NFL football analysis

The Way We Hear It: Where does Tony Romo play in 2017?

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The Way We Hear It: Where does Tony Romo play in 2017?

Now that the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 season is over, one of the hottest topics on the grapevine around the league is certain to be the future of Tony Romo.

Earlier this week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he and he alone would decide the future of Romo, but according to our sources that is not exactly true.

Say what you want about Jones, and many have said plenty, but he is Romo’s biggest fan, the two are reported to have an excellent relationship and depending on what Jones is thinking, Romo should be able to make his own decision to stay or go.

We’re hearing the Cowboys already have a feeler or two out there for what they might be able to get in a trade for Romo, but offers are and will be slow to come in if any develop at all.

The conventional wisdom around the league, according to the folks we’re talking to, is as much as Jones might like to have Romo stick around as a backup to Dak Prescott, that’s not an option that is attractive to Romo and if it gets to the point where it seems likely, Romo will push Jones for his release and the owner would be likely to grant it.

"Tony Romo, free agent" has a very different reality attached to it than "Romo, trade bait."

As you might have already heard, Romo will cost Jones $24.7 million against the cap to keep and $19.6 million in dead cap money even if he’s released or traded.

The hook here is beyond the cap ramifications, Romo would receive a $5 million bonus and $14 million in base salary in 2017.

Does Jones like Romo enough to pay him $19 million-plus in 2017 to be his backup?

While it sounds crazy, when you realize Prescott will only make about $635,000 in the second year of his rookie deal, the $20 million investment in your top two QBs would leave Jones pretty consistent with the rest of the league.

The Way We Hear It, Jones really wants to keep Romo, and the QB would be happy to stick around but only as the starter.

Forced to make a change, Jones wants compensation, but there is little or no incentive from other clubs to offer any if they believe Romo will be a free agent.

This situation should build to a boiling point over the next month or so, and what we’re hearing is Jones will eventually become benevolent, a look we’re not exactly used to from the Dallas owner but one that will cause him to free his favorite son.

Should it come to pass, our sources tell us Denver and the New York Jets will be the clubs to watch most closely with the Houston Texans and L.A. Rams being possible surprise suitors.

Steelers' pass rush, Patriots RB Dion Lewis keys to Sunday's AFC title matchup

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Steelers' pass rush, Patriots RB Dion Lewis keys to Sunday's AFC title matchup

Sunday’s AFC title game between the Steelers and Patriots is a contest with a pair of familiar rivals: this weekend will mark the eighth time in the last 10 seasons the two teams will meet, an extraordinary total for two franchises not in the same division. As a result, there’s very little that each team can do to surprise the other. But we’ve come up with a potential wrinkle for each team to consider when it comes to Sunday’s showdown for the right to reach the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh: The Steelers would be wise to take a page out of Houston’s book when it comes to slowing the New England passing game. The Patriots’ offensive line has been sturdy all year, but the group was thrown off its game at times in the AFC divisional playoff contest against Houston. The Texans' defensive front managed to get some good pressure on quarterback Tom Brady at times with a variety of different looks, particularly when they moved one of their edge defenders inside. Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus were occasionally lined up over the center or one of the guard positions, and they were able to overpower the interior of the New England offensive line, which led to some pressure on the quarterback and bad throws on the part of Brady.

With that in mind, if the Steelers decide to take one of their outside rushers and move him to the interior — James Harrison or Bud Dupree, for example — it could force the Patriots to adjust their protection schemes. That would mean more two-back sets with fullback James Devlin and running back Dion Lewis as blockers to try and keep Brady clean, and one or two fewer bodies available to them in the passing game.

Regardless of how Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler deploys the Steelers’ defenders, the Patriots know that slowing the Pittsburgh pass rush is the first step in the key to imposing their will on the Steelers.

“They’ve been great,” Brady said Wednesday when asked about the work of the Steelers and their ability to get after the quarterback. “They’ve been great just rushing the quarterback, making plays for their team, strip sacks, forced interceptions, a lot of big plays. They’ve been exceptional. They’ve got some really great players on the other side of the ball, and really at all levels of the defense. It’s a big challenge for us.”

Of course, few coaches know Belichick like Houston’s Romeo Crennel; if there was a coordinator in the league who knew how to make Brady uncomfortable, it was Crennel. He schemed up ways to try and throw the quarterback off his game every day in practice when he served as New England’s defensive coordinator from 2001 through 2004. Can Butler show the same sort of flexibility and outside-the-box thinking on Sunday? The future of the 2016 Steelers might depend on it.

New England: One of the signature elements of the New England offense this year has been the work of LeGarrette Blount. The wrecking-ball of a running back has hit career-highs in carries (299), yards (1,161 yards) and touchdowns (a league-high 18).

But one of the things that stood out to us over the course of the stretch, as well as Saturday’s divisional playoff win over the Texans, was an increased reliance on Lewis when it came to between-the-tackles running. The 5-foot-8 Lewis, nicknamed "Jitterbug" by Julian Edelman, has been surprisingly sturdy when asked to grind out tough yards on the ground, averaging 4.4 yards per carry over seven games and serving as a sharp contrast to the straight-ahead style of Blount.

“His will to continue to fight, despite the obstacles in front of him, is unmatched,” Blount said of his teammate, who battled back from a devastating knee injury in 2015 to put together an impressive finish to this past year. “He does a lot of things well for us. He does everything we ask him to do, with no questions asked. And he does everything he has to do to make sure he puts himself in the best position to take full advantage of the opportunities he gets.”

Even if he ends with a minimal role on Sunday, the simple idea of a healthy Lewis should concern the Steelers: the Patriots are 15-0 since the start of the 2015 season when Lewis has played.

“We have a lot of great players so I’m not the only reason that’s like that, it just happens to be that way,” Lewis said before practice Wednesday when asked about the fact that he’s undefeated in a New England uniform. “We’ve got a great team, great coaches and everybody works hard. So it’s not because of me.

“Our backfield is very talented,” he added. “Everybody brings something different, so having other guys that can come in and give different matchup problems for a defense, it just gives the defense a lot of extra stuff to worry about.”

Earlier in the year against the Steelers, Blount had 24 carries for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns, so it’s clear the Patriots can run against Pittsburgh. We’re not saying abandon Blount completely — he’s still the best red-zone rushing threat in the game. But an increased reliance on Lewis Sunday could be the sort of changeup the Steelers haven’t bargained for, and a wild card that could ultimately tilt the game in New England’s favor.

NFC Championship Film Preview: Falcons vs. Packers could be determined by the pass rush

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NFC Championship Film Preview: Falcons vs. Packers could be determined by the pass rush

With the Green Bay Packers traveling to Atlanta to face the Falcons, we are once again treated to a repeat of a game we saw earlier this season. Back in Week 8, the Falcons edged the Packers 33-32.

Given how good both team’s offenses are playing right now, it’s easy to assume we will see another high-scoring affair this weekend.

Which means this will all come down to which defense makes the big play.

While the Packers put up plenty of points on the Dallas Cowboys last week in their 34-31 win, the Cowboys did an excellent job of adjusting their game to slow the Packers offense down in the second half with excellent coverage and good pressure.

When it works, you get plays like this interception.

On the play, the Cowboys bring pressure from Aaron Rodgers’ right side and he clearly hurries the pass. As a result, the throw is off-target and easily intercepted.

You can see on the wider shot that the Cowboys' secondary was in good position to cover the receivers as well.

The pressure is key, because if you can’t get after Rodgers, even the most effective secondary eventually breaks down.

Case in point, his 35-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook at the end of the game.

On the play, the coverage starts out fine, but the Cowboys only rushed four players, sending most of their defense to cover and contain the receivers. With just a few seconds left, they were just trying to contain Rodgers’ options.

Unfortunately, if you give Rodgers time, he makes you pay and eventually Cook broke free to make a catch which set up the game-winning field goal.

For the Packers' defense, they are going to have to find a way to get after Matt Ryan. We will see extra attention given to Julio Jones, and Dom Capers’ defense is going to have to work hard to contain Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield.

The best defense against Atlanta’s offense is stopping Ryan and disrupting his play. Way back in Week 8, Ryan did a lot of damage down the middle of the field. The Packers may be without strong safety Morgan Burnett, so if they want to avoid a repeat of that, it comes down to pass rush.

Unlike the Packers though, it’s hard to find a blueprint to replicate in order to stop Ryan. Atlanta has allowed 37 sacks and 106 quarterback hits — that’s the sixth most in the NFL.

While the offensive line has been really good overall — the addition of center Alex Mack has been huge for the unit — it still struggles at times when pass blocking.

Green Bay was able to get at Ryan a few times in their Week 8 game, as you can see below.

On this play, defensive tackle Mike Daniels just rolls left guard Andy Levitre backwards until he gets his hand on the quarterback. This is a simple four-man rush, but three of the four defenders are in position to make the play.

The Packers may need to create more pressure with stunts and blitzes to keep the offensive line on its toes, but the Falcons are vulnerable on the line.

If Green Bay is to win this game, they have to find a way to take advantage. At the end of the day, the defense which gets at the opposing quarterback the most will win this game.

Pittsburgh Steelers need another receiving option to pull off huge road upset of Patriots

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Pittsburgh Steelers need another receiving option to pull off huge road upset of Patriots

Remember when they tried to tell us there was a "Bad Rex" Grossman and a "Good Rex" Grossman?

When there was really only one awful Rex Grossman?

But this year there's a very real "Road Ben" Roethlisberger and a "Good Ben" Roethlisberger, and "Road Ben" is making this trip to New England seem like the biggest longshot of his ever-growing playoff history with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Not by the numbers, though. The Patriots are only 5 1/2-point favorites over the Steelers, who after the 2005 season beat the Indianapolis Colts as 9 1/2-point underdogs.

That was the playoff upset of the millennium for the Steelers.

But these odds this week seem so much longer than those Vegas has put in front of us.

For one, the Steelers of the new millennium -- the Tom Brady millennium -- have been beaten twice by the Patriots in AFC title games at Heinz Field. And at Gillette Stadium, the Steelers are 0-4 against the Brady-led Patriots, having been outscored 147-79, or an average of 37-20.

On paper, these Steelers possess the same caliber of offense that went into Indianapolis to pull off the previous upset:

* An offensive line made up of two Pro Bowlers and loaded with high draft picks.

* A running back destined for the Hall of Fame

* Roethlisberger.

But here, in the playsheet telling the story of the scoring drives in Indianapolis, lies the difference:

The Steelers' first touchdown drive against the Peyton Manning Colts included 36 and 18-yard passes to Heath Miller, a 5-yard pass to Hines Ward and 11 and 6-yard (TD) passes to Antwaan Randle El.

The second touchdown drive included a 45-yard pass to Ward to set up a 7-yard touchdown pass to Miller.

The third touchdown drive was all Bettis and Fast Willie Parker because by then the Steelers had sufficiently set up the run via the pass.

Juxtapose those drives with the six field goal drives authored by "Road Ben" last week and you're getting a better understanding of why it might not be the road that's actually dogging Roethlisberger this season.

With home crowds howling and defenses keying on Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, Roethlisberger needs another option to concern defenses. There aren't any Randle Els or Heath Millers in this current group. There aren't any Mike Wallaces or Martavis Bryants, either.

Those are some of the secondary and tertiary options Roethlisberger has used in previous playoff road games, in which, before this season, Roethlisberger had compiled a passer rating of 102.0. And that rating includes the loss at Tim Tebow's Broncos.

Roethlisberger's difficulties on the road didn't begin until this season, when his 116.7/78.4 home/road passer rating split has been matched by a 105.3/72.5 home/road split in these playoffs.

Again, the only discernible difference is the lack of receiving threats to complement Brown.

Roethlisberger, of course, says otherwise. He pointed to the touchdown-less Chiefs game to say the following:

"I thought Jesse James had a great game," Roethlisberger said. "I thought Eli stepped up and did some things. We're using guys. Cobi had his usual one catch, it's a big catch a game. Hey-Bey's in there. Sammie's really coming back to us. So, we've got a lot of guys that I think can make plays for us outside of the usual suspects, if you will. Even if it's one or two big plays a game, sometimes that can be enough if the play's made at the right time."

With all due respect to Roethlisberger's public manners and leadership skills, not all of that is true.

Here's the statistical breakdown:

* Jesse James has had the unenviable task of stepping in for the retired Miller and replacing the concussed Ladarius Green at tight end, which has always been a favored security blanket for Roethlisberger. And as Roethlisberger said, James played well in Kansas City with 5 catches for 83 yards.

Then again, the 2015 fifth-round pick wasn't targeted in their 0-for-5 red-zone ventures.

* Eli Rogers opened the season as the slot receiver, but due to Bryant's suspension and injuries to Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates, he's become more of an outside receiver by default.

Rogers was signed after the 2015 draft out of Louisville, where he not only built on his bond with childhood friend Teddy Bridgewater but honed his skills in the slot the way most NFL slot receivers don't in college.

That Rogers wasn't big enough or fast enough to play outside in college hurt his draft stock but helped him learn the full inside route tree. So, he's savvy enough inside, for such a young player, but still lacks the size and speed to scare defensive backs away from doubling and tripling Brown.

Against the Chiefs, Rogers was an effective 5-for-27 but also lacked the catch radius to haul in a slightly off-the-mark throw from Roethlisberger at the goal line. The result was a sixth Steelers field goal.

* Cobi Hamilton did have "his usual one catch" against the Chiefs, but for four yards and short of the first-down marker.

Hamilton came out of Arkansas as Ryan Mallett's possession receiver, was drafted in the sixth round in 2013 and was cut seven times by four teams before landing with the Steelers last August. His blocking and toughness have created the legend of "Combat Catch Cobi," but in eight starts and 13 games he's caught only 19 passes for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns, an average of 1.5 catches for 19 yards and 0.2 touchdowns per game.

* Darrius Heyward-Bey is a special-teamer whose leadership was missed after a nasty mid-foot injury in Game 8 cost him six games. "Hey-Bey" has returned and his speed is back but his cutting ability isn't. Aside from his 46-yard catch in the regular-season finale, he's caught only one other pass for 10 yards in four games.

* Sammie Coates has been "coming back to us," as Roethlisberger put it, for about two months now, or about a month after mysteriously mangling his hand and breaking two fingers in Game 5.
Up to that point, Coates was leading the NFL at 22.2 yards-per-catch average. Since then, he's caught two passes for 14 yards, even though he's been active for 11 games.

* Xavier Grimble and Demarcus Ayers are the names that slipped Roethlisberger's mind.

Grimble's a tall, athletic tight end who's been bothered by sore ribs, while Ayers has been a pleasant surprise -- for a seventh-round rookie who wasn't promoted from the practice squad until Game 14.

Ayers has 9 catches for 80 yards in four games, which included a start in Kansas City. It's better than expected, and, as with Rogers and Hamilton, Ayers is a young player who's bolstering the Steelers' depth chart. But a 5-9 1/2, 182-pounder with 4.72 40 speed isn't going to concern a Patriots defense intent on stopping Brown and Bell.

"We've noticed a lot of teams are trying to take away the big play," Roethlisberger said. "It forces us and makes us understand that we need to run the ball and we've been really good at doing that."

But the Patriots are the NFL's third-ranked run defense. The defenses that Bell chewed up for 337 yards in two games were ranked 24th and 30th.

No, unless Ladarius Green emerges from the concussion protocol, Roethlisberger's going to need a receiving option to step forward if the Steelers are going to pull off the upset of the millennium -- or even all-time -- in New England.

Everything you need to to know about travel to Houston for the Super Bowl

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Everything you need to to know about travel to Houston for the Super Bowl

HOUSTON – Houston is the nation's fourth largest city, a sprawling metropolis larger than some small states. But the good news for those visiting for Super Bowl LI is that most of the events surrounding the game will be concentrated downtown, making it easy to visit a number of attractions.

There are thousands of hotel rooms downtown where fans can stay, and from there it's about 11 miles to NRG Stadium , home of the Houston Texans, where the Feb. 5 game will be played.

SUPER EVENTS

Super Bowl LIVE is a free fan festival that stretches from Discovery Green across from the George R. Brown Convention Center to Root Park near the Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets play. The festival, which runs from Jan. 28-Feb. 5, will include artists, exhibits and games. An area called Houston Live will showcase the city and its history. Super Bowl LIVE will also include a virtual reality experience, Future Flight, created with help from NASA, which will take fans on a 90-foot-drop tower ride mimicking a spaceflight to Mars.

Texas artists headline three days of concerts, Feb. 2-4. Day one features Solange, Leon Bridges is one of three performers Friday, and Saturday's headliner will be ZZ Top.

The convention center hosts the NFL Experience Jan. 28-29 and Feb. 1-5. Billed as an interactive theme park, it will have games, youth football clinics, autograph sessions, a display of Super Bowl rings and a chance to take a picture with the Lombardi Trophy, given each year to the Super Bowl champions. Open daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m. except Sundays. It closes at 8 p.m. Jan. 29, and shuts down for good at 3 p.m. on game day. Tickets start at $25 for children 2-12, $35 for those 13 and over and are on sale here .

SUPER BOWL OPENING NIGHT

Fans can get a peek at the teams in the Super Bowl on Jan. 30 at Super Bowl Opening Night downtown at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. The event is the first time during Super Bowl week that players in the big game meet with media as fans watch from the bleachers. It features a performance by rock band X Ambassadors and an appearance by Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon.

"I will always be grateful to the city of Houston and its fans for giving me a chance to play professional football," said Moon, who starred for the Houston Oilers. "On Super Bowl Opening Night, I am excited to return to my second home and to help fans experience the energy of the big game before kickoff on Sunday."

Those attending the event will get gift bags with a radio which they can turn to NFL Network coverage to listen in on player interviews. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., interviews are from 7:15-8:15 p.m. and 9 p.m.-10 p.m. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased here .

GET THE APP

To get all the information about Super Bowl week at your fingertips, download the official Super Bowl app . The app includes details on events, transportation, tips on navigating different areas of the city and even a trivia game.

TRAVELING AROUND DOWNTOWN

Free circulator shuttles will run downtown during Super Bowl week. Called Greenlink, three routes will take guests from parking lots on the west side of downtown to the entrance to Super Bowl LIVE and in and around Discovery Green. There's also a prepaid parking app fans can download to reserve spots at guaranteed rates. The app, called Fan Mobile Pass app, also provides directions to the lots.

A TRAVELING NIGHTCLUB

Club Nomadic , dubbed a "traveling nightclub experience," will be open during the weekend of the Super Bowl. The 62,500-square foot, three-story nightclub holds 9,000 people with special areas for celebrities and VIP ticket holders. The venue, 2121 Edwards St., hosts the EA Sports Bowl with a performance by Sam Hunt and the Chainsmokers on Feb. 2, welcomes Bruno Mars on Feb. 3 and ends with a performance by Taylor Swift on Feb. 4. Tickets are pricey, but can be purchased here .

NOT JUST FOOTBALL

Looking for a break from football? Catch a basketball game! James Harden and the Houston Rockets host the Atlanta Hawks and former teammate Dwight Howard on Feb. 2. A Feb. 3 game against Chicago features a halftime ceremony where Hall of Fame center Yao Ming's jersey will be retired. Games start at 7 p.m. and tickets may be purchased here.

HANG WITH A HEISMAN WINNER

Though Johnny Manziel flamed out of the NFL after just two lackluster seasons that were notable more for his off-the-field problems that his football skills, he still has a huge fan following and will be looking to cash in on that during Super Bowl week. Manziel, who starred at nearby Texas A&M before being drafted by the Cleveland Browns, will host two autograph signings leading up to the Super Bowl. The events will be held at two local malls on Feb. 2-3 and $99 will get an autograph by the man known as Johnny Football, with an extra $29 charge for an inscription of up to four words. A photo opportunity with the quarterback is $99, but fans can take a selfie for just $50.

Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan named MVP by Pro Football Writers of America

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Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan named MVP by Pro Football Writers of America

Falcons QB Matt Ryan was named the NFL's most valuable player by the Professional Football Writers of America on Wednesday following a career year in his ninth season.

Ryan, 31, spearheaded the 11-5 Falcons' No. 1 scoring offense with a league-leading 117.1 passer rating — the fifth-highest in NFL history — and 9.3 yards per attempt, the highest mark since Kurt Warner's 9.9 in 2000. Ryan's 38 touchdowns and 4,944 yards ranked second in football to Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, respectively, and his 69.9 completion percentage was No. 3 league-wide.

Ryan, one year removed from tying a career-high with 21 turnovers, flourished in his second season working with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The NFL's leader in red zone giveaways a year ago, Ryan in 2016 was both precise and increasingly resourceful, utilizing more of his pass catchers not named Julio Jones — though Jones still finished second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,409).

Indeed, Ryan set an NFL record by connecting with 15 different Falcons for touchdowns.

The arrival of center Alex Mack and pass-catchers Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and TE Austin Hooper, among others, helped the Falcons offense diversify while lessening Ryan's dependence on Jones. But Ryan's improvements under Shanahan, from ball security to increased responsibility pre-snap, all played a major part in his masterful campaign.

Ryan already was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, a harbinger to this award and the NFL's most valuable player honor, awarded by the AP during Super Bowl week.

The third overall pick in the 2008 draft, this is Ryan's first MVP honor. He was previously named to his fourth Pro Bowl and first All-Pro team.

The Falcons host the Packers Sunday in the NFC title game. Shanahan reportedly will parlay the Falcons' offensive dominance into his first head-coaching opportunity, with the 49ers, once Atlanta's season concludes.

Oakland Raiders DE Khalil Mack named PFWA Defensive Player of the Year

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Oakland Raiders DE Khalil Mack named PFWA Defensive Player of the Year

Raiders DE Khalil Mack was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday by the Professional Football Writers of America.

Mack, in his third season, finished No. 2 in the NFL in QB hits (26) and forced fumbles (five). His 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss also ranked in the top five of all NFL defenders.

Mack, 25, tallied an eight-game sack streak in 2016, including three straight games with a strip-sack and recovery. He became the first player in NFL history to log a sack, interception, forced fumble, recovery and touchdown in one game, when in Week 12 he helped Oakland build a 24-7 second-quarter lead with his pick-six, then staved off a frenzied Carolina comeback late in the fourth quarter with a strip-sack.

Mack's production was actually down from his second season, when he was a unanimous first-team All-Pro at end and outside linebacker. However, he was easily the most impactful defender on the Raiders, who snapped their 14-season playoff drought by earning a 12-4 mark and the AFC's No. 5 seed.

On a defense with myriad moving parts, Mack was the lone constant, a destructive presence versus the run and pass who proved time and again he could close games for a high-powered offense that gave his unit a late lead.

Mack was selected fifth overall out of Buffalo in 2014. He's started 48 consecutive games to begin his career, ascending from rock-solid rookie to first-team All-Pro to Defensive Player of the Year in just three seasons.

The Way We Hear It: Does the NFL have head-coach hiring issues?

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The Way We Hear It: Does the NFL have head-coach hiring issues?

Several individuals we’ve talked to in recent days who work at the highest levels of NFL team front offices have voiced concerns about the way head coaches are being hired around the league today.

One team executive told us: “Listen, Sean McVay may prove to be the second coming of Vince Lombardi, but is he really anywhere near as qualified to be a head coach today as [Josh] McDaniels, [Kyle] Shanahan, [Matt] Patricia or [Todd] Haley?”

This particular individual believes McVay got the Rams job because he was available immediately while the coordinators he rattled off were all still working with their current teams in the playoffs.

He was not alone in his concerns with the system, and it seems pretty obvious the doubters have a point.

But they are also in the minority of the larger group of execs we queried on the topic. While every team or league exec we talked to indicated they felt the top prospects aren’t getting jobs this year, the majority pointed out there’s really nothing wrong with the system and nothing that can be done about it.

While the top assistants working for the Patriots, Falcons, Steelers and Packers all clearly have not had the same chance – you can really include Texans, Seahawks, Cowboys and Chiefs assistants too since five of the six available head coaching jobs were filled before the divisional playoff games – as coaches not in the playoffs to pursue top jobs, what would we have them do?

These coaches have a commitment to focus 100 percent on their current club’s playoff push, and any time away from that focus to pursue another job would be unfair to their current team.

The problem most voiced to us by top team execs is NFL owners and some general managers appearing to have severe cases of hyper activity when it comes to hiring a new coach.

There is a perception among many involved in the hiring process that the hiring of the best coaches is a competition for the top talent and that moving too slowly leads to inferior choices.

While that is pretty clearly not the case, NFL owners tend to look like a bunch of six-year-olds in a game of musical chairs, grabbing chairs while the music is still playing to avoid coming in last.

Just two seasons ago, there were seven head-coaching openings around the league

The Broncos, Bears, 49ers, Raiders, Jets and Bills all moved quickly to hire Gary Kubiak, John Fox, Jim Tomsula, Jack Del Rio, Todd Bowles and Rex Ryan, respectively.

The Atlanta Falcons waited patiently and hired Dan Quinn after his Seattle Seahawks team lost to New England in the Super Bowl.

Kubiak (who did bring the Broncos a Super Bowl), Tomsula and Ryan are already gone and Bowles and Fox will start the 2017 season on shakier ground than any other coaches in the league.

Of the six quick-trigger hires, only Del Rio has worked out while the patient Falcons will be rewarded for waiting for Quinn, one of the top young talents available, with an appearance in the NFC title game this Sunday.

While we sincerely hope that each of this year’s new head coaches are tremendously successful, it will be interesting to see exactly what they accomplish between their hiring and the Super Bowl that made it impossible for their bosses to wait on seemingly more qualified candidates.

Obviously, there is a domino effect of sorts as not only do top head coaching prospects get hired quickly, they then begin the race to hire the best coordinators and position coaches.

One of the concerns owners share is if they wait for a head guy, how thinned out will the pool of available assistants be once they are able to pull the trigger? But this fear again is overrated.

The top head coach prospects have already done groundwork, put out feelers and secured some commitments from assistants before they actually get their jobs.

Looking at recent history again, the Falcons waiting on Dan Quinn didn’t keep them from securing Kyle Shanahan as their offensive coordinator and Shanahan is a front-runner for assistant coach of the year honors this season and clearly one of the top one, two or three head coaching prospects available.

Far less prepared candidates already have jobs while Shanahan seems to be the top option in San Francisco, as the 49ers are the one team still without a head coach.

San Francisco 49ers preparing to offer Falcons' Kyle Shanahan head-coaching gig

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San Francisco 49ers preparing to offer Falcons' Kyle Shanahan head-coaching gig

Kyle Shanahan, coordinator of the NFL's most prolific offense, is in line to be offered the 49ers' opening, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday. Schefter's report comes after fellow frontrunners Tom Cable and Josh McDaniels withdrew their names from consideration over the past 36 hours.

Shanahan has already interviewed with Jed York, Paraag Marathe and Brian Hampton, and he's scheduled to interview a second time, after Sunday's NFC Championship bout, according to csnbayarea.com's Matt Maiocco.

We reported two weeks ago Shanahan was the most sought-after candidate on the market after his offense overwhelmed foes en route to a 12-4 mark and the NFC's No. 2 seed. Matt Ryan, after tying a career-high with 21 turnovers in his first season with Shanahan, in 2015, is on his way to his first MVP award. Shanahan has overseen Ryan's turnaround, which has coincided with his relying slightly less on Julio Jones while spreading the wealth to the rest of his suddenly potent supporting cast.

Shanahan, 37, the son of Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan, oversaw other impressive turnarounds in Houston with Matt Schaub, Cleveland with Brian Hoyer and a transcendent rookie season by Robert Griffin III in Washington.

The Niners have a huge void at quarterback, where Colin Kaepernick isn't expected to return and Blaine Gabbert has proved he isn't the answer. Armed with the second pick in the draft and a boatload of cap money, the Niners can make a strong pitch for Shanahan. Moreover, it seems likely Shanahan's hiring would precede the addition of a general manager, an indication the would-be rookie head coach will have plenty of influence over roster decisions.

We wrote Monday about the importance of Jed York landing Shanahan or Patriots coordinator Matt Patricia after McDaniels removed his name from consideration. The Niners will have a fourth coach in four seasons, none in franchise history worse than 2016, and York, after coming off as arrogant and defiant at his year-ending news conference, can't afford to bungle another search.

But a lack of patience for five other clubs with openings this offseason could wind up benefiting York if he seals the deal with Shanahan. It could also mar a fabulous season for Ryan's Falcons if they lose one of 2016's very best coordinators.

Cowboys RB Elliott, Chargers DE Bosa receive top rookie honors from PFWA

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Cowboys RB Elliott, Chargers DE Bosa receive top rookie honors from PFWA

The Pro Football Writers of America announced Tuesday that Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott was voted the Rookie of the Year and Chargers DE Joey Bosa was voted Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Elliott led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. His teammate, Dak Prescott, was the quarterback for the PFWA All-Rookie Team.

Bosa led all rookies with 10.5 sacks, despite appearing in only 12 games. He also had 17 tackles for loss and 21 QB hits.

Bosa was one of three Chargers to make the All-Rookie team, joining TE Hunter Henry and LB Jatavis Brown.

The Chiefs had four spots on the All-Rookie Team, as Tyreek Hill was named the All-Rookie kickoff returner, punt returner and special-teamer. Chiefs DT Chris Jones made after notching two sacks and 10 QB hits as a rookie.

The Bears also had three players make the All-Rookie Team: RB Jordan Howard, C Cody Whitehair and OLB Leonard Floyd.

Here is the complete PFWA All-Rookie Team for 2016:

Offense

QB – Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

WR – Sterling Shepard, New York Giants; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

TE – Hunter Henry, San Diego Chargers

C – Cody Whitehair, Chicago Bears

G – Joe Thuney, New England Patriots; Laremy Tunsil, Miami Dolphins

T – Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans; Taylor Decker, Detroit Lions

Defense

DL – Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers; DeForest Buckner, San Francisco 49ers; Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs; Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars

LB – Jatavis Brown, San Diego Chargers; Leonard Floyd, Chicago Bears; Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons

CB – Vernon Hargreaves III, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars

S – Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders; Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons

Special Teams

PK – Wil Lutz, New Orleans Saints

P – Riley Dixon, Denver Broncos

KR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

ST – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Greg Gabriel: WRs, RBs and OTs strengthened by underclassmen entering 2017 NFL Draft

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Greg Gabriel: WRs, RBs and OTs strengthened by underclassmen entering 2017 NFL Draft

The Bears' former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel has over 30 years of experience in NFL scouting and he'll be breaking down the top NFL prospects to watch this college season and other NFL news each week here at Pro Football Weekly. You can follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

The deadline has passed for college underclassmen to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. It will still be a few days before the NFL releases the official list, but by my count there are 95 players who have given up there college eligibility to try and play as a professional.

In recent years, the NFL has waited three days before they release the official list, the reason being they give the players those extra days to change their mind and return to college. As long as the player has not signed with an agent, it is fine with the NFL if he returns to college life. In fact, the league’s public stance is they would prefer the players to remain in college.

If things hold true to form, about 50 percent of those who declared will be disappointed come draft weekend. They will either not get drafted or they will get drafted later than they thought they would be selected. Many of these players think they are first-round selections, but the fact remains that only 32 players can go in the first round and some of those will be seniors.

The position where this draft needed quality players and underclassmen still didn’t declare was the offensive line. The offensive line class was weak to begin with and only six underclassmen declared. Of those six, only three are natural left tackles. Cam Robinson from Alabama, Rod Johnson from Florida State and Garett Bolles from Utah played left tackle at a high level in college. Robinson could be the first tackle selected while Bolles has talent but needs strength and bulk. Bolles could be a first-rounder this year but in other years he would be drafted later. Johnson is another guy who needs strength and bulk as well as technique work.

Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin played left tackle in college but will be a right tackle or a guard in the NFL. USC's Damien Mama is a guard while Florida’s David Sharpe at 350-plus will most likely also play guard.

The two positions that underclassmen really helped strengthen in the draft are running back and edge pass rusher. Leonard Fournette from LSU, Dalvin Cook form Florida State and Christian McCaffrey from Stanford could all go in the first round.

Players like Samaje Perine from Oklahoma, D’Onta Foreman from Texas and Wayne Gallman from Clemson won’t go in the first round but are part of what may be the strongest running back class in years. A few others are James Conner from Pitt and Jeremy McNichols form Boise State.

The first three quarterbacks to be selected will all be underclassmen. It remains to be seen in what order they will be selected, but Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky will all go in the opening round. Again, workouts and interviews will play a large part in who gets selected where.

Except for last year, the wide receiver classes in recent years have been strong. This year will be strong again because of the underclassmen who have declared. Players like Mike Williams form Clemson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, from USC, John Ross form Washington and KD Cannon from Baylor make an already good class even better.

We seldom see the old-fashioned, strong blocking tight end anymore. In today’s game, the “tight end” is a huge wide receiver who can create mismatches. This year there are two underclassmen who will be getting a lot of interest from scouts and coaches and they are David Njoku from Miami and Bucky Hodges from Virginia Tech. Njoku has some special to him and may well get drafted in the opening round of the draft.

Later in the week we will take a look at some of the top underclassmen on the defensive side of the ball who have entered the NFL Draft.

Way We See It: How can the Patriots stop Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell?

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Way We See It: How can the Patriots stop Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell?

Is there an answer for Le’Veon Bell?

The most interesting thing about the Pittsburgh Steelers' latest run to another AFC title game is that Ben Roethlisberger really isn’t playing all that well and with Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Ladarius Green all out of commission, it would seem if you can stop Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, you can stop the Steelers.

The problem is at the moment there is just no apparent answer for Bell, and the Steelers' defense, much maligned earlier in the season, is playing really well over the last eight or nine weeks and probably had its best effort of the season in Kansas City Sunday.

Of course, six field goals after repeated failures in the red zone almost certainly won’t get the job done in New England this Sunday, but let’s enjoy what is working before we worry about what isn’t.

Right now Bell just can’t be stopped, and while so many are marveling at his unique style that has him taking the ball from Big Ben and then coming to complete stops after a step or two waiting for a hole to open, I’m not sure his patience is his greatest asset.

What I noticed from the sideline in Kansas City Sunday night is Bell is never brought down by the first player to make contact with him, and the second or third defender rarely stops him either.

I’d bet the farm Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will have an answer for Bell’s patience this Sunday, but I don’t know there is an answer for his ability to keep moving forward after initial contact.

Then there is Brown who is one of the smaller stud receivers in the league and certainly not the fastest, but he has a unique ability to find seems in zones and to create mismatches against the opposing defense.

Somehow Brown got himself matched up with Justin Houston Sunday night and before the Chiefs knew it, Brown was making and over-the-shoulder catch 52 yards down the field and five yards in front of Houston.

But Brown also became a bit of a distraction Sunday night, a story we’ll have to keep an eye on this week.

The Steelers' All-Pro wideout spent almost the entire fourth quarter of the Chiefs game jawing back and forth with Marcus Peters, Steven Nelson and Terrance Mitchell, and after the game when most of the combatants were trying to exchange congratulations and penalties, it took a dozen or so players to get between Mitchell and Brown before embattled Steelers linebacker coach Joey Porter finally got between them and got Brown pointed to the locker room.

Neither Brown nor the Chiefs DBs have confirmed what all the chatter was about.

Then Brown doubled down, recording head coach Mike Tomlin’s words to his team after the game and violating the sanctity of the locker room by posting them on the Internet.

From here, it feels like Brown may have some focus to work on if the Steelers are to pull another upset this Sunday.

Defensively, the Steelers have gotten a big boost from the play of James Harrison and rookie DBs Artie Burns and Sean Davis.

The Pats, however, will present a vastly different challenge than the Chiefs.

Kansas City comes with a clear list of offseason priorities after again failing to win a playoff game at home.

The offensive line was solid most of the year but failed them Sunday and it is still unclear how much Eric Fisher can be trusted at left tackle.

The Chiefs also need multiple upgrades at wide receiver and if Jamaal Charles doesn’t have another comeback in him, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West have failed to provide running back answers in big games.

The Chiefs can be great on defense again if Derrick Johnson has one more comeback in him and Jaye Howard and Albert Bailey return to form as well so they’re not far away, but Johnson and Tamba Hali are probably on the backside of the hill at best.

The last takeaway from Steelers-Chiefs is a word of caution for Steelers fans.

Big Ben Roethlisberger is as tough as they come, but after seeing him leave his wild-card post-game in a walking boot, and watching him limp badly to the sidelines late in the fourth quarter and refusing to let the team trainers or doctors look at his leg before he returned to finish the game, it is more than fair to wonder just how healthy he is and if that may be why his numbers have been lacking in recent weeks?

Good luck beating the Pats

Tom Brady had one of his worst playoff games ever Saturday against the Texans, completing just 47.4 percent of his passes and throwing two picks for a passer rating below 70 while he was pressured a good part of the evening by Houston’s pass rush.

LeGarrette Blount was shut down on the ground, the Texans' Lamar Miller had some success running the ball, and to the surprise of many, Houston hung around almost all night.

And New England still won by 18 points.

That represents the gap between the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.

Certainly Bill Belichick couldn’t have been thrilled with the performance of his club that looked like a team that used the bye week to get rusty as opposed to rested.

But there is very little good news here for the Steelers or the rest of the league.

Even in a less-than-Patriot-like showing, Dion Lewis became the first player ever to score touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning in a single playoff game, James White also picked up some of the slack with a touchdown catch and Julian Edelman still managed to put up his usual 100 receiving yards game with Chris Hogan also starring at receiver before a thigh bruise took him out of the game.

If we didn’t have more playoff history on these guys than any other team in recent history, there could be cause for concern, but the more likely scenario with the Pats is to expect their very best this Sunday when Pittsburgh comes to town.

Houston left with two questions, the first being, what’s next at quarterback?

Brock Osweiler wasn’t horrible at New England and he also wasn’t very good. That’s been the M.O. of the Texans' major 2016 free-agent acquisition all season long.

With still barely more than an NFL regular season and a quarter worth of starts, Osweiler should still be given a bit more time to become a finished product.

But after three-plus full seasons of playing understudy to Peyton Manning and about 20 combined starts in Denver and Houston, in an offense with the Texans this year tailor-made for him to be successful, the NFL’s tallest quarterback has been a big disappointment.

With almost $17 million guaranteed him in 2017, he will of course be back, but can the Texans afford to go into the coming season without more serious competition for Osweiler than Tom Savage?

Question number two is far more pleasant for Houston fans. If J.J. Watt returns in 2017 at anywhere near fully recovered, will the Texans be fielding one of the best defenses ever with Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, John Simon, Brian Cushing, Kareem Jackson, etc., etc?

It shouldn’t take much for the Texans to be even better in 2017 and that more than anything is a huge reason not to overreact to the Patriots shaky showing Saturday night.

None of the Pittsburgh, Atlanta or Green Bay defenses is even in the same stratosphere as Houston, with or without Watt, and now the Pats have had their wakeup call.

Way We See It: Are the Atlanta Falcons the best team in NFL's final four?

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Way We See It: Are the Atlanta Falcons the best team in NFL's final four?

Are the Falcons the team to beat?

What we learned in the Atlanta Falcons' beat-down of the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday is Atlanta may very well be the best team in the NFC and dare we say it, the best team in the league?

While it felt like Seattle had a chance well into the fourth quarter, they really didn’t because Seattle’s ballyhooed defense never had an answer for Matt Ryan and company, and the Seahawks' floundering offensive line was clearly no match for a Falcons pass rush, which as recently as last season was the worst in the NFL, but is now seriously improved.

Matt Ryan is playing at a level well beyond where any of the other elite quarterbacks are in these playoffs and what was once the Ryan-Julio Jones show has become the best balanced attack in the league.

While Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell is the best running back, perhaps the best player left in these playoffs, Atlanta’s two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is just as dangerous and equally difficult to defend because of the change of pace the two backs offer, which you don’t get with Bell.

While we all know about Jones, if you haven’t caught up with Taylor Gabriel yet or don’t realize what a nice option Mohamed Sanu has become, you’re missing quite a show.

The other revelation in Atlanta is more than just the breakout season of Vic Beasley, the NFL’s 2016 sack leader.

Rookies Keanu Neal at safety and Deion Jones at linebacker are the truth and Brooks Reed and Dwight “Methuselah” Freeney will get after the quarterback as well.

The Falcons' defense is not a shutdown group by a long stretch, but its arrow is definitely pointing up and it has become a big-play group that can change a game in a heartbeat with its speed.

For Seattle, Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are all elite difference-makers at their positions, but Earl Thomas was clearly the glue that held it all together and he is sorely missed.

Russell Wilson is not an elite passer, but he is an elite quarterback and Doug Baldwin is probably the most underrated player in the league.

It was also really entertaining to see the emergence of Paul Richardson as a superstar in the making at the wideout spot, but where has he been all season?

At the end of the day the problem on offense in Seattle is the offensive line really isn’t close and it doesn’t appear to be just a question of waiting for the kids to mature, the Seahawks need more talent up front.

The other issue we hope Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell focus on during the offseason is they clearly have been unwilling or don’t know how to use Jimmy Graham to their best advantage.

While Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook, Jason Witten, Travis Kelce and even Atlanta’s Levine Toilolo and Pittsburgh’s Jesse James were all making a difference for their clubs this weekend from the tight end spot, Graham was for the most part a bit player who could have and should have done more.

Packers Just Better Than The Cowboys

For all the hype surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, mercurial talents of Dez Bryant and Sean Lee and rookie superstars, we should have seen the Packers' 34-31 upset Sunday coming from miles down the road.

Aaron Rodgers did not have his best game Sunday – his third-quarter interception was an awful throw – but he was still Rodegers'esque in spurts and when it mattered most, and the Pack simply had more star power on the field than the Cowboys.

Dallas clearly has the best offensive line in football, but the Packers' five when healthy is in the running for second.

Zeke Elliott is great, period, but Ty Montgomery has been sneaky impressive lately and better rounded than Elliott as a pass-catching threat, and as great as Dak Prescott has been – for a rookie – he is clearly not ready yet to be in the same conversation with Rodgers.

At this stage of their careers, Jared Cook is probably more dangerous than Jason Witten and while Bryant was clearly the best receiver on the field, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and even Geronimo Allison were all better than any other receivers the Cowboys could put out there.

If that were all there was to it, the game might have ended in a tie or the Cowboys might even have won in some late Elliott or Bryant heroics as they did behind Elliott in Pittsburgh nine weeks ago.

While the Packers' defense is an imperfect group clearly vulnerable to the run and dangerously banged up at cornerback, they have star power on that side of the ball, too, which Dallas isn’t close to matching.

Mike Daniels, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are all threats to turn a game around on a single play and they and Micah Hyde did enough to be the difference.

Clearly Rodgers is the straw that stirs the drink and the not-so-secret sauce that makes them great, but no one man wins games alone at this time of the year.

We can’t say for sure the Packers are better than the Cowboys on offense, but they are clearly more consistent and more explosive because of the multiple options opponents have to defend.

Teams playing the Cowboys know they probably can’t stop Elliott or Bryant, but keep them from taking over the game and you have a chance.

The real issue for the Cowboys going forward is Sean Lee is the only defensive player they have that scares you and there are just too many ways to attack them and keep Lee from beating you.

While Dallas took a huge step this year and does appear to be pointing straight up, upgrades at all three levels of the defense will be a must for them to win the kind of playoff games they came up short in Sunday versus the Pack.

Can Green Bay pull off one more upset on the road to complete and improbable run to the Super Bowl?

With Rodgers pulling the trigger, how can you count them out?

PFWA announces 2016 All-NFL team

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PFWA announces 2016 All-NFL team

The Professional Football Writers of America on Monday released its All-NFL team, anchored by an NFL-high four Cowboys and four Chiefs.

2016 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers#; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons*

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

G – Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys*; Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders

T – Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys#; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns&

Defense

DE – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders*

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams*; Damon Harrison, New York Giants

OLB – Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Von Miller, Denver Broncos#

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

CB – Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs; Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos

S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs*; Landon Collins, New York Giants

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams*

KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings*

PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots

* - repeat selection from 2015

# - consecutive selections from 2014-16

& - consecutive selections from 2013-16

The PFWA also announced its All-NFC and All-AFC teams:

2016 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots#

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers, DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers&; T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders*

G – Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens#

T – Donald Penn, Oakland Raiders; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns&

Defense

DE – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders*

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals*; Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins*

OLB – Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

MLB – Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots

CB – Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs*; Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos

S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs*; Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

P – Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts

KR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots@

* - repeat selection from 2014

# - consecutive selections from 2014-16

& - consecutive selections from 2013-16

@ - consecutive selections from 2011-16

2016 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

WR – Odell Beckham Jr.*, New York Giants; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons*

TE – Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers#

C – Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

G – T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys#

T – Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys#; Trent Williams, Washington Redskins*

Defense

DE – Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks; Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams*; Damon Harrison, New York Giants

OLB – Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

CB – Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants; Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals*

S – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers; Landon Collins, New York Giants

Special Teams

PK – Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams&

KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings*

PR – Marcus Sherels, Minnesota Vikings

ST – Dwayne Harris, New York Giants

* - repeat selection from 2015

# - consecutive selections from 2014-16

& - consecutive selections from 2013-16

The PFWA will reveal its remaining on-field awards throughout the week, continuing with Rookie of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year and All-rookie team, Tuesday.

Report: Ex-49ers head coach Chip Kelly among Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Coordinator candidates

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Report: Ex-49ers head coach Chip Kelly among Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Coordinator candidates

When the Jaguars visit the 49ers at some point in 2017, the Bay Area could be seeing a familiar face across the sideline.

The 49ers have yet to formally finish their process to fill their head coaching vacancy, as Patriots offensive coordinator officially removed himself from consideration Monday morning, but their ex-coach, Chip Kelly, could potentially become a future opponent.

Kelly, having been fired at season's end in his lone season with the 49ers, "quietly" interviewed for the Jaguars' head coaching position before Doug Marrone was officially instated, according to ESPN. Hays Carlyon of 1010XL radio reports Kelly is at EverBank Field on Monday to presumably talk about the Jaguars' offensive coordinator opening.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport later confirmed on Twitter Kelly is among the candidates to be considered. Nathaniel Hackett, the team's offensive playcaller since Greg Olson was fired in late October, is also expected to be considered for Marrone's staff.

Todd Wash was officially retained as defensive coordinator over the weekend.

Kelly's candidacy presents some interesting possibilities, as Coughlin should be quite familiar with Kelly after the two coached against one another from 2013-15 when they were with the Giants and Eagles, respectively.

The 49ers ranked toward the back half of the league in most passing statistics, but finished fourth in rushing in 2016. The Jaguars finished 20th in passing yards and 22nd in rushing yards. Whether it's Kelly or someone else running the offense, the immediate focus seemingly will be reversing quarterback Blake Bortles' regression in 2016, yet Marrone didn't provide much insight on his feelings toward Bortles.

"Obviously, Blake is our quarterback," Marrone said during the press conference. "I think right now is probably not the right time to discuss personnel and players."

Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown live streams Mike Tomlin's expletive-laced postgame speech involving Patriots

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Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown live streams Mike Tomlin's expletive-laced postgame speech involving Patriots

Antonio Brown made the last big play to seal the Steelers' 18-16 divisional-round triumph at Arrowhead Sunday night, yet he's responsible for Pittsburgh's first blunder headed into AFC title game week.

In a since-deleted facebook video posted from the Steelers' celebratory locker room Sunday night, Brown is live streaming the team's prayer, then Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger addressing the team.

"When you get to this point in the journey, man, not a lot needs to be said," Mike Tomlin says, via CSNNE. Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We just spotted these a–h—- a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We’re going to touch down at 4 o’clock in the f—ing morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for their a–. But you ain’t got to tell them we’re coming.

“Keep a low profile, and let’s get ready to ball like this up again here in a few days and be right back at it. That’s our story.”

Roethlisberger talks next, referring to Foxborough as a "lion's den" and telling his teammates, "keep your mouth shut." An unknown Steelers teammate can also be heard in the video saying, "keep cool on social media."

Doh.

Brown, during the 14-minute video, repeatedly and excitedly shares with his teammates the growing number of stream viewers, hovering at more than 40,000 as the tape is rolling and peaking at more than 1 million viewers before its removal Sunday night.

So much for low profile, but speaking of, Tom Brady said Monday morning the Patriots are aware of Brown's brain cramp.

"I don't think that would go over well with out coach ... what's done in the locker room should stay in the locker room," Brady said while speaking with WEEI.

Brown, who sealed the victory by converting a third-and-3 deep in Steelers territory with the Chiefs trailing by two and out of timeouts, got off to one of his patented hot starts with five catches for 101 yards by intermission. But for the second consecutive week, an impressive showing on the field by Pittsburgh was clouded in its immediate aftermath by self-made distractions off of it.

Last week it was Joey Porter's arrest. While Brown didn't run afoul with the law, he did, as Brady mentioned, breach the trust of his teammates and coaches while doing exactly what he was explicitly told to avoid.

Reports: Josh McDaniels will stay with New England Patriots, not go to 49ers

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Reports: Josh McDaniels will stay with New England Patriots, not go to 49ers

It appeared to be setting up nicely for the 49ers.

Despite their worst season in franchise history culminating in an embarrassing state-of-the-organization news conference held by Jed York, the Niners waited out the rush of five other clubs filling their head-coaching vacancies, seemingly leaving them their choice between three intriguing candidates: Patriots coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, and Atlanta's Kyle Shanahan.

Except, according to multiple reports, McDaniels has opted to stay in New England with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Pro Football Weekly reported two weeks ago both Patriots coordinators, ultra selective, with stock that should only continue to rise, could remain in Foxborough.

If that's indeed the case, and we now know it to be true with McDaniels, that leaves Shanahan and Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable as the two men left standing in the Niners' search. Shanahan, whose No.1 scoring Falcons advanced to the NFC title game by laying waste to the Niners' rival Seahawks Saturday, would be an excellent hire and reportedly remains very much in the mix.

Cable, who, since going 17-27 over two-plus seasons with the Raiders from 2008-10, has held the offensive line/assistant head coach post under Pete Carroll in Seattle. The Seahawks' O-line has been their biggest issue each of the past two seasons, and Cable is considered in league circles an uninspired candidate but one who may be apt to deal with the dysfunction trickling out of York's front office.

Remember, York said defiantly a few weeks ago, "you don't dismiss owners," when asked why someone other than Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke weren't held responsible for the Niners' 2-14 trainwreck. Well, McDaniels has now dismissed the Niners, increasing the onus of them landing Patricia or Shanahan — or risking a whole new level of incompetence being revealed.

Pro Football Weekly's divisional-round preview: New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans

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Pro Football Weekly's divisional-round preview: New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans

Texans vs. Patriots
Saturday, 7:15 p.m. CT, CBS, Gillette Stadium
Line: Patriots (-16)
Over/under: 44.5

OVERVIEW

Nearly four months ago, a Jacoby Brissett-led Patriots team beat the Texans 27-0 on a Thursday night. Now, Tom Brady – with a bye week – gets the Texans at home with a chance to advance to the AFC title game, and suddenly a historic 16-point spread makes sense. The Texans feature a defense that can pose a challenge to the Patriots and a coaching staff that knows Bill Belichick well, from Bill O’Brien to Romeo Crennel. That familiarity hasn’t helped the Texans, who lost to the Patriots 27-6 last season, O’Brien’s first meeting against his former team. The Patriots have won four playoff home games in a row, with their last postseason loss in Foxborough coming in 2012 against Baltimore.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

To rattle the Patriots’ offense, defenses need to get Tom Brady off his spot, get penetration up the gut and be physical with New England’s receivers to affect timing routes. If the Texans don’t pressure Brady, it won’t matter what cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Johnathan Joseph do. Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus have terrorized QBs this season, but neither recorded even a QB hit against the Pats in September. They will be key, along with rookie defensive lineman D.J. Reader. Denver's 17 QB hits in the AFC Championship last season led to one of Brady's worst playoff performances. The Texans need to take advantage of where their blue-chippers are – in the defensive front – and try to use that blueprint if they want to pull an upset for the ages.

PICKS

Hub Arkush: Patriots 30, Texans 13

I could see Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus pressuring Tom Brady and knocking him around a bit, but of course so can Bill Belichick, so the Pats will have a plan to make sure that doesn't happen. Other than that, where do the Texans have an edge or can they even earn a draw? Brandy, Osweiler . . . this one should be all Pats.

Arthur Arkush: Patriots 24, Texans 13

Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus keep Houston hanging around until after halftime, when Tom Brady, Martellus Bennett and Dion Lewis ensure it doesn't become a fourth-quarter game. New England isn't the NFL's No. 1 scoring 'D' by accident; Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia won't let Houston's two difference-makers, Nuk and Miller, beat them.

Kevin Fishbain: Patriots 26, Texans 9

The Texans have the right players on defense to make things difficult for the Patriots, but can Houston’s offense keep up if New England gets out in front? A 45-10 beatdown of the Tebow-led Broncos following the 2011 season and a 43-22 win over the Colts three years ago come to mind as recent dominant wins in a home, divisional game. That point spread isn’t so ridiculous.