All signs point to Vermeil's exit

A loss Saturday would likely put a stamp on Dick Vermeil's tenure in K.C., John Clayton writes as he previews Week 16's top games.

Updated: December 23, 2005, 3:48 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Editor's note: ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton's weekly "First and 10" column takes you around the league, with a look at the best game of the week, followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 16.

First … San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs | Scouting report
For the Kansas City Chiefs, Saturday's game against the Chargers is more than a game. It could end a short era.

The Dick Vermeil portion of the Chiefs' history could be coming to an end. He's 69, but his mind and body are young. Vermeil wants to give Lamar Hunt and team president and close friend Carl Peterson a trip to the Super Bowl. Although Vermeil hasn't made a decision, it's unlikely he will return if he can't get this team into the playoffs.

As he's finding, the AFC road to the Super Bowl is much together than the road he took through the NFC with the Rams in 1999. The AFC has more established and elite quarterbacks. During Vermeil's time in Kansas City, the Patriots emerged as a three-time Super Bowl champion that was going to be hard for anyone to stop. Ask the Colts, who tried and failed. Now, it could be the Colts' time.

Dick Vermeil
Barring a drastic turn of events, Vermeil will probably head into retirement after the season.
Vermeil loves pro football and the game loves him. So does his team. Hunt, Peterson and the players would love to see Vermeil return. But Vermeil is a realist. The team is getting old. Despite having three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line, Vermeil experienced how tough it is for Willie Roaf and others to bounce back from injuries. As he said during the preseason, if he can't get this team to the Super Bowl, he might move aside for a younger person.

At 8-6, the Chiefs are in a tough spot, and even a victory over the Chargers might not help. The late-season schedule has been brutal for the Chiefs, who have faced nothing but playoff teams. The good news for Vermeil is they finish the season with two home games: Saturday against the Chargers and next week against the Bengals. The problem is, even if the Chiefs win those two games, their wild-card bid is all but over if San Diego beats the Broncos next week. The Chargers would get the spot based on the common opponent tiebreaker. The Chiefs would need the Jaguars and Steelers to collapse in the last two weeks.

The Chargers also are scrambling. Everyone acknowledges this might be one of the most talented teams to ever miss the playoffs, and the Chargers don't want that distinction. Their schedule has been brutal. If the Dolphins finish with a winning record, the Chargers would end up facing 11 teams with winning records. If the Jaguars win out and finish 12-4 and the Steelers beat two teams with losing records -- Cleveland and Detroit -- the Chargers could become the first 11-win team in 20 years to miss the playoffs.

As with most top AFC West matchups, the home team usually prevails. The Chargers manhandled the Chiefs at home in October in a game that wasn't as close as the final score, 28-20. And the Chargers snapped a seven-game losing streak in Arrowhead by pulling out a 34-31 victory last season, giving them a three-game overall winning streak against K.C.

Vermeil has been consistent. He doesn't lose December games in Arrowhead. Even including last year's loss to San Diego, the Chiefs have outscored the Chargers 232-107 in the past eight games in Arrowhead.

This game figures to be high scoring. Both teams have potent offenses. Both teams are desperate and will try anything to win. Both teams are creative and well coached. It should be a classic.

And 10. Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Scouting report

Running Back
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
Att Yds Avg. Lng TD
237 947 4.0 71 5
The Bucs still may be reeling from their 28-0 washout Saturday in New England, but if that's the case, how do the Falcons feel? They've lost four of the past six. Their passing game has been inconsistent, even though Michael Vick made the Pro Bowl. Their young defensive front seven has been inconsistent stopping the run and stopping the short pass. The Falcons started showing signs of problems around the time the Bucs came into the Georgia Dome and beat the Falcons 30-27 in Week 11. The Bucs match up well against the Falcons, one of the crazy nuances of the NFC South. Jon Gruden is 6-2 against the Falcons. The key for the Falcons is stopping Cadillac Williams, who rushed for 116 yards in their last meeting, a game won on Matt Bryant's 45-yard field goal with 42 seconds left. Gruden has done a remarkable job with the Bucs. He built more protection into the offense to allow young quarterback Chris Simms to be effective. He's found ways to cover for a bad offensive line. He's given Joey Galloway the freedom to make big plays. But Jim Mora is a good coach, too. He's got to stop the bleeding, and his Falcons play hard. A loss would virtually eliminate their shot at the playoffs, so he won't hold anything back as far as strategy.

9. New York Giants at Washington Redskins | Scouting report
The Redskins have come out of nowhere to be in position to get the last wild-card spot. That's remarkable. Early in the season, the Redskins looked like the little engine that could. Gregg Williams did his expected magic with the defense, but Joe Gibbs did nice things with the offense too. He kept in extra blockers to protect Mark Brunell, and he often sent only one or two receivers into pass routes. With time, Brunell worked his offense well, but the offense hit the wall in October and lost three games. Gibbs and the Redskins caught their second breath. They've won their last three, and suddenly, they control the final wild-card spot if they can win their final two games. They have a lot of bad memories from their 36-0 loss in Giants Stadium on Oct. 30. Since then, the Giants have showed signs of strain. Eli Manning has had his problems with accuracy on short passes when defenders get around his feet. That's exactly what the Redskins will try to do. Manning has relied more on Tiki Barber to carry the offense, and he has responded with his best season. Manning is dangerous, though, and Gibbs knows it. He has weapons on offense and he has Barber. Catching the Giants for the NFC East title might be a reach. The Giants should beat the Raiders next Saturday and clinch the division if they lose this game. The Redskins, for their own sake, want to make them work to win the division because it's not out of the question these two teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs.

8. Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks | Scouting report
What was thought to be the marquee matchup of December turns into a game that's a little more like a preseason contest. The Colts have home field in the AFC. The Seahawks need just one win to clinch home field in the NFC. The Colts' loss to the Chargers changed the interest in this game. Had the Colts come into the Seattle game unbeaten, it might have been more interesting. Now, the Colts will rest their players. They could be without five or six injured defensive starters, including Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Corey Simon, Cato June and Bob Sanders. Right tackle Ryan Diem is going to rest his injured medial collateral ligament until the playoffs. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison aren't expected to play the entire game. The Seahawks will go all-out to win this game. They want to finish a perfect 8-0 at home and parlay that into two potential home games in the playoffs. They have been tough to beat at home, even though they looked beatable in games against the Giants and Cowboys. It's an interesting matchup of two potent offenses. The Colts run the no-huddle. The Seahawks run Mike Holmgren's pure version of the West Coast offense. Both offenses have been tough to stop and the confidence for both is high. Call this a preseason-like version of a potential Super Bowl preview.

7. Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers | Scouting report
The Cowboys aren't a happy lot. They weren't happy some of their top players -- Drew Bledsoe, Jason Witten and others -- were snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting. They also aren't happy because Bill Parcells isn't happy. Parcells shouldn't be happy. The Cowboys are fading and fading fast. Their offensive line made too many mistakes in an embarrassing loss to the Redskins last week. The Cowboys have now lost three of four and don't look like a playoff team. Parcells can't get the stunts going with the young defensive front seven to stop the run. The running game has been spotty. The problems at tackle have been so pronounced that Bledsoe is a easy target for sacks and pressure. The Panthers know they have a good chance to win the NFC South if they can get this win. They are 10-4 with a one-game lead over the Bucs. They know their key is getting a 100-yard game out of halfback DeShaun Foster. Their worry is Parcells. He's proven to be one of the most dangerous coaches in desperate times. He will go for it on fourth downs. He may try more reverses and trick plays.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns | Scouting report

Running Back
Pittsburgh Steelers

Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
Att Yds Avg. Lng TD
93 303 3.3 39 5
Romeo Crennel understands rivalries. He's seen so many good ones in his years with Parcells and his most recent stint with Bill Belichick in New England. The Browns and Steelers have a long history, but he knows it's hard to call this a big rivalry until his Browns beat the Steelers. It's hard to be a rivalry when the series is one-sided. The Steelers have won four straight over the Browns and Bill Cowher is 18-5 against the Browns. That's not the formula for a great rivalry. Crennel knows he can get the rivalry restarted by winning Saturday. A Browns win would ruin the Steelers' playoff chances. The Browns lost their first meeting in Pittsburgh 34-21. Cowher figures to use more of a running game because of the potential cold weather. That could mean a little more of Jerome Bettis than Willie Parker, who will still start. Hines Ward had one of his best games of the season against the Browns, so Crennel must find a way to stop him. One difference for the Browns is quarterback Charlie Frye. The Akron rookie has a pretty good command of the huddle and he's fearless. This could be a pretty good audition for him for future games against the Steelers, if he's the starting quarterback in years ahead.

5. Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals | Scouting report
The Bengals have a new focus. Now that they have won the AFC North, they have to keep winning to jump ahead of the Broncos for the AFC's No. 2 seed and a playoff bye. The Bills are a nice team for them to play. They are looking awful these days. The defense is playing with no confidence. The offense is inconsistent. Mike Mularkey is staying with Kelly Holcomb at quarterback, which is probably his best shot. J.P. Losman is banged up, and he could get picked five times going against the Bengals' defense. The problem for the Bills will be on defense. The Bengals have been unstoppable of late. What will be interesting to see is how much they use the no-huddle. Now that they have clinched the division, they don't have to use their best game plans. They may try to go more basic with their offense and just pull out the victory. With the division in hand, they can't afford to get players hurt. The Broncos hold the tiebreaker over Cincy, so if the Broncos win their last two, the Bengals will have to play in the first round of the playoffs. Mularkey is still fighting to keep his job as head coach, although at some point reality may set in with owner Ralph Wilson. Two years isn't a lot of time to evaluate a head coach. Plus, firing a coach costs lots of money because he still gets paid after he's gone.

4. Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos | Scouting report
This game should be fun for Mike Shanahan, who has no love for Raiders boss Al Davis. The Raiders have lost four in a row and look almost anemic. Kerry Collins is running a shell of a passing game, and during the past three games, the Raiders have scored only 27 points. Collins is the starter, but his blocking has been shaky, and now his running game may be nonexistent. Halfback LaMont Jordan has a turf toe injury and is doubtful. With Randy Moss being more of a clear-out receiver, Collins won't have much of an offense to work with. Shanahan is still bitter Al Davis didn't pay him hundreds of thousands of guaranteed dollars owed to him when he was fired. He's made the Raiders pay in loses. Shanahan is 16-5 and he beat the Raiders in November 31-17. To Shanahan, this is a nice Christmas present.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans | Scouting report
Talk about playing down to their competition. The Jaguars are playing the easiest closing schedule in recent memory and are barely winning. During a three-game road swing, they beat Tennessee, Arizona and Cleveland by a combined 20 points. Of course, it's a rare accomplishment to win three in a row on the road, so there can't be too much criticism. But last week, they beat the woeful 49ers 9-7 at home. The Jaguars conclude against the Texans and Titans, teams with a combined record of 6-22. The Steelers want the Jags to win and finish 12-4, because a three-way tie between the Jags, Steelers and Chargers at 11-5 would wipe the Steelers out of the playoffs. Jack Del Rio doesn't want to keep stumbling because he has to start preparing for a potential playoff trip to New England. Worrisome for Del Rio has been the offense. Fred Taylor isn't on the roll and backup quarterback David Garrard is not generating many points. If the Jaguars keep playing close games against bad teams, one of these days they may lose.

2. Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers | Scouting report
Poor Brett Favre. He's waiting to see about his future because he needs some assurance the Packers will get some players to make it reasonable to come back and play another season. Favre doesn't want to go through another season in which he's starved for talent. If there is no assurance, Favre will probably retire. But the last thing Favre wants to face is the Bears' defense, which has five starters on the Pro Bowl and and two alternates in defensive ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye. With the problems the Packers have on their offensive line, it may not be a bad time to step aside and let Aaron Rodgers do some work in the second half. Of course, how long will Lovie Smith keep in his defensive starters? The Bears need to win this game -- all starters have to stay on the field until the game is decided. If the Bears can get up by a couple of touchdowns, maybe they can rest a few starters. Still, this is an interesting game because it will be Rex Grossman's first start and it will be on the road. The Packers still have pride, and the Bears' offense isn't built to score 30 points in many games unless there are a lot of turnovers.

1. Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens | Scouting report
Brad Johnson took a pounding last week against the Steelers, and the Ravens' defense can be equally painful. The Vikings aren't giving up on their playoff hopes. They know they have a chance at a wild card and perhaps the NFC North title if the Packers help them. The problem is the wait. They have to wait all Christmas day before the Bears determine their fate. This is a night game for the Vikings. They will know going into the game whether they are playing for the division or a wild card. A Packers victory over the Bears would give the Vikings a chance to win the NFC North next week in Minneapolis. Lost in all of the excitement of the Vikings' 6-1 finish is how well the defense has come together under defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. They are pretty sturdy against the run and solid against the pass. Ravens QB Kyle Boller might not have a fun day. Kevin and Pat Williams form a tough running obstacle at defensive tackle. Erasmus James is a dangerous pass rusher.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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