Time for a look at the top Friday morning headlines from around the division:
Tight end Tony Gonzalez has been saying for months that he’s 95-percent certain he’ll retire after this season. He admitted that figure went up a couple of percentage points after getting the first playoff victory of his career. The implication is that Gonzalez would walk away if the Falcons win the Super Bowl, because he’d get a chance to go out on top. But Gonzalez still is playing at such a high level that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return for another year.
San Francisco’s Aldon Smith had a franchise-record 19.5 sacks this season. But he hasn’t produced a sack in the past four games. Still, the Falcons have to be aware of where he is on every play.
Mayor Kasim Reed continues to show his support for a new stadium for the Falcons.
Joseph Person reports the Panthers will choose their new offensive coordinator from a list of three finalists -- Pat Shurmur, Hue Jackson and Mike Shula. Nothing against Jackson or Shurmur, but I think Shula is the logical choice. He’s been the team’s quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. He knows the system installed by Rob Chudzinski, and he has a close relationship with quarterback Cam Newton.
Erik Spangberg has some details on the proposed deal between the Panthers and the City of Charlotte for funding for renovations for Bank of America Stadium. One thing that jumps out is that part of the deal would require the Panthers to make a commitment to stay in Charlotte for 10 years. But it would take the city 15 years to pay off the $125 million the Panthers are looking for.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Mike Triplett writes that there have been no winners and no losers in the Saints’ bounty scandal. He’s right. The latest, and perhaps final, example of that came Thursday when a federal judge dismissed linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Nobody won there either. Vilma lost his suit, but the judge had some harsh words for Goodell’s handling of the bounty case.
Jeff Duncan has a fine column on former New Orleans player Steve Gleason, who is battling ALS. But Gleason continues to fight to help others with the disease. His latest effort is to open a living facility for those with the disease.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Ira Kaufman has a feature on how cornerback Aqib Talib has fared well since his trade to New England. I know a lot of Tampa Bay fans think it was a mistake to trade away the team’s best cornerback at midseason, and the statistics of Tampa Bay’s pass defense certainly support that argument. But I still think the Bucs made the right move in unloading a player who had given them nothing but trouble and would have walked away as a free agent in March. At least the Bucs got a fourth-round draft pick for Talib.