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Saturday morning one-liners

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Some Dolphins have a problem with Chiefs plays seeking photographs with and autographs from Peyton Manning.

Bills QB Tarvaris Jackson is frustrated he’s not playing but he understands why he’s getting $3 million to stand around on game days; “It’s a cutthroat league and there really isn’t any loyalty, so it wasn’t like it was a big shock or anything like that,” Jackson said of the fact that he quickly fell out of favor in Seattle.

The Patriots’ offensive line has been working pretty well as a work in progress.

Jets QB Tim Tebow, listed as limited in practice all week, had only five practice reps.

Steelers LB Larry Foote was awarded a $1.2 million default judgment against two men who bilked him for more than $400,000 based on bogus valet parking contracts.  (Good luck collecting a dime of it.)

Sunday’s game in San Diego will be a homecoming for Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict, who previously went to games at Qualcomm Stadium to root for the Broncos.

Browns P Reggie Hodges has launched a Twitter campaign aimed at getting K Phil Dawson into the Pro Bowl.

A heckling Ravens fan always gives a pre-game hot dog to Pittsburgh nose tackle Casey Hampton.

New Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains says his adjustment will consist of “trial by fire.”  (As in, if this doesn’t work, everybody is getting fired.)

As he prepares to return to Buffalo seven years after quitting as the team’s head coach, Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey still refuses to talk about why he left.

Keith Wright, a former Texans draft pick, was sentenced to multiple life terms after being convicted of 19 counts arising from a series of home-invasion robberies and a sexual assault.

Colts OL Mike McGlynn is replacing Christmas gifts that thieves stole from a local couple’s van.

Undrafted tackle Mike Harris is making a big impression with the Chargers.

Former Broncos QB Jake Plummer hopes to reconnect with football, possibly in TV, after deciding he had enough several years ago; “It’s everyone’s dream to be famous,” Plummer said, explaining that when using a public restroom “and the guy wants to shake your hand, it’s like, OK.”

Though he hasn’t been playing, Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor thinks he has gotten better; “It’s amazing, the accuracy I have now,” Pryor said.  “I’m able to step into my throws and throw it exactly where I want, and I’ve got to keep getting better at that.”

Chiefs RT Eric Winston went Lou Holtz when discussing this weekend’s opponent, saying that the Panthers are “just as good as a lot of playoff teams right now.”

Anne Gordon, the former Managing Editor and V.P. of the Philadelphia Inquirer, will become the Senior Vice President of Media and Communications with the Eagles.  (Her first order of business should be to make it clear that anyone who pubilcly says “I’ve gotta do a better job” will lose their job.)

Giants DE Osi Umenyiora fully supports a complete ban on cut blocks.

Rookie LB Kyle Wilber will get “anywhere from 12 to 50 snaps” for the Cowboys on Sunday.

NFL jersey buyers are down with RG3.

The Vikings will have no chance at getting to the playoffs if their defense can’t get off the field on third down.

Even if Bears WR Devin Hester (concussion) were able to play, Eric Weems would still be returning kickoffs.

The Packers’ offensive linemen aren’t talking to the media.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz isn’t ready to make DT Nick Fairley a starter over Corey Williams.

Bucs coach Greg Schiano sees second-tier players who are pressed into service as what he wants them to be, not what they are.

Saints WR Marques Colston became the third receiver in franchise history to surpass 7,000 receiving yards.

The Falcons will get four days off before focusing on third-down inefficiencies.

After getting gashed by Eagles rookie RB Bryce Brown on Monday night, the Panthers are worried about what Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles may do to them.

49ers rookie WR A.J. Jenkins and RB LaMichael James don’t know why they haven’t played this year, but they could on Sunday.

Seahawks S Kam Chancellor returns to the scene of his NFL debut on Sunday.

Rams CB Janoris Jenkins tries not to think about what might have been if he hadn’t gotten in trouble in college; “It was just a humbling experience,” Jenkins said.  “I put myself in that situation.  I’ve just got to move on and just focus on now and not what happened in the past, what I could have made and what I’m making now.”

Cardinals S Kerry Rhodes gets his first crack at the team that traded him, coached by a man who wrote that Rhodes “wasn’t one of us.”

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Mike Smith insists he’s not coaching for his job

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For the Falcons, the path to the postseason is clear.  Beat the Saints and the Panthers, and the Falcons are in.

Sure, they’d be 7-9.  But the Falcons would be in.

Lose either or both, and the end result will be 6-10 or 5-11 and no playoffs, for the second straight year.  Many believe that this would spell doom for coach Mike Smith.  That group doesn’t include Smith.

No.  No,” Smith told Albert Breer of NFL Media regarding whether the seventh-year skipper of the Falcons thinks he’s coaching for his job.

That could be a sign of the blindly intense optimism that fuels football coaches.  Or it could be an indication of private guarantees Smith may have received.

Ultimately, the decision will be made by owner Arthur Blank, who’s surely feeling a little humbug-ish with a second straight season of unfulfilled expectations and a new stadium that will now cost $400 million more than previously believed.  Of all the jobs that will or could be opened this year, Atlanta could be the most attractive, given the presence of quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones.

That increases the likelihood of getting a great coach.  But every time the current coach is fired, there’s a chance the next guy won’t be as good.  For Blank, that’s the dilemma; will the next coach truly be an upgrade over the man who took a franchise that previously never had back-to-back winning seasons to five in a row.

None of it matters until the Falcons’ postseason hopes are determined.  Unless Blank has told Smith that he’s definitely safe — and unless Blank actually meant it — it’s impossible to know for sure whether Smith will return for an eighth season in Atlanta.

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Week 17 prime-time playoff play-in game could be elusive this year

Panthers AP

The NFL has yet to flex a 2014 game to the prime-time slot on NBC.  Next week, a flex definitely will happen because the league pre-selects no Sunday night game for the final day of the regular season.

So who will it be?  Ideally, it’ll be a playoff play-in game, with the winner qualifying for the postseason and the loser going home.  For every year since 2010, that’s come via a de facto division championship game.  The first year, the Rams and Seahawks decided the NFC West.  In each of the last three, the Cowboys and a round robin of division rivals determined the NFC East title.

At one point, it appeared that Lions-Packers could be the obvious pick.  But Saturday’s loss by the Eagles gave Detroit a spot in the postseason field, eliminating the win-and-in-lose-and-leave vibe from the Lambeau finale.  Bengals-Steelers also seemed to be a strong candidate for winner-take-all-loser-gets-nothing-and-likes-it, but the Steelers can clinch a playoff berth with a win today, reducing the stakes considerably for Pittsburgh’s Week 17 game against Cincinnati.

A Cowboys loss today keeps the NFC East in play, but Dallas goes to Washington next week.  A partially-relevant game, if played at night, would become completely irrelevant if the Eagles lose to the Giants earlier in the day.

Ultimately, the best chance for a season-ending division title game could come from the NFC South.  If the Falcons beat the Saints and the Panthers beat the now-eliminated Browns today, next week’s game between Atlanta and Carolina would give the winner the playoff berth and the automatic home game — even though the winner would be destined to be under .500.

Other possibilities for playoff play-in games possibly will exist for wild-card berths, but as of right now it’s hard to imagine the dust settling on Week 16 in a way that would have one game that will settle a playoff berth regardless of whatever happens earlier in the day.

The good news is that, regardless of the game that’s played next Sunday night, there probably has never been a Sunday Night Football game with bigger stakes than the game to be played tonight in Arizona.  If the Cardinals win, they’ll secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs — which means that as long as they win, they won’t have to travel.  All the way through the Super Bowl.

If the Cardinals lose, they’ll likely be hitting the road in the wild-card round as the No. 5 seed, starting with a trip to the NFC South champion in two weeks.  At that point, the Seahawks would be a Week 17 home win against the Rams away from winning the division, and possibly securing the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

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Emmanuel Sanders questionable, too

Sanders Getty Images

The big news for the Broncos on Saturday was the placement of the 50-50 “questionable” label on quarterback Peyton Manning, who has a thigh injury.  Lost in the surprise that the not-so-mobile quarterback could be rendered entirely immobile by an injury that shouldn’t have much of an impact of his overall mobility is that one of his favorite targets is listed as questionable, too.

Receiver Emmanuel Sanders didn’t practice on Saturday due to an illness.  Via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, Sanders developed “flu-like symptoms.”

Flu-like symptoms (and/or the actual flu) dehydrated Manning last Sunday at San Diego, contributing to his thigh injury.  For Sanders, the key becomes overcoming the symptoms and getting properly hydrated before Monday night’s game at Cincinnati.

In his first year with the Broncos, Sanders has a career-high 89 catches for 1,261 yards.  That yardage total exceeds his prior best by more than 500 yards.

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Sunday morning one-liners

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The Bills can’t afford a letdown after last week’s win over the Packers.

Dolphins WR Mike Wallace has worked to be more than a deep threat.

LB Jamie Collins is finishing strong for the Patriots again this season.

Sunday could be the final home game for Rex Ryan as Jets coach.

The arrival of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has worked out well for Ravens QB Joe Flacco.

Can the Bengals beat the Broncos in the trenches?

The hope in Cleveland is that the second time is the charm for Browns QB Johnny Manziel.

The Steelers will need C Maurkice Pouncey to play well against Chiefs DT Dontari Poe.

QB Case Keenum has a chance to add to the story of his time with the Texans.

Colts P Pat McAfee has been handing out books to kids during the holiday season.

Have a look at a 20th anniversary Jaguars team.

Titans RB Bishop Sankey hasn’t made a big splash during his rookie season.

Broncos cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib have had a long run as teammates.

Where do the Chiefs have an advantage over the Steelers?

The Raiders aren’t having a hard time finding motivation.

Chargers LB Jarret Johnson explains how the team came back from 21 points down in Saturday’s win.

Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick’s competitiveness is rubbing off on his teammates.

Making the case for the Giants bringing back S Antrel Rolle and DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Eagles TE Zach Ertz had a busy day on Saturday on his way to 15 catches.

CB Bashaud Breeland caught a lot of praise after setting the Redskins up to win with his fourth quarter interception.

Blocking out the drama of the past week will be part of the Bears’ path to a win.

The Lions will kick off on Sunday with their playoff spot assured.

The Packers offensive line is drawing some compliments.

Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater is headed home for Sunday’s game.

Josh Wilson has gone from kick returner to blocker with Devin Hester joining the Falcons.

The Panthers will look to exploit the Browns run defense on Sunday.

Sunday will bring the 200th start of Saints QB Drew Brees’s career.

Can the Buccaneers defenders continue their improved play this weekend?

Said Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, “We’ve always been an underdog. That’s just part of being here and not having long, sustained success. We’ve got to change that.”

Said Rams DE Chris Long of the defense’s streak of 12 quarters without allowing a touchdown, “It’s great to be a part of it. I haven’t been a part of that before. But with the talent we have in this room, and the coaching we have, we really believe anything’s possible. We need to sustain that success and continue to build on it.”

RB Frank Gore had a big night in the 49ers loss.

G Keavon Milton was promoted from the Seahawks practice squad.

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Gruden, Griffin will indeed be back

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When Washington coach Jay Gruden benched quarterback Robert Griffin III more than three weeks ago, the initial impression was that Gruden wanted to bench Griffin for good.  The truth, however, was that Gruden hoped to build Griffin up by tearing him down, ending the coddling and ultimately building a better team around him.

Reports emerging locally from D.C. painted a far different picture, with Gruden wanting to get rid of Griffin.  Coupled with the franchise’s silence on the matter, the issue took on a life of its own, with every word from Gruden scrutinized and, recently, unfairly twisted.

In the aftermath of Saturday’s back-to-the-future-style win over the Eagles, the local reports are dramatically different.  Jason Reid of the Washington Post, who wrote 17 days ago that “Gruden is now done with [Griffin], according to people within the organization,” leads his column with this admission:  “Jay Gruden and Robert Griffin III are expected to return next season.”

Yes, they are.  It’s not a recent development; the organization has been on the same page throughout this process.  The franchise hopes to make Griffin into a franchise quarterback by:  (1) making him better; and (2) putting better players around him in the offseason.

So, despite all the reports suggesting the end was coming for Griffin, the Post finally realizes he’s not going anywhere.  He never was.

“Let’s finish this season out on a high note against Dallas when they come here,” Gruden told reporters after Saturday’s win. “Then after the season we will make all the necessary adjustments. It’s a great opportunity for Robert to reestablish himself as the leader of this football team – hoping he does it.”

There’s nothing to twist in that or anything else Gruden said Saturday.  The team and the coach are sticking with Griffin at least for 2015.

Which means that the only remaining question is whether they pick up his eight-figure option for 2016 by May 3.  If the goal is to support him, they either need to exercise the option or extend his contract.

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Malcolm Jenkins: Eagles have been living on borrowed time with turnovers

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The Eagles’ playoff chances took a crushing blow on Saturday afternoon and one member of the team’s defense said that the issues that helped sink them have been brewing for a while.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins referenced two turnovers on Sunday that led to 10 points for the Redskins, including the interception thrown by Mark Sanchez with 1:36 left in a tie game that led to the winning field goal in a 27-24 Washington win. It’s the 26th time that an Eagles quarterback has turned the ball over and the 35th time that the Eagles have given the ball away overall, a sloppy habit that Jenkins said makes it some surprising that the team has nine wins in the first place.

“The biggest thing for us as a team is we were really counting our days anyway,” Jenkins said, via CSNPhilly.com. “We were negative-nine in the turnover ratio [after 12 games; they are now -8 after a three-game losing streak], so to even get nine wins with that was surprising. So once you hit the month of December where everything rights itself a little bit and teams are fighting for survival, you can’t win with that ratio. So we were really on borrowed time, and that’s starting to show up in these games where we’re playing really good teams and I think we finished even today, but we did a bunch of other things too that you can’t do to win.”

There was plenty of other sloppiness from the Eagles, including 13 penalties and two missed field goals, and another faulty decision to leave cornerback Bradley Fletcher one-on-one against a top wideout from another team. It all added up to a loss the Eagles couldn’t afford but one that Jenkins thinks they should have seen coming.

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Dontrelle Inman makes a timely first impression on offense

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There’s an old saying that NFL players should “act like you’ve been there before” when they make a big play during a game.

Sometimes that’s easier than others, though. Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman caught his first NFL pass on Saturday night against the 49ers, for example, so it was hard for him to know exactly how one would respond later in the game to hauling in a fourth-down catch to move the  chains with little time left on the clock in an attempt to come back from being down 21 points with playoff chances on the line.

Inman’s 17-yard gain helped set up Malcom Floyd’s game-tying touchdown and the Chargers’ eventual win in overtime. After the game, Inman said his secret was to not think about the size of the moment.

“I never once thought about that it was fourth down,” Inman said, via the team’s website. “Antonio [Gates] and I talked about that on the field and we were so in the zone, so ready to win the game that nothing mattered.”

Inman had seven catches for 79 yards overall, production that the Chargers needed with Keenan Allen out of the lineup with a broken collarbone. The team hasn’t ruled Allen out of the regular season finale against the Chiefs, but that seems the likeliest option. Inman will again be one of the choices to step up as the Chargers try to secure a postseason bid and this time he’ll be able to act like he’s been there before.

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DeSean Jackson gets the last laugh against the Eagles

desean AP

DeSean Jackson was sent packing by Philadelphia and landed in Washington this offseason, and so he seemed especially happy that his big game on Saturday dealt a big blow to the Eagles’ playoff hopes.

They going home. Tell them goodnight. Bye bye,” said Jackson, via PhillyMag.com.

Jackson repeatedly burned Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher in coverage, said leaving a cornerback on a receiver who’s beating him is par for the course for the Eagles’ defense.

“They’re very naive and they play how they play. They could care less who is out there or who is at wide receiver, they’re going to play their defense the way they play it,” he said. “That’s the Philadelphia Eagle defense. I’ve been there a lot of years and witnessed a lot of players – wide receivers, tight ends – get off on some huge games on them, and I’m just happy to be on this side and be able to send them home with a loss.”

With 126 receiving yards, Jackson looked like the best player on the field on Sunday. A player the Eagles wish they could have.

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Julian Edelman, Kyle Arrington and LeGarrette Blount ruled out

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The Patriots had a long list of questionable players on Friday’s injury report and they didn’t wait until game time to make decisions on three of them.

The team announced Saturday night that wide receiver Julian Edelman, cornerback Kyle Arrington and running back LeGarrette Blount have all been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Jets.

Edelman was diagnosed with a concussion during the week and his failure to travel to New Jersey indicates that he wasn’t able to gain clearance through the concussion protocol despite being a limited participant in practices during the week. Edelman has 92 catches for 972 yards this season, so they’ll have some catches to spread around to the rest of the receiving corps in Edelman’s absence.

Arrington has been bothered by a hamstring injury that knocked him out of last week’s game against the Dolphins. Arrington had played in 83 straight regular season games for the Patriots. Blount was listed on the injury report with a shoulder injury and his absence could lead to a continuation of Jonas Gray’s return to the lineup after running well against Miami last Sunday.

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AFC playoff picture: Chargers turn up the pressure on wild-card foes

Sean Lissemore AP

Yes, the Chargers surrendered 355 yards rushing to the 49ers on Saturday night. And yes, the Chargers have a few too many injuries for comfort.

Nevertheless, the Chargers’ 38-35 overtime victory at San Francisco keeps them in the thick of the wild-card race. At the moment, they are the No. 7 seed in the AFC, a half-game back of Baltimore and Pittsburgh and a half-game ahead of Kansas City and Buffalo.

Now, the Chargers wait. They are in the clubhouse, visor on table, an iced tea at their fingertips, shirt untucked. They were in some real rough against the Niners, down 21 points on two occasions, but they got it going on the back nine, and they’ve carded a good score.

Yes, their swing isn’t textbook perfect, but these Chargers know how to get up-and-down. Let’s see what the other wild-card contenders do if they get in the deep stuff.

Here’s how the AFC playoff seeding looks after Saturday night. The NFL’s standings and tiebreaking rules were cited. Also, the Week 16 playoff scenarios are herein.

THE BIG SIX

1. New England Patriots (11-3, .786). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC East winner. Seeded ahead of Denver on basis of head-to-head win.

2. Denver Broncos (11-3, .786). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC West winner.

3. Indianapolis Colts (10-4, .714). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC South winner.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1, .679). AFC North leader.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5, .643). Wild card No. 1. Seeded ahead of Baltimore on basis of superior AFC North record (3-2 vs. 2-3).

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-5, .643). Wild card No. 2.

JUST MISSING

7. San Diego Chargers (9-6, .600).

8. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6, .571). Seeded ahead of Bills on basis of head-to-head win.

9. Buffalo Bills (8-6, .571).

10. Houston Texans (7-7, .500). Seeded ahead of Dolphins on basis of better AFC record (6-4 vs. 6-5).

11. Miami Dolphins (7-7, .500).

Note: According to NFL.com, the Browns (7-7) have been officially knocked out of playoff contention with San Diego’s win.

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Chargers’ miraculous comeback keeps playoff hopes alive

frankgore AP

The Chargers are still in it.

After a wild, back-and-forth game that saw the 49ers take a 21-0 lead only to have the Chargers storm back, force overtime and ultimately win 38-35, the Chargers are 9-6 and still right in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

Although a loss to the 49ers tonight wouldn’t have mathematically eliminated the Chargers from playoff contention, it would have made it an extreme long shot. But with this victory, the Chargers are right in the thick of things heading into Week 17.

The 49ers lost despite rushing for a whopping 355 yards — the most rushing yards any losing team has had in an NFL game since at least 1940. It was a tough loss in a game they looked like they were sure to win, and the end of this season is a tough way for Jim Harbaugh to exit San Francisco, as he surely will once this season is over.

San Francisco is out of the playoff race, but San Diego is very much alive. A big win in a great game on Saturday night has the Chargers feeling good about their chances, with one game to go.

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Chargers, 49ers head to overtime

rivers AP

It’s not over yet in San Francisco.

Phil Dawson’s potentially game-winning 60-yard field goal missed at the end of the fourth quarter, and as a result the Chargers and 49ers are heading to overtime.

It’s been a wild, back-and-forth game in which the 49ers jumped out to a 21-0 lead only to have the Chargers storm back and finally tie it 35-35 in the final minute.

Now they’ll have an additional opportunity to settle it.

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90-yard run gives 49ers some breathing room

Kaepernick Getty Images

Just as the Chargers were creeping back into the game, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick delivered a potential knockout blow.

Late in the third quarter and just inside the San Francisco 10, Kaepernick exploded for a 90-yard touchdown run to re-establish the home team’s 14-point lead, 35-21.  The effort came on a pass play, with Kaepernick stepping up in the pocket to his right, seeing a crease, and taking off.

That 14-point lead had just been carved in half by a Kaepernick blunder deep in 49ers territory, losing the ball while trying to avoid a sack.  San Diego recovered in the end zone to cut the margin from 28-14 to 28-21.

The Chargers’ score came one play after an impressive 63-yard catch and run by tight end Vernon Davis was wiped out by a pair of penalties.

There’s still time for the Chargers to come back and win, but the momentum has just swung sharply to the 49ers, not long after it had swung sharply to the 49ers.

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Desperate Eagles become Colts fans

Kelly AP

Looking like a team ready to make its move to the top of the NFC only 23 days ago, the Eagles have chased their 9-3 start with an 0-3 run that has a once-promising season on the brink.

The formula is now as simple as it can be for the Eagles:  Root for the Cowboys to lose the next two, and beat the Giants in New York.  Dallas faces the Colts on Sunday.

“I’ve been a big Andrew Luck fan before, now I’m going to be an even bigger one,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said after the game, via the team’s official website.

Coach Chip Kelly doesn’t seem to be interesting in donning blue and white.

“We have one game left against the New York Giants and we need to win that game,” Kelly told reporters after the loss.  “There are a lot of other things that have to happen besides that and we have no control over those.  The only thing we can do is prepare for the Giants.”

Maybe Kelly has the right idea.  Rooting for the Colts on Sunday becomes rooting for the team that just beat Philly next Sunday, when Washington hosts Dallas.  Which means rooting in part for receiver DeSean Jackson, the guy Kelly no longer wanted after 2013.  The guy who gained 126 yards against the Eagles on Saturday.

“We felt like our corners could stay with him and obviously they didn’t,” Kelly said.

No, they didn’t.  And the Eagles now need help to stay with the Cowboys.

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49ers running wild over Chargers

kaep AP

Every year in the NFL, there’s a late-season game in which a team with nothing to play for beats a team with everything to play for. Today it’s happening twice in one day.

Washington has already beaten Philadelphia, and now San Francisco is dominating San Diego.

The 49ers, who are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, are running all over the Chargers, who are still fighting for a wild-card berth. Just five minutes into the second quarter, the 49ers took a 21-0 lead when Antoine Bethea picked off a Philip Rivers pass and ran it back 49 yards for a touchdown.

Prior to that the 49ers had scored two touchdowns on offense, one on a pass from Colin Kaepernick to Bruce Ellington and one on a 52-yard Frank Gore run. San Francisco is cruising.

The Chargers will either pull off one of the biggest comebacks of the season, or they’ll lose a huge game to a team that’s already out of the playoff race.

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