Welcome to the Thursday edition of the Pick Six newsletter!
The NFL regular season ended on Jan. 8, which means we’ve now gone 18 days without a coach being hired. There are five open coaching jobs and not one has been filled yet. It’s been so long that I’m starting to think that some of these teams are planning to go into 2023 without a coach, which might actually be better than what they had last year.
The only reason I’m bringing up this subject is because it’s starting to look like we could be on the verge of our first hire as the Panthers seem to be down to their final two candidates. We’ll reveal those candidates in today’s newsletter, plus, we’ll take a look at Patrick Mahomes’ right ankle and we’ll be making some bold predictions for the conference title games.
As always, here’s your weekly reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the Pick Six newsletter. To get your friends to sign up, all you have to do is click here and then share this link with them.
1. Today’s show: How healthy is Patrick Mahomes?
For today’s episode of the Pick Six Podcast, Will Brinson did the pod by himself for the first time all season. There was no Ryan Wilson. There was no Brady Quinn. There was no me. We all needed a break from Brinson. I’m not sure if Brinson got lonely or not, but if he did, he didn’t show it. He spent nearly 30 minutes touching on a multitude of NFL topics, including Patrick Mahomes’ ankle.
The Chiefs held their first practice of the week on Wednesday, and not only was Mahomes there, but he held his regularly scheduled press conference (If this had been canceled, that would have been a sign that the injury might be worse than anyone was letting on).
- Mahomes says that he’s “ready to go.” The Chiefs QB sounds happy with where his ankle is at. “It’s doing good,” Mahomes . “I’ve had a few days of treatment, a few days of rehab. I’m excited to go get on the practice field and test it out, see where I’m at. It’s feeling good so far.”
- Video of Mahomes ankle shows no limp. Several astute reporters managed to take a video of Mahomes as he walked down two stairs to leave the podium at his press conference. Mahomes doesn’t appear to be favoring his ankle very much, if at all, in the video, which you can see here. NFL Network also had video of Mahomes jogging at practice and his ankle seems to look fine in that video.
- Mahomes was a full participant in practice. The Chiefs QB was listed as a full participant, which means he took part in practice while having no limitations. Although that’s the case, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s 100% right now. During the lead up to Super Bowl LV, Mahomes was dealing with , and although he was listed as a full participant in practice each day during Super Bowl week, the toe was clearly bothering him during the game. Basically, it’s almost impossible to know how Mahomes is going to look on Sunday until he gets out on the field.
Brinson had two main thoughts about Mahomes being out there. First, by sending him out there, Mahomes’ injury will now be less of a distraction for Kansas City this week. If Mahomes had been limping, every question this week to every coach and every player would have been about the ankle, but with Mahomes looking healthy, that likely won’t be the case.
Brinson also thinks the Chiefs made sure Mahomes was out there on Wednesday as a way to let the Bengals know what they’ll be up against on Sunday.
“I think they wanted to make a showing of this to send a message to the Bengals,” Brinson said. “The Bengals can’t go into this game thinking that Mahomes’ mobility might be limited.”
Although it might have been a message to the Bengals, oddsmakers also got the message. After the video of Mahomes walking at his press conference came out, the point spread for the game dropped by a FULL TWO POINTS. The Bengals were favored by one going into Wednesday, but as of Thursday at noon, the Chiefs are now favored by one at Caesars Sportsbook.
2. Ranking the best possible Super Bowl matchups
With just four teams left in the playoffs, that means there are only four possible Super Bowl matchups that could still happen and since we love ranking things around here, we had Cody Benjamin rank those four matchups based on which one would be the most exciting to watch.
Let’s take a look at his rankings:
1. Chiefs vs. Eagles. “This one has the Andy Reid factor, with K.C.’s coach looking for his second ring against the team with which he built his career. Standing in his way on the opposite sideline: Nick Sirianni, who’d be looking to follow in Doug Pederson’s footsteps as a second-year Super Bowl winner. The last time these two teams met, in 2021, they scored a combined 72 points, and that was before Hurts was an MVP candidate throwing to both A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. If this one comes to fruition, there will almost assuredly be fireworks.”
2. Bengals vs. 49ers. “This one’s for the history buffs — a beautiful clash of old-school franchises featuring new-school talent. Not only would this be a rematch of both Super Bowl XVI (1981) and XXIII (1988), when the Joe Montana-led 49ers beat Cincy both times, but barring injury, it’d likely mean either Joe Burrow, in just his third NFL season, or Brock Purdy, San Francisco’s improbable rookie QB, would go out on top.”
3. Bengals vs. Eagles. “If your chief priority is collective QB swagger, then vault this one to the top. There are perhaps no two signal-callers with more natural, steely charisma than Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts, who each boast championship experience from their prime-time college days at LSU and Alabama, respectively. Cincinnati would be eyeing its first Lombardi Trophy against a franchise that just got its first ring five years ago, while the combined star power at wide receiver — Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins for the Bengals, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith for the Eagles — might be worth the watch alone.”
4. Chiefs vs. 49ers. “We just saw this one in 2019, when Patrick Mahomes won his first ring at age 24. The revenge factor for the 49ers is the driving force here, with Kyle Shanahan surely eager to offset his 31-20 defeat in Super Bowl LIV. But there are plenty of other storylines as well: Purdy’s chance to edge the NFL’s best QB on the biggest stage as ‘Mr. Irrelevant,’ Nick Bosa’s opportunity to disrupt Andy Reid’s offense like the Buccaneers did in the 2020 title game, the Travis Kelce-George Kittle tight end battle.”
If you want know why Cody ranked each game where he did, you.
3. Bold predictions for the AFC and NFC title games
We love making bold predictions around here, and after giving you a few yesterday, we’ve got even more today. With that in mind, we’re going to give you one bold prediction about each team that will be playing on Sunday.
- Bengals bold prediction: Cincy has two 100-yard receivers. This might not seem that bold, but it is when you consider that the Bengals only had ONE game during the 2022 season where they had multiple players hit 100 receiving yards (That came during a 35-17 win over the Falcons in Week 7). They’ve never done it in their postseason history and they’ve only done it twice ever since drafting Joe Burrow (and that includes the Week 7 game against Atlanta).
- Chiefs bold prediction: Mahomes throws zero touchdowns. There wasn’t a single game during the 2022 season where Mahomes finished with zero touchdown passes, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Sunday due to his ankle injury. Mahomes might look fine in practice, but there’s no guarantee his ankle is going to hold up once he’s running around and taking hits. The only upside for the Chiefs here is that it’s definitely still possible for them to win even if Mahomes doesn’t throw a TD pass. The Chiefs have gone 2-1 the last three times Mahomes has finished with zero touchdown passes.
- Eagles bold prediction: Jalen Hurts rushes for at least 150 yards. Only one TEAM has even rushed for 150 yards on the 49ers this year and that was the Falcons, who ran for 168 yards in a 28-14 win over the Niners in Week 6. If this prediction pans out, Hurts will be topping 150 rushing yards by HIMSELF. If he does that, he’d become just the second QB in NFL playoff history to top that number (Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards in a January 2013 playoff win over the Packers).
- 49ers bold prediction: Brock Purdy held under 130 passing yards. Only four rookie quarterbacks — Ben Roethlisberger, Shaun King, Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco — have ever made it to to conference title game and they all melted down. Not only did they collectively go 0-4, but they also combined to throw four touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. The guess here is that Kyle Shanahan is going to create a game plan that takes a lot of pressure off Purdy by running the ball often. If Purdy is held under 130 yards, that’s not the worst thing for the 49ers. Since 2015, there have only been three instances where a playoff QB threw at least 10 passes and was held under 130 passing yards and those quarterbacks went 3-0 (Ryan Tannehill did it twice while Blake Bortles did it once).
If you think these are the worst predictions ever, feel free to let me know on Twitter.
4. 2023 Mock Draft: Three quarterbacks go with the top four picks
If your favorite team is out of the playoffs or didn’t make the playoffs, you’re probably tired of hearing about the playoffs at this point, so right now, we’re not going to talk about the playoffs. Instead, we’ve got a mock draft for you from CBSSports.com draft guru Josh Edwards.
Edwards has a wild mock this week that includes the Panthers trading up for the NO. 1 OVERALL PICK.
With that in mind, here are the top-10 picks in his mock:
1. Panthers (Mock trade with Bears): QB Bryce Young (Alabama)
2. Texans: QB C.J. Stroud (Ohio State)
3. Bears (Mock trade with Panthers): EDGE Will Anderson (Alabama)
4. Colts: QB Will Levis (Kentucky)
5. Seahawks: DL Jalen Carter (Georgia)
6. Lions: DL Miles Murphy (Clemson)
7. Raiders: OT Peter Skoronski (Northwestern)
8. Falcons: EDGE Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech)
9. Seahawks: CB Christian Gonzalez (Oregon)
10. Eagles: CB Cam Smith (South Carolina)
11. Titans: OT Paris Johnson (Ohio State)
12. Texans: DL Bryan Bresee (Clemson)
13. Jets: S Brian Branch (Alabama)
14. Patriots: LB Drew Sanders (Arkansas)
15. Seahawks: QB Anthony Richardson (Florida)
Not only does Edwards have Carolina trading up for Bryce Young, but he also has the Seahawks trading up to land a quarterback with the 15th overall pick. If you want to check out Edwards’ full mock draft,.
5. NFL names Carl Cheffers as Super Bowl referee: Here’s how each team has recently done with him
We don’t know who will be playing in the Super Bowl yet, but we do know who will be officiating it and that’s because the NFL announced Tuesday that Carl Cheffers has been tabbed as the referee for the game. This will mark the third time that Cheffers has been the referee for a Super Bowl
He also did Super Bowl LI (Patriots-Falcons) and Super Bowl LV (Buccaneers-Chiefs). The fact that Cheffers is getting his third Super Bowl gig in six years would seem to say one of two things: Either the NFL thinks he’s way better than every other official or the officiating is lagging and Cheffers is simply one of the top guys left. Neither of those scenarios would be ideal for the league.
One notable thing about Cheffers is that his crew has thrown the most penalty flags in the NFL in each of the past two years, according to NFLpenalties.com, and it seems odd for the NFL to be rewarding that. Penalties slow down the game, and no one wants to watch a Super Bowl bogged down with a bunch of penalty flags. Of course, Cheffers won’t be working with his normal crew, so it’s possible the his penalty number could trend up or down.
Cheffers has been an official in the NFL since 2000 when he was hired as a side judge. In 2008, he was promoted to referee and he’s been doing that ever since. In his 15 seasons as a referee, Cheffers has been on the field for 17 playoff games. Not only has he officiated two Super Bowls, but he was also the ref for Cincinnati’s 27-10 win over the Bills in the divisional round of the playoffs.
With four teams still fighting to get to the Super Bowl, here’s a look at how the Eagles, 49ers, Bengals and Chiefs have fared over the past five years when Cheffers has served as the ref in one of their games (stats via Pro Football Reference.com).
- Eagles: 2-2 (1-0 in 2022)
- 49ers: 4-5 (0-1 in 2022)
- Bengals: 2-3 (2-0 in 2022)
- Chiefs: 9-3 (2-0 in 2022)
According to the NFL, the rest of Cheffers’ crew for the game will be umpire Roy Ellison, down judge Jerod Phillips, field judge John Jenkins, line judge Jeff Bergman, side judge Eugene Hall and back judge Dino Paganelli. Mark Butterworth will serve as the replay official.
6. Rapid-fire roundup: Jets hiring Nathaniel Hackett
It’s been a busy 24 hours in the NFL, and since it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you.
- Jets have a new offensive coordinator. It took more than two weeks, but the Jets have finally hired a new offensive coordinator to replace Mike LaFleur. The that the job will be going to former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett, who was fired after less than one season as head coach in Denver. One interesting twist here is that Hackett was the Packers OC for three seasons (2019-21) and he also has a close relationship with Aaron Rodgers, which means, it wouldn’t be surprising if this is the first step in the Jets’ attempt to make a play for Rodgers this offseason.
- Panthers down to two coaching candidates. By the time you read this newsletter, the Panthers could have a new coach. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones has reported that Carolina is down to two candidates: Frank Reich and Steve Wilks. This seems like it’s going to come down to whether the Panthers would prefer an offensive-mind coach (Reich) or a defensive-minded coach (Wilks). Wilks went 6-6 as Carolina’s interim coach after Matt Rhule .
- Sean Payton might not end up coaching this year. The former Saints coach is interviewing with the Cardinals today, but if that doesn’t work out, there’s no guarantee he’s going to land with any of the teams that initially showed interest in him (Denver, Carolina, Arizona, Houston). According to NFL.com, it’s not looking like “there’s a place for Sean Payton” right now. If he does end up returning, Denver would seem to be his best option while Carolina and Houston seem to have moved on.
- Seahawks hoping to re-sign Geno Smith. After leading Seattle to the playoffs this season, Smith is set to be a free agent in March. However, he might not hit free agency because the Seahawks want him back, according to John Schneider. The Seahawks GM was asked if the team wanted Smith back on Wednesday and his answer was simple. “Yeah. Yeah we do,” Schneider said, via the Seattle Times.
- 49ers defensive tackle will play against Eagles despite arrest. Kyle Shanahan hinted that Charles Omenihu will play this week, despite being arrested Monday on suspicion of domestic violence. “We feel very good letting the legal process take care of itself,” Shanahan said. “Don’t feel we should kick him off our team at this time.” Omenihu is accused of pushing his girlfriend to the ground during an argument (You can ).
- Cowboys dump five assistant coaches. The Cowboys are shaking up their coaching staff. The team has decided to , including: senior defensive assistant George Edwards, running backs coach Skip Peete, offensive line coach Joe Philbin, assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett and assistant head coach Rob Davis.
In other coaching news, the Bills, Jim Salgado, in a move that comes just four days after their playoff loss to the Bengals. We’re not going to list every coaching move here, because it would triple the length of the newsletter, but if you want the latest updates on every coaching and GM interview being held this offseason, then be .