Mawae weighs in on Super Bowl QBs

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae was prodded about his thoughts on how Super Bowl XLIV quarterbacks Peyton Manning, who already has one Super Bowl championship with the Colts, and the Saints’ Drew Brees would be viewed should his team win.

On Manning: “He’s definitely one of the elite quarterbacks in this league, not at this time but in history. He’s done things with that team that a lot of quarterbacks could only imagine doing. Anytime you get two Super Bowl wins that puts you up at the top and gives you serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.”

On Brees: “He took the Saints to the Super Bowl. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame already. Anytime you take a team and you carry a team to the Super Bowl, it speaks volumes to you as a quarterback and you as a leader.”

McNabb expects Westbrook, Vick to return

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said he expects running back Brian Westbrook and quarterback Michael Vick to return to the Eagles next season.

“He looks forward to getting back,” McNabb said of Westbrook following the NFC’s Pro Bowl practice Wednesday. “All the talk people are saying on retirement or whatever it may be, it’s all false.”

When asked if he thinks Vick will be back for a second season, McNabb simply said, “Yes.”

Westbrook’s future came into question after concussions caused him to miss seven games this season. Westbrook, 30, finished with 274 yards on 61 carries and was spelled or replaced by rookie LeSean McCoy, who had 637 yards on 155 carries.

Vick signed a two-year deal to be McNabb’s backup last season but speculation is that his option won’t be picked up or he will be traded, especially since Vick has expressed a desire to be a starting quarterback next season.

It’s like Mardi Gras has come early in New Orleans

A fan displays a sign before for the NFC title game. (Steve Wyche / NFL.com)

NEW ORLEANS — It’s truly hard to capture everything that’s been said and written about the atmosphere here at the Superdome leading up to today’s NFC Championship Game between the Saints and Vikings.

We just got a full dose, though.

My NFL Network colleague, Kara Henderson, our producer, Ed O’Brien, and I just walked eight blocks from the Superdome to our hotel after doing the “NFL GameDay Morning” show. And I swear, you would think Mardi Gras has already started.

Thousands of Saints jersey-clad revelers cooked, sang, ate — ahem, and drank — like this was the greatest day in the city’s history. We were routinely stopped because NFL Network and NFL.com is big in the NOLA.

There were people carrying Brett Favre voodoo dolls and a guy with a sign out of a tailgate welcoming folks to Favre’s retirement party. It is about 4 degrees south of mayhem here and heading north quickly!

Nolan’s jump from Denver to Miami clarified

With speculation surrounding why Mike Nolan decided to leave the Broncos for a lateral move to become the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, here’s some clarity from what I’ve learned after speaking to sources close to the situation:

  • There is no acrimony between Nolan and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. The Dolphins sent the Broncos a written request to interview Nolan. McDaniels approached Nolan with the request and, in a nutshell, asked him if he’d rather be in Miami or Denver. Nolan said he would like to interview with the Dolphins. McDaniels then granted Nolan permission and wished him well.
  • The Broncos have allowed their assistants to interview for jobs with other teams this offseason, taking the position that if a coach has an opportunity for a promotion, it wouldn’t stand in the way. That it did the same for Nolan to make a lateral move was somewhat interesting.
  • Possibly factoring into Nolan’s decision, his contract with the Broncos supposedly was set to expire after next season, as will a lot of the team’s assistant coaches’ deals. With the possibility of a work stoppage, Nolan foresaw being able to negotiate a contract that would pay him through a lockout with the Dolphins, should the NFL and the NFL Players Association not be able to finalize a labor deal before the 2011 season.
  • With a deal coming together so quickly with the Dolphins –- one day after Nolan split from Denver –- parameters of a deal had to have been in place before or shortly after he left the Broncos.

Vikings DE Edwards expected to play vs. Saints

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings DE Ray Edwards, who had three of his team’s six sacks in Sunday’s 34-3 divisional-playoff blowout of the Cowboys, should be good to start in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints.

Edwards sustained a mildly sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee, according to a source with knowledge of the diagnosis. Edwards could miss some practice time, but he will be OK come game time Sunday, the source said.

Phillips, Turner to coach in Pro Bowl

Dallas’ Wade Phillips, San Diego’s Norv Turner and their staffs will be the coaches for the NFC and AFC, respectively, in the Pro Bowl. Since the Pro Bowl is being played Jan. 31, a week before the Super Bowl, the process for selecting coaches changed to where the team with the best regular-season record to lose in the divisional round would have its staff coach the Pro Bowl.

Dallas, which was knocked out of the postseason by Minnesota, won the NFC East with an 11-5 record. The Chargers built a 13-3 record en route to winning the AFC West.

Barber appears likely to start for Cowboys

MINNEAPOLIS — All indications are that Cowboys RB Marion Barber will start against the Vikings on Sunday despite a problematic knee injury that’s limiting his range of motion.

A Cowboys source said Barber will be pulled from the NFC divisional playoff game if he doesn’t look well, leaving Tashard Choice and Felix Jones to do the heavy lifting, as they did in last week’s wild-card victory over the Eagles.

Barber is suffering from a swollen bursa sac in which fluid has built up. The pain from the swelling has subsided, but Barber can’t fully bend his knee. The Cowboys are reluctant to drain the fluid because there are no guarantees that the swelling won’t re-occur and there is the potential for infection as well, the source said.

UPDATE: Barber is active. Inactive for the Cowboys are Stephen McGee (No. 3 QB), Cletis Gordon, Mike Hamlin, Jason Williams, Montrae Holland, Duke Preston, Pat McQuistan and Curtis Johnson. Inactive for the Vikings are Sage Rosenfels (No. 3 QB), Jaymar Johnson, Karl Paymah, Garrett Mills, Jeremy Leman, John Cooper, Jayme Mitchell and Letroy Guion.

Bengals retain defensive coordinator Zimmer

Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has signed a three-year contract to remain with the team, a source with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday.

Zimmer’s retention — his contract was set to expire — is considered a huge deal for a team that won the AFC North this season, largely on the strength of its defense.

Zimmer, who just completed his second season with Cincinnati, was reported to have been targeted for the defensive coordinator job in Washington under new coach Mike Shanahan. Zimmer also figured to have other suitors based on the job he has done in turning around the Bengals’ defense.

However, Zimmer’s relationship with coach Marvin Lewis, his affinity for several of his players and ownership’s commitment were factors in his decision to stay with the Bengals.

UPDATE: The Bengals officially announced the deal later Tuesday and released a statement in which Zimmer said: “I love working with Marvin (Lewis). He’s a great coach who does a terrific job, and he has been like family to me through all the ordeal our family has gone through (Zimmer’s wife, Vikki, died on Oct. 8). And I really respect the group of players we have. They have worked exceptionally hard, and I know they join me in knowing we have to keep improving as we move forward.”

Packers’ Moss could be candidate in Oakland

If the Raiders fire coach Tom Cable, they could strongly consider Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss as a replacement, a source close to the situation said.

Moss, who coaches Green Bay’s inside linebackers, interviewed with Oakland for the head-coaching job last offseason and is on its short list of potential candidates should the job become available.

With the Packers’ season finished following Sunday’s wild-card loss in Arizona, Moss is now free to interview with the team’s permission.

Bengals will look to retain Zimmer

The Cincinnati Bengals will open contract talks with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer next week in an effort to retain him. Zimmer’s contract is set to expire and a source with knowledge of the situation said the Bengals want to try to persuade the sought-after coach from taking a job elsewhere.

According to a source, the Washington Redskins are interested in hiring Zimmer to join new coach Mike Shanahan‘s staff as defensive coordinator. If it becomes a bidding war, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has shown the willingness to pay what is needed. The Bengals tend not to spend excessively.

Zimmer is revered in Cincinnati for building the defense into one of the better units in the NFL in his two seasons there. He has received much of the credit for the Bengals’ ascension to AFC North champions and for their playoff berth this season. He also is close with head coach Marvin Lewis.

That does not mean he would not leave for a better opportunity.

Zimmer, a longtime assistant in Dallas and former defensive coordinator with the Falcons, remains a head coaching candidate, but that option might not present itself because of the limited number of vacancies and possible openings this offseason.

Seahawks will interview Frazier on Saturday

Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will interview for the vacant Seattle head coaching job with Seahawks’ officials Saturday in Minneapolis, a source with knowledge of the meeting said.

Though Seattle is also pursuing USC coach Pete Carroll to fill to position that became available when Jim Mora was fired, Frazier also has been targeted. Frazier also would allow Seattle to satisfy the Rooney Rule, in which teams have to interview at least one minority candidate for the job.

Frazier interviewed for the Bills’ head-coaching vacancy Thursday and reviews, according to the source, were positive. Frazier has been granted permission from the Vikings to explore opportunities. Minnesota has a bye this week before playing host to a playoff game next weekend.

Seahawks fire Mora, plan to interview Frazier

The Seattle Seahawks have fired coach Jim Mora and have already arranged to interview Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, according to sources with knowledge of the developments.

Mora, who inherited a 4-12 team, spent just one season as coach after being promoted as a defensive assistant in 2009. Seattle was decimated by injuries and inconsistency and finished 5-11.

It was Mora’s second head coaching job, having led the Atlanta Falcons to a 26-22 record from 2004-2006.

Frazier, meanwhile, has been contacted by and will interview with the Seahawks in the near future. Frazier recently interviewed for the Buffalo Bills’ head coaching vacancy.

Jones behind Cowboys’ Phillips … for now

ARLINGTON, Texas. — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave several votes of confidence to coach Wade Phillips after Dallas defeated Philadelphia 24-0 on Sunday to clinch the NFC East title. However, Jones has not picked up the option for the fourth year on Phillips’ contract, suggesting the coach has to prove something in the playoffs to retain his job.

Phillips’ three-year deal expires at the end of this season and Jones said he thinks he is getting the most out of Phillips during his “lame-duck” status. Jones said the paperwork is in place for the team to exercise Phillips’ option but he declined to say what the motivation would be to finalize anything.

“I really don’t know how you can sit here and make a change with the winningest percentage coach that we’ve ever had in the history of the Cowboys,” Jones said. “I’m being a little Wade Phillips over here, but the facts are that it’s always been about our uptick. It’s always been about our edge and we know that ultimately there’s a swoon if you miss out at a game in the playoffs and go home. At this particular time, he’s looking good.”

Cowher has contacted potential assistant coaches

Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher looks closer to returning to the NFL.

Cowher and/or a representative of his has contacted prospective assistant coaches, according to a league source with knowledge of the queries.

The source didn’t know what team or teams Cowher could be involved with, but NFL Network’s Jason LaCanfora said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reached out to the coach either directly or through his representation.

Cowher, who coached the Steelers for 15 seasons, currently works as a studio analyst for CBS Sports.

Unbeaten Saints are dialed in

METAIRIE, La. — I have spent another day with the Saints and — as many times as I have been here this season, witness to matchups against the Jets, Giants and Patriots — this is the most dialed in I’ve seen this team.

Although I don’t cover this team on a daily beat, I’ve been here enough to gauge these players and the temperature in this locker room. Now, whether this translates into a dominant performance Saturday against the Cowboys, we’ll see, but I wouldn’t doubt it. In their games against playoff-caliber teams — Miami, both New York teams, Philadelphia and the Patriots — the Saints have averaged 40.8 points with a margin of victory of 18.8 points.

The brighter the lights, the bigger the stage, the more amped up this team gets. Here’s another thing — unlike the Colts — the Saints are trying to get to 16-0. Player after player said they are going to try to sway coach Sean Payton to let them go for it should they beat Dallas. Quarterback Drew Brees — I have told the beat writers here how fortunate they are to get to cover such an honest star, although my envy probably doesn’t mean much and I’m sure I’m not telling them they don’t already know  — said today that this is a once and a lifetime chance.

And with this team, what Brees says usually goes. He’s the ultimate leader.

I’ve got to roll back to the ATL, but I’ll be back in Who Dat country this weekend to cover the game on the NFL.com/LIVE online extra. Stay tuned.

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