AFC West: Terence Newman

The last time the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals met, both teams were missing key players, they played in a local TV blackout, and they could comfortably compete on a 60-degree, postcard-perfect Southern California afternoon.

Those were the conditions just one month ago Wednesday.

At least one of them could be the same. With ticket uncertainty rolling over into Thursday, Bengals officials have been working hard to avoid the NFL's first postseason blackout since 2002. On the field, the Bengals and Chargers have been working to get back key members of their teams, and are anticipating playing in conditions much less favorable than what they had on the West Coast.

Sunday's playoff game isn't only a rematch of the regular-season game won 17-10 by the Bengals. It also marks the first time the teams have met in the postseason since 1981, when Cincinnati beat San Diego for the AFC championship at old Riverfront Stadium. Because of a minus-59 wind chill, that game was dubbed the "Freezer Bowl." While it shouldn't feel that cold Sunday, conditions will be tough. Snow, freezing rain and rapidly dipping temperatures are in the forecast. The weather could make passing difficult for two teams that rely heavily on their quarterbacks.

To break down Sunday's game, we turn to NFL reporters Eric D. Williams (Chargers) and Coley Harvey (Bengals).

Harvey: One of the Bengals' biggest keys in the first meeting was running the ball. They rushed for 164 yards, having success even late in the game when San Diego clearly knew a run was coming. How can the Chargers prevent Cincinnati from having another prolific ground game?

Williams: First, the Chargers will have two players available who did not play in the first game -- outside linebackers Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram. Both are pretty good run defenders who should help San Diego play more physical up front. Second, the Chargers have to do a better job of maintaining their gaps and not allowing Cincinnati’s talented offensive line to create space for the running backs. Last, the Chargers have to do a better job of wrapping up BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. Both running backs finished with a lot of yards after contact, as San Diego had trouble bringing down the hard runners in the back end of the defense.

One thing I'm curious about is the Bengals' defense. The Bengals are tied for third in the league in turnovers forced with 31, and have six defensive touchdowns this season, all at Paul Brown Stadium. Why has Cincinnati’s defense been so successful at creating turnovers?

Harvey: If you ask defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer -- which we did Monday -- he'll say it's because his players just know they have to do whatever is necessary to pick the offense up and to put the ball back in its hands. There have been several instances when a turnover put the Bengals' defense on the wrong side of the 50, needing to come up with a stop. Defensive players say they relish those opportunities, and believe in their ability to not only hold for a field goal, but get the ball back. Cincinnati's defensive line plays a major role in helping create a lot of the fumbles and interceptions. Even after losing Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins, the defensive line has still pressured opposing quarterbacks, forcing poorly thrown balls. The line and linebackers also do a great job of stripping balls and forcing timely fumbles.

I'll add that there is something slightly different about the defense at home. When it comes to turnovers, for example, 21 of the 31 forced by the defense have come at Paul Brown Stadium. As you mentioned, six have resulted in scores. Each of those scores either changed momentum or helped ice the game.

How much do you think playing the Bengals just 35 days ago will benefit the Chargers? They clearly learned something from that loss, and haven’t lost since.

Williams: That is correct -- the Chargers are on a four-game winning streak since losing to the Bengals on Dec. 1. Defensively the Chargers have been stingy, holding teams to just 18 points a contest in the past four games. San Diego has played more consistently on offense, particularly in the red zone, scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. And the Chargers are playing with more confidence now than earlier in the season. Chargers coach Mike McCoy has figured out a blueprint for his team to win on both offense and defense -- a prolific, ball-control offense paired with a bend-but-don’t-break defense that keeps teams out of the end zone.

Philip Rivers finished the regular season tops in the NFL in completion percentage (69.5), fourth in touchdown passes (32) and fifth in passing yards (4,478). The Bengals did a nice job containing Rivers in the first matchup. What will it take for a repeat performance?

Harvey: It's going to take a lot of pressure, and some tight coverage both downfield and near the line of scrimmage. Bengals cornerback Terence Newman was telling reporters this week about what he felt made Rivers special -- his intelligence. As an 11-year veteran, Newman has seen it all. According to Newman, what is most impressive is Rivers' ability to use his eyes to steer linebackers or safeties one way, only to pass another because he knows he has a tight end or running back open in a soft spot the defense isn't covering. Newman stopped short of comparing Rivers to Peyton Manning, but he believes the two have much in common. Members of the Bengals' secondary know they can't just key on his eyes, they have to know where his playmakers are at all times. Members of the Bengals' line know they have to keep hounding Rivers like they have hounded quarterbacks all season.

Rivers is San Diego's household name, but how important have running back Ryan Mathews and receiver Keenan Allen been to the offense?

Williams: The Chargers leaned heavily on Mathews during the second half of the season, with good results. San Diego is 7-1 this season when Mathews has at least 19 carries. He has carried the ball at least 24 times in the past four games, all wins for San Diego. Allen finished the season with 71 receptions for a team-leading 1,046 yards, becoming the first rookie since Cincinnati’s A.J. Green to finish with 1,000 receiving yards. Green had 1,057 in 2011. Mathews keeps defenses honest with his bruising running style, and Allen emerged as Rivers’ go-to receiver when San Diego gets near the red zone. Allen is tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with eight.

We've seen the good (33 touchdowns) and the bad (20 interceptions) from Andy Dalton this season. What type of performance do you expect from Dalton on Sunday? And will it matter if he does not play well?

Harvey: Because of how good this defense is, especially at home, I'm not sure it will matter if he plays well Sunday. Last week against the Ravens, Dalton threw four interceptions -- the first came 1 yard outside Baltimore's red zone -- and the defense ended up acting as an eraser and pretending the turnovers never happened. The one interception that came on Cincinnati's 21 resulted in a field goal. An interception on the following drive also resulted in a field goal. Instead of being down 14-0 early, the Bengals trailed 6-0, giving Dalton enough confidence to calm down and make plays when he needed to as the comeback began. I'm expecting another mixed bag from Dalton. Just like last week, he has shown this season that he can pass for 270 yards, three touchdowns and still have three interceptions. I wouldn't be surprised if his nerves are elevated a little at the start of the game, but as long as the defense keeps playing the way it has been and his receivers are not dropping passes, I believe Dalton will come out OK on Sunday.

The Oakland Raiders’ search for a cornerback is taking the next step.

Denver cornerback Tracy Porter is visiting the Raiders on Wednesday, according to an NFL source. He visited the New Orleans Saints on Monday. Both teams have strong interest in Porter. He is expected to decide his future soon. He left the Saints for Denver last year. He fell out of favor in Denver. Oakland head coach Dennis Allen was Porter’s position coach in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins is visiting Jacksonville. Oakland reportedly also has interest in Jenkins. Oakland has two starting cornerback openings. It has visited with Terence Newman. He has been expected to decide between the Bengals and the Raiders for several days.

In other AFC West news:

Former Oakland punter Shane Lechler told San Francisco radio station, 95.7 The Game that he was surprised Oakland did not pursue him. He signed with Houston on Friday.

“This was my first time in free agency. To tell you the truth, man it’s nerve-racking,” Lechler told the radio station. “I didn’t know where I was going to go, where I was going to live or where my kids were going to go to school. I wasn’t hearing anything from Oakland. After giving them 13 years, and plus what the Davis family has done for me, I thought I would at least have a conversation with someone there or something before all of this went down. That was the frustrating part of it. I can’t say that I turned a contract down or anything because I was never really offered one. That was frustrating but I understand. Reggie’s running that thing now like he wants to run it and it’s pretty safe to say I don’t believe I was in the plans.”

Lecher, who was making $4 million a season in Oakland, signed a three-year, $5.5 million deal with Houston. Lechler is from Texas. Oakland is expected to give talented, but unproven Marquette King a chance to replace Lechler.
The Oakland Raiders’ interest in cornerbacks continues.

According to an NFL source, the Raiders, who are in need of two starting cornerbacks, are showing interest in Denver cornerback Tracy Porter. Oakland has also shown interest in cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins. Newman is expected to choose between Cincinnati and Oakland soon.

Porter is also getting interest from his original team, New Orleans. He could be a backup plan there should Nnamdi Asomugha not sign with the Saints.

Oakland’s interest in Porter is not surprising, as coach Dennis Allen was his position coach in New Orleans. Porter signed a one-year deal with Denver last year. He started the season as a starter but he fell out of favor with the team after he dealt with the affects of a seizure suffered in the summer. He never regained playing time once he was healthy.

In another AFC West note: columnist Jeffri Chadiha thinks Elvis Dumervil made a mistake by leaving the Broncos and signing with the Ravens.
Mike Jenkins is a player in need of a fresh start and perhaps he will be provided one in Oakland.

ESPN Dallas reports that the Oakland Raiders have interest in the cornerback from Dallas. Jenkins, a first-round draft pick in 2008, fell out of favor in Dallas and he played little last season. Still, Jenkins, 28, may benefit from a change of scenery.

There’s little doubt he’d be Oakland’s best cornerback if signed. The cornerback market has dried up and Jenkins has garnered little interest. Perhaps teams are scared off by his lost playing time in Dallas.

The Raiders have two openings at the position, but they have not addressed the position since free agency began. Oakland has signed six players from other teams -- three linebackers and three defensive linemen. The Raiders have hosted Cincinnati’s Terence Newman. He is reportedly deciding between the Bengals and the Raiders. Oakland also could draft Alabama’s Dee Milliner with the No. 3 overall pick.

In other AFC West news:

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Ropati Pitoitua has reportedly visited the Jets and the Titans.
The Denver Broncos are a candidate to host the NFL season opener Sept. 5 against the World Champion Baltimore Ravens.

Traditionally, the Super Bowl champion hosts the season opener on a week night to celebrate the start of the season. But the Ravens had a scheduling conflict with baseball’s Baltimore Orioles (the two stadiums share a parking lot) and the Ravens will now start the season on the road.

The Ravens are scheduled to visit Denver, and many people think the AFC divisional playoff rematch -- Baltimore won in double overtime -- is a possibility.

Update: The Denver Post reports the Broncos don’t think they will host the game . An announcement should be made in the coming days.

In other AFC West news:

New San Diego coach Mike McCoy explains how he plans to get quarterback Philip Rivers out of a two-year funk. My suggestion: Surround him with some good players.

Cornerback Terence Newman said he has yet to make a decision. He said it is coming soon. He is expected to decide between playing for the Raiders or staying in Cincinnati.
As expected, Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert has signed his franchise tag, and the team can now trade him.

There have been some talks, as the Chiefs would like to recoup the second-round pick lost in the Alex Smith trade. The team may draft Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 overall pick if Albert is traded or not. If Albert is retained, Joeckel would play right tackle.

In an interview with USA Today, Albert seemed ready to handle whatever happens next.

In other AFC West notes:

Cincinnati has re-signed cornerback Adam Jones, a move that could affect Terence Newman’s decision to choose between the Bengals and the Raiders.

The Houston Chronicle reports it expects the Texans to sign Oakland punter Shane Lechler. The Texas native is visiting Houston on Thursday.

Chicago signed Kansas City tight end Steve Maneri, who is a good blocker.

Tennessee has visited with Kansas City defensive end Ropati Pitoitua.
The once-stout cornerback market is beginning to dry up.

The Oakland Raiders have two openings at the position, but they have not addressed the position since free agency began. Oakland has signed six players from other teams -- three linebackers and three defensive linemen.

The Raiders have hosted Cincinnati’s Terence Newman. He is reportedly deciding between the Bengals and the Raiders.

There are some good players still on the market, but things are slowing down. Among the best cornerbacks available are Brent Grimes, Mike Jenkins, former Raiders Nnamdi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall, Antoine Winfield, and San Diego’s Quentin Jammer. At this point, all of those players will likely be fairly affordable.

Oakland also could draft Alabama’s Dee Milliner with the No. 3 overall pick.

But I’m sure the Raiders will want to grab at least one cornerback in this year’s solid free-agent class. The three other AFC West teams have each added a highly regarded corner -- Denver signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kansas City signed Sean Smith and San Diego inked Derek Cox.
Elvis Dumervil’s new agent, Tom Condon, and the Denver Broncos lost an appeal to get the verbal agreement honored by the NFL. The agreement was turned in after the league's deadline on Friday.

It was considered a longshot, anyway because had the NFL honored the deal the rest of the league would have been upset.

The Denver Post reports that the Baltimore Ravens are currently negotiating with Dumervil. The Broncos want Dumervil back and he wants to return, but there are salary issues.

The Denver Post reports the Broncos' first choice to replace Dumervil, 29, if he signs elsewhere will be former Atlanta pass-rusher John Abraham. He was productive last season, but he will turn 35 in May.

In other AFC West notes:

Cornerback Terence Newman tweeted he may make his decision on a team later in the week, choosing between the Bengals and Raiders.

The Baltimore Sun reports former Oakland safety Michael Huff, who was cut last week, is receiving interest from Baltimore, Green Bay, Dallas and Tennessee.

Dallas reportedly is talking to Jets guard Matt Slauson. He reportedly received interest from Oakland early in free agency.

Raiders linebacker Nick Roach got a four-year with $5 million in guaranteed money.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said receiver Wes Welker signed with Denver for less than what New England offered him. Welker signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos.

The Boston Globe reports the Patriots have shown some interest in right tackle Eric Winston, who was cut by the Chiefs. Winston has also visited with the Chargers.

Former San Diego pass-rusher Antwan Barnes has signed with the Jets on a three-year contract.

Raiders lose TE Brandon Myers

March, 16, 2013
The reality of the Oakland Raiders’ salary-cap issues struck again Saturday when tight end Brandon Myers signed with the New York Giants.

The Raiders have seen several good, young players leave the team during free agency. Myers had 79 catches and was the favorite target of quarterback Carson Palmer last year. Myers is a poor blocker and has some limitations in the receiving game. But he is a good player and the bottom line is Oakland needs all the good players it can get.

Tight end may be another hole. The team has young players David Ausberry and Richard Gordon at the position, but neither player is proven. Oakland will need to bring in a tight end in some form. Versatile fullback Marcel Reece can play in some tight end formations.

Oakland has been concentrating on adding defensive players in free agency. The Raiders have several free agents remaining, including punter Shane Lechler. The punter market has been slow. Lechler has been connected to Houston, but there have been reports the Texans may look elsewhere.

Meanwhile, cornerback Terence Newman has tweeted that he will make his decision on where to play in the coming days. Newman, who will be 35 in September, visited Oakland recently. He’d be a starter there.

In the Elvis Dumervil saga in Denver, USA Today reports Dumervil has interest from at least four teams, but he wants to return to Denver. That is believable since he did agree to a pay cut. The issue is whether the Broncos can figure a way to make it work.

The Denver Post is reporting Dumervil is close to hiring the powerful Tom Condon as his new agent. Condon is Peyton Manning’s agent. Condon clearly has a successful relationship with Denver’s brass. That may be another sign of Dumervil wanting to stay.
It’s been more than 24 hours since the Elvis Dumervil fax fiasco, and there doesn’t seem to be a movement to repair the situation between the Denver Broncos and the pass-rusher.

Dumervil’s agent, Marty Magid, who was at the center of the debacle, told the Denver Post that he has been in contact with other teams and that Dumervil is expected to take some visits after the NFL owners meetings end in Arizona on Wednesday. That is risky, because the market will continue to dry up.

That means, as of now, Dumervil doesn’t have a great deal. Magid has also told the Miami Herald that Dumervil would like to play for his hometown Dolphins.

The fact that Magid is trying to drum up interest seems to be a sign that things are not close to being resolved with the Broncos. I know the Broncos are ticked at the situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team is put off by Magid jumping for other destinations instead of trying to help repair the situation he was ultimately responsible for in Denver.

If we see the Broncos make a quick run at a pass-rusher such as Dwight Freeney or John Abraham, we’ll have our answer.

In other AFC West notes:

Oakland might be on the verge of losing another starter. Tight end Brandon Myers is visiting the Giants, who are reportedly highly interested. He had 79 catches last season. Oakland has no experienced options at tight end on the roster if Myers walks.

The Giants signed linebacker Dan Connor. He visited the Raiders this week.

The Patriots are cutting receiver Brandon Lloyd. The former Bronco could make some sense in San Diego with new Chargers’ head coach Mike McCoy, who was previously the Broncos’ offensive coordinator.

UPDATE: The Baltimore Sun reports the Ravens are interested in Dumervil.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Cincinnati cornerback Terence Newman left his Oakland visit without a deal.



Saturday, 12/20
Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22