Five Things: NFL Conference Championship Games

Joe Nicely examines five things to keep an eye on in Sunday’s NFL Conference Championship games.

What’s up Combiners? We’ve got a pretty damn exciting Conference Championship Sunday coming up. For the first time in a long time, it feels like we are actually getting to see the four best teams fighting for trips to the Super Bowl. There is a common theme this year, as all four teams have great QBs that direct high-powered offenses. Let’s take a look at five things to keep an eye on this weekend.

1. The Saints Run D vs. The Rams Rushing Attack

In the words of the great Gorilla Monsoon, this is a true “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” matchup. We don’t normally think of the Saints as a defensive team, but as the season has progressed, that’s surprisingly what New Orleans has morphed into. Beginning in Week 10 of the regular season, the Saints defense had an amazing six-game stretch where the held opponents to just over 12 points per game! The New Orleans run defense has been nearly unbreachable and finished the season ranked second in the league in yards allowed per carry.

On the other side of this matchup is a downright dominant Rams offensive line. Linemen are the unsung heroes of the NFL and this unit has shined throughout the season. We all know that Todd Gurley is a generational talent, but this line has helped C.J. Freakin’ Anderson rush for 422 yards and four TDs over L.A.’s last three games.

The battle at the line of scrimmage may very well determine the outcome of this game. New Orleans won round one, holding Gurley to just 68 yards rushing when these teams met in Week 9 of the regular season. If the Saints can contain Gurley (and Anderson) again, they might be marching to another Super Bowl appearance.

2. Bill Belichick vs. Patrick Mahomes

It’s probably not fair to boil any matchup down to a head coach vs. a single player, but this will be an interesting chess match between these two. Belichick obviously has numerous strengths as a head coach, but perhaps his best quality is his ability to take away an opponents best player. In Sunday’s AFC Championship game, he will need to figure out a way to slow down KC’s Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes has been a revelation this season and has played at an MVP level. He can make throws that boggle the mind. His arm is so amazing that his very high football IQ is often forgotten about, but his ability to read and process information will be put to the test by the defensive looks that Belichick throws at him this Sunday. He shredded the Pats when these teams met in Week 6 of the regular season, throwing for 352 yards and four TDs in a loss at Foxboro.

This is nearly as much about Andy Reid’s ability to adapt as it is Mahomes’ play. The offense that Reid has imagined for years has become a fully-formed entity this season. He took a major chance by letting Alex Smith walk and Mahomes has repaid his belief in spades.

3. Marcus Peters vs. Sean Payton

This is a situation that you will hear the media talking about in the lead-up to this game. There were some strong emotions flowing from both L.A.’s Marcus Peters and New Orleans coach Sean Payton after the first meeting between these squads back in Week 9. Peters was absolutely TORCHED by Saints WR Michael Thomas, to the tune of 12 catches for 211 yards and a TD. Payton decided to add a little insult to injury after the game and Peters…didn’t take it well.

While the matchup against Peters and Thomas is highly anticipated, it’s one we won’t actually see much of on the field. L.A.’s veteran CB Aqib Talib was injured the first time these teams squared off, but will be ready to go this Sunday. The Rams will try to get Talib on Thomas as often as possible in this one in an attempt to avoid the Peters vs. Thomas matchup.

4. Kansas City & New England Offenses vs. The Weather

Earlier in the week the expected game-time temperature in Arrowhead Stadium was around -5 degrees with snow. The forecast has improved throughout the week and the game-time forecast is now for a “balmy” 20 degrees.

We all know how weird the weather can be, so we probably won’t know exactly what type of conditions these teams will be facing until the game starts. This is an interesting story line to keep an eye on. Both of these teams are known for their explosive offenses and frigid weather could impact this game in a major way.

These units do most of their damage through the air, but both have ground games that can be effective. Rookie Sony Michel gives New England a legitimate between-the-tackles threat that they’ve lacked over the past couple of years and Kareem Hunt’s replacement Damien Williams has played very well for the Chiefs. It could come down to which team adapts to the weather best.

5. Rob Gronkowski vs. Time

New England’s Rob Gronkowski is one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the position. However, years of injuries have taken their toll and Gronk is currently just a shell of his former self and it’s not hard to notice that he’s laboring out on the field this year.

Despite his reduced explosiveness, Gronk is still a huge wild card heading into this matchup. KC has been destroyed by opposing TEs and allowed the most touchdowns in the league to the position this season. Gronkowski himself racked up 97 yards receiving against the Chiefs back when these teams met in Week 6.

So, even though I’m pretty sure that Gronk is being held together with popsicle sticks and duct tape at this point, he could still have a huge impact in this game. He’s had a string of difficult matchups, but this will be Gronk’s most favorable spot since he went for 107 yards and a TD against the Miami Dolphins in Week 14.

It will be interesting to see if Gronkowski has enough gas left in the tank to help the Patriots reach one more Super Bowl. At the very least, he’s a huge X-factor in this matchup.


NFL Christmas Wish List: NFC Edition

Joe Nicely dives into what should be on each NFC team’s Holiday Wish List.

Happy Holidays! Thanks for joining me here at The Combine! You hopefully had a few presents under the tree this year and, just like you, your favorite NFL team probably has some wants and needs on their Christmas wish list. Let’s check out what each NFL team should be asking for this year!


Chicago Bears: The Bears have had a wonderful Christmas this year, having won the division championship for the first time since 2010. Chicago has received a couple of huge gifts already this season, in the form of first-year head coach Matt Nagy and superstar linebacker Khalil Mack. The Bears would love to receive another gift as they head into Week 17…they need a win and a Rams loss to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikes have a simple Christmas wish, they need a win against the aforementioned Chicago Bears in Week 17 to sneak into the playoffs. The Vikings headed into the season with lots of hype, but have disappointed to this point. Kirk Cousins and crew can still salvage the season with a win over the Bears. As we all know, anything can happen in the playoffs, but Minnesota needs a little holiday magic to get in the tournament.

Green Bay Packers: It has been a rough year for the Pack. Green Bay will be sitting at home staring at the fireplace when the postseason rolls around. Aaron Rodgers and company have a new coach at the top of their wish list. Things ended rather abruptly with longtime coach Mike McCarthy and the cheese heads would do well to ask Santa for a home run hire this offseason. While Rodgers himself is probably still wishing for the return of Jordy Nelson.

Detroit Lions: Things got off to a rocky start in Motown under first-year head coach Matt Patricia. He did improve Detroit’s perpetually poor defense, but Matt Stafford and the usually-dependable offense pulled a baffling disappearing act over the second-half of the season. I don’t know if Santa will bring Golden Tate back, but the Lions need some major help at receiver and should also pray for the health of rookie RB Kerryon Johnson, who flashed some superstar potential in his limited playing time this season.



New Orleans Saints: After a heartbreaking loss to Minnesota in the playoffs last year, the Saints have come back with a vengeance in 2018. New Orleans has almost everything a team could want; a hall of fame QB, talented offensive players, and a defense that can hold its own. The Saints have already secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The only thing they can ask Santa for is a second Super Bowl win.

Atlanta Falcons: You have to wonder how many more lost seasons Atlanta will suffer through. With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in their prime, the Falcons need to win now. The organization will be sending up prayers for a healthy 2019, as they struggled with a ridiculous amount of injuries this season. Head coach Dan Quinn would be wise to put a new offensive coordinator on his wish list with Steve Sarkisian continuing to flounder in his second year on the job.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers will obviously be praying for quarterback Cam Newton’s shoulder this holiday season. Newton has labored to throw the ball downfield for much of the season and was shutdown for Carolina’s last two games. If Carolina let Cam make this wish, I’m sure we would see an upgraded offensive line before the kickoff of the 2019 season. Newton has been stuck behind a leaky o-line for most of his career and needs jolly old Saint Nick to send some pass blockers to Charlotte.

Tampa Bay Bucs: Similar to Tennessee and Miami in the AFC, Tampa Bay needs some clarity at the QB position. The organization faces a crucial decision in the upcoming offseason. The Bucs must decide if Jameis Winston is their quarterback of the future or if it’s time to cut ties with a player that has been slightly above average on the field, but has displayed horrible decision making off it. Tampa must also decide what to do with head coach Dirk Koetter, who has underachieved since getting the top job.



Dallas Cowboys: Some wishes have worked out well for Jerry Jones and the ‘Boys. High-risk, high-reward draft picks Jaylen Smith and Randy Gregory are finally paying off and a mega-trade for Amari Cooper is looking much better than it did two months ago. What the Cowboys do need is some postseason momentum. Dallas hasn’t logged a win in the playoffs since the 2014 Wild Card round. They should ask Santa for a long overdue playoff win.

Philadelphia Eagles: Philly might have used up all their holiday mojo last season, when the long-suffering franchise won its first world championship of the Super Bowl era. That drought was ended by backup QB Nick Foles, who has the Eagles on the verge of a playoff appearance since once again stepping in for the injured Carson Wentz. While Wentz is the more talented player, perhaps the Eagles should wish for a extra-long recovery time that leaves Foles in the lineup well into 2019.

Washington Redskins: Shewww…where should I start? Though he catches tons of flack, head coach Jay Gruden has actually done a respectable job since taking the reigns of this dumpster fire. Washington fans should ask Santa for owner Daniel Snyder to sell the team. The revolving door of general managers, along with Snyder’s own ridiculous methods, have made it almost impossible for the ‘Skins to have any level sustainable success on the field.

New York Giants: The Giants need to take a page from the cowardly lion’s playbook and ask for some courage. There comes a time in every child’s life when they have to part with their favorite “blankie” and the Giants must find the courage to part with theirs…quarterback Eli Manning. With electric young players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, the Giants need to embrace a youth movement and let their Super Bowl hero ride off into the sunset.



Los Angeles Rams: In a season that’s been mostly smooth sailing, the high-flying Rams have hit a bit of turbulence over the last few weeks. Road losses the Saints and Bears are nothing to be ashamed of, but a home loss to the Nick Foles-led Eagles and an injury to franchise RB Todd Gurley have to be raising Sean McVay’s blood pressure. The loss of Cooper Kupp has hurt this offense and a defensive unit that everyone thought would come around hasn’t yet. The Rams hope to find a healthy Gurley and some defensive cohesion in their stocking.

Seattle Seahawks: Coach Pete Carroll has the Seahawks heading into Week 17 at 9-6, but this season might the most impressive accomplishment of his career. Seattle is in the playoffs, but should have asked Santa for home-field in the postseason. The Seahawks style of play doesn’t travel as well as some and they face a road contest either at Dallas or Chicago, depending on Week 17 results. Neither will be easy, but we’ve seen Russell Wilson pull off holiday miracles before.

San Fransisco 49ers: After a splashy offseason, the Niners’ regular season was pretty much over as soon as it began. Franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo went down in Week 3 with a season-ending injury and RB Jerick McKinnon never even made it to Week 1 after signing a huge free agent deal with the Niners. The organization seems to be in good hands with GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, but they sure could use some holiday help with their injury issues as they head into 2019.

Arizona Cardinals: For a team that was regularly competing for the postseason under coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals have looked like an expansion team this season. First-year head coach Steve Wilks might not get a second year and the Cardinals seem to be either extremely young or extremely old at almost every position, with only misused RB David Johnson truly in his prime. Arizona might want to ask Santa to bring Bruce Arians out of retirement in hopes of rejuvenating this lifeless team.






NFL Christmas Wish List: AFC Edition

Joe Nicely explores what each AFC team should have on their Christmas lists this year.

Happy Holidays! Thanks for joining me here at The Combine! You hopefully had a few presents under the tree this year and, just like you, your favorite NFL team probably has some wants and needs on their Christmas wish list. Let’s check out what each NFL team should be asking for this year!

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens have kinda already had their wishes come true, as Lamar Jackson has stepped into the starting QB role and has them on the cusp of winning the division as we head into Week 17. Baltimore’s Christmas wish would probably be for a time machine to stop themselves from giving Joe Flacco such a massive contract. Look for the Ravens to right that wrong this offseason and send Flacco and his huge paycheck packing.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I guess the wish that immediately comes to mind, is that the Steelers could’ve used Le’Veon Bell this season…but truth be told, Pittsburgh’s numbers from the RB position are perfectly fine. What the Steelers should ask for is the ability to closeout games, as they’ve recently blown second-half leads against the Raiders, Chargers, and Saints. Pittsburgh is also being haunted by the season-opener, a game in which they totally gifted the Cleveland Browns a tie.

Cleveland Browns: The lowly Browns have already received a huge gift in the form of rookie QB Baker Mayfield, who has lifted the Browns from winless in 2017 to a respectable 7-7-1 this season. Cleveland made a smart move by running Hue Jackson out-of-town early this season. What the Browns need from Santa Claus is a home run coaching hire this offseason. The Cleveland job is more desirable than it has ever been, as they have a nice young core of players on the roster. Now, they just need to get this hire right.

Cincinnati Bengals: Like the Browns, we expect the Bengals will also be hiring a new coach when the season is over, so they could definitely use some holiday magic during that process. While a new voice in the locker room might help Cincy, their true wish for the new year will be health. The Bengals are entering the final week of the season without Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Tyler Boyd…and that’s just on offense. Cincy has some solid pieces on both sides of the ball, but was never really able to get them on the field together for much of the season.



Houston Texans: The AFC South wish list is all about the quarterbacks and the Houston Texans should wish for the continued health of theirs. Drafting Deshaun Watson has proven to be a game changer for the Texans. After a sluggish start to the season with Watson returning from a major injury, the Texans ran off nine straight wins once the second-year QB knocked the rust off. Besides being the answer to Deandre Hopkins’ prayers, Watson offers Houston a chance to both win now and feel great about the future.

Indianapolis Colts:  The pair of Andrew Luck and Frank Reich might as well have big red bows on their heads. The hiring of Reich and return of Luck from a scary injury, have turned around the Colts’ fortunes in just one season. While the Colts should be thankful for what they have, it wouldn’t hurt for them to ask the big guy in red for another explosive player to pair with Luck and T.Y. Hilton on the offensive side of the ball. Maybe Santa will bring the Colts a very special Bell via the free agent market this summer.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans have to be thankful to be in a position to make the playoffs with a win in Week 17, but their wish list should have one thing at the top…clarity. Tennessee is in sort of a middle-of-the-road purgatory. They aren’t bad enough to tank, rebuild, and get a high draft pick, but they also aren’t good enough to realistically compete for a Super Bowl. This mediocrity is best exemplified in QB Marcus Mariota. Like the Titans franchise itself, Mariota looks amazing at times and pedestrian at others. This is when he’s able to actually stay on the field. With his rookie contract winding down, Tennessee will need to make a difficult decision regarding what to do with the injury-plagued Mariota.

Jacksonville Jaguars: What a difference a year makes. The Jags were a half of football away from playing in the Super Bowl last year, but have looked downright ugly in 2018. The Jaguars made their bed with QB Blake Bortles this past offseason and have spent the entirety of 2018 tossing and turning in it. The Christmas wish for the Jags is simple…please bring them a quarterback. With a talented RB in Leonard Fournette and a defense that could still be great, Jacksonville management can’t allow this possible window of success to close.



New England Patriots: It would probably be greedy for the Patriots to ask for much this Christmas, but despite all the franchise’s success in the past, both the present and future are looking a little bleaker than usual. With Josh Gordon gone, Rob Gronkowski looking human, and Tom Brady on the downside of his career…the once explosive Patriot offense appears to be stalled out. If New England hasn’t already used all of it’s Christmas wishes, the Pats should cross their fingers for an injection of young talent. The New England dynasty is showing the ill-effects of years without a high draft pick that would infuse the roster with a young star.

Miami Dolphins: Like the Tennessee Titans, the Dolphins are mired in mediocrity. And like the Titans, Miami has been tied to an oft-injured QB. Ryan Tannehill has missed 25 regular and post-season games since injuring his knee in December of 2016 and is due to make a salary that would make him the sixth-most expensive quarterback in the league in 2019. This for a Dolphins organization that is already in ugly salary-cap shape. Miami needs a Christmas miracle in the form of a young and cheap QB.

Buffalo Bills: It’s kind of hard to believe that the Bills were in the playoffs last season. The Bills have continued to play hard for coach Sean McDermott during what amounts to a “soft reboot” this season. Buffalo drafted a very talented, but very raw quarterback in Josh Allen. The Bills also have an exciting, young defense led by budding star Tre’Davious White. You can’t put time in a bottle, but that’s what Buffalo needs this Christmas; time for this raw, but talented group to grow up and reach its potential.

New York Jets: Todd Bowles probably hasn’t gotten a fair shake as the head coach of the Jets. He took over Rex Ryan’s defensively geared roster in 2015 and finished 10-6, but hasn’t won more than five games in a season since. I say that Bowles hasn’t gotten a fair shake because the Jets offensive roster has been a dumpster fire for his entire tenure. With the draft pick of QB Sam Darnold, New York appears to have an offensive centerpiece to build around, but it’s fair to wonder if Bowles is the right coach to guide this ship into the future. Perhaps the Jets can find the next Sean McVay under their tree this Christmas.


AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs’ cup overfloweth this year, so they are looking for more of a Christmas bonus, than a Christmas miracle. Kansas City probably wishes Santa could go back in time and make Kareem Hunt less of an idiot, but that’s probably a stretch, even for jolly old Saint Nick. The best gift for this talented Chiefs team would be a win in Week 17 that would clinch home-field throughout the playoffs. Playing at Arrowhead would give Kansas City a big advantage in the post-season.

Los Angeles Chargers: Christmas thoughts and prayers up for Philip Rivers’ wife, who is pregnant with the couples NINTH CHILD! We all know how expensive kids are, so maybe the Chargers should wish for Rivers and his beautiful bride to continue adding to the family. The more children that Rivers has, the longer he will have to play for the Chargers.

Denver Broncos: Ugghh…John Elway has earned the benefit of the doubt, but the Vance Joseph/Case Keenum experiment has been a bust. The Broncos still have unbelievable talent on defense and two exciting rookies on offense in Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton, so there’s no need to panic. Elway has engineered quick turnarounds before, he just needs to reach into his mile-high Christmas stocking and pull out a shiny new head coach/QB combo to get things back on track.

Oakland Raiders: We round out our holiday wish list with the team that needs a Santa’s sleigh packed full of goodies. The Raiders probably have a very long list of wishes this Christmas, but perhaps the most important one isn’t the most obvious… the Raiders need a home. After bouncing between Oakland and L.A., and now being Las Vegas bound, Gruden and his elves need a place to settle down for a nice winter’s nap. With their whereabouts unknown for next season, the Raiders will have to make do with their plethora of upcoming draft picks. Perhaps when they get settled into their new Vegas digs in 2020, the Silver & Black will be ready to head in the right direction.



Talented & Troubled: A Josh Gordon Timeline

With the news that Josh Gordon will be leaving the New England Patriots and football, Joe Nicely takes a look at the troubled star’s career timeline.

Today’s breaking news that Josh Gordon will be leaving the New England Patriots and football to focus on his mental health, might signify the end of his career. Gordon’s talent has made coaches and fans drool for years, but his troubled life off the field has kept him from ever reaching his full potential on it. At the time of this writing there are conflicting reports as to whether Gordon might potentially be facing a suspension for substance abuse from the NFL, but it’s fair to wonder what’s led to this drastic measure. The 27-year-old seemed to finally be in a good place both off and on the football field in New England, but bailing on a perennial Super Bowl contender just as the stretch run is coming up, will make it hard for Gordon to get another shot in the NFL. No one has had more “second chances” than Josh Gordon, but this might have been his last one. Let’s take a look at the talented, but troubled receiver’s career timeline.

Middle & High School

Born in Houston, Texas, Gordon’s troubles started as far back as we can document. In an interview with GQ, he admitted that he began using Xanax, marijuana, and codeine in middle school. He was expelled from two different middle schools for stealing. After receiving a basketball scholarship to a private Houston prep school, Gordon was kicked out for marijuana use in 10th grade. He eventually landed at Houston’s Lamar High School, where he starred in football, basketball, and track…all while increasing his drug and alcohol use. Gordon also began selling drugs in high school and was involved in numerous illegal activities, which led to a felony credit card theft charge when he was 17-years-old.


Gordon was recruited by several Division I programs, but his main reason for choosing Baylor University was an odd one…his probation for the credit card theft wouldn’t allow him to live outside the state of Texas.

After flying under the radar his freshman year, Gordon would soon find himself in trouble during the middle of his sophomore campaign. In October of 2010, police officers found Gordon and a Baylor teammate passed out in a car at a Taco Bell drive-thru with multiple bags of marijuana. The teammate, Willie Jefferson, was kicked off the team by then-coach Art Briles, while Gordon was only suspended. He went on to play 13 games in his sophomore season, flashing his speed and talent while recording 42 catches for 714 yards and seven touchdowns. At this time, Gordon was also selling drugs at Baylor. Not your run-of-the-mill dimebag operation either, as he admits he was bringing in around $10,000 a month from selling drugs while at Baylor.

Gordon was suspended indefinitely in July of 2011 before the start of his junior season. The suspension was due to multiple failed drug tests. In August of 2011, Gordon transferred to the University of Utah, where he tried cocaine for the first time and began using Adderall on a daily basis. He never played a down for the Utes and declared for the NFL’s supplemental draft in 2012.


Gordon was selected in the second round of the NFL’s 2012 supplemental draft by the Cleveland Browns. He signed a four-year, $5.3 million contract with the team.

Gordon’s rookie season in 2012 would be the only time in his career that he played in all 16 games, racking up 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns.

Prior to the start of his second season in 2013, Gordon got in trouble with the NFL for the first time, drawing a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon came back from the suspension with a vengeance, leading the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in just 14 games. He earned All-Pro honors and made the Pro-Bowl. This is the season that put Josh Gordon on the map and had those in the football world salivating at his potential.

Problems came fast and furious after Gordon’s breakthrough season. He was arrested for DWI in the summer of 2014 and just over a month later he was suspended by the NFL for one year. That suspension was later reduced to 10 games by the league and Gordon appeared in only five games in 2014 before being suspended for the final game of the season by the Browns. This would kick-off a seemingly never ending string of suspensions from the NFL. Following the final game of the 2014 season, Gordon wouldn’t see action on the field until Week 13 of the 2017 season.

The gap between 2014 and 2017 included numerous trips to rehab and relapses. The Browns stood by Gordon during this time, including in 2016 when Gordon was set to return to action, but voluntarily checked himself into a rehab facility. He applied for reinstatement to the NFL in March of 2017, but was denied. The league eventually granted Gordon a conditional reinstatement. He then returned in Week 13 and finished out the 2017 season.

In March of this year the Browns signed Gordon to a one-year, $790,000 contract. With Gordon seemingly past his troubles, excitement was high for him to team up with number one draft pick Baker Mayfield. However, Gordon announced he would miss the start of training camp to focus on his recovery and personal well-being. He showed up to camp three weeks late and struggled with a hamstring injury. Gordon caught a touchdown pass in Week 1, but prior to the Browns Week 2 matchup with New Orleans he was ruled out after showing up late and injured from a non-team photo shoot. The Browns announced their intentions to part ways with Gordon on September 15, citing trust issues.

On September 17 the New England Patriots completed a trade for Gordon that had them sending a 2019 fifth-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for the star. This seemed to be the perfect situation for Gordon. New England has a successful track record of dealing with troubled players and castaways. Gordon hit the ground running, starting 11 games for the Pats and logging 40 catches for 720 yards and three TDs.

There has been no indication of problems for Gordon in New England, which makes today’s announcement so shocking. One thing is without doubt, Josh Gordon is a very talented football player, but a very troubled person. We can debate the NFL’s marijuana policy until the cows come home (I think it’s ridiculous and outdated), but I think this goes much deeper than smoking weed. Gordon began getting into trouble as a child and has struggled at every stop throughout his life. He’s not been able to stay clean, even with the promise of millions of dollars if he does. We can call him an idiot, a drug addict, or a tragic figure and probably be correct on all three accounts, but the most accurate description for Josh Gordon also happens to be both the saddest and most frustrating…a waste of talent.

Tuesday Morning Tilt – Week 16 Edition

The Combine’s Joe Nicely discusses some winners & losers from the weekend in this edition of Tuesday Morning Tilt.

What’s up guys? Thanks for joining me here at The Combine! As I’m sure you all experience, the holidays throw everything off schedule, so this week’s edition is more of a “Tuesday Afternoon-ish Tilt”. Next Tuesday will be Christmas Day, so there won’t be a column up, but I will try to throw something together later in the week. Ok, enough scheduling talk, let’s look at some winners and losers from the weekend.


Chicago Bears – The Bears exorcised some demons Sunday, defeating the rival Green Bay Packers to clinch the NFC North Championship. This was another impressive accomplishment by rookie head coach Matt Nagy and his Bears team. I have to admit, I was one of the people that wondered what the hell Bears GM Ryan Pace was doing when he mortgaged Chicago’s future in order to trade up for QB Mitch Trubisky in the 2017 draft and to acquire Khalil Mack prior to the start of the season. I thought it was kind of weird for the Bears to be in “win now” mode when they had no chance of winning now, but after a home win against the Rams two weeks ago, the Bears have to be considered a legit Super Bowl contender.

Indianapolis Colts – The Colts stumbled into a great hire this past offseason. After New England’s resident prick offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left them standing at the altar, the Colts pivoted to then-Philly coordinator Frank Reich. It appears that Reich was an underrated part of Philly’s success last season and he is doing a great job in Indy. Obviously, the return of Andrew Luck has played a huge part in turning things around and Colts fans have to breathing a huge sigh of relief after things looked touch-and-go with Luck just a year ago. A shutout of the red-hot Dallas Cowboys Sunday draws some attention to this Colts team that has been quietly solid over the past two months. As batshit crazy as Colts owner Jim Irsay is, he made a terrific move by firing Ryan Grigson and bringing in Chris Ballard.

DeAndre Hopkins – DeAndre Hopkins is having another great season and Saturday he became the second-youngest receiver in NFL history to catch 500 passes, with only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald doing it at an earlier age. It’s really unbelievable that Hopkins has been able to accomplish this feat with the true and utter garbage QBs he’s had throwing the ball to him over his career.

Here’s the list:

Matt Schaub

Case Keenum

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Brian Hoyer

Ryan Mallett

T.J. Yates

Brandon Weeden

Brock Osweiler

Tom Savage

DeShaun Watson

Forget 500 receptions, I don’t know how Hopkins is still in the fuckin’ league! Congrats Nuk, keep doing what you do and hopefully DeShaun can stay healthy for you.



Dallas Cowboys – This season has been a roller coaster ride for Jerry and the ‘Boys. After a slow start, a horrible-then-great trade for Amari Cooper, and impressive wins over the Saints and Eagles…the Cowboys did what they do best Sunday against the Colts: completely shit the bed just when everybody is getting on the hype train. The 23-0 beatdown in Indy proved a couple of things; 1.) Dallas isn’t “there” yet & 2.) Dak Prescott isn’t an elite NFL quarterback. After punching a couple of teams in the mouth, the Cowboys got a dose of their own medicine Sunday. The Colts ran freely against Dallas, while stifling the Cowboys run game. We saw that Dak is unable to carry the offense when needed. Prescott is a serviceable quarterback when things are going well and the run game is clicking, but when he is forced to throw when trailing, the offense falls apart.

Carolina Panthers – Ugghhh. What’s happened in Carolina? Cam Newton doesn’t look like the same quarterback lately and the Panthers have now lost a hard-to-fathom six games in a row. Last night’s loss against the division-rival Saints might be the final nail in Ron Rivera’s coffin. After losing to Denver in the 2015 Super Bowl, Rivera is now 23-23 in games since and is going to miss the playoffs for the second time in three years. We all know that “Franchise QBs” are hard to come by and Cam Newton’s prime years are slipping away.

New England Patriots – The Patriots have been declared “dead” several times over the years, only to eventually win the Super Bowl.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again this year, but man…the Patriots look, for lack of a better word, old. I’m convinced that Gronk is held together with duct tape, popsicle sticks, and chicken wire under his uniform and while they’ve won Super Bowls without Gronk before, he plays a key role in keeping their offense humming. There were tons of un-Patriot like mistakes against the Steelers Sunday and it makes you wonder if the end is near. I mean this shit will end at some point right? Right?!?

New York Giants Fans – Congrats Giants fans, you’ve got a once-in-a-generation talent at running back, a top-10 wide receiver, and Eli Fucking Manning. The Giants organization’s loyalty to Manning is something we don’t see much anymore in the NFL and I’m starting to understand why. Football is an ever-changing animal and it really looks like the Giants are severely hindering their future by trying to hold on to the past. Yes, Eli won two Super Bowls for the Giants (though it’s debatable how much those can be attributed to Eli), but HE’S NOT WINNING ANYMORE SUPER BOWLS. I’m sorry Giants fans, I really am.

Fantasy Football Players – Perhaps the biggest “L” of the week went to those in fantasy football league playoffs. What a clusterfuck it was for all the “great” fantasy teams. You know what I have to say? Welcome to my world, motherfuckers! I’ve been living in my own personal fantasy football hell this season and it’s nice to have a little company from you Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon, OBJ owners. How does it feel? I’m hearing a lot of people complaining that after working on their fantasy teams all year, it sucks that it all comes down to one week. Hmmm, that sounds almost like…real football! Suck it up fantasy players. How do you think the team that loses the Super Bowl feels? This isn’t some new-age kid’s soccer league, there are winners and losers in fantasy football.




When The Going Gets Tough, Urban Meyer Gets Going

Urban Meyer has led two programs to national championships and left both due to “health issues”. Joe Nicely takes a look at his career and future

When the news broke last week that Urban Meyer would be retiring from his position as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes due to “health issues”, I wasn’t very surprised. As a lifelong fan of the University of Tennessee, I was familiar with Meyer from his time at the University of Florida. The arc of Meyer’s tenure and exit from Columbus, seemed eerily similar to his time at Florida and his first “retirement” from football seven years ago.

Meyer’s ability is undeniable and he is without question one of the greatest college football coaches of his generation. He has won three national championships, two at Florida and one at Ohio St. His offensive concepts have helped to revolutionize the game and his tenacity on the recruiting trail is legendary. However, longevity has never been Meyer’s strong suit. While he is excellent at building programs and winning championships, Meyer’s drive to win has often caused problems that he doesn’t bother hanging around to deal with.

Bowling Green

After working his way up the college football ranks as an assistant, Meyer landed his first head coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001. He was immediately successful. Meyer turned around a Bowling Green squad that had gone 2-9 in 2000, finishing his first season at 8-3. Bowling Green played well in Meyer’s second season, going 9-3 in 2002. It should be noted that Meyer had a walk-on player named Zach Smith at Bowling Green, the grandson of his mentor, former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce. This is also when the groundwork was laid for what would become Meyer’s offensive attack. His use of an athletic QB named Josh Harris was the precursor to how he would utilize QBs in the future. Which takes us to Meyer’s next stop…


After his successful, but brief, stay at Bowling Green, Meyer bolted for the University of Utah in 2003. It was here that Meyer would find the player to make his innovative offensive scheme take flight, Alex Smith. Smith’s unique blend of athleticism and traditional throwing ability made him the perfect fit for Meyer’s shotgun-based version of the West Coast offense colliding with the option. Meyer and Smith hit the ground running, leading Utah to a conference championship and a 10-2 record. Things really started humming in 2004, Meyer’s second season in Salt Lake City. Led by the play of Smith, Meyer’s Utes went a perfect 11-0 and earned a BCS bid into the Fiesta Bowl, where they defeated Pittsburgh to finish 12-0. This season was pivotal to Meyer’s career for a couple of reasons. Utah’s ability to breakthrough the BCS “glass ceiling” that had been in place against mid-major programs for years gained the team and Meyer national exposure. The success of Meyer’s offense with Smith at QB signaled a seismic shift in the way the college game was played. With Smith heading off to become the number one pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Meyer once again decided to leave for greener pastures after just a two-year stop at Utah. It would mark the last time he left a program on a high note.


Rather than face the upcoming season without Smith, Meyer decided to take his talents to Gainesville. This was the game changer. Meyer’s decision to accept Florida’s offer of $14 million for seven years in 2005, kick started the trend of mid-major coaches jumping to traditional powerhouse programs for huge money, a trend that still exists in today’s world of college football. This is also a good point to stop and appreciate just how meteoric Meyer’s rise was. He went from coaching wide receivers at Notre Dame in 2000 to accepting a $14 million head coaching offer from an SEC powerhouse in 2005, while never spending more than two years at the same school along the way. (Meyer was also offered the head coaching job at Notre Dame after Utah’s perfect season, but chose Florida). One noteworthy hire that Meyer made after accepting the Florida job in 2005, was a young graduate assistant by the name of Zach Smith, his former player from Bowling Green. Concerns about Meyer’s offense working in the SEC were quickly laid to rest, as the Gators went 9-3 in his first season.

Meyer’s second season with the Gators in 2006 was remarkable for two reasons; he won his first national championship with a 13-1 record and it was Tim Tebow’s freshman year at Florida. Though the Gators were primarily quarterbacked by Chris Leak throughout the season, Tebow became a national phenomenon. Just has he had upgraded from Josh Harris at Bowling Green to Alex Smith at Utah, Meyer found what would be the final step of the QB evolution in Tebow at Florida.

On the heels of his national championship win, Meyer was able to recruit at an elite level. He had access to athletes the caliber of which he had never seen at Bowling Green and Utah. Two such athletes that Meyer had doggedly recruited as part of the incoming 2007 freshman class were Cam Newton and Aaron Hernandez. Meyer believed he had found his next quarterback prodigy in Newton and his pursuit of Hernandez was fervent. After convincing Hernandez to abandon his hometown choice of the University of Connecticut, Meyer flew to Bristol to personally persuade Hernandez’s high school principal to let him graduate a semester early in order to enroll early at Florida. Both Newton and Hernandez will play key roles in Meyer’s successes and failures at Florida.

The Gators offense continued to roll in 2007, well enough for Tim Tebow to win the Heisman Trophy. However, Florida struggled on the defensive side of the ball and finished with a 9-4 record after a bowl game loss to Michigan.

Meyer’s fourth season with Florida in 2008 was a harbinger of what was to come in his career…excellence on the field, with chaos off it. With Tebow taking a physical pounding in 2007, Meyer announced prior to the upcoming season that sophomore Cam Newton would share time at QB in order to help lessen the toll on Tebow. The Gators 2008 season opener against Hawaii would serve as an interesting microcosm for the upcoming years ahead. Newton came into the game, only to quickly suffer an ankle injury that would sideline him indefinitely, while Hernandez (along with stars Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes) watched from the Florida bench as “secret punishment” for failed drug tests. As the Gators chomped-up opponents on Saturdays, they were dealt a major blow off the field when the injured Newton was arrested in November on felony charges for stealing a laptop from a fellow student. Meyer suspended the already-injured Newton and the charges were eventually dropped after Newton completed a pre-trial diversion program. Hernandez made his way back onto the field after the one-game suspension, starting 11 of 13 games and playing a key role in Florida’s run to a second national championship under Meyer. Days before they defeated Oklahoma for the national championship, Cam Newton announced that he would be transferring out of the program. News later surfaced that Newton faced expulsion from the University of Florida due to academic dishonesty, though there had been no form of discipline handed down by Meyer for any issues.

The 2009 season would mark the beginning of the end to Meyer’s career at Florida. With graduate assistant Zach Smith arrested for aggravated battery on a pregnant woman in June of 2009 (which Meyer later admitted to knowing about), Hernandez repeatedly failing drug tests, and Tebow entering his senior season with his heir apparent Newton now gone…things were reaching a boiling point for Meyer’s program off the field. The team played well, going 12-0 in the regular season. However, the Gators were defeated by an up-and-coming Alabama program in the SEC Championship. The loss would prove to be a true changing of the guard in the conference. Just hours after the 32-13 drubbing at the hands of the Crimson Tide, Meyer was admitted into a Gainesville hospital due to chest pains and dehydration. Due to the health scare, Meyer announced his resignation from the University of Florida on December 26, 2010. However, in a preview of the public flip-flops that would happen later in his career, Meyer reversed his position just a day later and announced that he would take an indefinite leave of absence rather than resigning. He would coach the team to a Sugar Bowl victory before taking some time off.

Meyer resumed full-time coaching duties in March of 2010 in preparation for what would be his final season in Gainesville. With the public (the handling of the Newton issue and his resignation/leave of absence) and private (Zach Smith’s arrest and Hernandez’s behavior and drug problems) issues of the previous year still looming around the program, the Gators struggled. Tebow’s graduation and Hernandez’s forced departure to the NFL draft left huge holes for the team. Florida’s talent level seemed sub-par and it’s offensive scheme looked stale. The Gators finished the season 7-5, Meyer’s worst record as a head coach. With the program seemingly headed downhill, Meyer again resigned his position in December of 2010, this time for real, and again cited health issues. Meyer’s stint at Florida was undoubtedly successful on the field and troubling off it. He won two national championships, but had 31 of his players arrested during his time at Florida. Meyer’s disciplinary style during his time at Florida could be described as “kinder and gentler” toward star players. His handling, or lack thereof, of both Hernandez’s and Smith’s off the field behavior issues are disturbing and would impact several lives down the road.

Ohio State

Less than a year after his resignation from the University of Florida, Meyer was suddenly cured of any health issues when he accepted the head coaching position and a contract worth over $25 million at Ohio State University in November 2011. While the roster he left behind at Florida was full of undisciplined players with mediocre talent (Florida failed to have an All-SEC player in its first season after Meyer left), the Buckeyes’ cupboard was fully stocked, thanks to former coach Jim Tressel. Though Meyer inherited a postseason ban in his first year, the Ohio State program was full of NFL-caliber players and, perhaps most importantly, played in a conference that didn’t have an Alabama juggernaut to contend with. Despite having a clean slate in Columbus, one of Meyer’s decisions upon receiving the job, was to bring in his old player and GA Zach Smith to coach wide receivers. Meyer knew about Smith’s arrest for assaulting his then-pregnant wife in 2009, why he would bring aboard Smith and all of his baggage is anyone’s guess, but it would prove to be a mistake of epic proportions. You also have to wonder who at Ohio State was vetting Meyer and his staff. It didn’t take a licensed private eye to find out some of the things that had been going on at Florida on Meyer’s watch and Smith’s history alone should have thrown up a red flag. It shows that, despite coming off an embarrassing scandal under coach Jim Tressel, Ohio State was focused solely on winning football games. As is often the case, it takes two to tango.

Just has he had at every stop of his career, Meyer hit the ground running. Coaching Jim Tressel’s players, Meyer led the Buckeys to a 12-0 record in 2012. While the program was still on a postseason ban, one thing was clear: Urban Meyer was back.

After going 12-2 in 2013, Meyer would win his third national championship in the 2014 season. Powered by future NFL stars like Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa, the Buckeyes defeated Oregon in the national championship game to finish at 14-1. It solidified Meyer’s greatness in the college game and earned him “living legend” status.

Following the 2014 championship season, Meyer and the Buckeyes would continue to dominate the Big Ten conference and arch-rival Michigan. Meyer had seemed to learn at least one lesson from his time at Florida and managed to keep his players out of trouble in Columbus, but 2015 would bring up some familiar issues from one of his assistant coaches. In late October of 2015, wide receivers coach Zach Smith was involved in domestic violence and felonious assault charges with his wife Courtney. Less than a month later in November of 2015, Courtney Smith filed charges of stalking against Zach with police. In both instances, no charges were filed and Smith faced no disciplinary action from neither Meyer nor Ohio State for the incidents.

With Meyer continuing to win big and Smith still on the staff, everything seemed hunky-dory in Columbus. The Buckeyes captured another Big Ten championship in 2017 and were primed to be a national championship contender in the upcoming 2018 season. Then, Big Ten media days happened…

In an attempt to cut off a pending news story that Zach Smith had been arrested for domestic violence-related charges in 2009 and 2015 at the pass, Meyer fired Smith on July 23 2018, one day before appearing at the Big Ten media days in Chicago on July 24. News of the firing broke before Meyer’s press conference and it only raised more difficult questions for the coach to address. Things did not go well. Meyer admitted to having knowledge of the 2009 incident involving Smith while they were at Florida, but denied any knowledge of the 2015 incident. This is where things went off the rails for the coach who had perfected the art of turning a blind eye to problems within his program.

Brett McMurphy led the charge on this story and his reporting throughout this period was absolutely top-notch. Shortly after Meyer denied knowing of the 2015 incident at his press conference, McMurphy reported that the actual 2015 police report had been altered by the Powell Police Department and that both Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had knowledge of the 2015 Smith incident. How did McMurphy know this? He had “the receipts”, in the form of a series of text messages between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer. Not to mention, Zach Smith himself admitting that AD Smith had pulled him off a 2015 recruiting trip after learning of the matter.

Ohio State placed Meyer on paid administrative leave on August 1 in order to “investigate” the matter. The ensuing investigation and its findings proved to be a joke of epic proportions, with Meyer using the old faithful “health issues” as an excuse for all his errors big and small. The powers that be at Ohio State, either due to blatant ignorance or in a poorly disguised attempt to protect their beloved football program (Hint: It’s the latter), decided to issue a three-game suspension to Meyer and a slap on the wrist to AD Smith on August 22 of 2018.

After going 3-0 under interim coach Ryan Day, Ohio State welcomed Meyer back and went on to a 12-1 season. Following a victory in the Big Ten championship game, but after being denied a bid into the College Football Playoff, the 54-year-old Meyer announced his retirement from coaching on December 4, citing, you guessed it, his old pal health issues as the reason and essentially bailing on a university that risked its credibility to keep him as their football coach.

Looking Back & Moving Forward

Urban Meyer is a talented football coach, I’m not here to argue that point, but he his definitely a coach with flaws. You can’t blame Meyer for quickly climbing the career ladder. Leaving Bowling Green and Utah for bigger, higher-paying jobs isn’t something to find fault in, but it is interesting that Meyer never really had to deal with the long-term complications of running a program during his two-year stays at each school. His ability to do that would be tested at the University of Florida and it was a test that he failed miserably. Meyer’s “look the other way” attitude when it came to Florida’s star players created core problems and inhibited his ability to sustain long-term success for the program, not to mention the impact it had on the lives of his players and staff. When Meyer saw the Gators’ ship going down, both on and off the field, he quickly jumped off and left the university to clean up the mess.

Meyer’s move to Ohio State after being out of coaching for less than a year, confirmed that his “health issues” were bogus. His decision to bring Zach Smith into the fold in Columbus was both in-character for Meyer and reckless for Ohio State. While he seemed to learn from some of his mistakes at Florida, and kept his Buckeye players out of trouble for the most part, Meyer’s drive to win and his ego proved to be his ultimate downfall. When enough folks refer to you as a living legend, you start believing it and Meyer began to feel that he could do whatever he wanted with “his guys”, like Zach Smith. The sad part of the story, is that Meyer was actually right…he could do whatever he wanted, as Ohio State’s sham of an investigation and decision to only suspend him proved.

So why leave now? With his suspension already served, why did Meyer bail on an Ohio State program that risked its very credibility to keep him? The answer is as complicated as Urban Meyer’s personality, but it boils down to his inability to deal with the consequences of his actions. Will he coach again? I have no doubt that he will. Brian Kelly better continue to win…and sleep with one eye open.










Tuesday Morning Tilt – Week 15 Edition

How Jerry Jones and defense won the week!

What’s up guys? Welcome to the Week 15 edition of Tuesday Morning Tilt, where we catch up on things from the week behind us. Some interesting things happened in the NFL over the weekend, let’s dive in!

You Were Right Jerry

Never doubt a billionaire with a plan. We all pointed and laughed at Jerry Jones when he gave up a first-round pick in the Amari Cooper trade, but ol’ Jerry is the one laughing now. Cooper is straight-out balling for the Cowboys. His latest single-handed beatdown of the Eagles was just another example of what a game-changer he has been. After starting out an ugly 3-4 before the Cooper trade, the ‘Boys are now 5-1 with the former Raider in the lineup.

There is bad news and good news if you are a Cowboys fan. The bad news is that Jason Garrett now has at least 20 more years of job security, which might not sound bad at the moment, but trust me…it is. The good news is that this will hopefully embolden Jerry to  do some more crazy shit! I guarantee you Jerry is talking some shit in the Cowboys offices right this moment and I bet he’s probably trying to sign Kareem Hunt as I type this. I don’t know the ins and outs of the Cowboys organization, but I do know that Jerry Jones does not give a fuck to pull the trigger on any player he thinks will help his team win.

Defense Isn’t Dead

Writers and TV personalities have been talking about how defense is dead in the NFL for years, so it’s nothing new. But this year it has started to look like they might actually be right this time. Then came Week 14. We saw some fight out of a couple of the league’s old-school defenses this weekend, as Chicago defeated the high-octane Rams, Baltimore took the Chiefs to overtime, and Monday Night Football was an ugly defensive battle.

Maybe now all the “football guys” can calm the fuck down. Some of these guys take it personal when a team scores 45 points. I bet Rex Ryan was jerking off while watching the Seahawks and Vikings last night, even though I didn’t notice any foot shots on the broadcast. Give me a break with this bullshit. I get so tired of being told what’s “real football” and what’s not by these assholes on TV. I’ll tell you what would make the game better and it ain’t bringing back the ’85 Bears defense…STOP THROWING SO MANY FUCKING FLAGS AND TAKING SO MANY COMMERCIAL BREAKS. There you go NFL, problem solved. We’re getting to the point that they are gonna run an additional commercial during the commercial break, come back to the ref’s throwing a flag, before cutting to another commercial. Just show us the damn game.

You’re Next Tomlin

I’ve talked extensively in this column about why Mike McCarthy needed to be fired. Well, since that asshole has been sent packing, I’m on to my next victim and who it is might surprise you. Does any coach in the NFL skate by easier than Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin? He’s like the AFC version of McCarthy. He always has a stacked offense and always underachieves.

Maybe I just miss things, but why does no one ever call him out? The Steelers just lost to the fucking Raiders for crying out loud and not a word from the media! It’s not like Tomlin is great in the locker room either, as the Steelers have had TONS of problems over the last few years. The Le’Veon Bell situation has been a nightmare, Tomlin has sparred with Antonio Brown this season, and does anyone remember his handling of the Alejandro Villanueva anthem mess? Enough is enough. With Big Ben currently being held together with duct tape and popsicle sticks, it won’t be long until Tomlin is truly exposed. I know that he looks like an awesome coach when the cameras show him patrolling the sidelines, but I’m on your ass from here on out Tomlin, you aren’t fooling me!

Sark Must Go

A couple of months ago I got shouted down in a group text for saying Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was horrible. I can see how a casual observer might have disagreed with me at the time. It was easy to look at Atlanta’s offensive stats and say that Sark isn’t the problem, but as someone who actually watches the Falcons on a regular basis, it has been fairly easy to see that this bastard may or may not still be dipping into the Vicodin. Nothing ever flows with the Falcons offense and things always seem to be just a little off. Sarkisian has been exposed as the season has wore on, as Atlanta has failed to top 20 points in five consecutive games. Let me say that again: THE ATLANTA FALCONS, WITH MATT RYAN, JULIO JONES, CALVIN RIDLEY, AND TEVIN COLEMAN HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO SCORE 21 POINTS IN FIVE STRAIGHT GAMES. You’re right guys, “Sark” is fuckin’ awesome!

Bryce Harper Owns The World

I’m not a huge baseball guy, but we have some great baseball minds on staff here at The Combine. I’ve gotta talk to them about this Bryce Harper thing, because my mind is blown. I’m pretty sure I read something the other day that said Harper turned down a 10-YEAR $300 MILLION OFFER from the Washington Nationals! What the actual fuck?!? Doesn’t Harper stay on the disabled list like half the time? I know he’s a great player, but damn, turned down $300 million stone-cold. The disparity between NFL contracts and MLB contracts continues to fry my brain. Football players really are getting paid peanuts in comparison to baseball players (and basketball players, for that matter) and have much shorter careers. More proof that NFL owners have the sweetest gig in professional sports! If any of you have kids that want to play sports, don’t even let them touch a football!