The Daily Briefing Wednesday, December 20, 2017

AROUND THE NFL 

A handy team-by-team summary of the Pro Bowl rosters, announced Tuesday night, from ESPN.com:

Arizona Cardinals

Patrick Peterson, one of four Cardinals players picked this season, has made the Pro Bowl in each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Another notable selection: Rookie Budda Baker made the team as a special-teamer.

Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones and Alex Mack made the roster, but second-year linebacker Deion Jones did not. The reigning NFC defensive player of the week is sixth in the league with 118 total tackles.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens had three players named to the roster, all of whom are leaders for a defense that has produced three shutouts. It marks the Ravens’ 12th straight season with at least three Pro Bowl selections.

Buffalo Bills

A strong candidate to earn NFL defensive rookie of the year honors, Tre’Davious White did not make the Pro Bowl. His four interceptions are tied for fourth in the NFL among cornerbacks.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers had one player named to the Pro Bowl — Luke Kuechly. He’s still a tackling machine. For the fifth time in six seasons he leads the team in tackles with 107.

Chicago Bears

No Bears made the Pro Bowl, including Jordan Howard, who ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,069 yards. Read more.

Cincinnati Bengals

Geno Atkins and A.J. Green are in. Though this hasn’t been Green’s best season, he is sitting at 980 yards and eight touchdowns and has a chance for the sixth 1,000-yard season of his career.

Cleveland Browns

With Joe Thomas injured, the winless Browns had no players selected to the Pro Bowl, but they do have two alternates — and one will certainly play in the game.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys had four players selected to the Pro Bowl, including three offensive linemen, but their punter was snubbed.

Denver Broncos

Three-time Pro Bowl pick Chris Harris Jr. should have added a fourth to his résumé, as he is still one of the league’s most distinctive players because of his ability to line up either in the slot or on the outside.

Detroit Lions

By making the Pro Bowl combined with having more than five interceptions, Darius Slay picked up another $550,000 in base salary for 2018.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers didn’t have a single player named to the Pro Bowl. It was the first time since 2005, when the Packers were 4-12, that they didn’t have anyone picked.

Houston Texans

DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney were both picked to be Pro Bowlers for the second time in their careers. Clowney might be due for a big pay day in the offseason.

Indianapolis Colts

You have to go back 20 years to find the last time that the Colts did not have a player selected for the Pro Bowl. That will be the case if one of their players isn’t chosen as an alternate.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars’ four Pro Bowlers are the team’s most since 1999. And Yannick Ngakoue, who has forced six fumbles this season, could make it too.

Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith, the NFL’s top-rated passer, is having his best season, but he did not make the Pro Bowl   roster. The Chiefs did have three players selected, however.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers had four players named to the Pro Bowl, but Melvin Ingram, who has 10 sacks this season, was selected only as a first alternate.

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams had five players named to the Pro Bowl, their highest total since 2003. Todd Gurley, who struggled mightily in 2016, made his second team, and Aaron Donald, who held out all summer, made his fourth.

Miami Dolphins

Ndamukong Suh is having his best season in Miami, but he did not make the Pro Bowl. Despite constant double teams, Suh leads the Dolphins in tackles for loss, forced fumbles and is second in sacks.

Minnesota Vikings

Adam Thielen, who has 83 catches for 1,191 yards, made his first Pro Bowl, and three more Vikings   made the roster.

New England Patriots

The Patriots had four players make the Pro Bowl. You know about Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, but how about Matthew Slater and James Develin? Read more.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints had a whopping six players named to the Pro Bowl, including the history-making running back duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who became the first running backs to make the Pro Bowl from the same team in at least 42 years. Read more.

New York Giants

The Giants had one player named to the Pro Bowl — safety Landon Collins. He isn’t having the same season he did in 2016 (in part because of ankle injuries) but is still the Giants’ leading tackler. Read more.

New York Jets

The Jets had no players selected to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year. (Leonard Williams made it as an injury replacement last season.) But Demario Davis felt he deserved a spot. Read more.

Oakland Raiders

Reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack was named to his third Pro Bowl, and the Raiders had three more players picked.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles had six players named to the Pro Bowl, including the injured Carson Wentz. Jason Kelce, however, did not make the team.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers had an NFL-high eight players named to the Pro Bowl, including first-timers Alejandro Villanueva and Chris Boswell.

San Francisco 49ers

As one of the 49ers’ prized free-agent acquisitions, Kyle Juszczyk arrived with big expectations for his role in the offense, and he was named to his second Pro Bowl on Tuesday night. Read more.

Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagoner and Jimmy Graham all made the Pro Bowl for at least the fourth time.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gerald McCoy, who made his sixth Pro Bowl team, has five sacks in 13 games for the season, sixth most among defensive tackles in the league and fourth in the NFC.

Tennessee Titans

Kevin Byard exploded onto the scene in his first season as a full-team starter, grabbing six interceptions, tied for second most in the NFL, but he did not make the Pro Bowl.

Washington Redskins

Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Williams were named as starters in the NFC, and Brandon Scherff is a reserve. Josh Norman once again did not make the team. Read more.

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO

Hey, the Bears are favored this week – but that could be a good thing for the 0-14 Browns.  CBSChicago:

Boasting a 4-10 record, the Bears host the winless Browns at Solider Field on Sunday.

And you know what that means … the Bears are actually favored.

Chicago is currently favored by 6.5 points by Odds Shark, but in the John Fox era, that’s been anything but a good sign for the Bears. In fact, it has portended something bad.

In Fox’s three years as head coach, the Bears are 0-7 straight up when favorite, per  Odds Shark. Let’s pause for a moment for effect: The Bears have yet to win a game, let alone cover a spread, in the Fox era when they’ve been favored. Beyond that, six of those seven games were at home, and Chicago has lost the seven contests by an average of 9.1 points.

The last time the Bears won a game when they were favored to win was November 2014, when Marc Trestman was coaching.

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS is one and done in his return from his shoulder ailment.  The path to higher seeding for Minnesota and the playoffs Detroit just got easier.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

We won’t see Aaron Rodgers again in 2017.

The Packers announced on Tuesday that they have placed Rodgers on injured reserve less than a week after he returned to the active roster from another stint on the list. Rodgers missed eight weeks after breaking his collarbone and was less than 100 percent recovered when he made the start against the Panthers last Sunday.

The Packers lost that game and their slim playoff hopes went to none when the Falcons beat the Buccaneers on Monday night, which left little reason to risk further injury to Rodgers.

Brett Hundley will return to the starting lineup and the team announced that Joe Callahan is back on the active roster to serve as his backup. Fullback Joe Kerridge was also dropped from the roster on Tuesday. Aaron Rodgers is done for the season.

This from ESPN.com:

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers did not experience a setback with his collarbone against the Panthers and would not say if this move would have been made if his team was still in playoff contention.

“With all the factors involved, we felt this was clearly in Aaron Rodgers’ best interest,” McCarthy said. “He’s not happy about it. It’s a hard day for him. This is not the way, I don’t think, any player wants to see their season come to a conclusion, being on IR. We all understand and appreciate and respect his competitive spirit, but we felt as an organization this was in his best interest.”

Rodgers threw three touchdowns in his return against the Panthers but also was sacked three times   and threw three interceptions — the first time he has been picked off that many times in a game since 2009. McCarthy said Rodgers was sore after taking “a number of hits” against the Panthers.

“I think clearly Aaron’s effort and everything he put in to get back and play shows you the will and the character of the football team,” McCarthy said. “He’s the leader. … He did a lot of really good things in the Carolina game. To play and come back and have the challenge, I mean, they’re an excellent defense. But yes, I think it shows you his competitive spirit and his will to be a champion and you know, we fully went into Carolina with the expectations to win the game.”

NFC EAST

DALLAS

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you think they would, but playing against a Seahawks run defense that was abused by TODD GURLEY II, everything seems in place for RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT to take out his frustrations with a big game.  The Cowboys are feeding the hype.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

When Dallas unleashes Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday, workload won’t be an issue.

Demarcus Lawrence says the Cowboys’ star running back is “ready to get the ball 80 times” against the Seahawks in his return from a six-week suspension.

“You can tell he missed it so much,” Lawrence said of Elliott, per The Dallas Morning News. “We also miss him a lot. Just to have that enthusiasm, all his running around and his playfulness and joy in this locker room.”

NFL Network’s Jane Slater noted that Elliott spent his time away working out alone in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Photos of the runner sprinting along the beach reveal the fittest version of Zeke the NFL has ever seen.

“He looks skinny. He [does] look slimmer. It makes his head look even more bigger,” Dez Bryant said. “He looks damn good, and I know he’ll be ready to play.”

The Cowboys have run the ball well with Alfred Morris and Rod Smith over the past few games, but Elliott’s return opens up an offense that now forces defenses to stop one of the game’s premier backs. 

WASHINGTON

QB KIRK COUSINS sounds surprised that he hasn’t missed some time due to an injury this year.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

Kirk Cousins has been willing to bet on himself, by playing on one-year franchise tags rather than taking long-term offers.

But his physical security is no greater than his fiscal security this year, as Washington’s offensive line injuries have left him taking a number of shots he hasn’t had to endure in the past.

Via the Washington Post, Cousins said during an interview on 106.7 The Fan that he “dodged a bullet” on a fourth-quarter shot to the back from Chandler Jones, but acknowledged the cumulative effect was there.

He’s been sacked 38 times in 14 games this year, after just 26 in 2015 and 23 last year. Only Jacoby Brissett, Matthew Stafford, and Josh McCown have been sacked more often this season.

“The hits have added up this year,” Cousins said. “It’s been a tougher year from that standpoint. I guess it’s part of the deal when you lose some offensive linemen, when you have a bit of a revolving door at some different positions, but it’s part of the game, part of playing the position and you try to take pride in standing in there and getting hit and getting back up, and you know that’s a big part of this game and this position.

“I would say that in the position I’m in, the team has made a great investment in me, and the best way that I can provide a return on investment is to be out there and be healthy. First and foremost, before trying to play at a really high level, I got to take care of my body and work really hard so that every single Sunday I can go out there to the best of my ability and that’s the first step in trying to provide a return on investment for this team.”

Cousins said acting on a tip from Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, he purchased a large   insurance plan, which has given him some peace of mind.

“I definitely think about injury and the risk, and every one of us takes a huge risk every time we step out there, but I’ve always made the decision to get that insurance policy and protect myself, so that if anything did happen, I basically can be compensated as if I was still playing,” Cousins said. “That was actually a tip I got from Max Scherzer, because I reached out to him. He was in a similar position in his career, and he said the minute I made that decision to get that insurance policy, once I could step across the white lines, all I had to focus on was winning. And that’s the position I’m in: I can go out there and just focus on winning football games because of what the insurance policy does for you.”

Scherzer eventually got a seven-year, $210 million contract (because baseball), and Cousins’ shot at the long-term pot of gold will come again this offseason.

NFC SOUTH

CAROLINA

Arbitrator James Thrash trimmed the suspension for LB THOMAS DAVIS from two to one game, so he missed the Buccaneers, is back for the finale in Atlanta.

– – –

Eddie DiBartolo may be plotting a return to the NFL via the semi-forced sail of the Panthers.  This from Cam Inman of BayAreaNewsgroup:

Count former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo among those wanting to buy the Carolina Panthers.

A day after the Panthers announced that embattled owner Jerry Richardson will sell the franchise, ESPN reported that DeBartolo is interested.

DeBartolo issued a statement saying he’d “respect Jerry Richardson’s wish to not discuss the sale of the Carolina Panthers until after their season is over,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

DeBartolo presided over the 49ers dynasty that produced five Super Bowl championships before he got entangled in legal trouble, drew a year suspension from the NFL and turned control of his 49ers shares to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York.

As the 49ers owner from 1977-2000, DeBartolo also revolutionized many aspects of the NFL, including from a business-operation and salary-cap standpoint.

Before getting voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year, DeBartolo shed more light on the end of his 49ers tenure, which was sparked by a corruption scandal related to a Louisiana gambling license. He pled guilty in 1998 to a felony charge of failing to report $400,000 in alleged extortion money to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.

“Truthfully the team wasn’t really taken away from me,” DeBartolo said in January 2016. “This has been a misnomer for many, many years.

“Commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue did obviously suspend me (for a year). But as I was going through negotiations with my family — and with lawyers and a judge in Akron, Ohio — it didn’t come to that team being taken. It came down to a decision to be made, whether I wanted the 49ers or whether I wanted to take the other part of the company.”

DeBartolo thus took hold of his family’s longtime real estate operations. He remains tight with many former 49ers, and that included being at Dwight Clark’s side when the iconic receiver was honored Oct. 22 at the 49ers game against the Dallas Cowboys amid Clark’s battle with ALS.

Other notables who’ve expressed interest in buying the Panthers are Sean “Diddy” Combs and subsequently former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Warriors star Steph Curry.

 For some reason, there are those who think the Panthers are subject to relocation, but with two huge banks headquartered there we would not think that to be likely.  David Newton of ESPN.com on pre-emptive comments from the powers that be if someone tries to poach the team.

Mayor Vi Lyles said Tuesday she is “completely motivated” to keep the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte after owner Jerry Richardson sells the NFL organization he founded.

So are members of the Charlotte City Council.

Richardson is being investigated by the NFL for workplace misconduct that, according to a Sports Illustrated article published on Sunday, included settlement with at least four people in the organization for his inappropriate behavior.

He announced on Sunday he will put the team up for sale after this season.

Richardson, 81, made a deal in 2013, when the city agreed to pay $75 million in stadium upgrades, to keep the team in Charlotte through the 2018 season.

So the new ownership would have the option in 2019 to move the team that has played all but its first year — the inaugural 1995 season was played in Clemson, South Carolina, while Bank of America Stadium was being completed — in Charlotte to another city.

Lyles and members of the City Council are committed to make sure that doesn’t happen, the mayor said.

“The City of Charlotte values its long-running relationship with the Panthers after more than 22 seasons of NFL football,” Lyles, a season-ticket holder, said in a statement. “The Panthers are part of Charlotte’s fabric. We’ve celebrated victories and anguished over defeats. We understand transitions are inevitable, and we look forward to working with current and future ownership.”

Councilman James Mitchell, the chairman of the new economic development committee charged with working with the Panthers, was on the council in 2002 when the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans. He remembers the grief it brought the city and said losing the Panthers would be just as devastating, if not more so.

“The question will become, ‘What’s wrong with Charlotte?”’ Mitchell said. “I’m committed to being the City Council that kept the Panthers in Charlotte.

“So the role I’d like our committee to play is to make sure we work with the new owner and make sure he or she knows how valuable the Panthers are to the city of Charlotte and then say, ‘What we else can we do? What is your checklist to make sure you’re committed to the Charlotte community?”’

Councilman Ed Diggs said it would be a “great loss” for Charlotte if the Panthers were to go elsewhere.

“The Carolinas, generally, have been real enthusiastic about our team,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of Super Bowl appearances. It helps define us as a city.”

Richardson was taken out of the day-to-day running of the organization on Monday when the Panthers named Tina Becker as the new chief operating officer.

But Richardson still controls selling the team that he purchased in 1993 for $206 million. Forbes valued the team in September at $2.3 billion.

Among those who have expressed interest in the Panthers are Sean “Diddy” Combs, whom Forbes estimates to be worth $820 million. Charlotte native Stephen Curry, the two-time NBA MVP with the Golden State Warriors, and former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick also weighed in on the team when Combs tweeted his interest.

Hall of Famer Eddie Debartolo Jr., the former owner of the 49ers, also has expressed interest.

Mitchell said somebody sent him a text that said Oprah Winfrey should buy the team but added that he thinks the serious suitors haven’t come out publicly yet.

Richardson in his announcement to sell said he won’t begin looking at potential new owners until after the Panthers finish the regular season and postseason. They are 10-4 and can lock up a playoff spot with a win at home on Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Mike Florio ponders what the sale of controlling interest of the Panthers will bring. 

With Panthers owner Jerry Richardson deciding to sell the team, the ultimate question becomes what will he get for it?

Richardson owns 48 percent of the team, and his ownership group paid $206 million in expansion fees in 1993 for the team that officially joined the league in 1995.

It’s not entirely clear whether Richardson will be selling only his stake in the team, or whether he has the right under the relevant agreements to put the full 100 percent of the equity up for sale. Regardless, the perceived value of the full franchise will determine what Richardson gets for his 48 percent.

So what will be the value of the full franchise? Terry and Kim Pegula paid $1.4 billion for the Bills in 2014. Forbes has valued the Panthers at $2.3 billion, but without full access to information that is not publicly available, Forbes can’t properly and accurately generate a valuation of the Panthers or any team.

Besides, any asset that is up for sale is worth only what someone will pay for it.

Adam Schefter of ESPN essentially speculates that “Richardson will get in the range of $2.5 billion.” Obviously, he won’t get that, because he doesn’t own 100 percent of the team; at 48 percent, a $2.5 billion valuation would put his take at exactly $1.2 billion.

But this assumes that someone will pay $2.5 billion for 100 percent of the team, or $1.2 billion for Richardson’s 48 percent.

Richardson isn’t exactly operating from a position of strength, because he won’t have the “screw it I won’t sell it at all” leverage that comes from having the ability to keep the asset. Basically, he’ll be looking for bids, he’ll hope that there will be plenty of them, and he’ll pick the best one.

Then there’s the question of whether he’ll even be the one making the decision as to who will buy the team. With Richardson giving up day-to-day control as the NFL investigates allegations of workplace misconduct, Richardson’s role in screening bids and selecting a winner is up in the air, at best.

Regardless, nothing is worth a penny more (or less) than what someone will pay for it, whether it’s $1.4 billion or $2 billion or $2.5 billion or more than that.

One big factor in pegging the value necessarily will be the expected future earnings from the league’s broadcasting deals. With ratings shrinking and TV viewing habits in flux, whoever buys the team will be crunching numbers based on an educated guess as to how much money the NFL will yield from the packages that will be sold collectively by the club that the new owner will be joining.

Bottom line? Plenty of factors will determine the bottom line that Richardson gets, and he’ll be hoping that at least two groups will be digging for their bottom dollars in order to drive the price as high as it can go. 

NEW ORLEANS

It’s not often you draft two rookie Pro Bowlers, but that is what the Saints did with CB MARSHON LATTIMORE and RB ALVIN KAMARA.

This tweet from Field Yates lays it out:

@FieldYates

First four picks in the Saints’ 2017 draft:

1A. CB Marshon Lattimore: Pro Bowl

1B. OL Ryan Ramczyk: Has played 100% of the offensive snaps for the No. 1 offense in NFL

2. S Marcus Williams: Started every game, 59 tackles, 2 INT for a top secondary

3A. Alvin Kamara: Pro Bowl

Kamara is not the only Saints RB picked for the Pro Bowl.  John DeShazier at NewOrleansSaints.com:

The New Orleans Saints’ barrier-breaking backs broke down another one Tuesday, when Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara were named to the NFC Pro Bowl team, the first backs from the same team to be so honored since Tampa Bay’s Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott in 2000, and the first running backs from the same team to earn the status since Jim Otis and Terry Metcalf of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975.

Ingram and Kamara, who have a combined 2,756 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns this season – Ingram has 1,045 rushing yards, 375 receiving yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, and Kamara has 652 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and 684 receiving yards and five touchdowns – headline six Saints named to the NFC team.

Quarterback Drew Brees (3,850 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 71.8 completion percentage); defensive end Cam Jordan (10 sacks, an interception for a touchdown, two forced fumbles, 11 batted passes and 55 tackles); cornerback Marshon Lattimore (a team-leading four interceptions including one returned for a touchdown, 13 passes defensed, a forced fumble and 44 tackles); and receiver Michael Thomas (94 catches for 1,085 yards and five touchdowns) join Ingram and Kamara on the team.

The surge in Pro Bowl invites coincides with the Saints’ return to success. New Orleans (10-4) leads the NFC South Division and controls its fate with regard to winning the division title; it can claim the title with victories in the final two games, against Atlanta on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and in the season finale on the road against Tampa Bay, or with a victory against Atlanta on Sunday coupled with a Carolina home loss to Tampa Bay.

In the previous three seasons, when the Saints finished 7-9 each year, the Saints earned a total of six Pro Bowl appointments, shared among five players (Brees earned two).

None of the Saints were named as starters this year.

Brees earned his 10th invite, extending his franchise record, while Jordan notched his third and Ingram posted his second. Rookies Kamara and Lattimore, and second-year man Thomas, earned their first nods.

Ingram and Kamara are the first combo designated as “running back” from the same team to be named to the Pro Bowl since 1975 by virtue of the fact that Alstott was listed as a fullback for Tampa Bay.

Ingram, who has topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, already has established single-season career highs in rushing yards, yards from scrimmage and rushing touchdowns. And Kamara, with 12 touchdowns, is one score short of tying George Rogers’ franchise rookie record of 13, in 1981. Each has six games this season with 100-plus yards from scrimmage, and they’ve topped the mark four times in the same game.

Thomas joined Odell Beckham Jr. as the only players in NFL history to have 90-plus receptions in their first two seasons, and he’s eight catches shy of tying Jarvis Landry’s NFL-record number of 194 catches in his first two seasons.

He’s the Saints’ first Pro Bowl receiver since Joe Horn in ’04, making him the first Pro Bowl receiver since Brees joined the Saints in 2006.

Lattimore is the team’s first Pro Bowl cornerback since Eric Allen in ’95.

Lattimore and Jordan represent a resurgent defense that, after giving up 28.4 points and 375.4 yards per game last season, has shaved those numbers to 20.1 points and 328.4 yards this year.

Jordan, one of the most disruptive defenders in the league, likely will gain consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Brees is on pace to establish a single-season record for completion percentage. Sam Bradford, at 71.6 percent last season, is the current record holder; he unseated Brees, who completed 71.2 percent of his passes in ’11.

AFC NORTH

PITTSBURGH

Coach Mike Tomlin indicates he will use his status on the Competition Committee to discuss amending the catch rule.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

“I think that we all can acknowledge that all of this needs to be revisited,” Tomlin said. “It’s not just that play. We’re having similar discussions week in and week out. So as a member of the committee, I acknowledge that we’ve got our work cut out for us this offseason regarding a number of those things.”

Tomlin added that he doesn’t know what, if any, a possible change to the rule could look like next season.

Dating back to the Burt Emanuel non-reception in the 1999 NFC Championship game, the NFL has tweaked the rule. For all those attempts, the league has gained no clarity into what constitutes a completed catch. Calvin Johnson’s overturned TD in 2010, the Dez Bryant’s wiped away play in the 2014 playoffs, Sunday’s ruling and myriad other instances have left most players, coaches and fans scratching their heads in frustration. The only consistency with the rule is the degree to which it confounds spectators and athletes alike.

The rule actually works okay, except in instances like Sunday around the goal line – where receivers make football moves with full control while crossing the line, before they hit the ground.  On the field, the receiver has one mission (except maybe near a first down line) which is to survive the ground.  But at the goal line, the desire to stretch across the line conflicts with ground survival, so maybe control and a football move before the ground can work in that exception?  That a TD move negates the ground requirement still in effect elsewhere.

– – –

Former Patriots RB STEVAN RIDLEY is now a Steeler.  He’s been signed to replace rookie RB JAMES CONNER who is going to have knee surgery.  Ridley was last under contract in training camp when he was released by the Broncos.

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON

QB DESHAUN WATSON casts his vote for the return of Coach Bill O’Brien.  Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com:

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson said he “of course” wants head coach Bill O’Brien to return next season.

O’Brien has one season remaining on the five-year contract he signed when he became the Texans’ coach in 2014. It is unlikely the team would allow him to coach the final year of the deal without signing him to a contract extension in the offseason.

“That’s out of my control, but I would love to have Coach O’Brien with me,” Watson said Tuesday after surprising quarterback J.T. Daniels with the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year award. “We have a great relationship. Ever since the draft process, we’ve been communicating. We talk football, we talk about life. And we have a lot things that kind of relate, the way we were both raised up. So we kind of connected [and have] been ever since.”

Watson credited O’Brien with being “a big part” of the success he had in seven games before he tore his ACL in early November. This season, Watson completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He had a QBR of 81.5. The rookie also ran for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

“[O’Brien is] the one calling the plays, the one helping me out with the decision-making, him and Coach [Sean] Ryan,” Watson said. “He does a great job that the quarterbacks are doing what they need to do.”

Watson is nearly six weeks out from his Nov. 8 surgery to repair the ACL in his right leg, and he said his rehab is “going great.” Watson was initially given a timeline of eight to nine months to return to the field after surgery. Watson said that right now he expects to be back soon after the Texans’ OTAs.

“It’s a daily grind, a daily process,” Watson said. “We’re on the right track of six weeks out, and everything’s been going smooth.”

And O’Brien says, the Texans will have to fire him, he’s not quitting.

A day after a blowout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, coach Bill O’Brien was asked whether he would choose to leave the Texans after this season.

He replied emphatically, “I will never quit as the head football coach of the Houston Texans. Ever.”

“I’ll never resign as the head football coach of the Houston Texans.”

O’Brien has one season remaining on the five-year contract he signed when he became the Texans’ coach in 2014. It is unlikely the team would allow him to coach next season without signing him to a contract extension in the offseason. A week ago, O’Brien said his agent had not heard from owner Bob McNair about an extension. On Monday he said he has “no control over that.”

“That’s up to Bob [McNair]. That’s not up to me,” O’Brien said. “I don’t get into the hopeful. I don’t get into that. That’s up to one guy.” 

INDIANAPOLIS

Coach Chuck Pagano gets passionate when talking about QB ANDREW LUCK. Mike Wells of ESPN.com:

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has spent nearly the past year looking for ways to get his right shoulder healthy again. He’s had surgery, done rehabilitation, received an injection and even gone across the ocean to Europe.

But Luck, the Colts’ franchise player, is still in the process of trying to regain his health.

“He’s been through hell,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday. “Everybody has, and no more than him. And nobody wants to be back on the field more than Andrew. This is an unfortunate set of circumstances for everybody. But it’s life and life happens. He’s a warrior and he’s done so much for this organization over the last five years. He’s battled through injuries. He’s played injured, played hurt. It’s unfortunate.”Colts must look at all quarterback options in case Andrew Luck needs surgery

Without a timetable for Andrew Luck’s return, the Colts have to mull the possibility of making further investments in other options at quarterback.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported over the weekend that Luck is soon expected to return from Europe, where he has been getting what’s been described as successful treatment on his surgically repaired right shoulder. When Luck returns he’ll begin throwing again and it will become clearer whether he needs additional surgery, which would sideline him an additional three to six months.

“He will be back,” Pagano said. “He will be back better than ever at some point, and he’ll be back on the field leading this organization and leading this team to multiple, multiple wins and championships. That’s him. It’s unfortunate and I hate it for him. I hate it for him because nobody has sacrificed as much as he has for this organization over the last five years that he’s played. He’s a great teammate, great pro, great player. I can’t say enough about the kid and how bad we all feel for him, especially myself.”

Everyone thinks Pagano will be getting relieved of his duties in two weeks and maybe his time has deservedly run out in Indy.  But the DB can’t help but wonder if, like John Fox did, he will find another head coaching gig shortly.  His Colts have played hard through adversity.  With the right OC, would he be a good fit with the Buccaneers?  The Broncos?  The Bengals?  Other teams not starting with B?

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND

Is this something?  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

Last week, a report surfaced that Bill Belichick has an issue with Tom Brady‘s long-time trainer. Both Brady and Belichick have declined to discuss the coach’s decision to reduce Alex Guerrero’s special team privileges, other than Brady crediting his trainer with his success at age 40.

The Boston Globe detailed the situation and said Belichick’s decision to diminish Gurrero’s role and return the Patriots to a more traditional medical and training operation has “created some friction in Foxborough.”

Guerrero treated many of Brady’s teammates at his TB12 Center just outside the stadium in Patriot Place. But the Patriots also allowed Guerrero to have his own office near the locker room, where he treated players with his alternative methods.

Guerrero no longer is allowed to fly with the team, have sideline access during games or treat players other than Brady in his office at Gillette Stadium. The trainer still treats other players at the TB12 Center.

In 2015, the Globe reported the team’s medical and training staffs complained to Belichick about Guerrero and his alternative treatment practices and his questionable background. Federal regulators sanctioned Guerrero for falsely presenting himself as a medical doctor and deceptively promoting nutritional supplements, via government records cited by the Globe.

Brady counts Guerrero as a close friend, business partner and made him godfather to his son Ben. He repeatedly has credited Guerrero for his continued success, and when asked Monday about Belichick having an “issue” with his trainer, Brady said, “I don’t have any comment on that other to say Alex is a big part of what I do. I am fortunate to have him.”

 THIS AND THAT

 FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS ODDS

For various teams reaching various levels of success. 

Team   Conf App         Conf Win         SB Win

NE       64.4%               37.9%            18.3%

LARM  43.2%               26.5%            16.6%

PHI      56.4%               27.4%            13.0%

MIN     49.9%               25.3%            12.9%

PIT      56.9%               27.3%            12.2%

JAC     37.5%               17.7%              8.1%

NO      28.8%               13.3%              7.5%

BAL     23.4%               11.6%              6.0%

CAR    15.2%                 5.8%              2.8%

KC       11.6%                 3.7%              1.3%

LACH  2.9%                   1.1%              0.4%

ATL     4.0%                   1.0%              0.3%

DAL     1.1%                   0.4%              0.2%

TEN     1.8%                   0.4%              0.1%

BUF     1.3%                   0.3%              0.1%

Despite what you see above, they have the All-Pennsylvania Super Bowl as still the most likely single outcome:

 

Name

Teams

Chance

Super Bowl XXXIX Rematch

PHI vs NE

10.4%

Super Bowl XXXVI Rematch

LARM vs NE

9.9%

Keystone Bowl

PHI vs PIT

7.4%

Super Bowl XIV Rematch

LARM vs PIT

7.4%

Super Bowl IX Rematch

MIN vs PIT

7.0%

Brandin Cooks Reunion Special

NO vs NE

5.0%

 

2018 DRAFT

Seth Walder of ESPN.com projects the draft order:

What if the Cleveland Browns end up with two top-five picks?

That is becoming an increasingly realistic possibility after the Houston Texans lost again — this time in a blowout at the hands of the Jaguars. At the moment, the Texans’ pick is projected to have the fifth-best average position — though that average spot is actually 6.2. There is a 42 percent chance the selection will land in the top five. The Browns already were virtually assured the No. 1 overall pick even before they lost to the Ravens on Sunday.

Each week, the Football Power Index (FPI) projects the order of next year’s draft by simulating the remainder of the season 10,000 times. Game probabilities are based largely on the model’s ratings for individual teams, in addition to game location.

In some cases, the projected draft order will not match the current draft order. That’s because FPI is considering the probability of outcomes that haven’t yet occurred and, crucially, projecting strength of schedule at the end of the season, since that is a tiebreaker for draft order.

Beyond the Browns, the Indianapolis Colts slid ahead of the New York Giants for the No. 2 pick. Though the Colts have a better record than the Giants at the moment, FPI’s projections give Indy (barely) a better average draft position than Big Blue. That’s because the Colts are by far the worst team in football going forward, and because the Giants have a slightly easier schedule remaining.

Below is FPI’s projected order for the 2018 draft, based on each team’s average draft position in the simulations. While each team’s current record is listed below, remember that the order is based on the record the model believes the teams will have after 16 games.

1. Cleveland Browns

Record: 0-14

Average projected draft position: 1.0

FPI chance to earn top pick: >99 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 100 percent

There are now four quarterbacks on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board. The only question now is: which one will Cleveland take first overall? Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold are the favorites at this point, but in terms of draft season, it’s awfully early.

2. Indianapolis Colts

Record: 3-11

Average projected draft position: 2.6

FPI chance to earn top pick: 0 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 98 percent

If the Colts can land the No. 2 overall pick, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley could go this high. As a team seemingly out of the quarterback market, they’re candidates to land the playmaker. But then again, maybe they ought to learn from former GM Ryan Grigson’s past mistake and avoid committing such an important asset to a running back.

3. New York Giants

Record: 2-12

Average projected draft position: 2.7

FPI chance to earn top pick: <1 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: >99 percent

If Big Blue slips behind the Colts, then this draft becomes awfully interesting. Though they don’t have a GM at the moment, one has to imagine the Giants will be in the market for a quarterback. So will someone — perhaps the Jets even — trade up to jump them?

4. San Francisco 49ers

Record: 4-10

Average projected draft position: 5.1

FPI chance to earn top pick: 0 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 67 percent

What do they need a draft pick for? They have Jimmy G.

5. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans)

Record: 4-10

Average projected draft position: 6.2

FPI chance to earn top pick: 0 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 42 percent

With so many holes to fill, it’s fairly obvious the Browns should trade down from this spot if they land their (possible) franchise quarterback first overall. Will they? Tough to say, given that there is a new general manager.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Record: 4-10

Average projected draft position: 6.8

FPI chance to earn top pick: 0 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 37 percent

Remember when the Bucs were a frisky, talented, up-and-coming team with playoff aspirations? No, they didn’t amount to that. By losing again on Monday Night Football, they at least helped their draft stock.

7. Chicago Bears

Record: 4-10

Average projected draft position: 7.4

FPI chance to earn top pick: 0 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 21 percent

It’s unclear if Mitchell Trubisky will wind up being a productive quarterback (currently he is anything but), but no matter what, he needs more talent at receiver. Is this spot too early to take Alabama’s Calvin Ridley?

8. Cincinnati Bengals

Record: 5-9

Average projected draft position: 7.4

FPI chance to earn top pick: 0 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 20 percent

Is it totally crazy to think the Bengals will be in the first-round quarterback market? Andy Dalton has a Total QBR of 39 (28th-best) this season and would only leave behind a $2.4 million dead cap hit if he were cut. And while the Browns apparently like AJ McCarron, it’s not like he’s been amazing in limited work so far in his career.

9. Denver Broncos

Record: 5-9

Average projected draft position: 8.4

FPI chance to earn top pick: 0 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 12 percent

The Broncos haven’t drafted a Pro Bowler since Von Miller was selected in 2011. If that doesn’t change with this year’s selections, might it with this pick?

10. New York Jets

Record: 5-9

Average projected draft position: 8.5

FPI chance to earn top pick: 0 percent

FPI chance to earn top-5 pick: 2 percent

Though they lost, the Jets’ projected draft slot is actually a little worse this week. That’s because FPI had a very strong feeling they would lose to the Saints anyway, and that they impressed and kept it close against New Orleans caused Gang Green’s FPI rating to rise slightly.

11. Arizona Cardinals (6-8); average projected draft position: 11.4

12. Oakland Raiders (6-8); 11.6

13. Miami Dolphins (6-8); 13.6

14. Washington Redskins (6-8); 14.0

15. Green Bay Packers (7-7); 16.6

16. Los Angeles Chargers (7-7); 17.2