NFL Nation: Jim Fassel

Edwards, Fassel: Dolphins can get past this

January, 7, 2011
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The Miami Dolphins prolonged their public relations disaster Friday.

Miami Herald beat writer Jeff Darlington reported the Dolphins had set up a meeting with Eric Mangini, but canceled it. Darlington wrote unidentified team sources informed him the Dolphins weren't going to speak with Mangini about being their coach, but just wanted to seek his advice.

Allrighty then.

Also reported Friday was a looming contract adjustment for Sparano, supposedly to smooth over any hard feelings. The Dolphins' front office embarrassed itself with a futile courtship of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and and reported contact with retired Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

Chicago Tribune and National Football Post writer Brad Biggs reported the Dolphins never made an actual contract offer to Harbaugh. Biggs, quoting an unnamed source, wrote Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was "intoxicated" with the idea of hiring Harbaugh after spending time with him in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl, but that Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland remained behind Sparano.

The Dolphins called a news conference for 4:45 p.m. Friday presumably to declare their allegiance to Sparano and then postponed it until noon Saturday with no word about whether Sparano's contract has been amended or if he's coming back for next season at all.

Strange days indeed.

All this happened while I was traveling for Saturday night's playoff game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. I had been playing phone tag with ESPN analyst Herm Edwards all day, and once we finally connected, I had to ask for his take on the Miami madness.

"Feelings are hurt, obviously, because of the way things went about," said Edwards, the former Jets and Kansas City Chiefs coach. "But, hey, they didn't have a good record. They could have fired him.

"But that's the sad part. They had a coach under contract. They wouldn't fire him, but they went and interviewed people. If you're going to do that, man, you need to do that on the QT. This didn't have to be public. You don't need to bring that attention to your organization."

Edwards, though, stressed this saga won't necessarily drag down the team and noted the more critical concern should be what the Dolphins do at quarterback than the current mess.

"If you win, all this goes away," Edwards said. "If you win, this is no big deal. The good part is the season's over with. The players aren't even in the building right now.

"By the time training camp starts, if anything the players look at it and say 'The coach is in the same boat we're in.' The players get it. But if the quarterback doesn't get better they'll be in that same boat again in a year."

For additional perspective on what it's like to hang by thread, I rang up former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel for his thoughts.

"If you have the right guys on the team, they'll battle for the head coach," Fassel said. "Players know regardless, they're still going to be judged on their own performance. It won't affect their performance unless they're not very smart.

"The way it might play a role is in the discipline phase of it might say 'I don't care what he says to be anymore.' But that would a small minority of the players."

Edwards felt more sympathy for the coaching staff than for Sparano.

"The assistants are the ones who are suffering," Edwards said. "They're tied to the head coach. You want to let these 15 or so guys know because when the merry-go-round stops and all the jobs have been filled, you're stuck."
With the Jim Harbaugh pipedream all but over for the Denver Broncos, new Denver football czar John Elway is streamlining his wish list.

If Denver fans are looking for a household name or seat filler, they may want to temper your hopes. While the list can change at any time, the current group of the Broncos’ candidates is not filled with bright-light names.

Elway said Friday the Broncos are likely out of the Harbaugh talks. Elway did say he is seeking permission to talk to former Denver assistant and current Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and he may call former Giants coach Jim Fassel. Elway has ties to both men.

Other people Denver is going to interview are Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Denver interim coach Eric Studesville. New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is expected to be interviewed when the Saints’ season is complete. Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey (considered by many as a top Denver choice) has postponed his interview until after the Falcons’ season ends.

Once you get past Mularkey and perhaps Fewell, this isn’t an overly exciting list. It’s not to say these aren’t good coaches, but they are far from Harbaugh when it comes to name recognition.

In the end, I’m not surprised Harbaugh probably isn't going to end up in Denver. He was too costly for the Broncos’ blood. Plus, I’m not sure if it was a great fit. It seems to me that Harbaugh is the type who will want to make his own decisions. After moving away from Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels in the past two years, the Broncos want their coach to just coach and not make personnel decisions.

Any of the above names would surely be fine with that arrangement.

I wouldn’t be surprised if other names pop up. They could include former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, Miami defensive coordinator and former Denver defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Philadelphia assistant Marty Mornhinweg, San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

Billick could be an interesting candidate. He likely wouldn’t be overly expensive and he has had a lot of NFL success.

Could a UFL team really beat the Bills?

October, 21, 2010
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Bill FansAP Photo/ David DupreyIt's been a tough season in Buffalo, where there are whispers of a possible 0-16 season by the Bills.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny laughed, but he wasn't happy to hear the question.

He kept chuckling throughout his response, although it was obvious by the tone in his voice and the look in his eyes that the topic agitated him.

How close would the game be if the Bills played the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League?

"That's saying that we're minor-league, that a minor-league team could compete with us," said Posluszny, perched on a stool at his locker stall Thursday morning. "The thing that makes me mad is we put ourselves in this situation.

Duante Culpepper
AP Photo/Rich PedroncelliThe UFL has several former NFL players, like Sacramento Mountain Lions QB Daunte Culpepper.
"If we're winning games or competitive, then you're not talking to me about this. But it's our fault. It's my fault. I can't blame you or Las Vegas. We've got to fix it."

The Bills are winless through five games and have played so poorly they're already being talked about as a legitimate candidate to finish the season 0-16. They've surrendered at least 30 points in four straight games, something that never had been done in franchise history.

The trend will be difficult to alter Sunday. The Bills will visit the Baltimore Ravens in M&T Stadium.

For much of the season, the Bills have been out of their league.

Some in the UFL, a five-team league comprised of many former NFL players hoping to extend their careers, believe they would have a shot to beat Buffalo.

"I don't think we could compete with the upper two-thirds of the NFL," Locomotives head coach Jim Fassel said. "The lower-echelon teams, I think it would be an excellent game."

Hartford Colonials quarterback Josh McCown, who spent eight years in the NFL, predicted: "It would be fun to watch. I know one thing: There'd be a lot more pressure on Buffalo than there would be on Las Vegas. There'd be some good give and take."

With that in mind, I asked Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the oddsmaking firm that supplies the numbers for about 75 percent of Nevada's legal sportsbooks, to provide a legitimate spread for the Bills and Locomotives.

The Bills would be favored by 10.5 points on a neutral field.

That's a comfortable margin and not necessarily a true reflection of the difference in class between teams from different leagues. Spreads factor all sorts of game situations, and this number was tempered to account for the likelihood the Bills would outclass the Locomotives early and manage the clock for much of the contest.

"If Buffalo needed to win by four touchdowns and their lives depended on it, they probably could do it," Las Vegas Sports Consultants senior oddsmaker Mike Seba said. "But that's not usually the way it goes down."

Most notable about the spread for this fictional game isn't that the Bills are favored, but the number itself.

Nine NFL games, three of them involving the Bills, have featured a spread larger than 10.5 points so far this season. The Bills are 13-point underdogs Sunday against the Ravens, were 14.5-point underdogs to the New England Patriots in Week 3 and 12.5-point underdogs to the Green Bay Packers in Week 2.

Those numbers indicate the Bills are closer to the UFL than they are to the best NFL teams.

"Even though the Bills might be having a tough time, they're still the NFL," said Daunte Culpepper, the former Pro Bowl quarterback now playing for the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions. "I don't think anybody should overlook that. Those players are in the NFL for a reason."

Culpepper has heard this kind of barroom and message-board banter before.

He started five games for the Detroit Lions in 2008. That team became the first in NFL history to go 0-16. People wondered if the USC team that featured Mark Sanchez would give the Lions trouble.

But Culpepper wasn't totally dismissive of the Locomotives' chances against the Bills.

"I've played in the NFL, and I've played in the UFL. The competition is there," Culpepper said. "The ability and the level of play is there. The NFL is the best of the best, but there's only about 1,500 jobs in the NFL. There's more than 1,500 guys that can play at the NFL level."

UFL investor Mark Cuban pointed out the NFL is comprised of younger talent, but because of salary-cap issues and veteran minimum salaries, teams rarely fill out their rosters with the best 53 players available to them. That leaves plenty of NFL-caliber veterans out of work.

Cuban knows a little about sports business. He owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and has tried to add Major League Baseball to his portfolio. He nearly purchased the Texas Rangers this year.

"You can argue skill positions may be better in the NFL, but you can't argue experience," Cuban said. "The UFL rosters from the bottom up are far more experienced than the Bills are."

NFL teams are reluctant to take chances on veterans as they accrue experience. A player with four to six seasons in the NFL makes a minimum salary of $630,000. Players with seven to nine seasons must be paid at least $755,000.

The average 53-man NFL active roster had 15.7 players who are 24 or younger as of Wednesday, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The winless Carolina Panthers had 27 players in that category. The Bills had 17.

Three of the UFL's five teams had nine or fewer players age 24 or under. The Locomotives had nine on their roster. The Florida Tuskers had two.

"People are afraid to take a five-year vested veteran and pay him the minimum and get the risk that he might get injured," Fassel said. "There's no question that adds up. All you need is five or six guys get hurt and that's $5 million in your cap."

Many NFL clubs don't spend anywhere near to the salary cap anyway. They commonly save money on their reserve players.

"It's not just Buffalo. It's every team," Cuban said. "The balance of talent versus cost versus winning is not an easy one to create. Sure, some teams may spend more than the Bills, but they all go through the same decision process."

As a result, the UFL can field bona-fide players at positions such as quarterback and running back and stock their coaching staffs with NFL-weathered coaches. Fassel, for instance, guided the New York Giants to a Super Bowl XXXV appearance 10 seasons ago.

Last year, Fassel won the UFL's inaugural championship game with former Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. At the time, I got a strong impression Bills fans gladly would've traded their coach-quarterback combo of Dick Jauron and Trent Edwards for Fassel and Losman.

Still, the consensus, even among the most ardent UFL supporters, is the Bills probably would beat the Locomotives handily.

"I have a lot of respect for those guys," Bills running back Fred Jackson said. He came up through the minors as a low-level arena player and then NFL Europa. "I know there's a lot of talent in those leagues. But this is the National Football League. This is the best of the best. I've got to believe with my whole heart it would be a one-sided affair."

There are no guarantees, though, and that's why this fictional game never would take place. It would be all risk, no reward for the NFL.

The last time a "minor league" was granted such an opportunity was in 1961, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the more established Canadian Football League beat the fledgling American Football League's Bills in a preseason game.

"As a player for an NFL team, obviously it bothers us that's even a conversation out there," Posluszny said, "that we're playing so bad right now that people think a UFL team can compete with us because they can't.

"Once again, we're 0-5. We haven't proved to anybody that we're a big-time team. It's troubling to us because we're an NFL football team and we should be able to act like it and play like it and win games."
Sean PaytonSteve Mitchell/US PresswireThe usually guarded Sean Payton pulls back the curtain on the Saints' 2009 season in a new book.
You know the story already. Now, Sean Payton’s filling in the details.

The coach of the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints has written a book that is scheduled to hit stores Tuesday. It is called “Home Team." The subtitle is “Coaching the Saints and New Orleans back to life."

That last line sums up the book in one sentence. But I recommend you read the book even if you’re a Saints fan and think you already know all about the Super Bowl season and the three seasons that preceded that. If you do, you’ll find out a lot of things you didn’t know.

We’re not talking any headline-grabbing revelations here, because there aren’t any. The big picture has played out very publicly. What Payton is doing with co-author Ellis Henican is coloring in the outline that already was sketched.

Like just about all football coaches, Payton runs a tight ship. When addressing the media, he’s generally guarded with what he shares, especially about the inner-workings of his team. That’s why this book is a rare opportunity to see what really has gone on with the Saints since Payton first interviewed for the job in 2006.

Payton’s playing by different rules in this book and, in a lot of ways, opening the locker room doors and his mind for fans to really see how the Saints went from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to the top of the football world. Written entirely in Payton’s voice, the book chronicles just about everything, from Payton’s first flight into New Orleans right up through the post-Super Bowl celebration.

Like I said, there’s nothing that’s going to grab a headline or really shock you. But there are a few significant confessions that haven’t been public knowledge.

Start with the daring onside kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl. That decision has brought Payton acclaim for making one of the boldest moves in Super Bowl history. Well, truth be told, Payton reveals the onside kick was not initially the surprise play Payton wanted to run.

Greg McMahon
AP Photo/Bill HaberPayton's new book reveals it was special-teams coach Greg McMahon who suggested the Saints use an onside kick in the Super Bowl.
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Payton said he wanted to steal a possession from Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts and his first thought was to run a fake punt. He floated the idea by his coaching staff for several days and word trickled down to the players. Veteran long-snapper Jason Kyle finally went to Payton and delicately suggested the fake punt might not be a great idea.

“They didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear," Payton said. “They told me what I needed to hear."

Payton backed off the idea and special-teams coach Greg McMahon offered a counterproposal. That was the onside kick. Payton grabbed onto that and it worked masterfully.

There’s also a little revelation about why the Saints were so late in showing up for media day on Tuesday of Super Bowl week. Payton said that five players -- Tracy Porter, Bobby McCray, Roman Harper, Usama Young and Jermon Bushrod -- missed the team bus that morning. After each of the players made it to the locker room on their own, Payton shut the door and began blistering his team.

“I can smell a team that looks like they’re just happy to be in the Super Bowl," Payton said he told his team. “You guys reek of that team."

The Saints quickly stopped reeking and you already know how they went out and won the Super Bowl. Payton shares the details of the postgame joy and how he virtually had to be dragged to the morning-after news conference.

(Read full post)

MIAMI -- There has been a lot of talk this week about where Sean Payton’s style of coaching comes from.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
AP Photo/David J. PhillipPlayers describe Payton's style as "balanced."
He spent time with Bill Parcells, Jon Gruden and Jim Fassel. But Payton really isn’t a clone of any one of those coaches. The best way to describe him might be that he’s a blend of all those guys and even a few others he never worked for.

“I know that Jon (Gruden) worked under Mike Holmgren, and my first years in Philadelphia were really coming up in that system and cutting my teeth on the terminology," Payton said. “The systems in our league and how you call plays vary. There’s probably three or four different strains, if you will. And yet they end up being more just like computer programs. You can get the same play design, the same type of play. One system might call it a word and the other system might use a number. In the end, that just becomes merely the language.

"The key to a good offense is deeper than that. That being said, Jon was with Holmgren in Green Bay, and Mike was with Bill Walsh. When a terminology carries through coaches, there are always tweaks and changes to it. I would say there’s a portion of it there, and some of it from Dallas.”

Payton’s offensive roots might stem from guys like Gruden, Fassel, Holmgren and Walsh. But don’t underestimate the influence of Bill Parcells, who Payton worked for in Dallas. Parcells had a reputation for being a bit of a control freak and often came across as surly.

Although Payton isn’t as extreme, he does have some of those qualities and some recent columns have described him as arrogant. The reports detailed how he and the Saints repeatedly tried to ban a reporter from a New Orleans Web site, even though the NFL repeatedly advised them against such a move.

That may be one side of Payton, but he also has been described as a players’ coach at times this week. He doesn’t like that at all.

“The whole players’ coach thing … I cringe a little bit," Payton said. “I’m not going to describe myself -- it would probably be better for a player to (do so). I think it’s important that you’re demanding. I think it’s important that you’re fair. I think you don’t want to settle for anything less than exactly what you’re looking for. It’s not our job to be the players’ friend. It’s our job to teach and motivate, give them a plan to be successful and make tough decisions.

"I think what’s important is that at some point, we are also selling a game plan offensively and defensively and kicking game, and selling a system and creating that confidence within the team. I think those are all things that are important. So I don’t know how they’d describe me.”

Well, it wasn’t hard to find out how players describe Payton. As soon as his press conference ended Thursday, we put the question to veteran linebacker Scott Fujita.

“Sean’s more balanced than any coach I’ve ever been with and I’ve been with some great coaches, like Parcells," Fujita said. “Sean balances things really well and has such a good sense of knowing his team and what it needs. He’s a young coach and he’s in touch. He’s got young kids and he can understand what we’re going through at home with young kids. He’s perfectly in tune with our needs and our obstacles."

Balance might be the best word to describe Payton’s style. He’s not a true players’ coach, but he’s not a Parcells replica either. He’s somewhere in between and that might represent the best of all worlds.
The Oakland Raiders' coaching situation is heating up.

Tom Cable
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesTom Cable is 9-19 as head coach of the Raiders.
Plenty of potential replacements for Tom Cable have surfaced. But the issue still remains: Cable has not been fired.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Oakland reached out to Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. But he declined the overtures. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Oakland owner Al Davis has interviewed potential replacements for Cable. The paper said Jim Fassel and Marc Trestman are candidates and Kevin Gilbride and Winston Moss could be candidates. All four of those names have been connected to Oakland in the past.

On SIRIUS XM’s Mad Dog Radio Wednesday, Fassel said he has not contacted the Raiders.

“No. Because, I mean, Tom Cable’s the coach,” Fassel said.” He is the coach there and that’ll answer part of the question you asked me before. I think if a coach is in place you don’t start calling somebody and seeing if the job is open or not. Tom Cable is the coach. My son happens to be the special teams coordinator for the Raiders and they played very well this year. They set an NFL record, an all-time record, of net punt [yards] and gross punt [yards] this year. So I follow the Raiders pretty closely because my son is coaching there and I coached there at one time. But, no, I’m not lobbying for any job. I’m not lobbying for the Raider job. I have never in my life rooted for a coach to be let go so there’s an opening. I never have. I’m in the same fraternity. I just got my nose to the grindstone. I’m down here in Vegas working on getting situated down here and that’s where I am. Nobody’s reached out to me.”

Schefter is reporting Baltimore quarterback coach Hue Jackson is in Oakland interviewing for the offensive coordinator job. Under this scenario, Cable could remain as the head coach.

Davis is definitely looking ahead to 2010. Still, he has not pulled the plug on Cable -- yet.

But with all of these names surfacing, it leads you to believe that Davis is more interested in moving on than standing pat. Stay tuned.

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Final Word: AFC West

December, 18, 2009
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

Fight for the No. 2 seed: A mini-playoff game will break out in San Diego on Sunday. The 10-3 Chargers play host to the 9-4 Bengals. The winner will have the inside track on earning the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. That is a huge advantage. The No. 2 seed gets a first-round bye and is just a home win away from going to the AFC title game.

[+] EnlargeElvis Dumervil
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesElvis Dumervil looks to add to his league-leading sack total Sunday against Oakland.
A scary memory for Denver: The Broncos are 8-5 for the second straight season. That does not bring back great memories in the Rocky Mountains. Denver entered Week 15 last season needing to win one of its final three games or have San Diego to lose one of its final three games. Neither happened. The Broncos finished 8-8 and out of the playoff mix. The Broncos, once again, are closing in on a playoff spot this season with an 8-5 record. If the Broncos beat Oakland at home on Sunday and Kansas City at home in the season finale Jan. 3, they should earn a wild-card spot. Let’s see if the 8-5 blues strike Denver again.

Cable could be working for his job: Coach job security is never super strong in Oakland. So, at 4-9, Tom Cable is no sure thing to return next year for his second full season as Oakland’s coach. With quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who gave Oakland a major spark when he replaced JaMarcus Russell, injured, Oakland could have difficulty winning Sunday at Denver with Charlie Frye making his third start in three seasons. Cable needs to do his best to win Sunday and in the final two games. If the Raiders finish 4-12 or 5-11, Cable could be in trouble. Oakland just brought in quarterback J.P. Losman. He enjoyed a resurgence this year in the United Football League, working with former NFL coach Jim Fassel. Fassel probably would jump at the chance to coach in Oakland. A Losman-Fassel reunion could be intriguing. Cable has to do his best to keep Oakland from considering other options.

Can the Chiefs end their Arrowhead Stadium season on a good note? When they first saw the 2009 schedule in April, the Chiefs had to feel good about the chance to fatten their record in December with three home games in a row. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Kansas City lost the first two games to Denver and Buffalo; only Sunday’s game against Cleveland remains. The Chiefs (3-10) aren’t going to the postseason, and it would be good for team morale to end the home slate with a win and salvage what looked to be a great opportunity when the schedule was released.

Dumervil has to be licking his chops: Oakland’s offensive line allowed six sacks in the second half last week against Washington. The line simply fell apart. If the Raiders don’t find a cure, Denver's Elvis Dumervil could easily break the franchise’s single-season sack record. Dumervil has 15 sacks, which leads the NFL. The Denver team record for sacks is 16, set by Simon Fletcher in 1992. If the Raiders don’t address the issue, Dumervil could be celebrating often Sunday.

What's next for Bills after Shanahan?

November, 25, 2009
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ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Buffalo Bills met with coaching candidate Mike Shanahan for seven hours Monday night and Tuesday morning in Denver.

The report suggests Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon interviewed for Shanahan rather than vice versa.

"We had an excellent meeting," Shanahan told Schefter on Wednesday. "I was really impressed with Russ Brandon and everything he had to say. We're going to stay in touch and see what develops."

The Bills are expected to take their time in making a hire and will interview several more candidates before they find the permanent replacement for Dick Jauron, who was fired last week and replaced with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell on an interim basis.

Almost all of the top-tier candidates have rebuffed the Bills' attempts to talk about the job. Substantive reports have stated Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Mike Holmgren have turned them down.

The next wave of candidates might include the likes of Brian Billick, Jim Fassel, Mike Martz and Jim Haslett, but the Bills seem hot for an offensive-minded coach, which could work against Haslett, a former Bills linebacker.

Billick had an 80-64 career record and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. Defense was the foundation of those Ravens teams, but Billick is a lifelong offensive coach who had a star quarterback only once in his nine seasons there. Billick won 13 games with Steve McNair in 2006.

Fassel went 58-53 as head coach of the New York Giants and won an NFC title. Bills fans might note some similarities between their team and the one Fassel took over in 1997. The Giants went 6-10 the year before, but Fassel guided them to a 10-5-1 record and the NFC East championship with Danny Kannel and Dave Brown as his quarterbacks.

Martz coached The Greatest Show on Turf with the St. Louis Rams for six seasons. He went 53-32 and won an NFC title. His offense ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 2000 and 2001 with such stars as Kurt Warner, Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk.

Another offensive-oriented coach who has been mentioned is longtime NFL offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, who has been tearing up the Canadian Football League as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.

But one major hang-ups the Bills will have is their quarterback situation. They have no obvious starting quarterback on their roster. The organization apparently has given up on Trent Edwards, and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't held in high regard. Newly acquired third-stringer Brian Brohm is a project.

Many coaches' names will be associated with the opening. Expect some surprises along the way.

Wednesday Beastlines

February, 4, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals face a historic opportunity at Carolina.

John Faherty of the Arizona Republic says more than 1,000 fans showed up at the airport to send off the Cardinals. 

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Anquan Boldin remains questionable after testing his injured hamstring in practice Friday.

Also from Somers, with Bob McManaman: Arizona's rushing attack is averaging an additional 27 yards per game over the last two games. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are considering ways to use safety Antrel Rolle on offense.

More from McManaman: a look at the Cardinals' team chemistry. Also, the Cardinals led the NFL with 17 forced fumbles this season, while Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams hasn't lost one all season.

More from Somers: Keeping an extra wide receiver active could keep defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema from playing.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals and Panthers can't take much from their Week 8 meeting. Too many things have changed.

The 49ers' Walt Harris and Parys Haralson are picking the Panthers to beat the Cardinals. Haralson: "Jake Delhomme is a successful quarterback and I don't think that Arizona defense can shake him like they did the rookie last week. They've got a strong defense that can get pressure, but that Carolina oline is a physical bunch."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says hiring Scott Linehan as the 49ers' offensive coordinator would make more sense than hiring the other known candidates.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee singles out Linehan as the favorite to win the job as 49ers offensive coordinator.

Also from Barrows: Clyde Christensen's candidacy doesn't seem to mesh with Mike Singletary's emphasis on running the football.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks are closer to naming a defensive coordinator. Head coach Jim Mora will run the defense, however. Farnsworth: "Once a defensive coordinator is hired, the rest of the staff can be completed -- a process [general manager Tim] Ruskell said he would ideally like to have done before the coaches leave for the Senior Bowl practices, which begin in 10 days."

John Morgan of Field Gulls warns against reading too much into the comments Ruskell made to reporters during the week. A year ago, Ruskell suggested the team had no plans to release Shaun Alexander. 

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times says former Lions coach Rod Marinelli is no longer a consideration to become the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. My understanding is that Seattle was talking to Marinelli about joining the staff, but not necessarily as coordinator. The thought was that Marinelli might coach the defensive line.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests Winston Moss and Jim Fassel might not be serious candidates for the Rams' head-coaching job. He wonders if the Patriots' Josh McDaniels qualifies as the first legitimate outside candidate. Thomas: "Described as smart and calculating, McDaniels will be picky and selective when it comes to a head-coaching job. As part of that evaluation process he will look more to the structure of a club's front office and the ownership situation than perhaps some other candidates."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks Mike Martz's offensive philosophy stands in contrast to Jim Haslett's intent to make the Rams a run-oriented team. Miklasz: "I give Haslett credit for coordinating such a terrific campaign, reinventing himself on the fly to convince many fans and much of the St. Louis sports media that he's the right man for the job, and that he had absolutely nothing to do with the last three seasons of Rams football. The spin is precious."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat gives the Rams' linebackers a "D" grade for their performance during the 2008 season.

Chris Mortensen talks about the coaching vacancies around the NFL.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's been a productive day speaking with players at Cardinals headquarters. I'll be heading to the airport shortly and diving back into the blog Tuesday morning.

First, a quick tour around the NFC West: 

Andrew Perloff of danpatrick.com quotes Cardinals defensive end Bertran Berry as saying Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan failed to vary his snap count, allowing Arizona defenders to get a jump off the line of scrimmage.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' new radio play-by-play announcer prefers spontanaity to having signature calls.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers can pretty much forget about adding Norv Turner or Donovan McNabb this offseason.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer clears up confusion over Seneca Wallace's contract with the Seahawks.

Rob Staton of Scout.com says drafting a quarterback in the first round might not be a bad idea for the Seahawks.

Also from Staton: He passes along information about Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree's draft plans. Staton's mock draft sends Crabtree to Seattle in the fourth overall spot.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cites reports as saying Jim Fassel is scheduled to interview for the Rams' head coaching job.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic emphasizes the positive in looking at the Cardinals heading into their divisional-round game at Carolina.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Panthers surprised the Cardinals in Week 8 by loading up against the run. Arizona enjoyed a big day in the passing game.

Also from Somers: Recent history gives the Cardinals hope going on the road for the divisional round. Wild-card teams have made it to Super Bowls recently.

More from Somers: Anquan Boldin's injury could affect a chunk of the Cardinals' game plan.

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic wonders why the Cardinals tend to leave their retractable roof closed even when the weather is perfect. I can think of two reasons. One, Kurt Warner prefers the roof closed, and he let team president Michael Bidwill know about it. Two, bright sunshine can blind a small number of fans in part of the stadium.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic takes a quick look at the Panthers.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals prefer the underdog role.

Billy Witz of the New York Times checks in with the most disrespected Cardinal of them all, Edgerrin James.

Brian McIntyre of Scout.com breaks down the Seahawks' defensive participation by scheme and player. Brian Russell played all but one snap on defense, by his count. And there were several plays when Seattle had only 10 defenders on the field. Oops.

Also from McIntyre: A look at offensive participation and personnel use. Ironman Floyd Womack played a higher percentage of offensive snaps than any Seattle player.

John Morgan of Field Gulls says poor quality at the top of the 2009 NFL draft means the Seahawks are less likely to find an impact player there. I had this conversation with a scout Sunday. He couldn't think of a dynamic pass-rusher worthy of the fourth overall pick, unles the Seahawks took a chance on Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks could hire Rod Marinelli. Meanwhile, longtime tight ends coach Jim Lind is expected to retire.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks tried to hire Marinelli twice when Mike Holmgren was head coach, but the Bucs denied permission each time. 

William Tomisser of Seahawk Addicts breaks down the Seahawks' situation at running back. Maurice Morris, Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett combined for solid numbers, even if the perception was that Seattle didn't get top production from the position.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have shown "at least some level of interest" in Jim Fassel, Russ Grimm, Jim Schwartz, Mike Munchak, Steve Spagnuolo and Jason Garrett. Winston Moss has already interviewed. The team has received formal permission to interview Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier, Rex Ryan and Ray Sherman.

Drew Olson of onmilwaukee.com lists Mike Nolan and Jim Haslett as potential candidates to become defensive coordinator for the Packers. Both worked with current Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

Chrissy Mauck of 49ers.com lists the team's players scheduled to become free agents.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the 49ers' rushing production by play direction. The team ranked fifth among NFL teams in yards per carry up the middle.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says a power running game can help a team succeed without having a top-flight quarterback.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' list of coaching candidates now includes Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Dolphins secondary coach Todd Bowles, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, former Giants coach Jim Fassel, Cowboys receivers coach Ray Sherman, interim Rams coach Jim Haslett and Packers linebackers coach Winston Moss.

That is the latest from Chris Mortensen via James Walker's recent report. Five of the seven candidates listed above have defensive backgrounds. Haslett and Fassel are the only ones with NFL head-coaching experience. 

Organizations often look for head coaches whose approaches differ significantly from that of the previous head coach. Former Rams coach Scott Linehan was a former offensive coordinator with no previous experience as an NFL head coach. We're now seeing the Rams look at candidates primarily with defensive backgrounds.

The Rams anticipate making significant changes even if they retain Haslett, who continues to work as interim coach under a contract that expires in mid-February.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle outlines the philosophical differences that led to Mike Martz's ouster from the 49ers. Also, Mike Singletary says the team needs to upgrade at offensive tackle, safety and pass-rusher.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says there's confusion over who has control of the 49ers' roster after Singletary suggested he would have control despite reporting to general manager Scot McCloughan. 

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat provides a transcript from Singletary's end-of-season news conference. Singletary says the 49ers sneaked up on a few opponents this season.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers admittedly are taking another step backward in an effort to move forward, but Singletary saw no other way.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers need more than just a power running game to succeed.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists Scott Linehan, Jim Fassel and Norm Chow as potential offensive coordinators for the 49ers.

Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News raises questions about the 49ers' power structure after a team spokesman suggested Singletary and McCloughan would share control of the roster.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary will favor an experienced offensive coordinator without ruling out inexperienced candidates.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at pivotal moments in the Cardinals' season, including the contract awarded to receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Also from Somers: Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley thinks the team's performance against Seattle in Week 17 was critical in re-establishing a running game.

More from Somers, with Bob McManaman: a notebook with items on the Falcons and Cardinals, with a look at key matchups.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic profiles a Cardinals fan with 61 years experience rooting for the team. Richard Hayden remembers attending the team's previous home playoff game -- in 1947.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with the Cardlinals' longest-tenured players. Six have spent six or more seasons with the team, starting with Adrian Wilson.

Also from Urban: The Falcons' Matt Ryan was in high school the last time Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner started a playoff game.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune questions whether the Cardinals' defense can hold up against the Falcons.

Mike Sakal of the East Valley Tribune says Fitzgerald's longtime girlfriend has obtained a protection order against the Pro Bowl receiver. Fitzgerald is not facing criminal charges.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Jim Haslett, under contract until Feb. 15, is going about his business as usual while the team searches for a head coach.

Also from Thomas: Rams assistants Jim Chaney and Keith Murphy are taking jobs at the college level.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch defends St. Louis as a football town by ripping Arizona and Minnesota for failing to sell out playoff games.

Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says Seahawks rookie Lawrence Jackson expects improvement in 2009 after a humbling rookie season.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sizes up the Seahawks' projected strength of schedule for 2009, drawing comparisons to recent seasons.

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