Bears, Lovie Smith Expect to Face Saints in Divisional Round

Although they have the luxury of playing in front of their home crowd, the Seahawks are going to be extremely outmatched when they take on the Saints this Saturday.  Like almost everyone else, the Bears expect the Saints to advance beyond the first round with relative ease. According to ESPNChicago.com, Chicago head coach Lovie Smith said this week that the Bears are preparing to face the Saints.

Smith claims they’re scouting the Saints because they haven’t played them yet (whereas they’ve played Seattle and Philadelphia), but in reality he’s assuming the Saints are going to win.  The Seahawks shouldn’t even be playing right now and you’d be hard pressed to find a team hotter than the Packers, but the fact that Smith was so open about it is a bit surprising. Coaches who aren’t named Rex Ryan usually refrain from saying anything that’s not a tired cliche, such as “we’re not worried about who we’re going to be playing” or “we’re focused on our own team.”

In reality, Smith and his squad would probably love nothing more than to face Seattle after their first-round bye. However, he’s taking the angle of being realistic and honest without coming off as arrogant, giving a little more than guys like former Browns head coach Eric Mangini without joining the likes of Ryan — something rarely seen in professional sports.  Needless to say, it would shock the football world if the Bears have to face the 7-9 Seahawks in the Divisional Round.

Tom Coughlin Thinks the Critics Should Line Up and Kiss His A**

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin thinks winning 10 games in an NFL season is a difficult thing to do. He’s right. That’s precisely why 10-6 is a good enough record to qualify for the postseason most of the time. You know what’s even more difficult to do? Blow a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter against a division rival.

The Giants pulled it off, and it resulted in all the wind being removed from their sails and an embarrassing loss to the Packers the following week.  By losing back-to-back games, the Giants forfeited control of their own destiny and needed a win and Green Bay loss in the final week of the season to qualify for the playoffs.  They squeaked by the Redskins, but the Packers took care of business against the Bears, ending New York’s season.  Whether they blew it or not, Coughlin doesn’t want to hear from the Critics — as we saw on Showtime’s Inside the NFL on Wednesday night.  Check out the Tom Coughlin “kiss my ass” video, courtesy of The Big Lead:

John Elway Planning to Interview ‘Mark Mularkey’ for Broncos Head Coach

Some big news was announced over the weekend in Denver, but because of the holidays it didn’t receive a ton of national attention. Three days later, the sports world got its first glimpse of John Elway: Broncos exec. Elway, who won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, met the media Wednesday for the first time in his new role as VP of Football Operations.

One of Elway’s first responsibilities will be hiring a new head coach. Number seven recited the names of coaches on their list to interview, but gave fans reasons for concern. Though he was highly inspirational and persuasive in his news conference, he kept getting the name of one of the coaching candidates wrong. Elway kept calling Mike Mularkey, the former Bills head coach and current offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, “Mark Mularkey.”

Either John was brain cramping in the moment, has a mental block with Mularkey’s name, or is so unfamiliar with the man he didn’t know his name. Let’s give Elway the benefit of the doubt and hope the screwup was due to reason one or two. Here’s how it sounded:

Here are two problems that I have. One, he wants to bring in coaches for interviews just to get their opinion of the team. That’s like the tutor asking the student to teach him the subject. Two, he hasn’t exactly picked out people he thinks will make good head coaches, but rather the guys the rest of the pro football world has ordained as the top candidates. Not exactly an expression of ingenuity from Elway. Let’s hope for the sake of Broncos fans he can turn things around. Thanks to Pro Football Talk for pointing out the Mike/Mark thing.

New Team Is Best Thing for Vince Young

The Tennessee Titans announced their decision Wednesday to part ways with quarterback Vince Young whom they drafted 3rd overall in 2006. The decision by owner Bud Adams to move on ends one of the most tumultuous tenures of a highly drafted player with his original franchise since Michael Vick.

Young started off his rookie year in 2006 as the backup to Kerry Collins but wound up starting from the third game on. Though his passing stats were unimpressive, VY led the Titans to a six-game winning streak late in the year, helping them finish a respectable 8-8. The next year was more of the same — embarrassing passing stats (17 interceptions and nine touchdowns) but a 10-6 record that got Tennessee to the playoffs where they lost 17-6 to the Chargers.

Young didn’t handle criticism well, specifically whining about Merrill Hoge’s words. Then came the report that Vince asked out of the playoff game because the pressure was too great for him, and all the negative attention led him to contemplate retirement. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, Young went AWOL in September of 2008, to the point people thought he was contemplating suicide. He ended up being fine, but he missed almost the entire season because of injuries. The Titans went 13-3 without him.

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Why Exactly Are the Bengals Keeping Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer?

In the final regular season edition of our LBS NFL Power Rankings, I stated that I would be speechless if Marvin Lewis’ contract with the Cincinnati Bengals was extended at the end of the season.  I lied.  That doesn’t, however, mean that I understand it.  When Bengals owner Mike Brown sat next to Lewis on Tuesday and announced that he’s sticking with him for at least another two years, the NFL world all tilted their heads like they’d just heard the human equivalent of a dog whistle.

Terrell Owens hit the nail right on the head when he said the Bengals were terrible earlier this season, but apparently the belief within the organization is that its head coach is not to blame.  Lewis has been the head coach in Cincinnati for eight years and has compiled a 60-67-1 record.  He’s taken his team to the playoffs twice and won as many NFL playoff games as I have.  Apparently that’s enough to keep your job.

After finishing the 2010 season with a record of 4-12, it’s obvious the Bengals need some significant changes.  They’re keeping their head coach on board and it looks like their quarterback is staying put as well.  The headache commonly referred to as Batman and Robin will likely be gone, but is that enough for Lewis to take control of a below-average team and build a winner?

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Detroit Lions Finish on Four-Game Winning Streak, Future Is Promising

After being a joke of a franchise the past decade, there are encouraging signs in Detroit that the Lions are finally turning things around. The team rebuilt heavily in the past two drafts, nailing their first four selections in 2009, and landing Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh in the first round this year. They ended the season on a four-game winning streak, finishing the year 6-10 — tied for their second-best record since 2001, however pathetic that may be.

Detroit’s defense played well over the final month of the year, allowing only three points to the Packers (who were without Aaron Rodgers most of the game), and 13 to the Vikings in the season finale. The two home divisional wins proved Detroit can compete in the NFC North, and they were a referee screw job away from more than respectability in the division. On top of the wins over Green Bay and Minnesota, the Lions won at Tampa Bay and Miami in the final month, with the road win over Tampa standing out.

Not only was Detroit’s defense ascending towards the end of the season, their offense did well despite swinging between backups Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton. Second-year tight end Brandon Pettigrew became one of Hill’s favorite targets and justified the first-round pick Detroit expended to get him, while Calvin Johnson dominated as he did two years ago. Unfortunately, former top overall pick Matthew Stafford was injured for the second straight year and forced to miss all but two and a half games, but he showed extreme promise in the action he saw.

The biggest obstacle for Detroit next season will be health. If they can get 16 games out Stafford, Jahvid Best (who was bothered by turf toe), and Calvin Johnson, they will be set. The defense is improving and the offense has all the right pieces to succeed if healthy. This is a team on the rise for the future.

Amish Rifle Ryan Fitzpatrick Finally Shaves Off the Beard

If you didn’t know any better, you’d probably figure the guy in the picture is a random European hockey player who’s been too busy on the road to worry about shaving his beard. The more in-tune fan realizes it’s none other than Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who began growing out his beard this season. Midway through the year, the beard grew so large his teammates began calling him the “amish rifle.” Given how pathetic and unoriginal nicknames are these days, it wasn’t bad at all.

After keeping the beard the entire season, Fitzpatrick finally decided to have it all shaved off on Monday — the first day after Buffalo’s season ended (though it can be argued that was well before January). Speaking about the beard, the rifle said “When I first started playing, I think it was laziness more than anything. And I let it go, and it became…something, so I figured I wasn’t allowed to shave it until the season was over with. I’m sad to see it go today.”

Here’s the video of Fitz getting the beard shaved off courtesy of WIVB via Fark: