The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Raheem Morris after only three seasons. Photo by Jeff Lewis
The Chicago Bears cleaned house, but head coach Lovie Smith will stay. Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Wild Card Weekend
It’s that time of the year in the NFL when all the bad teams close up shop and we’re left with the cream of the crop. It’s playoff time!
Well, not all of the bad teams have gone home for the winter. Somebody from the AFC West had to make the playoffs as a division winner, and seeing that the Oakland Raiders did not show much interest in going, it ended up being the Denver Broncos, who have lost their last three games in a row.
The Tim Tebow magic has worn off, and he is just looking like a bad quarterback at this point. It was all good when he was leading them on last minute victories, but now that the team is losing, nobody wants to hear about Tebow time.
But CBS wants to see as much Tebow time as possible. When the Broncos hosted the New England Patriots a few weeks ago, the game was televised to 80 percent of the nation and had a 19.5 rating, which was the second highest rated game for CBS since the network reacquired NFL games in 1998.
Will CBS be able to televise multiple games featuring Tebow? Judging by what the Broncos are doing, probably not. Over the Broncos six game winning streak they never lost the turnover battle, and Tebow’s best attribute was that he was not turning the ball over much. But over the last three games, all losses, Tebow has turned the ball over seven times, and as a team the Broncos have nine turnovers to their opponent’s one.
On Sunday afternoon the Broncos host the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have one of the best defenses in the league. The Steelers have championship experience, having been to three Super Bowls in recent years, winning two of them, and the chances of the Broncos putting up points on them are slim.
The only thing working against the Steelers in the game will be injuries. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will play with a high ankle sprain, but he is not close to being 100 percent, and running back Rashard Mendanhall is out for the season with a knee injury. Backup running back Mewelde Moore has been out with a knee injury. The Broncos do not play much offense, but they do play very well on defense, which means that the injuries that the Steelers have on offense could hurt their chances.
The Steelers will also be without safety Ryan Clark, who led the team with 100 tackles on the season. Clark has a sickle cell trait, which is a major issue in high altitudes. In a 2007 game at Denver, which is known as the Mile High City, Clark became violently ill and lost his spleen and gall bladder because of deprivation of oxygen to his major organs.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did not allow Clark to play in a 2009 regular season game at Denver and Clark was also held out of a preseason game there last season. Ryan Mundy, who only has two career starts, will replace Clark.
In the other AFC wildcard game, both the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals will feature rookie quarterbacks on Saturday afternoon.
It is hard to get a read on this game because the Texans, like the Broncos, have backed into the playoffs by losing three games in a row, but the Bengals are 0-7 this season against teams that have made the playoffs. The Texans defeated the Bengals 20-19 in week 14, but that is their last victory.
The chances of either of these teams moving on past the second round are slim, but going by the numbers, since 2005 in the AFC the road team is 7-5 in the second round of the playoffs. Last year the New York Jets went into New England and left with a ticket to the AFC Championship game.
The NFC wildcard match ups look a lot more exciting than the AFC. The Atlanta Falcons travel to the New York Giants on Sunday morning, and the New Orleans Saints host the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.
The Saints are the hottest team in the league right now, winning eight straight, but the streaky Lions seem unbeatable when they get it going. Only problem is that they do not always get it going.
The Lions have not won a playoff game in 20 years, and up until recently they were the laughing stock of the NFL. But they are finally in the postseason, and if they can work the ball to wide receiver Calvin Johnson often, they may be able to score with the Saints.
The Lions are going to need to put up a lot of points, because their chances of stopping the Saints offense will be slim. The Green Bay Packers scored 45 points on the Lions last week with their back up quarterback, so Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who broke the record for most passing yards in a season, might be looking to set playoff records.
In the other NFC game, the Falcons should thank the Lions for losing to the Packers last week, because that allowed them to play the Giants instead of the Saints. The Giants are the home team, but the Falcons may be the better team.
The Giants were the last NFC team in the playoffs, but they have a tough bunch with pass rushers who can get after the quarterback and on offense wide receiver Victor Cruz has been nearly unstoppable. He has 1,536 yards and he has lit up some of the best cornerbacks in the league this season.
There were a few surprising moves by teams who did not make the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Raheem Morris after only three seasons, one of which the Bucs won 10 games.
Morris appeared to have the Bucs on the right track in his second season as the head coach when the team posted a 10-6 record. He was viewed as a young coach with an extremely bright future. But this season the team fell apart. They were supposed to take the next step to becoming a contender, and after a 4-2 start to the season, which included wins over the Saints and Falcons, they looked like they were on the right track. But then the wheels fell off as they lost their last 10 games in a row, and ended up giving up the most points in franchise history.
Three seasons is a short stint for a coach, especially when one of those years was a 10-win season.
In an even more surprising move, the Indianapolis Colts fired Vice President Bill Polian, who has been with the organization since 1997.
Before Polian was hired the Colts were the worst team in the league. The first thing he did was draft quarterback Peyton Manning, and then he built one of the NFL’s greatest offenses in the history of the game around the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
The move may be step one in moving Manning out of town. There are still concerns with his neck injury, and he is owed a $28 million roster bonus in March. The Colts hold the first pick in the NFL draft, with the likely choice being Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Moving Manning before March can help the Colts avoid the PR nightmare of having both Manning and Luck on the roster at the same time. They will take a PR hit by trading Manning, but it might be worth it if Luck turns out to be as good as advertised.
If the Colts hang on to Manning and draft Luck, then they will have $50 million tied up into two players who play the same position, and only one of them can play at a time. So moving Manning may be the move to make. Polian may not have wanted to make that move.
In Chicago the Bears have done some house cleaning, firing general manager Jerry Angelo, but head coach Lovie Smith has been spared. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is not so lucky. He will not be back next year.
Dallas Cowboy fans may not be too pleased to hear that Jerry Jones, the NFL’s only owner/general manager, will not give up GM duties.
Jones believes that adding a GM would hurt the decision making process, not help it. He said that there could be as much turnover at the GM position as there is at the coaching level. The theory is that by him being the GM year-in year-out, there will be more continuity in the front office. But the continuity that the Cowboys have experienced has produces disappointing seasons nearly every year, so a little turnover would be good.
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