The NFL playoffs are in full swing and the field of teams with a chance to make it to Miami has been trimmed from 12 to eight.
Still, that does not mean all of the news in the NFL is focused on the divisional round of the playoffs.
Seattle made headlines with their hiring of Pete Carroll from USC. Then some of the losers of the wild card round made news as well.
So before I make my picks for the AFC and NFC divisional playoffs, I am going to take a look at the news makers before the next round of the playoffs. Also, a look at how one divisional game could have an effect on two teams knocked out last week.
Seattle Seahawks and Pete Carroll prove the NFL needs to rework the Rooney Rule
The NFL owners voted to approve the Rooney Rule just before the 2003 season. The rule states that teams looking to hire a new head coach (and later for all senior football operations positions) had to interview a minority candidate for the position.
In theory, this is a very good rule that forces teams to give interviews to minority coaches, instead of just handing the job to coaches who have already been head coaches or stealing top college coaches.
A problem is that even forcing teams to interview minority candidates does not mean they will hire them. In fact, it makes minority candidates a quota that needs to be filled if the team already has a name in mind.
As seen with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, once a team has a coach in mind, they are going to do everything they have to do to hire that coach. This means giving a token interview to minority candidates.
The NFL will continue to have a problem with the Rooney Rule. How can they force teams not to focus on coaches like Mike Shanahan, with two Super Bowl rings, and Pete Carroll, who rebuilt a super power at USC?
It is a nice thought to get teams to interview or hire minorities in the NFL. Still, overall the owners have the final say over who they hire.
Owners will hire based on a myriad of reasons including selling tickets, making star players happy, and money. Two main reasons on why an owner will hire a coach is one, gives a team a chance to win quickly, and two, the owner can play de facto head coach and general manager with a weak head coach.
Since 2003 there have been 47 coaching changes in the NFL. Of those 47 coaching changes, only eight teams have hired minority coaches.
To break it down even more, of the eight minorities hired, one was Herman Edwards, who was hired by two different teams (the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs).
It also warrants mentioning that seven teams have changed coaches three times since 2003, and only one (the San Francisco 49ers) hired a minority head coach, which was Mike Singletary.
The NFL has only two choices with the Rooney Rule. One is to add bite to the rule and force teams who change coaches on multiple occasions to give more weight to minority candidates.
Or the NFL needs to get rid of the Rooney Rule, since owners and teams are realistically going to hire who they want to hire. Until then, teams like Seattle or Washington will keep circumventing the rule.
A couple of quick notes: Since the Rooney Rule, there have been two minority coaches reach the Super Bowl who were not head coaches before the rule was made. Tony Dungy was head coach for Tampa Bay before moving to the Indianapolis Colts.
Three minority coaches have coached in the Super Bowl, with both Dungy and Mike Tomlin winning and Dungy beating protégé Lovie Smith for his Super Bowl. To be fair, Dungy inherited a team with Peyton Manning that was built by Jim Mora Sr. and Tomlin inherited a team that had won a Super Bowl and was built by Bill Cowher.
Also to be fair, Jon Gruden won a Super Bowl with a Buccaneers team built by Dungy. And overall, minority coaches have fared just as well as their white counterparts who have been hired over the same period since the Rooney Rule was started.
Fallout and possible fallout from Wild Card weekend
New England Patriots
Quickly after their 33-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the knee jerk reaction by fans, media, and people who dislike them was to pronounce the end of the New England Patriots run. Let me be clear I fall in none of the above categories.
The reasons for this pronouncement stem from fans that see every loss as the end of a great run, or the media who already once claimed the Pats were done to gain attention. Then there are those who dislike New England because they have won and Spy Gate.
Fans always jump to conclusions after a loss, and the media will always prematurely write about the end of an era. Opposing fans will always hate teams that win like the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers.
One quick note on those who think the Patriots got an unfair advantage from Spy Gate: They are wrong. There is no way you can film a team on the sideline of a game in the first half and then go in to the locker room and figure out the hand singles and pass it along to the team before the half ends.
Also, there is no way that teams who played the Patriots did not make their own adjustments at half time and change signals from week to week. The people who think Spy Gate gave New England an unfair advantage only want to have something to point to as to why their team lost to the Patriots.
Now, back to the declaration that the Pats are done by nearly everyone after their wild card loss. Let me tell you why the Patriots might slide back to the pack for a bit but will bounce back.
First of all, since Bill Belichick took over as head coach of New England, he has only had one losing season: his first. Belichick has only missed the playoffs three years since he became coach.
Coaching and ownership will always be the strength of this team as long as Belichick and Robert Kraft are in control. New England will always be able to hire new assistants to replace those who leave to take over other teams.
Secondly, the core of this team is still in its prime and only needs some help with the supporting cast. That help could come in the form of draft picks since the Patriots have four picks in the first two rounds this year and next year.
New England was ranked No. 11 in overall defense this past season and needs to retool. The Patriots will need to build around stud linebacker Jerod Mayo to make the defense what it was during their Super Bowl runs.
Lastly, the Patriots will get Wes Welker and Brandon Tate back next season, and they have found another wide receiver in Julian Edelman. They will need to upgrade at running back as well go along with their retooling of the defense.
Just to point out couple of situations like the Patriots. First, one can point to the Colts losing Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison and not seeing a drop off in offense.
Second, one can point to the Pittsburgh Steelers, last year’s Super Bowl champion, who did not even make the playoffs this year.
The notion that the Patriots are done is just laughable. Through free agency and the draft New England can fill holes or upgrade weaknesses. One point of concern is the loss of general manager Scott Pioli, who left last season to help rebuild the Chiefs.
If the Patriots can fix the defense, find a better running back, and get healthy, they should be fine for another five to ten years. Do not be too quick to say this team is done: They still have Tom Brady.
Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers
Two teams that might find themselves in facing changes in the offseason could see those changes coming from a game they do not even play in.
The fans and those in charge of the Eagles and Packers will be watching the progress of the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings for the rest of the playoffs.
We will start with Philadelphia first and then move on to Green Bay.
The Eagles have had one of the best runs in the last 11 years since Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb came to town.
The two will always be tied together since both arrived in Philadelphia during the same season in 1999. Since they arrived, the Eagles have only had two losing seasons and only missed the playoffs three times.
The Eagles have also been to five NFC championship games, but have only won once, and lost the Super Bowl the year they did win the NFC title. Philadelphia might see major changes this offseason depending on how far the Cowboys go.
Could a Dallas Super Bowl victory spark changes in Philadelphia this offseason? Think about this: If the Cowboys do win it all, it will be the second team during this 11-year run out of the NFC East to win it all.
As great as this run has been, management and fans of the Eagles have to start to wonder what needs to be changed if this team is ever going to get over the championship hump.
That change would have to start with either McNabb or Reid.
McNabb has never been a popular choice at quarterback in Philadelphia, even getting booed by fans on draft day. For as much has he has won, he has struggled in big games and in the playoffs at times.
With Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick looming in the background, it could be McNabb who is shown the door.
The only way Reid is sent packing is his fierce loyalty to McNabb.
Reid has already stated that McNabb will be the Eagles quarterback in 2010, but a second team to win the Super Bowl out of their division might force Philadelphia to shake things up. If the choice is McNabb, one does have to wonder if Reid gets shown the door as well if he does not change his stance.
Still, there is a chance that the Eagles will not change anything, even if the Cowboys win. The pressure to win it all in 2010 will be that much more if Dallas is the last team left standing.
Now on to the Green Bay Packers and what could happen with a Viking Super Bowl victory. Packer fans and management could be watching this with more fear than Philadelphia.
Everyone by now knows about the whole Brett Favre, Ted Thompson, and Mike McCarthy fiasco from two years ago. There is no reason to give a recount of what happened.
All eyes will turn to Green Bay if Favre and the Vikings end up winning the Super Bowl. The Packers, mainly Thompson and McCarthy, decided it was time for the Aaron Rodgers era to begin and forced out Favre.
Some people thought this was the wise choice, with Favre nearly set to turn 40 in just two years. What most did not see was Favre leading the Jets to a near playoff run last year and the No. 2 seed in the NFC this year.
Thompson and McCarthy should be on the chopping block if that decision to let Favre go ends up with Minnesota winning their first Super Bowl. For all the talk of Brett’s interception problems, and for some part just so there is something to remember from Wild Card weekend.
That something is that Rodgers started and ended their playoff loss to Arizona with an interception that led to points for the Cardinals. The last one came in overtime and gave the win to Arizona.
A Super Bowl victory by either Dallas or Minnesota could have league-wide effects. How far both teams advance in the playoffs is certainly worth watching.
Getting back to the news being made on the field. In my NFL playoff preview and predictions, I correctly picked three out of four games. The only game I missed was Arizona vs. Green Bay.
So if you did not read those predictions, I will give you my picks for the divisional round. They won't be much different, even with the Cardinals back in to the playoff equation.
Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints
It could be a mistake to pick against Kurt Warner for the second week in a row, but the Saints have played better defense most of the year. New Orleans' secondary better be ready for an all out assault by the Cardinals.
Arizona will have to find someone to block Will Smith and keep their newfound running game going with Chris Wells. The Cardinals will also have to keep winning the turnover battle.
The Saints defense ranked No. 25 overall, but the Cardinals defense only ranked No. 20. Look for New Orleans to try to get their No. 6 ranked rushing attack going to open up the passing game for Drew Brees.
The Cardinals will keep this game close and will score points. Still, the Saints are rested and playing in the Superdome.
Remember last week in the NFC, both home teams won.
Pick: New Orleans
Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts
This game features the old Baltimore team taking on the new one. The Ravens will try to play tough defense and run the ball like last week against New England.
Indianapolis needs to keep Peyton Manning up right and find a decent running game. The Colts know if they can get a few stops on defense, Manning will get them into the end zone on offense.
These two teams met in the regular season, with the Colts winning 17-15 and the Ravens only managing five field goals on offense. If Baltimore wants to beat Indy, they will have to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals.
Look for a very similar game this time as well. Still, if the game is close and the old Colts have the ball, do not count out Manning.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Cowboys remind me more and more each week of that 2007 New York Giants team that won the Super Bowl. They have come on at the end of the season and are playing their best defense in the playoffs so far.
Dallas has to keep getting mistake-free play from Tony Romo and run the ball with their stable of running backs. The Cowboys only have to keep playing like they have against San Diego (their Patriots game) for the rest of the playoffs.
Minnesota has to fix its offensive line problems that popped up at the end of the season. They also have to let Adrian Peterson be a factor.
The Vikings are great on defense when they get pressure on the quarterback. When Minnesota does not get pressure, they struggle a lot.
Look for Dallas to run the ball and use all the weapons they have on offense. Also, look for the Cowboys to harass Brett Favre and keep him winless against Dallas in the playoffs.
New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers
Most thought the Colts would be a better matchup for the Jets in the second round of the playoffs.
That could be true, but if you look at teams the Chargers have struggled against this season, they have good running games and play good defense.
Look for New York to try to pound San Diego into submission like the Pittsburgh Steelers did with their running game. The Chargers are a finesse team on offense so look for the Jets to be physical on defense.
San Diego’s biggest advantage could be playing in the warmer climate of California. The warmer temperatures could affect the Jets coming from a much colder climate in New York.
The key to the game will be the Jets running the ball and getting mistake free football out of Mark Sanchez again.
On defense, New York has to pressure Philip Rivers and not allow the Chargers to get their running game going.
One other note about this game is Vincent Jackson talking smack about Darrelle Revis. Someone needs to tell Jackson to ask Ochocinco what happens when you question if Revis can stop you or not.
Pick: New York
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