Subjugating admission to an ego that athletic abilities have waned is tough for many professional athletes. Especially when the person is under 40 years old and feels years of acquired knowledge have made them more valuable than ever before.
Hines Ward recently told reporters that he has no plans to retire and wants to play with the Pittsburgh Steelers next season. Having spent all of his career with Pittsburgh, the 14-year veteran told reporters he is willing to take a reduction in pay off his 2011 salary of $4 million.
Ward says he will be "devastated
" if he cannot finish his career with the only professional team he has played for, but Pittsburgh will have to decide in a few months if they want to give the wide receiver a roster bonus in order to give him a chance to make the team in training camp.
Not only is he the the eighth player in NFL to accumulate 1,000 career receptions, Ward is coming off maybe his worst NFL season since his rookie season in 1998. A reserve behind Courtney Hawkins and Charles Johnson that season, it was the only year of Ward's career he didn't start a game.
Antonio Brown began to take starts away this year from Ward, whose nine starts in 2011 were his fewest since the 1998 season. Brown and fellow wide receiver Mike Wallace would be named to the Pro Bowl this year, further pushing Ward into a role of the sage veteran who is more of a coach than player at this stage of their career.
His 46 receptions in 2011 were the fewest Ward has had since his rookie season. Burt it wasn't just a decline in production there that may have the Steelers brass undecided as to whether or not they bring him back for another year.
He was always a possession receiver whose game was more noted for leadership and a run blocking ability that was truly bone-jarring. But Ward averaged a career low 8.3 yards per reception this year, and the two touchdown receptions Ward scored were his fewest since he failed to score as a rookie.
Wanting to hang on another year is nothing new for the NFL player. There has been a ton of wide receivers who wanted to extend their careers one last season, but few who went out to the retirement pastures having left an indelible mark on those last gasps for glory.
Jerry Rice is thought of by many to be the finest wide receiver in NFL history. The Hall of Famer spent 16 years with the San Francisco 49ers, but the team decided to part ways when Rice wanted to keep playing. He joined the Oakland Raiders and remained extremely productive for three season, one of which included a Pro Bowl nod, but wanted to keep playing in 2004.
Father Time finally caught up to Rice by then, so the Raiders traded him to the Seattle Seahawks early in the season. He still tried to play in 2005, but ultimately decided to retire after realizing he would never top the depth charts of any team again.
Rice broke the all-time receptions record of fellow Hall of Famer Art Monk, who is the first NFL player to ever have over 100 receptions in a season. Monk himself extended his career perhaps too long, just as did Rice and many others.
After having spent 14 seasons with the Washington Redskins, the team decided to trim their payroll and parted ways with Monk. He joined the New York Jets for a year and was a moderately effective player, but decided to try and keep playing. Monk joined the Philadelphia Eagles for three games in 1995 before deciding to retire.
Monk wanting to keep playing the game was no different than what his mentor, Charley Taylor, did. The Hall of Famer, who left the NFL as the all-time leader in receptions, tried to play his 13th season for the Redskins in 1977.
Taylor, who had missed the entire previous season due to injury, began the season starting and eventually lost his job to Danny Buggs. He retired as a player, but soon rejoined Washington and coached the wide receivers to three Super Bowl victories.
These are just a few examples of how Ward's NFL future could play out. Few end their careers on a high note, as Wes Chandler and Max McGee did.
Chandler spent 11 years with the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers, which included four Pro Bowl nods. He joined the 49ers in 1988 and played just four games, but garnered a Super Bowl ring that season before finally retiring.
McGee spent 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, but had just 16 receptions for 325 yards and four scores in his last two years with the Packers. Yet his nine receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason helped Green Bay win two consecutive Super Bowls and helped McGee retire at the top.
Whenever Ward does decide to retire, he will most likely receive a few votes for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite making the Pro Bowl just four times, he is the Super Bowl XL MVP and was named MVP of the team Steelers times. Ward is the Steelers all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches.
Recruited by Georgia University as a quarterback, Pittsburgh had Ward throw just three passes in his career but did run the ball 57 times for 428 yards and a score. He was a precision route-runner who was the only dependable weapon Pittsburgh's passing game had for several seasons.
Yet his leadership skills was perhaps as important as his playing ability. Ward's desire to win would have fit well with the famous "Steel Curtain" defense that won four titles, and his helping the franchise win two more just helps Pittsburgh stay one of the more respected teams in the NFL.
His blocking ability allows Ward to stand out from the rest of the wide receivers in the league. Unfairly termed a dirty player by some, all Ward did was out-think opponents and put himself in the right position to make crucial blocks that also happened to break bones.
In 2008, he laid out a unsuspecting Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers. While not penalized for the play, the ever-softening NFL did change rules in 2009 by making it illegal a blindside block if it comes from the blocker's helmet, forearm or shoulder and lands to the head or neck area of the defender. It is called the Hines Ward Rule by many.
Whether or not Ward remains in the NFL, let alone with Pittsburgh, remains to be seen. It is obvious he is nearing the end of a fabulous career, one that can continue thanks to rules that cater to the offensive side of the football.
His wisdom, blocking ability and leadership should attain a job offer next season, but Pittsburgh may end up being forced with giving Ward's roster spot to a younger and cheaper player. It may not be what the teams wants, but the examples of Rice and Monk are proof that sometimes the bottom line of a fiscal situation outweighs the heart.
Yooooooooo! Dis IS 7thStone wunce again! OK, I took a little trip but I iz back four now cuz I gots 30 days of extenshun to cum up with da money deez goombas claim i owe. Interest iz a killer yo!
My cuzin 3rd filled in and went 4-4 in my absince. He almost called dat Patriots/ Broncos score perfectly tho. I tink I can be better dis weak.
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
Baltimore has never beaten the Patriots in six regular seesun games since 1996, but dey did win in New England during da 2009 playoffs. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has four of those wins and is coming off a 2011 where he threw for career best totals in attempts, completions and passing yards.
Brady is one of just two players in NFL history to win both the league's most valuable player award and Super Bowl MVP multiple times. He is very much in the running for a third NFL MVP trophy, because the Patriots have relied on his prowess heavily all seasun.
Da Patriots don't run da football a lot, relying on five halfbacks two share da carries. Brady has spread da ball out too 12 different receivers, which includes fore players wif over 50 receptions.
New England's defense is nothing special, ranking 31st in yards allowed and 15th in points coughed up. Their 17th ranked rushing defense will be under the spotlight against a Ravens team that relies heavily on their ground game.
If Baltimore cannot run the ball well, da onus will bee on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco, whose 57.6 compleshun percentige dis yeer was da worst of his career, has won 46 of his 64 regular seesun starts. Da fourth-yeer pro has been drawing criticism recently for an inability to win big games, but da fact is dat Flacco has also won five of eight playoff games as well.
Ray Rice is the key to the Ravens offensive attack. Not only did he lead the team in rushing and receiving, but da 2,068 yards from scrimmage he had dis yeer led da NFL. Flacco has found five receivers more den 40 times dis seesun.
Baltimore has a veteran defense that is perennially amongst da best in da league. Dey ranked third in both points and yards allowed dis yeer, as well as furst on touchdown passes given up.
Fore Raven defenders wuz named two da Pro Bowl dis yeer, but da Ravens secondairy will have two bee grate for dere teem to win. Strong safety Bernard Pollard will be da most watched, cuz he will be given da assignment of trying to cover New England's two young stud tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Baltimore has a pair of young stud tight ends in Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson themselves. While their combined 94 receptions and eight scores may pale in comparison to the 169 catches and 24 touchdowns Gronkowski and Hernandez got, the two are none the less an effective duo.
New England lost just one home game this yeer, while all fore of da Ravens 2011 losses happened on da road. Both squads know how too win da big game and are laden wif experienced veterans.
3rdStone picked da Ravens too win it all befour dis seesun started, while I tought dey will reech da Super Bowl. Tho I tink da Pats might win dis, I decided to go wif 3rd and stick wif da Ravens.
31 Patriots 24
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers
Dis surprise matchup iz indickadiv of a NFL seesun that kinda sucked tanks too no training camp. While da Niner was expected by few two bee hear at da beginning of dis seasun, praktically no one tought da Giants wuld ger hear after losing like half of dere defensive players before dey even got on da field dis yeer.
New York is a teem dat throws da ball a lot cuz dere running game sucks out loud. San Francisco has a grate defense, led by excellent linebackers, and a offense dat leens on using halfback Frank Gore too eat up da clock wif a lot of touches.
Vernon Davis is finally getting to show America his amazing athleticism tanks too da improved play of quarterback Alex Smith. Smith stopped turning da ball over dis yeer two, which allowed Davis more chances two get balls and be spechul.
Da Giants go as far as Eli Manning's arm takes dem. Dere team is mediocre, as dere 9-7 record shows dis yeer, but da quarterback has had his best seasun ever in 2011. He has excellent wide receivers to work wif, which helped Manning set career high marks in attempts, completions and passing yards while making his second Pro Bowl in his eight yeers.
Since da Niners wide receivers are pretty lousy, I expect even da beat up New York secondairy to play wif dem and allow da defense to concentrate on Gore and Davis. San Francisco needs Michael Crabtree to play as good as he thinks he is.
Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown need to play well enuff too force New York into running da ball more. San Francisco should shut down most of da Jints offense for da most part, but dis iz da key area to push dem too victory.
Gore will be needed to run well, because da Niners do not want two rely to much on Smith. If da Giants blitz a lot to shut down Gore and try to shake up Smith, a pretty yung San Francisco offensive line will bee put two da test.
Dese teems met a weak befour Thanksgiving dis seasun in San Francisco. Da Niners won 27-20 tanks too for field goals by Pro Bowl kicker David Akers. New York gained 90 more yards, but two interceptions by Rogers helped da Niners seel da deal in da forth quarter.
I don't know if da Niners swipe too more balls dis Sunday, but I can sea it. New York has da edge in experience, but San Francisco holds a decisive edge at spechul teems. Gore was shut down in da first meating between da squads, so I am looking for improved production from him.
23 Giants 21
OK yous mugs, enjoy Sunday. I iz gunna catch da games at dis cuties house, where I expect us too due our own stretching exercises at halftime. Capeesh?
Like dey often say in Ol' Mexico = A.M.F.
In just a few weeks, Pro Football Hall of Fame voters will meet in Indianapolis, Indiana and decide who will be inducted into Canton this year. There were many reasonable and dubious characters for the voters to sift through, yet there were several of the dubious choices that made it as finalists instead of glaring omissions.
Wide receivers Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed, running backs Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin and guard Will Shields made the cut, as did the two senior nominees of defensive back Jack Butler and guard Dick Stanfel. Defensive back Aeneas Williams and defensive ends Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Charles Haley and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and center Dermontti Dawson and offensive tackle Willie Roaf and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. also got into the final stage of the process
A finalist must receive 80 percent of the vote to be selected. Somewhere between four and seven enshrinees are typically announced annually, which will happen the day before the Super Bowl on February 5th, then inducted in August in the Hall's 50th class.
Parcells and Shields were the only two candidates to make the list of finalists in their first year of eligibility. What will happen next is anyone's guess, because it is next to impossible to read the mind of the voters after seeing this list of finalists.
First let's get the obvious choices out of the way. These are players who belong in so much that they shouldn't have to wait, even if there are a ton of worthy candidates who fit that denoscription and have been buried for decades in the senior voters pool.
5 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
10 Fumble Recoveries
I profiled Butler on Crazy Canton Cuts
back in 2008
He is the last person to play in the NFL from Saint Bonaventure University because the school dropped their football program after 1951. Butler joined the Bonnies football team at the request of Bonnie athletic director, Father Dan Rooney, the brother of Steelers owner Art Rooney. Butler then joined Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent rookie.
He retired early because of an injury, but his 52 interceptions in nine seasons were second most in NFL history at the time. He still ranks second in the Steelers history in total interceptions.
When he retired from playing, Butler became an NFL scout. He was the director of BLESTO for over 40 years until he retired at 80 years old in 2007. Butler has helped start the career of innumerable scouts, player personnel directors, and general managers in the NFL.
Butler was one of the hardest hitting cornerbacks to have ever played the game. Yet, he also had shut down ability, which is shown with his 52 thefts. Personally, I think his contributions off the field make him worthy two different ways.
But, sticking to just his play on the gridiron, there is no question that is is truly a disgrace that Jack Butler has not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame already. He goes into Canton if I voted, no question.
7 Pro Bowls
6 First Team All-Pro Teams
Dawson first started out as a guard before switching the center and became one of the very best in the business. He has been a semi-finalist three times and and finalist twice. It is time he gets inducted.
New York Jets
5 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro
14,101 Rushing Yards
One of the more underrated running backs of his era, Martin rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the first 10 seasons of his career. Reliable and durable, he led the NFL in carries and rushing yards in his tenth season.
Martin was much more than a guy who carried the ball. He was an effective receiver and fumbled just 29 times in his career. He is easily the most worthy running back in the 2012 class and surely gets my vote.
New Orleans Saints
11 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
Roaf deserves induction this year. Plain and simple. I think there are a ton of blockers who belong, but the offensive line is usually overlooked.
Even though he missed 17 games because of injuries, Roaf started in every one of the 189 games he played in his career. A cerebral player with immense strength and incredible dexterity, the nimble tackle was rarely beat whether run blocking or protecting the blind side of the quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs
12 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
Shields better go in immediately. He missed one start, but played in all 224 games in his career. He was always one guards in the AFC annually. He deserves induction now, but I have been saying this about Chiefs legends Jim Tyrer, Johnny Robinson and Ed Budde for years and years as well.
8 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
23 Fumble Recoveries
12 Touchdowns Scored
Williams is one of many cornerbacks who belong in Canton, joining greats like Lemar Parrish, Pat Fischer, Louis Wright and more, but he may beat them in the race for induction. Like them, he was a premier defender.
One fact easily seen is that Williams made opponents pay when they tried to move the ball in his direction. I believe he is worthy of immediate induction, but I been saying that about Parrish and others for years.
That is six guys right there ready to get inducted. If there is a seventh person to go into Canton in 2012, there is a tough choice to be made. The Hall of Fame has inducted eight or more men three times, yet not have done so since 1967. The voters have frequently gone with just four inductees inducted, an inexcusable amount, and have even inducted just three in 1973 and 1976.
Who will make that seventh selection is a mystery, but two candidates are members of the media and that may give them an extra nudge since they rub elbows with the voters both in social circles and the workplace. It would be better if the induction classes extended to eight again, after allowing the senior voters to nominate four players annually, because there is such a backlog of worthy players being slapped in the face with disrespect as they watch lesser players inducted instead.
If I were a voter who had just walked in and had to vote from this current group of finalists, I would be torn between two players. While both are certainly worthy, one played over twice as long in his career. While the rules that player participated in helped immensely, where the other played in an era would you could feed your family better by not playing football.
My pick would be :
8 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
Carter got to enjoy rules friendly to the offense in an obscene fashion. He had a gift, however, of making catches in the end zone.
That gift had him once released by the Philadelphia Eagles, where head coach Buddy Ryan the reason was that all Carter did for the Eagles was "catch touchdown passes". The truth was that Carter was abusing drugs and the wide receiver credits his being cut as the wake up call that saved his life.
The Minnesota Vikings claimed him off the waiver wire right away, where he eventually started and would hold that spot the remainder of his Vikings career. One of Carter's strengths was his conditioning and durability. Though he missed four games because if injury in one season, he played every other game possible for Minnesota.
He led the NFL in receptions once and in touchdown catches three times. Seven different quarterbacks were the primary starter in his 12 seasons with the team. Despite all the lunacy and confusion, Carter was a beacon of steady leadership and consistent production.
Carter accumulated double figures in touchdown receptions in five of his Pro Bowl years. What also made his production even more special is the fact he had to share receptions with future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss, Pro Bowl wide receivers Jake Reed and Anthony Carter, and Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan.
Carter has been a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame four times so far. He ranks third in NFL history in career receptions, fourth in career touchdowns catches and eighth in career receiving yards and total touchdowns.
Then there are the old school fans who point to the obvious fact Carter never dealt with the ten-yard chuck rule, which makes it much harder to excel as a receiver, as opposed to the offensive-friendly rules he participated in. Rules that greatly inflate statistics and can help make a player look better than players who did not benefit from the rule changes. This fact has made modern statistics dwarf the numbers from the ten-yard chuck era.
Men like Mac Speedie, Lionel Taylor, Charlie Hennigan, Harold Carmichael, Drew Pearson, Gino Cappelletti, Sonny Randle, Cliff Branch, Harold Jackson, Pete Retzlaff, and LaVern Dilweg are just a few great receivers on par with Carter and are also awaiting their inductions. Men who dealt with a much rougher game, let alone the ten-yard chuck.
Carter has a feel-good story attached to his career, one that has now extended to where he provides analysis on television. With his career on the ropes because of drugs, he rebounded and became a leader and won the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award, the Bryan "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award and the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Besides the 17 NFL records he either owns or shares, he is a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team. He is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings as well as being a member of their 40th Anniversary Team.
The Vikings have retired his jersey and have had a huge amount of great receivers to play for them. Cris Carter may be the best ever for this franchise and certainly deserves to move on to being more than a finalist this year.
Again, I want EIGHT in the 2012 class. It doesn't have to be just seven going in, and this unwritten rule basically screws players because some paperclip pusher may think seven looks prettier on paper.
If the voters got it right and put in eight, I'd put in a guy who has waited forever and may never get this close again.
5 Pro Bowls
5 First Team All-Pro Teams
Stanfel lasted only seven years, but he was amazing in his time. His rookie year was the only season he did not earn an accolade. After four seasons with the Lions, he joined the Washington Redskins and suddenly retired at just 31 years old.
He played in an era where the pay scale was so minimal, players usually made more money working other jobs. Stanfel left the game so he could feed his family at a higher-paying job. There were just three starting offensive lineman in the NFL older than Stanfel when he left the game.
Yet many historians agree there were few guards better to play the game. Despite his limited years, Stanfel is a member of the 1950s All-Decade Team. I'd put him in Canton, so hopefully he gets inducted.
That leaves a group of finalists who will have to wait another year hoping that get this close again. There are a few worthy, then are a few I personally would not vote in simply because there are a ton of better candidates seemingly forgotten by the voters and they remain buried in the senior voters pool of candidates.
Here are the most worthy candidates we should one day see inducted into Canton :
6 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
13,662 Yards Rushing
94 Total Touchdowns
Bettis was involved in one of the biggest steals ever, when the Steelers got him from the Saint Louis Rams in a trade. He ran for over 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine seasons, showing remarkable durability because his game was running between the tackles.
Not much of a receiver, he could be depended on once handed the ball. He fumbled 41 times, but he usually rewarded his teams with a pounding style that wore out opponents while chewing up the clock.
There is no question that Bettis is worthy of induction into Canton.
8 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
150.5 Quarterback Sacks
Defensive end is a position stacked with worthy candidates who are not amongst the current semi-finalists. Men like Claude Humphrey, Jim Marshall, Coy Bacon, L.C. Greenwood and many others head a list of men at this position worthy of induction.
Doleman's numbers do not lie. He was a play-making machine. But he was more than a pass rush specialist at defensive end, which is shown by the fact he exceeded 100 tackles twice in his career. Doleman did get more than 10 sacks eight season and led the league once.
There is no doubt Doleman is worthy of induction, and it would be a shame if he had to wait as long as other past greats like Humphrey or Bacon. Yet I can't say he deserves to go into ahead of them too.
The remaining finalists is yet another demonstration many voters are clueless glad-handers who need to be replaced by the men who actually played the game and certainly know best on who and who doesn't belong within the hallowed walls of Canton.
Eddie Debartolo Jr.
San Francisco 49ers
This guy is a finalist instead of a ton of worthy players? What a waste of space! I hope he never reaches these heights again. As just owners go, I could name a huge handful more worthy than a guy who left the game in disgrace.
San Francisco 49ers
5 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
100.5 Quarterback Sacks
The only reason Haley has been a semi-finalist three times and finalist once before is because he played on five teams that won Super Bowls. Strictly a pass rush specialist, he never had more than 69 tackles in a season.
Honestly, Charles Haley does not belong in Canton. He never led the league in any category, though he did have the good fortune to play on good teams and was able to line up at defensive end as well. There are way too many candidates more richly deserving of induction over him.
7 Pro Bowls
88 Touchdowns Scored
Reed was a precise route runner who was more good than great. He never led the league in any category and exceeded 1,000 yards receiving just four times despite playing in a era that caters to offensive production.
What gets him this far is the fact he played on four teams that reached the Super Bowl. He had a Hall of Fame quarterback and running back helping him as well a set of rules that made him look better than he was. I classify Reed as a very good player, but I'd put a ton of wide receivers into Canton ahead of him.
The rest of the finalists were basically a group of guys where one could look back in NFL history and see a long line of better players still awaiting induction. Many becoming unknown and forgotten as time steadily moves forward, and one suspects a few of these finalists will soon join them in that classification.
9 Pro Bowls
Brown certainly is a product of the rule changes that allows receivers to roam untouched after five yards, but he was more than just a pass catcher. Brown also made an impressive mark on special teams
My issue with his being inducted is the fact he was never selected First Team All-Pro and led the league in receiving just once. Brown did lead the NFL in punt and kickoff return yards once.
But is that worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? I say no and chalk him up as a good and reliable player who lasted a long time.
Los Angeles Rams
5 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
160 Quarterback Sacks
26 Fumbles Recovered
A hired gun as a pass rush specialist, Greene played for five different teams in his career. While getting to a quarterback was his main focus, he did get 87 tackles one year. He had 10 or more sacks in 10 different seasons.
Greene was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year once and led the league in sacks twice. He is a lot like Charles Haley in that he did just one thing really well, but the fiery player was versatile enough to create turnovers defending the pass on occasion.
He is worthy of being a finalist, but there are a ton of other outside linebackers I'd put into Canton ahead of him.
8 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
Kennedy is a bit of a conundrum for me, as far as being worthy of Canton. He was a playmaker who sacked the quarterback pretty often for a defensive tackle. He did enjoy three excellent seasons where he piled up 242 tackles over that time.
Yet he recovered a measly six fumbles in his career and he had four mediocre season. I can't say he is worthy, just because there are many defensive tackles, like Curly Culp, I consider superior. Yet it wouldn't be that frustrating if he went in either.
Seeing how great general managers like George Young and Ron Wolf did not make the cut, while Ed DeBartolo did, brings to mind there should be another adjustment to the voting process for induction. Young and Wolf certainly belong, just like NFL Films creator Ed Sabol did a few years ago, but it shouldn't come at the expense of the players.
The voters should separate coaches, general managers and contributors, giving them there own platform. Still have them require 80 percent of the vote, but add their induction to the ceremony instead of subtracting a player from the process.
Assistant coaches need to be included too. Great coaches like Bud Carson, Joe Bugel, Jim Hanifan and others had careers worthy of Canton, but the assistant coach basically is shunned by voters as inconsequential to their determination on who belongs.
This would bring enlarged classes some years, but there is nothing wrong with eight people inducted. There should be no limit on how many people can be voted in each year. The reason for this statement is because there of a former head coach and general manager amongst the finalists.
While he won two titles in a fish bowl like New York City, he got both too much attention because the area is literally saturated with members of the media and even houses the league's headquarters. Many people have
buckled under the pressure, yet this man survived and even went on to coach another team that gets too much media attention.
Now a member of the same media that use to follow him around like lost puppies who hung off every utterance he put forth, there is a very good chance yet another deserving player will have a slot stolen from them in the 2012 class.
Coach/ General Manager
2 Super Bowl Wins
Parcells is here because he coached the New York Giants, a team flooded with media attention. While a good coach who has 42 more victories than defeats, he also had some limited successes with the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.
Known as the "Big Tuna", he was named NFL Coach of the Year three different seasons and is a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team. He then went on to become a general manager and had mixed results.
Does Parcells belong in ahead of such legendary coaches like Buddy Parker, Chuck Knox, Tom Flores, Dick Vermeil and others? He doesn't belong in ahead of Don Coryell, but the New York City factor might push him in. I think he fairly worthy, but I think that of a few others as well.
Then there is the man who should have been a finalist and inductee. He died last year without witnessing his deserved respect, but got to see the league cash in on his creation annually. The NFL offense of today still relies on his genius, despite the voters obtuse knowledge of football preventing him the rightful immortality earned years ago while still echoing to this very moment.
Saint Louis Cardinals
San Diego Chargers
First Coach With 100 Wins In Pro And College Football
Only Coach To Lead NFL In Passing 6 Straight Years
5 Division Titles
The biggest no-brainer of the semi-finalists. It is disgusting he hasn't been inducted already, and even more revolting he passed away last year and will never get to enjoy his deserved respect from a game that still leans heavily on his genius to this very day. Crazy Canton Cuts profiled Coryell in 2009.
Coryell played college football at the before getting into coaching. He succeeded George Allen, who later became a Pro Football Hall Of Fame coach.
He also showed his innate ability to develop players, especially on offense. He had 54 players go to the NFL from his college teams, including five players drafted in the first round. Nine of his players were First Team All-Americans. In 1967, he had eight players drafted, and five went in the first two rounds.
The Coryell coaching tree from his collegiate era is very impressive as well.
Joe Gibbs was a player on Coryell's team at first and won the team's Most Inspirational Player Award once. Gibbs later became a graduate assistant, then assistant coach at San Diego State.
He also was an assistant under Coryell with both the Cardinals and Chargers before becoming head coach of the Washington Redskins. Gibbs is a member of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
Another Pro Football Hall Of Fame coach who coached under Coryell at San Diego State was John Madden. Madden would join the Oakland Raiders and then become the youngest head coach of the league the next season at 32 years old.
Legendary men like Jim Hanifan, Ernie Zampese, and Rod Dowhower also coached under Coryell at San Diego State. Coryell's 104 victories and .840 winning percentage are the best in Aztec history, and he is a member of the College Football Hall Of Fame.
He then moved to the NFL to lead the Saint Louis Cardinals. His 42 wins are the most by any coach in the Cardinals franchise's history, and his five years as head coach with the team is the second longest tenure ever.
The San Diego Chargers would later hire Coryell. This was when "Air Coryell" was born as a common term, even though Coryell's years in Saint Louis also featured high-powered offenses running under much of the same schemes also used in San Diego.
When Coryell retired from the NFL with 111 wins in 195 games overall, he is the first head coach with 100 victories in both professional and collegiate football.
To try and sum up this man's career or impact on football is nearly impossible. Virtually every offense today, on all levels of the game, is a variation of his system. In his 14 seasons as a coach, his offenses led the NFL in net yards gained per passing attempt five times. They finished in the top-five of the NFL six more times.
His teams led the NFL in passing yards seven times and none of his teams finished lower than seventh. They led the NFL in passing touchdowns three times and finished in the top ten nine other times.
Many Hall Of Fame players and Pro Bowlers were coached by Coryell in the NFL. The list of players inducted into Canton includes Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner, Dan Dierdorf, Jackie Smith, Fred Dean and Roger Wehrli.
Coryell changed the way football was played. It is still being played the way Coryell invented to this very day. The now all-to-common sight on multiple receiver sets was first started by Coryell, as are many versions of offenses being run these days.
They are all spawns of his genius.
Winslow stated it best when he said, "For Don Coryell to not be in the Hall of Fame is a lack of knowledge of the voters. That's the nicest way that I can put that. A lack of understanding of the legacy of the game."
An ignorance that has wrongly kept Don Coryell from taking his rightful place in Canton.
Change is once again a headline in the NFL. General managers and head coaches have been coming and going for decades, so the year 2012 isn't any different.
The Indianapolis Colts have a new general manager in Ryan Grigson, a former NFL and CFL tight end who rose quickly through the ranks of the Philadelphia Eagles front office the past few years. His hiring now has some wondering if he will fire incumbent head coach Jim Caldwell and which player the Colts will use the first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft on.
With the surprise firing of Bill Polian as general manager, out went the assumption the Colts would select quarterback Andrew Luck. Grigson, who also worked for the Arena Football League and Canadian Football League, will be bringing a new philosophy to Indianapolis.
Some pundits wonder if quarterback Peyton Manning, who has given the franchise a championship and 11 Pro Bowls since he joined the team in 1998, will be back next season. It seems like a ridiculous question to many, considering Manning has led the team to two Super Bowl appearances and has won four NFL MVP awards. Yet his 2011 season was lost due to a lingering neck injury that still has some observers concerned to whether or not it will ever fully heal.
The bottom line of the Colts financial situation is often brought up as a reason the team may part ways with Manning, who had just signed a contract worth $90 million over five years before the 2011 season began. If the Colts were to draft a quarterback with their first pick, they might have to pay over $20 million to sign the player. Cam Newton, the first pick of the 2011 draft, received $22 million for four years.
But there are now no guarantees if the Colts stay with the soon-to-be 36 year old Manning and not even draft a quarterback on a team with many holes that were seen as the team finished this year with a 2-14 record. There is no guarantee now that Luck, who is similar to Manning in many ways, will not be passed up on favor of Robert Griffin III.
Assuming Indianapolis drafts one of these quarterbacks, the remaining player will not wait too long to find a suitor. Many are thinking the Cleveland Browns will look to replace second-year pro Colt McCoy by using the fourth overall pick. The Washington Redskins, who sit sixth in the draft order, desperately need a quarterback and could possibly try to work a trade with either the Minnesota Vikings or Saint Louis Rams to grab Griffin or Luck.
Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, is as hot a commodity as Luck. While Luck is fairly mobile, Griffin has world class speed. Both quarterbacks possess excellent arm strength, but Griffin throws one of the most beautiful deep balls in all of football right now.
Grigson is knowledgeable to a game where the field is wide open to constant scoring opportunities, as his AFL and CFL experience show. Defense has become a thing of the past in the NFL today, so the electric Griffin might light up the scoreboard with the help of rules heavily slanted to that side of the football.
Passing is king now in the NFL, and Newton showed a running quarterback with a big arm can set records while exploiting rules where a quarterback is not allowed to be hit too high, too low or too hard. Rules Griffin can easily excel in as long as he stays healthy.
Indianapolis isn't the only team in flux this year. The Jacksonville Jaguars have already hired their new head coach after tabbing Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey for the job.
Mularkey had played nine seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers as a tight end known for his blocking abilities. He got into coaching soon after and worked his way up to becoming head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2004.
Buffalo went to the playoffs in his first year, the last time the franchise has accomplished that feat since. After is disappointing second season, the Bills brought back Hall of Famer Marv Levy as general manager. Mularkey resigned after he and Levy failed to agree in the direction of the team, so he took a job with the Miami Dolphins for two seasons before being hired by Atlanta in 2008.
His offenses tend to work best when well balanced. This was true in Atlanta, where he helped quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, tight end Tony Gonzales and wide receiver Roddy White get to the Pro Bowl. He had balance in his first year with the Bills, led by quarterback Drew Bledsoe, running back Willis McGahee along with wide receivers Lee Evans and Eric Moulds.
Mularkey is certainly isn't perfect. A big reason for his failure in Buffalo was because he chose to release Bledsoe and go with J.P. Losman at quarterback. His struggles during his first year in Miami saw him demoted to coaching the tight ends the following season. For all of the success Mularkey has attained thus far, his teams are just 2-5 in the playoffs with him serving as head coach or offensive coordinator.
It was a given Jack Del Rio wasn't going into 2012 as head coach of the Jaguars, especially after he cut his starting quarterback to play a rookie who obviously would have been better off learning on the sidelines a year or more. Del Rio went 68-71 in his nine seasons, but his time was tarnished by former owner Wayne Weaver telling reporters he regretted firing Tom Coughlin as head coach in 2002.
Jacksonville has a new owner now, but it remains to see if he is loyal as Weaver was to Del Rio. The Jaguars need improvement in many areas, so rebuilding may take time.
Gene Smith remains general manager of the team, taking over for NFL legend James Harris in 2009. Harris, the first black player to start a NFL season at quarterback and the first black quarterback to go to the Pro Bowl or be named Pro Bowl MVP, joined the Detroit Lions.
With Maurice Jones-Drew, Mularkey has a All-Pro halfback in the prime of his career. The defense is underrated and still young. It may not take as long as expected, given a few fortunate breaks, but the Jaguars fans are hoping more from a franchise that has had seven winning seasons since it joined the league in 1995.
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking for a head coach and the Saint Louis Rams need a general manager, the Oakland Raiders have recently filled one of their open positions by hiring Reggie McKenzie as general manager.
With gridiron icon Al Davis having died back in October of last year, the team had to suddenly replace a man who had been running the team since 1962. Davis has more than a legacy that won three Super Bowls, he had a wealth of knowledge, insight and experience that is irreplaceable. His son, who now owns the team, knew he had a lot work cut out for him the day he took the reins of the Silver and Black.
This is not the Reggie McKenzie who was a Pro Bowl guard that blocked for Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson and was a part of the "Electric Company". This McKenzie played linebacker for four seasons with the Raiders in the late 1980's. After sitting out of the league for four seasons, he suited up for two games with the San Francisco 49ers in 1992.
He spent the last 18 seasons as the Director of Football Operations for the Green Bay Packers. His twin brother, Raleigh, was a guard on the famous offensive line of the Washington Redskins called the "Hogs". He won two Super Bowls and is one of the 70 Greatest Redskins.
McKenzie's first move was to rebuild a team that lost four of their final five games in 2011 and hasn't been to the playoffs since 2002. Hue Jackson, the head coach who was recently fired despite just one season on the job, told reporters
that McKenzie “basically wants to gut the place.”
The Raiders are not only now looking for a head coach, they may leave Oakland again for Los Angeles. They did this back in 1982 and stayed there until 1994 before returning to Oakland
The person many are starting to think will be head coach of the Raiders next year is Winston Moss. Moss is a former linebacker who played for the Raiders in the early 1990's. He has been a linebackers coach of the Packers since 2006, so McKenzie is very familiar with him.
It will be strange and interesting to see how the Raiders do without Al Davis, just as it was when he was there. Whether or not they will achieve any semblance of the excellence Davis did remains to be seen.
OK, 7thStoneFromTheSun is still missing. I got another blank postcard, this time from Kazakhstan, so I guess he is still on the run from owing markers to people you don't want to know. I went 2-2 in his place last week, acing Saturday's games and failing the next day.
New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers
Two teams that are the polar opposites of each other. While the Saints are a dome team who lights up a scoreboard like a video game, the 49ers resemble an old school team who grinds opponents into submission with a sound running game and suffocating defense.
If this game were in New Orleans, I'd pick the Saints all the way. While the weather is expected to be mild in San Francisco on Sunday, it will be played outdoors and possibly benefit the Niners with more than just the home field advantage of having nearly 70,000 screaming fans cheering for them. The Saints have never won a playoff game on the road.
The Saints rolled up 626 yards last week, led by quarterback Drew Brees throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns. While the Detroit Lions got repeatedly gashed in the air, New Orleans kept them off balance by averaging almost five yards on 36 carries.
San Francisco's defense was the second best in points allowed this year, as well as fourth best in total yards given up. Five players from this unit were named to either a Pro Bowl or selected First Team All-Pro. Middle linebacker Patrick Willis is possibly the best in the NFL at his position.
Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore is the 49ers best offensive weapon, but they have also gotten a solid season from quarterback Alex Smith. Much maligned since being the first overall selection of the 2005 draft, Smith has had the best season of his career in 2011.
Tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree are his main targets, but Smith has been so efficient that he threw just five interceptions all year. The 49ers ranked first in the NFL this season in the all important giveaway/ takeaway ratio.
Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers and defensive end Ray McDonald gave San Francisco the best seasons of their career this season. While Rogers had a career high six interceptions this year, McDonald set career best marks with 5.5 sacks and 38 tackles.
Rookie Aldon Smith led the team with 14 sacks, but Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Ahmad Brooks pitched in with a combined 14.5 sacks as well. Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Golden also gave the Niners the best year of his career this season.
Golden and strong safety Donte` Whitner may hold the key to a 49ers victory. Both were very important to the team this year, finishing third and fourth in tackles respectively. Brees loves to throw to Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, so the duo will be tested often.
Willis and Navarro Bowman are tackling machines who piled up 234 tackles this year, so New Orleans may find it difficult to run the ball effectively. Brees will have to be sharp this weekend and find an extra target to help win the game.
With Rogers most likely shadowing Marques Colston, Brees will have to pick on cornerback Tarell Brown by going to Devery Henderson or Robert Meachum. Lance Moore is expecting to play despite a tender hamstring, so San Francisco defensive backs like Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Madieu Williams and Shawntae Spencer will need to be sharp.
It will be a challenge to stop the Saints electric offense, especially since inclement weather will not be there to help. Gore needs to be special against a run defense than ranked 12th in yards allowed this season.
But Smith also needs to play excellent. The Saints pass defense ranked 30th in yards allowed, but try to cover up this area by frequent blitzes. Roman Harper, an excellent strong safety, will need to shut Davis down so Smith gets uncomfortable by having less options.
I am not convinced yet that there is a team in the NFL who can keep the Saints from scoring. The rules of the game today totally help this unit blow up the gridiron with insane statistics weekly. They have lit up defenses all year, which includes stout units like the Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans.
San Francisco has the superior special teams unit, thanks to Pro Bowl kicker David Akers and Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee. If they can control field position, this area could make the difference in the end.
San Francisco has not given up more than 27 points this season and 11 or less points seven times. The Saints have scored over 40 points seven times in 2011, an area the 49ers have reached just once.
This is Roger Goodell's NFL, so offense is king and the quarterback is the golden child. The old adage that defense wins championships will be put to the test, but the cards are stacked against it.
27 49ers 20
Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots
The NFL is clearly now on board with Tim Tebow. The Broncos quarterback silenced a ton of critics by recently winning his eighth of 12 starts this year, which included an upset overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
He isn't going to complete even half of his passes, but his legs and savvy seem to be enough to get the job done. The Denver defense has been the overlooked hero of this magical run, producing the only three Pro Bowl players on the team this year, as they seem to always stop the opponent at the most crucial moments.
Denver shouldn't be here. They went 8-8 and were minus 12 in the giveaway/ takeaway ratio this season, while giving up 81 more points than they scored.
The Patriots are the opposite. Even though their defense is somehow sending two members to the Pro Bowl, it is one of the worst units in the league in yards allowed.
These two teams met a month ago, where Tebow ran for 93 yards and two scores while actually completing half of his passing attempts. New England won 41-23, but the 393 Denver gained that week was just 19 yards short of their season high mark.
Tom Brady is the difference in this game. The Patriots quarterback, who will finish his career inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just had possibly the best season of his illustrious career by throwing for a career best 5,235 yards.
He is one of four Pro Bowlers on offense, which includes tight end Ron Gronkowski and wide receiver Wes Welker. Brady also throws the ball to a plethora of weapons, which also includes tight end Aaron Hernandez and wide receiver Deion Branch.
The Patriots use five different players to run the football, but the passing game is what got them a 13-3 record this season. Denver ranked 18th in passing yards allowed this season, as well as 24th in points given up.
While Tebow has showed magic this year, Brady has done so most of his 12 seasons. Denver should be very proud of their team because no one expected anything that happened this year to transpire, but all dreams must end eventually.
45 Denver 16
Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens
If you like defense, then watch every play of this battle. Baltimore finished the 2011 season with the third best defense in both points and yards allowed. Houston was second in yards allowed and fourth in points given up.
These two teams met earlier in the season in Baltimore, where the Ravens walked away with a 29-14 win behind five field goals and solid games by quarterback Joe Flacco and halfback Ray Rice. Despite having two turnovers to none by Houston, the Ravens gained 109 more yards that contest.
It is well documented how the Texans continued to win this year despite several key injuries. But the replacements fill in well and the defense has been special all season.
Houston beat a Cincinnati Bengals team last week, another team with a good defense, 31-10 despite gaining just 40 more yards and garnering two less first downs. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates did not hurt the team and played decently, which was helped greatly by the return of wide receiver Andre Johnson.
Halfback Arian Foster gashed the Bengals for 153 yards and two touchdowns, but the Pro Bowler has been accomplishing feats like this all season. Foster and backup Ben Tate piled up a combined 2,166 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground this year.
When Baltimore beat Houston earlier this season, the duo was limited to 90 on 24 carries because quarterback Matt Schaub hoisted the football 37 times that game. Yates won't be asked to do this, so the Texans running backs will get a lot more work this weekend.
The Ravens ranked second in run defense this season. Three of the four Pro Bowlers on this until play along the front seven of a smothering defense that gave up 14 or less points eight times in 2011. Houston has accomplished that feat 10 times so far this year.
While Houston's defense unbelievably produced just one Pro Bowlers this year in cornerback Johnathan Joseph, it is a young team with just one starter 30 years old. They have somehow gone this year without the press they deserve, but the turnaround from their miserable 2010 season is nothing short of spectacular.
Baltimore will need all of their offensive weapons clicking against this unit, yet tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson could be the key as they go up against Texans safeties Danieal Manning and Glover Quinn. The young tight ends combined for 94 receptions this season.
Rice is the backbone of the offense, having led the team in both rushing and receiving this year. His reserve, Ricky Williams, needs to be effective when called upon because Baltimore relies so heavily on Rice's abilities.
Baltimore obviously has the advantage in postseason experience here, since it will be just the second playoff game ever in Texans history. I picked
the Ravens to go to the Super Bowl before the season began, so there is no reason to recant now.
21 Texans 13
New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
Few expected the Giants to get this far after their roster was destroyed by injuries before the season got started, but they have won the big games when called upon. Some are trying to compare this team to the 2007 squad that won a Super Bowl, but they couldn't be more wrong in this comparison.
Not only is quarterback Eli Manning a lot better now, the defense and running game carried the team to a title in 2007 and are nowhere near as good this year. New York finished ninth in scoring and eighth in yards gained this season, something they ranked 14th and 16th respectively in 2007.
The running game ranked fourth best in 2007, but it is now the worst in the league. The defense, which ranked eighth in rushing yards allowed and 11th in passing yards given up in 2007, now ranks 19th and 29th respectively. There is no comparison between the two squads
Green Bay, the defending champions, dominated the NFL with a 15-1 record this year. They had the top scoring offense and ranked third in yards gained. The defense ranked last in both passing and total yards given away, but that stems from opponents chucking the ball all game while desperately trying to attempt a comeback.
Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers had 10 teammates end the season with receptions in double figures. Rogers also found 10 different players in the end zone. Halfbacks Ryan Grant and James Starks followed Pro Bowl fullback John Kuhn to gain 1,137 combined yards, but the Packers leaned on the 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns via Rodgers arm.
Seven Packers are going to the Pro Bowl this year and their plus 28 in the giveaway/ takeaway ratio was the second best in the NFL this year. Not are they a veteran team that knows how to win it all, Green Bay is a lot healthier this season compared to 2010.
It will be a high scoring affair Sunday, a game where a lot of yards are rolled up. Green Bay has the better defense, running game and quarterback, but their huge advantage at tight end and special teams could make the difference.
These two teams met just over a month ago in New York, where the Packers won 38-35 on a late field goal. Both offenses rolled up 896 total yards, as Green Bay totaled just two yards than the Giants. Rodgers and Manning had similar games, but the Packers defense made the difference thanks to a touchdown off an interception by Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews.
This game could very well follow that pattern, but the home field advantage for Green Bay could provide the difference. The tundra of Lambeau Field will be frozen, as temperatures are expected to not go higher than 27 degrees Sunday.
38 Giants 28
When historians look back at the 2011 NFL season, there will be little attention given to the fact it was one of the sloppiest seasons ever played in the league's history. Perhaps a slight nod of acknowledgement to the players lockout that pretty much wiped out training camp and retarded the development of the game.
Another footnote was how the game got softer, thanks to another laundry list of rules that effeminate football to the point it now practically resembles basketball with pads on. This mission, led by commissioner Roger Goodell, contradicts a history the league uses in their advertisements with pride. Commercials that celebrate gridiron warriors bloodied in a battle amongst the trenches that haven't been seen throughout the NFL in decades.
As the playoffs commence this weekend, no team may better personify the league right now than the Denver Broncos. After beginning the season 1-4, Denver rattled off seven victories in eight weeks before finishing the year with three straight losses.
Tim Tebow got a lions share of the credit for the Broncos victories, which included three in overtime. The defense gave up 17 of fewer points seven times this year, but the quarterback dominated the headlines. His image of being a wholesome religious boy captured so much attention, it drowned out critics who pointed to Tebow's miniscule 46.5 completion percentage this season.
Some considered him no more than a glorified fullback when he entered the 2011, while others of a modern day version Bobby Douglass. A second round draft pick by the Chicago Bears in 1969, the fellow lefty quarterback ended his 11 NFL seasons with a 43 percent completion percentage.
Douglass could run better than Tebow, once holding the record for most rushing yards gained by a quarterback when he churned out 968 yards in 14 games during the 1972 season. He averaged 69.1 yards rushing per game, which is better than the 64.9 yards Michael Vick had in 2006 when he surpassed Douglass' record in a 16 game season.
Tebow piled up 660 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this year. He played mistake-free football much of the year until the last two games of the year, where he tossed four of his six total interceptions. Tebow completed just 19 of 51 attempts for 245 yards over that time.
Denver still reached the playoffs despite an abysmal ending to a forgettable NFL season, thanks to playing in a division where three teams finished 8-8 and the fourth team went 7-9. The AFC West was perhaps the most mediocre in the NFL in 2011, which is a statement in itself because the NFC West, NFC East and AFC East were far from impressive as well.
Coaches and general managers on many inept teams suffered from the shortened season to the extent they lost their jobs. Yet the NFL, as it has for the past 40 years, continued to rake in piles of cash even though the product they present today recedes and mollifies each snap of the ball under the Goodell regime.
Image over substance is now in play as receivers and quarterbacks prance around untouched. College football shows the future is bleaker with recent bowl games where teams frequently combining to put up 80 or more points.
Defense is now as extinct as the commercialized images the NFL sells of warriors battling because now accolades are attained minus a struggle. Where honing skills through practice has now joined the defense as a spectator.
My cousin 7thStoneFromTheSun is nowhere to be found, though I did receive a blank postcard from Guam recently. While I will assume his prediction duties this week, it should be noted he finished 2011 with an overall record of 154-95
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
The Bengals got into the playoffs because of a stingy defense that carried an erratic offense led by two rookies. The defense ended the season ranked seventh in yards allowed and ninth in points given up. While wide receiver A.J. Green, running back Cedric Benson and quarterback Andy Dalton are the key offensive weapons, Jermaine Gresham and Jerome Simpson also contribute heavily.
The Texans are playing in their first playoff game in franchise history. It is also the first time Houston has hosted a playoff game since 1993, when the Oilers accomplished the feat before becoming the Tennessee Titans not long afterwards. The Texans are also the first team from Houston to win a division title since that 1993 season.
Much has been made of the key injuries Houston's offense incurred this season. Quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were lost for the season by the 12th game, and star wide receiver Andre Johnson suited up for just seven contests himself.
But the team finished with a 10-6 record thanks to a smothering defense that was second in the league in yards allowed and fourth in points given up. This was even accomplished despite losing star defender Mario Williams in the fifth game for the season.
Rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed were special this year, but linebackers Conner Barwin and Brian Cushing have been stars in their own right. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph made the Pro Bowl, but his bookend, Jason Allen, was just as effective. Brice McCain and Kareem Jackson have also been solid, so opponents have found it difficult to pass the ball successfully often this year.
Cincinnati will need their defense and running game to be special this week. Houston will have Johnson back to help their rookie quarterback, but his limit appears to be no more than 45 snaps. The Texans have a powerful running game that was first in attempts, second in yards gained and third in touchdowns scored. While the Bengals were tenth in rushing yards allowed, they finished 20th in touchdowns given up.
Halfbacks Benson and Arian Foster will get a lot of attention, but the effectiveness of reserves Ben Tate and Bernard Scott may determine the outcome. Tate churned out 942 yards this season as he proved to be the best backup running back in the game today.
Dalton may make less mistakes than T.J. Yates, thanks to more snaps, but both teams will have the benefit of playing in the climate controlled Texans stadium. Return men Jacoby Jones, Danieal Manning and Brandon Tate could make a big play that breaks open the game.
These two teams battled just under a month ago, where the Texans prevailed with a 20-19 victory on a late touchdown pass from Yates to Kevin Walter. Houston had gained 127 more yards but coughed up two more turnovers than Cincinnati.
Johnson and Green will draw special defensive attention from two units that have excelled all season. Both franchises rosters are young and inexperienced, so several members will be participating in the first playoff games of their careers.
Once all the nervousness subsides, the defenses should take over. Houston's home field advantage will help carry their team a long way, but the combination of Foster and Ben Tate should drive the Texans into the next round.
24 Bengals 16
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints
Many pundits are expecting an offensive battle in this game, mainly because both teams have offenses that can put up points in bunches. The two teams squared off in the beginning of December and gained 904 yards, with the Lions outgunning New Orleans by 28 yards in their 31-17 loss to the Saints.
Detroit's defense has been a major disappointment in 2011. Their vaunted defensive line never excelled as expected and the secondary was frequently ripped apart by the opponents passing attack. The Lions gave up 20 or more points 12 times this season, while giving up less than 312 total yards just once.
The Lions final game of 2011 saw them cough up a season high 550 yards, which included six touchdown passes and 480 yards to a fourth-year backup quarterback who entered the contest with 515 career yards and nine touchdowns off of 88 attempts. Detroit gained 25 more yards but lost 45-41.
The offense ranked fourth in scoring and fifth in yards gained this year, but Detroit's defense ranked 23 in both points and yards allowed. The running game was amongst the very worst in football, ranking 29th in total yards gained.
New Orleans was led by a balanced offensive attack that relied mainly on Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees. Brees set an NFL record this year with 5,476 yards passing, surpassing Hall of Famer Dan Marino. Detroit's Matthew Stafford wasn't too shabby himself, tossing the ball for a franchise record 5,038 yards and 41 scores. Brees had 46 touchdown passes.
The Super Bowl XLIV MVP now has set or tied several Saints franchise records. He set six NFL records in 2011, which includes most completions in a season, most 300 yard passing games in a season, most consecutive 300 yard passing games, most consecutive games with 350 yards passing and highest completion percentage in a season. He also has set or tied 16 other NFL records in his career thus far.
The Saints gained the most yards in the NFL this season while scoring the second most points. Besides having the top passing attack, the running game gained the sixth most yards in the league this season.
New Orleans relies heavily on Brees, but the quarterback has a plethora of weapons at his disposal. Four different running backs gained 374 yards or more while nine players ended up in double digits in receptions.
Detroit will be facing a defense that finished 24 in yards allowed, but 13th in total points scored upon. The Saints only picked off nine passes this season, but safety Roman Harper finished the season by leading the team with 96 tackles and a career best 7.5 sacks.
If New Orleans cannot rush the football, the arms of both Brees and Stafford will be put to use seemingly every play. The Saints run defense was the 12th best in the NFL this year, so the Lions anemic ground game faces quite a challenge ahead of them.
Greg Williams is a defensive coordinator who is known to love blitz packages to throw opposing quarterbacks off their game. If Detroit fails to run the ball, he will load up his Saints defense with complex packages. The New Orleans defense garnered 33 sacks this season, but Detroit gave up 36 sacks this season.
New Orleans has scored over 40 points six times this year and have never scored less than 20 in a game. Their defense has given up 20 or less than points in nine contests while Detroit has accomplished that feat just five times.
A bunch of yards should be gained in this game, but it may end up where the Lions end up fruitlessly try to catch up to the Saints all game. The Lions have had a habit of giving up a ton of points early before coming back, but not many teams have stopped the Saints from scoring in 2011.
48 Lions 34
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants
Two of the most erratic and inconsistent teams of the 2011 NFL season meet here. Both barely made the playoffs following underwhelming seasons that will soon be forgotten.
While injuries basically buried the Giants before the season started, they fought through a mediocre NFC East to capture the division crown in the last game of the season. Atlanta did finish the year with a respectable 10-6 record, but it seemed a far cry from expectations that had been placed on them after winning the NFC South in 2010 with a 13-3 record.
Atlanta might have seemed to regress slightly on offense this year, after moving up in the draft to snag wide receiver Julio Jones in the first round of the 2011 draft. They finished fifth in scoring in 2010, averaging 25.9 points per game, while finishing seventh in scoring this year by averaging 25.1 points per contest.
But the Falcons did gain 532 more yards while quarterback Matt Ryan and Michael Turner had very similar seasons to 2010. Star wide receiver Roddy White had 15 less receptions and eight less scores this season, but Jones picked up the slack while future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzales remained consistent and excellent as always.
The defense was also an area that regressed in a few areas as opposed to 2010. While finishing fifth last year in points allowed, Atlanta finished this season 18th. They also finished at plus eight in the giveaway/ takeaway ratio differential this year, as opposed to the plus 14 they had in 2010.
Atlanta did improve in yards allowed, interceptions, sacks and run defense this season, but they also had eight contests where they gave up 23 or more points. The Falcons offense had 11 games where they scores 23 or more points.
Atlanta is a well balanced team that has the talent, but gives the impression they are on the verge of exploding and have yet to do so. Most see the roster and fear any week will be the day they put it all together on a consistent basis, but it has yet to happen. Yet it is evident there is enough firepower there to win a Super Bowl.
The Giants winning their division, no matter how mediocre it was in 2011, shows a great deal of experience and character. They went through much of the season with a defensive secondary filled with players that would not have made the team if it were not for the numerous injuries to hit that unit.
The New York defense finished 29th in passing yards allowed, 27th in total yards allowed and 25th in points given up. Yet the offense finished eighth in yards gained and ninth in points scored. The running game was the worst in the NFL, but the passing game was ranked fifth in yards and sixth in passing attempts and touchdowns scored.
Pro Bowl quarterback Eli Manning had nine receivers end up with double digits in catches. Wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks combined for 158 catches for 2,728 and 16 touchdowns this year.
If the Falcons cornerback duo of Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes shuts down Cruz and Nicks, New York will be in major trouble. Atlanta may have too many weapons for the Giants to stop, bit no one can really be sure what versions of these teams will take the field Sunday.
37 Giants 20
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
Tim Tebow will run onto the field Sunday with the cameras fixated on him. Mainly to appease a nation where religion is important, but also because he happens to play a position the NFL puts on a pedestal and carries like a golden child. Tebow truly embodies this NFL dream.
Yet he will face a nightmare on the sabbath in the form of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. A unit that ranked ranked first in both points a yards allowed, this veteran group will come into the salivating at the chance the expose a limited player with a questionable arm.
Pittsburgh will be dealing with injuries to starting halfback Rashard Mendenhall and strong safety Ryan Clark, but the team has more than enough depth at these positions to succeed. Plus their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings and obviously knows how to win the big game.
The Steelers win the old school way of controlling the clock while the defense destroys their opponents. Tebow, playing in the first playoff game of his very young career, will have to summon all of his abilities to keep his team within reach of victory.
Ten Steelers have 11 or more receptions, so the Broncos defense will have their hands full trying to contain the Pittsburgh offensive onslaught. Denver's defense finished the 2011 season 20th in yards allowed and 24th in points scored upon.
The Broncos offense wasn't any better, finishing 25th in scoring and 23rd in yards gained. Their best player, halfback Willis McGahee, finished the season with 1,199 rushing yards. Denver had just two players with more than 19 receptions this season.
This game should get ugly quick. Unless the Broncos special teams and defense is exceptional, it should be over before halftime. This learning process may help Tebow one day, but teams have recently figured him out and there needs to be a dramatic improvement in his game if he wants to remain the starting quarterback for Denver in the future. This improvement, however, will probably not happen this Sunday.
27 Broncos 9
As the Washington Redskins finish a third straight season at the bottom of the NFC East, an era where they have 15 total victories, there has been scattered areas of improvement. This is a positive sign for a franchise trying to rebuild a disheveled roster that suffered through years of poor decision-making at the top.
Though the Redskins new general manager and head coach have yet to make a huge impact to verify a statement of improvement, it appears owner Dan Snyder has enough reason to be patient and stay the course that has been laid before the team.
Struggling often comes with rebuilding, so the roster has players who did not perform well enough to warrant a return in 2012. Yet there are hidden gems in a disastrous season where Washington failed to realize the Super Bowl hopes every team begins a season with.
- He is, at times, a poor man's Brett Favre. At other times, he is the equivalent of a junior high school sandlot quarterback.
Like Favre, he turns the ball over in bunches with throws no professional quarterback should make. He also has a habit of taking delay of game penalties in bunches and takes tons of ill-advised sacks that result in huge losses of yards.
Grossman was brought back in 2011 because of his familiarity of Kyle Shanahan's offensive system. This has helped him make plays that show off a skill set that has intrigued many ever since he joined the NFL in 2003.
He is, at most, a system quarterback who needs an exceptional defense to carry him and cover Grossman's innumerable mistakes. But he is no more than a backup because of his constant mental errors. He is certainly on the lower tier of starting quarterbacks in the NFL, as shown currently by his eight fumbles and league leading 19 interceptions.
Washington will most likely upgrade the quarterback position in the draft, thus ending Grossman's days as a starter. He made $810,000 this year, but is is just slightly more than backup John Beck. It is doubtful both will be back in 2012, but Grossman may leave on his own thinking he can start for another team elsewhere.
Grade : D +
- Redskins brass spun stories that Beck could lead the team before the season began, but he was beat out for the starting job in training camp. He did get three starts this year, but lost each of them. Beck has now lost all seven of his career starts, but four did occur with the 1-15 Miami Dolphins in 2007.
He took 16 sacks and threw four interceptions in his four games. While the blocking was not good in stretches, it was expected that his mobility would help prevent so many sacks in a short time.
It won't be shocking to see him return in 2012, but as a reserve since most of the football world expects the Redskins to draft a quarterback to start.
Grade : D
- When Redskins general manager Bruce Allen grabbed Helu in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, he had an idea Washington had a steal on their hands. Those ideas were put into reality after the rookie was forced into action much earlier and much more often than they expected.
Helu became the main ball carrier after injuries disheveled the backfield. He has responded even better than expected, showing excellent receiving abilities as well. Not only does Helu lead the team with 635 yards rushing, at a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, he has 47 receptions.
The best part of his success may be his ball security. Helu has fumbled twice, but recovered one. He also became the first Washington rookie to for 100 yards in three consecutive games. The Redskins can only hope for similar results in the future.
Grade : A +
- Getting Hightower in a trade this year excited the halfback and Washington fans, because most knew the abilities of the hometown hero from his previous three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. The only question was if he could last all year as the primary ball carrier.
His season ended after getting hurt in the fifth game, but he was averaging more touches per game than he had before. The reviews of his time were mixed because he was scoring less touchdowns and catching less passes, but Hightower's injury put a damper on getting a real review of his abilities.
His injury allowed Washington to discover rookie Roy Helu, so it seems likely he will go back to a familiar role to sharing the football in 2012.
Grade : C
- Injuries basically ended his Redskins career, as Washington cut him a few days after Christmas in 2011. Torain has had injuries plague him ever since college, but his interesting skill set should get him a training camp invitation somewhere in 2012.
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos, he was lost for the year after getting hurt in his first NFL start. After sitting out the 2009 season, he rejoined Shanahan in Washington last year.
Many got somewhat excited about Torain after seeing him run for 742 yards in eight starts, but injuries soon hit him again. After sitting out preseason and the first three games of the year with a hand injury, Torain led the Redskins to a victory by running for 135 yards on 19 carries.
Since then, he had gained just 65 yards on 40 carries and fell on the depth chart so far that the team decided to part ways with him.
Grade : D
- Royster spent most of the year on the practice squad, but was promoted in week 10. Since then, he has run for an impressive six yards per carry on 36 attempts as a reserve.
While pounding the ball between the tackles is more his game, the rookie has had a few impressive moments. He won't outrun opponents, but Royster gets by with intellect and enough elusiveness to show why the Redskins used a sixth round draft pick on him this year.
He will return next year hoping to back up Roy Helu and Tim Hightower, but he has shown some abilities when called on.
Grade : B
- A college linebacker, he was converted to fullback as a undrafted free agent rookie last year. While he did play quite often as a rookie, Young has shown a lot of improvement this year.
His job is to block, but the fullback has touched the ball 16 times and scored once. He should return next year and continue to get better.
Grade : A
- His has been quite a successful career after the Redskins signed him from the Canadian Football League in 1998. Sellers has played both fullback and tight end in his 12 NFL seasons.
He did leave the team after 2000 to join the Cleveland Browns for a season and the CFL for two years. Sellers returned to Washington in 2004 and made the Pro Bowl in 2008 for his exceptional blocking ability.
Sellers is 36 years old and this is probably his last season. He has spent most of the year on the bench and has one reception. But he was a team player that Redskins fans rooted for because of his toughness and leadership as well.
Grade : C -
- Washington is the fourth team Gaffney has played for in his 10 NFL seasons. He has had his best season in the pros with them, as he is on the verge of setting career high marks in receptions and touchdowns scored. He has already set a career best mark of 919 yards receiving.
He has been Washington's only consistent force in the passing game. A big reason is his reunion with quarterback Rex Grossman, who also threw him a ton of passes while both were members of the Florida Gators in college.
Gaffney has one more year left on his contract, so that should guarantee a return to Washington in 2012.
Grade : A -
- It has been a forgettable season for the 11-year pro. A injury to his hand slowed him down, and the 43 receptions he has had this year is the fewest he has had since 2004. He signed a three-year contract worth $15 million before the season started, so it appears likely Moss will be with the Redskins in 2012.
Grade : C
- It was been a horrific season for Armstrong in 2011. He came out of nowhere as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2010 to catch 44 balls at 20 yards per catch. He has just seven receptions this season.
A big part of the reason could be Washington's struggles at quarterback, but Armstrong has battled a hamstring issue this year and lost his starting job. He might be able to rebound in 2012, after the Redskins get a better quarterback, but Armstrong was a feel-good story of 2010 now trying to prove his success wasn't a flash in the pan.
Grade : D
- Stallworth has been in the NFL nine seasons and has played with six teams. He has a good skill set, but has never consistently put it together. He sat out in 2010 after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter.
Washington cut him briefly this year, but brought him back after injuries depleted their receivers corps. Stallworth has caught 21 passes for two scores in the 10 games he has played. The former first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints appears to be running out of chances, but it would be no surprise to see him in the NFL next year.
Grade : C
- The rookie had a case of the drops in preseason, but he made the team because the coaches were impressed with his size and skill set. The team had also used a third-round draft pick to acquire him.
Hankerson was beginning to show productive signs when he got hurt and was lost for the season. He played just four games, catching 13 passes, but he had his first 100-yard receiving game in the NFL at the time of his injury. Expect him back in 2012, assuming he is healthy.
Grade : C +
- Austin is a second-year pro who has played and contributed more this season. He has 11 catches, showing decent ability in getting open. He has had to fight through the depth chart since arriving in Washington, an issue he will once again face in next year's training camp.
Grade : C
- Paul is another Nebraska Cornhusker that Washington drafted this season. He has primarily been used on special teams, but the speedy wide receiver has caught two passes and run the ball once.
One of Paul's strengths is blocking downfield, a skill he showed often in preseason. He has a very good chance of returning next year, but is buried right now on a depth chart full of good receivers.
Grade : C
- He will played just five games, but the possession-type receiver has caught six balls and scored once. It will be a longshot for his return in 2012, but Mike Shanahan does like a receiver with his skill set. Brandon Stokley is a prime example.
Grade : C +
- You could say it was a wasted season for Cooley, who played just five games because of a knee and hand injury. But he did catch eight balls and surpass Washington legend Jerry Smith for having the most receptions in a career by a Redskins tight end.
Cooley wants to return in 2012, but that was beginning to look suspect when Fred Davis started to excel in his place. Davis then got suspended for illegal drug use, so Washington should think about bringing back a player who wants to finish his career with them.
Grade : C -
- Davis was starting to look like one of the few good draft picks Vinny Cerrato had before he was finally fired as the Redskins Vice President for Football Operations in 2009. Then the tight end was suspended for the final four games of the 2011 season for illegal drug use.
The criticism of Davis, when Washington used a second round pick on him in 2008, was that he wasn't really interested in football. He developed slowly behind Chris Cooley on the depth chart, but showed flashes of the ability most felt he possessed.
Davis was having a career year this season, catching 59 passes in 12 games, before he was shelved. His contract expires at the end of the year, so there are no guarantees he will return in 2012.
If Washington loses him, there will be a big hole to fill at tight end. It will be even bigger than the one he created himself by poor decisions.
Grade : B
- A blocking tight end forced into more involvement in the offense due to injuries and suspension, Paulson made the team last year as an undrafted free agent rookie. He has caught a career best nine passes this season, as opposed to the two he had last year.
He makes his bones by blocking, something Paulson does a good job at. This should get him serious consideration at a 2012 return to Washington.
Grade : C
- Quinn went into the 2009 draft as the top blocking tight end in the draft. The Denver Broncos used a second round selection on him, but cut him the following year. He has appeared in one game, so his chance will come in training camp as he vies with Paulson for the job of blocking tight end.
Grade : Incomplete
- After spending most of the 2011 on the practice squad, Meyers joined the active roster for the final two weeks of the season. He gets compared a lot to Chris Cooley, most likely because both attended Utah State University.
Meyers has been on six different teams practice squads since joining the NFL in 2009, so it is doubtful he will be back in 2012.
Grade : Incomplete
- Byrd appeared in two games before being waived. The four-year pro has played for both the Saint Louis Rams, who drafted him in the third round of the 2006 draft, and the Seattle Seahawks as well.
Grade : Incomplete
- It has certainly been mixed reviews since the Redskins used the fourth pick pf the 2010 draft on Williams. Many thought he was suited to play right tackle, but the Redskins believe he can play the demanding left tackle spot.
More criticism of this pick comes from the fact the final four games of this season saw him suspended for using illegal drugs. The fact he continues to miss games due to injuries is also becoming a trend Williams needs to halt next year.
Williams struggled last year by giving up 11.5 sacks, but he showed some improvement this season by giving up just three in his 10 games. He did draw more penalties this year, but the youngster is still a work in progress.
I expect Williams to remain at left tackle in 2012, but his drug suspension has to be cause for some concern. He was lauded for having high character when drafted, so letting his team down belies that thought. But the team needs to hope this is a temporary setback for a man who is the beginning stages of an excellent career.
Grade : B -
- Washington felt good about trading for Brown's services before 2010, because they knew they were getting a two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion who was the first round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2005.
He had spent his best years at left tackle, but the Redskins have had him at right tackle since they acquired him. While he has played decently, the injury bug has plagued Brown's career and prevented him from ever playing 16 games in a season.
While the Redskins offensive line showed improvement this season, they are still ranked ninth with 40 sacks allowed. Brown has unofficially been credited with a career high nine sacks allowed, but he has had just four penalties called on him as well.
The Redskins will face some tough decisions once this season ends. Brown will be just 31 years old next year and his 2011 salary was just $685,000, but the team might make some changes to a unit where injuries prevented them from truly gelling this season.
Grade : C -
- His previous seven years had been spent with the Seattle Seahawks, where the veteran started the last year at both tackle spots. Washington signed him as a free agent this year, where he has started in four of the eight games he appeared in.
Health is a concern, mainly because he missed 17 games with Seattle. Even though he was replaced on the starting lineup recently, after giving up four sacks, having a veteran on a roster is a positive. Especially one with the experience of starting 82 games. This factor could bring him back to training camp next year.
Grade : D
- He had quite a journey in becoming the Redskins starting center this year. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2006 draft, he had six starts in 13 games in his first two seasons with the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets. Washington signed him in 2009, where Montgomery had nine starts at guard before this year.
Replacing Casey Rabach, who missed just one contest in six seasons, placed Montgomery in the spotlight somewhat. He has had a few moments where he has been overmatched, but Montgomery has kept his job on a team that has a lot of offensive linemen who are able to play his position.
He will be just 29 years old in 2012, and his body still does not have a ton of wear and tear on it. Montgomery should go into training camp expecting to start next season.
Grade : B -
- The undrafted rookie has appeared in just three games this year, but started at left tackle in two. The Redskins could have a legitimate steal here.
Many scouts thought not only that Smith would be drafted this year, a few thought he could start in a year or two into his career. While raw, mainly because the former defensive lineman has less than four years experience as a blocker, he is athletic and blessed with long arms that help him do well in both the run and pass game.
While Trent Williams had had a few decent moments at left tackle, many believe right tackle is his best position. Aging veteran Jamaal Brown may not return next year, so it is a possibility that Smith starts at left tackle while Williams moves to the right side of the offensive line.
Grade : B -
- After going undrafted in 2008, Polumbus was signed by Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos. He spent the next two seasons starting 15 games at both tackle spots for the Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle waived him after five games this year, so the Redskins signed him a few weeks later. Polumbus has a start at right tackle and has also played guard. His familiarity with Shanahan should give him a decent chance at being invited to training camp next year.
Grade : C
- He began this year on the practice squad, but has started the last eight weeks because of injuries. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft., Hurt is one of the gems Redskins general manager Bruce Allen unearthed.
While he has had moments where Hurt had typical rookie struggles, giving up two sacks and drawing a pair of penalties, he has earned a chance to try to make the team again in 2012. His will be an interesting story in training camp, as he battles Kory Lichtensteiger for the job at starting left guard.
Grade : B
- The Redskins happily signed him as a free agent before this year, because he was a big upgrade over Artis Hicks. Hicks, who was a mistake free agent signing in 2010, was let go by the team. Chester has no sacks or penalties credited against him this year.
Chester was drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft by the Baltimore Ravens. After nine starts in his first two years, Chester has started at right guard since. Washington gave him a five-year contract, so expect him back in 2012.
Grade : A
- At 6'6", Cook is tall for a center. Washington drafted him in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, but cut him and placed him on the practice squad. He has started in two of the seven games that he played in this season, but as a guard.
Washington might bring him back next year, but it will be interesting to see which position Cook will try to make his mark at.
Grade : C
- Drafted by Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2008 draft, he spent that year as a reserve before being cut after Shanahan was fired. The Minnesota Vikings signed Lichtensteiger, but cut him a few weeks later.
After sitting out of the league in 2009, he rejoined Shanahan with the Redskins last season and started 14 games at guard. Lichtensteiger, who can play both guard and center, began 2011 starting at guard and tore his knee up in the fifth game of the season.
He should be back, if healthy, next season because Washington needs all the help they can get on the offensive line. Lichtensteiger's best position was once thought to be center, but he has forged a decent career so far at left guard. He was playing at a decent level when his year was halted by injury, giving up no sacks or penalties at the time.
Grade : B
- Coming over a free agent this year from the division rival New York Giants, Cofield had adjusted nicely to the nose tackle position after having spent his previous five years as a defensive tackle.
Cofield will end up with the lowest tackle total of his career this season, expected because few nose tackles pile up huge tackle numbers, but he has a career high eight passes defended. A key note is that Cofield has missed just one game in his career, so he will be penned in for 2012.
Grade : B +
- After five years with the hated Dallas Cowboys, the undrafted Bowen came to Washington as a free agent this season. Not only has become a full-time starter the first time in his career, Bowen has responded with the finest season of his career.
He leads all Redskin defensive linemen in tackles and sacks. Bowen has proven to be a service player that Washington can plan to start again in 2012.
Grade : B +
- Carriker has revitalized his career since washing out as a 2007 first round pick of the Saint Louis Rams in 2007. Unlike his time with the Rams, Carriker has not battled injuries in Washington.
Able to play nose tackle as well, the defensive end has been more productive this year compared to last season in quarterback sacks. He is getting less tackles per game, but the rate isn't a huge drop off.
The five sacks he has right now is second amongst Redskins linemen and fourth overall on the team. Since the team has so many other holes to fill, Washington could ride Carriker another season with confidence.
Grade : B -
- The rookie was a hero in his first game, collecting two key sacks and forcing a fumble. He hasn't been heard from since, as his 10 total tackles show. It seems he has a chance to return as a reserve next year, because nose tackle may be the most physically demanding position in all of football.
Grade : C -
- After spending two years in the UFL with Haslett, after having spent four previous years with the Minnesota Vikings, Scott is in his second season with the Redskins. He has played seven games and wore three jersey numbers for Washington since then.
His Haslett connection might get him back in camp, but four total tackles says the Redskins could do better here.
Grade : D -
- A serviceable lineman since being drafted by Washington in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, Gholston got hurt in the ninth game of this season and was shelved the rest of the year.
He has a good chance of returning because he does fit the 3-4 scheme defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is running, but his output pretty much says that serving as a reserve in the rotation would be his best fit.
Grade : C -
- The Redskins could be the last NFL team for Balmer, who has become a journeyman after flopping as the San Francisco 49er's first round pick in 2008. He has given nothing in his three games with Washington, a fact that probably doom his chances for a return next season.
Grade : F
- Baker came from a very defensive line at Hampton University that featured Miami Dolphins defensive end Kendall Langford and New York Jets defensive end Marcus Dixon. Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant got to play behind them.
While those three have become starters in the NFL, Baker had had the least success. He has logged just two games, recording no statistics, since 2009 with two teams.
After spending three months on the practice squad, he joined the team and got hurt in his first practice. Now on the injured reserve, it is doubtful Baker will be back in 2012.
Grade : Incomplete
- Getting injured during a promising preseason during your rookie year can only get an incomplete grade. Washington will hope his knee injury does not inhibit him any further.
Grade : Incomplete
- He joined the team for the last two games of 2011 after having spent the season on the practice squad. The combination defensive tackle/ end spent 2010 on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squads after being drafted in the seventh round. He will hope for a chance to make any NFL tea, next year.
Grade : Incomplete
- The unquestioned leader of the defense, Fletcher is a 14 year veteran who contract expires at the end of the season. While 36 years old, he has never missed a game in his career and continues to be one of the top tacklers in the NFL.
He leads the NFL with 163 tackles, which is actually more than he had in his previous two years where he garnered Pro Bowl honors. There is no doubt the man still produces better than most middle linebackers in the NFL, yet the only question will be if he wants to return in 2012.
His return is probably the most critical of all of the Redskins impending free agents. Even if his production is curtailed, Fletcher's leadership is irreplaceable.
Grade : A +
- Drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, the former collegiate defensive end has made a nice transition to outside linebacker. He leads the team with 7.5 sacks, has 62 tackles, four defended passes and has a touchdown off a interception.
He is a serious candidate for for Defensive Rookie of the Year and appears to have a big future ahead that will probably includes Pro Bowls.
Grade : A
- Orakpo made the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons after the Redskins drafted him in 2009. He is still learning how to be more than just a pass rusher, yet he has a career high in both tackles and passes defended this season. If he doesn't get 1.5 sacks in his final game, he will have a career low seven this year.
He is a work in progress, but a successful one who has teams up rather nicely opposite Kerrigan at outside linebacker. They are learning from a defensive coordinator who was also once a Pro Bowl linebacker, so there is a very good chance Orakpo's game continues to evolve and improve annually.
Grade : B +
- Drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Riley has steadily improved at middle linebacker. After playing eight games as a rookie, Riley has now become a starter at inside linebacker and has 64 tackles so far.
He has benefited from learning from Fletcher, which only bodes well for his future in Washington. Expect him to be starting in 2012.
Grade : B
- There is no question that McIntosh hasn't been nearly as productive as he was in 2010. Not only has he lost his starting job, but he has his least amount of starts since the 2006 draft when Washington acquired him in the second round.
His 62 tackles this year are the fewest since that rookie year, and it appears McIntosh is better suited as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. His contract expires at the end of the season, so there is a decent chance he will be with another team in 2012.
Grade : D
- Though listed as a linebacker, his position may be better termed as just "Football Player". Alexander made the Redskins as an undrafted rookie in 2007 and has played all along the front seven of the defense and is the captain of the special teams.
Head coach Mike Shanahan once called him Alexander the best special teams player
he had been around. So it is a pretty safe bet the relentless Alexander returns in 2012.
Grade : C
- Fox makes his money on special teams. The eight-year veteran has earned a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the past, where he was the captain of their special teams. There is a good chance Washington brings him back in 2012.
Grade : C +
- Drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, White is a former collegiate defensive end converted to outside linebacker. He has appeared in one game this season.
Grade : Incomplete
- Another outside linebacker converted from defensive end, Jackson makes his main contributions via special teams. He has been in Washington since 2008 since being drafted in the seventh round, but has appeared in just 24 games. Jackson will have to fight for a roster spot in 2012.
Grade : C -
- After starting out the first nine weeks of the 2010 as the best safety in football, Landry has been battling injuries to his Achilles tendon. He has played in just eight games since then.
After sitting out the preseason, Landry struggled with his health before shutting it down. He was still effective, making 48 tackles. But the question with him looms larger with each day.
Landry is going to be a free agent in 2012, one highly sought by teams who want to believe his injuries are behind him. Washington surely doesn't want to let him go without a fight, but owner Dan Snyder has taken similar gambles in the past and gotten burned.
Landry has all the tools desired to play strong safety, and his level of intensity makes him a favorite amongst the Redskin fans. No one would blame him for joining a team offering a bigger salary or a winning record, but this team needs him to return next season and beyond in full health so he can continue to be the best strong safety Washington has had since the immortal Hall of Famer Ken Houston.
Grade : C
- Maybe the biggest headlines Hall has made this year was telling reporters he did not deserve his annual $4.5 million salary. Yet he leads the team with 15 passes defended and three interceptions. He is also second on the team in tackles.
Hall plays a soft corner and often gives up plays. There have been lapses in effort and attention, something not to be expected from a player raking in the salary he does.
He should be back starting in 2012, mainly because effective starting cornerbacks are hard to find. He revitalized his career with Washington in 2009 and went to the Pro Bowl last year. He is a key figure in the Redskins dreams to returning to glory.
Grade : B +
- There have been several moments in the 2011 season where Wilson was the best defensive back on the team. A local hero who is also the son of a Maryland University legend, Wilson and Kevin Barnes both played on the same Terrapins team in college.
Washington signed him as a free agent this year and have been rewarded. Besides picking off two passes, Wilson is tied with the most passes defended on the team and has started and played in every game.
Not only should he be back in 2012, but it is likely the Redskins start him as well.
Grade : B +
- Washington was hoping for a bigger season from Atogwe in 2011, but he got hurt in preseason and has been inconsistent much of the year. Not only is he about to finish with his lowest tackle total since his rookie year, but the seven-year veteran missed three games and eight starts
Washington invested five years and $26 million into the free safety, so they are hoping for better in 2012. Atogwe can make plays, but he may not be on the team long if injuries continue to hamper him.
Grade : C -
- Barnes has had his best season as a Redskin since being drafted by them in the third round of the 2009 draft. He has set career high marks of two interceptions and 26 tackles thus far.
He gets picked on at times, but the improvement over his career is evident. Barnes has one more year left on his contract, so there is a good chance the homegrown hero returns to the Redskins in 2012.
Grade : C +
- Drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft., Gomes has started four games at free safety. He is aggressive and shows good range, but his rookie season might be most noted for his tackle ending the year of Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl halfback Adrian Peterson. Peterson, the highest paid running back in the NFL, had a consecutive streak of 1,000 yard rushing seasons halted at four years.
Gomes will be back next year to back up Atogwe, but the future of the youngster is very promising.
Grade : B
- He may not be the most athletic player, but Doughty is third on the team in tackles. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 draft by Washington, he has played both safety positions and started 35 of his 74 career games.
Doughty won't wow many and creates even fewer turnovers, but he is an intelligent player who gets the most out of his abilities. Yet there is no guarantee he returns in 2012 for seventh season with the Redskins. Doughty has fended off challenges from players like Chris Horton and Kareem Moore thus far, so don't count him out just yet.
Grade : C
- Born and raised in Washington D.C., Westbrook is about to complete his third season with the Redskins. It is his most productive yet, as he has a career highs with three passes defended, 10 tackles and a forced fumble.
Special teams is his main area of contribution, but it is very foreseeable that the cornerback stays on the team next year.
Grade : C
- Drafted in the seventh round of the years draft, the bulk of his work has come via special teams. He has a pair of tackles in the five games he appeared in. He will spend nest season's training camp trying to make the team again.
Grade : D
- Drafted in the first round of the 2002 draft, the Redskins represent his fifth team so far. Buchanon started out 2011 suspended for using performance-enhancing substances, then promptly went on inured reserve after playing in two games.
It is hard to imagine he will be back, but Redskins general manager Bruce Allen has worked with him in Oakland and Tampa Bay as well. It could be time for Buchanon to call it a career, but perhaps he tries again in 2012.
Grade : Incomplete
- In 35 games over three years with the Redskins, Gano has been up and down. He has missed 20 field goals the last two years, in 74 attempts, but did make a career best four field goals of over 50 yards.
His nine misses of 39 yards or closer is a frustrating career statistic, but there are no guarantees Washington will find a better placekicker in 2012. It is possible Washington may be forced to spend a draft pick on a kicker, since Gano's inconsistencies are not conducive to winning football.
Grade : C
- Rocca has been one of the Redskins best free agent signings of 2011. Despite the fact he will attempt the fewest punts of his career this year, his 43.6 yards per attempt average is the close to his career best mark. His 39.7 net yard average is the best of his career.
Though having just five NFL seasons under his belt, Rocca is 38 years old. He has spent 15 years playing Australian Rules Football. Washington needs him back in 2012, and can only hope he wants to return.
Grade : A +
- The Redskins kick return specialist, the second-year pro has been used even less on offense this season. He did throw a 49-yard touchdown pass on a wide receiver option.
The diminutive Banks isn't returning balls as effectively as he did in his 2010 rookie year, but the difference isn't great and he does lead the league in kickoffs and kickoff return yardage. It seems very likely he will return to that role in 2012.
Grade : B
- After spending his 2009 rookie season on the practice squads of the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens, Sundberg replaced aging Pro Bowler Ethan Albright at long snapper on special teams in 2010. He has done a good enough job to warrant a return next season.
Grade : A
- Shanahan came to Washington in 2010 with a career record of 138-86 with two Super Bowl titles as a head coach. He also won another Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator.
He has gone 11-19 with the Redskins so far, which has caused some to speculate if his job was in jeopardy. Shanahan admits his rebuilding plan hasn't gone as quickly as expected, but he is basically trying to turn over a roster that suffered years of incompetence under Vinny Cerrato's leadership.
While Shanahan will need all five years of his contract to show if he was a success, there is areas he has earned criticism. The main one is him allowing his son to be the offensive coordinator, a job the younger Shanahan has looked overmatched at often.
Patience will be needed in the Redskins overhaul. He and general manager Bruce Allen saw all of their 2011 draft picks make the team, but there are plenty of other holes to fill. Yet there is the worry that Shanahan is running a system that can't win it all in the NFC East.
Grade : C -
- Getting a job because your dad is the boss doesn't exactly breed confidence amongst the ranks. He first got a NFL job working with Jon Gruden, then four seasons under Gary Kubiak. Kubiak played two years under the eldest Shanahan, then spent 12 years coaching with him.
Washington finished 25th in scoring last year, averaging 18.9 points per game. They finished 18th in yards gained and 30th in rushing yards accrued. improvement was needed by the younger Shanahan's offense, but it actually regressed in certain areas.
The Redskins are ranked 26th in scoring this year and are averaging about a half a point less per game than 2010. They have improved to 16th and 26th in total yards and rushing yards gained, but regressed in passing yards gained and interceptions thrown despite throwing the ball at about the same rate as last season.
Most of the criticism of Shanahan's strategy comes from the fact it appears he often abandons the run in favor of the pass. It has surprised some because his father had most of his NFL successes via strong rushing attacks.
He appears destined to return to the Redskins in 2012 because of his dad being the head coach. Shanahan will most likely have a rookie quarterback in charge of his offensive schemes, so there is a chance Washington continues to falter with the ball as a young quarterback matures.
Washington fans might be stuck with both Shanahan's all five years, but a lot of critics could be suppressed if the young coordinator shows his theories to be correct.
Grade : D
- Haslett has been involved with NFL defenses since 1979, save five years where he coached in college or other professional leagues. First he was a Pro Bowl linebacker, then he eventually became a head coach and respected defensive coordinator.
He is still in the throes of converting the Redskins defense into a 3-4 scheme, acquiring the personnel he feels best fits his system. The Redskins struggled last year, finishing 31st in both total yards and passing yards allowed. They were 26th in rushing yards allowed and 21st in points allowed, getting 29 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 14 interceptions.
There was improvement this year, as Washington finished 16th in total yards allowed, 11th in passing yards allowed, and 19th in rushing yards allowed. While they have 38 sacks, the Redskins slightly improved to 19th in total points allowed.
Yet the defense is still not creating the turnovers needed to be considered respectable. They have created five less fumbles and interceptions so far, an area the team must improve on in 2012.
Haslett now has some interesting talent to work with, but depth must still be built and the run defense must get stouter. Injuries certainly hindered the unit, but that is a factor most NFL teams deal with annually.
The Redskins defense often found itself on the gridiron too long, causing fatigue, due to an inept offensive attack. If Haslett and Washington can convince aging middle linebacker London Fletcher to return next year, they will be much better off. If he doesn't, a huge hole will be there in the middle of the defense. This hole could get gigantic if strong safety LaRon Landry leaves as well.
But Haslett has led to defense to improve somewhat. He still has a ways to go, but there is more hope that pessimism involved.
Grade : B
- Smith has been here since 2004, but it seems he has dealt with a new kicker and punter most years. Washington finally got an excellent punter, even if he is 38 years old. But it seems their placekicker is inconsistent like most have been under Smith.
His coverage teams are generally good, but Smith must get the team a reliable kicker to procure more victories. While widely respected in the NFL, he won't reach the heights of an upper echelon special teams coach until he fixes this critical area.
Grade : B -
Yoooooooo! Dis iz Third's cuzin 7thStoneFromaTheSun makin his final procrastinashuns for da 2011 yeer. I did OK so far. I went 11-4
las week, and iz 143-88
Letz finish strong, capeesh?
Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions
I do belieef me and Third BOTH said da Lions wuz playoff bound dis yeer. Yo, da Pack don't knead dis, as both teems try to stay healthy. But Detroit wants homefield advantage in dere next game.
34 Packers 24
Tennessee Titans @ Houston Texans
Neither teem needs dis, but I tink da Texans finish strong.
27 Titans 17
Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
A battle of bottom feeders.
17 Colts 14
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins
Too teems goin nowhere after dis.
17 Dolphins 16
Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles
Da disappointing Eagles strong finish mite save Andy Reid's job.
31 Redskins 16
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints
Da Saints go marching into da playoffs wif dere heads held up high.
34 Panthers 24
San Francisco 49ers @ Saint Louis Rams
Many tought, befour da seesun began, dat da Niners would be in last and da Rams in furst. Whops!
23 Rams 9
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
Da Pats want momentum headin into da playoffs.
37 Bills 31
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
13 Vikings 10
Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos
Denver needs dis, but Kyle Orton makes dem regret choosing a weak-armed fullback over him.
27 Broncos 13
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders
Da AFC West has always been wacky. Three teems go 8-8 dis yeer.
28 Raiders 20
Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals
24 Seahawks 21
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons
Da erratic Falcons knead dis.
34 Buccaneers 13
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns
As David Byrne chirped,"Same as it ever was."
23 Browns 14
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals
You like defense? Watch dis game! Call me crazy, but I'm goin wif da Bengals. Dey knead it two klinch a playoff berth.
20 Ravens 17
Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants
Game of the Week
Personally, I tink dat Ravens/ Bengals game is better den dese too mediovre squads. BUT all da media will bee dere and da winner gets da NFC East title while da loser goes home until 2012.
Neither teem can run da ball, both quarterbacks iz overrated, and da defenses ain't nothin to write home about. I just gunna say Tony Romo ends dat "choke artist" label dis yeer.
30 Giants 24
OK, datt iz it folks. Yo? I hope I seas yous alls in 2012, but dat iz cuntingint on if dat certain family lookin four me finds me or not.
You all have a Happy New Year and every day beyond.
As dey say in Ol' Mexico= A.M.F.