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NFL Wildcard Recap and Offseason Preview for Wildcard Losers

No celebrations for the Saints on Bourbon Street this year.

Seahawks beat Saints 41-36:

Why did Seattle win?

1. Matt Hasselbeck played the best game of his 13-year career. Hasselbeck completed over 60% of his passes for 272 yards and 4 TDs, including this one to Mike Williams in the 2nd half. Although he’s been to 3 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl, it’s hard to remember a better performance in a game like this for Hasselbeck.

2. Marshawn Lynch might have had the greatest run in recent memory on his game clinching 67 yard run in the 4th quarter. Lynch ran 19 times for 131 yards in helping the Seahawks outgain the Saints on the ground 149-77.

3. One year after surprising the Colts with an onside kick to begin the 2nd half of the Super Bowl, the Saints attempted the worst onside kick I’ve ever seen after scoring the final points of the game.

Why did the Saints lose?

1. Their secondary was unimpressive. While the Seahawks didn’t reach 300 yards passing, numerous coverage breakdowns highlighted the Saints top offseason priority in addressing their pass defense. They fell for the receiver falling down trick and it seemed like the stop-and-go double move was there all game.

2. Julius Jones scored twice, but he fumbled and he only carried 15 times for 59 yards. When going on the road in the playoffs, a good running game and solid defense are usually required. The Saints had neither.

Offseason Preview

New Orleans Saints

Head Coach: Sean Payton

  • He’s fine.

Quarterback: Drew Brees

  • Outside of needing to cut down on his picks, Brees is still almost elite.

Other: The rest of the Saints need some tinkering as losing to the Seahawks was not indicative of a team that just needs one or two changes. Their running game was inconsistent all season thanks to injuries and that played a major role in Brees’ increased interceptions. A solid running game will return this offense to elite status. Look for a first or second round pick to be used on a multi-purpose back with size as they will be looking to move on from Reggie Bush in a year or two. As seen on Saturday, their secondary needs to be better. Look for a replacement for the old Darren Sharper and they could also need an impact outside linebacker or defensive end. Their first two picks should be on RB and pass rusher. If they address these issues, it’s back to the playoffs and another run towards the Super Bowl next season.

Jets beat Colts 17-16:

Rex Ryan hasn't been this excited since his wife's last pedicure

Why did the Jets win?

1. The Jets took a dominating running game on the road with them. They ran 38 times for 169 yards and held the ball for 33:07. If they do that against the Patriots, the Jets might win. Included with that was the 17 play, 87 yard drive that took 9:54 and ended with about 10 minutes left in the game.

2. Defense: The Jets held the recently resurgent Colts running game to only 93 yards on 27 carries. As for Peyton Manning and the passing game; Manning threw for only 225 yards and completed only one pass to Reggie Wayne.

3. Special teams: Punter Steve Weatherford average over 50 yards per punt and Antonio Cromartie returned the final kickoff 47 yards to the Jets’ 46 yard line. Needing only a field goal, that return left the Jets only 20 yards or so from Nick Folk’s range. Folk was able to easily convert the eventual 32 yarder for the win.

Why did the Colts lose?

1. In addition to the final kick return, head coach Jim Caldwell decided to call a timeout with less than 30 seconds left and the Jets presumably ready to kick a 50 yard field goal. With another play, the Jets completed an 18 yard pass to Braylon Edwards to set up that 32 yarder. Does Folk make that 50 yarder? I’ll bet that doesn’t come up in Indy during the offseason…

2. One catch for one yard for Reggie Wayne and Wayne let it known afterwards that he wasn’t happy. Whose fault is it? Manning for not targeting Wayne? Wayne for not getting open on Revis Island? The Offensive Coordinator for not lining Wayne up in different positions to change the matchups? It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Offseason Preview

Indianapolis Colts

Head Coach: Jim Caldwell

  • He’s fine. But another egregious display of game management to end next season will turn up the heat on Caldwell.

Quarterback: Peyton Manning

  • Manning will be 35 when next season begins. Statistically, he’s going to be the best ever. It seems like he’s able to carry the Colts to the playoffs, but that’s when his teammates are exposed for not being good enough. Manning is also a free agent and will be receiving a landmark contract.

Other: The Colts had a rash of injuries to many of their skill position players not named Manning. The Wayne issue in the Jets game is also worth keeping an eye on. With the 22nd pick in the draft, would the Colts shop Wayne and pick one of the top receivers in the draft to replace him? If they can get a 2nd rounder for Wayne, they would have to look into it. Wayne is 32 years old and his best days have to be behind him. As for the rest of the offense, the O-line needs work as their running game was nonexistent for most of the season and some key players, like Jeff Saturday, are getting up there in age. Defensively, has the time to break up Freeney and Mathis come? Neither are particularly good against the run, which is their annual Achilles heel. A pass rusher of their ability would no doubt garner interest close to a first round pick. In fact, their Super Bowl opponent from last season, the Saints, need to improve their pass rush and might swap their first for Mathis and a second rounder. Bob Sanders doesn’t look like he’ll ever play a 16 game season and the time has probably come to move on from him. With that in mind, their secondary could probably use a corner as well as a replacement for Sanders. The Colts are playoff good, and will be a contender as long as Manning suits up. But it’s going to take some creativity and guts to reshape this roster to give Peyton an opportunity to play for Super Bowls in the final years of his career.

Ravens beat Chiefs 30-7:

T-Sizzle has Big Ben in his sights now

Why did the Ravens win?

1. Domination: The Ravens outgained the Chiefs 390-161 and forced 5 turnovers compared to 2 for the Ravens. When Matt Cassel only completes 9 of 18 for 70 yards while losing most of the game, that is the definition of dominance. Time of possession: Ravens 41:44, Chiefs 18:16. Need anything else?

 2. Joe Flacco completed 25 out of 34 for 265 yards and 2 TD’s with 10 completions to TE Todd Heap for 108 yards. Does anybody on the Chiefs want to cover Heap?

3. The defense led by Terrell Suggs. Somebody needs to block this guy as he sacked Cassel twice and knocked him down all day. The Ravens wear purple and black and Cassel has to be purple and black today.

Why did the Chiefs lose?

1. Matt Cassel and the lack of a passing game, despite trailing for the entire second half. Did Dwayne Bowe play? Get this, Bowe and the Colts’ Reggie Wayne combined for 1 catch for 1 yard. Guess where they’re playing next? Hawaii, not Pittsburgh or New England.

2. Less than 100 yards passing, 5 turnovers, and 8 first downs is not the formula for victory in the 21st century NFL.

Offseason Preview

Kansas City Chiefs

Head Coach: Todd Haley

  • Playoff coaches typically don’t get fired, but Haley is going to have to make sure the “voluntary” departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis doesn’t setback the offense. There were reports that Haley stripped Weis of his play calling duties at halftime. I wouldn’t want that second half game plan on my resume if I were Haley.

Quarterback: Matt Cassel

  • This was only the second season that Cassel entered training camp as the starter and played the season since high school. Cassel should be fine, but Weis’ replacement will play a critical role in his continued improvement.

Other: The Chiefs are young and talented with breakout years out of Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles, and WR Dwayne Bowe. Getting an offensive coordinator to continue to guide their improvement is priority #1 in this offseason. As for the players, they could use a pass catching tight end to give Cassel some more weapons in the passing game. Defensively, the Chiefs had trouble against the run at times during the season. With the super running game in Oakland, improving their run defense up the middle needs to be a priority. Jovan Belcher might not be big enough to play inside linebacker in Romeo Crennel’s defense. He needs to add 20 pounds or he could be targeted to be replaced. Nose tackle Ron Edwards will be 32 when training camp opens and they could probably get younger there. Overall, the Chiefs made the playoffs and should contend with their current team next season. If they can improve their offensive consistency and get stouter against the run, they might have a playoff run in them next year.

Packers beat Eagles 21-16:

Why did the Packers win?

1. The Packers defense kept the Eagles from running the football. The Eagles RB’s ran 13 times for 49 yards and Vick only ran for 33. As for their pass rush, Clay Matthews seemed unblockable at times. There’s a reason why Vick was hobbled at the end of the game.

2. Aaron Rodgers was practically flawless. Rodgers completed 18 of 27 for only 180 and 3 TD’s. He would have had another one at the end of the first half if James Jones caught that deep ball. Mistake free football is paramount to winning on the road in January and Rodgers was solid.

3. Rookie RB James Starks caught the team bus to Lincoln Financial on Sunday. Because of that, he was able to run 23 times for 123 yards after running only 29 times for 101 yards in his career. To win on the road, make sure you take your running game and defense with you. The Packers did and won.

Why did the Eagles lose?

1. David Akers missed two field goals, 41 and 34 yards. While the 41 yarder was in a swirling wind, the 34 yarder was inexcusable and forced the Eagles to go for a touchdown at the end. Akers will probably return for his 13th season, but you never know.

2. The Eagles were undisciplined all season and couldn’t develop a traditional running game. Yesterday was no different as the Eagles RB’s couldn’t crack 50 yards rushing and the Eagles were penalized three times as much as the road team Packers. Despite that, they still could have won if Akers had made one of those field goals to set up another one on the final drive.

Offseason Preview

Philadelphia Eagles

Head Coach: Andy Reid

  • Going nowhere after another playoff season. But Reid doesn’t have McNabb to deflect the postseason flameout criticisms anymore.

Can free-agent-to-be Vick stay healthy enough for the Eagles to re-sign him and trade Kolb?

Quarterback:

Michael Vick

  • Vick is a free agent after his comeback season and Kevin Kolb wants to start here or somewhere else. Expect Vick to get the Franchise tag and for Kolb to only get traded if the Eagles can land a very good backup to play behind the always hurt Vick. With that in mind, don’t expect Kolb to be traded since Vick has only played 16 games once in his career and always seems to have some injury.

Other: This was supposed to be a transition year for the Eagles and they came through pretty well. But the QB position wasn’t the only reason this was a transitional year and those issues are still there. They have the Vick/Kolb situation and also a new contract for DeSean Jackson coming. Jackson is like Vick, explosive and oft-injured. The Eagles would be wise to cover themselves with any new contract for him. Right tackle William Justice was abused to the point of being benched yesterday so that should be an area to upgrade. There’s no shortage of high motor pass rushers in the NFC East. As for their defense, CB Ellis Hobbs had his season end early due to a neck injury and says he will retire. They will need to replace him at one corner. The rest of the defense was middle of the pack against both the run and the pass. That can turn into a disaster if they don’t improve at least one aspect of that defense. They could use some improvement along the defensive front and their linebackers are average at best. Outside of Asante Samuel and Quentin Mikell, they could use upgrades in the secondary as well. The Eagles usually draft well, which is why they are always competitive and they should target that right tackle and improvement in their defensive front seven. Pending free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is the type of player that can help improve everybody on the defense and could be targeted to team with Samuel to face the high powered receiving corps in Dallas and New York next season.

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NFL Wildcard Preview

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks:

Keys:

1. Turnovers – Brees has been careless with the football this season as he threw more interceptions than any quarterback besides Eli Manning.

2. What does the Week 11 matchup tell us? With an even turnover situation, the Saints were two touchdowns better.

3. The Seahawks will have to get a much better performance out of Lynch and the running game if they’re to shock the Saints. Without 120+ yards on the ground, the Seahawks don’t have a chance.

Pick: Saints by less than TD

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts:

Keys:

1. Sanchez played well, throwing for over 250 yards and 2 TD’s during last year’s AFC Championship Game. That was needed because the Jets ran 29 times for only 86 yards. They need another 40 yards with that many carries to help alleviate the pressure on Sanchez.

2. Peyton Manning threw 17 INTs during the season. The Colts can’t lose the turnover battle if they want to win.

3. Look for the Jets to control the ball for over 38 minutes. Keeping Manning of the field is the key.

Pick: Jets by field goal.

Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs:

Keys:

1. KC was plus 10 on the season in the turnover battle. Baltimore’s defense is notoriously good at changing that. Ed Reed would usually be a major factor, but the unknown situation with his brother changes that.

2. Ravens are 5th against the run on defense. Jamaal Charles has been great this season and a big game by him would tip the scales towards the Chiefs.

3. Ray Rice faces the #14 defense against the run and this needs to be exploited by the Ravens. Flacco is solid, but can he take over if needed? Rice will have a big game and we won’t find out about Flacco this week.

Pick: Ravens by two scores (10ish)

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles

Keys:

1. Vick has been pressured and battered over the past few weeks. Clay Matthews and the Packers defense will be after him all day. Expect corner blitzes out of Charles Woodson on Vick’s rollout side to cut off the scramble.

2. Packers haven’t lost a game by more than 4 points all season. Two of the games they lost were when Rodgers went down or was out. If the Eagles can knock out Rodgers, Matt Flynn won’t lead the Pack to the win.

3. The Eagles haven’t won a game in which they scored less than 26 points all season. There’s the goal for the Packers defense.

Pick: Packers by 10

Super Bowl Pick: New England Patriots over the Chicago Bears

NFC Offseason Preview

January 3, 2011 1 comment

The following is a look at the NFC teams that aren’t heading to the playoffs as the regular season ends. I’ll be evaluating the coaching situation, starting quarterback, and the overall needs as they head to the offseason. The AFC Offseason Preview was released earlier and the playoff teams will be evaluated following each playoff round. Some of these evaluations are made with the looming lockout and its financial implications in mind. Some teams might not want to pay 2 coaches with no games to play.

NFC East

Can Garrett really win big in Big D?

Dallas Cowboys

Head Coach: Jason Garrett

  • The worst kept secret is that Garrett is going to keep the job fulltime. With how much owner Jerry Jones is extended financially with the team and stadium, this could be a case of Jones showing frugality or Garrett’s 5-3 record impressed Jones enough that he thinks nothing is wrong in Big D. Either way, Garrett better get to the playoffs next season, or he could be one and done.

Quarterback: Tony Romo

  • There probably won’t be anything going on here. The Cowboys need to explore drafting a young QB in the 3-4 round range unless they think Stephen McGee is a potential Super Bowl champion.

Other: The Cowboys need to find a defensive coordinator who can stop a legitimate NFL offense occasionally. They also need at least 2 young offensive lineman, preferably on the first day of the draft. That offensive line is straight offensive. They need to revamp their secondary on defense and get more consistency out of their linebackers. Moving Terrance Newman from corner to safety and drafting a corner might work. They also need a new secondary coach to get Mike Jenkins to play like he did last year. The starting level talent is there to win 10 games next season. But the problem lies in their weak depth, mediocre and aging offensive line, and their secondary. They better not even consider picking another offensive skill position guy in the entire draft.

New York Giants

Head Coach: Tom Coughlin

  • Most reports are saying that Coughlin is safe. Any chance that Coughlin would be replaced was probably influenced by the looming lockout and the Giants owner looking to limit expenses. He’ll get a one year extension and will probably need to get to the NFC championship game or beyond.

Hey Eli, 24 interceptions next season WILL get your coach fired. It also might get you on the bench.

Quarterback:

 Eli Manning

  • No changes appear in the cards for one of five active QB’s to start and win a Super Bowl. Manning will need to cut down on his ridiculously high number of turnovers to keep it that way.

Other: The Giants need to take care of the football, period. This team is too talented to be heading home right now. With the offensive line issues during the season, a young lineman or two should be targeted to provide depth for the aging unit. Like many teams, their pass defense could use some better play in the secondary as their pass rush is already elite. If the Giants take care of their turnover issues, this team could win 12-13 games next season and be one of the Super Bowl favorites. The pieces are in place, but they just need to play better.

Washington Redskins

Head Coach: Mike Shanahan

  • Daniel Snyder didn’t pay Shanny big money to be a one and done type.

Quarterback: Donovan McNabb

  • Daniel Snyder didn’t pay McNabb big money to be a one and done type. Wait. Check that. The QB situation is influx as McNabb is surely heading out of town and the QB looks to be a combination of a veteran, Rex Grossman maybe, and a high draft choice. Jake Locker, the mobile QB out of Washington, might remind Shanahan of a young John Elway and could be had at 10. Love might be in the air.

Other: The Redskins problems on offense aren’t only at QB. Their other skill position players are awful, probably the worst in the league. Their defense seemed to be overwhelmed at times. You can figure Mr. Haynesworth will be gone. The defense was statistically #31 overall. But that might be skewed as the offense kept giving the opposition the ball back. They could pivot and scrap the 3-4 defense and go back to the 4-3 that Haynesworth actually likes. With an offseason that is going to be unpredictable, because of the labor situation, the Redskins will need a good, flexible plan that might need to be implemented within a short time period once the labor issues are resolved. That could prove too much and leave the Redskins with another 6 win season at best.

NFC North

Detroit Lions

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz

  • That 4 game win streak to end the season could be a forerunner to a breakout season next year.

Quarterback: Matthew Stafford

  • Unfortunately, Stafford seems to be injury plagued. The good news is that another #1 pick from 20 years ago, Troy Aikman, had injury issues that seemed to frequently sideline him early in his career and he overcame it to win 3 Super Bowls. Aikman didn’t start 16 games until his fourth season. Shaun Hill has proven to be a solid backup and Drew Stanton isn’t too bad at #3 either.

Other: The Lions offense has budding stars at all of the skill positions, but to take the next step as a team, they will need to improve defensively. They ranked 21st overall and worse against the run. Suh could be the rookie of the year and is a future star on the D-line. But he’ll need help and somebody to keep him from getting double teamed on every play. Look for the Lions to go after a defensive tackle to team with Suh and enable Suh to move around the D-line and work into favorable matchups on passing downs. This team has a chance to make the jump to 10 wins if Stafford can start 14+ games next season.

Hopefully, for football fans, he can't find his way back to the field.

Minnesota Vikings

Head Coach: Leslie Frazier

  • Frazier is expected to be named to the full time job on Monday. He’s got a almost ready made team that can return to the playoffs next season.

Quarterback: Brett Favre (just kidding, or am I?)

Joe Webb took over for the injured Favre and was pretty solid for a rookie. With a full offseason and training camp, Webb might be able to lead this team to 8-9 wins next season. Is that enough for the Vikings? If not, then another call to Mississippi or a different veteran could be on tap for the Vikings. Donovan McNabb has been mentioned and might prove to be a good mentor for the raw Webb.

Other: The Vikings were dysfunctional and ravaged by injuries. They also have stadium issues. If they remove the preseason quarterback drama, then they should be a solid team that reverts back to the running game with Adrian Peterson. Sidney Rice is a free agent and they have some defensive players, like Chad Greenway, who are free agents as well. They will need to get some depth for their D-line as they looked overworked all season and weren’t able to bring it on every play. After their secondary problems, expect them to go after a top corner in the first round. If they get a good veteran to replace Favre and retool the defense, the Vikings could return to double digit wins next season.

NFC South

Carolina Panthers

Head Coach: Vacant – John Fox contract not renewed

  • Unless Andrew Luck declares for the NFL draft well ahead of the January 15th deadline, the Panthers need to put the full court press on Luck’s college coach Jim Harbaugh. Whether Harbaugh is the best candidate or a good fit shouldn’t matter here. The main thing is ensuring that the future superstar, Luck, declares for this draft and that Carolina gets their first potential franchise quarterback. As a bonus, Harbaugh is widely considered to be a potential star coach as well, but the choice here needs to be made with Luck in mind. If Harbaugh ends up at Michigan, or just says no, then look for the Panthers to go after Russ Grimm who’s currently an assistant with the Cardinals.

Quarterback: Jimmy Clausen/Matt Moore/etc.

  • Upgrade severely needed here and with the #1 pick in hand, the Panthers can get the best quarterback available in the NFL draft. That pick is a no-brainer if Luck comes out. If Luck decides to continue his education, then whoever is the Panthers new coach will have to take a hard look at Clausen and determine by draft day if he’s salvageable. A quality veteran game manager type might be in store here next season in any case.

Other: When you’re 2-14, everything typically needs upgrading so it’s hard to pinpoint one or two things. The running backs might be the only sure thing on the roster. An enterprising new coach might take advantage of the quality depth at RB and trade one for a high pick. They’re already without their #2 pick. Figuring out what to do with the oft-injured Steve Smith will be interesting. Any young quarterback could use a quality, healthy Smith to target, but will Smith ever have another healthy season? If the Panthers don’t think so, maybe they can get a lower round (6-7) pick for him. Charles Johnson appeared to fill some of the void from Julius Peppers departure with 11.5 sacks. The rest of the defense would definitely benefit from just having an offense that can move the football. If the Panthers can address their QB situation, they should be able to get to 6-7 wins next season.

If you could buy stock in a team, this is an almost sure thing with Freeman and Morris.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Head Coach: Raheem Morris

  • Can’t have a much better season than Morris just had with a team that nobody expected to win 5 games, let alone 10.

Quarterback: Josh Freeman

He’s flat out the best 1st or 2nd year quarterback in the league. Sorry, Sam Bradford. I can’t wait to see him play next season.

Other:  This team just needs experience as they have young stars in the making at WR and RB with Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount. They had some mid season injuries, especially a tough one for budding star corner Aqib Talib and rookie DT Gerald McCoy. They could use a good pass rushing end and an upgrade with their linebackers. Outside of that, they are looking pretty good and if they take the offseason seriously, they could win 11-12 games and the division next season.

NFC West

Please get somebody to throw this guy the ball!

Arizona Cardinals

Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt

  • Two years after winning the NFC, Whisenhunt appears safe. He’ll need to get this team in contention next year in the weak NFC West to ensure that he comes back again.

Quarterback: John Skelton

Skelton is a decent project, but not the guy you want starting next season. This team needs to go out and get Marc Bulger, Donovan McNabb, or Carson Palmer if available. With Larry Fitz, the quarterback has arguably the best receiver in the league to throw to.

Other: The Cards never had stability at QB all year and that essentially did them in. They also need to upgrade their O-line and find a dependable RB. They also might want to resign Steve Breaston. Defensively, they never replaced the playmaking and leadership of Karlos Dansby and they will need to get overhaul the linebackers. They were 30th against the run and playing in the NFC West means Stephen Jackson and Frank Gore twice per year. They will need to find Darnell Dockett some help on the D-line as well. A stout run defense and any kind of pass rush will help the secondary. If the Cards find that veteran QB like the ones named above, they could find themselves back at or above .500 and in the playoff hunt.

San Francisco 49ers

Head Coach: Vacant – Mike Singletary fired last week

  • They want Jim Harbaugh, but the smart $$ is on Harbaugh returning to his alma mater, Michigan to replace Rich Rodriguez. Would they give up a 3rd rounder to get Jeff Fisher? If they’re serious about changing the culture by the Bay, they need to consider a top level coach like Fisher and pay the price to get him. If they don’t want to give up picks, then maybe Jon Gruden could be the choice if he doesn’t go to Cleveland. This is another spot where I think Chris Peterson from Boise State could be a great fit.

Quarterback: Alex Smith/Troy Smith

  • To paraphrase Rick Pitino; “John Brodie isn’t walking through that door; Joe Montana isn’t walking through that door; Steve Young isn’t walking through that door….” This is the #1a priority in the offseason next to head coach. With a decent supporting cast, a veteran quarterback could be the difference here. The same crew that the Cardinals should be looking at applies here. McNabb, Palmer, Bulger, etc.

Other: With Frank Gore’s injury issues, they might look to draft and groom a replacement. With their other skill players, this team really just needs a QB offensively. Run defense wasn’t an issue as they finished 6th in the league. They might look for a younger player to replace Takeo Spikes and their secondary could use an upgrade. Nate Clements is getting old and the rest of their DB’s are average at best. The 49ers were expected to win the division easily and might have if they had solid production at QB. Hopefully the new coach understands this and the organization addresses that issue. If they do that and work on that pass defense, this team could be a surprise participant in the NFC championship game in 2011. 

St. Louis Rams

Head Coach: Steve Spagnuolo

  • Spagnuolo needs to work on his game management in the offseason after botching some situations in the Seattle game to end the season. Otherwise, 7-9 is pretty good considering where they’ve come from.

Quarterback: Sam Bradford

  • I think they’re happy.

Other: Bradford needs receivers if he’s going to take his game to a high level. With a top 15 pick, they should be able to team him with one of those stud college WR’s that will be available. Steve Breaston from the Cardinals is a free agent and would make a good addition for the Rams. The defense is young and needs to mature a little. Their defense is similar to the Colts, in that they’re smallish up front with speed guys at end. Finding a big end to replace Hall on 1st and 2nd down would make them better against the run and passes with a rested Hall coming in to get after the QB. A top corner might be targeted as well to help their pass defense. WR needs to be the #1 priority because this offense can score 10 more a game with better receiving help. That keeps the defense of the field and improves the overall performance. With that help, the Rams could win 9-10 games next season and make the playoffs.

All playoff teams will be evaluated when their seasons end.

AFC Offseason Preview

The following is a look at the AFC teams that aren’t heading to the playoffs as the regular season ends. I’ll be evaluating the coaching situation, starting quarterback, and the overall needs as they head to the offseason. The NFC Offseason Preview will come following the Sunday night game and the playoff teams will be evaluated following each playoff round. Some of these evaluations are made with the looming lockout and its financial implications in mind. Some teams might not want to pay 2 coaches with no games to play.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills 4-12

Head Coach: Chan Gailey

  • Given the frugal nature of Ralph Wilson, there’s probably no chance that Gailey is removed as head coach.

 

The bench is a good spot for Fitz if the Bills want to be good again.

Quarterback:

Ryan Fitzpatrick

  • With a top 4 pick, the Bills should be able to draft any quarterback not named Luck in the draft. Fitzpatrick has played well enough to remain as a temporary placeholder if the Bills decide to draft and develop a quarterback. Cam Newton is an intriguing prospect here because of Gailey’s previous success with Kordell Stewart in Pittsburgh. Newton is a superior talent, as seen on Saturdays, and could provide an 8-10 play per game wrinkle in the offensive game plan while he adapts to the pro passing game. Newton would enter the NFL as the best wildcat formation quarterback in the league. As far as his quarterback play goes, Newton reminds me of a young Randall Cunningham with his dual threat ability and his throwing style. If they don’t go with Newton, they might go with Ryan Mallett or consider getting a prospect in the 2nd round.

Other:  You don’t go 4-12 with only one issue. The Bills appear solid at the skill positions on offense. The O-line could use a stud, preferably at left tackle and the defense needs some playmakers. Even with a healthy and productive Shawne Merriman, the Bills could use a young stud at defensive end. With two picks in the top 35, they should be able to get that young end.

Miami Dolphins 

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross needs to be careful about firing his coach.

Head Coach:

Tony Sparano

  • As of this writing, Sparano is still hanging on as the head coach. Billy the Chin put a hit out on Sparano a few weeks back, but so far there’s no indication that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross would be interested in Cowher. Based on the poor showing at home and in the season finale, I’m putting Sparano at 35% chance at coming back. Since he’s under contract and the possibility of a labor stoppage looms, Ross could hold onto Sparano until there’s a clearer picture of what the 2011 season is going to look like.

Quarterback: Chad Henne

  • Hanging by a thread, along with the coach, is Henne. With the Dolphins lacking a 2nd round pick, would they pick a QB with their 1st rounder in the teens? If they do, maybe Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker would be the pick in the first round. Expect Chad Pennington to return, if Sparano’s the coach, or another veteran to compete with Henne and probably back him up.

Other:  They had injury issues all over the place. WR looks to be solid with Bess and Marshall. If they don’t want a committee at RB, they could go get a feature back. Otherwise somebody like Clinton Portis could provide a change of pace for Ricky and Ronnie. On defense, they seem to have found a good pass rusher with Cameron Wake. Solid play at QB, taking care of the football, and a consistent running game could get the Dolphins into double digit wins next season, with or without Sparano.

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals

Head Coach: Marvin Lewis – no contract for next season

  • Lewis wants upgrades to the personnel department and the training facilities. He’s also being mentioned as a possibility at the University of Pittsburgh. Lewis has won 2 division titles in 8 seasons with the Bengals. The Bengals are notoriously frugal and the looming lockout isn’t the optimum environment to make infrastructure improvements in the organization for an organization like this. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer might be the cheapest, er, solution to replace Lewis. Or at least be named acting head coach through a lockout situation. I’d say Lewis is 70-30 out the door.

 Quarterback: Carson Palmer

  • Palmer has good money coming to him and he regressed this season. He’s also on the other side of 30 and the time might be right for him to move on. He’d look good in a few other uniforms. Instead of cutting him, the Bengals should gauge the trade market as it only takes one team to overpay in terms of draft picks. QB is the toughest position to fill, with the 3rd pick, the Bengals may get their choice of the non-Luck QB’s. I’d say Palmer is 50/50 to return.

Other:  The Bengals had a combination of bad luck, tough scheduling, and poor execution that has left them at 4-12. Cedric Benson is a free agent and has come closer to living up to his high draft position in Cincinnati. It would probably serve both sides if he re-upped. Both diva receivers will probably go. The defense could use a pass rusher and another corner. As long as the QB situation is settled, the Bengals should bounce back to an 8-8 type record next season.

Cleveland Browns

 

Hey Mangini, somebody wants to see you in the boardroom.

Head Coach:

Eric Mangini

  • Mangini is still the coach as of this writing. Don’t expect him to be on Monday afternoon after the Browns mailed in the final month, especially Sunday’s blowout to the hated Steelers. Jon Gruden is my gut favorite at 50%. I’d put Mike Holmgren at 35% if he can’t get Gruden or just can’t stay away. The field, including Marty Mornhinweg, Brad Childress, and others is at 15%. I just can’t see the Browns going the retread route this time. I think its Super Bowl winner or bust.

Quarterback: Colt McCoy

  • Browns fans have to be encouraged by most of what they saw out of McCoy. Don’t expect any tinkering here except maybe an experienced backup with West Coast offense in their background. Matt Hasselbeck anyone?

Other:  The Browns need to add a #1 receiver on offense along with solidifying the O-line. With their top 10 pick, if they forget the Braylon Edwards pick, they could go for AJ Green out of Georgia or one of those Big 12 studs. Don’t expect a call to Matt Millen for suggestions, however. The defense was solid this season, but their run defense could use work. If they don’t go WR in the 1st round, look for them to go D-line or middle linebacker. With the right coach and some tinkering, the Browns could be a surprise team next season. Second year QB’s are known to make terrific progress and McCoy could be a good one with the right coach.

AFC South

Houston Texans

 

Head Coach:

Gary Kubiak

  • Another coach who is up in the air. I’d put Kubiak at 65% coming back. That doesn’t mean that he’ll get fired, because I think they might try to trade him to the Broncos where good friend John Elway is taking over. I would put that possibility at 20%. If Kubiak does go, Billy the Chin has already had his surrogates’ leak that he’d be interested. This would probably be the best spot for him. If a change is made and it’s not Cowher, expect a defensive minded coach.

Quarterback: Matt Schaub

  • No problems here.

Other:  The Texans defense has been bad. Wade Phillips is rumored to be the new defensive coordinator. In addition to Philips, look for an overhaul of their secondary and some help on the D-line for Mario Williams. Remember the injury to MLB DeMeco Ryans and the early suspension to Brian Cushing before looking at the rest of the defense. The secondary could be the target of all of their picks in the first three rounds. They have a chance to get 2 of the 6-7 best secondary players in the draft. If the Texans can fix their defense, they could arrive a year later than they wanted to the playoffs after next season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Head Coach: Jack Del Rio

  • Del Rio has been in Jacksonville for 8 seasons now. Two playoff berths and no division titles during that time. With a year remaining on his hefty contract, expect owner Wayne Weaver to hold onto Del Rio, or find a team that wants to trade a low round pick to acquire his contract. Del Rio is 95% to return.

Quarterback: David Garrard

  • Garrard is now 32 and is a solid, but not a potential Super Bowl winning QB. The Jags are going to pick in the late teens and somebody like Jake Locker could be there for them. Either way, if Del Rio returns, Garrard will most likely be his QB. A 3rd or 4th rounder should be used on a QB prospect if they don’t take one sooner.

Other:  You can make a solid case that the Jags exceeded expectations. Their offense has some pretty nice skill players at RB and WR. They also have a Pro Bowl TE with Marcedes Lewis. The focus for the offseason needs to be defense. Especially in the secondary where they’ve had a revolving door at 3 of the 4 secondary positions. Only Rashean Mathis in entrenched back there. A good pass rusher or two would help that secondary immensely. They also need help up the middle stopping the run. The late season games against the Colts and Texans exposed them against the run. If they bring Del Rio and Garrard back, which is likely, then the offseason focus needs to be on addressing their defense. If they do that, they should be able to be in a similar position as this year at the end.

Tennessee Titans

 

Are these two done together?

Head Coach:

Jeff Fisher

  • Here’s probably the most intriguing coach out there right now. Fisher has one year left on his contract and issues with Vince Young. The owner likes Young, but Fisher’s been a loyal and solid coach for 17 seasons. This has the feel of a potential Gruden-like trade for a 2nd round pick or so. I’d put Fisher at 65% to come back. It’s highly unlikely that he gets fired. Dallas, if Garrett’s not the guy, Denver and San Francisco have to be potential landing spots for Fisher.

Quarterback: Vince Young

  • The owner likes Young, so he has that going for him, which is nice. Let’s put the Young-Fisher marriage at an optimistic 30% chance of reconciliation. There’s no other potential QB of the future here. If Fisher is around, he might consider getting Donovan McNabb to start and tutor the immature Young. Or just get McNabb and they cut or trade Young. Either way, McNabb in Nashville with Fisher wouldn’t be a bad fit.

Other:  Once the Titans figure out the above situations, they can start on their pass defense. Their offensive skill players are set, but retooling the defense is their ticket back to the playoffs. A poor pass defense is not desirable in the pass happy AFC South. An intimidating safety could help the defense get an identity on pass defense. Defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil knows a little bit about intimidating safeties. With Fisher and Young back, the Titans could return to double digit wins if their defense gets fixed. The QB-coach marriage and its stability will be paramount to any turnaround next season.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Interim Head Coach: Eric Studesville

  • There’s an opening in Denver and I wouldn’t expect the interim coach Eric Studesville to be the guy. I think with John Elway involved in the front office makes the chance of Texans coach Gary Kubiak a possibility. Would the Broncos be willing to trade a 3rd rounder to the Texans for Kubiak? Otherwise it could be a number of possible candidates. Unless it’s Kubiak, the choice will most likely be somebody currently under the radar. This would be an intriguing spot for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to debut in the league. If the Broncos want to be bold, Boise State coach Chris Peterson has future star written all over him.

Quarterback: Kyle Orton/Tim Tebow

  • You know what the saying is, “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any”. Depending on the coach, look for either one of these two to be traded. Orton probably makes the most sense since the market for Tebow would be limited and Orton has a solid track record.

Other:  The Broncos have some talent on offense, if they can get the QB situation resolved. The defense needs help. Elvis Dumervil missed the season, but the problems were deeper than that. They lost to the Raiders by a combined 98-37 and had problems stopping the run and pass all year. If it’s scheme, they need a good coordinator, but it’s usually talent and they seem to be lacking. This will probably be a two year turnaround. Getting to .500 and developing Tebow should be the ultimate goal for this team.

If we don't make the playoffs next year, we'll kill you. Just kidding.

Oakland Raiders

Head Coach: Tom Cable

  • Only Al Davis would fire his coach after getting to .500 for the first time since 2002. But that’s what is being reported on Sunday. Cable swept the AFC West this year and helped get the Raiders respectable again. They run really well and are playing with a passion again. I don’t quite believe the definitiveness of these reports. I’m going to give Cable a 40% chance at returning. If he doesn’t, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will probably get the call. Davis always makes decisions with the financial implications in mind, and this should be no different. The rumors could be posturing by Davis to negotiate a new, non-guaranteed contract in the event of a lockout, for Cable.

Quarterback: Jason Campbell

  • I think if the Raiders can keep Campbell at QB and run the same offense next season, Campbell will prove to be pretty solid. But with the Raiders, you never know. Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, and other potential washed up QB names will come up and Davis loves veterans. Even with that in mind, I’d say Campbell is 60-40 to be the starting QB next season.

Other:  The Raiders have some good, young skill players, led by WR and return guy Jacoby Ford and RB Darren McFadden. The defense looks pretty solid as well. They just looked like a team that wasn’t used to winning at times and need to get consistent. That comes with continuity and keeping the coach and QB in place would be a good start. They have a dominant running game and good defense, they just need to add some solid players on both sides of the ball to improve.

San Diego Chargers

 

Another disappointing year for Norv. Don't worry Chargers fans, next year will be different.

Head Coach:

Norv Turner

  • He’s staying, according to owner Dean Spanos and GM AJ Smith.

Quarterback: Philip Rivers

He’s not the problem.

Other:  Special teams cost this team a chance at the playoffs and a Super Bowl run. A smaller area of concern would be their run defense, especially in the run heavy AFC West. Other than that, what’s not to like about a team that was at the top of the offensive and defensive rankings all year?

All playoff teams will be evaluated when their seasons end. The NFC Offseason Preview will come following the Sunday night game.

NFL Week 17 Preview

Don't screw it up Carolina!

Here are my thoughts on this week’s NFL games while I wonder how the Panthers can screw up the Andrew Luck pick…

Panthers at Falcons: The Falcons can wrap up the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win against the hapless Panthers. The Panthers have already clinched #1; the #1 pick in the 2011 draft, that is. John Fox led this team to two NFC championship games and a loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. That’s 38 for those of you who don’t know Roman numerals. The benefits of taking Latin in high school continue to pay off. Falcons should wrap up the homefield.

Steelers at Browns: The Steelers win and they get the #2 seed and a bye. If they lose and the Bengals win, they can fall all the way to the #6 seed and a game next weekend. Eric Mangini was considered “Dead Man Walking” before the Browns upset the Steelers last year in week 14. That triggered a four game win streak to end the season that gave Mangini a one year reprieve. The Browns have good wins this season, but only 5 or 6 wins will probably cost Mangineous his job for the second time in three seasons. He would make an intriguing choice, as a former Belichick assistant, for defensive coordinator in Dallas as the Cowboys will be looking for a 3-4 coordinator. Mark Jon Gruden down as the non-Holmgren favorite to coach the Browns next season after they lose on Sunday.

 

Its August and I'm getting that itch again!

Vikings at Lions:

Brett Favre’s career will probably end on Sunday with him watching from the sidelines, assuming he improbably passes his concussion test. Well, until next August. We’ll know if Favre is serious about retirement when he shows up in a Fox, CBS, or ESPN studio. As for his coach, Leslie Frazier, the word is that the Vikings will try to hire him fulltime as soon as possible. The Lions have won 3 straight and only have 3 losses this season by more than a TD. Look out for them next year. The Lions make it four straight to end the season.

Raiders at Chiefs: The Chiefs can get the #2 seed with a win and the AFC North losing out and they can fall to the #4 seed with a loss and an Indy win. Either way, it looks like offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is heading to Florida for the same position after the season ends. The Raiders are looking to become the only team to sweep their division and miss the playoffs since the AFL-NFL merger. Is that impressive, or disappointing? How do you feel Al Davis? Look for the Raiders to make history and sweep.

Dolphins at Patriots: Bill Belichick goes for his fourth 14+ win season, looking to match Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi for seasons with 2 or less losses. But he’s looking to match their COMBINED total of 4. Tony Sparano hopes to save his job with their 7th win on the road. The Dolphins have a chance to go 8-8 with a 7-1 road record and 1-7 home record. I’ve never seen anything like that before. The Dolphins win and Sparano becomes the first coach to go 7-1 on the road and get fired maybe, ever. I know a lot, but I’m not the Elias Sports Bureau.

Buccaneers at Saints: The Bucs need to win and have the Packers and Giants lose to make the playoffs. The Saints need to win and have the Falcons lose to win the NFC South. A Bears loss as well would give them the #1 seed. Marques Colston underwent surgery earlier this week and will probably miss the game. With a very small chance at the #1 seed, the Saints will probably get ready for the winner of the NFC West. Bucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown for 23 TD’s this season which is the 2nd best season by a Bucs QB. Brad Johnson had 26 in 2003. Look for the Bucs to get to the 10 win mark and give themselves a chance at 4:00.

Bills at Jets: The Jets are the 6 seed and can get to the 5 with a win and losses by the Steelers and Bengals. In other words, there is a better chance that Rex Ryan gives out foot massages at halftime than the Jets getting the 5 seed. The Bills are looking to go 5-3 in the 2nd half of the season after starting the year 0-8. With nothing much on the line, look for the Jets to use that as an excuse for another uninspired effort and the Bills win.

Bengals at Ravens: The Ravens get the #2 seed if they win and the Steelers lose, otherwise they’re the #5 seed and playing next weekend. Is this Marvin Lewis’ last season in Cincy? He’s gone 60-66-1in eight seasons with two division titles. As far as the Bengals go, that’s Hall of Fame material. Ochocinco could also be done in Cincy and won’t play because of injury. Look for the Bengals to win their 3rd straight to end the season and for Lewis to remain as head coach.

Chargers at Broncos: Norv and AJ will return to the Chargers for the final season (possibly) in San Diego next year. But that’s not the story in this one. Mr. Tim Tebow gets the call for the third week in a row and looks to match his 300 yard passing performance of last week along with the win. As for the result, how can anybody pick against Tebow? I can and will. Norv and the Chargers go 9-7.

Bears at Packers: This game was looking like a good game until the Vikings eliminated the Eagles from bye week contention. Now the Bears only can move if the Falcons lose to the Panthers. Yeah, right. The Packers win and they’re in. They will head to Philadelphia for in all likelihood the Saturday night primetime game next weekend. Letting the Packers into the playoffs could be dangerous, as it would be ironic if the Packers beat them in the NFC championship game in three weeks. The Bears should go out and just eliminate every team they play. That’s what champions do. Don’t count on it as the Packers will win by at least two touchdowns and maybe keep the Bears from the Super Bowl down the line.

Titans at Colts: The Colts win and they’re in. The can move up to the 3 seed if they win and the Chiefs lose. Jeff Fisher could be coaching his last game for the Titans, who he has coached for the last 17 seasons. Expect the Colts to win and become the talking heads’ favorite “team that nobody wants to face” in the playoffs. They’re not mine.

Cowboys at Eagles: Here’s a completely meaningless game. Stephen McGee makes his first start for the Cowboys and will face Kevin Kolb. Not exactly Jaworski vs. Staubach, but how could anybody fills Jaws’ cleats? The Cowboys are trying to lose, um, play for a top 5 pick. If Luck isn’t there, they’ll need to look at the left tackle for Wisconsin. Expect the Cowboys to ruin that chance for a top 5 pick and drop to the 8 or 9 spot after beating the Eagles. McGee will play well enough to earn give Jerry some false hope for the future.

Cardinals at 49ers: Who cares? This game is destined to have the most turnovers of any game as they’re both trying to improve their draft positioning. I’ll call for the 0-0 tie here.

Giants at Redskins: The Giants need the Bears to show up and beat the Packers and then they need to win. The heat has turned up on Tom Coughlin as some think that they’ll dump him if they don’t make the playoffs. The only way I see them firing Coughlin is if the Buccaneers make the playoffs. That would mean the Giants blew their chance by losing to the Redskins, which I don’t think they will.

Jaguars at Texans: The Jags need to win and have the Colts lose to win the AFC South and make the playoffs. The Jags will be without David Garrard and MJD who are both out. Andre Johnson is out for the Texans. Jack Del Rio has been solid for the Jags in 8 seasons, but hasn’t won a division title yet. Could a loss here do him in? One year and $5 million left on a contract during a lockout might save him. I’ll take the Texans here to officially end the Jags year.

Rams at Seahawks: Here’s the NFL playoff play-in game. The first game of the NFL playoffs is Sunday night in Seattle. The Rams are the only one of the two who can represent the NFC West without a losing record next week. Their QB, Sam Bradford, gets an opportunity for a one game chance to win the rookie of the year award with the primetime showcase. Expect Bradford to get the ROY if they win. Suh will get it if he struggles. Matt Hasselbeck might be playing in his final game for the Seahawks as he plays with a rear-end injury. Look for the Seahawks to embarrass the league and make the playoffs at 7-9.

BCS Playoff Plan for an alternative reality

December 6, 2010 3 comments

Like everybody else, I have my own college football playoff plan. My plan involves using the current system that is in place, namely, the BCS standings. But my system would include 16 teams and include all 11 conference champions. That would leave 5 additional “at-large” selections that would be based on the final BCS standings. For those of you who think the SEC is the best conference, you’ll get to see the same two teams going to BCS bowls and LSU. Big Ten fans would get Michigan State and everybody would get Boise State. This 16 team playoff would begin the two weeks following Thanksgiving weekend. That would require all conferences to have their champion crowned a week early. This can be done by starting the season a week earlier, or eliminating the 12th game on the schedule. Because of the money involved with the 12th game, let’s assume the season starts a week before Labor Day.

Here’s how the playoff would work. The first round would be played on the home field of the higher seeded team this upcoming weekend and the matchups would be adjustable in the case of two conference teams meeting for the second time. For instance, if Arkansas and LSU were 8 and 9 seeds, the 7 and 10 matchup would switch with them to make a 7 vs. 9 and 8 vs. 10. For this season the matchups would be:

#1 Auburn vs. #16 Florida International

#2 Oregon vs. #15 Miami (OH)

#3 Texas Christian vs. #14 Connecticut

#4 Stanford vs. #13 Central Florida

#5 Wisconsin vs. #12 Virginia Tech

#6 Ohio State vs. #11 Boise State

#7 Oklahoma vs. #10 LSU

#8 Arkansas vs. #9 Michigan State

Those are the first round matchups, and for illustration purposes, let’s assume that all of the higher seeded teams win.

Now is where my playoff plan differs from most, if not all others. The eight winning teams would fill-in the four BCS bowl games and the eight losing schools would be free to play in a season ending bowl game as well. This means that the bowl system would remain intact. The teams would be re-seeded at this point, but the historical bowl tie-ins would apply when possible. That means the Rose Bowl would have the Pac-10 against the Big Ten and the Sugar Bowl would have the SEC team. Since there are two Big Ten schools remaining, the lower seeded team would matchup with highest seeded Rose Bowl qualifier, Oregon. All of the bowls would be played on New Year’s Day. Here is how the bowls would matchup:

Sugar Bowl

#1 Auburn vs. #8 Arkansas

Rose Bowl

#2 Oregon vs. #6 Ohio State

Orange Bowl

#3 TCU vs. #7 Oklahoma

Fiesta Bowl

#4 Stanford vs. #5 Wisconsin

Using this year’s calendar the winners would then move on, re-seeding in the case of an upset, to play on the next Saturday with at least 7 days off between. This upcoming year would be January 8, 2011. If New Year’s Day fell on, say, a Monday, the next round would be played a week from the next Saturday, 12 days later. This round would be played in two neutral locations such as the Georgia Dome or Jerry’s World. Assuming the higher seeded teams win, the match-ups would be this:

Semi-Final Round

#1 Auburn vs. #4 Stanford

#2 Oregon vs. #3 TCU

The championship game could be played at the current location according to the BCS championship game rotation. This game would be played on the Saturday or Sunday night two weeks following the semi-final round. This year that would be January 22nd or 23rd. Assuming the higher seeded teams win, the matchup would be the same as the BCS championship game to be played on January 10th. Unlike the BCS schedule, my plan would not involve any games during the week, except for the New Year’s Day bowl games.

My plan, while not perfect, would give 14 more teams a chance at the championship. How many more games than the current system would be needed? Eleven. Only eleven more games total. The date for the opening round games is early because this system is integrating the bowls and there needs to be time for bowls to prepare for their games without interference from the playoff system.

Why have all 11 conference champions? Well, it provides a nice reward for those teams at the top, like Auburn and Oregon this season, by matching them up with a lesser opponent. But it gives all of the FBS schools that chance to dream about the impossible. Nobody at Miami (OH) ever even dreams about a national championship. This system would provide just a little bit of that false hope. And when it comes to college sports, isn’t that false hope what drives March Madness? Just eleven more games to get a true champion. What do you say, NCAA?

Can the UFL provide playoff-bound NFL teams a spark?

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Injuries and weaknesses in some playoff teams might be addressed by looking to the UFL for help. The UFL season ends with their championship game on November 27th. With five weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, along with four potential playoff games for teams who don’t get the bye week, the UFL can provide a team with much needed depth and injury stopgaps with players who are in game shape (they’ve been hitting)  and have a recent track record of performance. While the talent level in the UFL doesn’t compare with the NFL, they do have many former NFL players who might be able to provide additional depth for a grueling playoff run. The difference between picking up a player from the Arena League and the UFL is that the UFL is actually 11 on 11 football played outside.

Skill position players like running backs and wide receivers, along with kick returners have to be considered because they can be easily integrated into spot situations. A player like running back Dominic Rhodes is familiar with the Colts offense having played for them early in his career. He could provide good value as a fill-in if the injuries to Mike Hart and Joseph Addai don’t heal soon. Also, offensive and defensive lineman should be considered for depth purposes. Quarterback Jeff Garcia is somebody who played most of his NFL career in the west coast offense and could probably hit the ground running as a #3 QB with a team running that kind of offense. Players who made a mark in special teams while in the NFL might be signed for a playoff run to shore up deficiencies in kick coverage. The Dolphins are a team that has struggled in the kicking game and might need a coverage guy like former Cowboys player Keith Davis, who made a mark on special teams playing for Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano while in Dallas.

The NFL mandates that any player on the week one roster is guaranteed their base salary for the entire season. That’s why you see a lot of “name” players in the UFL because the NFL has a pay scale that requires the minimum salary to increase based on league experience. So somebody like Dominic Rhodes would’ve had to be guaranteed around $800,000 had he been on the opening day roster of a team. With only five or less games remaining, NFL teams can take flyer on some of these guys and pay by the week and cut the ones who don’t work out without penalty.

Hey, these guys aren’t going to step in and play at an all-pro level and carry a team to the Super Bowl. But they might be able to pick up that key first down, come in for an injured teammate, or make that game saving tackle on special teams. The difference in some games comes down to how the bottom of the roster performs when called upon. The UFL gives the NFL another option for upgrading the quality of their roster for the stretch run.