Posted: Monday January 3, 2011 7:23AM ; Updated: Monday January 3, 2011 5:54PM
Peter King

NFL playoff field, draft order set; coaching carousel begins to spin

Story Highlights

NFL coaching carousel will be affected by Jim Harbaugh decision at Stanford

Top of the draft order is Carolina, Denver, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona

Fine 15, MVP Watch, The Awards Section and 10 Things I Think I Think

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Troy Polamalu and the Steelers crushed the Browns 41-9 Sunday, rolling into the playoffs having won six of their final seven games.

NEW YORK -- On the day Brett Favre said goodbye (again, and this time he won't be coming back), it was such a back-burner story. That's because we realize how good the National Football League is at creating new stories. Maybe that's why we never get sick of the NFL. It's never boring. This is what was created, and the people you have to know now, in the final week of the NFL's 91st season:

• A coach who was living in his car 13 years ago, winning the only NFL game he may ever head-coach.

• A running back who wins the rushing title 20 months after every team in the league passed on him for seven rounds of the 2009 draft.

• A long-snapper who played three quarters with a torn ACL and torn MCL and says, "If my leg wasn't dangling off, I wasn't coming out of the game.''

• A disgraced runner who we were sure would never get a second chance at making a first impression, rushing for 1,000 yards so soon after the sucker punch seen 'round the world.

• The next franchise quarterback, who might be more mature than Tony Dungy.

• The strange story of the first sub-.500 division winner, led by the quarterback Annabelle Hasselbeck confused with her savior.

• And the hot young coach, who is also the household name and former first-round draft choice coaching the future top pick in the draft tonight in the Orange Bowl.

This is when I thought of the circle of NFL life: Watching the early games Sunday at NBC, on a day that could be the last full schedule of pro football for a very long time, FOX on one screen was showing Brett Favre looking very old on the sideline of the Detroit-Minnesota game, and then the games started in earnest, and things started happening, as they do every Sunday.

At 1:04 p.m. ET, Troy Polamalu picks off Colt McCoy in Cleveland.

At 1:05 p.m. ET, Ed Reed picks off Carson Palmer in Baltimore.

At 1:06 p.m. ET: Devin McCourty picks off Chad Henne in Foxboro.

Favre was leaving, and veterans were making plays, and the new great defensive back made one too, as if to say, "When you guys are gone, I'll be taking over.''


Before the men who made Week 17, here's the news:

It's really over this time, I'm told.

Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier told me before the Vikings left Detroit that there won't be any more comebacks for Brett Favre. "We won't see him don another uniform, ever. Anywhere,'' he said. "No doubt in my mind whatsoever.'' Kicker Ryan Longwell, Favre's best friend on the Vikings, told me the same thing. Longwell also said he was sure that Favre would have come back this year, even if he knew the personal and professional messes that would have ensued. "I'm 100 percent sure that's the case,'' said Longwell. "Outsiders who don't know him will look at this year and say he wouldn't have come back, but the life lessons he's learned this year, on and off the field, are about so much more than football. The direction he's going in now in his life, I know he's looking forward to being a full-time husband and dad. He's been at peace all week. He's looking forward to the rest of his life.''

The vague references to lessons learned in the Jenn Sterger case were unavoidable, though no one was talking about it in specifics. I tried to speak with Favre Sunday, but he declined to talk except in a postgame news conference. The most interesting thing he said, I thought, was this: "I can sit here and thank over and over again so many different people, but I'd be remiss if I didn't thank the Green Bay Packers and their fans. It's kind of tough to say that and Vikings fans at the same time but ... it was special, so, you know, such a wonderful experience. Wouldn't change it for anything."

My last word on Favre is lower in this column, and after you read that, you'll be convinced that if he comes back again, he truly is a hopeless knucklehead.


Coaching news, which won't be news in about 12 hours.

The news cycle on this stuff is so here-and-gone, but what I know this morning is this:

San Francisco: As I said on NBC last night, the Niners have targeted Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, and I believe by Wednesday Harbaugh will choose between the University of Michigan and the 49ers; Stanford, I suppose, could get back in the mix if he gets emotional about leaving a place he loves. Logic says Michigan is in the lead, but his brother, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, told me Sunday Jim doesn't know what he'll do. I also said if the Niners are spurned on Harbaugh, I expect them to monitor the Jeff Fisher situation in Tennessee closely, and if Fisher and the Titans divorce, San Francisco will jump in aggressively.

Minnesota: Sounds very much like Frazier will have the job full-time by the end of the day today.

*4:05 p.m. update: Vikings remove interim tag

Dallas: Ditto Jason Garrett.

Cincinnati: Marvin Lewis told me the Bengals need to figure out if they still want him. "I don't know that I've made up my mind about staying, either,'' he said. "Everyone needs a little time.'' I expect a divorce there, but you can never tell what club owner Mike Brown's going to do, because he's so good at keeping his own counsel. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer would be a convenient replacement.

Cleveland: I've heard for a couple of months Mike Holmgren wants his offense run in Cleveland, and the incumbents aren't doing so. The season-ending four-game losing streak will likely do in Eric Mangini, as early as today, and I expect Holmgren to strongly consider Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as the next coach. Holmgren, as a high school head coach 30 years ago, coached quarterback Mornhinweg at a San Jose school. John Fox is also interested, a friend of Holmgren's, and may have the man to coordinate the West Coast offense the way Holmgren wants it in Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. I think Fox could bring McCoy with him.

*10:22 a.m. update: The Browns have fired Mangini.

Carolina: I've thought the profile here is low-cost coordinator (owner Jerry Richardson won't ever pay a coach $6-million a year, which Fox made this year, again), with the preference being a strong defensive guy. Rob Ryan makes sense, and the Panthers should jump to interview Zimmer.

Miami: I thought Tony Sparano would skate through because owner Stephen Ross wanted to give him another year. But then the Dolphins lost to Buffalo and Detroit at home, then no-showed in a 38-7 loss at Foxboro Sunday. Now I think he'll be gone. Who comes in, I have no clue ...

Denver: After hiring John Elway, the Broncos will try to convince Jim Harbaugh to consider their gig. Highly unlikely. I think they want a guy who can coach Tim Tebow ...

Tennessee: As Jay Glazer reported, there's a big meeting today in Houston, where owner Bud Adams will try to figure out if Jeff Fisher and Vince Young can coexist. Common sense says they can't. But Fisher's been there 16 years. He's been to the edge of a cliff with Adams a couple of times before and worked it out. I think there's a chance that'll happen this time too -- and if it doesn't, he'll have a soft landing spot in San Francisco.

Oakland: Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times actually tweeted Saturday that he thought Tom Cable would be out, and Adam Schefter followed that up with a similar report Sunday. Which figures, doesn't it? Just when they've got some momentum (6-0 AFC West record), they think of whacking the Cable guy in favor of the offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson. Jackson, if he doesn't get the Raider job, could be a strong candidate in Denver or Cincinnati too.
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