Tag:New Orleans Saints
Posted on: January 14, 2012 12:19 pm
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Alex Smith to get $1M bonus for playing Saturday

Smith will get an extra $1 million for playing Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Saturday, Alex Smith will do what many felt was unthinkable this year: start a playoff game for the 49ers. And when San Francisco welcomes New Orleans to the west coast, and Smith takes his first snap, he'll also be $1 million richer.

That's because, according to a report from Adam Schefter of ESPN, Smith playing in a playoff game triggers a bonus in his contract -- a one-year deal signed prior to this season -- that pays him an extra million.

In order to activate this bonus, Smith also had to play in more than 70 percent of the 49ers snaps, but he cruised past that easily in 2011.

Smith's 2011 season under new coach Jim Harbaugh has been a revelation: he completed 61.3 percent of his passes, threw for 3,144 yards (both career highs) and led the NFL with a league-low 1.1 percent interception rate. His 7.1 yards per attempt is a career high, as is his 90.7 quarterback rating.

His lack of mistakes and efficiency in the Niners new offense is what put them over the top as a contender this season; there's little question that the extra million bucks the 49ers will shell out for actually getting to the playoffs is worth it.

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 11:18 am
Edited on: January 14, 2012 11:42 am
 

Sunbeam/DirecTV dispute costs Miami Fox affiliate

By Will Brinson

Miami-area subscribers to DirecTV wanting to watch all the NFL action might want to start calling their nearest sports bar and reserving a table, because a dispute between Sunbeam and DirecTV has resulted in the local Fox station getting yanked from the television sets of about 270,000 homes.

In Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, WSVN-Ch. 7, the local Fox channel, replaced the station's feed with the following message at midnight on Saturday:

“No need to call us. Service will be restored as soon as technical difficulties are resolved. Please check this channel periodically for status updates. Sorry for the interruption."

In addition, the Sunbeam dispute has caused the NBC affiliate in the Boston area to be blacked out. That's not nearly as bad for football, of course, but it's not exactly good news either.

The technical difficulties aren't technical, though. They're financial -- Sunbeam and DirecTV can't reach an agreement on the cost for retransmission fees.

"There is always one outlier, like Sunbeam, who has no problem committing an unthinkable abuse of the public trust in an effort to shake down an excessive financial arrangement for themselves," said Derek Chang, executive vice president of Programming for DIRECTV said in a statement released by DirecTV. "We have no problem compensating Sunbeam fairly, but we have to take a stand against runaway greed and a shameless attempt to extort a more than 300 percent fee increase that our customers risk having to absorb. Sunbeam has completely disregarded its obligations to the public, NFL fans and hundreds of thousands of our loyal customers."

It's possible that this dispute will be resolved by the time that the Packers and Giants start playing on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET. But there's little to no chance that these customers receive any Fox feed by the time the Saints and 49ers tee off on Saturday.

The smart, albeit incredibly frustrating, move is for anyone in the Miami area with DirecTV to bolt for their nearest watering hole.

Ed. Note: We previously had Boston losing Fox in here; apologies for that and thanks to Mac for pointing out it was NBC.

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Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:15 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 11:49 am
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Saints divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

The league’s No. 2 scoring offense meets the No. 2 scoring defense at Candlestick on Saturday.

Neither side has faced this tall of an order this season. Here’s the breakdown.


1. Niners inside ‘backers on Saints stars
NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are the reason San Francisco had the league’s best all-around defense in 2011. Both are smart, supremely athletic and adept in traffic and space. Thus, both can play run or pass at the highest of levels, which is why neither comes off the field much.

All season long, defenses have tried to figure out not just how to stop Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, but how to simply line up against them. Do you use safeties on Graham and linebackers on Sproles? Vice Versa? Do you go with cornerbacks for both and risk getting run on?

The Niners might be the first team that doesn’t have to worry about personnel packages against these two, as they may put one First Team All-Pro linebacker on Graham and the other First Team All-Pro linebacker on Sproles. Whether the Niners can win those matchups is another discussion, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is extremely fortunate to be able to even consider it.

Instead of having his players focus on new strategies, he can have them focus on execution.

2. Handling the rest of New Orleans’ passing attack
The 49ers generally play zone out of their base defense and man when they go nickel or dime. Because Graham is like a third wide receiver, the Saints can stay predominantly in their base personnel if they’re more comfortable facing zone coverage. That should be the case Saturday, as San Fran’s cornerbacking trio of Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver outside and Carlos Rogers inside has been tremendous in man-to-man.

Those three are capable of matching up with Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Marques Colston – especially if safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are providing help as free roamers over the top.

Whitner is somewhat limited in coverage (his success tends to come when linebackers are blitzing, which defines the routes quickly and makes them easier to jump). Goldson, on the other hand, is very rangy.

Both players must be careful not to overreact to the subtle fakes and body language of Drew Brees. No quarterback manipulates deep safeties better than the new single season passing yards record holder.

Pressuring Brees is critical to stopping New Orleans. (Getty Images)

3. Pressuring Brees
San Francisco is willing to blitz but often doesn’t have to, thanks to the speed of edge-rushers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Smith works extremely well with All-Pro defensive end/tackle Justin Smith on the left side when it comes to twists and stunts. That’s something the Saints left offensive line has struggled with over the years.

This season, however, athletic left tackle Jermon Bushrod has finally polished his pass-blocking mechanics and perennial Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks has ironed out the kinks he had in lateral pass-blocking movement. Nicks is also great at picking up Bushrod’s slack as a help-blocker.

The real key will be whether the right side of the Saints’ line can keep Brees clean. This Saints started clicking after their loss to the Rams, when Sean Payton tweaked the protections to give his tackles help with chip blocks from backs and tight ends. That’s the only way the Saints could survive the slow feet of right tackle Zach Strief.

If Ahmad Brooks draws even one true solo matchup against Strief on third-and-long, it means something has gone terribly wrong. (Or, it means the Niners will have gambled with an overload pass-rush on that side, which is plausible given that Bowman and Willis are both excellent blitzers.)

4. Niners run game against Saints D
The Niners make no bones about it: they’re going to win with Frank Gore, not Alex Smith. They’re a power-run offense – literally. Most of their offense derives from power plays, with left guard Mike Iupati pulling and fullback Bruce Miller or H-back Delanie Walker lead-blocking. The Saints have the personnel to stop this.

Former Niners tackle Aubrayo Franklin is a clogger inside and, when he shows up, veteran Shaun Rogers is a destroyer off the bench behind the generally incognito Sedrick Ellis. Also, defensive ends Will Smith and Cameron Jordan might not have dazzling sack numbers (Jordan, this year’s first round pick, recorded all of one), but both are superb at crashing inside or sliding down the line of scrimmage.

At the second level, Jonathan Vilma is regarded as the star (and rightfully so – he calls the signals and patrols sideline-to-sideline), but strong safety Roman Harper might be the deciding character on Saturday. Harper’s presence is what makes the Saints’ front seven so fast.

That will be especially important when backup running back Kendall Hunter, an underrated tempo-changer with better quickness and burst than Frank Gore, is in the game.

5. Niners big pass plays vs. Saints secondary
Jim Harbaugh is masterful at installing simple wrinkles in his offense each week that take advantage of the opponent’s greatest weakness. This week that means building a few downfield shot-plays into the passing game.

The Saints led the league in 40-plus-yard pass plays allowed during the regular season. The Niners know that if they keep extra blockers in for pass protection help (which their O-line needs, especially at tackle, where Joe Staley is very average on the left side and Anthony Davis, despite getting an embarrassingly nonsensical All-Pro vote, is very inconsistent on the right side), the Saints, with their green-dog heavy blitz packages, will bring the house:

In case you missed it, in last Saturday night’s broadcast, Cris Collinsworth did a great job explaining a green dog blitz. A green-dog blitz is when a defender in man coverage rushes the quarterback after he sees that his man has stayed in to block. Thanks to the speed and aggression of their linebackers, the Saints green-dog blitz as effectively as any team in football.

Thus, there are one-on-one matchups to be had downfield. Though San Francisco’s offense has been Gingrich-level conservative this season, downfield shots off play-action, particularly when the ball’s just inside midfield, have actually been a consistent element in their gameplans.

The Niners have to intentionally design their big plays because, other than maybe tight end Vernon Davis, they don’t have anyone who can conjure them naturally.

Michael Crabtree has great body control but “inexplosive” speed. Kyle Williams is quick out of the slot but not over the top. Ted Ginn has playmaking POTENTIAL but isn’t consistent enough to be considered an actual PLAYMAKER.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Divisional Round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 9, 2012 9:42 am
 

Wild-Card Weekend podcast review

By Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Well then. Wild-card weekend looked like it would lack the requisite drama of an NFL playoff weekend and then Tim Tebow happened. Oh no.

We break down the Broncos stunning win over the Steelers, wonder whether John Elway is screwed for 2012, debate whether the Steelers should be disappointed and discuss Tebow's chances against the Patriots (and the guy who drafted him, Josh McDaniels!).

Then we take a look at the other wild-card games, wondering if the Falcons need to make some changes and whether or not they lost the Julio Jones trade. We discuss if the Giants are capable of beating the Packers and then move to onto the Saints, who have to go outside. Can they win in San Francisco? Should they be favored? Did the Lions get hosed by the refs? Should they be excited about the future?

And finally we take a look at the Texans-Bengals game (it seems so long ago) and debate whether Houston's got a shot at upending the Ravens.

(Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes? And if you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.)


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Posted on: January 8, 2012 8:51 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:12 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Wild Card: Ranking Tebow

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Wild-Card Weekend recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Ranking the Remaining QBs

Are you ----ing kidding me? Did that just happen? That, of course, is Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard, walk-off touchdown in the first-ever game featuring the new NFL overtime rules to push Denver past Pittsburgh and into the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The lesson, as always? You're gonna want to have someone who can sling the rock when the playoffs roll around and Tebow somehow morphed into that in the first round of the playoffs against one of the all-time great defenses. But where does he rank with the rest of the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs?

8. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
With all due respect to the only former UNC quarterback to win a playoff game, he just doesn't stack up with the rest of the folks in the playoffs. That being said, he's a perfect fit for the zone-stretch offense that the Texans run, and as long as he doesn't have to do too much, he's fine. He's probably gonna have to do too much against the Ravens this week.

7. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith's been incredibly improved in 2011 so it's not like this is taking a potshot at him. Smith had his best season -- by far -- of his career, throwing just five picks and completing 61.3 percent of his passes. But you're telling me you're taking Smith if you need to win a game? No, no you're not.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco's had great moments this year, but his inconsistency is absolutely terrifying. Seven times (seven!) he's gone under 200 yards passing on the season, and many times this year the Ravens have been forced to overcome his poor play. Some of those times, they just don't lean on Flacco because they have a beasty run game and a really good defense. But that's not exactly helping his cause, you know?

5. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos
COME ON DOWN THE OLD KOOL-AID FILLED RABBIT HOLE! But, no, seriously. Tebow made throws on Sunday night that he's not supposed to make. And he did it against a defense that doesn't let most quarterbacks make throws like that, much less a would-be remedial QB like Tebow. But he brings a running game, he brings an improved passing game, he brings along the worst wide receiver corps (by far) of anyone in the playoffs and he brings along the dreaded intangibles.

4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli's a top-five quarterback in the NFL this season, and he's got a legitimate case to be right there in Tom Brady's class (just like he said before the season!). When it comes down to it, though, you're not taking him for a playoff stretch run over any of the rest of the guys on the list. At least not yet anyway ... (But yes, there's a HUGE gap between 1-4 and 5-8.)

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
People keep saying that Brady does the most with the least but that argument's kind of ridiculous when Rob Gronkowski just wrapped up the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. Three here, by the way, is like "1c."

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 450 yards in a playoff game.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last I checked he's still the defending champion. Plus, he's got the mobility that no one else on this list (even Tebow) has, he's the most accurate quarterback on the run and he's working on a week's rest in addition to two weeks of hearing everyone talk about how he's not the best quarterback left in the playoffs.

Winners

Josh McDaniels: Not only is the former Broncos head coach and Patriots offensive coordinator now back with the Patriots but he's going to play against Tim Tebow next week. This is a good thing because McDaniels basically got fired for drafting Tebow. I mean, not entirely but it didn't help things. Doesn't everyone look kind of silly for not trusting him now.

T.J. Yates:
Yates was the rookie who was going to screw things up for his team, but instead he played the perfect foil to Andy Dalton's inconsistency, going 11 of 20 for 159 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't mind-blowing numbers, and 40 of the yards came on one touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, but Yates did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is "don't screw things up."

Overtime Rules: It -- literally -- took Ron Winter longer to explain the new overtime rules than it took the Broncos to end the overtime. One play to DeMaryius Thomas and that's it. Which is good for the NFL because a longer, more prolonged overtime opened up the possibility for mistakes by refs and scrutiny by media and fans. Instead now we think it works perfectly!

Pierre Thomas: Dude was kiliing it on Saturday and might be the biggest reason New Orleans won. He "only" scored once and but he put up 121 total yards and he fought for every freaking one of them; there's a reasonable chance 115 of them were after contact. Thomas' refusal to go down to the turf resulted in a lot of Saints drives getting extended a lot further than they should have, and he deserves props for his effort.

Cleveland Browns: When the Falcons were eliminated, the Browns locked up better draft picks in 2012, thanks to the Julio Jones trade. (They'll now pick a lot earlier, no worse than 23rd, in the first and fourth rounds.) Tom Heckhart also looks a little bit smarter today -- even if Julio Jones is special (he is) and even if the Falcons will eventually be more explosive (they should), that deal didn't work out the way the Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff thought it would. Yeah, they made the playoffs, but it was as a wild card and they didn't score a single point on Sunday.

Smith would like you to re-spot that ball, sir. (AP)

Losers

Mike Smith: Twice on Sunday, Smith had a controversial fourth-down decision to make. OK, the decisions weren't really that controversial, but the playcalls -- and the result -- were. Each time, once with Michael Turner on the freaking sideline, the Falcons snuck Ryan against a stout Giants defensive line, and each time, he was stuffed. Those decisions don't change the outcome of the game, per se, because the Giants still outscored Atlanta by more than six points, but Smith's going to answer a lot of questions about his decision-making.

Chris Crocker
: Crocker's a friend of the blog, so we don't want to rip him too hard, but that was a pretty terrible game from the Bengals safety. He dropped a crucial would-be pick-six at the start of the second half, he missed a sack of Yates, and his incredibly poor "tackling" on Arian Foster's 42-yard touchdown run is going to be replayed all week long. Not a good day for Crocker.

Lions Defense: It's not rare for a defense to get surgically dissected by Drew Brees. But the Lions have to be shaking their heads at missing a good chance at up-ending the Saints on Saturday because their defense couldn't get any penetration on Brees, couldn't make any stops on fourth downs, didn't make the Saints punt a single time and generally looked lost in coverage. They also dropped a pair of easy interceptions, one of which Eric Wright should've taken to the house.

Mike Mularkey: After a great season from the Falcons and a strong finish to the year, Mularkey's been a hot name as a coaching candidate and has a slew of interviews lined up. But the people looking to hire him for a full-time job are going to wonder about the incredibly conservative gameplan Mularkey dragged into the Meadowlands on Sunday, and how he managed to get outscored by Eli Manning 2-0. And then there's the short-yardage stuff (see: Mike Smith above). Smith's saying "go" but Mularkey's the guy dialing up the plays, and it might behoove teams to put him through a "Fourth-and-Short Playcalling Quiz" before giving him the gig.

John Elway: At halftime against Pittsburgh, Tim Tebow had thrown for 185 yards (all in the second quarter) and tied two of Elway's playoff records with the Broncos: he and Elway are the only Broncos quarterbacks with a) two 50-yard passes in the same game and b) a rushing and passing score in the same game. Oh and then he walked off the Steelers in overtime with an 80-yards pass. Please tell me how he's not going to bring Tebow back in 2012.

The Big Questions

 
Marvin needs to challenge his challenges. (AP)

1. What was Marvin Lewis thinking on those challenges?
He wasn't. The Bengals didn't lose because Lewis bungled a pair of first-half challenges, but that shouldn't excuse him for the actual bungling. Lewis gave away two timeouts and any chance of challenging in the second half by deciding that the Bengals (4/4 on short-yardage conversions against the Texans in Week 13) needed to challenge a bad spot on a second down and two that only went for one yard. Then he compounded it by challenging a catch in the second quarter, which allowed him to enter halftime with a deficit and no challenges.

2. Can the Saints win on the road?
Of course they can. But will they? The Saints are 0-4 in franchise history away from the Superdome when it comes to the playoffs and that's an applicable lesson for this year's team, who only played five games outside of a dome the entire year.

That's right: just five games. Now, the Saints know this. They talked about it with our own Pete Prisco after their win over Detroit on Saturday. The Saints are guaranteed nine games inside a year, because of eight home matchups and a game at division rival Atlanta. Here's what happened when they did venture away from the comfort of turf:

Week/Location Result Points Scored Passing Yards TD/INT Total Yards
Week 1 @ Green Bay L 34 419 3/0 477
Week 4 @ Jacksonville W 23 351 1/2 503
Week 5 @ Carolina W 30 359 2/1 444
Week 6 @ Tampa Bay L 20 383 1/3 453
Week 14 @ Tennessee W 22 337 2/0 437
Weekly Average N/A 34.2 334.2 2.9/0.9 467.1

Two of the Saints three losses this season came outside on the road, and they only went above 30 points twice on the road, despite averaging 34.2 points per game this season.

To paraphrase our Vice President, that's a big freaking deal.

3. Do Matt Ryan's playoff losses make him a bad quarterback?
No. But Ryan's the guy who'll be heavily judged over the next year with respect to his postseason performance, since he's now 0-3 in the playoffs. In those three games, Ryan's 70 of 110 for 584 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's definitely the victim of a) conservative gameplans and b) playing against good teams (the NFC Champion Cardinals, the Super Bowl Champion Packers and this year's Giants), but that isn't going to stop people from discussing the fact that his stats stink in the playoffs and he can't win. It's the same thing people said about Aaron Rodgers before last year.

4. Can the Giants really win the Super Bowl?
Damn right they can. The "shades of 2007" storyline is a bit played out at this point ... but it's just kind of true. They're a wild card that everyone counted out, Eli Manning's hitting his stride at the absolutely perfect time, they've got a running game that's shaping back up and their pass rush is absolutely deadly. This is the kind of the same team, just with different players. (San Fran up-ending the Saints and keeping the Giants away from the Superdome would help a lot, too.)

5. Did you really rank Tim Tebow FIFTH on the remaining quarterbacks list?
Yes. Let's just move on before I emerge from my overtime-induced blackout.

6. How bright is the future for the Lions?
Very bright. They'll obviously want to lock down Calvin Johnson at some point, and they need to get some secondary help this coming offseason, and getting Mikel Leshoure back to provide a power running game is critical. But Matthew Stafford's primed to be the next quarterback who warrants a debate for "elite" status, in case the 5,000+ yards he tossed in 2011 didn't clue you into that. 

7. Why did the Saints draft Mark Ingram?
Not sure. But it at least seemed like a good idea the time, right? Ingram was supposed to be the power runner for the Saints, but in his first season he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored only five touchdowns. He's not playing now and Chris Ivory's performance on Saturday night really leads me to believe New Orleans could've gotten better value at a different position in April's draft.

8. Could Kevin Kolb land another big contract?

Possibly! Doing so would mean that Kolb would lose his first big contract though: Charley Casserly reported on Sunday that the Cardinals are a sleeper candidate for Peyton Manning if the Colts let him go. To make that happen, they'd obviously have to bail on Kolb's contract, which they can reportedly do at a fairly cheap cost. The timing is the issue though, since Kolb's roster bonus is due in March as well. But if it happens, Kolb could instantly become the third- or fourth-best quarterback available on the market, along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Flynn. It's a longshot, but an interesting situation to watch nonetheless.

9. Does Tebow deserve all the credit for the Broncos win?

As usual, no. Tebow gets a ton of credit because he does some amazing things late in games, but let's be clear: the Steelers played pretty freaking badly on Sunday night. Their pass defense was AWFUL and they ran Ben Roethlisberger out on a bad ankle and looked anemic early on on offense. The Broncos defense deserves some credit too, of course, because they played a nice game. And so do Tebow's wide receivers. Just figure out a way to spread it around.

GIF O' THE WEEK

OH NO Hakeem Nicks DID NOT JUST DO THE DIRTY BIRD. OH YES HE DID Jamaal Anderson.

Worth 1,000 Words


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Posted on: January 8, 2012 12:16 pm
Edited on: January 9, 2012 12:57 pm
 

Report: Williams could follow Fisher (to Rams?)

Could Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams join forces in 2012? (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known for his aggressive, blitz-happy style and it's served New Orleans well in recent years (also helping: having Drew Brees on the other side of the ball dropping 400 yards a game on helpless opponents). But Williams has been an NFL coach for more than two decades, getting his start with the Houston Oilers in 1990. He coached under Buddy Ryan during that time, and became the Titans' defensive coordinator in 1997, four seasons into Jeff Fisher's tenure.

Williams and Fisher's paths have diverged in the years since; the former was the Bills' head coach from 2001-03, the Redskins defensive coordinator under Joe Gibbs (2004-07), the Jags' DC (2008), before landing in New Orleans in 2009. The latter coached the Titans through 2010, took 2011 off and now looks to be a prime candidate for either the Rams or Dolphins gig in '12.

And when Fisher returns, he could be interested in bringing Williams with him. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, "many around the league" will leave New Orleans after the season and -- to borrow a phrase -- join forces with Fisher. The two helped lead the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000, a 23-16 loss to the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams.

Meanwhile, sources tell CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman that it's "95 percent certain" that Fisher is headed to St. Louis. 

More corroboration: FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer reported during Sunday's pregame show that the Dolphins have moved on from Fisher, presumably because they think he's leaning towards taking the St. Louis gig. (Glazer tweets: "I'd be shocked if Fisher isn't Rams new coach in next 48 hours. He's at Rams complex mtg w Bradford and others.")

Then there's this: "Unless something didn't work for the Rams or for Jeff when they met Thursday, it was always planned that there would be a follow-up in St. Louis," a source very close to Fisher told the St. Louis Post-Distpatch's Jim Thomas. Like Glazer, Thomas thinks that "Fisher wouldn't be visiting Rams Park on Sunday if he wasn't seriously considering becoming the next head coach of the St. Louis Rams."

More details via Thomas:
In interviews with Miami and St. Louis, Fisher did a lot of listening. He wanted to get a sense of each owner's vision for the franchise, but also check on more mundane matters as well.

Fisher went into both meetings with a checklist of all the non-economic things important to him, seeking to get those answered to his — and the club's — satisfaction. …The idea was to avoid any remorse or misunderstanding once the parties started discussing financial terms.
As for the Dolphins, other candidates they might now be interested in include Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Packer offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, and Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. 

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Posted on: January 7, 2012 11:43 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 12:01 am
 

Harbaugh prepared for Saints, gets them next week

Dallas' last loss caused one fan to take up arms. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

We joked on Friday's playoff preview podcast that maybe Jim Harbaugh was trying to stick it to archnenemy Jim Schwartz one last time by suggesting last week that the 49ers would focus most of their bye-week preparation on facing the Saints in the NFC Divisional round, even though there was a chance they could face the Falcons or Giants.


Harbaugh and Schwartz had trouble executing the post-game handshake back in October, when the 49ers went into Detroit and beat the then-undefeated Lions. (Turns out, the feud may have been brewing for months.) And we're guessing Schwartz relished the thought of going to San Francisco and beating Harbaugh in the 49ers' first playoff game since 2002.

First he and the Lions would have to get past the Saints in the Superdome.  Things starting well enough, but Drew Brees did what Drew Brees does and the final score wasn't close. Whether Harbaugh's Jedi mind trick backfired or if he really did spend most of the week planning for the Saints, New Orleans will take the field in San Francisco next Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

So do the 49ers have a chance? Absolutey.

No word yet on the Vegas line (we'll guess Saints -7) but slowing Brees (forget about stopping him) in 2011 has proven nearly impossible. He threw for 5,476 yards during the regular season, including seven consecutive games of more than 300 yards, including 25 touchdowns and three interceptions.

But the 49ers aren't helpless; they have one of the league's most physical defenses (they were No. 3 overall, first against the run and eighth against the pass). San Francisco also has the advantage of playing at home, although Brees this season was just as effective outdoors as he was in a dome (69.6 percent vs. 72.1 percent; 95.7 passer rating vs. 118.7). As part of the preparation, Harbaugh might look at two games that show that the Saints are fallible.


Record-shattering Drew Brees threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints poured it on in the second half for a 45-28 NFC wild-card victory over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night. 

First: the Seahawks' wild-card win over the Saints during the 2010 playoffs. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown in that game and the Saints didn't have an answer for him. They also scored 41 points. The 49ers don't have a workhorse like Lynch in their backfield, at least one who's healthy. (And they also don't score a ton of points.) Their running game ranks 24th, and Frank Gore, who has been banged up for most of the year, is near the bottom of the league among all running backs in terms of total value and value per play, according to Football Outsiders.

Second: during Week 2 of the 2010 season, the 49ers played the Saints tough in San Francisco, back when Mike Singletary was still patrolling the sidelines and Alex Smith was perpetually a play away from getting benched.

New Orleans won 25-22 on a last-second field goal. Gore rushed for 112 yards on 20 carries (5.6 yards per carry) in the game, and Smith threw for 275 yards, completing 23 of 32 passes. Brees, meanwhile, managed just 254 yards in the air. (In the 30 regular-season games since, Brees has thrown for fewer yards once.)

But 20 months later and both teams are different. The Saints' offense is as finely tuned as any offense ever, and the 49ers have gone from eight years of losing to winning 13 games, the NFC West and the No. 2 seed in the conference. Harbaugh, who should be the unanimous choice for coach of the year, has his toughest job in front of him: convincing his team that they can hang with New Orleans.

It's not impossible -- San Francisco had their chance last year, Seattle capitalized on their opportunity, and the hapless Rams pulled if off this season -- just improbable.

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Posted on: January 6, 2012 2:15 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 5:44 pm
 

Super Bowl Odds: Pre-Playoffs Gambling Guide

Who's got the best odds to win the Super Bowl? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

You might think gamblers are degenerates. And you might be right. But the guys who create the lines (read: "Vegas") are usually pretty good with their NFL-related accuracy. Let's take a look at what Vegas thinks about the various Super Bowl contenders.

In the meantime, check out a special edition of the Pick-Six Podcast with Paul Bessire of PredictionMachine.com, where we break down the best bets for Wild-Card Weekend as well as the Super Bowl favorites:

Team: Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl Odds
: +160
How it Ranks with Other Odds: 5
What Has to Happen: The Packers only have to win three games, two at Lambeau Field and one in Indy. They'll have to beat, if the seeds hold up, some combo of the Falcons/Giants and Saints/49ers. What makes things problematic for the Packers is that every single team in the NFC playoffs, with the exception of the 49ers, has to the firepower to keep pace with them offensively. The defense needs to get hot and commit turnovers. And Greg Jennings and the offensive line need to get healthy quickly. On the bright side, three of the other five playoff teams are dome teams; Lambeau is not the friendliest place for them.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: Super Bowl (re) Matchup of Packers vs. Steelers at +700. Because the NFL will make this happen just to take care of all the fans who got screwed out of their seats in last year's game.

Team: New England Patriots
Super Bowl Odds: +350
1-12 Scale Value of Bet: 6
What Has to Happen: The Pats defense has to get much better than it was in the regular season. An upset would be a huge help for the Patriots, since they'd get either the Bengals or the Broncos, instead of having to play both the Steelers and (most likely) the Ravens in order to get to the Super Bowl. A team that can score and play defense is kind of nightmare for New England.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: Super Bowl (re) Matchup of Patriots vs. Giants at +1900. Then you can email your favorite Boston sports fan clips of "The Catch" for two consecutive weeks.

Team: New Orleans Saints
Super Bowl Odds: +500
1-2 Scale Value of Bet: 7
What Has to Happen: The Saints have to win three games, and two of them could be on the road and outdoors. So it's a little nuts that they have better odds than the Ravens and 49ers, both of whom are No. 2 seeds in their respective conferences. That's partially playing to the public, though, as well as
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: Longest touchdown will be OVER 55.5 yards. The odds on this are basically even (-115) and you could argue that under's a much better bet. But this means for 60 minutes, every time Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford start to uncork a pass you're going to be screaming your face off. And that's always fun. Oh, also: MEGATRON.

Team: Baltimore Ravens
Super Bowl Odds: +600
1-12 Scale Value of Bet: 9
What Has to Happen: Just two games and a couple things stand out. 1) If Houston can hang on, Baltimore will probably only play the Texans and the Steelers or Patriots to get to Indy. 2) They only have to play two games! 3) They're 8-0 at home in 2011. 4) They've either beaten everyone who's in the playoffs (twice in the case of the Steelers and Bengals) or they match up well with those teams.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: The OVER of the Super Bowl at 53 ... without knowing who's there. Even if the Ravens only give up 16.6 points per game on defense, we'll gamble they end up in shootout with the Saints/Packers/Lions. If the 49ers and Broncos play, this blows up in your face.

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Super Bowl Odds: +1000
Value of Bet: 8
What Has to Happen: Three games on the road with a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger? Yeah, that seems impossible but consider this: Pittsburgh has to beat Denver in Denver (which should happen), then travel to New England and Baltimore in some order. They've got the personnel to beat the Patriots and are the Ravens really taking down the Steelers three times in one year?
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: A non-touchdown score to happen first in Steelers-Broncos, which pays off at +115. The under of this game (which I love as well) is already down to 33.5. You're telling me people won't be cranking field goals in Mile High Stadium? Lock it up!

Team: San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl Odds: +1200
Value of Bet: 10
What Has to Happen: OK, look, this is the "best value bet" on the board, but that doesn't mean I love it. The Niners probably have to beat the Saints, Packers and then someone from the AFC to win the Super Bowl. But a No. 2 seed with a shot at two home games (if the Packers are upset), a stifling defense, a strong run game and only needing two games to get to Indy with 12:1 odds to win the Super Bowl? That's kind of silly.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: OVER on number of Gatorade baths given to members of the Harbaugh family at 2.5*. Jim might dunk himself twice if the Lions upset the Saints and he gets to spend a week smack-talking Jim Schwartz.

Team: New York Giants
Super Bowl Odds: +2000
Value of Bet: 11
What Has to Happen: The Giants have to win three games, and the road could very well go through Green Bay and New Orleans. But they've played everyone seeded above them and kept it close against the 49ers and Packers so we know they can play with the best teams. (I think they're losing to the Falcons but that doesn't make it a bad value play.) But remember 2007? Yeah, never forget.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: Longest touchdown score OVER at 45.5. Any time you have Victor Cruz and Julio Jones in the same game, the over is a reasonable bet here.

Team: Houston Texans
Super Bowl Odds: +3500
Value of Bet: 3
What Has to Happen: Matt Schaub has to hire Kobe Bryant's doctor. The Texans rushing game and defense is great, and it's possible they could get a second home game (beat the Bengals, beat the Ravens, play Denver/Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game), but the odds just aren't great for Houston to make it to Indy.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: UNDER for T.J. Yates pass attempts (29.5) and completions (16.5). Both pay good money (-115 and even, respectively) and there are two ways to win: a Texans blowout and tons of rushing attempts, or a Bengals blowout and Yates getting yanked for Jake Delhomme.

Team: Atlanta Falcons
Super Bowl Odds: +4000
Value of Bet: 4
What Has to Happen: A casual stroll into New York, New Orleans AND Green Bay, provided the seeds hold up. Consider this: they only played five games this year that weren't in a dome, thanks to convenient scheduling. Those were: a loss at Chicago, a loss at Tampa Bay, a loss at Houston, a two-point win at Seattle and an eight-point win at Carolina. Yikes.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: Tony Gonzalez to score the first touchdown at +1500. Um, really? Because last I checked Matt Ryan kind of likes him in the red zone.

Team: Detroit Lions
Super Bowl Odds: +5000
Value of Bet: 12
What Has to Happen: As the No. 6 seed, the Lions are guaranteed to be on the road for three games if they make it to the Super Bowl. And they have to play the Saints first. But they've kept things tight with the 49ers, the Saints, the Packers and the Falcons. Matthew Stafford's as hot as anyone and they have the defensive line to pressure opposing elite quarterbacks. They can score in a dome or on the road (see: at Denver, at Green Bay, at Dallas). And they're a fun story.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: Calvin Johnson OVER receptions at 6.5 and UNDER receiving yards at 98.5. This is a hedging combo, because if he goes over 6.5 he could go over 98.5 as well. But Johnson caught six balls for 69 yards the last time against the Saints, primarily because he was dealing with double teams. Stafford will still look his way but maybe

Team: Denver Broncos
Super Bowl Odds: +6000
Value of Bet: 1
What Has to Happen: Remember that ridiculous stretch of games where the Broncos won an (un?) holy six straight games to climb into first place in the AFC West thanks to great defense, some ridiculous luck and clutch play by Tim Tebow in the fourth quarter? That needs to happen again.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: Tim Tebow over on passing attempts at 24.5. Yeah, that's a bunch, but if the Broncos are down he'll have to be winging it. Plus, you get the bonus of getting comedic value on your bet even if you lose.

Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Super Bowl Odds: +7000
Value of Bet: 2
What Has to Happen: Andy Dalton needs to stop pooping himself first of all; with Dalton feeling awful, it's kind of tough to back the Bengals even making it past the Texans (though I am). And then the Bengals need to win three road games despite posting victories against teams with a winning percentage of like 37.5 percent (or thereabouts). The Bengals are a great story but they're not going to the Super Bowl.
Fun Prop to Play for Wild-Card Weekend: Will A.J. Green score a touchdown at +130 and the over on Greens' receiving yards at 65.5. I don't care that Johnathan Joseph is covering him. He gets his.

*Made-up prop

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com