Raiders. But they get the Jets and Bryce Petty on the road and then Oakland at home on New Year’s Eve. Win both and they finish 9-7 and just hope for some stuff.

2. The Titans lose out: This is the biggest factor because the Titans are probably the most likely team to disrupt the Chargers situation. At 8-6, they are the current No. 5 seed. But if they lose out, they finish 8-8 and will be out of the playoffs. And there’s a decent chance they lose out. Week 15 features a matchup against the Rams in Tennessee, with the Rams favored by 6.5 points. Then the Titans will get the Jaguars in Week 17, in a game where Jacksonville will play its starters and will be favored pretty heavily, even though the game is in Tennessee. A win in either game by the Titans likely dooms the Chargers.

3. The Ravens win (or lose) out: If the Ravens lose out it would help the Chargers, but that’s not happening. Baltimore gets the Colts as a 13.5-point favorite in Week 16 and then the Bengals (likely as a similar favorite) at home in Week 17. With the way this defense is playing, with the opposition and with Joe Flacco getting hot, it would be a stunner if they lost either of those games.

4. The Bills go 1-1: The Bills could also go 0-2, but the Chargers need to get into a two-team tiebreaker situation with Buffalo (they own the head-to-head tiebreak in that scenario) and therefore need to make up the game difference in the standings. The easiest way for the Chargers to do that is to have the Bills lose to the Patriots in Week 16 in New England.

According to the New York Times playoff simulator, the Chargers would see their playoff odds jump to 28 percent if the Chiefs, Chargers, Patriots, Ravens and Rams win this week. That number would jump to 34 percent if the Ravens win in Week 17. They would just need to take care of business on New Year’s Eve against Oakland and get some help from Jacksonville (who they might play in the opening round, oddly enough).

It’s a longshot but by no means impossible.

AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE

From NFL.com:

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (knee) sat out practice again and is listed as doubtful for Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (illness) is questionable to play.

CLEVELAND

Talented Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN.com looks at the “beautiful disaster” that John Dorsey now reigns over.  The whole thing is here:

On a Sunday of little relevance, in a season already over, Hue Jackson finally broke down. He had a   dream the night before, fast asleep in his hotel bed, that his Cleveland Browns won a football game. Jackson woke up and couldn’t wait to get to the stadium that morning. It was a great week of practice, and there were signs — you had to look for them, but they were there — that this would be the day that the losing skid would end.

The game was at Cincinnati, a place where Jackson spent seven seasons as an assistant, and how great would it be, he thought, to win in front of old friends?

But the Browns didn’t win, because they are, of course, the Cleveland Browns. They lost by two touchdowns. Players tramped to the locker room and knelt for the Lord’s Prayer. It was Nov. 26, Cleveland was 0-11, and two years of failed efforts and public humiliations raced through the coach’s head.

Jackson has always considered himself a positive person, the right man for a job that has seen six coaches in 10 years. But when the Our Father ended and the players rose to their feet, Jackson could not get up. He looked as if he might cry. A couple of players walked over to him.

“All right, Coach,” one of them said. “We got you.”

They picked him up off the floor.

The plan was to tell the story of how a lovable-loser franchise was changing its culture through the use of analytics and a massive infusion of youth. We’d follow 10 rookie draft picks through their first NFL season and get a glimpse behind the curtain along the way. The Browns, however, wanted to hold off on providing access until they recorded their first victory of the season.

There was good reason for optimism at the start of the season in Cleveland. The franchise had drafted Myles Garrett No. 1 overall, and the defensive end was considered a once-in-a-generation talent. There was hope at quarterback, too, with rookie DeShone Kizer coming. Curious crowds filed in to training camp in Berea, Ohio, and Jackson was fired up. He ordered the team to do up-downs, something you see more in high school practices. It was a message that the Browns were going to do whatever it took to get better.

But true to form, the plan has fallen to bits. Garrett hurt his ankle and missed the first month of the season. Kizer amassed a league-high 19 interceptions. And the cornerstone of the team, All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas, tore his triceps. Cleveland still hasn’t won a game, and on Dec. 7, Browns co-owner Jimmy Haslam fired executive vice president Sashi Brown, largely ditching the “Moneyball” strategy after 23 months.

For the fourth time in five years, the Browns are starting over again.

“I never set out to lose at anything I do,” Jackson said. “And when you can’t seem to win, it’s like you’re in a maze and you keep coming back to the same outcome.

– – –

Quarterback, or lack thereof, has been the Browns’ biggest source of angst for nearly two decades. They have tried 20 different starters at the position since 2007. So imagine the sheer anger that flows through the city every time Carson Wentz is on Monday Night Football or a highlights show. Before his recent knee injury, Wentz had emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season, an MVP candidate. And he could have been a Cleveland Brown.

The team held the No. 2 pick in 2016, when Wentz and Jared Goff were in the draft. Jackson had extensive conversations with Wentz in the months leading up to the draft, and by all accounts, Wentz was ready to be a Brown. The team sent him part of its playbook, and he studied it voraciously, hoping to impress Jackson and the front office. He had regular conversations with Jackson by phone, and made it clear he was he was quickly picking up the Cleveland offense. (The playbook was printed on Jackson’s stationary.)

Twice a day, Wentz would go over the Browns’ plays on the whiteboard in North Dakota State’s film room with Ryan Lindley, a former NFL quarterback who was mentoring him prior to his pro day. When friends and fans bumped into Wentz in Fargo, they would often express hope he wouldn’t end up in Cleveland. But Wentz always politely brushed those worries aside and made it clear he was ready to embrace the challenge of helping rebuild the Browns. Lindley teased him that if he succeeded in Cleveland, so desperate for a winner, the city would put him on its version of Mount Rushmore.

When one of his college coaches showed Wentz an Instagram picture of a high school kid in North Dakota wearing a Browns jersey with WENTZ on the back, the quarterback thought it was cool. He was even considering getting a Browns tattoo. The morning of his pro day, Wentz met with Jackson and former QB coach Pep Hamilton for an hour, admitting he’d barely slept because he was up late, anxiously studying their playbook like he was prepping for a final exam.

After he put on an impressive performance during his pro day, Wentz felt confident he’d shown them he was worthy of becoming the second pick in the draft. No other team had sent a head coach to Fargo to watch him throw.

Wentz never got the chance to find out what he could do in Cleveland. The Browns, intent on stockpiling draft picks, traded the spot. Cleveland’s front office later stated he wasn’t one of the top 20 players in the draft. Wentz went on to change the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles, who are 12-2 and have clinched the NFC East and a first-round playoff bye.

When asked last week if he wanted Wentz and was vetoed by the front office, Jackson declined to comment.

“He plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, we moved on, and the young man is doing great,” Jackson said. “And I think that’s all that matters.”

– – –

The Dec. 10 game between the Browns and the Green Bay Packers was dubbed by a local radio personality as the dawn of a new era. John Dorsey had been hired three days earlier, and the city was abuzz. Dorsey’s previous job was as general manager for the Kansas City Chiefs. In his first season, he took a team that finished 2-14 the year before and made it to the playoffs. Maybe he could fix the Browns.

– – –

Dorsey, dressed in slacks and an overcoat, sat in a corner stall of the locker room late that afternoon, taking in the scene. He wanted to see how this team reacted to another loss.

The new GM caused somewhat of a stir last week when he went on a local radio show and said the past front office “didn’t get real players,” which would seem like a slam on his new team.

“I may have misspoke a little bit,” Dorsey said during a phone interview Monday. “I’m man enough to say it. I’m not an English major. What my heart was wanting me to say is we have some young players here. We just need more young players.”

Dorsey was a linebacker for the Packers in the 1980s and has a deep respect for the passion of Cleveland’s fan base. He says he wants to “re-awaken the sleeping giant.”

He spent six months out of football when he and the Chiefs parted ways this past summer. He didn’t know what it was like to have that much time on his hands, so he forced himself to follow a routine. Dorsey devoted the early morning hours to his Catholic faith, then would go to the gym. By 11 each morning, he’d head down to his makeshift office in the basement to watch film and call people around the league. He wanted to be ready if he had another chance in the NFL.

Now he has so many decisions to make. The Browns have six of the top 65 picks in the 2018 draft, and would land the overall No. 1 pick with a loss at Chicago or a win by the New York Giants against the Arizona Cardinals. Cleveland is expected to have two picks in the top six.

Maybe the Browns will draft UCLA QB Josh Rosen or USC’s Sam Darnold. Or Dorsey could make a   Wentz-like pick and go for Wyoming’s Josh Allen.

It sounds almost impossible that the Browns could finally find the one thing that two decades of coaches couldn’t. They could get their marquee quarterback.

But before that, they have to get through this long winter. Dorsey will observe the final days of Cleveland’s season and decide where they need to go next. He’ll compile his observations and share them with the coach, which presumably will be Jackson.

In their news release announcing Dorsey’s hire, the Haslams announced that Jackson will be back next season. Dorsey says he has been struck by how hard the team plays for Jackson.

Some days, the players are what keep Jackson going. It has been rumored that the Bengals might want him to replace longtime coach Marvin Lewis, but Lewis is still currently employed by Cincinnati, and Jackson told reporters last weekend that he’s committed to Cleveland and wants to see this whole thing through.

“I truly believe there is winning in there,” Jackson said. “I just think we’ve got to go bring it out.

“We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.

AFC EAST

BUFFALO

From NFL.com:

Kelvin Benjamin is back on the practice field for the Buffalo Bills.

The wide receiver, who sat out practice on Wednesday because of a knee injury, was a limited participant in practice Thursday.

It remains to be seen if Benjamin will play in Sunday’s AFC East duel with the New England Patriots. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported on Good Morning Football that Benjamin likely will need surgery this offseason to fix the issue. Garafolo characterized Benjamin’s status as questionable for this week’s game, which is laden with playoff implications for the Bills.

MIAMI

Will QB JAY CUTLER return somewhere in 2018 after a mixed ’17 season?  He ain’t saying.  James Walker of ESPN.com:

Are we witnessing the final two games of Jay Cutler’s NFL career? The 12-year quarterback isn’t saying.

But in all likelihood, Cutler is wrapping up a one-and-done experiment with the Miami Dolphins. The bigger question is whether Cutler is open to playing for anyone else when he becomes a free agent in the offseason?

“I haven’t thought about it,” Cutler said of his playing future. “You know, I’m focused on [Kansas City]. That stuff will be a concern of mine when the season is over.”

Cutler retired last offseason after not receiving interest following his release from the Chicago Bears. His pay scale and reluctance to be a backup quarterback likely led to little interest, as Cutler signed a broadcast deal with Fox. But when Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first week of training camp, that presented the perfect opportunity to return for Cutler, who signed a one-year, $10-million contract.

Miami’s roller-coaster ride with Cutler, 34, has been an interesting one. He is 6-6 as a starter and has thrown for 2,376 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Cutler also has an 80.6 passer rating. His numbers aren’t bad, but it’s certainly not good enough to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs.

At times this season Cutler has looked like his old self. His highlight of the year was throwing for 263 yards and a season-high three touchdowns in an upset win over the New England Patriots in a national game on Monday Night Football.

But Cutler also had three multi-interception games, including a season-high three picks last week in a big loss to Buffalo that significantly hurt Miami’s playoff chances. Inconsistency has been an issue for Cutler his entire career and that continued in his 12th season.

“We had some good games,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said. “We had some games that I wish we could have a few plays back here and there. It’s one of those things that would have been interesting to see what would have happened if we had more time.

“But being in the position we are right now, we’ll see what happens this week. We’re just focused on winning one game right now and just see how the cards fall.”

NEW ENGLAND

WR KENNY BRITT compares Bill Belichick to Greg Schiano – and he says that is a good thing.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

Wide receiver Kenny Britt has been with the New England Patriots for just over a week, and he’s still settling in. On Wednesday, the 29-year-old native of Bayonne, New Jersey, spent some one-on-one time during the media-access period and touched on a number of topics.

Our conversation:

You signed on a Wednesday and caught your first pass on Sunday. How much did that make you feel part of it right off the bat?

Britt: Real excitement. There were a lot of emotions running through my body. From the first day I got here, it’s been high ever since.

What was it about the Patriots that made you want to be a part of?

Britt: It’s kind of crazy because throughout my career, I always had my sights on here and playing with the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. And a head coach we have, and how they run the organization, it’s similar to what we did at Rutgers with Greg Schiano. I believe why you call this place here ‘Rutgers’ second home.’ Those guys do a lot of things similar here with their structure and being disciplined, and guys focusing on what needs to be done, and knowing and understanding this is a job and we need all guys in the building to win a championship, or even to win a game. Not one person can do it. That’s what they preached at Rutgers. That’s what they’re preaching here.

I was told that you mentioned to your agent, ‘I don’t care about the money, just get me to New England.’ Does that sound right?

Britt: At this point of my career, it had nothing to do with money or trying to get that contract again. The times I had a chance to get here, it was more of a financial decision for me and my family, where I was at in life. To have this decision again, it’s not about the financial part and instead on what’s the best fit for me.

THIS AND THAT

RIP DICK ENBERG

Broadcast legend Dick Enberg has been found dead at his LaJolla home:

Dick Enberg, the longtime sportscaster who got his big break with UCLA basketball and went on to call Super Bowls, Olympics, Final Fours and Angels and Padres baseball games, died Thursday. He was 82.

Engberg’s daughter, Nicole, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. She said the family became concerned when he didn’t arrive on his flight to Boston on Thursday, and that he was found dead at his home in La Jolla, a San Diego neighborhood, with his bags packed.

“He was dressed with his bags packed at the door,” wife Barbara told the Union-Tribune. “We think it was a heart attack.”

Enberg retired in October 2016 after a 60-year career — and countless calls of “Oh my!” in describing a play that nearly defied description. He also was well-known for his baseball catchphrase of “Touch ’em all” for home runs.

Raised in Armada, Michigan, Enberg’s first radio job was actually as a radio station custodian in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, when he was a junior at Central Michigan. He made $1 an hour. The owner also gave him weekend sports and disc jockey gigs, also at $1 an hour. From there he began doing high school and college football games.

During his nine years broadcasting UCLA basketball, the Bruins won eight NCAA titles. Enberg broadcast nine no-hitters, including two by San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum against the Padres in 2013 and 2014.

He said the most historically important event he covered was “The Game of the Century,” Houston’s victory over UCLA in 1968 that snapped the Bruins’ 47-game winning streak.

Enberg achieved greatness under an assumed name, although it was his grandparents who assumed it.

His paternal grandparents were Finnish immigrants, whose original name was Katajavuori, which means juniper mountain. Before they lived in America they changed their name to the Swedish sounding word of Enberg.

Is he the most famous Finnish-American?  We looked at the Wikipedia list of Finnish-Americans, and picked out our list of contenders:

Matt Damon (b. 1970) award-winning screenwriter and actor, mother is of partial Finnish descent

Dick Enberg (1935–2017) famous sportscaster

Jessica Lange (b. 1949) two-time Academy Award-winning film actress, maternal grandparents were of Finnish descent

Dan O’Brien (1966– ) former American decathlete, deemed one of the best decathlon athletes of the   1990s, winning an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta in 1996 after winning three consecutive world titles.

Eero Saarinen (1910–1961) architect and product designer of the 20th century, famous for his simple, sweeping, arching structural curves

Bobby Vee (b. 1943), rock singer, 1960s teen idol, Finnish on his mother’s side (Tapanila)

Vanessa Williams (b. 1963) singer, actress, producer, former fashion model and first African American woman to be crowned Miss America. She had DNA test done revealing she was 12% Finnish.

If you combine strength of Finnishness (1/2 in Enberg’s case) and fame, he probably beats out Damon, but Saarinen was all Finnish and very famous in his field.

This on his NFL experience:

While on The NFL on NBC, Enberg called eight Super Bowls (alongside the likes of Merlin Olsen, Bob Trumpy, Phil Simms, and Paul Maguire), the last being Super Bowl XXXII in January 1998. Enberg also anchored NBC’s coverage of Super Bowl XIII (called by Curt Gowdy) in 1979. He also called three Canadian Football League games in 1982 during the NFL strike.

Among the notable games called by Enberg was the 1986 Week 3 51-45 shootout between the Jets   and Dolphins and the 1987 playoff game between Denver and Cleveland.

He then did 11 years at CBS from 2000-10 on the NFL.

PAPA ????’S

Is it still Papa John’s without John Schnatter?  As you can tell by the periods in NFL, this is from the New York Times:

The pizza franchise Papa John’s announced Thursday that its chief executive, who recently blamed the National Football League’s handling of the national anthem controversy for the company’s declining sales, will step down from the position at the end of the month.

Under the leadership of the chief executive, John Schnatter, who started selling pizzas in 1984 in the back of his father’s Indiana tavern, Papa John’s grew into one of the top-selling pizza delivery companies in the country. He has also held an outsized role, often starring in the company’s commercials and delivering its signature line, “Better ingredients, better pizza.”

But Mr. Schnatter thrust his company into an uncomfortable and highly-political spotlight last month when he remarked about a dip in pizza sales. He cast some blame on the N.F.L., which has a sponsorship deal with Papa John’s, over the decision by some football players to draw attention to police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

“The N.F.L. has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Mr. Schnatter, 56, said on Nov. 1 during a conference call with investors. “N.F.L. leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”

In an interview on Thursday evening, a spokesman for Papa John’s did not directly answer whether Mr. Schnatter’s comments about the N.F.L. played a role in his decision to step down. But the spokesman, Peter Collins, said that it was the right time for Steve Ritchie, 43, the company’s president and chief operating officer, to become the next chief executive. Mr. Schnatter will remain as chairman of the company’s board.

Pizza is big business during football games, but the TV viewership has dropped from last season. President Trump has blamed the lower ratings on the anthem protests, and Mr. Schnatter said during the conference call that Roger Goodell, the league commissioner, should have handled the situation faster.

“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” Mr. Schnattner said.

His comments about the N.F.L. protests won the praise of white supremacists, and Papa John’s responded by saying it did not want white supremacists or their groups buying its pizzas.

Under Mr. Schnatter, Papa John’s became one of the top pizza chains in the United States, but its stock price has tumbled in the past year, falling by nearly one-third to $59.23 per share, as of Thursday.

Mr. Ritchie will take over as chief executive on Jan. 1. He started at Papa John’s in 1996 as a customer service representative, the company said. Papa John’s has more than 3,400 locations in the United States and Canada.

“This was the right time for Steve, who has been with Papa John’s for 21 years and started as an hourly employee, to step into the C.E.O. role,” the Mr. Collins said in an email. “We want to focus on what we do best — our people and our pizza.”

On a personal level, this would seem to be a win for Roger Goodell who has a fat new contract despite his organization’s struggles.

PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS QUARTERBACK RATINGS

Analysts at ProFootballFocus.com have watched every play to determine that TOM BRADY is the best QB, and by a substantial margin at that.  But they also rank JAMEIS WINSTON ahead of JARED GOFF and TYROD TAYLOR ahead of MATTHEW STAFFORD and CAM NEWTON:

PFF Analysts Steve Palazzolo and Zac Robinson give you an overview of every team’s quarterback,   and where they rank in terms of overall PFF grade as well as detailed notes on a select few who stood out for good, or bad, reasons in Week 15. These rankings are based on their overall grades after Week 15, and can be found as a part of the PFF Edge subscription.

1. TOM BRADY, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – 95.1 OVERALL GRADE

Brady took the league lead in big-time throws as he showed off impressive downfield accuracy throughout the game. He officially finished 5-for-8 for 148 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes, and that’s not including two other pinpoint deep throws that were negated by penalties. It wasn’t all perfect as Brady forced a pass under heavy pressure that was intercepted and he missed a few other throws, but his downfield ball location was the story and it earned him Western & Southern QB of the Week honors.

T2. BEN ROETHLISBERGER, PITTSBURGH STEELERS – 88.1 OVERALL GRADE

It was an outstanding effort from Roethlisberger who consistently moved the chains and executed Pittsburgh’s ball-control game plan. His game-ending interception was a bad force and a questionable decision given a three-point deficit, but he was excellent up until that point, especially on his two touchdown passes that needed perfect ball location thrown into tight windows. Roethlisberger played well under pressure, finishing 9-for-12 with a passer rating of 109.7 and he dominated in the short game where he finished 18-for-22 for 214 yards and two touchdowns on passes thrown in the 0-9-yard range.

T2. MATT RYAN, ATLANTA FALCONS – 88.1 OVERALL GRADE

4. RUSSELL WILSON, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – 87.3 OVERALL GRADE

5. DREW BREES, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS – 86.7 OVERALL GRADE

6. CASE KEENUM, MINNESOTA VIKINGS – 85.1 OVERALL GRADE

7. MARCUS MARIOTA, TENNESSEE TITANS – 84.7 OVERALL GRADE

8. AARON RODGERS, GREEN BAY PACKERS – 84.4 OVERALL GRADE

Rodgers looked a little hesitant in his return and the result was a level of play we haven’t become accustomed to seeing from him.

T9. PHILIP RIVERS, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS – 83.5 OVERALL GRADE

After four weeks of playing his best football, Rivers didn’t have the same kind of success at Kansas City in Week 15.

T9. ALEX SMITH, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – 83.5 OVERALL GRADE

11. TYROD TAYLOR, BUFFALO BILLS – 83.4 OVERALL GRADE

12. JIMMY GAROPPOLO, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS – 82.1 OVERALL GRADE

13. BLAKE BORTLES, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS – 81.9 OVERALL GRADE

14. JAMEIS WINSTON, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS – 81.5 OVERALL GRADE

It was one of the finest outings of Winston’s career as he finished with an adjusted completion percentage of 87.5 percent, third-best in the NFL this week.

15. KIRK COUSINS, WASHINGTON REDSKINS – 81.1 OVERALL GRADE

T16. DEREK CARR, OAKLAND RAIDERS – 80.8 OVERALL GRADE

T16. DAK PRESCOTT, DALLAS COWBOYS – 80.8 OVERALL GRADE

18. MATTHEW STAFFORD, DETROIT LIONS – 80.7 OVERALL GRADE

19. JARED GOFF, LOS ANGELES RAMS – 78.6 OVERALL GRADE

20. ANDY DALTON, CINCINNATI BENGALS – 78.4 OVERALL GRADE

21. ELI MANNING, NEW YORK GIANTS – 78.1 OVERALL GRADE

22. CAM NEWTON, CAROLINA PANTHERS – 76.7 OVERALL GRADE

23. JOE FLACCO, BALTIMORE RAVENS – 75.5 OVERALL GRADE

24. JACOBY BRISSETT, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS – 75.1 OVERALL GRADE

25. MITCHELL TRUBISKY, CHICAGO BEARS – 73.4 OVERALL GRADE

26. NICK FOLES, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – 72.1 OVERALL GRADE

27. JAY CUTLER, MIAMI DOLPHINS, 68.7 OVERALL GRADE

28. T.J. YATES, HOUSTON TEXANS – 67.6 OVERALL GRADE

29. DREW STANTON, ARIZONA CARDINALS – 57.7 OVERALL GRADE

30.  DESHONE KIZER, CLEVELAND BROWNS – 51.6 OVERALL GRADE

31. BROCK OSWEILER, DENVER BRONCOS – 51.3 OVERALL GRADE

32. BRYCE PETTY, NEW YORK JETS – 48.9 OVERALL GRADE

Editor’s Note: the rankings above omit players who did not play in the previous week, and will evolve with each week’s changes at the starting quarterback position. The following players have all qualified for a ranking this season, but are not included on the 32 starting quarterback rankings above:

4. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles – 87.6 overall grade

22. Josh McCown, New York Jets – 77.1 overall grade

24. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals – 75.7 overall grade

26. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans – 75.1 overall grade

28. Brett Hundley, Green Bay Packers – 74.4 overall grade

30. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 73.2 overall grade

31. Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears – 71.7 overall grade

35. C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers – 68.5 overall grade

36. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos – 53.2 overall grade

39. Blaine Gabbert, Arizona Cardinals – 42.6 overall grade