The NFL is both beloved and exalted in the pantheon of spectator sports because absolutely no one knows what will unfold from week to week. But that doesn't stop us from predicting up a storm when it comes to the season just ahead. More than two months away from the full-scale opening of training camps, here are seven strong hunches we're willing to share in a bold foretelling of 2012's storylines to come:
"I want to make sure Eric is a part of what we do, somehow. Eric's always going to be a part of my life." -- Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano to me, upon being named coach of the Bucs in January, about the fate of Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers defensive tackle who suffered a spinal-cord injury in a 2010 game.
Tony Dungy coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a while, coached them well. The Bucs fired him because they were tired of losing in the playoffs every year. They hired Jon Gruden, who immediately won a Super Bowl, but then the team declined and they fired him, too. They hired Raheem Morris because they wanted some youthful enthusiasm, but then his team showed too much youth and not enough enthusiasm. So they fired him. And then, this week, they hired Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
There was little surprise factor that the Rams' Steve Spagnuolo and the Bucs' Raheem Morris were the first two head coaches fired on the NFL's Black Monday, given that their fate had appeared determined for at least a couple weeks now.
The arithmetic is unrelenting. Since 1989, NFL teams have hired on average 6.5 new head coaches a year, and there have been a staggering 82 coaching changes made in the league from 2000-on. Only one team, the Philadelphia Eagles, has completely sat out the frenzy in that department, having brought a young and promising Andy Reid to town in 1999.
So this is what it has come to in the current state of affairs regarding NFL head coaches: A division title last season doesn't necessarily assure one of making it through this season with a job. Alas, toast of the town status just doesn't last as long as it used to.
In the halls of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice facility, players can be seen carrying iPads everywhere they go.
Some quick thoughts on Monday night's too-close-for-comfort 24-17 victory by Tampa Bay over the Colts, then thoughts on three big players to play catch-up ball with from Sunday's action.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The play is called "19 Weak." It's the signature of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running game and there's nothing complicated about it. Just weakside isolation and a beastly 250-pound tailback running downhill.
The Lions and Buccaneers meet in a compelling Week 1 encounter between two upstart teams that harbor plenty of promise and playoff hopes.
EAST GREENBUSH, N.Y. -- My fourth and final week on the camp trail started in Houston (interesting Mario Williams stuff) and Dallas (Jerry Jones tried to sell me a very large stadium), continued with the transplanted Saints (that's a good-looking team) in California, veered south to the endless sauna that is Phoenix (Larry Fitzgerald is one happy Kolb fan), then red-eyed East into the path of Hurricane Irene, thus ending my month driving/flying to check out the post-lockout NFL. Stats of note about the journey:
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
TAMPA, Fla. -- On the eve of one of the wildest free agency periods in NFL history, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik met with reporters to discuss the start of a training camp beaming with optimism, given the team's 10-6 season of 2010.
NEW YORK -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from an intriguing second and third round of the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall ...
Grading a team's draft over the short term is, of course, sheer folly, and can be nearly as inexact a science as drafting itself. But there's little projection required when it comes to where Tampa Bay's past two rookie classes rank. Nobody in the NFL has done a quicker or more remarkable job of roster building than the resurgent Bucs, who have received that rare blend of production and potential from the youth they added in both 2009 and 2010.
Quick-hitting insight on today's 1 p.m. games ...
With the NFL's postseason tournament beginning in just one week and a full 10 games figuring in on playoff berths or positioning, consider Week 17 the mad scramble before the madness.
The night games may grab the biggest headlines, but start-to-finish this could be the best weekend of intriguing matchups, bitter rivalries and fortune-changing games the NFL has yet seen.
Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a field-goal filled Week 5 of NFL action ...
It starts with expectations. Unrealistic expectations.
Now that Fantasy Clicks has cast a net with a significantly larger audience -- thanks to the format change -- I'll have to work doubly hard to entertain the masses every time out (or risk alienating brutally honest Twitter followers like @KSully49 -- just kidding). So, to celebrate this renewed commitment to excellence, let's start with a real 12-team auction draft from Monday night.
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about the Bucs camp in Tampa, which he visited on Aug. 2. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
This weekend marks the second round of opening minicamps for hundreds of rookies across the league. Let's hope they fare better than the newly minted players did last weekend. At least that's what the coaches in Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, New Orleans, San Diego, and Washington are thinking as they put their young players through their first on-field action.
Sam Bradford getting picked No. 1 overall to the Rams? Gerald McCoy going No. 3 to the Bucs? That's old news to readers of my annual (Way Early) NFL Mock Drafts, in which I happened to nail two of the top three picks in last week's draft.
I've thought all along that Tim Tebow would need a redshirt year, but two things now tell me I might be wrong.
NEW YORK -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from the second night at the NFL draft, where rounds two and three unfolded with another dose of quarterback-inspired drama and intrigue ...
The Steelers without a suspended Ben Roethlisberger early in the 2010 season will be an obviously weakened team, but they are not the 2007 Falcons sent reeling by an incarcerated Michael Vick or even the equivalent of a Colts or Saints team if they were to face a daunting extended absence by star quarterbacks Peyton Manning or Drew Brees.
And now for something completely different: The San Diego Chargers not only did the right thing with LaDainian Tomlinson, they did the right thing at the right time. The next time a team has to deal with releasing a legendary player in decline, club officials should go to school and learn how Dean Spanos and A.J. Smith cut the cord with the eighth-leading rusher of all time.
PHILADELPHIA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a blowout-strewn Week 16, the final, somewhat anticlimactic, NFL Sunday of 2009. Meanwhile, can I get a little help deciphering those playoff scenarios?...
Fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have felt disappointed with their sides' 35-7 National Football League (NFL) loss to the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium in London this week, but from the wreckage of defeat there was optimism to be found, for Bucs' fans and, bizarrely, those of Manchester United too.
Seems to me we have nine bad teams in football right now. For all of you in Buffalo, Chicago and Seattle who want me to include your team in this grouping, sorry. You've show too many signs of life to make the Bottom Nine.
The New England Patriots extended Tampa Bay's dismal run with a 35-7 victory at London's Wembley Stadium as NFL action returned to Britain for the third successive year on Sunday night.
Things we know (or at least think we do) one month into the NFL's regular season....
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Damon Hack had to say about the Buccaneers' camp in Tampa. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots have signed second-round draft pick Darius Butler.
As minicamps start springing up around the NFL map, this month is when we get that first sneak peek of the new rookie draft class. But as much as all the new faces in all the new places pique our interest, a less obvious source of impact will come from all those highly-regarded 2008 rookies who either fell off the radar screen due to injuries or failed to live up to expectations last year.
Giving a draft grade for each team the day after the draft is a fruitless exercise. It takes a minimum of three years before a draft can be revisited and evaluated to determine how productive a team was with its selections. With that caveat, here's my reaction to every team's picks, grouped in categories as opposed to the standard letter grade.
Hold off on the Jay Cutler trade talk -- for now. A source close to one team that has inquired with the Broncos about the unhappy quarterback tells me the Broncos have told them they're hanging on to Cutler and won't entertain discussions for him at this time.
After breaking down the 11 new head coaches' chances for success next season, here are a few more nuggets and observations gleaned from this year's NFL hiring season:
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Super Bowl party scene in Tampa lived up to expectations this year, which isn't really that impressive considering most expected it to be a down year, devoid of the over-the-top parties that had come to define the week in years past with Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Victoria's Secret and CAA all canceling their annual super shindigs in a down economy. With so many household names bowing out of the party scene this year it opened the door for a few new names and a surprising winner for this year's best Super Bowl party.
In a stunning development that no one in the NFL expected, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden late Friday afternoon. And in what could be even more of shock, the Bucs plan to replace Gruden with Raheem Morris, who has never been anything more than a position coach in any of his six seasons in the league, SI.com learned Friday night.
With Eric Mangini in place in Cleveland and Josh McDaniels on the job in Denver, the pace and tempo of the NFL's head coach hiring season has begun to noticeably quicken. And with the Jets apparently waiting for Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to finish the playoffs, and the Lions perhaps viewing Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as their leader in the clubhouse, it's not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Steve Spagnuolo might be the leading candidate left without a seat once the game of musical chairs stops.
Every Monday, SI.com's Ross Tucker will hand out letter grades to deserving NFL parties...
PHILADELPHIA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we watch the total demolition of the Dallas Cowboys play out before an absolutely delirious throng of Eagles fans at Lincoln Financial Field ...
If the Falcons make the playoffs -- and they'll need help even if they win their final two games to finish 11-5 -- they'll be able to look back and thank Justin Blalock for making the biggest play in the biggest game of the season.
Breaking down Monday's Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers game (8:30 p.m., Eastern, ESPN) ...
There's no place like home in the NFC South this year, and that's why the significance of Carolina's thrilling 38-23 Monday-night beatdown of Tampa Bay (Recap | Box) cannot be overstated. No matter who won this one, the first battle of 9-3 teams since the Titans and Colts met in Week 14 of 2003, they were going to be in the driver's seat for the NFC South title and a first-round bye, with a shot to win out and overtake the Giants for the conference's No. 1 seed.
We've got miles and miles to go until we get there, but after watching Week 10's results, I'm already starting to wonder if there's a Super Bowl rematch in the cards next February? Only this time, in an ironic turn of events, the Matt Cassel-led Patriots would be the heavy underdogs, and the steamrolling Giants the prohibitive favorite.
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we watch a Week 8 unfold that looks like it's going to be very, very accommodating to home teams ...
Breaking down Sunday's Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Denver Broncos game (4:05 p.m., Eastern, Fox) ...
Lane Kiffin's long-anticipated firing this week instantly bestowed him membership in the ever-growing ranks of ex-Raiders head coaches, and there's certainly no shame in that.
NEW YORK -- If you like football, and you like football players, you've got to be happy for two people this morning, regardless of your rooting interests: Brian Griese and Chad Pennington.
The Patriots haven't won a game since mid-January, Tom Brady has yet to play this preseason, and things are getting a little tense for the Team That Previously Could Not Lose. Making matters worse, New England just got embarrassed at Tampa Bay, on the very field it hopes to be playing on in February's Super Bowl.
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
The Packers have confirmed that they have traded Favre to the Jets.
When a team has six quarterbacks on its roster, it is asking for trouble. The Buccaneers are learning that as Jeff Garcia and Chris Simms are unhappy and making their grievances public.
It sounds like the Bengals didn't draft three wide receivers last week just because of the Chad Johnson holdout and the Chris Henry firing. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis tells me there's a T.J. Houshmandzadeh element to it, too.
After watching the New York Giants rely on outstanding performances from several rookies to catapult their Super Bowl run, many executive are hoping for similar success from their draft classes. But predicting a rookie's potential impact is less about their draft status, and more about the situation that surrounds them. This is why we often see rookies drafted in later stages of the draft impact the team greater than first-round picks. The following is a list of rookies who are poised to make a big impact in their first season due to ideal circumstances:
First round last year: 6 hours, 4 minutes.
INDIANAPOLIS -- I actually saw the scouting combine Sunday afternoon for the first time in my life, and I came away thinking, "Is that all there is?"
Cooper Manning was watching his baby brother, Eli, from a luxury box above Raymond James Stadium, unable to generate an appetite despite the tempting finger foods spread out before him. As Cooper sat with his wife, Ellen, and his parents, Archie and Olivia, the Giants had fallen into an early hole against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their NFC wild-card game, and Cooper kept excusing himself so he could go to the bathroom.
TAMPA BAY -- With one minute remaining in the Giants' 24-14 playoff victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Eli Manning faced one more blindside rush. As he stood on the sideline, Manning was approached by the Giants' chairman and executive vice president Steve Tisch, who offered his congratulations to the fourth-year quarterback on his first playoff victory. Tom Coughlin, the Giants coach, approached Manning as well.
Wild Card weekend is in the books, and what I liked most about it was that form held as we head into the divisional round.
My favorite game this weekend is Giants-Bucs. No, I don't mean the thrill-a-minute variety. I don't watch these things recreationally. I'm talking about the game in which I feel most confident as a handicapper.
If there was an overriding theme to Week 17, it was that this year's playoff field best hope that the traditional December emphasis on building momentum heading into the postseason is vastly overrated.
For a league that has always prided itself first and foremost on knowing how to make the savvy public relations move, the NFL's decision to allow both NBC and CBS to simulcast the NFL Network's broadcast of the New England-New York game was a master stroke.
The Jaguars, Buccaneers and Browns are a combined 28-14 this season. Tampa Bay has qualified already for the playoffs, while Jacksonville and Cleveland could do so as early as this weekend.
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Musings, observations, and the occasional insight as I watch the snowballs fly at freezing Gillette Stadium ...
MORE GAME PLANS: Miami-Buffalo | San Diego-Tennessee | Tampa Bay-Houston | Carolina-Jacksonville | Oakland-Green Bay | Dallas-Detroit | St. Louis-Cincinnati | N.Y. Giants-Philadelphia | Arizona-Seattle | Minnesota-San Francisco | Cleveland-N.Y. Jets | Kansas City-Denver | Indianapolis-Baltimore
As we stare down the second half of the NFL's regular season, this much seems apparent from my vantage point: In most cases, a 2006 playoff trip portends little in the way of a repeat performance this year.
1. EAST: Cowboys (7-1) Tony Romo is making the right throws, has two strong backs in Marion Barber and Julius Jones, and continues to build on his chemistry with Terrell Owens and Jason Witten. On defense, the Cowboys are creating pressure and turnovers despite holes in the deep secondary. If the D can make as many big plays as the offense, Dallas will go to the Super Bowl. Scout's take: "As long as Romo rides high, the Cowboys will too. They do a good job stopping the run and rushing the passer."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could still be working on improving their team today, in the wake of their late-Monday deal for running back Michael Bennett.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota: The rookie superstar amassed 361 total yards from scrimmage against the Bears. He had a 224-yard, three-touchdown performance as a runner and keyed the winning touchdown drive with a 53-yard kickoff return. They brought him in to be a big-play guy, and he's even more dangerous than they imagined.
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we thankfully rediscover other storylines in the NFL beyond Camera-gate in New England ...
This story was originally published in the Sept. 9, 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated.
With the Buccaneers, in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest. Check that, with the Buccaneers at Walt Disney World's Wide World of Sports Complex outside Orlando. It just seems like the Brazilian rainforest. As of Thursday morning, the Bucs had already canceled one training camp practice and had two others forced into makeshift indoor facilities (a hotel ballroom and a party tent), because of rain and, more significantly, thunderstorms. On Thursday morning, a steady rain began falling just after the start of the team's 8:30 a.m. practice and intensified significantly at 9:30. "Can we now officially call this 'torrential?' asked Chris Harry of the Orlando Sentinel, to unanimous agreement of scribes gathered underneath a sideline tent.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as I make my way around the NFL training camp scene:
When Buccaneers players descend upon Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex on July 26 for training camp, all eyes will be fixed on the team's quarterback spot, where several players are expected to compete. But assuming Grizzly Adams (err, Jake Plummer) remains 'retired' and Bruce Gradkowski falls to the wayside, the battle for the starting gig will essentially boil down to a two-horse race between Jeff Garcia and Chris Simms.
NFL teams are constantly changing strategies and are quick to copy the successful game plans of others. Here are five defensive trends that have emerged in recent years:
Nothing gets chewed over more every NFL offseason than quarterback questions. Only Indianapolis and New England seem immune to the constant pattern of change, speculation and potential controversies at this position.
Mapquest tells us it's 1,036 miles from Brett Favre's offseason home in Hattiesburg, Miss., to his in-season place, Green Bay. It might as well be a million miles. Because the one thing we learned from his failure to woo Randy Moss over the last couple of months is this: he may be one of the true legends in NFL history, but he is nothing more than an employee in the eyes of the Packers front office.
One night last week a family new to Pittsburgh -- husband and wife, three kids ages six years to 11 months -- walked into the neighborhood bistro La Tavola Italiana atop Mount Washington for dinner. The husband had been there before. He moved around the place in a comfortable, self-assured way and recognized the Sicilian cook and owner, Carmela Giaramita, right away. "Mom!" he said affectionately, then bear-hugged her. She wasn't really his mother but had been so accommodating and friendly in his previous visits that he felt a kinship.
PITTSBURGH -- Sitting in new coach Mike Tomlin's office the other day, I got the impression he will be about as meat-and-potatoes as any other coach in football. On the wall of his office are three blown-up Steelers prints.
You will notice the generally low level of the grades for the 2007 draft. This does not reflect, I believe, the teams' drafting skill, just the overall level of talent. At one time you could find three or four genuinely exciting players on a team's list. Now there are many one-player drafts, and a few of those "one's" aren't even that scintillating.
Five days from now, you'll all get to open your holiday gifts. I agree with what ex-Giants GM Ernie Accorsi says in Tim Layden's upcoming Sports Illustrated piece about draftmania. According to Accorsi, the draft is now the second-biggest day on the NFL calendar, next to Super Sunday. And from what I'm hearing on talk shows, what I read on draft sites, what I'm running into everywhere I go, Accorsi's right.
SI.com presents a listing of each existing franchise's best draft class in the last 30 years. The league has endured a few stages of evolution since '77 -- expansion, free agency, greater TV exposure, the salary cap -- but this exercise should reaffirm the notion that consistent championship contenders are always built through the draft. For the sake of brevity, we've limited the list to the productive players from a team's particular class.
Almost 10 years later, Doug Williams is still quick to correct what he construes as an erroneous and inappropriate characterization. He didn't replace Eddie Robinson as head coach at Grambling. Nobody ever has -- or will.
All draft talk, all the time. That's what I heard at the league meetings last week, that's what I get asked about on most every talk show I'm on, that's the subject of the story (featuring Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas) I'm working on for SI right now and that's what I'm prepping for this week. Fitting that your e-mails are heavy, heavy, heavy on the draft. So on with your draft topics, and a few others.
On the night before Fortress Investment Group became the first hedge fund to trade on the New York Stock Exchange, Wesley Edens and the other four principals celebrated in a manner that befits the ...
It's one month to the April 28 draft, and good luck to anyone trying to figure out the first five picks. The men holding the top selections -- Raiders boss Al Davis and Lions general manager Matt Millen -- don't send out many smoke signals. "This is the kind of year where you pick third and you really don't know what's going to be there because you're not going to get any clues," Browns G.M. Phil Savage, sitting at No. 3, said on Sunday at the league meetings in Phoenix. Here's a look at what's going on in the minds of the decision makers with the prime choices.
Reading personal e-mails to me and e-mails to this column, I've been surprised at the vitriol in the Lance Briggs case. I agree with it, but I'm surprised by it.
Tennessee general manager Mike Reinfeldt sits in Nashville with $26.5 million in cap room not burning a hole in his pocket. Green Bay GM Ted Thompson does the same with $21.8 million to spend in northeast Wisconsin. And through the mayhem of the first 10 days of free agency, the two guys who run the football side of those teams -- coincidentally, former roommates with the Houston Oilers -- are gritting their teeth, watching money get spent foolishly in some cases, and waiting for the market to simmer down.
The free-agency numbers are getting to a few loyal e-mailers, and I wish there was something I could do to put everything in perspective for you. I'll try, but don't forget, I'm doing this sabbatical, book-writing thing, so you'll be getting my impressions, not an exhaustively researched project. OK? Is that good enough? It is? Then away we go.
Bill Walsh sits at a lacquered wooden table, the 18th hole of the pristine Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club behind him, another blood transfusion and another long, draining day at Stanford Hospital in his immediate future. The Hall of Fame coach is talking about the end of his life -- the "final stage," as he calls it -- and, at 75, sounds as prepared and unruffled as a man battling leukemia can be. But is he completely without regret? Walsh closes his eyes and furrows his brow, the wrinkles on his prominent forehead becoming more pronounced. Something is bothering him, something apart from the disease that has left him so vulnerable: a decision he made 18 years ago that he wishes he could take back.
Jenn, what did you think of Wisconsin? Would you admit that us Badgers party way better than you Seminoles? And where is your next stop on the Road Trip excursion? -- Michael, Madison, Wisc.
1. The Patriots trade for Wes Welker -- Whether it's at slot receiver or in the return game, Welker is a pesky little play-making presence that gives the opposition fits. The Patriots gave up second- and seventh-round picks for him, but with two first-rounders this year, that lessens the blow to New England's first-day draft haul. As a bonus, the move also potentially weakens a division opponent, which is never a bad idea. Get ready to see Tom Brady throw a ton of those receiver screens that the Patriots love to Welker.
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