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AFC playoff teams set, NFC still coming into focus


We know who all six AFC playoff teams are, and we have a pretty good idea of their playoff order. Week 17 isn’t meaningless in the AFC — home-field advantage is still up for grabs — but it won’t feature any dramatic changes in the way the AFC playoffs look.

The NFC is another matter. Nine teams remain alive for the six playoff spots, and although the Falcons have already clinched home-field advantage, everything else is jumbled.

Below we provide the state of the playoff race, through Week 16:


1. Texans (12-3): Houston clinches home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over the Colts, or if both the Broncos and the Patriots lose.

2. Broncos (12-3): Denver clinches home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over the Chiefs and a Texans loss to the Colts. The Broncos will be the No. 2 seed and have a first-round playoff bye with if they beat the Chiefs and the Texans beat the Colts.

3. Patriots (11-4): New England clinches home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over the Dolphins, plus both the Texans and the Broncos losing. New England can also earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye with a win over the Dolphins and either the Texans or the Broncos losing.

4. Ravens (10-5): Baltimore has clinched the AFC North and cannot get a first-round playoff bye. The Ravens will be the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs unless they beat the Bengals and the Patriots lose to the Dolphins, in which case the Ravens would be the No. 3 and the Patriots would be the No. 4.

5. Colts (10-5): Indianapolis will definitely be the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs regardless of what happens next week. The Colts will most likely play at Baltimore in the wild card round.

6. Bengals (9-6): Cincinnati will definitely be the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs regardless of what happens next week. The Bengals will most likely play at New England in the wild card round.


1. Falcons (13-2): Atlanta has clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

2. Packers (11-4): Green Bay earns the No. 2 seed with a win over the Vikings in Week 17, or a San Francisco loss. If the Packers lose and the 49ers win in Week 17, Green Bay will be the No. 3 seed.

3. 49ers (10-4-1): The 49ers will be the No. 2 seed if they win in Week 17 and the Packers lose, the No. 3 seed if they win and the Packers win, the No. 3 seed if they lose and the Seahawks lose, and the No. 5 seed if they lose and the Seahawks win.

4. Redskins (9-6): The winner of the Week 17 Cowboys-Redskins game wins the NFC East and will be the No. 4 seed. If the Redskins lose to the Cowboys they can still be a wild card team if they end up in a three-way tie at 9-7 with the Vikings and Bears.

5. Seahawks (9-5): Seattle has clinched a playoff berth and at least the No. 5 seed. Seattle would need to win in Week 17 while San Francisco loses to win the NFC West and move up to the No. 3 seed.

6. Vikings (9-6): Minnesota clinches a wild card with a Week 17 win over Green Bay. The Vikings also earn a wild card if the Giants, Cowboys and Bears all lose.

In the mix: The 8-7 Cowboys clinch the NFC East if they beat the Redskins in Week 17. The 9-6 Bears clinch a wild card if they beat the Lions and the Packers beat the Vikings in Week 17. The 8-7 Giants get a wild card if they beat the Eagles while the Vikings, Bears and Cowboys all lose.

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Rob Ninkovich: Every team has the Patriots circled on their schedule

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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said he and his teammates don’t give anyone any bulletin board material, because their mere presence on the schedule is all that’s needed on the next opponent’s bulletin board.

Ninkovich said on PFT Live that he thinks every team in the NFL looks ahead to facing the Patriots, which means they’re never going to get a team on an off day.

“The Patriots — our logo is bulletin board material. Anyone that’s playing the Patriots, they have us circled on their schedule,” Ninkovich said. “So every week we’re getting everyone’s best shot.”

One player who hasn’t made any secret of the fact that he already has those games against the Patriots circled on his schedule is Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, who said this offseason that he’s expecting to sweep the Patriots this year.

“We’ll see what happens when we play,” Ninkovich said.

That’s about as much of a bulletin-board comment as a Patriot will make.

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John Mara gushes about OBJ, loses all leverage in the process

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Giants co-owner John Mara has handed a proverbial blank check to receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

As Beckham closes in on his second NFL contract (and possibly stayed away from offseason workouts in an effort to make it clear that he wants one), Mara has offered an assessment of Beckham that will serve only to add zeros to his next deal.

“Listen, he’s as exciting a player as we have had on this team in my lifetime, and he brings a lot of energy, a lot of big plays to us,” Mara told Steve Serby of the New York Post. “And when you cut through everything else, he actually is a really good kid. He does a lot of wonderful things off the field that people don’t know about. He needs to work on controlling his emotions a little bit more. But when he is on the field, the other teams have to pay attention to him . . . and he strikes fear into the eyes of the other team. As long as you have that ability, he makes your team better. He just adds a lot to us. We really haven’t had a player like that here for a long time.”

The Giants apparently intend to keep Beckham there for a long time. At some point, then, they’ll need to sign him to that new contract. Before that can happen, the contract needs to be negotiated. Mara was asked about the status of the talks.

“They haven’t begun as of yet, but . . . they’ll happen at the appropriate time,” Mara said. “I don’t think we have a time frame on it. But we certainly don’t want to see him playing in another uniform.”

Mara also was asked whether a contract could come during the season.

“That’s possible, yeah,” Mara said. “I wouldn’t have a problem with that occurring. We certainly want to get him signed. Let’s not make it the headline that there’ll be a deal by October or November or something like that because I have no idea. I don’t think we’d be opposed to talking to his agents at some point during the season, yes.”

The Giants presumably want to be sure that Beckham is indeed maturing before making a long-term commitment.

“I think he’s a work in progress, I think he’s going to mature,” Mara said. “I had a great conversation with him in the spring about that. I think he understands that. But he’s always going to be an emotional player, and we’re going to have to live with, hopefully, an occasional and rare outburst every once in a while because he wants to win so badly. But I think he is going to mature. He’s 24 years old.”

Mara is right. And the Giants also are smart to wait a while before giving him the kind of money that reflects full confidence in his maturity. Even if it’s really not all that smart to hype him as a player before getting that deal done, since those quotes from Mara surely will be placed on a laminated card and handed to the Giants’ negotiators at the outset of the first face-to-face session.

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Patriots looking for running back “to play power football for us”

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The Patriots have long mixed and matched running backs with situations in order to keep their offense rolling and this year promises to be no different.

New arrivals Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead have joined holdovers Dion Lewis, James White and Brandon Bolden in a deep backfield, albeit one that doesn’t have a clear choice to fill the big back role that LeGarrette Blount rode to 18 touchdowns last season. Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said the search for which player is the best fit for that job will be one of the things on tap during training camp.

“Somebody’s got to play big for us,” Fears said, via the team’s website. “We have enough guys who can play finesse football. Somebody’s got to play power football for us so we have to find out who’s going to do that. I think a lot of those guys are capable of that. Freakin’ James White ran the power offense when he was at Wisconsin so, what are we talking about? But he’s got to do it for us here. Not just him, but whether it’s Mike, whether it’s Rex or Brandon Bolden … somebody’s got to step up and be the big back when we need one and all those roles that come up in the game we have to find somebody to fit those roles, and I think we will.”

None of the backs have Blount’s size, but they will be working behind a good offensive line and in an offense with enough threats that defenses will have a hard time selling out against any one option. That should help in all situations, including the ones where New England needs a back to lower the shoulder and pick up two yards to keep the chains moving.

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Rex Ryan still thinks the Bills can be a playoff team


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Rex Ryan thinks the Bills can be a playoff team.

It’s only noteworthy now that he’s the former coach of the Bills, but the now-ESPN analyst took exception with the notion that his former team was going to struggle this year, including a USA Today prediction that they would go 4-12 this year.

There’s no way in hell,” Ryan said, via Alan Pergament of the Buffalo News. “That’s a coach’s dream, to have that kind of prediction because there is no pressure on you but I think that is total bull. If that is the case, why was I fired when I was fired if that’s how bad this team was? So I don’t get that. To saddle them with four wins, I totally disagree with that.

“I feel the Bills will surprise a ton of people. They are kind of trying to float this under the radar stuff, which I get. That’s probably the way to go, that’s the way everybody goes. Undersell and overproduce. I get it. I believe they will have a lot better year than the experts. Could they be a playoff team? They might very well be.”

Ryan went through the litany of reasons the Bills did not last year — injuries to key players, late losses, close games – but remains bullish on his old team in large part because he believes in quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

“I love him,” Ryan said of Taylor. “I think he’s a winner. I think . . . if he has some healthy receivers, a healthy Sammy Watkins, some other guys who can play and give this guy a chance, . . .

“I know he prepares. He has got what it takes to play quarterback in that league.”

Of course, Ryan’s made bold predictions and staked himself to Taylor previously, and is now a television analyst. But it’s interesting that he’s happy about the Bills dealing with low expectations, since he spent so much time building them when he was coaching there.

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Jaylon Smith: First padded practice “a great feeling”


The wait to see linebacker Jaylon Smith in pads as a member of the Cowboys came to an end on Wednesday.

Smith participated in a padded practice for the first time since suffering torn ligaments in his knee and damage to the peroneal nerve in his leg while playing for Notre Dame in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, a span that covered 572 days and much doubt about his playing future. The work was limited — eight snaps with the second team — but it left Smith in high spirits.

“That was a great feeling, a huge accomplishment being back on the field,” Smith said, via Brandon George the Dallas Morning News. “It was full pads, so there were a lot of things that come with it. The nitty-gritty and the full contact. It’s something that I embraced, and I was able to get after it. … I can’t remember the last time I had pain in my knee or my foot. My knee feels 100 percent. I can hop on one leg.”

Smith’s fellow linebacker Sean Lee said Smith “moved great” and George’s report from the practice said Smith showed no signs of favoring his left leg during the practice. All of that adds up to a positive step for the player and a base to use to build up to the ones that will have to follow for him to play a significant role come September.

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Thursday morning one-liners

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Bills assistant Juan Castillo got his start as an intern with the Super Bowl-era Bills.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase is making some changes in his second training camp.

The Patriots have to deal with the burden of high expectations this year.

Jets DT Sheldon Richardson has something to prove this year — to someone.

Former Ravens Adalius Thomas and Corey Ivy are back as coaching interns.

The Bengals put sixth-round rookie S Brandon Wilson on the non-football injury list.

The Browns have increased seating for training camp.

While other teams are staying home, the Steelers are embarking on their 52nd training camp at St. Vincent College.

Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins likes what he’s seeing from QB Tom Savage.

The Colts are hoping for a more physical training camp.

The Jaguars are giving rookie Cam Robinson a chance to win the LT job.

The clock is ticking on the Titans and unsigned first-round WR Corey Davis.

Broncos OLB Von Miller is leading in the only way he knows how.

The early returns are positive for Chiefs veterans Derrick Johnson and Travis Kelce.

The Chargers are betting on a rebuilt offensive line.

Raiders QB Derek Carr got the Deion Sanders stamp of approval for his touchdown dance.

Cowboys rookie DE Taco Charlton says he won’t be bullied in the NFL.

Giants G.M. Jerry Reese still has some issues to address.

The Eagles hopes their new young WRs are ready to contribute.

Washington coach Jay Gruden seems comfortable in his role this summer.

The Bears are expecting big improvements in the passing game.

A position-by-position breakdown of the Lions entering training camp.

Packers DT Letroy Guion expected to practice through “pending” legal matter.

The Vikings have a few veterans who could be in their final training camps.

Falcons RB Devonta Freeman has reported to camp, without a new deal.

Panthers rookie Curtis Samuel got dropped off at training camp by his mom.

The Saints are still targeting the third preseason game for C Max Unger’s return.

New Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson is ready to produce.

Cardinals veteran K Phil Dawson is ready for his latest challenge.

Rams rookie WR Cooper Kupp could win a starting job.

A look at the looming questions for the 49ers entering training camp.

The RB competition will be an interesting one to watch for the Seahawks.

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Cam Newton throws in first practice, will be on “pitch count”


Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been seen throwing, but only some short passes in the locker room.

Wednesday night, the former MVP aired a few out for the fans, taking part in the Panthers first practice of training camp.

Another step in the process,” Newton said, via Bryan Strickland of the team’s official website. “It’s a start. Everything felt good, but we have a long way to go to get where I know we can be. Tonight was just fun getting out on the grass in front of the fans and throwing it around a little bit.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton would be on a “pitch count” as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder in March. That’s probably a necessity because of the physical component, but Newton clearly needs some work as the Panthers try to modify their offense this offseason.

“You could tell he was eager to get out there. I thought it was a good start,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “He’s not there yet, and we wouldn’t expect him to be. The thing he’s got to do – and we’ve got to do collectively following our trainers and doctors – is not do too much.

“As a coach, you always want guys to get as many reps as they can, especially at that position. We are playing catch-up, but he has six years of experience, and that’s going to have him caught up as quickly as possible. Our goal is to have him ready for Week One.”

There was no sign after one practice that that goal is in jeopardy, but Newton and the Panthers have a lot of work to do between now and then.

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What was the most embarrassing snafu in NFL history?

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With former Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead landing in New York, and given that several other teams were interested in him, the end result of the Oxnard ready-fire-aim approach is that it was a major embarrassment for the franchise.

And that gives us an idea for the PFT Live question of the day: Which was the most embarrassing snafu in NFL history?

Throw an idea or two in the comments and then tune in for Thursday’s edition of the show. It starts at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, and then it moves to NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET.

Guests include Qadry Ismail of WBAL in Baltimore and Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports Network in Denver. We’ll also play a portion of a recent Rob Ninkovich interview.

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Cowboys sign running back Ronnie Hillman

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Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is proceeding with practice as if nothing is out of the ordinary.

But the team is making moves in case everything is not.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Cowboys are signing veteran running back Ronnie Hillman, who could provide some degree of cover in case Elliott is suspended at the end of the league’s investigation of his involvement in a domestic violence incident.

Hillman bounced through stops in Minnesota and San Diego last year after being released by the Broncos at the end of training camp. It wasn’t that long ago that he looked like a productive back, with 863 rushing yards and seven touchdowns (and a 4.2 yards per carry average) for the Broncos in 2015.

If nothing else, it’s depth behind Darren McFadden, as the Cowboys have tried to trade Alfred Morris at various points this offseason.

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Saints get a visit from Orlando Franklin

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There’s suddenly an Orlando Franklin free agency tour.

A league source tells PFT that the veteran guard is visiting with the Saints, and contract talks are underway.

The 29-year-old guard also visited the Jets this week, looking for a new home.

The Chargers released Franklin this spring, two years into a five-year, $36.5 million deal.

The Saints have injuries stacking up along the offensive line already, with left tackle Terron Armstead, center Max Unger and guard Senio Kelemete on the PUP list.

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Cowboys lead the league in suspensions, by a lot

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In the last four years the Cowboys have had by far the most players suspended, forcing them to miss by far the most games, of any team in the NFL.

The Dallas Morning News compiled suspensions around the league and found that the Cowboys have had 15 players suspended for a total of 100 games since 2014. The Browns, with 10 suspensions totaling 54 games, and the Ravens, with nine suspensions totaling 55 games, are the closest to the Cowboys.

Dallas’s suspensions include many players they added to their roster at a time when other teams wouldn’t touch them, including Rolando McClain, Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy. Cowboys owner and General Manager Jerry Jones hasn’t hesitated to take on player with character concerns.

The Cowboys’ suspension tally may grow soon: The NFL is deliberating on whether or not to suspend running back Ezekiel Elliott over an allegation of domestic violence, and linebacker Damien Wilson was arrested three weeks ago and charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

So while the Cowboys cut Lucky Whitehead after a shoplifting arrest that turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, most of the time they’re willing to accept players who get into off-field trouble. More than any other team in the league.

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Sean Payton will “never say never” on possible Nick Fairley return, but believes condition won’t improve

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With the New Orleans Saints placing defensive tackle Nick Fairley on the reserve/non-football injury list last month, it became clear that Fairley would not being playing football this season. Whether he ever plays football again remains highly in doubt as a heart condition found this offseason is considered serious enough for doctors to tell Fairley he shouldn’t play again.

Saints head coach Sean Payton echoed that sentiment during a press conference on Wednesday. However, he also said he couldn’t rule out the possibility entirely.

I would never sit at this table and use that word never,” Payton said, via Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I think as we sit here today, though, we’ve prepared ourselves for him not playing this season. Look, there’s a downside to that when you’re talking about Nick Fairley, and then there’s a good side to that. And the good side to that is fortunately this was discovered not the hard way. As successful as he was for us on the field last year, he’s wonderful to be around. And I think that the focus when I’m thinking of Nick is making sure he’s healthy and that this maybe was able to help not only himself, but maybe other members of his family or others that might have this.

“It’s a challenging thing because he came out of the draft and there were some re-checks and it cleared at that time from everyone, but I’ve got to trust in the medical experts and I do, and I know Mickey does. It’s just a difficult, unfortunate condition, and yet, fortunately we found it.”

Linebacker Zachary Orr retired earlier this year before electing to try to come back and play again despite a neck injury doctors have advised him not to play with. It’s always a possibility Fairley could buck the advice and attempt to play anyway, but NFL teams wouldn’t likely want to have that kind of liability on their roster without being cleared by doctors.

Payton followed it up by saying they don’t believe it’s a condition that would improve over time or could be corrected through other means. If that’s accurate, it certainly seems probable that Fairley has played his final NFL snaps.

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Vikings sign cornerback Sam Brown, release tackle Arturo Uzdavinis

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The Minnesota Vikings made a change to the bottom of their roster on Wednesday as veterans reported for the start of training camp.

The Vikings signed former Baltimore Ravens cornerback Sam Brown and released tackle Arturo Uzdavinis.

Brown (6-1, 175) signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent last season out of D-II Missouri Western State. He was released with an injury settlement in August and returned to the team’s practice squad late in the season.

Uzdavinis had signed with the Vikings earlier this week to bring the roster to 90 players before the start of camp. Ultimately, his stay with Minnesota was short-lived.

Uzdavinis spent time on the Lions’ roster this offseason and the Vikings were his fifth club since entering the league as an undrafted free agent last year. He initially signed with the Texans and then spent time on the practice squads in Chicago and Jacksonville without seeing any regular season action.

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Devontae Booker has wrist injury

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Broncos running back Devontae Booker entered camp feeling more prepared to contribute in his second season. The process has been delayed.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Booker has a wrist injury. He’s expected to miss up to 6-8 weeks.

The Broncos start training camp practices on Thursday. It’s unclear how he was injured. He’s currently expected to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He would be able to exit PUP at any time before Week One.

Booker appeared in 16 games with six starts in 2016, gaining 612 yards on 174 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per attempt. He added 265 receiving yards on 31 catches, and five total touchdowns.

C.J. Anderson continues to be the No. 1 tailback on the roster, but Booker is expected to get more chances in 2017. For now, Anderson will be the guy.

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Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee placed on PUP list

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One of the Bears best pass rushers will begin training camp on the team’s physically unable to report list, according to multiple reports.

McPhee has been placed on the PUP list due to a knee issue. It’s a deja vu moment for McPhee as he began last training camp on the PUP list with a knee injury. That issue forced him to miss the first six weeks of the regular season before returning to play in the final nine games of the year.

McPhee recorded four sacks and a forced fumble in those nine games for the Bears last season.

A player must be on the PUP from the start of training camp to be eligible for the in-season reserve/PUP list. McPhee still counts against Chicago’s 90-man roster limit and can be activated at any time prior to the start of the regular season upon passing a physical.

McPhee had taken part in the Bears offseason program and had dropped 25 pounds from his playing weight of a season ago. Whether this knee injury is anything substantial or more procedural remains to be seen.

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