Sports Outside the Beltway

Get out your slide rules- AFC Wild Card picture time

Yesterday I expressed disbelief that some how the Miami Dolphins could some how still be in the playoff picture after their loss to Houston made them 7-8. Before I write anything more, I’ll break down how the AFC stands at this moment.sliderule

Division Champions that receive first round byes- Indianapolis 14-1, San Diego 12-3
Division Champions- New England 10-5, Cincinnati 10-5. As of this moment the Patriots are the #3 seed.
Out of the playoff picture entirely- Kansas City, Cleveland, Oakland, Buffalo, Tennessee

While those five teams can not make the post season, more than one of them can play the part of spoiler this weekend.

Wild card contenders- Denver, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, and Pittsburgh Steelers all at 8-7. Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars at 7-8.

Next week’s games involving wild card contenders

Bengals at Jets
Chiefs at Broncos
Ravens at Raiders
Texans at Patriots
Steelers at Dolphins
Jaguars at Browns

Remarkably not one AFC playoff contender is playing an out of conference team to finish the 2009 schedule. San Diego who has clinched a playoff spot and Tennessee who is out of the picture are both playing NFC teams next weekend.

Last night before going to bed I scoured ESPN and South Florida media websites looking for an article with an AFC playoff picture explanation. None were available.

This morning the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, and ESPN all had articles up on the playoff picute. Not surprisingly the Post and Herald focused on Miami. ESPN just summarized how the standings are at this moment and projected the first round of the playoffs as if play ended today.(The Jets and Broncos would qualify) What a lot of good that is.Cray X1E

Maybe ESPN didn’t have enough bandwith free to post all the possible playoff scenarios. Perhaps they needed a Cray super computer to do the calculations, or even if they had one available the power drain of using it threatened to blackout the entire Northeast.(ESPN is based out of Conecticut.)

Bottom line so far as I am concerned The Miami Dolphins are alive but their chances are slim and the New York Jets are in control of their own destiny.

For Miami to make the post season all of the following needs to take place-

Bengals beat the Jets
Raiders beat Ravens
Patriots beat Texans
Browns beat Jaguars
Dolphins beat Steelers

Neither the Herald or Post made mention of Denver. Therefore I assume whether Denver wins or loses next Sunday, it has no impact on Miami’s playoff chances.

All of which could plausibly happen. The Raiders or Browns winning would be considered upsets. Right now I have as much confidence in those teams winning as I do in Miami beating Pittsburgh.

Like ESPN, I won’t list all the playoff scenarios. I don’t think OTB’s owner James Joyner would appreciate me crashing his website and I’ve been kicked off one blog already this year.


New Orleans Saints waive K John Carney

Is the 45-year-old’s NFL career at an end? From ESPN-

The New Orleans Saints apparently won’t carry two kickers into the playoffs, as they’ve done for much of this year. The team announced Tuesday afternoon it has cut veteran kicker John Carney.

That’s a sign they’re committed to sticking with Garrett Hartley, who reclaimed the kicking job for the 12th game of the season. Hartley had been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s policy by taking a stimulant that he said was to keep him awake during a long drive.

Carney, 45 and a 21-year NFL veteran, was signed by the Saints when they became aware of Hartley’s suspension. Carney handled kicking duties in the first 11 games. He made 13-of-17 field goals and 50-of-52 extra points. Carney also played with the Saints from 2001 through 2006 and is the second-leading scorer in franchise history with 750 points.

New Orleans isn’t the only team to change placekickers this week. The Dallas Cowboys cut Nick Folk yesterday.

IMHO Carney’s kicking was sub par this year.(76.5 success rate on Field Goals compared to a career average of 82.4) That and in the light of his age and nomadic last few years(4 teams in less than 3 years), I do think his career is indeed over. I also think he will elected to the NFL Hall of Fame sometime in the future. Carney was one of the NFL’s elite kickers for 20 years.


Cleveland Brown Josh Cribbs sets new NFL Kickoff Return record

It happened in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. From AP-

Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns has returned a kickoff 100 yards, breaking the NFL record with his seventh touchdown return.Cribbs

At least six players got a hand on the 6-foot-1, 215-pound veteran before he broke into the clear and sped up the middle for his second touchdown return of the year. He had been tied with five other players with six kickoff returns for TDs. He came into the season with five and had a 98-yard return Dante Hall, Gale Sayers, Mel Gray,against Pittsburgh on Oct. 18.

Before today, Cribbs was one of six players to have six career kickoff returns for a touchdown. Some of the other players were Dante Hall, Gale Sayers, and Mel Gray. I’m more than a little surprised to learn that the career mark was so low.

Update- Cribbs has struck again. He returned a kickoff 103 yards for another touchdown. The record is now eight.


NFL changes return to play concussion rules

Nearly 1/5th of NFL players surveyed said they hidden or downplayed the effects of a concussion. From AP-

NFL teams now have new, stricter instructions for when players should be allowed to return to games or practices after head injuries, guidelines that go into effect this week.

In the latest step by the league to address a hot-button issue, commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the 32 clubs Wednesday saying a player who gets a concussion should not return to action on the same day if he shows certain signs or symptoms.

Those include an inability to remember assignments or plays, a gap in memory, persistent dizziness and persistent headaches.

The old standard, established in 2007, said a player should not be allowed to return to the same game if he lost consciousness.

Wednesday’s memo also says players “are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion.”

The new guidelines sound good in practice(I think they were overdue. A player not able to think clearly has no business being on a football field.) but I doubt they will be adhered to. Coaches are under pressure to win and most NFL players aren’t inclined to challenge these people who have authority over them. A person is also more likely to press on and shrug off any ill feelings they have. I know I have for maladies large and small, including a slight concussion I suffered six years ago after an auto accident.


Cincinnati Bengals sign RB Larry Johnson

His off the field problems have led to him being suspended twice in the last year. From ESPN-

Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson signed a one-year contract Tuesday morning with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Because NFL veteran contracts are guaranteed at the start of the regular season, Johnson will collect $4 million from the Chiefs and earn an additional $255,290 from the Bengals, the veteran minimum for the remainder of this season.

Money was not an issue for Johnson to sign with the Bengals. It was the opportunity to continue playing this season that convinced him to sign.

Absolutely money was not an issue with Johnson. As a sign it wasn’t, I expect Johnson to cut me a check for the $255,290 before the end of November.


Kansas City Chiefs release RB Larry Johnson

I think team management finally grew sick of his off the field problems. From AP-

Larry Johnson’s record-breaking career as a Kansas City running back is over.

The Chiefs confirmed Monday that they had run out of patience with his off-the-field problems and released Johnson the day he was due to come back from his second suspension in a year.

Johnson, who turns 30 on Nov. 19, was just 75 yards away from breaking Priest Holmes’ team rushing record.

The decision by the Chiefs (1-7) was not a surprise.

“A part of him is excited and a part of him is very regretful,” Johnson’s agent, Peter Schaffer, told The Associated Press. “There’s a lot of feelings going on right now. It’s analogous to breaking up with a girlfriend. Maybe you saw it coming, but it still hurts when it happens.”

A No. 1 draft choice out of Penn State in 2003, Johnson was one of the best running backs in the NFL in 2005 and 2006, rushing for more than 1,700 yards in each of those Pro Bowl seasons.

Johnson can still help a NFL team at running back. I expect someone to sign him. Oakland or Cleveland maybe.


Kansas City Chief RB Larry Johnson apologizes for gay slur

It may not be long before NFL teams have clauses in player contracts to regulate what they can and can’t tweet. From AP-

Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson issued his second apology in 12 months Tuesday and was told to stay away from the team while the NFL and the Chiefs complete their investigation into his use of a gay slur.

As Johnson was releasing his apology, a national gay rights advocacy organization called on the league and the team to take disciplinary action against the two-time Pro Bowler.

The latest chapter in Johnson’s stormy career began Sunday night when he questioned coach Todd Haley’s football credentials on his Twitter account.

He used the slur during an exchange with one of his Twitter followers. A day later, he used it again as he brushed off reporters and told them he would not comment, according to the Kansas City Star, which recorded the comment.

Haley refused to address the matter Tuesday, saying it was still being investigated.

“I’m just not going to comment any further because there is some stuff going on,” Haley said.

A player misbehaving off the field and not producing on the field can expect to be released very quickly. The only thing holding back the Chiefs is whether they would remain financially obligated for the rest of Johnson’s salary.

Last spring, an arbitrator ruled that the Chiefs could release the running back and not owe him $3.5 million in guaranteed money because he had violated contract conditions by pleading guilty to disturbing the peace in another incident.

The issue became moot when the team elected not to cut him and until he began tweeting on Sunday night, the often-volatile Johnson had been on good behavior.

So even if Johnson survives this storm, I wouldn’t expect him back in a Chief uniform for 2010.

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Miami Dolphins acquire QB Tyler Thigpen from Kansas City

They also placed Chad Pennington on the injured reserve list. From ESPN-

The Miami Dolphins placed Pennington on the reserve-injured list to create a roster spot for quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who was acquired Tuesday from the Kansas City Chiefs for an undisclosed 2010 draft pick.

Pennington hurt his right shoulder in the third quarter Sunday at San Diego, an injury that leaves his career in jeopardy. At 33, he likely faces a third operation on the same shoulder — the previous two coming in 2004 and 2005.

Pennington will seek a second opinion from orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews, who performed the other two operations. On Tuesday, Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald told ESPN’s “First Take” that the appointment is scheduled for Friday.

Thigpen shores up depth behind second-year pro Chad Henne, who is expected to make his first NFL start Sunday against Buffalo. Henne went 10-for-19 for 92 yards with an interception after replacing Pennington. Rookie Pat White is the Dolphins’ other quarterback.

Thigpen, a third-year pro, went 1-10 as a starter for the woeful Chiefs last year after both Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard went down with season-ending injuries. He threw for 2,608 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

I think the Thigpen trade was a good one for Miami. He played well last year with a bad team. I also remember the game he played against the fins. Thigpen leading the Chiefs to 31 points, but throwing 3 INTs also. Miami won that game, 38-31.

As for Pennington, his days in Miami are almost certainly over. His contract is up after this season, and I think Chad Henne is the Dolphins QB of the future. We’ll start finding out just how good Henne is beginning this Sunday.


Former NFL RB John M. Stephens dead at 43

He played most of his NFL career for the New England Patriots. RIP.

John M. Stephens, the 1988 Offensive Rookie of the Year for the New England Patriots, has been killed after his pickup truck ran off a highway and struck some trees, authorities said Wednesday.

Stephens, 43, apparently lost control of his vehicle on a rural stretch of Louisiana Highway 169 near Shreveport on Tuesday evening, the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s office said.

Stephens wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was thrown after the truck hit some trees head-on, sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Chadwick said in a statement.

The statement said Stephens apparently was traveling at a high rate of speed at the time of the single-vehicle accident.

“It appeared Stephens lost control and tried to overcorrect his steering, causing him to cross back over the road and hit the trees,” the sheriff’s office added.

No one else was injured in the crash.

“This is a very sad loss,” said Adrian Howard, a defensive back who played with Stephens at Northwestern State from 1986 until 1989.

Stephens, selected 17th in the 1988 NFL draft, played six NFL seasons, reaching the Pro-Bowl as a rookie when he ran for 1,168 yards. He played for the Patriots until 1992, then spent time with Green Bay, Atlanta and Kansas City before retiring with 3,440 career yards and 18 touchdowns.

At Northwestern State, Stephens broke the school’s career rushing record previously set by Joe Delaney, topping it by 10 yards with 3,057.

Delaney was the 1981 AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year for the Kansas City Chiefs and when Stephens won his award seven years later, it made Northwestern State the only school to produce two running backs who went on to be Rookie of the Year winners.

Stephens also won the NFL’s first Gale Sayers Humanitarian Citation for his work on behalf of the Roxbury (Mass.) Comprehensive Community Health Center.


Kansas City Chiefs waive Kicker Connor Barth

The worst team in the AFC during 2008 needs improvements at a whole lot more positions than just who does their placekicking. From AP-

The Kansas City Chiefs have waived kicker Connor Barth, likely clearing the way for seventh-round draft pick Ryan Succop to be the team’s starter this season.

Barth played in 10 games for the Chiefs last season, making 10 of 12 field goals as a rookie, but the 2-14 Chiefs struggled mightily on special teams.

Succop was this year’s “Mr. Irrelevant,” the last player — 256th overall — taken in the NFL draft. He played 50 games in four seasons at South Carolina, converting 71 percent of his field goals with a long of 55 yards. He made 66 percent his senior season and converted all 30 of his PATs.

I’ve been a patient of a female Dr. Succop(pronounced suck up). I wonder if they are any relation? It isn’t a common name.

Many teams invite more than one kicker to camp, so Mr. irrelevant may not have a guaranteed job yet. In fact Barth getting waived before practice even begins is sort of surprising. The Chiefs have a new head coach(Todd Haley, and as so often happens in that case, they like to bring in their own personnel.


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