Reggie Roberts: It appears that several of the NFL’s divisional races will come down to the final weekend of the season. Do you think former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle is somewhere smiling at what’s going on in the League these days?
Judy Battista: Ha! Yes, Rozelle knew what he was doing. Even in the NFC East — which has been basically lousy all season — the division title could come down to the final game between Dallas and Philadelphia. There are a few divisions that I never thought would still be wide open this late — the NFC North, I figured, would be owned by the Lions after Cutler and Rodgers went down, and I figured the Saints would have locked up the South by now, and it looked like the Bengals had a very comfortable lead in the AFC North before Baltimore came storming back.
RR: Who are the best two teams in football and who will represent the AFC and NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands on February 2, 2014?
JB: My preseason Super Bowl pick was Seattle and Denver. That still looks pretty good, especially the Seattle half of it. They are clearly the best team in the NFC — very balanced on offense and with a great defense, and they are unbeatable at home. The AFC is tougher. I would have said Denver for most of the year, but their defense is starting to give me doubts, as is Wes Welker's health. I might have said New England after they beat the Broncos, but now that Rob Gronkowski is out for the year, I think they're going to struggle to score touchdowns, the way they did against the Dolphins. I guess right now I'd say the Broncos are the best team but I'd add this: I would not want to play Baltimore if they get in to the post-season. They are a tough, resilient, well-coached team. And they seem to elevate their play at this time of the year.
RR: What are your predictions about the off-season changes involving both of the teams that are in your backyard — the New York Jets and the New York Giants?
JB: I am almost certain that Tom Coughlin will return to the Giants unless he has a change of heart and wants to retire, which I can't imagine him doing after a year like this. I do wonder if he will have to make changes to his staff, though. The Giants' failures, though, seem more to do with personnel than coaching -- this is, after all, essentially the same staff that won Super Bowls. But they have a poor offensive line, no running game, and the Hakeem Nicks situation is just weird. I think the roster will undergo a pretty significant shakeup.
As for the Jets, I honestly don't know what is going to happen. The new general manager John Idzik has kept his feelings very close to the vest. There is no reason to doubt them when Idzik and Rex say they have a really good working relationship, but this is three years in a row without a playoff appearance and they don't seem to be making any progress. It would be natural for a new general manager to want his own man in the job. But Rex Ryan has probably gotten more out of an absolutely bare roster than almost anybody could -- talk about a roster that will be overhauled. The Jets need help pretty much everywhere but on the defensive line and kicker. Idzik will be very busy, even if he retains Rex.
RR: Who is your NFL Coach of the Year?
JB: A few weeks ago, this was an absolute slam dunk for Andy Reid in Kansas City. And taking a two win team and making them a playoff team is remarkable. But how about how Joe Philbin has steered the Dolphins through a locker room crisis and league investigation over Richie Incognito's behavior and gotten them going late in the season? If they make the playoffs, it might be hard to ignore that. Or Bruce Arians salvaging Carson Palmer in Arizona and putting them in the mix? Or Ron Rivera — who looked to be on his way to the chopping block — in Carolina. This is as wide open as this race has been in a few years.
RR: And finally, do you anticipate the NFL’s coaching carousel to be in full swing at the conclusion of the 2013 regular season?
JB: Yeah. Black Monday is the most depressing day of the season, and this could be a really busy one. Just a quick accounting in my head and you can come up with at least six spots that could be open — and possibly more. And there is always one surprise firing nobody saw coming.