Apr 16, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon

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11NFC North Offseason Needs: Lions, Bears, Vikings, Packers

The NFC North was one of the most competitive divisions in football last year, putting pressure on teams this offseason to make the right moves that can move them to the top of the division.  Let’s take a look at the offseason needs for the Bears, Packers, Vikings, and Lions.

Chicago Bears – With Jay Cutler being re-signed and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery likely to be one of the top receiver duos in the NFL in 2014, the offense is in great shape, which means the Bears need to turn their full attention to the defense.  The secondary was atrocious last season, and the Bears could benefit from four new starters there next year, although if that’s not realistic they need at least one new safety to replace free agent Major Wright and one new starter at cornerback to replace Charles Tillman.  Chicago devoted much of last year’s draft to the linebacker position, so that may not be a priority this offseason, unless they can add an impact player.  However, the same can’t be said about the defensive line.  The interior of the line could use an impact player, while Julius Peppers could become a salary cap casualty, forcing the Bears to spend money or a high-round draft pick on a pass rusher, meaning the defensive line will require a lot of attention this offseason.

Detroit Lions – Despite its collapse at the end of the season that prompted a coaching change, Detroit isn’t far away from being competitive if they can have a successful offseason.  The Lions have one of the most talented defensive fronts in the NFL, but they leave a lot to be desired in the secondary.  Detroit would be wise to bring in re-sign veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis to help solidfy the unit, but they should also sign a younger cornerback that can step into the starting lineup.  They were forced to cut safety Louis Delmas for cap reasons, so the Lions may need to use an early-round draft pick on a safety, while also adding depth at that position later in the draft if they can.  Detroit could also consider using a high draft pick on a wide receiver, taking advantage of the depth at that position to give Matthew Stafford a talented number-two receiver to complement Calvin Johnson, but right now the Lion’s offense isn’t as much of a priority as the defense.

Green Bay Packers – If the Packers can re-sign Matt Flynn or one way or another bring in a backup quarterback that they trust, the offense should be in good shape heading into next season.  However, the Green Bay defense needs a lot of work, as it pales in comparison to the defenses of the other top teams in the NFC.  Outside of A.J. Hawk and Nick Perry, the Packers don’t have much at linebacker, and they’ll need an infusion of talent at that position this offseason.  Up front, Green Bay won’t miss B.J. Raji that much, but they will need to add one or two defensive linemen, possibly using an early-round pick to do so.  In the secondary, the Packers need to do what they can to re-sign Sam Shields, but they’ll also need to add talent at the safety position, as well as depth throughout their secondary.

Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings will likely look to draft a new quarterback this year, but the top three quarterbacks could all be off the board by the time Minnesota is on the clock with the 8th overall pick, so that could make their pursuit of a signal caller complicated.  If they can find a suitable quarterback at some point, then the offense should be in good shape, which would allow Minnesota to spend the rest of the offseason focusing on their defense.  After a lot of good seasons, Jared Allen appears to be on his way out of town, so the Vikings will need a pass-rushing defensive end, which could be their biggest priority in the draft outside of quarterback.  Minnesota also leaves a lot to be desired at linebacker and they may need to make a splash at that position in free agency if their top draft picks are used on a quarterback and a pass rusher.  It might also be beneficial for the Vikings to add a piece or two to their secondary, although the future appears to be bright for cornerback Xavier Rhodes, which gives some hope for the future of their secondary.


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11Ranking the NFL's New Head Coach Hires: Browns, Texans, Vikings, Lions and More

Yesterday we took one final look at the NFL’s rookie head coaches from the 2013 season, and now it’s time to look at all of the new head coach hires for the 2014 season. Obviously, a few of these guys have been head coaches in the NFL before, but none were NFL head coaches in 2013. Let’s attempt to rank how each of the seven teams that hired a new head coach did in their coaching search.

7. Cleveland, Mike Pettine – It certainly took the Browns long enough to find a new coach after firing Rob Chudzinski after just one season. Cleveland was never going to find the most impressive candidate to be their head coach, but Pettine isn’t a bad choice. He spent four seasons as the right hand man to Rex Ryan while working as the defensive coordinator for the Jets, which could be seen as both a positive and negative attribute, depending on your feelings about Ryan. In 2013, he orchestrated a solid defense in Buffalo, despite some obvious personnel weaknesses at a few spots. The name won’t blow people away, but considering Cleveland’s situation, Pettine was about the best person they could get to fill their coaching vacancy.

6. Houston, Bill O’Brien – This could be the biggest risk-reward hire this offseason. O’Brien is a branch on the Bill Belichick coaching tree, so there should be some skepticism, but at the same time O’Brien is a terrific offensive coach. O’Brien has also spent a lot more time in college than in the NFL, which could be a concern, but at the same time, the work he did at Penn State the last two seasons was nothing short of extraordinary. O’Brien has a lot of potential as a head coach in the NFL, but he also has plenty of drawbacks, so this is coaching hire could go either way.

5. Minnesota, Mike Zimmer – Year after year Zimmer has put together top-10 defenses in Cincinnati, and he’s been one of the top assistant coaches in the NFL for the last several years, so there’s no denying that he’s qualified to become a head coach in the NFL. However, the NFL is all about offense these days, and without previous head coaching experience or experience on the offensive side of the ball puts Zimmer at a disadvantage compared to some of the other new coaches in the league, especially since the Vikings have some things to figure out on offense, specifically at the quarterback position.

4. Detroit, Jim Caldwell – Caldwell is a tough guy to figure out with just three years of experience as a head coach in the NFL. Obviously, things went well for him in Indianapolis when Peyton Manning was playing, as the Colts went to the Super Bowl in Caldwell’s first season at the helm. But when Manning didn’t play in 2011, the wheels completely fell off. Caldwell also won a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator of the Ravens last year, but this past season his offense struggled for long stretches of the season. For now, Caldwell will get the benefit of the doubt, because he inherits a talented roster in Detroit, but there are reasons to be skeptical about Caldwell’s ability to do more with all the talent the Lions have than Jim Schwartz did.

3. Washington, Jay Gruden – Gruden was a highly sought candidate, and he does have a lot of head coaching experience and success in the Arena Football League, which obviously isn’t the same as being an NFL head coach, but it’s better than having no head coaching experience. His last name gives him some credibility, and so does the fact that he’s put together good offenses in Cincinnati the last few years, even without an elite level quarterback. Washington wants to win behind Robert Griffin III at quarterback, and hiring one of the top offensive coordinators in the game was a great choice to help make that happen, as Gruden was arguably the best available candidate that didn’t have NFL head coaching experience.

2. Tennessee, Ken Whisenhunt – Despite reaching a Super Bowl and winning two division titles, Whisenhunt had a rather uneven six-year tenure as the head coach in Arizona. However, he’s always had success as an offensive coordinator, and after San Diego ranked 5th in total offense this past season, Whisenhunt was deserving of another chance to become a head coach. Obviously, the Titans wanted to move in a new direction after firing Mike Munchak, and with his previous coaching experience and success as a coordinator, Whisenhunt is definitely an upgrade over Munchak.

1. Tampa Bay, Lovie Smith – The Bucs moved fast after firing Greg Schiano, and when all was said and done they have the best coach out of all seven teams that made a coaching change this year. Smith was 18 games above .500 during his nine seasons in Chicago, which means he averaged a 9-7 record in what is usually one of the toughest divisions in football, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He has a long history of being one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL, and with the talent in Tampa on that side of the ball, he has a chance to put together something special defensively next year, which could make the Bucs a respectable and competitive team right away. On top of all that, having served under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay for five seasons makes Smith a perfect fit for the Bucs and the best new coach hire heading into 2014.
 


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11NFL Black Monday: Cowboys, Redskins, Giants, Lions, Bucs, Vikings, Raiders and More to Fire Coaches?

Well, the NFL regular season is over, but before we can turn our focus to the playoffs, we must first endure Black Monday. There were eight new head coaches in the league this year, and there could be just as many teams looking to fill head coaching vacancies for next year. Gary Kubiak has already been let go by the Houston Texans, and there are several other coaches that could also be out of a job by the end of the day, possibly by the end of this sentence. Let’s run down the coaches on the hot seat and look at who will be fired and who deserves to stay:

Jason Garrett, Dallas – Garrett’s fate may have been sealed with Kyle Orton’s interception, although Jerry Jones has previously said that Garrett would be back next season, so there’s no telling what Jones is going to do. Garrett isn’t a bad coach, but the Cowboys have lost out on a chance to go to the playoffs to a division rival on the last week of the season three years in a row, which doesn’t sound like something Jones would be content with, and could push him over the edge towards firing Garrett. Don’t be surprised if Jones takes a few days to think about everything before making his decision regarding Garrett’s future, which is anything but certain right now.

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants – There’s a slight chance that Coughlin walks away willingly and a slight chance he gets fired, and it might be best for all parties if that happens, but the most likely scenario is Coughlin staying in New York and trying to turn things around in 2014. This season will be remembered for the Giants starting out 0-6, but despite inconsistent play from Eli Manning all season, the G-Men played well done the stretch and ended up with a 7-9 record, which isn’t bad at all considering how their season started and how poor their quarterback play was. The strong finish should inspire some confidence in Coughlin’s ability to get things turned around and get the Giants back into the playoffs next year.

Mike Shanahan, Washington – Shanahan may have a couple Super Bowl rings on his hand, and he may have a long history as an excellent head coach, but there’s no way he survives the kind of season the Redskins have had. Washington finished 3-13 and lost their final eight games of the season. More than that, they’ve been a complete mess on and off the field, making it obvious that Shanahan needs to go.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit – A month ago the Lions were a virtual lock to win the NFC North, but under Schwartz Detroit went winless in December and was already out of contention before the start of week 17, which means that now it’s a virtual lock that Schwartz will be fired. With the Lions having such an array of talent on offense and a powerful defensive line, there’s no excuse for not winning a division in which the other three teams were without their starting quarterbacks for a significant chunk of the season, much less finish 7-9. In five seasons, Schwartz led the Lions to a winning record once, with no division titles and no playoff wins; not to mention the Lions are 22 games under .500 over the last five seasons. There’s no way Schwartz will be employed this time tomorrow.

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota – It’s tough to pin Minnesota’s season all on Frazier, considering all the issues at quarterback that the Vikings have had, but he’s had one playoff season sandwiched between two awful seasons, and in an impatient NFL, that’s probably going to be enough to cost him his job. The Vikings haven’t played as bad as their record indicates, and they were 4-3-1 the second half of the season, which could give Frazier some hope to keep his job, but more than likely by Tuesday morning Frazier will be looking for a job as a defensive coordinator and Minnesota will be looking for a new head coach.

Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay – Schiano’s job status could actually go either way, which didn’t seem possible at the midway point of the season when the Bucs were 0-8. However, Schiano has a lot of years and money left on his contract, which could force Tampa Bay to keep him for another season. The Bucs also played well for a stretch this season, winning three in a row and four out of five at one point, and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon did show some promise, so despite a 4-12 record there could be cause to bring Schiano back in 2014. That being said, the Bucs’ play was unacceptable for long stretches of the season, and for a guy with no NFL track record, it’s tough to feel too optimistic about the future in Tampa if Schiano is allowed to stay.

Mike Smith, Atlanta – Smith isn’t likely to be fired, but it wouldn’t be unheard of for someone in his position to be let go after one bad season. The Falcons had high hopes for 2013 after coming one game short of the Super Bowl last year, and obviously they fell well short of those expectations. Injuries did play a significant role in Atlanta’s poor season, but it wasn’t the only reason. Also, don’t forget that Atlanta is just 1-4 in the postseason under Smith and that their window for reaching a Super Bowl could be getting smaller, so it would be shocking but not impossible for Smith to get fired, although by no means did the Falcons roll over at the end of the season, so the locker room remains behind Smith, which is a positive sign.

Joe Philbin, Miami – Philbin is an interesting case. The scandal that rocked Miami through a large portion of the season is a black eye for the organization, and while he’s partly to blame for the situation, he also weathered the storm and put the Dolphins in a good position to make the playoffs heading down the stretch. Of course, Miami had a complete meltdown the final two weeks of the season and blew a golden opportunity to go to the playoffs. Philbin is two games under .500 in two seasons in Miami, which isn’t awful, but it’s not that good either. It helps that he has a young and promising quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who is still maturing and improving as a player, and that will likely bring Philbin back next season, but the heat is definitely on, and if they wanted to, the Dolphins probably have enough to justify firing him.

Rex Ryan, New York Jets – Before the season, Rex Ryan looked like a lock to be fired with new general manager John Idzik coming aboard, and a month ago that still seemed to be the case, but now there have been rumblings that Ryan might have done enough this season to save his job. The Jets were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season, but Ryan led them to a respectable and overachieving 8-8 record, doing so with a rookie quarterback and a limited amount of offensive skill players. Ryan will still enter next season with a lot of pressure to win games and reach the postseason, but he will be back in New York next season, which is something nobody thought was possible at the start of the season.

Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland – Much to everyone’s surprise, rumors started leaking Sunday night that the Browns would fire Chudzinski after just one season. If Cleveland thought they had a franchise that could be turned around in one year, they are sadly mistaken. Things obviously didn’t go well, with the team losing 10 of its final 11 games, but Chudzinski inherited a futile situation at quarterback and the team traded away 2012 first round pick Trent Richardson the first month of the season, signaling that they were building for the future, presumably with Chudzinski as the head coach. Unless the Browns know something we don’t and have a big-name coach lined up to take the job, firing Chudzinski after one season is a puzzling move.

Mike Munchak, Tennessee – The Titans needed to see some progress this season, and because they haven’t Munchak will likely be fired. It may be a little unfair, because there’s no telling how the season would have been different had Jake Locker not been hurt after a promising start to the season. However, that excuse may not be enough to save Munchak, who’s had back-to-back losing seasons in a fairly mediocre division. It’s not a guarantee that Munchak will be fired, but all signs point to that being the case.

Dennis Allen, Oakland – It’ll be interesting to see what the Raiders do with Allen, because it’s unfair to have expected him to turn things around in Oakland in just two seasons. A pair of 4-12 seasons doesn’t look like a lot of progress has been made, but the AFC West is a lot better this season than it was last year with the other three teams all making the playoffs, so repeating the same win total from 2012 isn’t so bad, especially considering that the Raiders were using an undrafted rookie at quarterback for a big chunk of the season. Two seasons isn’t giving Allen a fair chance, although losing eight of their last nine games doesn’t leave a good lasting impression, and if Allen hasn’t done enough to make the Raiders think year three will be different, he’s likely to be fired.


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11NFL Week 12 Preview: Steelers-Browns, Vikings-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Panthers-Dolphins, Cowboys-Giants and More

The playoff race is heating up in the NFL, and with six weeks left to play almost every team is still alive, but many face must-win situations this week in order to keep their hopes alive.  Let’s take a closer look at every game on the week 12 schedule:

Pittsburgh at Cleveland – Both teams need this game, as the winner will be in the midst of the wild card chase while the loser will be a long shot to get there.  The Steelers have come on strong as of late, winning four of their last six and looking real good the past two weeks.  Meanwhile, the Browns shot themselves in the foot last week with turnovers, and that’s a problem they’ll have to get under control this week against a Pittsburgh defense that will be looking to force turnovers.  If Jason Campbell can take better care of the ball Cleveland will have a chance to get back on track; if not, expect the Steelers to keep their momentum going.

Tampa Bay at Detroit – The Bucs look like a real NFL team after winning their last two games, and they have a real chance to make it three in a row this week.  Look for Tampa to continue feeding the ball to running back Bobby Rainey, although the Lions are one of the best teams at stopping the run, and if they force Mike Glennon to beat them they should be in good shape.  On the other side of the ball, the prolific Detroit passing attack that got shut out in the second half last week by Pittsburgh will be challenged again this week by Tampa’s talented secondary.  Expect this game to be a lot closer than the team’s records on paper would indicate.

Minnesota at Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers still isn’t back, but with or without him this is a game the Packers need to win after losing three straight.  Green Bay’s defense has allowed 27 points each of the last three weeks, and despite some key injuries on that side of the ball, they can’t afford to allow that many against Minnesota, a team that scored 31 points against them a month ago.  Scott Tolzien has been decent, but he’s not going to be able to climb out of a hole if he faces a double-digit deficit, so this game will come down to the Packers keeping Adrian Peterson contained and keeping the Vikings out of the end zone.

San Diego at Kansas City – If the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to beat either Kansas City or Denver down the stretch, and while winning in Arrowhead is difficult, it’s certainly possible for Phillip Rivers and company, despite three straight losses.  San Diego has had some success this season with a short, quick passing attack, which could help them take Kansas City’s pass rush out of the game.  If the Chargers can control the clock and avoid turning the ball over, they should be able to keep the game close and give themselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter.

Chicago at St. Louis – The Bears enter this game tied atop the NFC North, but beginning a stretch of four road games in five weeks, although the Rams have struggled to win at home this year.  Last time out, St. Louis hung 38 points on the Colts and if the Bears don’t play better on defense, there’s a chance something like that can happen again this week.  In a battle of backup quarterbacks, Chicago should have the advantage with Josh McCown, but they can’t ask him to do too much on the road, which means their defense better come to play, or their playoff hopes could start to slip.

Carolina at Miami – By now, just about everybody should be convinced that the Panthers are for real, and now they’ll put their six game winning streak on the line down in Miami.  Ryan Tannehill has played well the past few weeks, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against Carolina’s defense, and the Dolphins shouldn’t count on scoring too many points.  If Cam Newton and the offense can get it going and find the end zone a few times, the Panthers should feel good about getting their seventh straight win.

New York Jets at Baltimore – Based on their pattern of alternating wins and losses this year, the Jets are slated to win this week, but that won’t be a given against the Ravens.  Baltimore ran the ball better last week, and their defense has also played better of late, so it’ll be tough for Geno Smith to find a groove and get back on track this week.  Of course, the Jets boast the top rushing defense in the NFL, and they’ll be looking to bounce back after last week’s embarrassment against the Bills.  If you like stout defenses and futile offenses, this is the game for you, as the first team to reach 20 points should win, assuming either team is even able to score that much.

Jacksonville at Houston – There’s not much at stake here except for positioning in next year’s draft.  If the Texans lose at home to Jacksonville, things will get real ugly for Gary Kubiak, although the Texans have been a lot more competitive this year than the Jaguars, as Houston has lost its last four games by less than a touchdown, so the Texans should be clear favorites despite having just two wins on the season.

Tennessee at Oakland – Both teams need to win this game if they expect to remain in contention in the AFC wildcard race.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was solid last week against the Colts, but the Titans have yet to win a game that he’s started.  On the other sideline, the Raiders will start Matt McGloin for the second straight week after he helped lead Oakland to a win last week.  Both teams are desperate for a win and forced to go with a backup quarterback, so whichever defense does a better job of making things difficult for the opposing quarterback will have the advantage.

Indianapolis at Arizona – The Colts have survived a slow start in two of the last three weeks, but they’ll be playing with fire if they start out sluggish again this week, as the Cardinals are a team that can run them out of the building if they start slow, as Arizona comes in with a three-game winning streak.  Arizona has a stout run defense that should be able to slow down Indy’s inconsistent running game and put all the pressure on Andrew Luck, who will at least need to get some help from his defense, with Carson Palmer is coming off a game in which he threw for over 400 yards.  If the Colts allow him to do that again they could be in trouble.  There’s a good chance that this game turns into a shootout between Luck and Palmer, and it could go either way.


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1110 NFL Teams That Should Draft A Quarterback Next Year: Browns, Texans, Chiefs, Vikings, Raiders, Steelers and More

The NFL season is only a little more than half over, but there are still plenty of teams that are ready to move on towards next season, especially at the quarterback position. Last year’s draft didn’t provide much at quarterback outside of Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel, but this year’s draft class looks a lot more promising and much deeper, which is a good thing because there are a lot of teams that should be taking a close look at this year’s crop of college quarterbacks. Here are 10 teams that should be seriously considering taking a quarterback within the first few rounds of next year’s draft:

Arizona – The Cardinals are getting by this season with Carson Palmer, but he has only so many throws left in his arm, and they need to start looking for his replacement, even if Palmer still has another year or two left in him. Arizona could be stuck in the same division with Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick for a long time, and they need to find a quarterback that can measure up to those two guys. With Wilson and Kaepernick both being dual-threat quarterbacks, the Cardinals may be looking for someone in that same mold, perhaps Brett Hundley or Marcus Mariota if they pick high enough, or possibly Tajh Boyd is those two are off the board or decide to stay in school.

Cleveland – It looks like Brandon Weeden is all but finished as a starter in the NFL, and the Browns can’t afford to wait for Brian Hoyer to recover from his injury to see if he’s the real deal, which he probably isn’t after only a few good starts. Cleveland has been in this situation before and they’ve failed to find a franchise quarterback in the draft, but here’s one more chance to get it right. The Browns need to make a splash in some way, and while they’ve probably won too many games this season to have a chance at Teddy Bridgewater, if they have a chance to take Johnny Manziel, they should jump at it, as he would create the kind of excitement around their organization that they need.

Houston – It’s time for the Texans to move on from Matt Schaub, and it’s tough to be sold on Case Keenum just yet since the team isn’t winning games, so it’s more than likely that they’ll be looking for a franchise quarterback in the draft. Houston looks like a team that will be drafting high, but they could also wait until the second or third round to take a quarterback. The Texans may look to go the Andy Dalton route, which means college guys with a lot of experience like Aaron Murray, Stephen Morris or Derek Carr could be potential choices if they pass on taking a quarterback in the first round. Of course, if Gary Kubiak is fired, that could change the team’s approach depending on whom they hire to replace him.

Jacksonville – The Blaine Gabbert era has to be over in Jacksonville, and Chad Henne isn’t exactly the answer either. The Jaguars will do their homework, but it’s hard to imagine them not reaching the conclusion that Teddy Bridgewater is their best bet at quarterback. Of course, Bridgewater could decide to return to school (not implying that he will, just playing devil’s advocate), in which case the Jaguars would be in a tough spot, as there may not be another quarterback worthy of being the top overall pick, but they can’t really wait until the second round to take a quarterback.

Kansas City – No one’s trying to run Alex Smith out of town because the Chiefs are winning with him, but he’s not that young and he’s not a high-end quarterback that you feel confident can take you to the Super Bowl. Kansas City has the talented Tyler Bray on their roster, but they’ll want someone else who they know can push Smith for the job after a year or two, just like Colin Kaepernick did in San Francisco. Kansas City won’t be taking a quarterback in the first round, but if anyone catches Andy Reid’s eye in the second or third round, the Chiefs won’t hesitate to take him.

Minnesota – Let’s not pretend that Christian Ponder still has a chance of working out. Josh Freeman probably isn’t the guy the Vikings want to move forward either. Despite making the playoffs last year, Minnesota is right back where they were when they took Ponder a few years ago. The Vikings will be looking at quarterbacks with first round talent, which means Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, and Johnny Manziel are all possibilities.

Oakland – Just because Terrelle Pryor beat out Matt Flynn in the preseason doesn’t mean Pryor is the future. He has a chance to prove otherwise with his play throughout the rest of the season, but the Raiders should definitely be considering their options at quarterback. Oakland should be picking high this year, which will give them a chance to take Johnny Manziel or Marcus Mariota, or possibly Tajh Boyd early in the second round. They could also choose to play it safe and take another shot at a polished pocket passer like A.J. McCarron or Aaron Murray.

Pittsburgh – The Steelers drafted Landry Jones last year, but he’s probably more of a long-term backup or a stopgap if Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt. Rumor has it that Roethlisberger is looking to be traded this offseason, and even if that’s not true, Pittsburgh may need to start thinking about how much longer Roethlisberger is going to be able to play with the hits he’s taken the past few years. They could try waiting another year or two and see how Jones develops, but with a lot of good choices available this season, why wait if there’s someone they really like. The name to keep an eye on is Zach Mettenberger, who is a big guy with a big arm, and he could be ready to pick up where Roethlisberger leaves off.

St. Louis – Even before the injury to Sam Bradford, the Rams should have been looking at this year’s crop of college quarterbacks, and now it’s obvious that they’ll be looking to draft a quarterback early next year. Jeff Fisher is probably going to want more of a pocket passer, which could make Zach Mettenberger one of their top choices, although Tajh Boyd, Derek Carr, and Aaron Murray are also guys that could fit in St. Louis and take the reins from Bradford.

Tampa Bay – Greg Schiano may like Mike Glennon, but Schiano probably won’t be the head coach next season, and Glennon may not be the quarterback the new coach wants to move forward with. The Bucs didn’t draft Glennon high enough to owe him more of an opportunity, especially when they’ll have a high draft pick next year and a chance to take just about anybody they want. Just about every quarterback available is on the table for the Bucs, including Teddy Bridgewater if they end up with the top overall pick.


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11NFL Midseason Hot Seat: Raiders, Cowboys, Titans, Panthers, Jets, Lions, Vikings and More

Before the season, we named six NFL head coaches that were on the hot seat. Now that the season is half over, let’s take a look at whether those six coaches have more or less job security than they had when the season started, as well as a few coaches that have joined them on the hot seat.

Dennis Allen, Oakland – There’s probably not a lot Allen can do to prevent the Raiders from finishing last in the AFC West this year, but so far he’s done enough to at least give himself another year as head coach. The Raiders are definitely more competitive than they were last year, and they should be able to improve upon their 4-12 record from last year, despite sharing a division with two of the NFL’s better teams. Games against Denver and Philadelphia notwithstanding, Oakland has been better defensively this season, and that should be enough to bring Allen back next year.

Jason Garrett, Dallas – Garrett’s fate is still far from determined, and it doesn’t help that Jerry Jones is unpredictable and doesn’t always think soundly. The Cowboys are in good position to win the NFC East and go to the playoffs, which would almost certainly save Garrett’s job, but they should probably be better than 5-4, and there’s still time for a second half collapse that could cost Dallas a playoff spot. If that happens, Garrett could easily lose his job, despite anything Jones has said previously about his belief in his head coach.

Mike Munchak, Tennessee – Right now, Munchak’s job status looks pretty good. His quarterback started to make progress before suffering an injury that knocked him out for a few weeks, but now Jake Locker is back on the field and the Titans are definitely in the middle of the playoff hunt. Three of Tennessee’s four losses this season have come against the NFL’s elite (Kansas City, Seattle, and San Francisco), so it’s hard to say that the Titans are underachieving this year. Even if Munchak can’t get Tennessee to the playoffs this year, there’s been enough progress made to retain him as the head coach.

Ron Rivera, Carolina – Things weren’t looking good for Rivera and the Panthers early in the season, but things have turned around in a hurry with four straight wins and much better play out of quarterback Cam Newton. As much as Newton has improved last year, it’s Rivera’s defense that’s leading the charge in Carolina and initializing a power shift in the NFC South. The Panther’s schedule will get tougher in the second half of the season, with at least four games against teams that look headed for the postseason, but barring a complete collapse, Rivera looks good to return to the Panthers next season.

Rex Ryan, New York Jets – Before the season, Ryan was a virtual lock to be fired after the season, but he’s given himself a fighting chance to keep his job. That being said, the situation changes on almost a weekly basis, as the Jets have been terribly inconsistent this season, losing to the Steelers only to beat the Patriots the next week, then getting crushed by the Bengals only to beat the Saints this past weekend. If Ryan gets the Jets to the playoffs it’ll be hard to fire him after the low expectations heading into the season, but there’s so much that can happen between now and the end of the season, not to mention the instability within the organization, which puts his job status very much in the air.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit – Schwartz has definitely taken the heat off himself that was building up after last year’s 4-12 campaign. Detroit’s defense still has a lot of work to do, but Schwartz seems to have the quarterback he needs to win, and an offense that can by dynamic at times. The Lions look like a team that could win 10 games and go to the playoffs, which should take the heat off Schwartz for at least a couple years.

Those who weren’t on the hot seat at the start of the season, but are definitely on it now are:

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota – Things were good for Frazier last year after the Vikings won 10 games and went to the playoffs, but unless they can turn things around in the second half, he could be out of a job. Minnesota’s season isn’t all on Frazier, as there’s been a ton of instability at quarterback for the Vikings, and none of the three that have played appear to be the answer for them. However, Frazier went 3-13 in 2011, and if he repeats that record this year, which looks quite possible, it’ll be hard to justify keeping him, even with a 10-win season and postseason appearance sandwiched in between.

Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay – How Schiano is still employed is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t matter how many years or how much money remains on his contract, Schiano should be out after this season, and he should consider himself lucky not to have already received his walking papers.

Gary Kubiak, Houston – The seat under Kubiak was definitely starting to heat up, but his episode at halftime of Sunday’s game reminds us that there are more important things.


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11NFL Week 9 Predictions: Packers-Bears, Vikings-Cowboys, Saints-Jets, Eagles-Raiders, Patriots-Steelers and More

Will the Chiefs keep a direct course for home field advantage? Will Rex Ryan get the better of Rob Ryan? Will the Bucs even be close in Seattle? Get our predictions below:

(Bryan Zarpentine 61-35 overall)

(Cole Stevenson 60-36 overall)

Bryan Zarpentine: Carolina 27, Atlanta 13 – Cam Newton keeps it going and the Falcons continue to spiral out of control.

Cole Stevenson: Carolina 30, Atlanta 16 – Tough to see the Panthers losing right now and even tougher to see the Falcons winning.

Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, Kansas City 17 – Upset alert! Buffalo’s pass rush causes problems for Alex Smith, who turns the ball over a couple times, allowing the Bills’ offense to do just enough in the 4th quarter to steal a win at home.

Cole Stevenson: Kansas City 21, Buffalo 16 – I know the Chiefs are going to lose eventually, but to Jeff Tuel or Thad Lewis? I don’t buy it.

Bryan Zarpentine: Dallas 21, Minnesota 13 – The Cowboys are unimpressive, but not even Adrian Peterson can carry this Viking’s team to a win on the road against a halfway decent team.

Cole Stevenson: Dallas 24, Minnesota 16 – Cowboys have to win this game.

Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 19, St. Louis 10 – Jake Locker and the Titans have trouble in the red zone, but it doesn’t matter against an offense led by Kellen Clemens.

Cole Stevenson: St. Louis 18, Tennessee 15 – I don’t have a lot of faith in this pick, but if the St. Louis defense from Monday night shows up, they have a good chance.

Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 45, New York Jets 21 – This isn’t as ugly as last week for the Jets, but they have no chance of slowing down the New Orleans offense.

Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 30, New York Jets 20 – I like Rex Ryan more than Rob, but not in this game.

Bryan Zarpentine: Washington 34, San Diego 24 – The Redskins need this game a little bit more, as we see one turnover too many from Phillip Rivers.

Cole Stevenson: Washington 30, San Diego 21 – This is a coin flip for me, but Washington has more playmakers.

Bryan Zarpentine: Oakland 20, Philadelphia 13 – The Raiders look stout on defense and at home they find a way to put some points on the board against the Eagles.

Cole Stevenson: Oakland 21, Philadelphia 16 – Tough to see the Eagles beating anybody right now.

Bryan Zarpentine: Seattle 24, Tampa Bay 6 – Not the prettiest game, but there’s no way the Bucs can beat the Seahawks in Seattle.

Cole Stevenson: Seattle 28, Tampa Bay 3 – Seahawks will be looking to make a statement after a ‘disappointing’ win last week.

Bryan Zarpentine: Cleveland 24, Baltimore 13 – The Browns get the job done on defense and Jason Campbell provides the little spark they need on offense to get the win.

Cole Stevenson: Cleveland 22, Baltimore 18 – I repeat, I will pick against Joe Flacco for the rest of the year.

Bryan Zarpentine: New England 28, Pittsburgh 17 – There’s no way the Patriots fall at home to this year’s Steelers.

Cole Stevenson: New England 31, Pittsburgh 20 – Look for Gronkowski to finally find the end zone.

Bryan Zarpentine: Indianapolis 21, Houston 13 – It’s not as easy as it looks for the Colts without Reggie Wayne, but the Texans are a mess and they won’t be able to stop Andrew Luck in the 4th quarter.

Cole Stevenson: Indianapolis 23, Houston 17 – I want to pick the Texans in an upset here so badly, but I can’t just yet.

Bryan Zarpentine: Green Bay 38, Chicago 21 – The Bears will score some points with Josh McCown, but they won’t be able to stop Aaron Rodgers.

Cole Stevenson: Green Bay 31, Chicago 22 – The Packers offense seems locked in right now.

Follow us on twitter:

@Cole_Stevenson

@BZarp


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11NFL Week 9 Preview: Vikings-Cowboys, Saints-Jets, Eagles-Raiders, Patriots-Steelers and More

After all the excitement last week, it’s going to be a tough follow for the week 9 slate of games in the NFL.  But even with some top-notch teams getting the week off, there are still plenty of interesting matchups on tap for this weekend.  Let’s take a closer look at all the games on the week 9 schedule.

Kansas City at Buffalo – The Bills’ 3-5 record is a bit deceiving, as they’ve stayed competitive a beat a couple solid teams, but they have a tough task in front of them if they expect to knock off the lone undefeated team left in the NFL.  Buffalo has the kind of pass rush that can bother Alex Smith and make it difficult for the Chiefs to score points.  Of course, it’ll also be difficult for the Bills to score points, as they are still relying on Thad Lewis at quarterback and don’t have their full complement of skill players available.  If Lewis can avoid turnovers and the Buffalo defense can force Smith into making some mistakes, the Bills will be able to make it a 4th quarter game and have a chance to pull the upset at home; but if not, the Chiefs should roll to another win.

Minnesota at Dallas – The Cowboys will need to shake off their disappointing loss to Detroit last week and find a way to beat the Vikings at home.  Minnesota showed some offensive firepower last week, scoring 31 points against the Packers, and if they can get good play out of the quarterback position they may be able to keep up with the Cowboys, as Dallas shouldn’t have much trouble scoring points, so it’ll be up to Minnesota’s offense to keep up.  With an unfortunate loss last week and a trip to New Orleans next week, the Cowboys really need to win this game, or else they could lose their hold on the NFC East.

Tennessee at St. Louis – The Rams came close but fell a little short against the Seahawks Monday night, which showed they’re capable of competing with an elite team, although they’re going to need a lot more than Zac Stacy on the offensive side of the ball.  Stacy should have another good game, but St. Louis could have trouble in the passing game with Kellen Clements at quarterback against a strong Tennessee defense.  As for the Titans, they’ve had a week off to prepare after losing to San Francisco in Jake Locker’s return.  Still riding a three-game losing streak, Tennessee needs to get a win here or they risk falling far behind the Colts in the AFC South and falling behind the pack in the wildcard race.  Locker and the Titans need to regain the form they had in September, because if not, the Rams are a team that can beat them.

New Orleans at New York Jets – If the Jets thought the Bengals had an explosive offense; well, just wait until they see the Saints.  New Orleans could also hang 50 points on Rex Ryan’s defense if they don’t show considerable improvement from last week.  Even if Geno Smith has a good game, it may not be enough to keep up with the Saints if New York’s defense doesn’t provide some support.  A loss here could cause the Jets to spiral and put Ryan under fire, just as he was at the start of the season.

San Diego at Washington – The Redskins still cling to hope in a bad NFC East, but a home game against the Chargers isn’t one they can afford to lose if they want to stay in contention.  San Diego has had an extra week to prepare, and they’ve actually played well on the east coast this season, which means Phillip Rivers and company should be ready to play and pose a big challenge for Washington’s defense.  Once again, all the pressure will be on Robert Griffin III to lead Washington’s offense to a lot of points, although he should have a little easier time staying on his feet than he did against Denver’s pass rush last week, which will at least give the Redskins a fighting chance, even if their defense struggles yet again.

Atlanta at Carolina – The Panthers have a tough schedule in November, as they try to prove that they’re for real, and a home game against Atlanta is probably as easy as it gets the entire month, so they need to make sure they take care of business at home.  Despite a great season from Matt Ryan, the Falcons are on the verge of completely falling apart, and they’ll hope to salvage something against the Panthers, but the Carolina defense may be too much to handle with so many key offensive players missing or playing hurt.  Against Atlanta’s porous defense, Cam Newton should be able to continue his much-improved play as of late and lead the Panthers to a fourth straight win.

Philadelphia at Oakland – The Raiders surprised everybody with a win last week, while the Eagles continue to disappoint.  Oakland’s defense has been solid this season, and while they could be challenged by Chip Kelly’s offense, they won’t have to worry about a mobile quarterback, as Nick Foles returns to the lineup for the Eagles.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s defense has been surprisingly good the past couple of weeks, so this could be a low-scoring slugfest, especially if the Eagles can keep Terrelle Pryor from doing damage with his legs.  The Eagles are 3-1 on the road this year, while the Raiders are 3-1 at home, so something has to give this weekend between two teams clinging to slim postseason hopes.

Tampa Bay at Seattle – On paper, this game looks like a mismatch, but the Seahawks really struggled offensively on Monday night against the Rams, and Tampa Bay has enough talent on defense to cause problems for them this week as well.  Of course, the same can be said on the other side of the ball, where the outlook is bleak for Tampa’s offense going up against Seattle’s defense.  The Bucs would appear to have very little chance of winning this game, but it could end up being a lot closer than the Seahawks would prefer if the offense doesn’t improve

Baltimore at Cleveland – Neither team has looked good this year, and both are on the verge of falling completely out of contention in the NFC North and in the wildcard, so this is a must-win for both sides.  Jason Campbell gave the Browns a little life at quarterback last week, but they still don’t have much of a running game to help balance out their offense.  On the other side, Baltimore has failed to score more than 20 points in four of their seven games this year, including a week 2 win over the Browns.  If the Ravens can’t get their running game going and give Joe Flacco a little more support, they’re going to have a hard time scoring against a stout Cleveland defense.  Don’t expect too many points in this game, but the advantage will go to whichever team can get its running game going.

Pittsburgh at New England – Their 4th quarter comeback aside, the Steelers really laid an egg last week in Oakland, and now they have to travel to another place where it’s difficult to win.  The Pittsburgh defense has played well against the pass this year, so they may have a chance to slow down Tom Brady, but that doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh offense will be able to score enough points to win.  Like a lot of teams, the Steelers are in must-win mode, and if they’re going to win in New England, their defense is going to have to force some turnovers against Brady because their offense has been too unreliable this year, even in their wins.

Indianapolis at Houston – This will be Indy’s first game since losing Reggie Wayne, so it’ll be interesting how Andrew Luck and the rest of the offense adjust to such a big loss.  Houston’s defense should be a tough test for the Wayne-less Colts, who may need to lean more on Trent Richardson and their running game without their go-to receiver in big spots.  As for the Texans, they carried a five-game losing streak into their bye last week, and they still don’t know who will play quarterback this week.  While Houston may have an advantage on offense with their running game, Arian Foster may not be available, which would hurt and put more pressure on whichever quarterback ends up playing.  Unless the Houston defense to keep the game low scoring, this could be a tough game for the Texans to win, even at home.


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11Minnesota Lawmaker Questions Provision That Bans Gun Sales At New Vikings Stadium

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, a Minnesota lawmaker is questioning a provision in contracts for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium that prohibits a number of vendors, such as adult stores, head shops, pawn shops and gun stores, from being open for business.

Writing in a letter sent to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority on Thursday, Garofalo wanted an explanation regarding the signed agreement.

“I am concerned that this arbitrary provision could exclude hunting expos or other outdoorsmen events,” he said.

The chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority said that Garofalo got the wrong impression about the document.

“We certainly never intentionally prohibited gun sales” in the documents signed last week, Chairman Michele Kelm-Helgen told the West Central Tribune in an interview.

However, Garofalo disagrees by saying, “I’m also puzzled why the MSFA would single out law-abiding gun dealers, and put them in the same category as adults-only entertainment,” the Star Tribune reports.

The lawmaker also said exhibitors at outdoor trade shows should be permitted to sell weapons as long as they act in accordance with the stadiums laws and policies.

“This provision was never included in the Metrodome lease, was not included in the new Vikings stadium legislation and was not identified as an issue or a problem that needed to be addressed prior to this agreement,” Garofalo said.

The Minnesota Management and Budget office also released the names of 22 financial institutions on Thursday. These institutions, including U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo Securities, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, will help countersign the $498 million taxpayer share of the Vikings stadium.

According to the Pioneer Press, a Management and Budget office spokesman said the selection of a sponsor will take a few weeks, but more than one agency could be chosen. A firm date has not been set yet for sending out the bonds, which will be carried out for the next two years.

Construction will begin in November 2014, with a planned opening for the 2016 season.


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112013 NFC North Preview: Packers, Vikings, Bears, Lions

As our NFL preview continues, today we take a look at the teams of the NFC North, while also providing a pre-season power ranking of the division.

1. Green Bay – The Packers are obviously the top team in the division heading into the season with arguably the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers. With the loss of Greg Jennings, the Packers don’t have the deep collection of offensive skill players that they’ve had in years past, although Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb quality receivers. With the addition of rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay should have an improved rushing attack, which was well below average last season. There could also be some problems for Green Bay along the offensive line after the losing left tackle Bryan Bulaga to a season-ending injury.

Despite some of those questions, the Packers are solid on defense and with Rodgers running the show on offense Green Bay should be one of the top contenders in the NFC once again.

2. Minnesota – The Vikings may be on the verge of taking a step back, but with Adrian Peterson they have one of the most dominant players in the NFL who they were able to ride to 10 wins and a spot in the playoffs last season, and he’ll give them a chance to do the same this season. Of course, Minnesota won’t be able to rely on Peterson for everything, which is why they’ll need Christian Ponder to take his game to the next level in his third NFL season. The Vikings have done enough to give Ponder a good supporting cast around him; aside from Peterson, the Vikings added wide receivers Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, which should be enough to give Minnesota a more balanced offense if Ponder can prove to be a competent quarterback.

Defensively, the Vikings aren’t in the best of shape, but they added two first round picks on that side of the ball, as well as linebacker Desmond Bishop. But despite some questions, having Peterson running the ball should be worth quite a few wins, and if the other pieces of Minnesota’s roster can put it together, the Vikings should be once again in the mix for a playoff spot.

3. Chicago – Entering the 2013 season, the Chicago Bears are in the rare of position of coming off a 10-win season while also replacing their head coach. The biggest factor in Chicago’s season will be whether new head coach Marc Trestman can help quarterback Jay Cutler take his game to the next level. Cutler has the talent and the marquee receiver in Brandon Marshall necessary to lead the Bears to another double-digit win total and possibly a playoff birth, but his performance has declined in recent years and he’s never been able to take that next step. Another big key to Chicago’s success in 2013 will be their offensive line, which was a disaster last season. The entire left side of the line has been made over with the free agent additions of Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson, while first round pick Kyle Long should provide a big boost to the unit as well.

The Bears were carried by their defense last season, and if Cutler and the offense can’t get it together, that may be the case again this season, although the Bears will no longer have Brian Urlacher to lead the way in the middle of their defense. Linebacker was a big point of emphasis this offseason, with the addition of James Anderson and D.J. Williams in free agency, as well as rookie Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene in the draft. Chicago’s defense should be reliable again this season to keep them in games, but Cutler is too untrustworthy on offense, which is why they head into the season looking like the third best team in the NFC North.

4. Detroit – The Lions have their work cut out for them in 2013, as they look to rebound from a four-win season in a division in which the other three teams all won 10 or more games last season. Detroit should have one of the best passing offenses in the NFL led by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and a slew of other capable receivers, but Stafford and company will have to find a way to turn those high levels of production into wins. The x-factor on offense will be the addition of running back Reggie Bush, who could be used in a variety of ways and adds a different dimension to Detroit’s offense. Defensively, the Lions may have one of the most talented front lines in football with a trio of first round picks and one second round pick. If that unit can play up to its potential they could have a huge impact on the rest of the defense, which is average at best otherwise. Despite the questions facing the rest of the teams in the NFC North, the Lions still have the most to prove this season, which is why they start out at the bottom of the power rankings.


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