49ers coach Jim Harbaugh hasn't publicly divulged any decision about his starting quarterback for today's game against the Saints, although reports suggest it will be Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith, who missed last Monday night's game against the Bears.
It will be a tricky situation for Harbaugh to manage, especially if he supplants the veteran with Kaepernick, a second-round pick in 2011. Kaepernick looked splendid against the Bears and appears to be the team's quarterback of the future - and possibly the present. But if Harbaugh demotes Smith, there's a chance he'll be available on the trade market in 2013. Smith signed a three-year, $24- million deal in March, but not until after the 49ers had pursued free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning, who signed with Denver.
If Kaepernick gets the No. 1 job, Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in 2004, might want out.
Any team looking for a quarterback no doubt will be interested. And that could include a certain team that wears green-and-white uniforms. With Mark Sanchez continuing to struggle in his fourth season, the Jets might find it worth their while to deal for Smith, who would provide an immediate upgrade at the position.
Arians a head coaching candidate?
When it became apparent that the Steelers wanted to fire longtime offensive coordinator Bruce Arians after last season, Arians did the Steelers a favor and said he'd retire instead.
It was a curious decision by the Steelers, because Arians had been one of Ben Roethlisberger's confidants and was widely regarded as one of the league's most accomplished assistants.
But in one of the most stunning developments you'll ever see with an NFL coach, Arians went from being unwanted by one team to being indispensible with another. He was convinced to come out of retirement by Colts coach Chuck Pagano and become the tutor for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. When Pagano was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia, Arians added interim head coach to his list of responsibilities.
Not only is Luck rapidly developing into one of the league's most gifted passers, but Arians has the Colts at 6-4 and in the thick of the AFC wild-card race heading into today's game against Buffalo. And don't be surprised to see Arians on the short list of teams looking for a new head coach next season.
Replay rules on tap?
Lions coach Jim Schwartz made a huge error in an overtime loss to the Texans on Thanksgiving when he threw a challenge flag to dispute an 81-yard touchdown run by Houston running back Justin Forsett in the third quarter. Because all touchdowns are automatically reviewed, a coach who throws a challenge flag is penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, and there is no replay review as a result.
It seems like an excessive penalty, even though Schwartz admitted afterward that he was wrong for throwing the challenge flag. Moving forward, however, it appears the competition committee most likely will amend the rule -- possibly as soon as this year's playoffs -- to remove the part about the play not being reviewed. Forsett's knee hit the ground at his own 25, but officials did not blow a whistle and thus allowed the play to continue. Because the play could not be reviewed, the touchdown stood.
"I would think you change it to allow the review," said Giants president John Mara, a member of the competition committee.
The NFL rarely changes a rule in the middle of a season, although it's possible the competition committee could agree to change the rule immediately after discussing the subject. However, because the rule already has impacted the Lions and Falcons, who were involved in a similar situation last week, it could be considered unfair to those teams. A change in the playoffs would be easier; the league initially used the modified overtime rules in the 2010-11 playoffs before expanding the use of the rule beginning with the 2012 regular season.
Carson Palmer returns to Cincinnati for the first time since being traded to the Raiders last year. Palmer, the Bengals' No. 1 overall pick in 2003, isn't expecting a warm welcome.
"I expect it to be loud and extremely electric," Palmer said. "I'm not exactly expecting a welcome back."
No, indeed. But the Bengals have moved on quite nicely from the Palmer era. They went to the playoffs with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton last year, and at 5-5, they're in the thick of the AFC wild-card race this season.
It wasn't until Dalton showed last year that he was a capable quarterback that the Bengals decided to trade Palmer, who had refused to report to the team. "It's great to show that they had the confidence in me to do something like that," Dalton said of the trade.