NFL

How the Seahawks will (or won't) stay on top

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How the Seahawks will (or won't) stay on top

Written by Julian Rogers 

It’s much easier to reach the top of the mountain than it is to stay on top of the mountain. Given the Seattle Seahawks’ most recent two-year run, NFL observers consider the Seahawks to be on the top of the heap. Or at least within about one yard of it.

Offseason prognostications unanimously list the Seahawks as one of the top, it not the topmost, team to beat in the 2015 NFL season. The outlook for the blue birds’ immediate future is quite rosy. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. The Seahawks’ organizational prowess will be put to the test in ways they haven’t yet been tested.

Securing difference-makers

There are guys who get the job done. And then there are difference-makers. On offense, you need at least three.

Right now, the Seahawks have secured what they believe to be the necessary difference-maker trinity on offense: quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch and elite receiving threat tight end Jimmy Graham. With those three in hand, plus the continuing production from the rest of the offensive core, the Seahawks look poised to sport the most balanced offensive attack they’ve had since before Lynch arrived in 2010.

Assuming the Seahawks are able to successfully plug two holes in the starting lineup of the offensive line (LG, C), Seahawks opponents are faced with a new dilemma when the trinity is on the field: nickel defense to stop the Wilson-to-Graham combo, or load the box to stop Beast Mode?

Recent Seahawks history shows failing to load up against Lynch is the surest way to defeat. Recent NFL history reveals failing to match up either a brutish defensive back hefty enough to manhandle Graham or a linebacker fleet of foot enough to keep up with Graham is also a fast track to surrendering six scoreboard points. Those types of defenders are not common.

Wilson, for all his gifts, has yet to be able to lift the Seahawks’ passing offense out of the lower third of the NFL rankings in his three seasons. Without question, the Seahawks now expect that to change. A tight end in name only, Graham will line up all over the field, as he did when he had Drew Brees pulling the trigger in New Orleans. While Wilson has not yet produced at the same passing level as Brees, with Graham in the fold, there’s every expectation that he will as he enters the prime of his career.

Why it’s going to get harder

In the NFL, when you have a top-tier quarterback, you usually have to allocate a vast sum of money both to his bank account and your cap space. The Seattle Seahawks have been getting a free ride in that realm for the past three seasons. That’s about to end.

Now that Wilson has accrued three NFL seasons, his rookie contract (which has paid a total to date of around $2.2 million and is scheduled to pay out $1.542 million in 2015) can be renegotiated. Both parties want to negotiate a new long-term deal.

Estimates vary, but it’s a safe bet Wilson’s new deal will be north of $20 million per season. When that happens, be it May, June, August or after this season (the Seahawks could refuse a new deal for this year and use the franchise tag in 2016 and 2017) 31 NFL general managers will do a little dance. The Seahawks will now finally be working on a level playing field.

Wilson’s new contract is going to eat roughly $20 million-plus of cap space they previously had to play with. Several current Seahawks are richer because Wilson isn’t. Most recent estimates show the Seahawks have around $11 million of space currently. It’s going to get tricky.

Wilson isn’t the only complicating factor. As for the other two members of the offensive trinity, Graham is locked up through 2017 (and paid quite handsomely, thanks to the Saints) so he should be a cap factor that the Seahawks will work around. Lynch, on the other hand, is an expensive wild card with almost certainly a short-term future in Seattle.

Some are surprised he’s still here for 2015. He’s demanded renegotiations and threatened retirement enough that it’s a very unsafe bet he’ll play out any contract. The Seahawks strategically re-signed Lynch in March to a three-year, $31 million contract (the final two years are year-to-year). So Beast Mode has been paid. Again. He will have no standing with any more contract complaints.

The Seahawks’ salary cap is buckling under the weight of new money for Lynch, Graham and soon-to-be big bucks for Wilson and deserving defensive stalwart linebacker Bobby Wagner. Defensive end Michael Bennett wants a raise, which he almost certainly won’t get. But then I said that about Lynch, too and they re-negotiated with him. Twice. It’s the Seahawks, after all.

Worst case / best case

Worst case scenario for the Seahawks’ trinity is that only one (Graham) is on board beyond 2015. Lynch may be gone (retired, traded, cut because he hits the mileage wall) and Wilson might be at odds with the Seahawks to the degree that they cannot meet his demands or he sits out.

This ugly scenario signals an organization that will be in total rebuild mode. Will 64-year-old Pete Carroll stick around for that? This might be more “win now” than Seahawks fans realize.

Most likely scenario: Graham and Wilson are on board for multiple years. Lynch is probably a memory beyond 2015. The Seahawks can work around that. But misfire on locking up Wilson, which forces veteran Graham to break in another new quarterback, and the Seahawks’ offensive future is as unknown as Michael Bennett’s thought process.

On the surface, it’s odd that the Seahawks, who recently have tossed around dollar bills like they’re daisies in the wind, are at loggerheads with their franchise quarterback. But then again, maybe those profligate ways have finally caught up to them. The rest of the NFL hopes so. They’re also very interested in seeing how the Seahawks will attempt to maintain a championship-level roster now that they have to pay fair market value for a franchise quarterback. They got to the top. How does this team plan to stay there in the salary cap era?

Few get there. Even fewer stay there. It will be a lesson for all: How long can a team afford the view from the top of the mountain?

NFL News and Rumors: If you could ask Tony Romo one question about your future...

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NFL News and Rumors: If you could ask Tony Romo one question about your future...

Perhaps you are still recovering emotionally from the NFL weekend. Both road teams winning, controversial calls or rather controversial no-calls, and only two teams remain as the Super Bowl 53 stage is set. 

But there was a certain someone not named Tom Brady that stole the show late Sunday evening, and his name is Tony Romo. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and now CBS broadcaster was an abolsute gem to listen to throughout the game solely by the fact that he called the play, actually several, before it even happened…

Whether it’s a high football I.Q. or a complete guess, fans, professional athletes, and other commentators are taking notice. Some are even reaching out to Romo for information regarding their futures:

And with CBS airing the Super Bowl, one can expect Romo to be on the call.

Would you be surprised if the New England Patriots win in Kansas City on Sunday?

Would you be surprised if the New England Patriots win in Kansas City on Sunday?

Who do you take: rookie, MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes or arguably the G.O.A.T of the NFL, Tom Brady? Will the New England Patriots reign of terror on the AFC finally come to an end this Sunday in the AFC Championship game? Get your popcorn ready and claim your spot on the couch soon, because this will be a good one between the visiting Patriots at the Chiefs.

Only time will tell… Rob Parker of Fox Sports 1 joins the Brian Noe Show to discuss the upcoming AFC Championship matchup between the Patriots and the Chiefs. 

“I would be very surprised because the Patriots have lost their last three AFC Championship games on the road,” says Parker. “They do not perform when they have go on the road and get it done…”

Kickoff time set for 3:40 PM (PT) at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri. 

Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner lit up by a punter Matt Bosher

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Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner lit up by a punter Matt Bosher

Rule No. 1 during a kick return: do not let the kicker tackle you. 

Destroyed, lit up, leveled, you name it. Atlanta Falcons kick-off specialist/punter Matt Bosher absolutely crushed Carolina Panthers running back and special teams player Kenjon Barner on a kick-off. 

Very rare, but when it happens, it is all too sweet. At least for the kicker. For the returner, it is embarrassing. Just read for yourself:

In his fifth year of his NFL career, Barner (former Oregon Ducks running back) finds himself back with the team that originally drafted him in Carolina. On Sunday, despite getting brutally tackled by Bosher, he had a nice game recording four punts for 109 yards and his longest of 37 yards. Unfortunately for Barner, that doesn't matter to the internet.

The Panthers (6-9) continue their downfall with their seventh loss in a row, this time to the Atlanta Falcons (6-9), 24-10 in Carolina. 

 

San Francisco 49ers' DEs DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bright spots in disappointing season

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San Francisco 49ers' DEs DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bright spots in disappointing season

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers' disappointing season, upended by the knee injury to budding star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, certainly has revealed areas of need that must be addressed in order for this team to ever contend in the NFC West division. 

Defensive end is not on that list because of the presence of two former Oregon Ducks. The previous regime in charge before John Lynch became the franchise's general manager in 2017 drafted well in that area when it selected Arik Armstead with the 17th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and followed up the next year by taking DeForest Buckner with the seventh pick of the first round. 

Their careers have contrasted since they helped lead the Ducks to the national championship game during the 2014 season. Buckner has blossomed quicker in the NFL while Armstead, held back by injuries, is just now starting to realize his potential. 

During their growth as professional players and transitioning from college kids to professional adults, they have always been able to lean on each other. Both arrived at Oregon in 2012 and since have not been teammates only once, in 2015. Their hope now is that they can continue to grow together and help lead the 49ers (4-10) back to respectability and achieve similar success to what they accomplished at Oregon where together they experienced only five losses in three seasons. 

“We’ve been playing together for seven years," Armstead said. "It’s been great. It’s a unique situation to be playing with somebody for so long and kind of grow together and always be there through the ups and downs. It’s been a pretty cool experience.”

--- Buckner emerges 

The 49ers' locker room at Levi's Stadium following Sunday's 26-23 overtime win over Seattle - just two weeks after losing 43-16 at CenturyLink Field - didn't feel like that of a losing team. In part, that was because everyone in that locker room knew how much that win meant to former Seahawks' superstar cornerback Richard Sherman. Also, the win snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Seahawks dating back to 2013. 

“We took it personally," Buckner said. "They flat-out embarrassed us two weeks ago."

Buckner, from Hawaii, had 11 tackles and two sacks in the game to reach 11 sacks for the season. Armstead, from Sacramento, Calif., added five tackles. He has three sacks on the year. For sure, Buckner is putting up the sexier numbers and was rewarded by being named as a Pro Bowl alternate. But Armstead's contributions can't be discounted. He is a strong run stuffer opposite Buckner and according to San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan is starting to emerge as a pass rusher. 

"He does have that type of ability, so I think that's what people hope for," Shanahan told reporters last week. "But, that's not just something that you do. That takes a while, and it takes guys some time playing in this league, playing different positions, to really find their groove. I do see that chance for Arik."

First, Armstead must continue to remain healthy. He has been hindered by injuries off and on since landing at Oregon. After appearing in all 16 games as a rookie, Armstead missed eight his second year and 10 last season. This year has had played in all 14 games. 

"I don't want to jinx myself," Armstead said. "We have two more games. I'm just blessed to be healthy out there."

--- Adjusting to change

Last season San Francisco switched from the 3-4 defense, which the franchise ran when it selected Buckner and Armstead, to the 4-3 defense when Shanahan took over and hired defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The change didn't impact Armstead and Buckner much given that each is well equipped to play either defense given their considerable athleticism especially given their size.

Both are the prototypical, large, two-gap, 3-4 defensive ends at 6-7, 300 pounds for Buckner and 6-7, 292 for Armstead. However, each is more athletic than your average man of that size. While most 4-3 defensive ends are smaller, it cannot be forgotten that hall of famer Reggie White racked up 198 sacks at 6-5, 291 and Carolina's Julius Peppers will likely make the hall of fame with 158 career sacks at 6-7, 295. Comparing Buckner and Armstead to the likes of the late White and Peppers is, of course, premature. However, both Buckner and Armstead certainly fit into the same breed of defensive end. Large. Strong. Athletic. 

Buckner has certainly shown flashes of being a potential future All-Pro with 20 sacks in three seasons thanks to 11 this year. 

“Getting to double digits, I knew I was capable of it and to see my hard work get paid off, it’s definitely gratifying," he said. "I knew I could do it and I worked my tail off in the offseason to get there."

Saleh said Buckner last year had many pressures and QB knockdowns that could have been sacks with fine-tuning of his technique when disengaging from blockers and closing on quarterbacks. 

"We talked about him needing to find that extra half of step," Saleh told reporters this week. "He's really taken it to heart and he's found that step."

Sometimes, Saleh said, it takes a while for young defensive linemen to find their way. Armstead is no different. 

"Arik is probably having his best year," Saleh said. "It just takes time."

--- Remaining 49ers

The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Armstead's rookie contract and Shanahan said they hope to resign him long-term. That's also the plan with Buckner. Armstead said he certainly wants to remain with the 49ers. 

"I love it here," he said. "I've been here my whole career. They drafted me and gave me an opportunity. I want to be here and help win games."

Armstead entered the NFL at age 21 and said he has grown a lot in four years. 

"Most, probably as a person," he said. "I'm 25. Getting kind of old. But maturing as a person. I'm out on my own now. I'm a professional. I've had a good experience."

Armstead has been very active doing charity work in his hometown of Sacramento, which he said is very important to him. 

"I feel like I've been blessed in my life with so many things and it's my responsibility to give back in any way that I came," he said. "A lot of my efforts are directed to people in Sacramento where I'm from and trying to impact my city in a positive way."

The Oregon duo of Buckner and Armstead is respected by teammates. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones said the two are often inseparable.

"You see one you see the other," he said. "They are the twin towers." 

Jones said teammates don't give the former Ducks too much grief for being bosom Ducks. 

"Both are phenomenal people off the field," Jones said. "On the field, they are just the same. I've learned so much from them."

Their NFL careers are in full swing and their futures appear to be strong. How long they remain teammates will be played out on the business end of the NFL pool. One thing for sure is that both have benefited from entering this world together as former Ducks tied at the hip and supporting each other. 

“It’s encouragement and helping each other," Armstead said. "Teaching each other things we’ve learned and passing it along. Having good communication out there from playing together so long. Definitely encouraging each other is the main thing.”

The AFC/NFC playoffs: who's in, who's in the hunt, who's spiraling

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The AFC/NFC playoffs: who's in, who's in the hunt, who's spiraling

First, let’s start with the AFC

Who is in:

There are only two teams that have clinched a playoff berth: the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) and the San Diego Chargers (11-3). The two teams had an epic battle under the Thursday Night Football lights that ended with a winning two-point conversion by the Chargers to win 29-28 over the Chiefs. Interestingly enough, these two teams are both in the AFC West division, have split the series between the two, but the Chiefs are the division leader while the Chargers lead the Wildcard race.

Division Leaders:

- AFC South: Houston Texas (10-4)

- AFC East: New England Patriots (9-5)

- AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1)

Notable games:

- New England loses on the road to Pittsburgh 17-10.

- Houston defeats the New York Jets, but clinching the division is still on hold with another Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans victory.

In the hunt:

- Don’t count out the Baltimore Ravens just yet. After taking it to the Chiefs last week, the Ravens (8-6) bounced back today with a 20-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Ravens lie one game behind the Steelers, who beat the Patriots today.

- The Indianapolis Colts (8-6) are 7-1 in the last eight games. After shutting out the visiting Dallas Cowboys today 23-0, next up for the Colts are the Giants and then at Tennessee.   

- The Tennessee Titans (8-6), also in the same division as the Colts, shut out the Giants 17-0 and are battling in a tight race for second and a potential Wildcard spot with the Colts. The two face up in the last week of the regular season.

- Miami (7-7) coming off a loss to the Vikings and Cleveland (6-7-1) are also still in the hunt.

 

Now, for the NFC

Who is in:

Three teams have clinched a spot in the NFC playoffs: the New Orleans Saints, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Chicago Bears. 

Division Leaders:

- NFC South: New Orleans Saints (11-2)

- NFC West: Los Angeles Rams (11-3)

- NFC North: Chicago Bears (10-4)

- The only remaining division yet to be clinched is the NFC East, which the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) currently lead but were shut out by the Colts today. Riding their coattails are the Eagles (7-7), coming off a big win Sunday night, and the Washington Redskins (7-7) who won on a game-winning field goal 16-13 over the Jacksonville Jaguars. This division will come down to the wire. 

Notable games:

- The Seattle Seahawks (8-6) dropped to the San Francisco 49ers (4-10) in the Bay Area in what “should have” been a win to clinch a playoff spot is now on hold with Kansas City coming into Seattle next Sunday. 

- The Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) picked up a big win over the Miami Dolphins to remain in the Wildcard race.

- The Eagles (7-7) defeated the Los Angeles Rams on the road.

In the hunt:

- Washington got its prayers answered with a win over Jacksonville to remain in playoff contention at 7-7, also with a Dallas Cowboys loss. The NFC East is anyone’s division at this point.

- The Carolina Panthers (6-7) need to get back on track but face the Saints next on Monday Night Football.

 

 

Dallas Cowboys ran out of Luck in shutout loss

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Dallas Cowboys ran out of Luck in shutout loss

The Dallas COwboys ran out of, or rather into, Luck. Andrew Luck that is. 

When all was going in the right direction for "America's Team", today was a turn of the tides. The Cowboys (now 8-6) were riding a five-game win streak and in a good spot on top of the NFC East after beating division rival Philadelphia last Sunday now hit the road into Colts territory. But it did not look like the same Dallas team, on both sides of the ball, got off the plane. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot was limited to 87 yards on 18 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. While counterpart quarterback Dak Prescott did throw for 206 yards, but had one interception and zero touchdowns on the day.

For the first time since 2003, the Cowboys were shutout in a 23-0 loss to the Colts (8-6).

Perhaps this recap should be more about Andrew Luck and the Colts offense because not only has this Cowboys defense been stellar the past two weeks, but Andrew Luck or rather this Colts offensive line got it done today making way for the ground game to put up 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Next up the Colts look to keep their playoff hopes alive hosting the New York Giants (5-9) on Sunday.

Marcus Mariota making a case for linebacker

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Marcus Mariota making a case for linebacker

It it not a scret that Marcus Mariota is a team player. It is a quality in his human nature, and it showed yet again this morning.

On a brisk day in New York against the Giants, the Tennessee Titans quarterback lined up as wide receiver in a wildcat formation, in perfect position for what was heading his way. As running back Derrick Henry made his run to Mariota's side, Mariota lead Henry with a monster block, sacrificing his own body for Henry to spring free. What his coaches may call ill-advised since Mariota has been dealing with some injuries, fans and teammates loved the effort.

Also just for reference, Mariota is 6' 4", 222 pounds. Alec Ogletree is 6' 2", 235 pounds.

The Titans are sitting in third of the AFC South at 7-6 and need this win over the New York Giants (5-8) to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Did someone put ice on the Oakland field?

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Did someone put ice on the Oakland field?

Was there a patch of ice on the Oakland Raiders field Sunday afternoon precisely at 4:48 PM (PT) on the 40-yard-line? We're only kidding, it was a sunny 57 degree day in Oakland, however, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell slipped on what would have been a game-tying field goal. Whoops.

The Oakland Raiders get their third win of the season with a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh. The Steelers drop their third game in a row and have a tough schedule coming up: host New England and at New Orleans before hosting the Cincinnati Bengals to finish the regular season. Other than a tough schedule ahead, Ben "Big Ben" Roethlisberger left this game early after taking a big hit but checked back into the game in the fourth quarter. 

Keep an eye out for this AFC North division featuring the Steelers at 7-5-1, Baltimore (7-6) who barely lost today at Kansas City, and the surging Cleveland Browns (it's been awhile since I've said that) at 5-7-1 who defeated Carolina today.

 

Kansas City Chiefs no-looking their way into the playoffs

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Kansas City Chiefs no-looking their way into the playoffs

When you think of a chess match in terms of NFL teams, Kansas City vs. Baltimore did not disappoint. Rookie quarterback vs. rookie quarterback.

Patrick Mahomes is breaking all the rules. Throwing late back across the field, holding the ball to losely in his hands while he is scrambling, no-look passes, but still proving he is scrapy and can build drives late in the fourth quarter when his team needs him most. 

Late in the fourth quarter, Mahomes and the Chiefs had a 4th & 9, down 24-17. Trying to build as much time as possible, Mahomes scrambled right and blades of grass before hitting the sideline white chalk, heaves a huge throw down the middle of the field right on target to speedy (and very much injured) Tyreek Hill, who battled through a leg injury late in this game. This set up a game-tying 24-24 touchdown with under a minute to go. 

Despite the Chiefs' defensive line coming up HUGE with a strip sack on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to set up a game-wining field goal that was missed right, overtime was more of Mahomes Time. 

Mahomes lead a 75-yard opening field-goal drive to go up 27-24 in overtime. In the end, it was more of the defense that stepped up for Mahomes and the Chiefs hanging onto the lead and clinching a playoff berth.

Next up the Chiefs (11-2) host the Los Angeles Chargers (9-3) on Thursday Night Football.