NFL Nation: Mitch Berger
Potential unrestricted free agents: P Mitch Berger, S Vernon Fox, T Brandon Gorin, Nick Greisen, G Ben Hamilton, G Russ Hochstein, DE Vonnie Holliday, CB Ty Law, WR Brandon Lloyd
Potential restricted free agents: LB Elvis Dumervil, OL Chris Kuper, WR Brandon Marshall, QB Kyle Orton, TE Tony Scheffler, DT Le Kevin Smith
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Broncos’ restricted class is talented. That will be the focus. It has been reported that Marshall, Orton, Dumervil, Scheffler and Kuper will all get one-year tenders. Marshall very well could be traded. It wouldn’t be a shock if Dumervil gets some action on the restricted market. Miami could be interested.
Potential unrestricted free agents: OL Andy Alleman, S Mike Brown, WR Chris Chambers, WR Terrance Copper, TE Sean Ryan, C Wade Smith, LB Mike Vrabel, WR Bobby Wade
Potential restricted free agents: RB Jackie Battle, QB Brodie Croyle, LB Derrick Johnson, LB Corey Mays, OL Ikechuku Ndukwe, OL Rudy Niswanger, OL Ryan O'Callaghan, S Jarrad Page
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Chiefs are interested in keeping some of their unrestricted free agents. General manager Scott Pioli said at the combine the team has been in contact with several of their free agents. Chambers is the focus. The team is trying to keep him. Brown and Vrabel could also return with new deals.
Potential unrestricted free agents: S Hiram Eugene, G Cornell Green, T Langston Walker, LB Sam Williams
Potential restricted free agents: LB Jon Alston, OL Khalif Barnes, LB Ricky Brown, LB Jon Condo, QB Charlie Frye, QB Bruce Gradkowski, LB Thomas Howard, RB Luke Lawton, OL Chris Morris, LB Kirk Morrison, CB Stanford Routt, RB Gary Russell
Franchise player: DE Richard Seymour.
What to expect: The Raiders franchised Seymour and signed kicker Sebastian Janikowski to a record deal, so they’ve already been busy. It will be interesting to see how they tender Howard and Morrison. The Raiders could use some new life at linebacker and this could be the start of it.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DT Alfonso Boone, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, C Dennis Norman, WR Kassim Osgood. T Jon Runyan, DT Ian Scott, TE Kris Wilson
Potential restricted free agents: OL Jeromey Clary, LB Tim Dobbins, WR Malcom Floyd, DT Antonio Garay, OL Eric Ghiaciuc, LB Marques Harris, WR Vincent Jackson, DT Travis Johnson, OL Marcus McNeill, LB Shawne Merriman, RB Darren Sproles, QB Charlie Whitehurst
Franchise player: None
What to expect: The Chargers have their hands full. It’s been reported they will give high tenders to Jackson, Merriman, McNeill and Floyd. Jackson and McNeill could still attract some interest on the restricted market. Sproles is not expected to be tendered, making him a free agent. The Chargers want him back. But if Sproles hits the open market, the multifaceted weapon could be scooped up quickly.
An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC West.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Unrestricted free agents: P Mitch Berger, S Vernon Fox, T Brandon Gorin, Nick Greisen, G Ben Hamilton, G Russ Hochstein, DE Vonnie Holliday, CB Ty Law, WR Brandon Lloyd.
Key figures: There isn’t much here. The team could bring back Hochstein, Holliday and Law, but they are all complementary pieces. It’s all about the restricted free-agent class in Denver. The Broncos have to figure out what they are going to do with receiver Brandon Marshall, defensive end Elvis Dumervil, quarterback Kyle Orton and tight end Tony Scheffler.
Kansas City Chiefs
Unrestricted free agents: S Mike Brown, WR Chris Chambers, WR Terrance Copper, TE Sean Ryan, C Wade Smith, LB Mike Vrabel, WR Bobby Wade,
Key figures: Chambers will be Kansas City's priority. He gave the Chiefs’ offense a big spark after he was claimed off waivers in November. The team’s brass really likes what Brown and Vrabel bring to the team and both could be back in Kansas City at the right price. Wade also could be brought back.
Unrestricted free agents: Hiram Eugene, G Cornell Green, K Sebastian Janikowski, DE Richard Seymour, T Langston Walker, LB Sam Williams
Key figures: It’s all about Seymour and Janikowski. The Raiders are trying to get long-term deals with both players done. If new deals aren’t struck, watch for Oakland to put the franchise and transition tags on them. Oakland will do anything it can not to lose either player.
San Diego Chargers
Unrestricted free agents: DT Alfonso Boone, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, C Dennis Norman, WR Kassim Osgood. T Jon Runyan, DT Ian Scott, TE Kris Wilson
Key figures: The team would like to bring back Osgood, one of the best special-teams players in the NFL. But Osgood wants a chance to be a receiver and the opportunity might not be in San Diego. The Chargers will spend most of their energy on their restricted class. The priorities are receiver Vincent Jackson, tackle Marcus McNeill, linebacker Shawne Merriman, running back Darren Sproles and receiver Malcom Floyd.
- Denver quarterback Kyle Orton looks very good. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 159 yards in the first half.
- Denver is playing very aggressively. It went for it on fourth-and-5 from New York’s 29. On the play, Orton hit tight end Tony Scheffler for a 22-yard catch to the 7.
- Denver running Knowshon Moreno has 40 yards on nine carries. He is running with great purpose.
- Denver receiver Jabar Gaffney made great catch in the first quarter for 28 yards, but he dropped a pass for what would have been a big pass play early in the second quarter.
- Denver star cornerback Champ Bailey is working on kick coverage and the punt return unit.
- Denver safety Brian Dawkins started despite having a neck injury. He had a very good first half. He made several hard hits.
- New Denver punter Mitch Berger continued to improve. He is in his fifth game with Denver.
- Denver linebacker Elvis Dumervil got his 13th sack of the season. He leads the NFL in sacks. It is a career high for the four-year veteran.
- Denver receiver Eddie Royal is out with a thigh injury. He is questionable to return.
- Denver receiver Brandon Marshall had a great, I mean, great leaping, one-handed catch at the Giants’ 10 in the second quarter. After the play, Marshall ran over to Denver coach Josh McDaniels and celebrated with him before running back to the huddle.
- The NFL Network apologized for an expletive McDaniels said on the air Thursday night. He was wearing a microphone.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
PITTSBURGH -- The Baltimore Ravens had momentum. They had scored a touchdown on their previous drive to cut the Pittsburgh Steelers' lead to 16-14 in the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens' defense then held the Steelers to a three-and-out.
But Ravens safety Daren Stone was flagged 15 yards for mugging Steelers gunner Anthony Madison out of bounds when the ball was in the air. The penalty was assessed from the spot Leonhard fielded the punt, pushing the Ravens back to their own 14.
The Terrible Towels responded accordingly.
Instead of having comfy field position and plenty of time to remain conservative, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu eventually intercepted a desperation third-down pass by Joe Flacco and returned it for a touchdown.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
PITTSBURGH--The Steelers and Dallas Cowboys are tied 3-3 at halftime of this defensive struggle at Heinz Field.
Here are some first-half observations:
- For two teams expected to contend for a Super Bowl, this has been a very sloppy game through two quarters. Both sides have combined for six turnovers, which include a pair of fumbles from quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo. Neither signal caller is playing particularly well, but you also have to give both defenses credit.
- Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is doing a tremendous job of containing Dallas receiver Terrell Owens in the first half. Owens has zero catches thus far and Taylor had an interception in the second quarter that set up Pittsburgh's only field goal. The Steelers are also helping over the top and keeping defenders around Owens when playing zone.
- Pittsburgh outside linebacker James Harrison earned a key third-down sack and tied Pittsburgh's single-season record for 15 in a season. Former Steelers Mike Merriweather also recorded 15 sacks in 1984, but Harrison likely will break that mark with three games remaining.
- Pittsburgh's punting woes continue. Mitch Berger, who is in his second stint with the Steelers this season, hit just one good punt in the entire first half and is costing Pittsburgh field position with nearly every attempt.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has seen more curveballs in Pittsburgh than your typical Pirates slugger.
This season, Reed has had a change of long-snappers, following a knee injury to teammate Greg Warren.
|AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar|
|While his holders have rotated, Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has been a constant.|
Add the fact that the field conditions in Heinz Field are getting uglier by the day and Pittsburgh's offense has sputtered, and it's amazing that Reed's kicking remains the one constant.
The seven-year veteran is quietly having the best season of his career for the 7-3 Steelers. In his most recent outing, Reed kicked through snowy conditions and made three clutch field goals during an 11-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers. He is 16-of-17 on field goals this year, and his percentage (94.1) is fourth in the NFL among kickers with at least 14 attempts.
Most fans simply watch Reed kick on game day but fail to understand the work needed to seamlessly make the transition to a new long-snapper (rookie Jared Retkofsky) and three different holders in one year.
"When you talk about adversity for a kicker," Reed said, "it doesn't get much more adverse than this."
Reed is accustomed to curveballs. He got first got a taste of the unpredictability that is the NFL during his rookie year in 2002.
Following a solid college career at the University of North Carolina, Reed went undrafted and was unable to land on an NFL roster. So the Charlotte native went back to the Tar Heel state to work on a dairy farm cleaning debris.
"Everyone thinks I was a farmer, which is not true," Reed said, smiling. "I was just working on a farm for a friend who was actually a true farmer."
Reed then took the winding path to Pittsburgh.
An injury to former Steelers kicker Todd Peterson earned Reed a tryout for the Steelers in November 2002. Pittsburgh was the seventh team Reed tried out for that year.
It was a typical winter mosh pit at Heinz Field when Reed joined three other kickers to try out. Through sleet and approximately 30-degree weather, Reed had perhaps his worst kicking display before an NFL team.
"It was cool to get a tryout but you're thinking, 'Man, why couldn't it be a different day?'" Reed said. "We all kicked about equally. ...We all missed some that we should have made and were slipping all over the place."
Reed admits that none of the kickers were impressive enough to earn the job, but he got the nod that day. Reed said former Steelers coach Bill Cowher still jokes with him occasionally, saying he has no idea why he chose the rookie kicker six years ago.
But Cowher's intuition is still paying dividends. Reed has a career 83-percent success rate on field goals, despite kicking half his games at home on arguably the toughest surface in the NFL. The past two years Reed has made 39 of 42 field-goal attempts (92.8 percent) for Pittsburgh.
Some kickers can be outcasts in their locker rooms, but Reed is not one of them. When he arrived six years ago, teammates and coaches didn't know his name. Now he's a fan favorite. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger often praises Reed, saying earlier this year that he has "the utmost confidence in him." Reed also was chosen to be a captain this year by his peers.
Without a doubt, it has been a long road for the Steelers' kicker who, after college, was working on the farm for $12 per hour.
But in a blue-collar town like Pittsburgh, Reed is an ideal fit.
"It would be great to be a first-round pick ... but I kind of like it better when you have to earn what you got," Reed said. "Coach Cowher's saying was 'It's hard to get there, but it's harder to stay.' If that's not reality, then I don't know what is."
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I'm receiving word that some of you don't appreciate the all-burgandy look the Redskins are going with tonight. Hopefully we can track down the Redskins' record in this color combination.
The Steelers don't have anything to show for it yet, but this looks like a different team with Willie Parker. He just hits the hole so fast that guys don't have to stay with their blocks as long. Notice how narrow the splits are between the offensive linemen when Parker is about to run. I'm thinking the Redskins might notice this, too.
Steelers punter Mitch Berger has been banged up, and that's reflected in his performance.
Final Cleveland 10 Baltimore 20 Final Dallas 44 Washington 17 Final Indianapolis 27 Tennessee 10 Final Jacksonville 17 Houston 23 Final San Diego 7 Kansas City 19 Final New York 37 Miami 24 Final Chicago 9 Minnesota 13 Final Buffalo 17 New England 9 Final Philadelphia 34 New York 26 Final New Orleans 23 Tampa Bay 20 Final Carolina 34 Atlanta 3 Final Detroit 20 Green Bay 30 Final Oakland 14 Denver 47 Final Arizona 17 San Francisco 20 Final St. Louis 6 Seattle 20 Final Cincinnati 17 Pittsburgh 27