Episode No. 42 will review ESPN.com's recent joint venture with Pro Football Focus, which broke down how many "above-average" players each team is from contending for the Super Bowl.
The crew will also preview the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time winner New England Patriots as well as break down how the Pro Football Hall of Fame's upcoming class may shake out Saturday.
Host Paul Gutierrez (ESPN Nation's San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, both of whom are among the Hall's 46 selectors.
For this series we will go in chronological order.
No. 1: Running back Le'Veon Bell's 38-yard touchdown scamper in a 30-27 win over the Cleveland Browns.
No, 2: Wide receiver Justin Brown's lost fumble after a 6-yard reception in a 26-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
No. 3: Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones' sack of quarterback Cam Newton for an 8-yard loss in a 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.
No. 4: Wide receiver Antonio Brown's drop of a sure touchdown pass in a 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 5: Cornerback Brice McCain's 21-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 17-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
No. 6: Cornerback Cortez Allen getting beat for a 51-yard touchdown catch by Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron.
No. 7: Running back Le'Veon Bell's 43-yard reception in a 30-23 win over the Houston Texans.
No. 8: Cornerback William Gay's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
No. 9: Wide receiver Markus Wheaton's 47-yard touchdown catch in a 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
No. 10: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's rare and untimely interception in a 20-13 loss to the New York Jets.
No. 11: Bell's 5-yard touchdown run in a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans.
No. 12: New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills' 69-yard touchdown catch in a 35-32 win over the Steelers.
No. 13: Outside linebacker Arthur Moats' fumble recovery in a 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
No. 14: Gay's 52-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
No. 15: Defensive end Stephon Tuitt's hustle produces the only turnover of the game.
The setting: The Chiefs, trailing 10-6 in the third quarter at Heinz Field, were on the move when Tuitt showed why the Steelers were ecstatic when he slipped to them in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft.
The play: Quarterback Alex Smith completed a screen pass to running back Jamaal Charles but Tuitt showed great pursuit and belted Charles from behind after a 3-yard gain. Tuitt's hit jarred the ball loose and inside linebacker Vince Williams recovered it at the Steelers' 25-yard line.
What it meant for the bigger picture: The Steelers turned the turnover into a touchdown when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger marched them 75 yards and capped the 10-play drive with a 3-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown. The Steelers went on to beat the Chiefs, 20-12, putting them one win away from capturing their first AFC North title since 2010. Tuitt's big play highlighted the vast improvement the Notre Dame product made from the beginning of the season – and showed why he is a cornerstone of the Steelers' defense moving forward.
The piece addresses Goodell's handling of a season defined by scandal, from Ray Rice's domestic abuse case, to Adrian Peterson's indictment on child abuse charges, to the ongoing specter of concussions and their impact on players and the NFL's future. His most pointed quote was about the 2013 settlement of a class-action concussion lawsuit, in which McNair questions the validity of the plaintiffs' claims. Gabriel Sherman writes:
By the summer of 2013, Goodell was determined to put Bountygate and the broader concussion issue behind him. He held a series of meetings with team owners in New York and persuaded them to settle the class-action lawsuit brought by more than 5,000 players who were seeking financial payouts for concussion-related conditions such as Alzheimer's, dementia, and depression. Goodell argued that while the league could fight in court and likely prevail, the litigation would be a festering wound on the league's image.
"It was about protecting the brand," recalled Bob McNair, who attended the sessions. "Do we want the brand attacked on this for the next ten years? Or do we want to go ahead and take the high road? In effect, we don't think most of these concussions referenced even occurred in the NFL, but we're not going to complain about it."
The concussions didn't even occur in the NFL? The denialism is hard to fathom -- and it suggests so much about the mind-set of the owners and their commissioner as they steer the league into the future. The concussion settlement was a patch-up job, and now that the judge has deemed the payout cap to be unfair, the owners have no idea what their ultimate liability will be going forward. The class-action suit was the largest concussion case against the league, but not the only one. Relatives of Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, are pressing ahead with a wrongful-death suit that has nothing to do with the broad settlement.
Here's the link. The entire profile is tremendously done, and worth a read.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and was third in passing yards (4,761). He had 11 games (including playoffs) in which he threw for at least 300 yards. He led the Colts to an upset of Denver in the divisional round and into the AFC Championship Game.
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Houston
Gee, let’s see: 78 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 10 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, one safety, one interception (which he returned for a TD) and for good measure, three catches for 4 yards and three touchdowns. Watt has just as good of a case for league MVP honors as any other player.
Rookie of the Year: Avery Williamson, Tennessee
The fifth-round draft pick cracked the starting lineup in Week 5 and never left. He finished with 51 tackles (third on the team), four pass breakups, 3.0 sacks and was one of the Titans’ top defensive players.
Coach of the Year: Bill O’Brien, Houston
The Texans had a shaky quarterback situation and the No. 1 overall pick in the draft (Jadeveon Clowney) played in just four games, but O’Brien led the Texans to a 9-7 mark and kept them in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season. Remember, this team was 2-14 in 2013.
Watt revisited stories familiar from this season -- Googling what rich people buy, buying his mom a car upon signing his new contract, and that time he did a five-foot box jump from a standing start. Watt simulated that jump live on the show, with Kimmel playfully quivering underneath the table upon which Watt was to jump. He did it safely, with no injury -- to Kimmel or himself.
The offseason is a lighter time for Watt, but in-season he focuses singularly on his game. That focus meant a historic season in which Watt counted 20.5 sacks, 10 batted passes, three touchdown catches, two defensive touchdowns among his accomplishments.
Selecting Watt to this team was probably the easiest decision we had to make as we selected our All-AFC South team this season. Tennessee Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky, Jacksonville Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco and Indianapolis Colts reporter Mike Wells joined me in selecting a divisional All-Star team. The division wasn't strong -- perhaps only stronger than the NFC South, which had no teams with winning records. But at most positions we had at least one, maybe a few players who stood out.
Watt and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck aside, the division was particularly strong at receiver. There was little debate that Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton and Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins deserved the nods there. We pondered whether to include three receivers and one tight end (which would have gotten Texans receiver Andre Johnson onto the team) or two receivers and two tight ends, and went with the latter.
One point of contention came with the offensive line, especially at left tackle. Texans left tackle Duane Brown and Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo were the subject of significant debate. Initially we had a tie between the two. What some thought gave Castonzo the nod was the Colts' success in keeping Luck clean and also the fact Castonzo had played his best season.
I fought for Brown. While I do believe Brown has had better seasons, and I also believe Castonzo has steadily improved, in 2014, Brown was the better player. A year from now, this could change, but in 2014 I maintain Brown was the AFC South's best left tackle.
We had fewer arguments defensively. Ultimately the division wound up with 10 Colts, nine Texans, three Titans and one Jaguar. Given the teams' individual records, I'd say that makes sense.
Outside of alcohol, there's no category in sports marketing that's as competitive as the insurance industry.
Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance is hoping to raise its profile among the big players in the business by signing two of the biggest names in sports: Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Houston Texans defensive end J.J Watt.
The company partly picked the two players because of their stellar reputations, said Telisa Yancy, the vice president of marketing for AFI.
"When you compete in such a crowded space, you can either join the crowd or pave your own road," Yancy said. "We seek authenticity and people that are genuine because customers, in their moment of truth, when they have to use insurance, are seeking that."
In addition to his on-court success, Durant is lauded for his humble disposition and became even more marketable after he paid tribute to his mother during his MVP acceptance speech last season. In the past year, Durant's agency, Roc Nation Sports, has signed its client to renewals with Nike, BBVA Compass and Sprint and added new deals as well (Sparkling Ice, Orange Leaf and Sonic). With 13 endorsement deals, he now has among the most, if not the most, in all of sports.
Watt, who had 20.5 sacks and five touchdowns this season, is known for going above and beyond in the community. The deal will have a component that will tie into his charity. Watt is the second former University of Wisconsin star to join the company's roster; AFI's deal with Russell Wilson just expired.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by two other NFL Nation reporters to discuss the big game.
Kevin Seifert (NFL Nation writer) takes us behind the multi-step process that goes into the pregame checking of football inflation, and the impetus behind the league allowing quarterbacks to play with their own footballs. He also chats briefly about the Super Bowl's head referee, Bill Vinovich, and what we might be able to expect from his mixed crew.
Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) shares his thoughts on covering the Super Bowl after having been in the press box of each championship game since Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta in 1994.
Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on ESPN.com this Friday at 1 p.m./10 a.m. PT as we catch up with Legwold and ESPN Insider's Mike Sando, who will fill us in on the Hall of Fame selection process that will occur this weekend.
Also, be sure to give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.
Listen to this week's podcast here.
The numbers were chosen by Pro Football Focus, which ranked every player who played at least 250 snaps in categories of elite, good, average or bad. They believe the Texans have one elite player (J.J. Watt), four good (guard Brandon Brooks, receiver DeAndre Hopkins, cornerback Kareem Jackson and left tackle Duane Brown), 19 average and seven bad. They also feel Houston is eight above-average players away from being a Super Bowl contender.
One point on which I'd disagree with this methodology is that it treats all positions as equals. If you add a good or elite quarterback to the Texans' current roster, that changes it dramatically. That would instantly make this a playoff team, and count for at least one playoff win.
The Texans had 10 games in which their team Total QBR was lower than 50, and that was the case in six of their seven losses.
Click through the link above for more of Pro Football Focus's rankings and my independent thoughts on various Texans players.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by EPSN NFL Insider Kevin Seifert and Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter).
Seifert, who has covered the world of NFL officiating with aplomb, will break down the process of inflating and inspecting footballs and how officials are involved in the process. He’ll also give us a scouting report on the officials assigned for Sunday.
Legwold, who covered the Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl, will then give us a day-by-day breakdown of the week and how teams attempt to stay focused with so many outside distractions.
Also, the crew will discuss the Pro Football Focus project that examined how many above-average players each NFL team was from contending for this year’s Super Bowl.
Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
NFL Nation TV will have a second show this week on Friday at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT.
Texans' adjusted cap value: $133,467,230
Cap value: $110,222,071
Dead money/other: $21,865,072
Cap space: $1,380,087
Safeties: $3,471,480 vs. cap, 7.66 percent of defensive cap, 3.15 percent of overall cap
Danieal Manning: $855,000 vs cap, 1.89 percent of defensive cap, .78 percent of overall cap
D.J. Swearinger: $793,477, 1.75 percent of defensive cap, .72 percent of overall cap
Kendrick Lewis: $635,000 vs cap, 1.4 percent of defensive cap, .58 percent of overall cap
Eddie Pleasant: $495,000 vs cap, 1.09 percent of defensive cap, .45 percent of overall cap
Josh Aubrey: $378,529 vs cap, .84 percent of defensive cap, .34 percent of overall cap
Lonnie Ballentine: $314,474 vs cap, .69 percent of defensive cap, .29 percent of overall cap
Under his previous contract, Manning's cap number was $6 million. The Texans are still hit with $1.5 million of dead money by cutting him, but saved $4.5 million. All total you can trace back $2,355,000 of the Texans' 2014 salary cap to Manning. This was another position where the Texans were thrifty, as they were in a lot of their defensive spending. Houston came in at more than 50 percent below the league average in cap space designated to safeties. There are two draft picks in Swearinger and Ballentine. Lewis, who came in on a one-year deal, is set to become a free agent in March.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It may not be as warm as Hawaii or have an ocean for players to frolic in, but Arizona will host this year’s Pro Bowl, marking the second time since 1980 that the game won't be played offshore.
While most of the attention this week has been paid to the deflation controversy, there have been plenty of Pro Bowl storylines in the desert leading up to the 8 p.m. ET kickoff Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium (ESPN). For the second consecutive year, the game won’t feature an AFC vs. NFC format. This year’s teams will be led by a pair of Hall of Fame wide receivers: Michael Irvin and Cris Carter.
Here are five things you need to know about this year’s Pro Bowl:
Kickers will have to be more precise: One of the more significant changes at this year’s Pro Bowl will make both kickers -- the Philadelphia Eagles' Cody Parkey and the Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri -- work harder. The NFL narrowed the uprights from 18 feet wide to 14 feet wide for the game. The goal is to make extra points and field goals more challenging since kickers made about 84 percent of their field goal attempts this season. And as the NFL did during the first two weeks of the preseason, it is moving the extra point back to the 15-yard line, making it a 33-yard attempt instead of a 20-yard kick.
Pro Bowl is the NFL’s laboratory: Not only will the league experiment with the goalposts and extra points, the NFL will also implement changes for instant replay. Instead of going under the hood to review plays, the referee will watch replays on a Microsoft Surface, the same tablet teams have been using all season to review plays. The replays will be streamed to the tablet.
Stats and facts: Of the 115 players selected for the Pro Bowl this season, 88 will play. This is the sixth consecutive season 100 or more players were chosen. ... Last year, Team Rice beat Team Sanders 22-21 with the fewest points scored by a winning Pro Bowl team since 1996. ... Members of the winning team, including coaches, earn $55,000; those on the losing team get $28,000. ... Each team has the same number of AFC and NFC players this season. ... The Denver Broncos had the most Pro Bowl selections with 11, while three teams -- the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings -- didn’t have a selection. ... There are 36 first-time Pro Bowl selections this year. ... Five rookies will play in the game: New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cowboys G Zack Martin, St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald, Baltimore Ravens LB C.J. Mosley and Eagles K Cody Parkey.
Kendrick Lewis: 1027 snaps, 96.7 percent
D.J. Swearinger: 971 snaps, 91.4 percent
Danieal Manning: 554 snaps, 52.2 percent
Eddie Pleasant: 55 snaps 5.2 percent
Lewis was somewhat of a field general in the defensive backfield and was adept at getting everyone lined up properly back there. Though he didn't enter training camp as the assumed starter, he quickly earned that role and played more defensive snaps than any other Texans player. In 2013, Swearinger took over as a starter when Manning suffered a season-ending injury. The Texans released Manning for financial reasons last March after he declined a pay cut then brought him back after training camp. This group combined for six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, four interceptions and one defensive touchdown.
Kollar's style isn't easy for players, especially young ones. He can be abrasive and demanding. Many of them don't like him at first. Watt has admitted plenty of times that it took him some time to get used to Kollar's style.
"The thing about him is he’ll always tell it like it is," Watt said. "He’s not going to hold anything back, but he’s always going to tell the truth. It just becomes then whether or not you want to hear the truth and whether or not you can handle the truth."
Watt isn't the only one who credits a lot of his development to Kollar. Former Texans pass rusher Connor Barwin, a first-time Pro Bowler with the Eagles, praised Kollar's coaching earlier this season. Specifically, Barwin said Kollar's emphasis on batting down balls is why he (five batted passes) and Watt (nine batted passes) are among the best in the league at that skill. Texans defensive end Jared Crick is also adept at batting passes, having six this season.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien did not have to allow Kollar to leave for this lateral move. Kollar was quoted by both John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and Mark Berman of Houston's FOX26 as saying he has grandchildren in Denver and wanted to be near them.
Kollar was the only position coach holdover from Kubiak's staff to O'Brien's (special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky also remained). He's been a defensive line coach since 1986 and an NFL defensive line coach since 1990, having coached with the Falcons, Rams and Bills before arriving in Houston. Also, one time he wrestled a bear.
Assistant offensive line coach Steve Marshall is expected to join the New York Jets, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.
Marshall spent only one season with the Packers, working as offensive line coach James Campen's assistant. He replaced Joel Hilgenberg, who re-signed last April after three seasons on the Packers' coaching staff.
Marshall, 58, had been in the college ranks from 2009-14. Previously, he had six seasons of NFL experience with the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns.
Earlier this week, the Packers denied the St. Louis Rams permission to interview quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt for their vacant offensive coordinator job. Van Pelt was promoted from running backs coach last offseason and is under contract for the 2015 season. Had Van Pelt's deal been set to expire, the Packers would not have been able to prevent him from interviewing elsewhere.