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Saban Front-Runner for Dolphins Job

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page D04

All indications continue to point to Louisiana State Coach Nick Saban getting the Miami Dolphins' head coaching job, perhaps this week.

Interim coach Jim Bates interviewed for the job yesterday. He became the third candidate known to have interviewed for the job, following Saban and former Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell. Bates's interview came on the heels of Monday night's 29-28 upset of the New England Patriots at Pro Player Stadium.


LSU Coach Nick Saban likely would receive $4 million per season if he moved to Miami. Interim coach Jim Bates and former Raiders coach Art Shell also have been interviewed. (Dave Martin -- AP)


____ NFL Playoff Picture ____
NFC
Already In
Eagles (13-2)*
Falcons (11-4)
Packers (9-6)
Seahawks (8-7)

* Clinched home field.

The Other Two Spots
Vikings (8-7)
Rams (7-8)
Panthers (7-8)
Saints (7-8)
The Vikings make the playoffs with a Rams loss or tie; or a victory against the Redskins.
The Rams win the NFC West with a win and a Seattle loss.
If the Rams lose, the winner of the Panthers-Saints game gets a playoff spot.

AFC
Already In
Steelers (14-1)*
Patriots (13-2)
Colts (12-3)
Chargers (11-4)

* Clinched home field.

The Other Two Spots
Jets (10-5)
Broncos (9-6)
Bills (9-6)
Ravens (8-7)
Jaguars (8-7)
The Jets and Broncos earn playoff berths with victories. The other teams need victories and some help.

_____  Week 16 Results _____
Sunday
Dallas 13, Washington 10
Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 7
N.O. 26, Atlanta 13
Houston 21, Jacksonville 0
Indiana. 34, San Diego 31 (OT)
Detroit 19, Chicago 13
Cincinnati 23, N.Y. Giants 22
New England 23, N.Y. Jets 7
Buffalo 41, San Francisco 9
Carolina 37, Tampa Bay 20
Seattle 24, Arizona 21
Miami 10, Cleveland 7

Monday
St. Louis 20, Philadelphia 7

Saturday
Kansas City 31, Oakland 30
Denver 37, Tennessee 16

Friday
Green Bay 34, Minnesota 31

What's Your Opinion?
Who's going to win this week?

Two-Minute Drill
Stars and stats from Week 16

_____ Pro Bowl Vote _____
Which player made the Pro Bowl based on past accomplishments and name recognition?
Champ Bailey - Broncos
Ahman Green - Packers
John Lynch - Broncos
Chris McAlister - Ravens
Michael Vick - Falcons

  View results

Note: This is an unscientific survey of washingtonpost.com readers.

_____NFL Basics_____
Scoreboard
Standings
Statistics
Team index
NFL Section
_____Mark Maske's NFL Insider_____
2004 NFL Payrolls (washingtonpost.com, Jan 28, 2005)
Patriots Get Bang for Their Buck (washingtonpost.com, Jan 28, 2005)
League's Best Coordinators to Face Off (washingtonpost.com, Jan 27, 2005)

Shell interviewed Monday, satisfying the league's requirement that at least one minority candidate be interviewed. Still, it appears that Saban remains the front-runner and he seems to be leaning strongly toward accepting the job. He likely would sign a contract worth about $4 million per season and assume total control over the Dolphins' football operations.

He might keep Bates, with whom he coached in Cleveland, as his defensive coordinator. And there have been rumblings that he might bring aboard a former Houston Oilers coaching cohort, Floyd Reese, in the front office. Reese is the general manager of the Tennessee Titans but apparently has had his differences with Coach Jeff Fisher.

Steelers on Brink of Top Seed in AFC

The Patriots' loss in Miami all but wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who, at 13-1, have one more victory than New England. It's essentially a two-game lead with two games to play because the Steelers hold the tiebreaker advantage, based on their win over the Patriots at Heinz Field on Halloween. The Steelers close the regular season with a pair of tough games, at home against the Baltimore Ravens and at Buffalo, but must win only one to be the AFC's top seed.

The Patriots suddenly have some work to do to ensure a first-round bye. They're only a game ahead of the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers, each of whom is 11-3. The Patriots have a rugged game Sunday against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium before closing the regular season at home against San Francisco. . . .

By accepting Notre Dame's head coaching job but staying on as the Patriots' offensive coordinator for the remainder of the season, Charlie Weis set himself up as the potential scapegoat if the team fails to win its third Super Bowl in four years. The scrutiny on Weis is sure to intensify this week, after he split his attention between the two jobs last week, then watched quarterback Tom Brady throw four interceptions Monday night, including two in the final two minutes. The Patriots squandered an 11-point lead with less than four minutes to play, and Brady's gaffes played a major role.

But, in truth, the biggest breakdowns have come on the defense overseen by Coach Bill Belichick and coordinator Romeo Crennel. In the two games since Weis was hired by Notre Dame, the Patriots have scored 63 points and given up 57. . . .

The Titans held off the Atlanta Falcons and other interested teams to re-sign backup quarterback Billy Volek when he was a free agent last offseason, and they're happy they did. With Steve McNair shut down for the season because of his recurring sternum injury, Volek is proving to be the real deal.

Volek has started the last three games and has completed 90 of 138 passes for 1,187 yards and 11 touchdowns over that eye-catching span, with three interceptions. Tennessee, alas, is 0-3 in those games. Volek has topped 425 passing yards in each of the past two games, getting 492 yards in Sunday's 40-for-60, four-touchdown, one-interception outing in a 40-35 defeat at Oakland.

Volek is showing that he can be a capable starter after McNair's tenure in Tennessee ends. Although McNair had talked about retiring in the offseason, he had recently indicated that he'd like to play next season. The decision was made Friday to end his 2004 season early and have him undergo surgery to try to strengthen his sternum with a bone graft.

Wide receiver Drew Bennett is Volek's favorite target, with eight touchdown receptions in the last three games. In the past two games, Bennett has 25 catches for 393 yards and five touchdowns. . . .

The Kansas City Chiefs have become the first team in NFL history to have three running backs rush for at least 150 yards in a game in the same season. Second-year pro Larry Johnson joined the group during last Sunday's triumph over Denver by running for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Priest Holmes and Derrick Blaylock previously had 150-plus-yard games for Kansas City this season. With Holmes on the shelf because of a knee injury, Johnson has topped 100 rushing yards in each of the last three games after clashing with Coach Dick Vermeil earlier in the season about his lack of playing time. The former first-round draft pick could be trade bait in the offseason if the Chiefs are convinced that Holmes will be healthy next season.

Eagles Coping Without Owens

With wide receiver Terrell Owens sidelined until at least Super Bowl Sunday by his severe ankle sprain that will require surgery today, the Eagles will have to lean heavily on quarterback Donovan McNabb, tailback Brian Westbrook and their defense to get where they want to go.


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