It’s Playoff Time. But First…
Skimming the news at the end of the NFL’s 96th regular season:
• There could be five or six coaching changes, lighter than expected. Out: Mike Pettine (Cleveland), Jim Tomsula (San Francisco), Chip Kelly (Philadelphia). A matter of time: Dan Campbell (Miami), Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis). Leaning toward leaving: Tom Coughlin (Giants). Fifty-fifty: Sean Payton (New Orleans). Looking safer than we thought a week ago: Mike McCoy (San Diego), Jim Caldwell (Detroit), Mike Mularkey (Tennessee). Announced he’ll return but with Jerry Jones you never know: Jason Garrett (Dallas).
• The playoff field is set, and is it possible that the best two AFC teams are the 5 and 6 seeds? Kansas City (five) opens at Houston, while explosive Pittsburgh (six) could be without DeAngelo Williams (right ankle) at rival Cincinnati.
• Peyton Manning’s career is not over. San Diego 13, Denver 7, mid-third quarter, and a loss means dropping from first seed to fifth seed in the playoffs. Pretty big. Off the bench came Manning, playing for the first time in 49 days. “Sometimes you just feel the team is looking around for ‘that guy,’” said coach Gary Kubiak. Manning led Denver to scores on four of the next five drives, and suddenly he’s That Guy for Denver’s playoff stretch.
• Charles Woodson’s career is over. I told Woodson, 45 minutes off the field after his last game in Kansas City, that Manning (1998 draft: Manning first pick, Woodson fourth) had just come off the bench to lead Denver to a comeback victory. “Are you kidding me?!” Woodson said. “You kidding me?! Wow. I guess the 1998 draft class ain’t done winning.” But the 39-year-old Woodson’s done, for sure. I asked one of the great defensive backs of all time how he felt walking off the field for the last time. “Tired,” he said. “Just tired. I’m ready.”
• Winning his third rushing title leaves Adrian Peterson “haunted a little bit.” Make no mistake—at 30 he’s thrilled to win the title (327 carries, 1,485), and he loves being the outlier as the only back in football this year with more than 290 carries. But he wants to pass Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing record and … well, I’ll have his story for you lower in the column.
• “With the second pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select …” The Browns have been so horrible at first-round picks lately (Taylor, Richardson, Weeden, Mingo, Gilbert, Manziel) that I hate to sentence Jared Goffor Paxton Lynch to a life on the Lake, but draw straws, gentlemen. Short one goes to the Browns. Tennessee has the first pick and could get a package of picks to move down with any number of QB-needy teams (San Francisco at seven, Chicago at 11, Philadelphia at 13, St. Louis at 15).
• Speaking of Johnny Manziel, he went AWOL Sunday. I reported on NBC last night that Manziel, who was supposed to be in the NFL’s concussion protocol (I am not so sure about the legitimacy of that, by the way) but was reported by USA Today to be at a casino in Las Vegas on Saturday instead, violated team rules by not showing up for a 9 a.m. Sunday appointment with a Browns medical official—then the team couldn’t find him for hours. Seems like he’s trying to party his way out of Cleveland. The team doesn’t want him anymore but won’t say so for fear of eliminating any trade value for him. Too late for that. I bet 25 teams in this league, at least, wouldn’t take Manziel off waivers right now.
• Kickers missed 71 PATs this year. Kickers converted the 33-yard extra point at a fairly predictable rate (94.2 percent). “I think it’s here to stay,” said Competition Committee member Marvin Lewis, who’s not crazy about the longer distance but understands that it turns a ceremonial play into a competitive one, one that on Sunday made Buffalo kicker Dan Carpenter (who has missed six extra points this year) slam his helmet to the ground in anger and have it bounce back up and ricochet off his face. Nice replays, CBS.
• Didn’t you used to be Green Bay? It’s going to be a short postseason for the Packers unless they find some miracle cure for what ails the offense.
• Rex came, Rex saw, Rex conquered. Nov. 12: Buffalo 22, Jets 17 … Jan 3: Buffalo 22, Jets 17. Let there be no doubt about the continued impact of Rex Ryan on all things Gang Green: The former coach of the New York Jets, relocated to Buffalo, is the person most responsible for the New York Jets not making the playoffs this year. Which is a good reason why the back page of the New York Daily News this morning blares: WRECKS RYAN……(continue reading)