• We hear the Eagles' decision to go with Max Jean-Gilles over Stacy Andrews at right guard — Jamaal Jackson's season-ending ACL tear forced the team to move Nick Cole from guard to center to replace him — has something to do with Andrews' slow return from offseason knee surgery. But he also has struggled to grasp the team's offense and failed to show any of the spunk he did as a starter in Cincinnati. Jean-Gilles did not play all that well down the stretch last season before getting hurt, so it's particularly telling that he is getting the nod over Andrews.
• The expectation is that Cowboys ORT Marc Colombo will return for the team's first playoff game. He has been doing some aggressive rehab and on-field work and should be ready for the playoff opener. Doug Free had done a nice job replacing Colombo, but the club believes this will put the best starting five on the field.
• Giants CB Terrell Thomas leads the team in interceptions and passes defended, but it has been a tough closing stretch for him. He has been inconsistent replacing the Giants' injured corners and has paired his playmaking ability with some lapses in coverage and tackling. In order to push Aaron Ross, who had a lost season, out of a starting spot, Thomas will need to work on a few things, even if his future is bright.
• Don't be shocked to hear the name of Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg come up as the Browns' head-coaching search accelerates. Mornhinweg has done a great job with the Eagles' offense this season, has prior head-coaching experience and also has ties to new Browns president Mike Holmgren.
• There's no denying Bears DT Tommie Harris played better late in the season, especially in the team's Week 16 Monday-night upset of the Vikings. But is that enough reason for the Bears to bring Harris back in 2010, which would require paying him a $2.5 million roster bonus? "To me, it's not," said one team insider. "One good game isn't worth paying another $2.5 million to a guy who didn't come close to earning his $6.5 million salary this season. And I still think his problems are more mental than physical."
• Lions LB Julian Peterson was named a Pro Bowl alternate, but he did not play his best football down the stretch. After a solid start to the season, Peterson and his Lions teammates struggled on defense, and he had only one sack in the past nine games. Peterson remains a possible starter next season, but it will be a crowded position with Ernie Sims, DeAndre Levy and Larry Foote.
• The Vikings' offensive line has not been the same unit the past month or so. C John Sullivan has struggled with a knee injury. OLT Bryant McKinnie, battling an ankle injury, was benched against the Panthers and hasn't finished blocks well lately. ORT Phil Loadholt is playing hurt with a bad shoulder. OLG Steve Hutchinson also has a bad shoulder. But Hutchinson told PFW, following the loss to the Bears on Monday night, that the group is not making excuses for its play and that every other team still playing this time of year likely is walking wounded.
• Don't be surprised if league Defensive Player of the Year candidate Charles Woodson ends up returning punts in the playoffs for the Packers instead of Jordy Nelson, who team insiders believe is probably better-suited just returning kickoffs, in addition to his receiving duties.
• Panthers first-year player Geoff Schwartz has held up well at right tackle since Jeff Otah was placed on injured reserve Dec. 15, surprising some observers who expected him to struggle in his first stint as a starter. Schwartz's performance should give some comfort to the Panthers heading into the offseason. The team can focus more attention on other needs rather than looking into adding a veteran free-agent tackle.
• The Falcons signed PK Steven Hauschka prior to Week 17 as insurance for Matt Bryant, who had replaced Jason Elam earlier this season as the team's placekicker. Bryant has been bothered by a hamstring injury and left the team for a few days after the Week 16 game to be with his family after his father died. We're told the Falcons like Bryant and there's a good chance he'll be back in Atlanta next season.
• This season the Falcons' ground game did not match its success of 2008, when it ranked second in the league, but observers say the decline had little to do with the performance of FB Ovie Mughelli, who continues to perform at an elite level.
• Buccaneers WRs Antonio Bryant, Maurice Stovall and the recently acquired Mark Bradley will all become free agents this offseason. Sources in Tampa expect the team to aggressively pursue re-signing Bryant and Stovall. Bringing back Bradley, who was claimed off waivers from the Chiefs on Dec. 23, will be a much lower priority.
• Our Rams sources agree that seventh-round rookie Chris Ogbonnaya offers "more juice" than either Kenneth Darby or Samkon Gado as a potential No. 2 back behind Pro Bowler Steven Jackson. Said Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur of Ogbonnaya: "I think he's very good with the ball in his hand, and he's a guy that's really solid in pass protection."
• The consensus in the desert is that Cardinals seventh-round rookie steal LaRod Stephens-Howling deserved Pro Bowl recognition just as much as fellow special-teamers Ben Graham, Neil Rackers and Sean Morey, all of whom were chosen as alternates. In addition to excelling as the Cardinals' special-teams "gunner" and kickoff returner this season, Stephens-Howling could also be on a fast track toward becoming the team's full-time third-down back — a role currently being filled primarily by Tim Hightower.
• We hear as big a priority as any for the Niners this offseason will be finding a quality return man to preferably handle both punts and kickoffs. Both Arnaz Battle and Brandon Jones struggled more often than not this season returning punts. KR Josh Morgan did better, but word is the team wants Morgan to solely focus on his receiving duties.
• We hear the Seahawks believe seventh-round rookie Nick Reed exceeded expectations this season. "He has been a decent situational defensive end and has been very solid on special teams," one team insider said of Reed. "It's quite unusual to have an end on 'teams' who can run like a linebacker."
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