-- This week's "Six Points" hits relocation, the draft, Tom Coughlin's future, the Denver offense, QB questions in Minnesota and more.
Nobody knows whether the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers or Oakland Raiders will return to their respective cities next season. But if their fans want to say goodbye to those teams, just in case, they better do it soon.
St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland all are expected to soon file Los Angeles relocation applications. But before that happens, there is a regular-season schedule and goodbyes to wrap up. The Rams host the Buccaneers tonight in what could be the last game for the team in St. Louis. St. Louis' final two games of the season will come, conveniently enough, on the road. San Diego's final home game of the season comes Sunday vs. the Miami Dolphins. Its final two regular-season games also come, conveniently enough, on the road.
So this could turn out to be the last NFL game in St. Louis and San Diego.
It's hard to imagine the NFL shutting down the San Diego market, but the NFL is determined to move at least one, if not two teams to Los Angeles for the 2016 season, and the Chargers and Rams are thought to be the clear-cut top-two candidates.
Should San Diego turn out to be a team that is loading the Mayflower moving trucks -- and there still are a lot of obstacles and conversations ahead -- it would make Sunday's game against Miami the end of an era.
The Chargers moved from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1961. They spent the past 54 years in San Diego, first at Balboa Stadium, now at San Diego Stadium. Players from Lance Alworth to Dan Fouts to Junior Seau made big plays and football history. Though San Diego never won a Super Bowl, it won that city's support. Now it doesn't mean much at all. San Diego's future in the NFL is uncertain and unsettled.
If nothing else, it is sure to create a surreal scene in San Diego on Sunday, full of emotion for a team that has nothing on the line but a city that has everything hanging in the balance. San Diego just might be saying goodbye to its Chargers.
Raiders' fans will experience something similar on, of all nights, Christmas Eve, but most people around the league believe that of the three teams in the conversation to move to Los Angeles, Oakland is the least likely. But it doesn't change the uncertainty surrounding the Raiders, and where they will be making their home.
No one can accuse the NFL of not thinking ahead. It scheduled the Rams' and Chargers' final home games of the season in Week 15, two weeks before the regular season ends. It scheduled the Raiders' final home game of the season in Oakland for one week from tonight. Then again, none of this should be a surprise. The NFL almost always tries to think ahead. For fans who want to say goodbye to their franchises, they need to do the same. - AS
A new QB might not change things in Denver
While there has been a surge of energy in Denver with Peyton Manning returning to the practice field for the first time in a month, albeit running the scout team, Brock Osweiler remains the Broncos' starting quarterback for a fifth straight start at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet even if Manning were physically able to play a game, certain NFL executives and coaches have observed the Broncos with skepticism that Manning can overcome the flaws in the Denver offense.
One defensive coach offered admiration for Osweiler's physical toughness because he has taken a beating that "I seriously doubt Peyton could survive. It's not that Peyton isn't tough. He has proven that but youth serves Osweiler well with their problems."
He also cited some pass-protection flaws in coach Gary Kubiak's system that are compounded with the personnel issues along the offensive line. So much of it is based on the ability to run the ball. The passing concepts also are considered by peers as fairly basic and not as advanced as previous seasons under offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
"Kubiak is a good offensive mind, a well-respected guy, but it's about as elementary as it gets," this coach said. "He did a good job in Baltimore but he also had a veteran offensive line, maybe one of the three best in the NFL. I think he has to take a serious look that it's 2015 going on 2016."
One veteran team executive agreed that when Broncos GM John Elway decided to fire John Fox and Gase despite four straight division titles and a Super Bowl appearance, it should have been apparent Elway understood Kubiak was not going to be a good fit for Manning. Thus, the $10 million pay-cut Elway first offered Manning after 2014 now appears to have been in invitation to depart.
The Broncos actually ran the ball more effectively under the former system. Currently, the Broncos are 17th in rushing out of 32 teams. It's difficult to cite an injury to Ryan Clady at left tackle or to his rookie replacement Ty Sambrailo as excuses for the sporadic production. Clady has been in decline and has had an injury history. Sambrailo also had the same shoulder problem at Colorado State that ultimately he re-injured. He simply needs some season and strength gains to develop into a promising blocker going forward, in the opinion of his former Colorado State coach Jim McElwain.
Another team executive speculated that perhaps Elway would have been even more hesitant to make the change if the 2012 Broncos had also made the Super Bowl, but the Ravens' miracle win in Denver ruined that. As it evolved, NFL insiders learned Elway and Fox were not destined for a lengthy marriage.
Elway deserves credit for a number of franchise-changing moves. Those include the recruitment and signing of Manning after four neck surgeries, the drafting of Von Miller (Fox was heavily involved in the selection), the targeted signing of Emmanuel Sanders when Eric Decker left via free agency, and the rebuilding of the defense. All are reasons why the Broncos are 10-3 even with QB issues. It would have been really interesting if he had been able to execute a trade for Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. That would have provided Manning and/or Osweiler with the same type of left tackle Elway enjoyed when he had future Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman.
Bottom line: Manning's return may be inevitable but different results are not guaranteed. - CM
A repeat performance in Minnesota?
One NFL executive said this week that what is happening with Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota in his first two seasons reminds him of what happened with Christian Ponder in Minnesota during his first two seasons. Initially, Ponder played as if he would be the team's quarterback of the future. He flashed enough to make Minnesota think it had someone to man the position, only to see Ponder flame out before the Vikings moved on to their next quarterback, Bridgewater.
Last season, Bridgewater played as if he would be the team's quarterback of the future. He flashed enough to make Minnesota think it had someone to man the position. And while there still is confidence within the organization regarding Bridgewater's long-term chances for success, others outside it aren't convinced yet. One pointed to the statistical similarities and situations between the two quarterbacks. In the first 13 starts of his second season, during a year in which Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing, Ponder completed 62.6 percent of his passes, averaged 184 passing yards per game and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14-to-12.
During the first 13 starts of his second season, during a year in which Peterson leads the NFL in rushing, Bridgewater has completed 65.3 percent of his passes, averaging 210 passing yards per game and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9-to-8.
None of this means Bridgewater won't wind up making it in Minnesota. But it does mean that he still must improve his game, help the Vikings reach the playoffs as they head into their final three-game stretch with home games against the Bears and Giants before closing out the season at Green Bay, and progress in ways that Ponder did not.
Minnesota believes it has its quarterback of the future; it once thought the same about Ponder. But some around the league believe it is just too early to tell. - AS
The Christian Hackenberg decision
By now, all those who have seen the early NFL mock drafts know that the prospective quarterback whose stock apparently has dropped most is Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
It has even been said that Hackenberg should return for his senior season in 2016 now that James Franklin has hired Joe Moorhead away from Fordham as Penn State's new offensive coordinator. The argument for staying in school is a reasonable one, as Hackenberg's performance and game tape has dropped him out of first-round consideration, at least as of right now.
However, those who know Hackenberg see little chance he will return for his final season. As a top high school quarterback who had his taste of what it's like to be tutored by an NFL coach when he worked under Bill O'Brien as a true freshman in 2013, the anticipation is Hackenberg believes what he needs is the NFL -- now.
Yes, he's probably not going to be a top-10 pick. His bad moments in Franklin's offense are ugly and, ultimately, a player has to accept some blame.
Nevertheless, his freshman growth under O'Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey culminated when Penn State went on the road to ruin Wisconsin's BCS bid in the season finale. Hackenberg threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Nittany Lions, who were 24-point underdogs. Then O'Brien was hired away by the Houston Texans.
"It's [brutal] what's happened to Hackenberg," said a long-time personnel director. This personnel man is not affiliated with the Texans but many who know of O'Brien's affinity for Hackenberg believe that Hackenberg's floor in the draft is wherever Houston is slotted in the first round.
"Even then, it's not difficult to envision a couple of other teams take a hard look at him before the Texans pick," said the personnel director. "I think what you'd want to know is how much damage has been done to his confidence. You certainly want to know if he is resilient enough to go through the hard knocks of playing quarterback in our league, too." - CM
Fire Tom Coughlin? Not so fast
Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian does not hesitate on where he stands about the performance of New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. Fire him? Force him into retirement if he misses the playoffs again?
No way, if it was Polian's call.
"Tom may be doing the best coaching job in the NFL," said Polian. "You judge a head coach how well teams play in situations where he's outmatched. Does the coach get the maximum or more out of talent he has? With Tom, the answer is unequivocally yes."
Coughlin's job speculation has become an annual rite in recent seasons because the Giants have failed to make the playoffs since their Super Bowl-winning season in 2011. His age, 69, is always a topic, though those around him laugh at that as some handicap, citing his physical, mental and emotional stamina as defying logic. Some of his game management decisions have come under fire, but Polian sees a much different picture.
"The only time I have criticized Tom in this area was the clock management at the end of the Dallas game in Week 1," said Polian. "That's a staff management issue, too, but it falls under Tom's domain -- but all these other issues people have criticized are not properly assessing all the critical factors."
"Tom has to take in account the inventory of players he has on hand," said Polian. "Eli gives him a proven Super Bowl quarterback but the offensive line does not have a left tackle and has been battered by injuries. None of the running backs would be a quality No. 1 on a good team. They have only two receivers and that's being generous because I'm counting (Dwayne) Harris as the second guy besides Odell Beckham, Jr. They have no tight end. The reason they can't finish on offense in the final four minutes is they [have] no running back and a below-average offensive line.
"Defensively, they have no one to sack the quarterback in the final two minutes. They've only had JPP ( Jason Pierre-Paul) since Thanksgiving and he can pressure but he can't get the quarterback on the ground. You need at least two dynamic pass-rushers to finish games. They have none. They have some big, powerful guys to do a good job against the run but winning games requires getting to the quarterback. They are not athletic at linebacker. I mean, they're certainly not replicating what they are facing this week (against the Panthers) with (Luke) Kuechly, (Thomas) Davis and (Shaq) Thompson."
"In the secondary, [Dominique] Rodgers-Cromartie is solid but Prince Amukamara can't stay healthy and that was one of his flaws coming into the league. Honestly, that's why I say Spags (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) has done a remarkable job."
Most teams want to bring in the fastest, strongest, toughest, youngest talent possible. But after this season, NFL personnel directors might want to tweak some of their philosophies. Very quickly and almost unexpectedly, this has turned into a true turn-back-the-clock season, in which some of the oldest players have made the biggest marks.
- At age 38, Tom Brady leads the NFL with 33 touchdowns passes, 4,138 passing yards and is battling Panthers quarterback Cam Newton -- 12 years his junior -- for the league's Most Valuable Player Award.
- At the age of 30, a time when most running backs are run out of the league, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson leads the NFL with 1,251 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns.
- At age 32, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is third in the NFL in receptions and is 13 catches behind Julio Jones for the league lead. Fitzgerald also is catching passes from 35-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer, who has led the NFL in QBR for much of this season.
- At age 32, Bengals safety Reggie Nelson leads the NFL with eight interceptions, and 38-year-old Raiders safety Charles Woodson is tied for second in the NFL with five interceptions while playing at the level of someone 10 or more years his junior.
Veterans across the board are leading the NFL in various categories. They continue to be the key players on most of the league's top teams. They have had so much of an impact this season that NFL general manager and personnel directors might have to consider all this success when constructing their rosters in future seasons. - AS