Monthly Archives: January 2010

FR: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2010 class

Each year on FootballRelativity.com, we compare the 17 Hall of Fame finalists in terms of whom we think should be elected. So here’s a look at this year’s contenders for enshrinement in Canton. (Here are links to a comparison of last year’s finalists, and thoughts on the class that was elected.)

Tim Brown – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (first-time finalist)
Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Don Coryell – Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Roger Craig – Running Back – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Dermontti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers (repeat finalist)
Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles (repeat finalist)
Russ Grimm – Guard – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Charles Haley – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Rickey Jackson – Linebacker – 1981-1993 New Orleans Saints, 1994-95 San Francisco 49ers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks (repeat finalist)
Dick LeBeau – Cornerback – 1959-1972 Detroit Lions (seniors candidate)
Floyd Little – Running Back – 1967-1975 Denver Broncos (seniors candidate)
John Randle – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks (repeat finalist)
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Jerry Rice – Wide Receiver – 1985-2000 San Francisco 49ers, 2001-04 Oakland Raiders, 2004 Seattle Seahawks (first time eligible)
Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (first year eligible)
Emmitt Smith – Running Back – 1990-2002 Dallas Cowboys, 2003-04 Arizona Cardinals (first year eligible)

Let’s play relativity. 10 points will be an automatic yes vote, 1 point is someone who should not be a finalist again.
(By the way, all links to players are from the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, which is home to an incredible trove of research. Consider this a recommendation.)

10 – Jerry Rice – Two of the first-year eligible players are slam dunks. Rice is arguably the greatest player of all time at any position – I have no qualms about saying he’s the best I’ve seen with my own eyes. He was an unstoppable force on San Francisco’s dynastic teams of the 1980s and 90s, and he has ever receiving record ever imagined. He’s been a future Hall of Famer since halfway through his career, so his day will certainly come in Miami.

10 (con’t) – Emmitt Smith –  Smith isn’t in the list of the 10 best players ever like Rice is, but the league’s all-time leading rusher was a keystone of the Cowboys’ three Super Bowls in the 1990s and is an easy first-ballot choice. He was undoubtedly one of the top 2 backs of the 1990s (along with Barry Sanders), and his longevity and productivity are distinguishing figures for his career.

Note: Rice and Smith will certainly go in together as the highest profile names from the 2010 class. That leaves just three spots for the other 13 modern-day finalists, with seniors finalists Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little getting yea-or-nay votes on their own. Keep that in mind as you read the remaining profiles.

9 – Dick LeBeau – People today know LeBeau as the architect of the zone blitz defense and the defensive coordinator on many great defenses over much of the past two decades. But before he became a coach, LeBeau was a terrific cornerback for the Lions. With 62 career interceptions, he stands tied for seventh on the all-time list. LeBeau was a borderline Hall of Famer as a player, and his contributions as a coach will push him over the line to induction as a seniors candidate.

8 – Cris Carter – We said Carter should have gotten into the Hall of Fame last year, but the selection committee went for Art Monk instead. Carter still deserves induction, and if he misses out it will be because with Rice going in voters wanted to focus on other positions. Carter should get in, and he will someday. But we can’t say for sure that day will come this year because of the tight window for election.

7 – Richard Dent – Last year we pegged Dent (and seniors candidate Claude Humphrey) as the pass rusher who should get in. The late Derrick Thomas got in instead. Dent faces the test of being the third player from the great mid-1980s Bears defenses to get in (behind Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton), and that costs him support. But when you look at his sack numbers (137.5) compared to his era, it’s hard to say Dent doesn’t belong. He was a dominant, game-changing player and a Super Bowl MVP, which are both huge calling cards. It’ll be interesting to see whether he gets one of the two or three spots for modern candidates this year.

6 – Dermontti Dawson – We pushed for Dawson to make the Hall last year, but Randall McDaniel was the offensive lineman who got the nod. Now that McDaniel’s in Canton, Dawson should be the offensive lineman next in line. Dawson’s career wasn’t especially long, but the Steelers center was unquestionably the best center in the league during his prime, as his six straight All-Pro nods indicate. Dawson certainly merits induction over Grimm among this year’s protectors, and he should get in eventually. Perhaps this is his year.

6 (con’t) – Shannon Sharpe – Sharpe is the preeminent pass-catching tight end that is eligible for enshrinement at this point. But as a receiver, I’d put Sharpe behind Rice (obviously) and Carter in the receiver pecking order, but Sharpe is more deserving than former AFC West rival Tim Brown or Andre Reed. Sharpe needs to get in the Hall before guys like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are on the Hall of Fame horizon, because I’m not sure he will beat those guys in the voting. Sharpe has a case to make it to Canton, but his chances this year slip a little bit because Rice and Carter appear to be in line ahead of him.

5 – Don Coryell – Coryell has been eligible for induction before, but this is the first time he’s reached the finalist level. That’s not surprising, considering his victory total as a head coach with the Cardinals and Chargers is just 114-89-1, far below an elite level. But Coryell is considered an offensive innovator, as his Air Coryell type of vertical attack inspired prominent coaches such as Mike Martz, Norv Turner, and others. That’s the reason Coryell could make it in – almost as a contributor and not just a coach. My sense is that Coryell could gather support in that vein and end up sneaking into the class in a final spot, kind of like Ralph Wilson did last year.

5 (con’t) – Floyd Little – Little is a fascinating Hall of Fame case. As a seniors candidate, he doesn’t have to contend with anyone else for a spot – he’s simply subject to an up-or-down vote by the committee. And the fact that seniors candidate have a better rate of success getting in bodes well for Little too. But Claude Humphrey missed from this position last year, and Little’s numbers (12,000 all-purpose yards including kick and punt returns but just 6,300 rushing yards) aren’t awe-inspiring. Maybe the fact that Little is an all-time great Bronco and that the Broncos are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame will get him in, or maybe whoever presents Little’s case has the kind of ammo that will spark his election. But it seems to me that he’s no better than a 50-50 shot to make it in.

4 – Russ Grimm – We’ve already talked a little bit about the Grimm options, but now let’s focus in on Grimm’s HOF chances. Last year, we rated Grimm behind Randall McDaniel on the guard list, and McDaniel got in. This year, Grimm has a bit of a better chance because the offensive line class isn’t as packed. I’d still favor Dawson over Grimm, but the fact that none of the Hogs from the Redskins’ 1980s lines has gotten in gives Grimm a shot. There are still some voters who favor Joe Jacoby over Grimm as a Hall of Famer from that group, but since Grimm has generally established his candidacy as the best of that group, he has a shot.

4 (con’t) – Charles Haley – Haley is another of the candidates in this year’s class who made it to finalist level for the first time after years on the preliminary ballot. That doesn’t seem to be a good omen for his election. The most sterling part of Haley’s resume is that he played for five Super Bowl champs (two in San Francisco and three in Dallas), but the fact that he was an all-pro both at defensive end and linebacker is just as impressive. He won NFC defensive player of the year honors in those two years (1990 in S.F. and 1994 in Dallas), and he made five total Pro Bowls. His sack total of 100.5 isn’t stunning compared to guys like Dent or Rickey Jackson, but the fact that he played so much time at linebacker without being in a 3-4 zone blitz system explains that a bit. We put Haley behind Dent on the list, and on first blush we’d support Jackson over him as well, but Haley’s role on dynastic teams gives him a better shot than Jackson has. That’s probably not enough to sneak into this year’s class, but Haley could start building support for induction in a year without Rice and Smith-level guys on the top of the ballot.

4 (con’t) – Cortez Kennedy – Last year we gave Kennedy virtually no chance of induction in his first year as a finalist, but it seems like the former Seahawks defensive tackle actually got more support than we expected. The durable former all-pro was defensive player of the year in 1992 and was an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time all-pro. Kennedy still falls below our standard for induction, but we now believe he has a better shot than fellow defensive tackle John Randle of making it to Canton, even though Randle has gaudy sack numbers that Kennedy, a run-stuffer, never compiled.

3- Rickey Jackson – Jackson has a shockingly good resume, considering he’s been eligible for 10 years but has never before reached the finalist level. His sack numbers (128 not counting his rookie season, in which sacks were not an official statistic), aren’t as good as Dent’s, but Jackson played in an era before 3-4 outside linebackers were pure pass rushers. Instead, he was a complete player on some of Jim Mora’s terrific defenses, and he was the best of a linebacker corps that included Sam Mills. Jackson probably won’t go from first-time finalist to induction, but his presence on the list is a deserved honor, and he has an outside chance of building a candidacy over the coming years. For now, though, he’s behind Richard Dent and Charles Haley in line.

3 (con’t) – John Randle – Last year we gave Randle more of a shot than this, but it seems like Kennedy has gained more steam in his candidacy than Randle currently has. Randle was a terrific 4-3 under tackle for the Vikings and Seahawks, and he used his slashing skills to pile up 137.5 sacks. That number compares favorably with Haley, which could help him in this year’s class, but the fact that Randle too often came off as a one-dimensional player hurts his cause. He’s been a finalist both years he’s been eligible, which means he has a shot to make it in, but the sense here is that he still has a wait before that happens – if it ever does.

3 (con’t) – Andre Reed – Reed finished his career with 951 receptions, which puts him sixth all-time, and he was the best receiver on the terrific Bills teams of the 1990s. But like Tim Brown, Reed was never among the best two or three receivers in the league. He never was a first-team All-Pro, although he did make seven Pro Bowls. That puts him behind Carter and Sharpe and of course Rice in the receiver pecking order when it comes to a place in Canton. I do give Reed a razor-thin edge over Brown, but to me that’s more of a decision for who should remain a finalist instead of a call about who should actually be elected.

2 – Tim Brown – Besides Rice and Smith, Brown is the only other first-time eligible to make it to finalist status. But it’s hard for me to see Brown as a Hall of Famer. The long-time Raider (and cameo Buccaneer) had nearly 15,000 receiving yards, which puts him up the list, but there was rarely a time when Brown was one of the best two or three receivers in the game. The fact that he was never a first-team All-Pro (voted as one of the top two wideouts in the league) bears this view out. Instead, guys like Rice and Carter (early in Brown’s prime) and Randy Moss easily outpaced Brown. Brown strikes me as a compiler, and to me that puts him behind not only Rice but also Carter and even Reed in this year’s class. In this year with election spots extra tight and the receiver spot so well represented among the finalists, there’s no way Brown gets in. But even if Brown were the only receiver among the finalists, I’d have a hard time supporting his induction. He belongs in the hall of the very good, not among the game’s ultra-elite in the Hall of Fame.

1 – Roger Craig – Craig is another long-time eligible player who finally crossed the border into the realm of finalists. Craig was the running back on the 49ers’ 1980s dynastic teams, and his ability to both run the ball and catch it out of the backfield made him a perfect fit there. Craig was the first player to total 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in the same year back in 1985, and he made the Pro Bowl both as a running back and a fullback. His role on three Super Bowl winners is admirable, but the truth is that Craig fell well below Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in significance on those teams. Making the group of finalists means that Craig will be remembered for his fine play, but he fell below Hall of Fame level in his career. The reality is that he’ll probably be fortunate to make the list of finalists again after this year.

So what’s our prediction: There are three gimmes in the class – Rice, Smith, and LeBeau. To that we’ll add three more names – Dent, Carter, and Coryell in an upset instead of Dawson, who deserves the sixth spot. We’ll see how this outlandish prediction does on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

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A tale of two QBs

In this week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, most of the NFL talk hasn’t focused on the Pro Bowl. Instead, two quarterbacks have made the biggest headlines. One is trying to get into the NFL; the other may be done in the league. Here are our thoughts on Tim Tebow and Kurt Warner.

Warner, who will reportedly announce his retirement on Friday, leaves the NFL at the top of his game. His career has as much distance between the peaks and valleys as just about anyone in the league. He was undrafted and had to go to the Arena Football League to earn a shot in St. Louis because of an injury to Trent Green. He then became a two-time MVP with the Rams, leading the high-octane “Greatest Show on Turf” offense to two Super Bowls and one Lombardi trophy. But a broken hand hampered him and sent him to the bench in St. Louis in 2002 and then for good in 2003, leading to a lull in his career. He went to the Giants as a placeholder for rookie Eli Manning and then went to Arizona, where he had two so-so seasons as a part-time starter before hitting his stride again late in 2007. But he ended his season with two fantastic seasons in ’08 and ’09, leading Arizona to two NFC West titles, four playoff wins, and the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance. Warner has the three biggest passing-yardage games in Super Bowl history and leaves with a sterling reputation for clutch play. The question as Warner leaves is not whether he had a great career; that is certain. It’s whether he’s a Hall of Famer. His unlikely and unique career path makes that a huge question that will likely be debated for many years. He’s not a first-ballot guy, but he may well make it to Canton because his best was truly at the elite level. But his storybook career deserves admiration, and it was fun and fascinating to watch.

As Warner leaves, Tim Tebow (like Warner a great leader and a very religious person) enters the NFL. His Senior Bowl practices have been less than stellar, as his questionable mechanics have been revealed as an unquestioned problem. Tebow has a force of personality that’s evident in every team interaction, interview, and meeting with coaches, and he has physical skills and abilities that definitely bring notice. But he’s just not sharp enough throwing the ball. It’s remarkable to me that Tebow could spend four years at Florida and not develop much at all as a passer yet still have such success, but now he appears to be more and more of a project as a quarterback. Is he a first-round pick for April’s draft? Chances are he is, because some owner will fall in love with Tebow and his ticket-selling potential, which is once again on display in Mobile this week. But I’m becoming ever more skeptical that Tebow can develop into a solid starting NFL quarterback. Part of me hopes I’m wrong, because it’s impossible not to like or at least respect the guy, but being a good guy is no guarantor of being a good NFL quarterback.

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FR: Loose ends

In this week in which there is no football except for the Pro Bowl (which is like 10-Yard Fight compared to Madden ’10), we thought we’d compare some of the bigger loose ends that are left to be tied up in the NFL. We’ve compared these loose ends on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most significant issue and 1 being the least significant. Feel free to leave a comment of any loose end we’ve missed, and we’ll update the post.

One more note: We didn’t forget Brett Favre. We just couldn’t stomach starting the Spanx discussion this early.

10 – Brandon Marshall – Last offseason, Josh McDaniels cleaned house by getting rid of Jay Cutler. This offseason, it appears like Marshall (and to a much lesser extent Tony Scheffler) will become odd man out. Marshall and McDaniels had fallings out both in the preseason and then at the end of the season, and now it’s unlikely that Marshall will be back next year. Marshall is supremely talented, and someone will undoubtedly seek to add Marshall to their offensive arsenal. Where it happens – and whether the Broncos get the kind of haul in return that they got for Cutler – will be among the biggest issues of the offseason.

9 – LaDainian Tomlinson – Tomlinson is an all-time great back, but his best days are gone, and even his good days appear to be waning quickly. The question is what the Chargers will do with Tomlinson this offseason. He has a roster bonus due that will push the team’s decision on him early into free agency. The PR play is to keep Tomlinson around, but the Chargers have shown a heartless side in making decisions purely on football reasons. And if that trend continues, Tomlinson will be gone. This is a big storyline that will get resolution sooner rather than later.

8 – Tom Cable – Reports had Cable out as Raiders head coach, and the most recent indications are that Cable could stick around. Who knows what will happen in the bizarro land that is the Black Hole? Cable has done an acceptable but not stunning job in Oakland in his year and change, and the team didn’t quit on him at the end of the year. But Al Davis’ pipe dreams of where his team should be in the standings mean that Cable could go. Chances are that, at this point, Cable will survive long enough to at least start the season, but we wouldn’t bet on anything for sure out of Davis.

7 – Bears coordinators – While most teams are finalizing their coaching staffs during Senior Bowl week, the Bears are still trying to fill the gaping holes left by the end-of-season purge of their staff. Most of all, the Bears are looking both for offensive and defensive coordinators. Head coach Lovie Smith appears to have narrowly saved his job this year, and his supposed lack of job security is a black mark against the Bears in the coaching market. Plus, Chicago’s reputation for organizational cheapness might be a factor too. So defensive coordinators (most notably Perry Fewell, who went to the Giants instead) and offensive coordinators, including Chargers aide Rob Chudzinkski, seem to find the grass greener on other sides. It’ll be interesting to see if the Bears can save face in this situation, because right now they appear headed on a downward path.

6 – none

5 – none

4 – Josh Cribbs – Cribbs, the Browns’ do-everything special teamer, emerged as more and more of an offensive force as the season went on. But his salary – just $1 million per season – is far below his market value. Cribbs has asked for more money before, and reports indicate that he’s been promised a raise on more than one occasion. The problem is that the person who has promised the raise keeps getting fired, and Cribbs keeps getting put on hold. Cribbs says he won’t play in Cleveland next year under his current deal, and the Browns might be inclined to play hardball with a potential lockout looming for 2011. But while this is a big deal in Cleveland, it lacks league-wide significance of some other loose ends because the Browns are unlikely to contend with or without Cribbs. Maybe Mike Holmgren makes a PR play by giving Cribbs more, or maybe not. Cribbs is underpaid, but he signed a contract, and his timing might be so bad that he has no choice but to play for less than he wants or deserves.

3 – none

2 – Lito Sheppard – Sheppard was unhappy with his role with the Jets in the AFC championship game, for which he was benched and stayed on the bench even after an injury to Donald Strickland during the game. That made Sheppard, who talked his way out of Philly last offseason, wonder about his future in New York. Rex Ryan seems like he can hold a grudge as well as (if not better than) Sheppard can, and Lito might at this point be the quintessential player who thinks he’s better than he is. That means that this loose end from the Jets’ otherwise happy playoff run could be cut pretty quickly.

1 – Julius Peppers – The Peppers negotiations in Carolina were among the most contentious in the league last offseason, with Peppers vowing he would not return to the Panthers only to be outlasted by Carolina. Now Peppers faces free agency and likely the franchise tag once again. But some things have changed. Peppers seems more amenable to staying in Carolina after a solid season, and that seems to put a long-term deal back on the table. And even if Peppers is franchised, getting a guaranteed $18 million before a potential 2011 work stoppage isn’t a bad result. It’ll be interesting to see if Peppers and the Panthers get a deal done before free-agency opens, but it seems like another franchise designation is more likely. Still, the suddenly pleasant tenor of talks moves this loose end down on the list, because a satisfying resolution seems possible.

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Championship Game Thoughts

Thoughts on the AFC Championship game, in which the Colts beat the Jets 30-17, and the NFC Championship game, in which the Saints beat the Vikings 31-28 in overtime.

*The Colts showed their moxie by coming back from a 17-6 deficit without panic. The touchdown Peyton Manning led before the half completely flipped the momentum, sparking the comeback. That’s the second time in the playoffs that Manning has led such a drive (with the permission of a coaching staff that isn’t afraid to let him try).
*Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon had to step up in this game because Reggie Wayne was vacationing on Revis Island, and they did. Both went over 100 yards in the game. Their emergence is what has taken the Colts offense from good to great.
*The Jets got off to a great start, and so did Mark Sanchez, but once they fell behind it was pretty clear that Sanchez didn’t have the weapons to return. Sanchez is a winner and a gamer, and his personality is a great match for Rex Ryan. But New York needs more explosiveness – even in games when Braylon Edwards actually makes the big catch.
*Bart Scott gets more pub, but David Harris is the best linebacker the Jets have. He showed that with 11 tackles and 2 sacks in this game, which was confirmation of his fabulous play all year.
*Props to Jim Caldwell, whom I predicted before the season would kill the Colts. He hasn’t done that, and he may get a George Seifert-esque Super Bowl title out of it.

*In the Saints/Vikings game, the moment everybody will remember is Garrett Hartley’s clutch kick. But the Brett Favre interception at the end of the fourth quarter – which was so reminiscent of his overtime pick in the NFC title game in Green Bay two seasons ago – is what I’ll remember. I don’t know why, but I saw this pick coming, both before the game and in the moment (just ask my wife). This is the reason that Favre will be remembered as a great quarterback but not as the greatest of all time, no matter what the stats say. Favre was only briefly the best QB in the league – he took the mantle sometime at the end of John Elway’s career and was surpassed by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady a few years later. His mistakes in key moments are part of his legacy, for good or for ill.
*As for the Saints, they survived against a good Vikings defense because their defense pressured Favre and forced turnovers. Forcing six fumbles (recovering three), and adding two crucial interceptions, is why they’re going to Miami. CB Tracy Porter and LB Jonathan Vilma each forced a fumble and had an interception, and the fumble Will Smith forced in the fourth quarter led to the Saints’ final touchdown. That opportunistic defense has been key for New Orleans all season, and it was good to see it show up on the big stage.
*For a game with just one total sack, both Favre and Drew Brees got beaten up throughout the game. The Vikings’ D-line is the best in the league because all four starters (and some of the reserves too) are too much to handle. But despite the pressure, Favre and Brees both still made big-time plays. Both are terrific quarterbacks.
*Adrian Peterson showed up in this big game, although his fumbling problems ended up being crucial. But he’s a huge talent who can be the centerpiece of the offense.
*Of all the stars in the Saints’ offensive attack, the brightest on Sunday was Pierre Thomas. Not only did he score two touchdowns; his overtime kickoff return was a huge key to setting up the game-winning field goal. Thomas is often overlooked, but he’s a nice back to have to complement Reggie Bush. And the way that Thomas held onto the ball when Chad Greenway put his helmet on it on the 4th-and-1 dive in overtime saved the game.

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Pick ’em – Conference championship games

We’re going to go more in depth with our pick ‘em in the playoff rounds, breaking down each game and giving a score for each pick in addition to the pick against the spread.

N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis – The Colts are eight-point favorites against the upstart Jets, who continue to surprise some (at least me) with their playoff run. The Jets have made a habit of hanging around games and getting big plays at the end to win. While Mark Sanchez has provided some of those plays (with TD passes to Dustin Keller in both playoff games), fellow rookie Shonn Greene has been the bigger factor. Greene’s bruising yet speedy style could give the Colts trouble, because while the Colts D is fast it’s not especially big. However, the Colts were able to shut down Ray Rice and the Ravens running game last week, and that attack is probably a tick better than the Jets’ both at running back and on the offensive line. So that’s a positive sign for Indy on D. The question is whether Sanchez can make a few plays – he’ll need at least two, if not more – to keep the Jets even on the scoreboard with a high-powered Colts offense that will produce even against the mighty Jets D. Peyton Manning picks apart pressure better than anyone, which means that the Jets’ blitz-heavy scheme could end up being counter-productive. If Manning gets hit frequently or turns the ball over, the Jets have a shot. But the recent results, which tell us that Manning’s Colts beat Rex Ryan’s Ravens defense four straight times, indicate that Manning may not put a ton of points on the board but should be able to get the job done. A lot of experts have jumped on the Jets’ bandwagon, but that seems foolhardy. Instead, this game feels much like last year’s AFC championship game, in which the Ravens (featuring a Rex Ryan defense and a rookie quarterback) ran into a wall after recording two playoff wins. The bottom line is this – if you give me the choice between Manning and Sanchez in this big game, I’ll take Manning. I’ll even give the points and say Indianapolis 24, N.Y. Jets 14.

Minnesota at New Orleans – The Vikings were stunningly good last week, as their defensive line wreaked havoc like the Purple People Eaters of old. But it will be much harder for the Vikes to do that this week with the dome-noise factor against them instead of for them. The injury to Ray Edwards could be another complicating factor. And the bottom line is that without that pressure, the Vikings are in trouble. Minnesota definitely has advantages against Saints OLT Jermon Bushrod, who has been an admirable fill-in for Jammal Brown this year but isn’t an elite guy. But the Saints are strong inside on the offensive line, which could mitigate the impact of the Williams wall. And if Drew Brees gets even a moment of time, he can and will make the so-so Vikings secondary pay. The Saints’ breadth of targets is a real asset, because it will keep the Vikings from focusing on one guy to stop. And there are enough playmakers – Reggie Bush, Robert Meachem, Marques Colston, and Devery Henderson – that Minnesota’s secondary depth will be tested. So the Saints will score points. Here’s the rub – so will the Vikings. Brett Favre has been efficient all year, and like Brees he has a deep group of targets. The Saints shouldn’t be able to stop the passing attack, but they may be able to turn Favre over, which is likely their plan. Minnesota does have an advantage in the running game, although that hasn’t worked great over the past two months. There are ways for the Vikings to win – by running the ball and creating pressure – and if those things happen we’ll be wrong. But in the Superdome, we have a hunch that the pressure won’t be there for Minnesota, and we think it’s more likely for Favre to throw a big pick than it is for Peterson to run wild. That leads us to the Saints, and by more than the 4-point spread – New Orleans 31, Minnesota 26.

Last week – 1-3 pro
Season: 62-83-3 college, 56-65-2 pro, 117-145-5 overall

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FR: 2010 Coaching Changes

To review new head coaching hires in the NFL this season:
*Washington Redskins: Mike Shanahan (replacing Jim Zorn)
*Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll (replacing Jim Mora)
*Buffalo Bills: Chan Gailey (replacing interim Perry Fewell, who replaced Dick Jauron mid-season)

We put these hires through the theory of relativity. We’ll do it on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best possible hire, and 1 being the worst possible hire.

10 – Mike Shanahan, Redskins – Shanahan, one of the big-name coaches on the market, seemed to be the most eager one to take a job this year. Most of all, he wanted a job where he would have final decision-making power like he had in Denver. He got that job with the Redskins, where he (not owner Daniel Snyder) will have final say. Shanahan’s hand-picked GM, Bruce Allen, will work on the day-to-day personnel responsibilities. On the field, Shanahan is a terrific offensive mind who knows the West Coast scheme as well as anyone and can implement it. That’ll be the plan, but it will probably take multiple years for him to accumulate the offensive talent to do it. Jason Campbell is OK, but unless Shanahan is sold the Redskins will start over at quarterback, and the offensive line is old and brittle while the receiving corps is young and unproven. There’s more talent on defense, which should help Shanahan lure a big-name defensive coordinator, although keeping Greg Blache would be acceptable as well. Shanahan had lost steam with the Broncos at the end of his tenure there, and it’ll be interesting to see whether a new spot reinvigorates him. The questions, however, fall more on the personnel side than the coaching side with him. If he can find the offensive talent, he should be able to build a winner in Washington.

9 – none

8 – none

7 – Pete Carroll, Seahawks – Carroll built a powerhouse at USC, putting together big talent on the field, finding up-and-coming coaches, and creating a culture of excellence and competition. But the former Patriots head coach was only so-so in his first NFL head coaching stint (although he was a premium defensive coordinator in several stops). Carroll waited for his spot to return to the NFL, and now he’s getting control of an entire organization in Seattle. You can understand why Carroll wants to leave USC – what more can he accomplish there, and with NCAA sanctions possible, hitting the eject button now may be prudent – and he’s getting the situation he wants. But he’s going to need to do a masterful job to turn the Seahawks around. All of Seattle’s so-called stars are either aging or gone, and there just isn’t a class of premium players behind them. And Carroll won’t be able to simply recruit talent to Seattle – he’ll have to maneuver around the salary cap, the draft, and free agency. That’s not to say that this can’t work – Carroll is bright, and he knows the NFL well enough to be able to be successful. But in his search for control Carroll went to a team that’s on a steep decline. He’s getting a five-year deal, and he’ll probably need all of that time to reinvigorate the talent base and make Seattle competitive again. This isn’t an easy task for Carroll, but rebuilding USC wasn’t either, and Carroll thrived there. We’ll see if he has another miracle in him.

6 – none

5 – none

4 – none

3 – none

2 – none

1 – Chan Gailey, Bills – The Bills shot for the moon by talking to Bill Cowher and Mike Shanahan about their coaching vacancy, but in the end Buffalo settled for Chan Gailey. It’s an uninspired choice, given Gailey’s so-so results as the head coach of the Cowboys in the 1990s (18-14 in two years) and at Georgia Tech. Gailey does have success as a head coach at lesser levels, and his proficiency as an offensive coordinator led Cowher to push Gailey as a candidate to Buffalo’s bureacracy. But the fact that Gailey was fired as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator before the season makes this look like a desperation hire instead of a real choice. It’s not surprising that big names like Cowher and Shanahan avoided Buffalo, given the team’s market and financial limitations. But the inability to hire a promising new head coach like Russ Grimm or Leslie Frazier or even Perry Fewell, who had been the team’s interim coach, is disappointing. It makes it look as though the Bills are above only the dysfunctional Raiders in the pecking order of desirable NFL jobs. No other team would have considered Gailey this offseason; the fact that the Bills did does not speak well of them.

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Chan’s the man?

In a surprising choice, the Buffalo Bills have hired Chan Gailey as their head coach. Below are some thoughts on the move; we compare it to other coaching moves this offseason in this post.

The Bills shot for the moon by talking to Bill Cowher and Mike Shanahan about their coaching vacancy, but in the end Buffalo settled for Chan Gailey. It’s an uninspired choice, given Gailey’s so-so results as the head coach of the Cowboys in the 1990s (18-14 in two years) and at Georgia Tech. Gailey does have success as a head coach at lesser levels, and his proficiency as an offensive coordinator led Cowher to push Gailey as a candidate to Buffalo’s bureacracy. But the fact that Gailey was fired as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator before the season makes this look like a desperation hire instead of a real choice. It’s not surprising that big names like Cowher and Shanahan avoided Buffalo, given the team’s market and financial limitations. But the inability to hire a promising new head coach like Russ Grimm or Leslie Frazier or even Perry Fewell, who had been the team’s interim coach, is disappointing. It makes it look as though the Bills are above only the dysfunctional Raiders in the pecking order of desirable NFL jobs. No other team would have considered Gailey this offseason; the fact that the Bills did does not speak well of them.

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Filed under Football Relativity, NFL coaches