NFL Draft Podcast – NFC Free Agency Primer and Draft Implications

In this week’s episode, Chris breaks down the key free agents for every NFC team and discusses how these crucial decisions will impact the draft strategy for each franchise. Dallas dominates the NFC East conversation with its trio of high-impact free agents, but New York, Washington and Philadelphia have a couple of notable players no longer under contract. Pretty much every team other than the Falcons has questions at quarterback in the NFC South. The Saints, Panthers and Buccaneers all could have new starters in 2020. Most of the NFC West teams have a few important players that could hit the open market. Chicago has very few notable free agents, but will likely be aggressive anyway. Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit have several players they will be focused on bringing back. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

2019 NFL Coaching Carousel

Black Monday came and went in the NFL, leaving eight head coaching vacancies throughout the league. Each team has a bit of a different approach to filling the opening and unique factors to consider, making this a fun exercise. This is who I think each team should hire as their head coach, not necessarily who they will hire. Let’s take a look at the best fits for each opening across the league.

Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
Previous coach: Marvin Lewis
New hire: Vic Fangio

After 16 years, Marvin Lewis is finally out in Cincinnati. Lewis turned around the Bengals, but never managed to secure a playoff win. It is a result-driven business and the results have not been Lewis’ friend in recent years. This is a team that might be about to undergo a complete overhaul on offense. Rumors persist about the futures of both A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. There are plenty of holes on that side of the ball for the new head coach to fill. Let’s make something clear, Hue Jackson is not the answer to the offensive problems. It sounds like Cincy might go this route, which would be a massive mistake.

However, the defense has been even worse. Cincinnati allowed the most yards per game and the third most points per game. That’s where Vic Fangio comes in. Fangio has overseen the incredible transformation of the Chicago Bears defense. His defense allowed the third fewest yards per game and fewest points per game. At age 60, Fangio is far from a young option, but has 32 years of NFL coaching experience at different levels. Fangio deserves a shot to lead a team. For a team searching for an identity, the Bengals could find one with this defensive guru.

Denver Broncos (6-10)
Previous coach: Vance Joseph
New Hire: Kris Richard

John Elway made it very clear he wants a coach that is an expert on his side of the ball. The Denver Broncos should be very familiar with Kris Richard’s expertise when it comes to coaching defense. He coached the Legion of Boom in Seattle en route to a Super Bowl victory at Peyton Manning’s expense. That was the best statistical offense in NFL history and Richard stymied it.

Over the course of this season as the defensive backs coach in Dallas, he has helped develop Byron Jones into a true lockdown corner. He dealt with all kinds of personalities in that Seattle locker room and learned under Pete Carroll. Richard has a good resume for a first-time coach. The damage he could do with Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Chris Harris Jr. would be fun to watch. The team needs to figure out a long-term solution at quarterback, but finding a way to get this defense back on track is a huge step to pushing this team in the right direction.

Cleveland Browns (7-8-1)
Previous coach: Hue Jackson
New hire: Gregg Williams

It has been 15 years since Gregg Williams was a head coach in the NFL, leading the Bills during the early 2000s with no avail. His successes as the defensive coordinator in New Orleans, winning a Super Bowl in 2009, are a bit fresher in our minds. He was excellent in that role, save Bounty Gate. Now, he took over as the Browns coach midseason and led the team to a 5-3 record and much-improved overall play. There is no question Williams and offensive coordinator Perry Kitchens have been essential in that. Cleveland won more games under the duo in the second half of the season than it had in the previous three years combined.

For the sake of the development of Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett Nick Chubb and some of the other young prospects, it makes sense to keep some stability. No one is going to be better-suited to continue Mayfield’s development than Kitchens other than maybe Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who signed a contract extension with the Sooners on Tuesday. Plus the level of turnaround this team saw was incredible. The three losses under Williams came against the Texans, Chiefs and Ravens, all playoff teams. Belief is this club could be a playoff team next year. Keeping this coaching staff in place would be a wise move.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
Previous coach: Dirk Koetter
New hire: Eric Beinemy

The biggest task for whoever takes over for the Buccaneers is figuring out what to do at quarterback. Jameis Winston does not seem like a guaranteed long-term solution. The former first overall pick in the 2015 draft will be under contract for 2019, but is not guaranteed anything past that. That leaves the franchise in a very tough position with no other even potential long-term solution at quarterback on the roster.

There is no question that finding an offensive-minded coach to mentor Winston will be crucial. Enter Eric Bieniemy, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator. Every team will be looking for the next Sean McVay with their newest hire. Bieniemy might not be McVay, but he is a former NFL running back, so there is that understanding of what it is like to be a player in the league.

Concerns with Bieniemy start and end with his experience. This is his first season as offensive coordinator and he is not the one calling the plays. However, the league places a high value on Andy Reid assistants and Bieniemy was Kansas City’s running backs coach from 2013 to 2017. In that span, the Chiefs produced two different 1st-team All-Pro backs and several good role players, including Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and Damien Williams. Tampa needs a coach to revitalize the franchise and maximize the talent already existing on the roster. I trust Bieniemy to do just that after helping Patrick Mahomes become the 3rd quarterback in NFL history to toss 50 touchdowns in a season. It is time to give him a chance.

Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
Previous coach: Steve Wilks
New hire: Jim Caldwell

Arizona made the perplexing decision to fire Steve Wilks after one season, meaning it is time for a second straight offseason coaching search. This time, the Cardinals would do well to bring in a veteran coach with plenty of experience developing and fostering quarterbacks. Jim Caldwell fits the bill. Caldwell led the Colts to a Super Bowl berth in 2009, and took the Lions to the playoffs twice in four seasons. If you scrub the year where he coached the Colts without Peyton Manning, Caldwell’s record is 60-36. Needless to say, he deserves another chance in the NFL.

With Josh Rosen in need of some real guidance, Caldwell worked with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Manning. He also helped Matt Stafford become a much more efficient passer in Detroit. Former Colts center Jeff Saturday described Caldwell as being more laid back as well, an approach that could work well for a team that has Larry Fitzgerald on the roster. Caldwell is good at fostering the culture the players create. Fitz does it better than anyone else. Don’t overthink this and bring in a coach with real experience to oversee this rebuild.

Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Previous coach: Adam Gase
New hire: Dave Toub

There are a number of reasons why Dave Toub may be the best option for Miami. For one, he comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which has produced Matt Nagy, Sean McDermott and Doug Pederson most recently. The last Reid special teams coordinator who landed a head coaching job was John Harbaugh, who through 11 seasons is 114-77 including a 10-5 playoff record and a Super Bowl ring. I’m not saying Toub is guaranteed to be Harbaugh, but don’t sneer at the idea of a special team’s coordinator taking the top job. He did a stellar job in 2018, as the Chiefs ranked 2nd in special teams DVOA.

The other reason Toub makes sense is because this roster needs a complete overhaul. He is not a specialist, but a good teacher. That is something the Dolphins desperately need. Outside of a handful of defensive pieces, Miami lacks talent. I actually think Adam Gase deserves a ton of credit for the success the offense did have this season. He had to get creative with a middling offensive line, no true No. 1 receiver, 36-year old Frank Gore as his top running back and the combination of Brock Osweiler and a banged up Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. The bigger decision here will be building the roster. Toub will be good at teaching everyone when they get some better young talent in the locker room. He has the experience teams want in a head coaching candidate.

New York Jets (4-12)
Previous coach: Todd Bowles
New hire: Jim Harbaugh

It’s time to bring some bravado back to Broadway. This is a really young team in New York in desperate need of discipline and leadership. Todd Bowles was a players coach through and through, but the Jets were one of the most penalized teams in the league during Bowles’ final two seasons. Harbaugh also has a pretty good track record at developing quarterbacks. He led the 49ers to the Super Bowl with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Under Harbaugh, Kaepernick threw 50 touchdowns to just 21 interceptions and completed 60 percent of his passes. In college, he helped develop Andrew Luck.

Harbaugh would probably be interested in working with Sam Darnold. He is a former NFL quarterback with a great coaching record at 44-19-1 during four seasons with the 49ers. It will take a decent amount of effort to pull him away from Michigan, but the critics have been out in full force after Jim failed to beat Ohio State for the fifth straight year. (Fun fact: Michigan has beaten Ohio State just twice since 2000.) Harbaugh represents a good teacher, with previous NFL head coaching experience and the personality to thrive in the New York market. This is the closest thing the Jets are going to find to the offensive-minded version of Bill Parcells, the last time they had a great head coach. If Mike Macagnan is serious about doing things differently, this is the route to go.

Green Bay Packers (6-9-1)
Former coach: Mike McCarthy
New hire: Josh McDaniels

After what he did to the Colts last season, teams are likely wary of the Patriots offensive coordinator, but he fits well with this Packers team. He is bit more fiery than Mike McCarthy, which is something I think fans will relish. He does have some head coaching experience in Denver, which didn’t go too well, but you would have to think he learned from his mistakes. The Packers also have some good offensive weapons for McDaniels to work with in Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and a solid offensive line.

There is a bigger reason why McDaniels to the Packers rumors will persist. He would have the opportunity to work with possibly the only quarterback in the league comparable to the one he worked with in New England. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are in a league of their own in terms of talent and personality. It is no secret they both possess egos that sometimes makes headlines. McDaniels’ experience working with Brady makes him one of the best candidates to work with Rodgers. He might even be able to bring some Patriots assistants with him to help turnover the defense with some good young pieces, but in need of a better system. Overall, it is time for McDaniels to get another chance, and for him to actually take it this time.

Championship Sunday picks

The divisional round of the 2015 playoffs went just about according to plan. All of the top seeds coming off their byes won, except Denver. So now, we have a rematch of the first game of the season, this time with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The other game features one quarterback trying to prove he is worth his high draft spot, the other is trying to cement his spot as the greatest quarterback in history. It is the final four in the NFL and now it is time to breakdown who is heading to Arizona and who is heading home.

Green Bay will travel to Seattle this weekend where Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in a grudge match. The Seahawks once again have home field advantage in this game as they did in Week 1 against the Pack. Seattle rolled through Green Bay that time around, thrashing the Packers 36-16. The Packs’ rushing attack sputtered against the Seahawks run defense back in September, managing a meager 80 yards on the ground on 21 attempts and Marshawn Lynch rumbled for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns in that match up. Seattle will once again look to win the battle in the trenches and force an apparently hobbled Aaron Rodgers to make all of the plays. One major hit to the Seahawks is the absence of Percy Harvin in this game. Seattle’s offense has adjusted and compensated since he has left but in that first meeting he accounted for 100 yards of offense and caught every pass thrown his way. He clearly gave the Packers some problems and he will not be able to pose any of those now from his couch in New Jersey. Another new factor is Packers’ rookie Devonte Adams arrival as a huge threat. His 7-catch 117-yard performance, which included a touchdown, will be something Pete Carroll and his staff factor into today’s game plan. This game also features likely the best passing offense in the league against arguably the best secondary in the NFL. The scary thing for the Packers is that the Seahawks’ defense has actually gotten better down the stretch of the season. Seattle hasn’t allowed more than 17 points to a team since Week 11 against Kansas City. When all is said and done though, I think the Packers will break that streak. Between Rodgers, Adams, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, not to mention anyone of a number of role players, this offense can score. I would not be surprised to see Green Bay spread out the Seattle defense and then find their matchups to exploit. Wilson and Lynch will power this team for a while on the ground but in the end, a lack of a prominent passing game will be the Seahawks downfall. Packers hang on 27-24.

Meanwhile, Andrew Luck will be looking to show that last week was not a fluke and that he has officially arrived in the NFL if he can carry the Colts to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2009 against the future Hall of Famer in Tom Brady. If Brady wins, he will start the most Super Bowls by a player ever. Since 2004, this will mark the sixth time the Patriots meet the Colts in the playoffs. The rivalry is unparalleled to any other in the NFL as these two teams have so much hate for each other. Even if the Manning-Brady rivalry no longer exists between these two teams, Luck is more than up to the task of carrying on the legacy. You always think these games could go either way or that these two should be evenly matched but in reality, Brady has had Indy’s number. In his career, the former Michigan man is 12-4 against the Colts. These two teams played earlier this season and New England once again displayed their dominance over Indianapolis in a 42-20 romp. The key in that game was Jonas Gray’s 200 plus yards rushing and 4 touchdowns. Since that game, Gray has not carried the ball more than 12 carries or registered 65 yards in a game. Indianapolis was also unable to find any sort of ground game in that matchup. Indy struggled its way to 19 yards on 16 carries that night. However, the Colts managed 99 yards against a top-flight Denver defense last weekend. If Indy can find a way to get a rushing attack rolling, they could be scary and pose a real threat to New England. The reality is though that New England will not let that be possible. The strength of the Patriots defense is their secondary. Scoring early will mean that the option to run the ball will be almost out of the question for Indy. Luck is a great young quarterback but it is not enough to overcome New England’s multifaceted offense. Pats come away with a win in this one 34-24.

Those are my Super Bowl picks. Green Bay will clash with New England out in the desert two weeks from today in what should be an amazing battle of two great quarterbacks and offensive assets galore. Both of these games this weekend should be exciting but in the end, the two savvy, veteran signal callers will come out on top of the class of 2012’s finest. My players of the week: Randall Cobb for Green Bay and Brandon Browner for New England. Should be a great day of football. Let me know where I went wrong or if you think these games are going to end differently.

NFL Divisional round predictions

The Wildcard round featured storied rivalries and entertaining finishes. This weekend though gives us some of the best storylines of the season. We will see Tom Brady face off with the team that has given him so much trouble in the playoffs when Joe Flacco and the Ravens come to town. Two quarterbacks who have greatly changed how the position is viewed will share the field in Seattle when Russell Wilson’s Seahawks host Cam Newton’s Panthers. Two MVP candidates square off as a hobbled Aaron Rodgers takes on Tony Romo’s Cowboys at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. The best though is the showdown in Denver between golden boy quarterbacks of present and future. Andrew Luck battles the man he replaced in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning, when the Broncos match up with the Colts. This is Manning’s first playoff game ever against the franchise that drafted him in 1998. Now it is time to break down these divisional round games and tell you who will be advancing to the conference championship.

I will start in New England with the Patriots and Ravens will play for the second time in three years in the playoffs. The last time these two teams met, the Pats lost in Foxboro as Baltimore continued its run to the Super Bowl. This time around will be very different though. This New England defense resembles nothing that it did two years ago. There are a couple of holdovers but the biggest additions include corners Brandon Browner and Darelle Revis. Those two alone allow Bill Belichick to pressure the quarterback without safety help for his corners. Joe Flacco has been on a quite a run of late in the playoffs but it will end in Foxboro. Belichick will be sending pressure Flacco’s way all game long and he will emphasize shutting down the Ravens rushing attack as Pittsburgh did a week ago. I think Brady will exorcise some demons and key on a Baltimore secondary that struggled throughout the regular season. Look for Tim Wright and Rob Gronkowski to have big games. The Ravens are a talented enough team to keep the game close but I think New England will pull away late and win 27-14.

Flipping to the NFC now, many are calling this a mirror image game. Seattle and Carolina play very similar styles of football relying heavily on the defense to make plays and the offense to kill the clock with an explosive running game. At the helm, both squads have talented, mobile quarterbacks, who can give defensive coordinators nightmares when trying to game plan against them. The Panthers have been on a hot streak entering the playoffs and continued it last week with a commanding win over Arizona. The score was closer than the game ever seemed. Seattle had the week off and should be ready for the former Heisman winner. Saturday’s game will be very scrappy and I expect some turnovers. Seattle had the best defense in the league and Carolina’s was no slouch either ranking tenth. The first half will be a lot shifting momentum with both teams exchanging field goals. The Panthers might be the underdog but this team came close to upending Seattle earlier this season. This game will go down to the wire and I think in the end Russell Wilson’s ability to make plays outside the pocket will be too much for Carolina to handle. In this defensive battle will be low scoring and finish 19-13, Seahawks on top. When all is said and done, Seattle should be set to host its second straight NFC Championship game.

Dallas will travel north to take on Green Bay in the other NFC divisional round game to travels to Seattle. This should be an exciting game to watch. The Cowboys will need to start fast in this one if they have any hopes of surviving until the next round. They fell behind early and were lucky to escape with a win over Detroit. This game could be much easier for Dallas though than was initially thought if Aaron Rodgers is truly not at 100% with a serious calf injury. However, Rodgers was clearly hobbled in his game against Detroit two weeks ago and still led the Packers to a victory. Yet, the key to this game will be the Packers’ defensive front. The Lions laid out the blueprint to beat the Cowboys last week getting after Tony Romo and limiting Demarco Murray’s ability to break long runs. Romo was sacked six times, Murray averaged less than four yards per carry and it was clear Dallas struggled. I think Green Bay will come out with a plan early to get after Romo. Meanwhile, Dallas’ defense ranked in the bottom quarter of the league for passing yards allowed. I think Rodgers gets the Packers out to an early lead that the Cowboys, as good as they can be, are unable to overcome. Green Bay wins 34-28.

The last game pits two quarterbacks desperate for a playoff win. Peyton Manning’s career is winding down and his critics have always pointed out Manning’s struggles in the playoffs. On the other hand, Andrew Luck has burst onto the scene and has be called a great quarterback but the doubters still have yet to see Luck take his team past the divisional round of the playoffs. When the Colts visit the Broncos, we should see two offenses heading in completely different directions. Indy has struggled running the ball all year and Denver’s defense ranked second during the regular season for rushing yards allowed. This game will fall squarely on the shoulders of the former Stanford quarterback if Indianapolis is going to stand a chance in this game. Luck has the ability to put up incredible numbers but he has also been turnover prone of late. He will need to play mistake free to give the Colts a chance. For Denver though, this game will be about running the football. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase completely restructured Denver’s offense down the stretch this season to rely heavily on the running game, taking the weight off Manning. The Broncos will want to keep the ball out of Luck’s hands as much as possible and simply wear the Colts defense out with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. This approach should make also negate the Colts pass rush, which registered an impressive 41 sacks this season. This should be an interesting game but in the end, I think the quarterback of the present holds off the quarterback of the future. Broncos win 31-21.

So my prediction is that we will see the Packers travel to Seattle and another round of Brady versus Manning in the conference championship. Let me know if you think I completely overlooked something or you have a different idea of how next weekend will look. Keep an eye for next week’s predictions as well. Enjoy all of these great matchups this weekend.

NFC Playoff Scenarios

Week 17 in the NFL is approaching quickly and while the playoff picture is beginning to take shape, there is still a lot of shuffling around that can occur. I am going to take some time here to explain all of the scenarios and then tell you which I think is the most likely.

Here is what we already know: five of the six teams getting into the playoffs have been figured out. Seattle, Dallas, Arizona, Detroit and Green Bay have all earned playoff berths. That is about all that has been determined in the NFC. There is an incredible amount of moving around that can occur in the final week. Let’s start looking at some of the possibilities.

For Seattle, a win would mean home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Seahawks control their destiny and beating Saint Louis at home on Sunday would make Seattle a legitimate threat to return to the Super Bowl as long as the Packers and Lions do not tie this weekend and Dallas does not win. That is really specific but that would give the Cowboys a tiebreaker over Seattle. The Seahawks can still hang on to a home playoff game even with a loss to the Rams if the Cardinals lose as well but the Hawks would not have a first round bye. I think a Seahawks win is the most likely outcome. The Rams have been up and down all year and Seattle seems to be hitting its stride.

Dallas is in a weird spot between the first, second and third seed. Jerry Jones’ team can’t go any lower. A win over Washington is essential and the only way Dallas earns the first seed is if the Lions and Packers tie this weekend while Seattle wins or Arizona loses. It is an odd scenario that would trigger a tiebreaker over Seattle because Dallas beat them head to head but lost to Arizona. That means Dallas would need Seattle to win the division so that the tiebreaker with the Cardinals does not come into effect. The Cowboys need a lot of help too to get that second seed. With a Cardinals loss and a Seahawks loss on Sunday the Cowboys would lock up a first round bye, even if Washington beats them. Dallas could also end up second if the Lions and Packers tie, the Cardinals win and the Seahawks win. The Cowboys will more likely be playing as the third seed come wildcard weekend as I don’t see both Arizona and Seattle falling or a tie in the NFC North title game. I do think Dallas will trounce Washington though to gain momentum going into the playoffs.

The Lions have quietly lined themselves up for home field advantage this season. Detroit will finish as the first seed with a victory in Green Bay and a loss by the Seahawks. Most of what happens to the Lions depends on a win over the Packers. Even if Seattle wins, Detroit will still have a first round bye if it holds off Aaron Rodgers and company. A loss at Lambeau will set the Lions back to a wildcard spot as the sixth seed. Detroit cannot earn the fifth seed because of tiebreakers the Cardinals and Seahawks hold. A tie against Green Bay could make things weird. Detroit would win the division but would be stuck as the third seed if Dallas and Arizona or Seattle wins. That is extremely unlikely but it could happen. Unfortunately for Lions’ fans, sixth is where I think Detroit will finish. Winning at Lambeau field has been a tough thing to do for a very long time, especially against Aaron Rodgers.

The Cardinals will need a win over the 49ers but must rely on some outside help to get a first round bye. Assuming Arizona wins, then Seattle must fall in Saint Louis and the Lions must win in Lambeau for the Cards to clinch home field advantage. Bruce Arians’ squad has a tiebreaker over the Lions but not over the Packers, meaning a Detroit win is pivotal for the Cardinals chances. A loss against the 49ers would mean being the fifth seed or even the sixth seed if the Packers and Lions tie. Arizona will win the division with a win or tie and a Seattle loss. A tie against San Francisco plus a Dallas and a Detroit or Green Bay win would make the Cardinals the third seed. All these potential ties make the NFC a crazy place. I think Arizona finishes as the fifth seed based on a likely Seattle victory no ties between Detroit and Green Bay.

Speaking of the Packers, Green Bay has a lot of shuffling to do. A win over Detroit means a division title and a first round bye with a Seattle win. If Seattle loses, then Green Bay has home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Arizona’s result does not matter due to a Packers’ tiebreaker. With a loss or a tie though, Green Bay would be a wildcard. A loss will mean the Pack is the sixth seed. A tie and a loss by either Arizona or Seattle would give the Packers the fifth seed. I think the Packers will win but so will Seattle meaning Green Bay will finish as the second seed.

The fourth playoff seed is the easiest one to figure out. If the Panthers win or tie with Atlanta then Carolina wins the NFC South and plays as the fourth seed. If the Falcons win then Atlanta is the NFC South champion and fourth seed. Finally, something is simple. I think Atlanta wins this game. Matt Ryan has been on a bit of a tear recently and the defense looks solid.

That’s all the possible scenarios here. So my wild card round matchups would be the Cowboys hosting the Lions and Arizona visiting Atlanta to play. Keep an eye for first round predictions once the playoff field is set. To see the AFC playoff scenarios, click here. Hope you enjoy this final week of regular season football.