1. Do you think the NFL should be playing games in Europe?
Nathan: The London series was ill-conceived. The pitch at Wembley Stadium has not been in good condition for American football and bordered on dangerous when the Giants defeated the Dolphins in monsoon conditions back in 2007. Also, West Coast teams should not have the burden of that coast-to-coast, across-the-pond travel schedule. It would make more sense for Left Coasters to play in Tokyo, if the league wants to go global during the regular season. Personally, I think the best non-NFL city to host would be Los Angeles. Put a marquee matchup in L.A. on prime time and it would be huge — possibly even the first step to bringing the NFL back to the second-largest market in the country.
Steven: The idea to play games outside of the United States is a good business decision for the NFL. This allows the NFL an opportunity to grow its reach and interest new fans in different markets. However, wouldn't it be wise to choose a better matchup for the fans in London to see? I realize the schedules are made in advance, but sending two teams with a combined three wins isn't exactly the best product the NFL has.
Braden: Trying to grow the NFL brand, as if it needed any help, is always a good thing for most everyone involved in the game. So playing games in Mexico, Canada or London is a sound business decision. My one issue is who is playing where. East coast teams can hop a quick flight to London or Paris. West coast teams should be playing in Tokyo or Hong Kong. That flight from the Bay area to England is not short.
2. What will the Cowboys' record be when Tony Romo returns to the lineup?
Nathan: The Cowboys record will be 0-0 in Week 1 of the 2011 season. After a 1-5 start, why bring Romo back in 6-to-8 weeks unless they win every week until he’s healthy? And if that’s the case, Jon Kitna or Stephen McGee or Vinny Testaverde or whoever started and won all those games without Romo should keep the starting quarterback’s job.
Steven: The Cowboys are holding out hope Romo will return, but I'm skeptical he will be back, especially if Dallas is out of the playoff hunt. If Romo does return after eight weeks, it's likely the Cowboys have four or five wins, with the loss column in double-digits. Since I think there's a good possibility he won't return until 2011, the answer to this question could be 0-0 — and a time when Dallas has a new head coach.
Braden: 0-0. If the Cowboys are, say, 3-10 when Romo starts feeling healthy enough to play (the middle of the 6-8 week estimate), my question becomes, why rush him back and risk further injury? In fact, once and if Dallas is that far out of it, losing games and landing a better pick might actually be a better strategy. I think there is an outside chance that Romo is held back until the start of next season.
3. Are the Falcons the best team in the NFC?
Nathan: The Falcons may have the biggest bandwagon in the NFC, but I’m not a believer just yet. Right now, the Giants have the most complete roster — with Super Bowl experience and a NASCAR defensive line pass rush package that rivals any in Big Blue Wrecking Crew history.
Steven: Atlanta was my preseason pick to win the NFC South, but I think they are the No. 2 team in the NFC right now. Since a disappointing loss to Tennessee, the Giants have won four in a row, and the defense ranks among the best in the NFL in the total, rush and pass rankings. Although Eli Manning has 11 interceptions, he's also making a lot of plays to atone for those mistakes. The ground game has been solid, with Ahmad Bradshaw leading the NFL with 708 yards. If Bradshaw holds up for a full season and Eli's interceptions don't get out of hand, the Giants will be the team to beat in the NFC.
Braden: The Falcons are currently tied with the NY Giants for the best record in the NFC. If I had to pick between those two teams, I would give the clear edge to the Falcons. The defending Super Bowl champs will have something to say about Who Dat, though.
4. Does the winner of the Colts-Texans MNF game win the AFC South?
Nathan: The Titans (5-2) — not the Colts (4-2) or Texans (4-2) — are atop the AFC South standings. And I think this will be one of those year’s that coach Jeff Fisher’s team wins the division and makes a playoff run. The defense is relentless, C.J. is still the fastest man in show business and the passing game is making huge strides.
Steven: I think so. Tennessee will certainly be in the mix, but I trust Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning more down the stretch than I do Vince Young. The Colts have several injuries and the defense can't stop the run, but with Manning under center, this team will always be in the mix for the playoffs. Houston's secondary is a concern, but Arian Foster's emergence this year gives the offense more balance, and at some point, Houston just has to get over the hump and win the AFC South.
Braden: Certainly the Tennessee Titans will have something to say about this division, but if the Texans win this game, I say yes. Houston would have swept the Colts for the first time in franchise history. Both teams have suffered huge season-ending losses (Bob Sanders, Dallas Clark, DeMeco Ryans) but the Titans have serious quarterback issues. Something neither the Texans nor Colts have to deal with.
5. If he can't get into a 59-14 game, when will Tim Tebow see playing time?
Nathan: Josh McDaniels knows what he’s doing by trading a second, third and fourth round pick to the Ravens to move back into the first round to draft Tim Tebow as the Broncos’ franchise quarterback of the future. Right? I think Denver should have Superman plays at the goal line and in short-yardage. But even if he doesn’t see the field much, Tebow wouldn’t be the first quarterback to watch from the sideline as a rookie before taking over full-time down the road.
Steven: With the game out of hand, Josh McDaniels should've played Tebow. After all, doesn't he need to find out if he's the quarterback of the future? Even though Tebow didn't play, I don't think it's an indictment on his future in the NFL. The Broncos are bringing Tebow along slowly, which isn't a bad idea when it comes to developing a quarterback. I believe we will see Tebow play some meaningful minutes at some point this year, but one game doesn't reflect where he stands as Denver's quarterback of the future.
Braden: The jury will be deliberating on Tebow's ability to play the quarterback position for some time. He is a quality member of the locker room, makes others around him better during practice and is a marketer's dream come true. But if you cannot get work during a blowout of that magnitude, when can you get it? It was a perfect opportunity to let him throw against NFL schemes and coverages, and Josh McDaniels decided against it. It strikes me as very odd.
In at least eight NFL cities right now, if this were any other year, there would be coaches pondering their futures and owners assembling a short list of replacements. There might not necessarily be firings this early, but there’d certainly be a feeling of inevitability in places like San Francisco, Dallas, Jacksonville and San Diego.
But the coaches in all those cities — and in places like Minnesota, Carolina, Cleveland and Cincinnati — might end up getting an unusual, and perhaps undeserved, stay of execution.
Because in the NFL, this is not any other year.
The looming lockout — which so many NFL sources consider to be a lock (pardon the pun) to happen at least in the offseason — could be enough to save the jobs of any of the on-the-hot-seat coaches and anyone else whose teams underachieve this season.
No matter how desperate or impulsive their bosses are, it might not make sense to end the marriage — even if the results are poor.
It’s simple, really. And all you have to do is look at Dallas. Jerry Jones has often said he will not make a coaching change during the season, but this isn’t most seasons. His Cowboys are off to a 1–5 start, and it is becoming more evident that his team will not be playing a home game at the Super Bowl in February.
But what is Jones to do? When you factor in the lockout, it might not make much sense to let Phillips go.
Let’s assume — everyone else is assuming, so it’s hardly a stretch — that the NFL owners will lock out the players beginning on March 1. And if that happens, play the scenario out to where there’s no urgency to sign a new collective bargaining agreement at least until training camp is scheduled to start in July — probably not until late August when the new regular season looms.
Can Jones, while he’s crying poverty and insisting on cutbacks with the rest of the NFL owners, be paying two coaches during the lockout? He’d still owe Phillips more than $3 million for 2011. And unless he simply promotes offensive coordinator Jason Garrett — a possibility since he makes $3 million, too, but not a likelihood given the disaster that is this season — he’d probably spend more than that on a new coach. So he’d be paying more than $10 million total for three coaches — none of whom would be coaching during the lockout.
And he’d have to have a new coach. He couldn’t let the Cowboys go without one, even for the short term, because the draft will still happen in April, and plans have to be made.
But even if Jones bit the financial bullet and endured the criticism of paying two coaches (or more) while trying to argue for a reduction in player costs, is that even a smart move? If there’s a lockout that lasts until August, his new coach won’t be allowed to have practices, workouts or any contact with his players for most of the first six months of his tenure.
He might have to install a new plan, a new offensive and defensive system, new team rules, a new workout program, and whatever else he wants to install in a matter of 2-3 weeks with the regular season closing fast. Even if he made the big move for an established, big-name coach like Bill Cowher, that’s not exactly the formula for success.
Maybe those are all leaps of faith that a lockout is coming, but the owners certainly are preparing as if that’s the case — which means Jones and so many others all have to keep that in mind. So maybe the smart call, even in the days following a disastrous season, will be to just hold on to the status quo.
And that takes some of the intrigue out of the remainder of the season. In Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis’ controversial tenure might continue despite the disappointment they’re suffering through right now. In Cleveland, unless Mike Holmgren wants to coach the team himself, he might end up giving Eric Mangini one more year. As beaten as Jack Del Rio seems in Jacksonville, that small-market franchise certainly won’t want to be paying multiple coaches. And yes, Chargers fans, you may end up with another year of Norv Turner, too.
And Phillips, and Mike Singletary in San Francisco and Brad Childress in Minnesota — they all might also be safe. None of them would’ve been in a very comfortable position in any other year. But the lockout that threatens the future of the NFL might end up being a security blanket for many on-the-bubble coaches around the league.