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The Big Dawg Returns
Derrick Henry went down with a foot injury back in Week 8 and it looked like his season was over. Well, not so fast. The Titans designated Henry for return from injured reserve last week and the star running back is eligible to start practicing. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel noted that the team will be looking at how Henry responds to running and cutting and reactionary work on his surgically repaired foot, before deciding on his status for the Titans’ playoff opener. The team has an extra week to evaluate Henry’s progress and it’s quite likely that we see him get his usual workload.
Monday Bloody Monday
Monday was a day of bloodletting in the NFL. Several teams took the opportunity to relieve their head coaches of their duties.
The Miami Dolphins surprised everyone by letting Brian Flores go. Flores had led the team to back-to-back winning seasons and the team seemed to be showing some promise. Flores will not be lacking for future opportunities, as he’s considered to be a top-tier coaching candidate. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was reportedly unhappy that the key dynamics of the team were not functioning at a level to his satisfaction, so I’ll be intrigued to see who the team hires this year.
The Minnesota Vikings cleaned house on Monday. The team fired head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager, Rick Spielman. Despite Zimmer’s success as the team's coach (72-56-1 record during his tenure with the Vikings) it never translated to success in the postseason. The Vikings last made the playoffs in 2019 and suffered a 27-10 loss at the hands of the Niners.
The Chicago Bears were quick to remove both Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy following the end of the season. Nagy peaked back in 2018 when he led the Bears to a 12-4 season and a playoff berth. A freak double-doink prevented the team from advancing against the Philadelphia Eagles in their playoff game. Sadly, the team was unable to capitalize on their success. Although the team made it to the playoffs in 2020, they were humiliated by the Saints in the Wild Card round. The Bears’ GM and coach openings are of particular interest because there are the bones of a strong team with a possible franchise quarterback on the roster.
The New York Giants relieved General Manager Dave Gettleman of his duties. Gettleman was initially brought in to turn around the franchise and restore it back to glory. Under Gettleman’s tenure, the team hit its nadir and went 19-46 over the last four years. The team has yet to decide on the fate of Joe Judge, but my guess is that he will return to the Giants. Sadly, the Giants need a massive overhaul and I’m not sure that they will fare much better next year.
I should note that the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars relieved Vic Fangio and Urban Meyer of their head coaching duties prior to Monday. The Broncos have a strong, competitive roster but their offensive scheme needs to be rethought. Additionally, the team sorely needs to address its quarterback issues. The Jaguars on the other hand are an attractive spot given that Trevor Lawrence has shown flashes of being a franchise quarterback. Hopefully, we see both teams resolve their coaching issues and take a step forward next season.
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The Other Big Dawg Returns
It may not be his official nickname, but Leonard Fournette is set to return from his stint on injured reserve. Fournette injured his hamstring against the Saints on December 19, but the team didn’t require his services as they handily outclassed their opponents in his absence. Before missing time with injury, Fournette had emerged as a true three-down workhorse. Since the team’s Week 9 bye, Fournette had averaged 13 carries and 7.5 targets per game and had emerged as one of Tom Brady’s trusted options in the short game. The team will be without Chris Godwin (ACL) and Antonio Brown (retired?) for the rest of the playoffs, which means that Fournette could be in for a bigger receiving workload during the playoffs.
The Eagles on the other hand are getting healthier. Jalen Hurts did not play in Week 18 and used the chance to rest his injured ankle. Additionally, the team gets Jordan Howard and Dallas Goedert back from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Although we’re waiting on the status of Miles Sanders, head coach Nick Sirianni sounded hopeful that the star running back might return in time for the Wild Card game. This game is set up to be a fantastic start for the Sunday slate of playoff games.
Tale Of Two Halves For Arizona
It’s hard to imagine this, but the Arizona Cardinals were at one time the hottest team in the NFL. The team started the season with seven straight wins, which included several impressive victories over all of their division rivals. The team appeared to be favorites for the first seed and a first-round bye but appeared to lose it all. The team dropped games to the Lions, Colts, and Seahawks in the final four weeks of the season and go into the playoffs as the 5 seed. It’s still a great achievement for the team that’s making a return to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, but fans are right to be disappointed. The team will be facing the Los Angeles Rams for a third time this season and won at SoFi Stadium (37-20) earlier this year. Los Angeles did return the favor back in mid-December, beating the Cardinals 30-23, so this post-season meeting will be a fun one to track given how familiar the teams are with each other.
I should note that the Cardinals’ lack of consistency on offense coupled with their injuries is cause for concern. Both Cardinals starting running backs are dealing with injuries. Chase Edmonds (ribs, toe) and James Conner (ribs) were instrumental in the team’s early-season victory over the Rams. Edmonds posted 139 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches and Conner posted an 18-50-2 rushing line, which helped the Cardinals secure victory back in Week 4. The Rams might look to replicate their strategy from Week 14 on Monday night. Cooper Kupp (13-123-1 on 15 targets) and Odell Beckham (6-77-1 on seven targets) shredded a strong Cardinals secondary and I’d expect both receivers to see plenty of targets this week. I will be excited to see how the team deploys Cam Akers on Monday as he’s a true wild card for the Rams’ offense.