AROUND THE LEAGUE
Peter King liked what he saw from the Bears Sunday night as they won in a game where the only TD was scored by a tackle.
Chicago is going to be trouble in January. I’d say “big trouble” if Mitchell Trubisky was as trustworthy as a playoff quarterback needs to be. He might play well in January, but he hasn’t shown enough to make Bears fans confident that he will. Until he is, this team will have to win with defense, and it showed it can against one of the league’s most explosive offensive teams. This was a Butkus/Singletary type of performance. The first 10 Rams possessions ended in: field goal, punt, pick, field goal, punt, safety, punt, pick, missed field goal. Yikes. It was 25 degrees at Soldier Field Sunday night, with virtually no wind. But the Bears gave the Rams no room to breathe. And that was without dominating performances from the best two Chicago defenders, Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks (two sacks, six tackles between them). What makes this D so imposing? The fact that pressure comes not just from two men. The Bears now have 25 interceptions, by the way. They had 24 in the previous three years combined.
Peter King sings the praises of Mike McCarthy:
Now that Mike McCarthy has been fricasseed from coast to coast, and gotten fired by the Packers with a quarter-season to go, I’d like to take a moment to praise McCarthy’s accomplishments in his 12.75 seasons as coach of one of America’s teams. Did he win enough? Probably not, particularly with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks. But he won a lot, and he continued the Packer rebirth that Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren (and Favre and Reggie White) began 27 years ago.
• McCarthy won 135 games, averaging 10.4 wins per season, and stands 25th on the all-time NFL wins list (playoffs included). He is nestled between Hall of Famers Hank Stram with 136 and Weeb Ewbank with 134—though admittedly they coached in partially 12-game seasons, not the 16 of McCarthy’s era.
• No coach other than Bill Belichick has won more than McCarthy’s six division titles since 2006. (Mike Tomlin also has six, and could win a seventh this year.)
• McCarthy’s teams were 35-16-2 against the Packers’ two arch-rivals, Chicago and Minnesota.
• As a third-year, 44-year-old head coach in 2008, he navigated (along with GM Ted Thompson) the ugly and rocky transition from a legendary quarterback who wanted his job back, Brett Favre, to the unproven Aaron Rodgers. I remember his stolid voice over the phone on the crucial weekend when McCarthy and Thompson decided to move on to Rodgers: “This is the way it’s going to be.” Like, next question.
• Curly Lambeau, part of the founding of the Packers almost a century ago, coached the team for the first 29 years of the franchise. In the 69 seasons since 1950, Green Bay has had 15 coaches. McCarthy’s tenure, 12-and-three-quarters years, is the longest of any coach since Lambeau.
Last Wednesday, the Packers wisely let McCarthy return, three days after a firing he did not expect, to address the team. “We’ve got a guest coming in today,” interim coach Joe Philbin told the players at the morning meeting. In strode McCarthy, who got a standing ovation. “It was very emotional,” said left tackle David Bakhtiari. “He brought it all back to Green Bay—the community, the organization, what a privilege it was for us all to be here, and the great opportunity we had here. It was deep. Walking out of that meeting, I thought it was great closure for the team, and for him.”
Bakhtiari on McCarthy’s legacy: “Sustaining success in the NFL is very hard, month to month, season to season. His ability to coach, his ability to lead, his character, is what I’ll remember. I was fortunate to play for him for six seasons. He treated the players so well. Every year, either in training camp or minicamp, he’d break up the monotony and bring the whole team to his farm, his house. We’d have the McCarthy Olympics. That was a great day of team-building.”
I’ve been bothered by the rush to either discredit McCarthy for not winning enough with Rodgers, or by the tendency to jump on Rodgers for whatever part he played in McCarthy’s firing. I don’t like either (although I have said I think McCarthy could have and should have been more imaginative in his game plans and play-calling). The team had gotten stale. Was it McCarthy’s fault? Should Rodgers have been more aggressive, or could he have done more? You could see Rodgers wasn’t himself, for whatever reasons, this year; he’s good at keeping private things private, so I can’t answer the question. But the storyline of Rodgers got McCarthy whacked, I believe, is dangerous and unfounded.
“Things have been a little tainted in the media,” Bakhtiari said. “Through my experience with both of them, they’re both strong guys. You’re going to have differences of opinion. But I don’t see the things between them that people on the outside are focusing on. I guess it grabs headlines; so be it. I can just tell you how many times I’d see them with chuckles and grins, walking out after a private meeting.”
If Philly wins out—tough task, considering the Eagles travel to the Rams next week—a 9-7 record might be good enough for the wild card. But this team doesn’t have the same feel as last year. It’s got to be bitterly disappointing for Carson Wentz, who was an MVP contender when he tore two knee ligaments in a December game at L.A. last year, and just hasn’t returned to the same form this year. In his last nine starts last year, the Eagles scored 30 or more points seven times. In his 11 starts this year, they’ve scored 30 or more once. Sunday was a perfect example. Wentz and the offense stumbled around for 54 minutes, putting up just 88 yards passing before rallying late to almost pull it out. Even against a good defense such as Dallas, for Wentz to have 88 yards passing in 54 minutes of a game is awful. He’s having a nice season, but there’s something missing. The partnership of departed coaches Frank Reich and John DeFilippo? A leakier offensive line? Not having the confidence in his knee that he had last year? Philadelphia has lots of offseason work to do on Wentz, and on an offense that’s just not that good.
Even as Arthur Blank hoisted an MLS Cup, Peter King notes:
The weirdest last month in football? Easy. Atlanta’s. Here’s the worst thing of all on a wounded defensive unit: Atlanta is 0-5 in the last 30 days, and has not scored more than 20 points in a game. There’s one word for an offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu and Telvin Coleman scoring 88 points in five games: disgraceful.
I doubt Dan Quinn is endangered, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.
Two words that don’t appear above – Steve Sarkesian.
Peter King with some coaching help for Sean Payton:
The (Saints) offense that looked peerless around Thanksgiving has gained 176 and 298 yards in the last two weeks. Drew Brees is getting pressured more. Maybe the solution is giving it to Alvin Kamara in space more.
The Lions were not happy with Arizona’s indoor grass. Kyle Meinike of MLive.com:
The Cardinals spent a half-billion dollars to build their football stadium in the desert in the early 2000s. Perhaps they should have invested a little more in the actual field.
That was a familiar complaint from Lions players after their sloppy 17-3 win Sunday against Arizona at State Farm Stadium -- though nothing was sloppier than the grass itself, which was wet and chewed up. Players were slipping so badly that many changed footwear early in the game, replacing their regular molded cleats with long studs.
“That field is so high-tech,” defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. "Taking it outside, watering it, doing everything to it, damn near gardening it, and then we come in an NFL game and we’re tearing it up that easily. You pay too much for a stadium like this to have grass that bad.
“I’m just saying, if you’re going to spend billions, you might as well cover everything.”
The Cardinals removed the turf from the stadium to dry it out before the game, but it didn’t seem to do much. The track was slick, and torn up just a few minutes into the game. Several players were seen slipping, including running back LeGarrette Blount, who could have had a big gain early had he not stumbled.
“I’m just going to say every time I’ve played here, the field hasn’t been great,” Blount said, choosing his words carefully. “I just know that it was wet. It was wet, it was slippery, it was muddy. I don’t know if they had just redone it or whatever, but it was not stable.”
Cornerback Nevin Lawson was far more blunt.
“The field was awful,” Lawson said. “I don’t understand how we got an indoor, and this field was awful.”
Lawson actually played really well, matching up much of the afternoon with Larry Fitzgerald. The future Hall of Famer finished with five catches for 55 yards, but was quiet for much of the afternoon.
Other players really struggled on the field, though, and many were hurt. At least 12 Lions players left the game with injuries. Defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand (knee), defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), right tackle Rick Wagner (brain), fullback Nick Bellore (ankle), receiver Bruce Ellington (hamstring), cornerback Marcus Cooper Sr. and special teams ace Charles Washington (hamstring) did not return.
In addition, Darius Slay (leg), receiver TJ Jones, Tavon Wilson, tight end Luke Willson and defensive tackle Snacks Harrison left the game before returning.
It seemed the slick turf was contributing to the injuries, although the Lions were reticent to say so.
“I don’t know,” Lawson said. “I’m not God.”
Still, you didn’t exactly have to read between the lines to see just how miffed players were by the conditions.
“Very moist,” safety Tracy Walker said. "Awful. I mean, you can’t really worry about little things like that. You just got to go out there and control what you can control, and obviously the field, we can’t control that.
“I can definitely say the field played a lot into us sliding around and pretty much everybody falling all over the place. But that’s part of the game of football."
Coach Vance Joseph is calling for aggression from QB CASE KEENUM:
The Broncos lost for the first time since their Week 10 bye against the 49ers last Sunday and their 6-7 record leaves them looking like a long shot for the playoffs.
Head coach Vance Joseph would like to see a more aggressive Case Keenum as they take that long shot. Joseph said that he felt Keenum “was a little cautious” on Sunday while going 24-of-42 for 186 yards and a touchdown and that he’d like to see the risk level go up.
That may lead to big plays, but it may also lead to the interceptions that Keenum has eliminated from his game in recent weeks. He threw 10 in the first eight games, but has not been intercepted in his last 176 attempts. Joseph acknowledged that possibility, but it doesn’t change what he wants to see from Keenum.
“The bottom line is we got three weeks to play and he’s got to make more plays and sometimes taking some chances allows you to make more plays,” Joseph said, via Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic. “There are going to be turnovers, so he can’t worry about it. You can’t play this game perfectly. I want Case to be more aggressive, especially down the seams over those Cover 3 defenses. That’s where the soft spots are, so he’s got to be aggressive down the seams and not worry about making mistakes.”
Beyond Keenum’s interception risk, the makeup of the receiving corps may also be an obstacle to this approach. Demaryius Thomas is in Houston and Emmanuel Sanders, Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt are on injured reserve, which leaves little established reliability in the receiving corps for the final three games.
First, RB KAREEM HUNT shoved and kicked his way out of the NFL. Now, WR TYREEK HUNT is hurt. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill said after Sunday’s win that the foot injury that forced him out of the game against the Ravens for a spell was “bad,” but a report on Monday has a more positive outlook.
Hill went for further examination by doctors on Monday and Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the feeling is that Hill’s injury is “nothing serious.” Hill is reportedly considered day to day as the Chiefs move toward their Week 15 game against the Chargers.
That game is on Thursday night, so even generally good news about his foot doesn’t mean that he’ll be feeling well enough to play in a few days.
A recent report indicated Sammy Watkins will miss Thursday’s game, so the Chiefs may be turning to Kelvin Benjamin after signing him last week.
As January approaches, remember -- the Chiefs have six straight home playoff losses! 1-11 overall.
There’s no doubt that it’s Jon Gruden’s show with the Raiders now. Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:
The Oakland Raiders have fired general manager Reggie McKenzie, effective immediately, the team announced Monday.
"We are grateful for everything Reggie has done for this organization as a player, executive and member of the Raider family," the team said in a statement, adding that the team "will immediately begin a search for a new front office executive and will have no further comment until that process is complete."
McKenzie, 55, had been the Raiders' GM since 2012. He was under contract through the 2021 NFL draft as part of a four-year extension signed in 2016.
Many wondered whether McKenzie, the 2016 NFL executive of the year, would still fit in the organizational flow chart when head coach Jon Gruden was hired in January. Both insisted they would work together, and McKenzie recently said his job as general manager was to get Gruden the players he wanted, not necessarily players McKenzie liked.
"I'm not going to sit up here today and talk about any disconnect,'' Gruden said. "We were connected. We were very good friends and very connected. I'll leave it at that.''
Gruden said he went home after beating the Steelers 24-21 on Sunday night and was not part of the meeting in which McKenzie was relieved of his duties.
"Obviously, there was a meeting last night, and changes had been made," he said. "I respect everything that this organization is about. I can't exactly answer why the change was made last night, but changes were made, and we've got to continue to fight and continue to build this team back, and that's what we're going to do."
Asked if it was solely a decision reached by Raiders owner Mark Davis, Gruden said, "We all work for the same man."
McKenzie, who was the first major hire made by Davis after he took over the team following the death of his father, Al, in 2011, spoke in late October of reports of a rift between him and Gruden, and he called it "comical."
"You talked about pulling the strings, and you know, Gruden and I, we work together very well," McKenzie said at the time. "Let's make no mistakes about it. Him pushing me out, that's not happening. Me not being able to work with Gruden, that's furthest from the truth. OK? We work really well together.
"We're in each other's offices all the time. Talking about players, who's up, who's down, who I would like to see play more. Practice squad guys. About moving this guy. Claiming this guy. Trading. Guys calling me about trading this guy -- here's what I think, what do you think?
"Moving forward, when you talk about the negativity that I hear is between me and Gruden, there's been times I want to make a statement and say, 'Really?'"
Asked then who might be "untouchable" on the Raiders' roster as the trade deadline loomed, McKenzie joked, "I'm untouchable."
The Raiders' roster was torn down with the high-profile trades of All-Pro edge-rusher Khalil Mack on Sept. 1 and Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper on Oct. 22, hastening the rebuild in Oakland less than two years before the franchise moves to Las Vegas.
In fact, only nine of McKenzie's 50 pre-Gruden draft picks (from 2012 through 2017) are on the Raiders' 53-man roster, and 36 current players did not spend a day on Oakland's 53-man roster last season.
Davis lauded the financial efforts of McKenzie, whom he often referred to as his "guy" upon hiring him three months after the death of Al Davis, crediting McKenzie's acumen in getting the Raiders out of "salary-cap hell."
But other than the 2014 draft -- which netted Mack, quarterback Derek Carr, right guard Gabe Jackson and defensive tackle Justin Ellis -- McKenzie's picks have left much to be desired, Davis said in a recent interview.
The 2016 NFL Executive of the Year. Done.
More from Gutierrez on the look forward:
Really, the only surprising thing about the Oakland Raiders parting ways with general manager Reggie McKenzie on Monday is the timing.
It was a move expected to be made shortly after the season ended, not with three games remaining and the Raiders having won two of their last four games following a 1-8 start and two extremely winnable games upcoming against the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos.
Wait, so you were surprised that McKenzie was relieved of his duties in any capacity?
You shouldn't have been. Since Jon Gruden was hired in January and given a 10-year contract worth a reported $100 million, it was obvious this was Gruden’s show. Especially since, on the morning of the Raiders’ 2017 season finale at the Los Angeles Chargers, McKenzie was just as taken aback by reports that Jack Del Rio was about to be fired as coach and Gruden was returning to Oakland.
McKenzie, the 2016 NFL executive of the year, was out of that loop.
Perhaps ironically, McKenzie came to Oakland without a first-round or a second-round pick in his first year (he whiffed on cornerback D.J. Hayden in 2013) and now, thanks to the Mack and Cooper trades, Gruden will have five first-rounders over the next two years.
Oakland is scheduled to have 10 selections in the 2019 draft, including three first-rounders, and might pick up a few compensatory picks, too.
That’s a lot of draft capital, and while McKenzie only truly nailed one draft (2014 with Mack, Carr, Jackson and Ellis, with a nod to 2015 with Cooper), he missed badly on such first-rounders as Hayden, while Joseph and Conley are still rounding into shape, along with second-rounders like offensive tackle Menelik Watson, defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Jihad Ward, and safety Obi Melifonwu.
Gruden? Well, in seven years running the show for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only three of his 61 draft picks went to a Pro Bowl -- cornerback Aqib Talib, right guard Davin Joseph and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah.
Timing is everything, as is perspective. So does Gruden need a general manager he trusts, so to speak, or a yes man? And if his old friend Bruce Allen is sent packing by Washington, expect his name to be at the top of rumor lists, along with Mike Holmgren, who spent time with Gruden in late October when his former mentor was in town to call a game for Westwood radio.
Keep an eye on the Raiders’ current college scouting director as Shaun Herock will handle McKenzie’s day-to-day responsibilities the last three weeks of the season -- “I expect him to be a big part of the organization moving forward, honestly,” Gruden said -- as well as the Raiders’ director of football research Dave Razzano, a longtime Gruden confidante. Player personnel director and McKenzie’s right-hand man Joey Clinkscales also remains with the team for now.
Prediction of the Week: The Browns will have four prime-time games next year. They’re fun, they’re dangerous to play, they’ve got an exciting quarterback, and they should have an exciting young coach. Cleveland finishes thusly: at Denver, Cincinnati, at Baltimore. Imagine a 7-8-1 record. Winning two of their last three would do it.
The DB sez, it’s not hard to imagine them 7-7-1 going into that game at Baltimore with the Ravens 8-7. And if the Colts, Dolphins and Titans were 7-8, there could be a primetime game for the Browns this year.
It’s 2018. Do fans really yell “racial slurs” in Tennessee all the time? So say the Jaguars. Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com
Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette said Monday that the fan with whom he got into a verbal altercation during Thursday's game at Tennessee used a racial slur.
Coach Doug Marrone said he spoke with Fournette after Monday's walk-through about a video released by TMZ that showed Fournette yelling at a fan at Nissan Stadium, and that's when Fournette told Marrone the fan used a racial slur.
Fournette declined to address the matter in the locker room on the advice of his agent.
However, running back T.J. Yeldon said multiple fans directed racial slurs at the players.
"Did I hear it? Yeah," Yeldon said. "All the running backs and people on the offensive side were hearing the exchange. They were heckling at us all game, at him and all of us all game.
"All night. All night. All day they was calling us racial slurs, all game."
Bill Belichick publicly takes the blame for Miami’s epic final play:
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed the finger at himself for the team's uncharacteristic breakdown on the Miami Dolphins' game-ending 69-yard touchdown, among other struggles, while explaining his decision to put tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field in place of safety Devin McCourty in the Hail Mary package.
"It starts with me. We have to play better situational football. We'll work to try to achieve that," Belichick said Monday in his day-after-game conference call, as he fielded multiple questions on the breakdown.
As for why Gronkowski was on the field, Belichick said, "It would be his ability to play the deep, long throw."
The Dolphins had the ball at their own 31-yard line on the play.
"It was a little too far to get to the end zone, but certainly a deep pass in that situation is a possibility. I wouldn't rule that out," he said.
Belichick added that he never considered putting a regular defensive package on the field instead of the Hail Mary unit.
"I think there were a lot of things that could have been better in the entire game. I think the game was a lot more than that play, but certainly that play wasn't a good one for us," he said.
The Patriots had gone ahead 33-28 on Stephen Gostkowski's 22-yard field goal with 16 seconds remaining. Belichick said there was a conversation about possibly going for it in that situation, but "we felt the points to make it a touchdown, instead of a field goal game, that changes the whole thing."
THIRD AND LONG
ESPN identifies 10 teams that need to take a hard look at the QB position and turns their experts, Dan Graziano, Field Yates and Mike Sando, loose to fill the voids. Edited version below, the whole thing here.
They explain their picks for all 10 teams below -- you can see them in bold -- and discuss each team's other options:
Jacksonville Jaguars: Two votes for Justin Herbert, one for Tyrod Taylor
QBs under contract in 2019: Blake Bortles ($16 million), Cody Kessler ($912,000)
Projected 2019 pick: No. 9
Projected cap space: minus-$19 million
Graziano: The Jaguars are a year late with their entry into the quarterback market. They should have called Kirk Cousins last year and certainly should have addressed the position in the draft. Fortunately, it appears they'll be back in their accustomed top-five spot in the draft, possibly surrounded by teams that don't need to draft quarterbacks. So I say give them Oregon's Herbert, the top QB in this year's class, and they end up getting lucky.
Yates: The Jaguars seemed to have cast their die when they signed Bortles to a three-year deal this offseason that would carry that hefty dead-cap charge if cut before 2019. The narrative has changed now that Bortles has been benched. How can they keep him as the starter? If Jacksonville keeps losing and gets a top-five pick, Herbert -- or the top-ranked QB prospect if Herbert decides to return to school -- makes a ton of sense.
Sando: The Jaguars effectively made a two-year commitment to Bortles last offseason, which puts them in a predicament now. Maybe they do bring in Taylor, who is a free agent after the season, in hopes his low-turnover style lets the Jaguars win with their defense and ground game.
Baltimore Ravens: Consensus for Lamar Jackson
QBs under contract in 2019: Joe Flacco ($18.5 million), Jackson ($911,000)
Projected 2019 pick: No. 22
Projected cap space: $27.6 million
Graziano: The Lamar era is upon us! It's already begun! Look, I have no idea what happens in Baltimore at quarterback the rest of the way. My instinct is to say that whatever the Ravens are designing for Jackson isn't ready yet and Sunday's game plan likely isn't sustainable for a team trying to make the playoffs and save coaches' jobs, so Flacco plays again at some point if he can get healthy. But Jackson was the first-round pick, and the Ravens aren't going to want to wait long to transition to him. I think it's his job next year, and that Baltimore's offense looks a lot different from the one we're used to seeing.
Sando: You're probably right on this one, especially if the team keeps winning with Jackson in the lineup. Cutting Flacco would save the Ravens $10 million under the 2019 cap, and they could spread the $16 million in dead money over two seasons.
Yates: It's not often that a team pivots to a new coach and a new starting quarterback in the same offseason. It could happen for the Ravens, however, as John Harbaugh's job likely isn't safe unless the team makes the playoffs, and Jackson has helped Baltimore win three straight games with Flacco out of the lineup.
Miami Dolphins: Two votes for Ryan Tannehill, one for Joe Flacco
QBs under contract in 2019: Tannehill ($18.7 million), Luke Falk ($570,000)
Projected 2019 pick: No. 13
Projected cap space: $13.9 million
Sando: The Dolphins can't bank on Tannehill staying healthy or playing well. Will they have better options? If they cut Tannehill, they would take on $13.4 million in dead money to save not quite that much under the cap. This team could plausibly finish 7-9 or 8-8, which would push Miami outside the top 10 in the draft order. If you can't draft a 2019 Week 1 starter, how do you feel about paying, say, $18 million to a veteran (think Case Keenum last offseason) while eating $13.4 million in dead money for Tannehill? How Tannehill finishes should provide additional clarity for the Dolphins.
Graziano: It could, but the reason I went with Flacco here is because of the potential for big change at the top in Miami. The injuries are reaching a critical point, and it's possible the Dolphins bottom out and move on from coach Adam Gase, who is Tannehill's biggest supporter in the organization.
Yates: YIKES -- the Ravens are on a three-game winning streak! Both of you make great points, and I whittled this down to Tannehill or a veteran free agent as the Dolphins will likely need to mortgage draft capital to reach high enough in the order to select a top signal-caller in what many across the league view as a weak QB class. I landed back on Tannehill, as there's no assurance that a veteran signing provides a huge difference in play, and we know there will be a significant price tag involved, as Mike says.
Oakland Raiders: Consensus for Derek Carr
QBs under contract in 2019: Carr ($20 million), AJ McCarron ($5 million)
Projected 2019 pick: Nos. 2, 23 and 25
Projected cap space: $72.3 million
Yates: One way to look at this situation: There's an easy out in Carr's contract after the season, and Jon Gruden and his quarterback already have had one high-profile sideline disagreement so far. Another way? Carr is extremely talented, just 27, and has four manageable years left on his contract.
Graziano: With a trio of first-round picks in 2019 and two more in 2020, Gruden will be able to control this year's draft. If there's a quarterback he sees as the future of the Las Vegas Raiders, he'll be in position to make sure he gets him. And as Field points out, there's nothing in Carr's contract that would prohibit the Raiders from moving on. Nevertheless, I still see one more year, at least, for Carr with the Raiders
Sando: I think there's a decent chance the Raiders will trade Carr this coming offseason and a better chance Gruden will have a different starter before the team plays its first game in Las Vegas in 2020. Long term, Carr simply is not going to become the steely leader Gruden wants his quarterback to be. He would still seem to be the favorite to start in 2019.
New York Giants: Two votes for Teddy Bridgewater, one for Eli Manning
QBs under contract in 2019: Manning ($17 million), Kyle Lauletta ($570,000)
Projected 2019 pick: No. 6
Projected cap space: $23.9 million
Sando: I didn't have the heart to print it at the time, but a GM told me early in the season that he could see the Giants getting hot late in the season, once the offensive weaponry had become established in the new system. That could be happening now, and if the trend continues, bringing back Manning to mentor a newly drafted quarterback and serve as a bridge starter could appeal to the Giants.
Yates: Manning will be 38 in January, and the Giants could easily move on from him after the season, incurring just $6.2 million in dead-cap charges. That means turning to someone like Bridgewater, who might be the best free-agent option on the QB market, even though he has attempted only three regular-season passes over the past three seasons. The Giants believe their talent is far better than their record, and Bridgewater, who was on the Vikings' roster when Giants coach Pat Shurmur was there, could be a more attractive option than a rookie. A team like the Giants will likely view Bridgewater as a capable talent ready for a second act as the starter.
Graziano: One of the criticisms the Giants have absorbed this year as they've stuck by Manning is that he isn't mobile enough to allow for sufficient creativity or flexibility on offense. Bridgewater would address that issue in a way that would appeal to the fan base and a coach who knows him from their time together in Minnesota... As Field says, Bridgewater is a great compromise between drafting a kid and signing an old guy.
Denver Broncos: Consensus for Case Keenum
QBs under contract in 2019: Keenum ($18 million)
Projected 2019 pick: No. 20
Projected cap space: $39.7 million
Sando: The Broncos need to line up their future at the position, so I understand the feeling they could draft a quarterback in the first round. But with Keenum having $7 million in guaranteed salary for 2019, he could be part of the equation as well -- especially if Denver finishes in the 7-9 or 8-8 range, which is definitely possible when taking into account upcoming games against the 49ers, Browns and Raiders. The Broncos also get a home game against the Chargers, whom they already defeated.
Yates: Opportunity cost is essential to consider for quarterbacks, so let's assess what Denver has: With a draft pick likely to be in the middle of the first round, finding a surefire quarterback would require trading up. Do John Elway & Co. really want to use those assets to move up? Keenum has been average this season, and while he doesn't profile as the long-term answer, he's good enough for Denver to either consider a quarterback prospect to develop behind him -- maybe even in Round 2 -- or wait a year to go shopping again.
Graziano: Unlike the Jaguars, who are working with years of evidence that they're never going to get any more from Bortles than what they're getting, the Broncos could absolutely talk themselves into another year of Keenum at his current price.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Consensus for Jameis Winston
(editorial interjection -- we don't rate Winston as a franchise calibre quarterback...moving on)
QBs under contract in 2019: Winston ($20.9 million)
Projected 2019 pick: No. 10
Projected cap space: $13.9 million
Yates: There's speculation that Tampa Bay will turn over its front office and coaching staff this offseason, which might actually increase Winston's chances of sticking around
Graziano: Agree with Field here -- I think Winston finishes this season strong and ownership decides it can't risk letting him go elsewhere and flourish. It may even be, after all the turmoil and controversy of this season, that the Bucs can get Winston to agree to knock down that 2019 price by agreeing to a two-year, Bortles-style contract extension. Pack the thing with incentives and let Winston earn his way back into trust. It might be a better option than heading back out into the QB wilderness, where teams can get lost for decades.
Sando: Winston could be playing his way into the job, so I will lean toward him for now. The problem is, the Buccaneers cannot trust him on or off the field.
Dallas Cowboys: Consensus for Dak Prescott
QBs under contract in 2019: Prescott ($720,000), Cooper Rush ($645,000), Mike White ($570,000)
Projected 2019 pick: Traded to Oakland Raiders
Projected cap space: $43.1 million
Sando: Prescott has the makeup to be the franchise quarterback in Dallas. The team can win with him leading a run-heavy offense as long as the defense is strong, which increasingly seems probable.
Yates: There are times when I wonder whether Jones publicly states the Cowboys' intentions to extend Prescott beyond this season in order to help build the QB's confidence for this season, but whatever the motivation, Jones has not been shy with his plans.
Graziano: My understanding of the Cowboys' plans is that Jones believes in Prescott, wants him to succeed and means what he says about extending him.
Tennessee Titans: Consensus for Marcus Mariota
QBs under contract in 2019: Mariota ($20.9 million), Blaine Gabbert ($1.5 million)
Projected 2019 pick: No. 19
Projected cap space: $20.4 million
Graziano: It's easy to pick apart Mariota for his inconsistency and his lack of refinement as a thrower. But as is the case in so many other places, you have to ask yourself what the alternative is. The Titans love Mariota as a person. They love him as a leader. They love what he brings in terms of his athleticism. I don't think there's a question about whether he's there next year. I think the question about Mariota is whether they do a long-term deal with him.
Sando: I don't think the Titans are married to Mariota, and I'll be a little surprised if they wind up entering into a long-term deal with him this offseason. Injuries could very well make that decision for them.
Yates: Make no mistake about it, Mariota has room to grow as a player. He has been up-and-down as a passer, and he has never been a perpetually dangerous runner, despite the athletic ability he showed in college. But the respect Mariota carries within the Titans building is indisputable, and while being a tremendous person is not the only criterion that matters for quarterbacks, he has the intangibles, leadership and football character -- plus an obvious physical skill set -- that teams covet. Look for the Titans to work to continue to let Mariota develop under offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
Washington: Consensus for Alex Smith
QBs under contract in 2019: Smith ($15 million), Colt McCoy ($3.5 million)
Projected 2019 pick: No. 15
Projected cap space: $12.8 million
Sando: Smith's injury was devastating and could cost him his trademark mobility, and even his career. I'm going to keep Smith penciled in as the 2019 starter based on his track record as a tough and determined pro. He seems to have capably handled setbacks throughout his career. This looks like his biggest challenge yet.
Graziano: I acknowledge it's going to be tough for him to make it back for Week 1 and maybe at all. There's just no obvious other option on the roster right now.
Yates: Washington should absolutely draft a developmental quarterback in April.
If The Season Ended Today -
A lot is similar in each conference, four division leaders, one dominant Wild Card from the West and a scramble around .500 for the final spot. The one difference, the AFC has a weak division leader that could fall into the Wild Card scramble.
In the AFC, three of the four division leaders lost in Week 14, with the Steelers the biggest hit as they are falling into Wild Card peril as well. They have New England and at New Orleans the next weeks.
The Chiefs are the only AFC team definitely in the playoffs.
Team record, division record, conference record
P - Kansas City West 11-2, 4-0, 9-1
New England East 9-4, 3-1, 6-3
Houston South 9-4, 3-2, 7-3
Pittsburgh North 7-5-1, 3-1-1, 4-5-1
LA Chargers WC 10-3 , 2-2, 7-2
Baltimore WC 7-6, 2-3, 6-4
Indianapolis 7-6, 3-2, 6-5
Miami 7-6, 4-1, 6-4
Tennessee 7-6, 3-2, 5-6
Denver 6-7, 2-2, 4-5
Cleveland 5-7-1, 2-1-1, 3-5-1
In the NFC, the Buccaneers lost and are still as close to the playoffs as they were before the weekend started as Minnesota, Philly, Carolina and Washington all also lost. The DB is starting to think that the 5-8 Giants and Lions are on the radar.
NFC Div Conf
New Orleans South 11-2, 3-1, 8-2
Los Angeles Rams West 11-2, 4-0, 7-2
Chicago North 9-4, 3-1, 7-2
Dallas East 8-5, 4-1, 7-3
Seattle WC 8-5, 2-2, 7-3
Minnesota WC 6-6-1, 2-1-1. 5-4-1
Carolina 6-7, 1-2. 4-5
Philadelphia 6-7, 3-2, 4-6
Washington 6-7, 2-3, 6-5
Tampa Bay 5-8, 2-3, 4-6
NY Giants 5-8, 1-4, 4-7
Detroit 5-8, 1-3, 3-7