As we do every week, let's take a swing around the NFL, here's looking at nine stories that caught my attention...
Michael Vick through the yearsTake a look back at Michael Vick's career.
Michael Vick still hasn't passed his concussion tests, with the Eagles trainers saying he has plateaued. As much as people want to discuss it, these aren't football decisions. They are medical decisions, reviewed by the league and if Vick were healthy, he'd be the quarterback of the Eagles. However, he isn't.
As Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder said, "there's no conspiracy."
The results are intriguing for the Eagles. On Sunday, Foles will see action in his fourth consecutive game. It's his third start. The rookie from Arizona has the tools to be an NFL QB, and he has impressed. But he's also been uneven, while having to play without top talents like DeSean Jackson and without a viable offensive line.
Whoever coaches the Eagles next year will know upon taking the job whether or not he has a quarterback to work with. It likely won't be Vick, who is owed $15.5 million in 2013, but only $3 million for the Eagles if they cut him. It's pretty clear the 32-year-old with injury issues would not be worth that.
So the new coach in Philly will know, whenever he takes the job, whether Foles is his guy or not. And that goes a long way in deciding how attractive a job it is. If Foles is their future, it's a really good job. If not, it's not as good.
By the way, Foles is completing 59.6 percent of his passes (59-of-99 passing) for 542 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Another test against the Cowboys.
Speaking of the Cowboys...
If Payton successfully receives a new contract with the Saints, then it would seem incredibly unlikely that the Cowboys would make a coaching change. Remember, they want it very badly to work with Jason Garrett. They invested in him as an offensive coordinator, they believe he's the leader for their franchise, it just hasn't come together yet.
Yes, there are issues with the roster. But Garrett has had too many of his own issues in late-game situations and that's what has frustrated owner Jerry Jones.
One possible answer? Don't be surprised if the Cowboys look to hire an offensive coordinator in the offseason, one to call plays. The Cowboys still consider Garrett (now the play-caller) as a really good offensive mind. Yet it's possible that Jones thinks calling plays and managing the game is too much, which isn't a slight at Garrett.
Most coaches don't call plays. In addition, such a move could refresh an offensive system that has been in place for a while, one that honestly seems a little behind the times.
The Coaching Rumor Mill is Churning Along
It's already December and no NFL coaches have been fired. One general manager has been let go in Carolina, but no coaches.
I'd say that's rare this late in the season. Still, there are some places where the coaching seat is white-hot -- like in Philadelphia and in San Diego.
Anyway, it's all meant the coaching rumor mill is churning along, as always. College jobs are turning over with some NFL-related candidates, with Tennessee trying and failing to hire ESPN's Jon Gruden. And Boston College has reportedly looked at a pair of New Orleans Saints assistants for their opening. But let's talk about two college coaches whose names we will be hearing about more and more.
First, the most under-the-radar college coach generating NFL consideration? Bob Stoops. I'm told that Oklahoma's coach since 1999 -- and the winner of the 2000 BCS championship -- is a person of interest for several teams with possible openings. And for the first time in a while, Stoops seems open to it. Why you ask? In essence, he's plateaued at Oklahoma. He's dominated and won a national title, earned six conference titles and sent a ton of players to the pros. Plus he's headed to yet another BCS game with a 10-2 season. That runs his record at OU to 149-36. Perhaps he wants a new challenge. Don't be shocked if his name comes up in discussion, especially with so many NFL teams going to spread offenses like OU has used for years.
The other person of interest is Bill O'Brien. The Big 10 Coach of the Year put out word of his future in a radio interview with 790 AM "The Zone" in Atlanta, saying, "I plan on being the head football coach at Penn State (in 2013)," which is not the same thing as saying he will be. Turns out, O'Brien is seriously coveted by teams that may have openings. Will he go?
My guess is he won't, thanks in part to a contract that requires a $9.2 million-buyout over four years paid to the school. But would an NFL team in desperate need of winning and with ample funds -- Jacksonville? -- pay that? It's possible. I bet we haven't heard the last of this.
The bottom line is, O'Brien impressed a lot of people with pretty much everything he's done at Penn State. At the least, he'll have a chance to re-up with the Nittany Lions.
"The Most Unkindest Cut of All..."
When we last spoke with Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, he was pretty clear in arguing for a ban or clarification on below-the-knees blocks in the NFL. You know, the kind that left him out for the season with a torn ACL.
And yet, asked by reporters on Friday about it, Cushing backtracked.
He mentioned how cut blocks are a big part of "our offensive scheme" and he said he's "not sure what to feel about that."
Hmmm. Maybe some of his offensive linemen who rely on cut-blocking as part of their jobs, got to him. Maybe. Or maybe, as Cushing mentioned when I talked with him, he's not sure how to police it.
For instance, are front-on cut blocks allowed, with a ban on just blocks that come in from the side?
One issue not likely to get any traction is one raised by other injured players: Why can't the NFL suspend offending players the amount of time the player who is injured misses?
Well, it has been discussed. But there is a slippery slope argument for why it won't likely work. Imagine a scrub is injured with, say, a broken finger on an illegal hit. And he could miss a few games, but would be back. And the person who injured him is a star. If the two teams play again, the team could put the injured player on IR to ensure the star would be out for the season, based on the rule.
A long-shot? Maybe. But teams will take any competitive advantage.
That's why that won't work. But, of course, it's always open to discussion.
Detroit's Big Three
First, they hooked up Megatron with a massive deal that pays him $130 million over eight years. At the time, Lewand called Johnson a "cornerstone" and referred to Stafford and Suh as players who "have got the potential to be that. If those guys are the cornerstone, they're part of that nucleus of your franchise? Then you find a way to invest in your nucleus."
While Lewand was coy talking to reporters this week about the necessity of re-doing Stafford's deal this offseason -- "I wouldn't say anything is a must-do," he said -- I think it's safe to assume that will get done.
Suh is a much bigger issue. The traffic incidents, the on-field displays of questionable judgment, the Lions need to decide whether Suh will be a face of their franchise going forward. Off the field, he can be charismatic and on the field, he's really starting to play well again. He's also had well-publicized problems. But when you guarantee that kind of money he'll be asking for, that's a whole different decision. Is Suh the kind of player they can send into the community? Is he the kind of player and person they can lean on? And if there is a character question -- even just a question -- doesn't that make it less likely the Lions pay him like a superstar?
The team has a lot of salary questions going into this offseason, including Cliff Avril, Louis Delmas and Gosder Cherilus. They also need to wonder whether they really are going in the right direction as a team. They took some chances in the draft recently, and trusted their infrastructure to handle it.
It has not worked. Don't be shocked if Detroit is stricter going forward when it comes to character evaluation in the draft.
But nothing will speak louder than their decision on what to do with Suh going forward. He could change. I was told this week that the NFL has noticed how he has behaved on a play-by-play basis this year, cleaning up his act (before the kick, which may or may not have been intentional). That could continue. My bet is to be extended, Suh will really have to prove he has changed.
The Measuring Stick
The Dolphins have been impressive this year, looking nothing like the rebuilding team we all expected. Or, I should say, I expected.
It's all relative, of course, but I thought they'd be much worse. I figured Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill would struggle, particularly in the face of pressure, but he hasn't. Yet still, they are 5-6, which believe it or not is the second-best record in the AFC East.
Of course, the Patriots are first. And if you look, the Pats are 7-1 in conference games and 4-0 in divisional games. Everyone else is below .500 within the East. I bring this up to say, when you want to measure progress in that division, it must be done in the context of looking toward New England.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was asked this week about playing the Patriots: "It's absolutely going to be a measuring stick of where we are. There's no question about it, as will the game after that and the game after that and the game after that, but there's no doubt it will be a measuring stick, absolutely."
In other words, you can't really measure progress in the East until you are able to beat the Patriots. As has been the case for years.
It's worth remembering when teams like the Dolphins, Bills and Jets rebuild, they will do so with the Patriots in mind. Kinda like the Jets did years back by drafting center Nick Mangold to handle Vince Wilfork. Nothing matters if you can't beat New England.
A Jets Story Not About...
Oh, the Jets...
It seems like every week they find a way to weasel themselves into getting mentioned here. And of course, there's a reason this week. But it has nothing to do with the alleged rib injury of the most famous backup in America, Tim Tebow.
Instead, the focus is on the bizarre and telling comments from Jets offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, who was previously most famous for all-but-guaranteeing tackle Wayne Hunter would be a starter in 2012 (oops). This time, he aired his dirty laundry to the press, telling the AP and others that the directive to rotate guards Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse comes "from high above me."
Asked about Ducasse, he kinda slammed him and said, "he's playing well enough to be an every third-series guy, maybe."
And not just ouch, these comments show a major crack in the way the Jets are being run.
First of all, they are force-feeding Ducasse to the OL coach -- who clearly doesn't want to play him -- which means the Jets are playing for the future, rather than to win now. Otherwise, they'd just play Slauson, who is better. In addition, DeGuglielmo is clearly not on the same page with his bosses. And I guess it's OK to publicly say so.
In most places, declaring how much you disagree with your bosses would be a negative. In Jets land, it only receives a shrug. To which, I'll shrug. Same story every week.
What a mess.
The Ultimate Impact Player
Recently, Yahoo! Sports came out with a story on Ravens LB Ray Lewis, discussing the apparently very real possibility that he'll return before the regular season.
It would be huge for Baltimore, which really needs its leader back. Right? Well... that's a good question. Their first game without him was a disaster, a 30-point loss to the Texans. Since then? Four straight wins with a defense allowing 14.5 points per game.
Things seem to be going well without him. Dilemma? My inclination would be to say that, since Lewis' game really had slipped before his injury, the defense and guys like linebacker Dannell Ellerbe have made up for his absence. But thinking about this deeper, it's clear Lewis means so much more than whatever happens on the field.
Listen to running back Ray Rice, speaking with Showtime's Inside the NFL: "Ray Lewis is my modern day Superman. I've seen the guy battle, battle and battle. ... To know that the guy will step on the football field this season again is amazing. I can't wait to have him back. Just having him back in our building makes me feel good."
That's why, even if the Ravens give Lewis a diminished workload and essentially allow him to play a small role in what may be his last season, I have no doubt the team will feed off it. That's probably more important than what actually happens on the field.
Even when healthy, I believe, Lewis' impact was more on the other players rather than on the game. That will continue after he's healthy.
"Our hearts are wounded..."
I don't have anything meaningful to say about the unbelievably bad situation that happened in Kansas City on Saturday.
Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, according to Kansas City police, took the life of his girlfriend and then his own. He did so after speaking with Chiefs GM Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel at the team facility, walking away when police arrived. As a spokesman said, "then they heard the gunshot."
It is tragic for everyone involved. And yet, the NFL will play on.
The game will be played against the Panthers at noon Central time, a decision made in consultation with the Chiefs' captains. The Redskins played six days after Sean Taylor died, for instance, which led to the indelible 10-men-on-defense tribute.
Unfortunately and fortunately, that's what they do. Players play on. The league goes on. Families, friends do, too.
I could understand the criticism of playing a game so soon after a tragic event. But I think the more relevant response is the galvanizing one. Players bind together. Even with all the difficulties present in Kansas City, nothing has been like this.
I know it's been frustrating for Chiefs fans this year, but the losing feels much less meaningful in a time like this. Players, those in the organization, they will come together. I believe games -- even just as distractions -- can help heal. I also think in these situations, it's important to remember guys aren't just numbers on the field.
In real life, they deal with real situations like this one. While we see them on the field and in locker rooms, there is always a whole other life away from the spotlight. It's the same for teams.
Of all the things that stood out to me today, oddly, it was a Raiders statement that left me thinking. They hate the Chiefs. As bitter rivals as you can imagine. And yet, their statement said, "Our hearts are wounded by such an unimaginable tragedy in our NFL family." I can't say it any better.
When life takes a turn and it all gets very real, everyone is in this together. So much more holds these teams together than sets them apart.
Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.