ESPN will present two editions of Sunday NFL Countdown this weekend – a one-hour special on Saturday, Dec. 20 (10 a.m. ET) and the regular three-hour show on Sunday, Dec. 21 (10 a.m.). Chris Berman will host both shows with analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson previewing the weekend’s NFL games. Anchor/host Wendi Nix will handle select segments, while NFL insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter will report the headlines and news each day.
Reporters at game sites:
Eagles at Redskins (Britt McHenry)
Chargers at 49ers (Michele Steele)
Falcons at Saints (Josina Anderson)
Chiefs at Steelers (Sal Paolantonio)
Browns at Panthers (ESPN NFL reporter Jeremy Fowler)
Colts at Cowboys (Ed Werder)
Seahawks at Cardinals (Bob Holtzman)
- Leah Still’s Christmas Wish: As four-year-old Leah Still, the daughter of Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, continues her battle with cancer, Countdown’s Michelle Beisner and crew follow Leah as she writes a letter to Santa and sees her Christmas wish of meeting a Disney Princess come true. In September, Beisner told the story of a father’s bond and love for his ailing daughter. Sunday’s piece will feature Devon and young Leah reflecting on the difficulties of the last four months.
- Dez Bryant Goes and Gets It: Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant has a penchant for making catches with defenders hanging on to and trying to separate him from the ball. How does Bryant make nearly impossible catches look easy? Countdown’s Keyshawn Johnson, a former Cowboys receiver, visits the team’s training facilities for an interview and demo on how Bryant just “goes and gets the football” thrown his way.
- The Fake Andy Reid: At many Kansas City games, the TV cameras seem to find the Chiefs head coach’s doppelgänger Chris Wilhelm, of Leola, Pa., in the crowd. Wilhelm, a die-hard Chiefs fan, began showing up at games dressed as Andy Reid when Reid was the Eagles head coach. This week, as he prepares to show up in Pittsburgh, Countdown documents the transformation of the Chiefs “Fake Coach.”
- Coaching Fashion: Whenever Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan face off in the Patriots-Jets AFC East rivalry, both coaches are often wearing their signature sideline apparel. Belichick in his sweatshirt vs. Ryan in his sweater vest. Reporter Greg Garber examines the evolution of NFL coaches and their not-so chic sideline attire.
- Josh Vietti Live: Critically-acclaimed hip-hop violinist Josh Vietti, whose riff of the classic “In Da Club” is featured on Countdown’s weekly “The Journey” tease, will join the crew live in studio.
- EA Virtual Tabletop: Hall of Famer Cris Carter will debut Countdown’s new EA Virtual Tabletop technology in an Xs and Os segment previewing Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch vs. the Arizona Cardinals defense.
Monday Night Football Regular-Season Finale: Battle of AFC Division Leaders – Peyton Manning and Broncos vs. Andy Dalton and Bengals
Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals, atop the AFC North, play host to Peyton Manning and the AFC West division champion Denver Broncos on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, December 22 at 8:15 p.m. The MNF booth team of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden (who recently agreed to an extension with ESPN through 2021) will call the game from Paul Brown Stadium with sideline reporter Lisa Salters. MNF is available in Spanish on ESPN Deportes and via WatchESPN (for fans with video subscriptions from affiliated providers).
For Denver, this week’s MNF game extends the NFL’s longest current streak of consecutive seasons playing at least one game on MNF. The Broncos have played 23 straight seasons (1992-present) on Monday night.
Suzy Kolber will anchor MNF’s pregame show Monday Night Countdown at 6 p.m. on ESPN. She will be joined by on-site NFL analysts Trent Dilfer, Ray Lewis and Steve Young and the Bristol, Conn.,-based studio crew of host Chris Berman, NFL analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson and Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter.
Monday Night Countdown features:
- Peyton Manning Conversation with Mike Tirico: Quarterback Peyton Manning sits for a one-on-one conversation with Mike Tirico as he leads the 11-3 Broncos, who have already qualified for the playoffs – Manning’s 14th playoff appearance.
- Andy Dalton Conversation with Lisa Salters: A win Monday night would clinch the Bengals’ fourth straight playoff appearance since quarterback Andy Dalton arrived in Cincinnati four years ago. MNF sideline reporter Lisa Salters sits with Dalton to discuss his years with the team.
- Gruden’s Grill Session with Aqib Talib: Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden sits with Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib.
- Rick Reilly’s Feature – Rich Goins: During a Broncos losing streak in 1990, the team’s radio broadcaster Rich Goins pledged to live atop a billboard until Denver won another game. Goins worked, ate and slept on the billboard for 33 days until the Broncos won a game. Rick Reilly tells the story of Goins’ stunt.
NFL Matchup: Calvin Johnson’s Touchdown, Johnny Manziel, Ravens Blitz Concepts and More
NFL Matchup host Sal Paolantonio and analysts Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge preview the weekend’s key matchups via a film-room Xs and Os analysis on Saturday, Dec. 20, at 8:30 a.m. on ESPN2 (re-airs on ESPN, Sunday at 5:30 a.m.). Highlights:
- Hoge Breakdown – Calvin Johnson’s Touchdown: In a rematch against the Bears, Hoge shows how the Lions will design route combinations that will beat the coverage in the Chicago secondary.
- QB Corner – Johnny Manziel: Jaworski describes the two interceptions thrown by Johnny Manziel in his first NFL start last Sunday and explains how the Browns quarterback must improve his decision making.
- Blitz Breakdown – Ravens Blitz Concepts: Against inexperienced quarterbacks, Jaworski predicts the Ravens will bring blitzes to confuse the Texans’ offense and force poor decisions from either Case Keenum or Thad Lewis.
- Coach’s Clicker- Le’Veon Bell Touchdowns: Hoge shows a staple play in the Steelers run game, which has produced two touchdowns by running back Le’Veon Bell in the past two weeks.
- Factor Back – Joseph Randle Runs against the Seahawks: With DeMarco Murray’s status uncertain, Hoge points out that backup Cowboys running back Joseph Randle is a capable replacement, evidenced by his performance against the Seahawks in week 6.
- Inside the Matchup – Seahawks Pass Rush: In their previous meeting against the Cardinals, the Seahawks utilized Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril on the same side as speed rushers, a matchup Hoge cautions could spell trouble for the Cardinals.
- Between the Lines – Peyton Manning Connects with Emmanuel Sanders: Jaworski explains that the Bengals must have an answer for Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders when they blitz and play man coverage, a situation Manning exploited against the Chargers.
- Jaws Playbook – Saints Passing Game Adjustments: Jaworski examines the brilliance of the Saints no-huddle passing attack on display in a game against the Lions in week 7, when a subtle route adjustment led to a touchdown by receiver Kenny Stills.
NFL on ESPN Radio: Crucial AFC Battle on Sunday
ESPN Radio will broadcast a crucial AFC matchup as Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) visit Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) on Sunday, Dec. 21. Coverage starts at noon with Marc Kestecher, analyst Bill Polian and reporter Ian Fitzsimmons from Heinz Field. Both Kansas City and Pittsburgh are in playoff contention, with Pittsburgh contending for the top spot in the AFC North.
ESPN.com “Hot Read” on Quarterbacking in a Pass-Happy Era
In this week’s “Hot Read,” NFL Nation’s Kevin Seifert features a statistical analysis of how quarterbacks like Saints Drew Brees and his contemporaries are obliterating the numerical feats of past signal-callers such as Johnny Unitas and his peers. Other highlight:
- Who Deserves the MVP Award?: A roundtable of ESPN.com NFL Nation experts debate.
- New England’s Unique Offense: ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss gets experts and former Patriots players to discuss what makes head coach Bill Belichick’s offense effective at changing his game plan weekly to take advantage of its opponent’s defensive flaws.