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The NFL playoffs are coming to cable television.
That’s not such a huge deal now, but when ESPN got “Sunday Night Football” back in the stone ages of 1987, it was big news that the league was putting regular-season games on cable. Kids, cable television wasn’t as widespread as it is today. We were a little more than a couple decades from getting just about any sporting event you want on your phone, mostly because the few cell phones in circulation were the size of shoeboxes. The idea of a playoff game on cable back then? Nonsense.
Well, it took a while but it will happen. ESPN will broadcast a wild-card playoff game in January of 2015, a first for the network even though it has been showing NFL games for more than 25 years. As part of the NFL’s “Monday Night Football” agreement with ESPN it had the option to put a playoff game on the network, and it exercised that option for this season. But why?
It’s possible we’ll understand that answer better when the NFL regular-season schedule is announced. And the additional news that the NFL added a divisional playoff game to NBC’s package probably is related to the ESPN news.
ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” schedule has been famously average or worse through most of its run, with the top game going to NBC and “Sunday Night Football” most weeks. CBS is joining the “Thursday Night Football” game this season. The NFL Network had a Thursday night schedule that was notoriously bad, much worse than ESPN. There was no way the NFL was going to give CBS a half-season of Thursday night games and stick them with ratings killers like Buffalo vs. Jacksonville. CBS was definitely going to get some good games to showcase, and that cuts out another piece of the pie before ESPN got to the table. It also means that NBC’s schedule is likely taking a hit too, which explains why the league gave NBC a divisional playoff game for the first time since it bought the rights to “Sunday Night Football” in 2006. NBC will get a divisional playoff game each season through 2022. NBC will also broadcast a wild-card playoff game this season, as usual. The NFL has to keep all of its television partners happy.
The NFL schedule should come out this week, although the league is once again being very secretive about the exact date. But given that the league hooked up ESPN and NBC with some valuable playoff inventory, the most interesting part of the schedule release will be seeing what those two networks and CBS are getting in the regular season.
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Before the NFL draft on May 8-10, we’ll be looking at all the key prospects and also breaking them down by position. In our “Draft Needs” series we will also examine which teams will be in the market at each position, looking to fill their remaining roster holes.
Dallas Cowboys: Signing Henry Melton from Chicago helps, but he is coming off a season-ending injury last year and if he just replaces Jason Hatcher, who had an unbelievable year before going to the Redskins. And Dallas lost future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware at end. Maybe the team brings back Anthony Spencer, who is still a free agent, but he’s coming off major knee surgery and the fact that he’s still unsigned tells you he’s not going to fix everything. Dallas needs a lot of help, particularly on its horrible defense, and the line is a great place to start. A good inside presence is almost a must at pick No. 16, someone like Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan or Pitt’s Aaron Donald. NEED LEVEL: Extremely high
Chicago Bears: The Bears loaded up at defensive end in free agency, and that was smart. That doesn’t mean the line is set, because there are still holes inside. Henry Melton left to Dallas. Corey Wootton was miscast as a tackle out of necessity, but he’s gone too, to Minnesota. The Bears didn’t sign one natural defensive tackle, so there’s a lot of work to do here. Being able to snag someone like Donald or Jernigan with the 14th pick, two spots before the tackle-needy Cowboys pick, would be a very smart move and accentuate everything they were able to accomplish in free agency. NEED LEVEL: Very high
New England Patriots: The Vince Wilfork issue has been taken care of, but it still showed how tenuous the Patriots’ defensive line situation is. New England always seems to have good, versatile linemen but need an influx of young talent, especially inside, to go with depth guys like Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. It’s probably a good bet they find someone that fits their scheme with the 29th pick, or sometime in the first few rounds. NEED LEVEL: High
New York Giants: The Giants have had a very good offseason, and the next step will be adding to the defensive line. The Giants don’t have that dominant line we remember anymore, then lost end Justin Tuck and tackle Linval Joseph in free agency. Getting defensive end Robert Ayers wasn’t bad, but he’s never been a difference maker. Having the 12th pick should give them a good shot to improve on the defensive line, or perhaps they’ll wait until the second or third round to grab a defensive lineman. But it would be a surprise if they don’t address that position, considering their reputation of having waves of defensive line talent. NEED LEVEL: High
Oakland Raiders: The guys the Raiders added to the line, like Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, are solid players but also older veterans. While it seems the Raiders will use the fifth pick to grab a difference maker on offense, they’ll still have plenty of opportunities to get a tackle or end that can basically be the young up-and-coming star they had with departed Lamarr Houston. NEED LEVEL: Medium
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks still have a fantastic defensive line, but they don’t want that to slip. Losing Clinton McDonald, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons in the offseason hurts the depth on the front. There are other needs (offensive line, receiver) to address as well, but one of Seattle’s biggest advantages is being very strong up front, and drafting someone to help on the line will help ensure it remains a strength. NEED LEVEL: Medium
Other teams in need: Tennessee, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Pittsburgh
NFL Draft Needs series
April 18: Linebacker
April 19: Defensive line
April 20: Offensive line
April 21: Running back
April 22: Receiver/tight end
April 23: Quarterback
April 24: Defensive back
April 25: Running back
More NFL coverage:
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signed in Washington, the $ 24 million he was given over a three-year deal was the main incentive, but he probably could have received a similar deal with another team.When receiver DeSean Jackson
Among his most serious suitors, only the Redskins offered the ability to play the team that cut him twice a year, when Washington faces NFC East rival Philadelphia. The thought of beating Chip Kelly a couple times a season had to cross Jackson’s mind.
Jackson isn’t the first star to go to a division rival. There have been many instances of a
player ending a memorable run with one team, then coming back to play (or coach against) his former team twice a year. Here are a few of the most famous recent examples:
WR Terrell Owens, Eagles to Cowboys: Heck, this isn’t even the first time the Eagles have had this happen with an exiled receiver. Owens left Philadelphia under acrimonious conditions, but the Cowboys didn’t mind. And Owens was very good in Dallas, with three straight 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown seasons … before he wore out his welcome there too.
QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles to Redskins: The Eagles really are used to this. We probably should have known how this would turn out when Philadelphia traded McNabb to the Redskins, the kind of high-profile trade between division rivals that you very rarely see happen. McNabb and Mike Shanahan didn’t get along, and McNabb had a poor season in Washington before he was moved along to Minnesota for one final NFL year.
RB Marcus Allen, Raiders to Chiefs: Allen and Raiders owner Al Davis had one of the all-time feuds, with Davis banishing the future Hall of Famer to the bench (Allen had less than 70 carries in three of his last four Raiders seasons). Allen went to the Chiefs and had five good seasons there, with 44 rushing touchdowns for Kansas City.
Mike Shanahan, Raiders to Broncos; Bill Parcells, Patriots to Jets; Bill Belichick, Jets to Patriots: Sometimes, coaches make the switch. Shanahan was fired by Al Davis and went on to torture the Raiders, going 21-7 against the team that canned him. Parcells left New England after Super Bowl XXXI to go to the rival Jets, and took the Jets to the AFC title game once. Belichick took the opposite route, after spending all of one day as Jets coach, stepping down and then going to the Patriots in a controversial move. New England had to send a first-round pick to the Jets for hiring Belichick, which turned out to be a small price.
WR Irving Fryar, Patriots to Dolphins: The Patriots traded for the former first overall pick to Miami when he was 31 years old. Fryar responded by having more than 3,000 yards in three seasons with Dan Marino throwing him the ball.
DE Julius Peppers, Chicago to Green Bay; DE Jared Allen, Minnesota to Chicago; CB Darrelle Revis, N.Y. Jets to New England: A trio of high-profile defensive players will be going against familiar faces in 2014. Peppers was cut by Chicago, and moved up north to Green Bay. Allen was on the market for a couple weeks before a deal quickly came together to move to Chicago. And while Revis isn’t coming directly from the Jets to the Patriots, Jets fans will still remember him very well despite his one year in Tampa Bay.
LB James Harrison, Steelers to Bengals: Harrison won a defensive player of the year award and a Super Bowl with the Steelers, but Pittsburgh cut him in 2013. Harrison went to the Bengals and although Cincinnati won the AFC North, Harrison had a quiet season with just two sacks. The Bengals cut him, and now Harrison reportedly wants to come back to Pittsburgh.
CB Deion Sanders, Falcons to 49ers: Remember, the Falcons and 49ers used to be NFC West rivals. And Sanders went from Atlanta to San Francisco, had a fistfight with Andre Rison and a pick-six in his return to Atlanta (“This is MY HOUSE!” he exclaimed afterward), and won a defensive player of the year award and Super Bowl in his lone 49ers season.
QB Kurt Warner, Rams to Cardinals: There was a weird season with the Giants in between, but Warner went from a hero and MVP in St. Louis to Arizona, although that move was made with little fanfare at the time. Warner was expected to just mentor Matt Leinart in Arizona, but ended up starting for the Cardinals and taking the team to the Super Bowl. The Rams haven’t approached the level of success they had with Warner.
QB Brett Favre, Packers to Vikings: Even though there was a one-year trip to the Jets in between, this is probably the most famous example of a player orchestrating a move to a division rival out of spite. Favre wasn’t happy he wasn’t welcomed with open arms in Green Bay after un-retiring, and after a year in New York he figured out a way to maneuver to the Vikings. Favre had one great season with the Vikings, including a couple wins against Green Bay, but lost in the NFC title game that season before the wheels came off in Year Two. The Packers ended up just fine too, with a guy named Aaron Rodgers and a Super Bowl championship.
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A custom Nest thermostat version has finally launched in the U.K., The Verge reports, as the Google-owned company has modified the U.S. model to suit the requirements of the local market. Nest has added a new Heat Link component that connects the thermostat to a boiler via a wired or wireless connection. Apparently this particular component delayed the official launch of Nest in the region, although the thermostat has been unofficially available in as many as 120 countries on top of the U.S. and Canada, the only countries where it was released so far.