Thursday's NFL Blog: P.M. Update

January 4th, 2006 P.M. Update ... media alert for a Cowher press conference ... playoff picks ... some interesting free agents to consider for your team ... playoff matchup analysis ... Eli talks to the media ... Art Shell appears to be out, Bill Parcells may step down ... and more!

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P.M. UPDATE

Pick 'em:  Jim Poore at our Patriots site is back with his weekly picks. Picking straight up this season, Jim posted a respectable 159-97 record. Take a look at who he likes in this weekend's Wild Card Playoffs.

Who ARE those guys?  It's one of the most memorable lines from the classic movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And there are three relatively unknown Seattle defensive backs that hope that Dallas wide receivers Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn will be muttering that phrase repeatedly in the huddle on Saturday night when the Cowboys square off against the Seahawks. Both of Seattle's starting cornerbacks and their dime back are out, so Doug Farrar at our Seattle site introduces you one-by-one to the three men who will be stepping into their shoes. Check it out in this Scout.com subscribers feature.

Paparazzi alert!  The Steelers have announced to the media that Bill Cowher will hold a press conference on Friday at 1 p.m. (ET).  Wonder what that could be about.....hmmmmm. Maybe they can get Nick Saban to drop by to hold the microphone for Cowher. And then, just to throw a big-time scare into the Steelers' faithful, maybe they should have former Cardinals head coach Denny Green stand in the background wearing a Steelers polo shirt with a big grin on his face. Okay, you know I hate to be the spoiler, but ESPN.com tonight is reporting that Cowher's assistants were told Thursday that he was going to officially announce his retirement. I know, big surprise, right?

Broncos DT Michael Myers (Harry How)
Free agents: Our Broncos site is reporting that the team only has two key free agents that will be unrestricted this year. Starters Cooper Carlisle (OG) and run-plugging DT Michael Myers should draw some interest from other teams. Take a look at what Denver's likely to do this offseason and what their greatest position needs are in this article for Scout.com subscribers.

Usually stout, but...  Dan Leberfeld at our Jets site points out that New England usually boasts a strong run defense -- but not as of late. Take a look at the stats and his analysis in this feature as you get ready for the Wild Card Weekend matchups.

Quotable: "It should be a hostile crowd and it should be a great atmosphere for a football game."  -- Giants quarterback Eli Manning on playing in Philadelphia this Sunday. Check out the highlights from his press conference at our Giants site. And then when you're done, you can check out what head coach Tom Coughlin had to say at his press conference.

Lining 'em up: Green Bay's offensive coordinator left the team to take over the head coach job at Boston College, so Todd Korth at our Packers site shares his insight on who the likely candidates are for interviews in Green Bay. Scout.com subscribers can check out this article to see if anyone from your favorite team might get swiped to fill the job.

Shell shocked: Looks like there's going to be another head coach spot available according to a report Thursday evening at ESPN.com. They're reporting that Art Shell met with owner Al Davis on Thursday, and while they're not certain if Shell stepped down or was fired, a team source claims that Shell will tell his assistants at 2 p.m. on Friday that he's leaving the team.

Top gun: After all the fuss about defensive end Mario Williams being the top overall draft pick in Houston back in April, isn't it ironic that the team's second-round pick, LB DeMeco Ryans won the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award? We've got the highlights from his press conference at our Texans site.

Plug the middle:  Rick Snider at our Redskins site believes the greatest need for Washington this offseason is a defensive tackle. And he thinks the team needs to draft one, not buy one during the upcoming free agency period. Find out why in this Scout.com subscribers feature and learn which college prospects he thinks would be a good fit.

Dallas WR Terrell Owens (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Anybody want to come coach T.O.?  Our Cowboys site is reporting that head coach Bill Parcells is mulling over retirement. Maybe he's trying to keep up with Nick Saban and Bill Cowher. Or maybe he figures pocketing an estimated $20 million over the last four years is enough for putting up with Jerry Jones and more recently, Terrell Owens. Find out what he's saying in this article.

Keep-away game:  Chiefs head coach Herman Miller told the Indy media that his team will need to play "keep-away" from the Colts offense this Saturday by running the ball and controlling the clock to be successful. "They're 8-0 at home. You're not going to get in a shootout battle and win the game," he said.  Scout.com subscribers can check out the highlights from his NFL Conference Call at our Colts site.

Today's Birthday Bunch: Jets DE Dave Ball (26), 49ers OT Patrick Estes (24), Colts DE Dwight Freeney (29), Broncos RB Garrison Hearst (36), Chargers TE Brandon Manumaleuna (27), Patriots CB Ray Mickens (34), Patriots P Todd Sauerbrun (34), Chiefs DE Jimmy Wilkerson (26), Lions WR Mike Williams (23).

You're out! Our 49ers site has the scoop on San Francisco handing defensive coordinator Billy Davis his walking papers this week. The 49ers finished 26th in total defense this season while allowing an NFL-worst 412 points. "It might be unfair to suggest Davis was in over his head at this point of his career, but he definitely didn't play a strong enough hand with the cards he was dealt as - by most outward appearances - Nolan had taken over almost total control of running the defense by season's end," says SFI Editor-in-Chief Craig Massei.  Scout.com subscribers can read the entire story here.


EARLY EDITION

Quotable:  "When you are playing a rival - you have seen how the last couple of games have gone. It has gone right down to the end. There is nothing easy about this. It's a dog fight. That's what we expect it to be on Sunday; so no less."  -- Eagles head coach Andy Reid during his NFL conference call. Scout.com subscribers can read the transcript of his comments to the New York media as well as those of quarterback Jeff Garcia.

Stepping up:  With Seattle's secondary severely banged up, linebacker Lofa Tatupu knows the front seven will have to take some pressure off of their defensive teammates in the backfield. "The more the front seven takes over and has a good game, the easier it is for them back there," he said. "We get pressure on the quarterback, or just on our four man front, not even blitzing, we have seen the effects that can have." Click here to read the entire story.

Back with the Pack?
  No, it's not another Brett Favre story. Our Green Bay site provides you with some great analysis on six other veterans and what their future looks like. Scout.com subscribers can see in this article how likely it is that players like RB Ahman Green, WR Robert Ferguson and LB Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila will be hitting the open market and playing elsewhere in 2007.

Did you know?  Since leaving the Raiders and winning the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Jon Gruden is 27-37 and have posted three losing seasons in the past four years. This year's 4-12 was the team's worst since 1991.

49ers CB Walt Harris closes in on Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
He's back: 33 year-old cornerback Walt Harris lost his job in Indy, wasn't quite a standout in the mix in Washington, but emerged this season with the 49ers as one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Our San Francisco site has named him "Niner of the Week" for his performance that helped knock the Broncos out of the playoffs. Check out this feature that outlines his return to the spotlight in his 11th NFL season.

Need a head coach?
  Brad Keller at our Cardinals site provides this insight on former Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman, evaluating the pros and cons that he brings to the position. It's a good read for the fans of any team that could be taking a look at Sherman as a candidate for their head coach vacancy.  Keller then provides his evaluation of Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who's sure to draw some interest from multiple teams as well. Rivera's article is a feature for Scout.com subscribers.

Right back where they started: The great debate for the Texans heading into this year's draft will be the same as last year. Houston has the eighth pick overall in the draft and has two big needs on opposite sides of the ball. Despite the addition of top overall pick Mario Williams last year, the team could use their top pick again this year for defensive line help since rushing the passer is still a weakness. But they also need a true playmaker on the offensive side of the ball. The decision of which way they go will likely be heavily influenced by who's been taken off the board with the first seven picks.

Colts QB Peyton Manning (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Patience could pay off: Nick Athan from our Chiefs site handled five key questions from our Colts site in this Behind Enemy Lines feature for Scout.com subscribers, and shared some great insight on Kansas City's quarterback situation, Ty Law, and the Chiefs' biggest weakness -- their lack of aggression in putting pressure on the quarterback. But he expects the Chiefs to change that strategy and provide some help to their front four on Saturday in hopes of forcing Peyton Manning to make some mistakes. "The Colts should expect the Chiefs to blitz often on Saturday, and if Manning has the patience he should find receivers open in the middle of the zone," says.  "The Chiefs are not as quick to the ball in the secondary and that has allowed team to gain 10-15 yards with little resistance. However, if Manning constantly goes for the homerun there is enough talent in the secondary to bridge that distance and pick off some errant passes." Get the rest of his insider's perspective on this playoff matchup by clicking the link above.

Key change for the Giants: John Altavilla at our Giants site provides his insight on how Tom Coughlin's decision to have Kevin Gilbride call the plays for the offense instead of John Hufnagel has impacted the team heading into the playoffs. In that article, Giants running back Tiki Barber says, "He took input from us on Saturday night, particular with the running game. If I saw something I'd tell him and he'd eventually come back to the play or adjust it in a way we needed for it to be productive. And that was an integral part of the victory for us." Scout.com subscribers can read the entire article here.

More Saban reaction: Our Dolphins site has the reaction of Miami assistants Dom Capers and Mike Mularkey regarding head coach Nick Saban's departure in this press conference transcript.  Capers was asked if he was interested in the vacant position. "I think that anybody in this business, when opportunities present themselves, you certainly want to look at them, but those decisions are for other people to make," he said. "Right now, my job is to carry on here with the defensive staff doing our evaluations. We're in an evaluation period. It will continue on business as usual for us."

Staying put: 
The 49ers' biggest name who will have unrestricted free agent status is defensive lineman Bryant Young. But don't look for him to be active in visiting other teams this offseason. The 49ers want him back and Young has said he'll either return to San Francisco or will retire.

The latest on Cowher:
Our Steelers site is reporting that Bill Cowher's decision about his future in Pittsburgh is expected to be announced on Monday. And Scout.com subscribers can find out the latest scoop on his decision here.

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