When a peaceful Christmas afternoon was interrupted with news of a blizzard warning in New York and the instantly expedited travel schedule that went along with it, I expected that I’d be walking back to the hotel in the driving snow at midnight on Sunday, after the Vikings-Eagles post-game show had ended.
I expected wrong.
With the Sunday night game postponed due to the threat of an in-game blizzard, I made the trip back three hours earlier than expected. Which gave me plenty of extra time to cobble the Monday 10-pack and, more importantly, to get something approximating a good night’s sleep. Which also will give me more time to work on PFT on Monday, since my normal travel day will consist of traveling nowhere.
For now, here’s the 10-pack.
1. Philly cancellation raises big questions.
On the surface, we understand the league’s decision to opt for public safety, given the forecast that was available at the time the decision to postpone Sunday night’s Vikings-Eagles game was made. Safety always should come first, and playing a football game in a blizzard would have been very unsafe for the fans who would have made their way to Lincoln Financial Field.
A short walk from 30 Rock to the hotel on Sunday night helped me understand how treacherous it could have been in Philly.
But NBC’s Cris Collinsworth made an excellent point during Sunday’s show-must-go-on version of Football Night in America. Has the NFL now set a precedent that will potentially result in more snow-related postponements of games?
No one talked about postponing the Ice Bowl or the 1981 AFC title game, which featured the Chargers and Collinsworth’s Bengals playing under Antarctic wind chills. If the fans wanted to show up, they showed up. If they wanted to stay home, they stayed home. Buying a ticket to a football game includes an inherent risk of bad weather. The game ultimately is played, in all conditions except those entailing the random presence of periodic 54,000-degree bolts of electricity.
And so not everyone agreed with the move, including Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who told FOX 29 that “Vince Lombardi would be spinning in his grave” in light of the conclusion that Philly was not ready for some football.
“I think it’s a joke,” Rendell also said. “I think the fans can make their own judgments about their safety. . . . It’s a decision that fans make for themselves.”
The bigger question is whether the NFL will make a similar decision under similar circumstances in the future, or whether a higher bar will be utilized before taking the drastic step of opting not to play a game.
Our biggest fear? That the criticism of the decision will persuade the NFL not to postpone a game the next time it appears based on the forecast that postponement should occur, setting the stage for a true public safety hazard.
2. Coughlin moves closer to being fired.
In the wake of last Sunday’s stunning collapse against the Eagles, the Giants demonstrated a defiance that bordered on arrogance. Focusing only on the fact that they built a 21-point lead and not on their inexplicable failure to hold it, the Giants believed that they’d go to Green Bay and upend a potent Packers team.
Safety Antrel Rolle even guaranteed it.
In the end, the Giants lost by 28 points.
Though all is not yet lost for the seasons, the Giants need the Bears to do at Lambeau what the Giants couldn’t. And the Giants also need to win at Washington. It’s hardly implausible, but if it doesn’t happen it’s hard to imagine coach Tom Coughlin getting another year on the job.
After the 2009 season ended with the Giants missing the playoffs, co-owner John Mara was livid. He won’t be any more pleased given the Miracle in the New Meadowlands, the blowout in Green Bay, and what likely will be another failure to secure a ticket to the tournament.
With Coughlin under contract for one more season in the world’s biggest market, Coughlin can’t work as a lame duck in 2011. So either he gets an extension, or he gets a pink slip.
Miss the playoffs, and pink likely will be the operative color.
3. Kubiak could be out the door, too.
Recently, Texans owner Bob McNair hasn’t sounded like a guy who is ready to hire the third coach in franchise history, which would of course require him to fire the second coach in franchise history. But after the Texans blew a 17-0 halftime lead to fall to 5-10 in a year that began with high hopes and great promise, thanks to a Week One win over the Colts, the Texans will complete their ninth NFL season without a single playoff berth to show for their efforts.
So can Kubiak survive? More importantly, can McNair continue to keep the fan base behind his franchise by keeping with the status quo, especially with Bill Cowher supposedly interested in the job?
As Rosenthal pointed out earlier today, long-time Texans scribe John McClain now would be stunned if the entire coaching staff isn’t fired.
So regardless of whether the replacement is Cowher or Jeff Fisher or someone else entirely, the Texans’ squandering of that big lead in Denver may have squandered whatever goodwill Kubiak still had in Houston.
4. Sparano faces the end of the line, too.
Two years ago, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano finished second in the Associated Press coach of the year voting. In less than two weeks, he could be out of a job.
I made the case for change during Football Night in America. (The video appears below, but that won’t stop me from repeating what I said in this format.)
Former V.P. of football operations Bill Parcells hired Sparano. And Parcells is now out of the picture. And owner Stephen Ross bought the team after Sparano was on the job.
Competing with the likes of the Miami Heat, Ross wants home games at Sun Life Stadium to be special, the football equivalent of a trip to Staples Center, with minority owners like Jimmy Buffett and Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony and Fergie and Venus and Serena Williams playing the role of Jack Nicholson sitting courtside. This year, the Dolphins won only one of eight home games, losing in the last week to the lowly Bills and even lowlier Lions, who have now won two straight road games after losing 26 in a row.
In calendar year 2010, the Steelers won twice as many games in Sun Life Stadium as the Dolphins.
So it’s only a matter of time before Ross cleans house and hires his own guy, presumably a big-name, rock-star type who will bring the kind of sizzle that Ross covets.
And what of G.M. Jeff Ireland? Considering that Ireland opted to take left tackle Jake Long over quarterback Matt Ryan with the first pick in the 2008 draft, it’s safe to assume that that Ireland would be gone as well, and that the next coach possibly will have the power to run the show.
Bottom line? All three of the jobs reportedly on Bill Cowher’s non-wishing wish list may come open a week from today.
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5. Chiefs-Pats on a collision course?
In the NFC, the most anticipated postseason game entails a return by Mike Vick to the Georgia Dome, which will happen if the Eagles and Falcons square off at any point in January.
In the AFC, plenty of intrigue would arise from a visit by the Chiefs to Foxboro.
It would entail a return not just from a quarterback. In addition to Matt Cassel, linebacker Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and G.M. Scott Pioli would be coming back to town.
On paper, the Patriots should win.
On paper, the Patriots had no business winning Super Bowl XXXVI.
On paper, the Patriots had no business losing Super Bowl XLII.
So with the Pats quietly thrilled that the Chargers have been knocked out of the playoffs, the team that sent the Chargers to the showers could be just as tough of an out as San Diego would have been.
6. Buh-bye, Batman and Robin.
With receiver Terrell Owens on injured reserve and receiver Chad Ochocinco inactive due to injury, the Bengals went out and spanked the Chargers on Sunday, putting 34 points on the board, including four touchdown passes from quarterback Carson Palmer.
Though it may not have been enough to save the jobs of Palmer or coach Marvin Lewis, it underscores the reality that diva receivers can do more harm than good.
If the Bengals can go to Baltimore and knock off the Ravens without T.O. or Ochocinco, who knows? Maybe Palmer and Lewis will get a chance to continue the magic they’ve found once they dumped a pair of jokers.
7. Tebow complicates coaching situation in Denver.
Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow knew that he was auditioning in the final three games of the 2010 season, either for the job in Denver or for a job elsewhere. With an impressive effort on Sunday, throwing for more than 300 yards while leading the Broncos back from a 17-0 halftime hole, Tebow has made it harder to run him out of Denver.
Two years ago, a new coach of the Broncos did just that, when coach Josh McDaniels decided that he wanted Matt Cassel over Jay Cutler. After the effort to get Cassel failed, the relationship between McDaniels and Cutler was irreparably damaged.
The question now becomes whether the next coach will legitimately want Tebow to play quarterback, or whether the next coach will want his own guy. But the fans in Denver have found hope in Tebow, and they’ll be even more restless if Tebow ends up getting the Cutler treatment.
Even though ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Sunday that the next coach in Denver won’t be required to keep Tebow, the next coach may not as a practical matter have that option, if he wants to get the mile-high mob on his side.
8. Lions laying the foundation for success.
Back when the Lions were struggling through a season that produced a record characteristic of the Millen years, it seemed like the team was actually improving. Now that the Lions have won in three weeks more games than they previously had won all year, a quiet sense of wail-til-next-year euphoria is emerging in Michigan.
The Lions beat the Packers at home and then the Lions ended a 26-game road losing streak with a pair of victories in Florida over quality teams, the Bucs and the Dolphins. It’s an amazing development, given that quarterback Matthew Stafford has missed most of the season with a shoulder injury and every guy that has replaced him eventually has gotten injured, too.
They have a chance to finish out the season with a four-game winning streak when they host the Vikings on Sunday. A win could pull the Lions out of the basement of the NFC North, making the Lions one of the “hot” teams entering 2011 -- and possibly putting them in position to make it to the playoffs for the first time since Matt Millen drove the franchise deep into the ground.
9. Redskins do themselves no favors with meaningless win.
Amid rumors and speculation that the Redskins were hoping to maximize their first-round draft position by losing the last few games of the season and finishing 5-11, an unlikely overtime win in Jacksonville on Sunday, their second straight fifth-quarter rendezvous with the Jags, has pushed Mike Shanahan’s team to 6-9.
Right now, then, the ‘Skins wouldn’t even be picking in the top ten.
Though Shanahan (if he’s not one-and-out in D.C.) could still trade up, we pointed out last week that the price tag for trading up will likely go up in 2011, if the price tag for signing top-ten players drops under a rookie wage scale. With the ‘Skins having plenty of cash but not plenty of picks to surrender, they may have to simply make lemonade out of a draft position that will make it harder to find the franchise quarterback that they so desperately need.
10. Bucs building something special.
With three times as many wins as they managed in 2009, the Buccaneers have provided one of the best turnaround stories in recent years. But with the playoffs remaining a long shot but not an impossibility, Tampa Bay may not get the credit they deserve, if they don’t qualify for the postseason.
Come next year, they will. Despite placement in a division featuring strong teams in Atlanta and New Orleans, the Bucs are young, talented, and hungry. Once they learn how to beat “good” teams, they will be ready to make their move -- and they could be one of the teams at the top of the conference in 2011.
Hopefully, that will transform those weekly blackouts into the hottest ticket in Tampa.