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NFL morning after: The best day of the NFL year, and then the worst

John Fox, Romeo Crennel AP

Is there a better day of the year than the final Sunday of the NFL season?

If you love football, I don’t know if there is. The season’s final Sunday is the only day of the year in which all 32 NFL teams are playing, and it’s a day when so much is happening, all at once. The Bears are holding on to win narrowly at Detroit, briefly keeping their playoff hopes alive, while the Giants are blowing out the Eagles but getting eliminated anyway. The Colts are making a statement that they’re for real in the AFC, while the Texans are reeling and limping into the playoffs. The Vikings are furiously battling the Packers to reach the playoffs, while the Broncos are clinching home-field advantage by beating the Chiefs. The 49ers are clinching the NFC West by beating the Cardinals, while the Seahawks are facing a surprisingly stiff challenge from the Rams.

And to top it off, the night ended up with the Redskins reaching the playoffs by winning the NFC East championship game in Washington.

You might prefer Super Bowl Sunday, but that’s a day when the hype to actual football ratio is about 50:1. Or you might prefer Conference Championship Sunday, but if you’re a fan of one of the 28 teams that have already been eliminated, that day isn’t quite as fun. Or maybe you love NFL draft day, or the first Sunday of the season. If that’s your preference, I won’t tell you you’re wrong. But for my money, it doesn’t get any better than the Sunday of Week 17.

And then comes the Monday after Week 17, which is the worst day of the NFL year. Some people call it Black Monday. The day when a handful of head coaches, dozens of assistant coaches and quite a few team executives find out they’re fired.

Eagles coach Andy Reid, Chargers coach Norv Turner, Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and Browns coach Pat Shurmur are almost certain to get fired today, and several other head coaches are in danger of losing their jobs. When you’re an assistant on a team whose head coach gets fired you’re almost always fired along with him, and there are plenty of assistants on other teams who get fired as well. General managers get fired, too. And although most of them don’t know it yet, there are hundreds of NFL players who were on active rosters yesterday and will never play in an NFL game again. It’s part of the business, but it’s depressing thinking about all these people going into a year in which they won’t have jobs.

At this time of year I’m always reminded of the end of the 1998 season, when then-Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson addressed the media on Black Monday. Johnson’s job was safe, and he was preparing to coach in a playoff game, but he could hardly contain his fury for the carnage in the coaching profession that took place that year, when five coaches were fired on the morning after the end of the season.

“I think it’s disgusting. Some of the better coaches in the NFL got fired today,” Johnson said on the Monday after the ’98 season ended. “I know we’re highly paid, but it’s a shame when coaches’ jobs are dependent on injuries, skyboxes, people in the stands and officiating calls. It doesn’t give me a good feeling about our profession when I see things like I saw this morning.”

These coaches are human beings, after all. They’re men with wives who relocated for their husbands’ jobs — usually men with wives who have already relocated several times, and know they’ll have to do it several more times. They’re men with kids who will go to school and hear taunts about their dads getting fired — kids who will wonder which city they’ll live in, which school they’ll go to, which taunts they’ll hear next year.

Yes, they all make a lot of money, and they’re living their dreams. I’m not playing a violin, taking up a collection or telling a sob story. But I do think that, as we reflect on how much we’ve enjoyed this 2012 season, we ought to reflect a little bit on how many of the men we watched on Sundays this year are losing their job on Monday. This game we love is a cruel, unforgiving business.

All those people losing their jobs are the ones I’m thinking about today. Here’s what else is on my mind:

Calvin Johnson is great — and so is Charles Tillman. I want to say a bit about what an amazing season Johnson had, but first this about Tillman, the Bears cornerback who deserves some consideration for Defensive Player of the Year: Tillman faced Johnson twice this season, and in those two games Johnson had 34 yards (his season-low, in October) and 72 yards (on Sunday). So in the two games when he was covered by Tillman, Johnson averaged 53 yards a game. In his other 14 games, Johnson averaged 133 yards a game.

Johnson fell short of 2,000 receiving yards this season, but he still finished the season with 1,964 yards, blowing away Jerry Rice’s old single-season record of 1,848. And Johnson outdistanced the rest of the NFL by a margin unseen in more than 60 years: Johnson ended up leading the league by a whopping 366 yards; the No. 2 receiver in the NFL, Houston’s Andre Johnson, had 1,598. The last time a player led the league by more yards than Johnson this year, it was Hall of Famer Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch in 1951, gaining 1,495 receiving yards in a year when the No. 2 spot was held by San Francisco’s Gordie Soltau, who gained 826 receiving yards. Johnson is nothing short of amazing.

The Falcons should have rested their starters. Atlanta had home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs locked up, so they had nothing to play for on Sunday against the Buccaneers. But the Falcons didn’t rest their starters, instead trying to keep the momentum going with a season-ending win over the Buccaneers. That didn’t go as planned. The Falcons lost to the Bucs, looked bad doing it, and can’t feel good about themselves heading into the playoffs. I sure don’t feel good about the Falcons going into the playoffs: The road to the Super Bowl may go through Atlanta, but I’ll be very surprised if this Falcons team gets to the Super Bowl.

Michael Vick was rusty. Vick, the Eagles quarterback who had been sidelined for the last six games, returned to the Eagles’ starting lineup on Sunday for what is presumed to be his final game with the team. He looked lousy. A Vick interception ended the first Eagles drive and set up the first Giants touchdown, and Vick completed just 19 of 35 passes for 197 yards in the Eagles’ 42-7 loss. It’s widely expected that the Eagles will release Vick after the season, and if Vick was hoping to showcase himself for some other team, he didn’t do a very good job of that on Sunday.

The AFC is coming down to Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, again. Seven of the last nine seasons, the AFC leader in passer rating has been either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Eleven of the last 14 seasons, the AFC leader in passing touchdowns has been either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Ten of the last 15 seasons, the AFC leader in passing yards has been either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. And seven of the last 11 seasons, the AFC Super Bowl team has been quarterbacked by either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. With Manning’s Broncos having the No. 1 seed and Brady’s Patriots having the No. 2 seed, it appears that it’s going to be eight of the last 12 years with either Manning or Brady in the Super Bowl.

I’m ready for the playoffs. Today will be distasteful in the NFL, as we’ll spend most of the day talking about people losing their jobs. But tomorrow comes a New Year and a new NFL postseason. After binging on 16 NFL games yesterday, we only have 11 more games to enjoy until September. Let’s savor the playoffs.

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Griffin addresses media, says he’s here to help the team win

Griffin Getty Images

Last week, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was focused on San Francisco.  Now, he’s focused on something other than playing.

On Thursday, Griffin met with reporters for the first time since he was supplanted by Colt McCoy.

It was Coach’s decision,” Griffin said, via Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com.  “I’m here to help this team win.”

Asked to explain his level of disappointment over the decision, Griffin repeated himself.  The same way he did last week.

“Like I said, it was Coach’s decision,” Griffin said.  “I’m here to help this team win.”

Will he use the situation as motivation?

“Be ready to play,” Griffin said.  “I’m here to help the team win anyway I can.”

He won’t be helping the team by playing, at least not for now.  We’ll have more on what the events of the past few days actually mean for Griffin later tonight.  Unless the Tryptophan wins.

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Julius Thomas practices, Fox dubs tight end “day to day”

Thomas Getty Images

Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who hasn’t done much since injuring an ankle 11 days ago, participated in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis.

Via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, it’s the most Thomas has done in the aftermath of the injury.

Coach John Fox declined to say much about whether Thomas will face the Chiefs on Sunday night.

“We’re just day to day,” Fox said, via quotes distributed by the team.  “I don’t like trying to predict the future.”

A label will be applied to the expected availability of Thomas on Friday.

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Lions snap two-game skid, beat Bears to improve to 8-4

calvinjohnson AP

After back-to-back losses raised questions about the Lions’ ability to contend for a playoff berth, Detroit got the win it needed today.

The Lions started slowly and fell behind 14-3, but a three-touchdown second quarter turned things around in a hurry, and the Lions controlled the second half as well to win 34-17.

Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had a big day, catching 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Now that Johnson is finally back to 100 percent healthy, the Lions’ offense may finally be back on track. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had been struggling for much of the season, had an excellent game. Stafford completed 34 of 45 passes for 390 yards, with those two touchdowns to Johnson and no interceptions.

The Lions’ defense shook off its slow start, in which Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery scored two first-quarter touchdowns, and mostly shut down the Bears the rest of the way. Detroit’s run defense was particularly impressive, and safety Glover Quinn made a great diving interception after Darius Slay tipped a Jay Cutler pass that ended the Bears’ last chance to make a game of it.

For the Bears, the loss drops their record to 5-7 and makes clear that they’re not going anywhere. After showing some promise in Marc Trestman’s first season last year, the Bears have taken a step backward. Now about all the Bears can do is hope to play spoiler over the next three weeks, when they have games against playoff contenders Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit again.

The 8-4 Lions, however, are very much alive in the playoff race. If the Packers lose to the Patriots on Sunday, the Lions would become the leaders in the NFC North. And even if the Packers win, the Lions are in good position for a wild-card run. This was a game the Lions needed to win, and they delivered with one of their best performances of the season.

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Acho active for Eagles

Acho Getty Images

As the Eagles prefer to face a pick-your-poison offense, they’ll have a defensive player who was injured on Sunday in uniform.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho is active and will play after injuring a groin against the Titans.  He has been splitting time with Casey Matthews at inside linebacker in place of DeMeco Ryans, who tore an Achilles tendon several weeks ago.

Inactive for the Eagles are quarterback Nick Foles, cornerback Roc Carmichael, safety Jaylen Watkins, offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, receiver Jeff Maehl, and Taylor Hart.

The Cowboys’ inactives include quarterback Dustin Vaughan, cornerback Tyler Patmon, safety Jeff Heath, linebacker Dekoda Watson, offensive tackle Tony Hills, offensive tackle Donald Hawkins, and defensive tackle Josh Brent.

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Megatron scores twice, tops 10,000 career receiving yards

calvinjohnson AP

Calvin Johnson has topped 100 yards in the first half today, and 10,000 yards in his NFL career.

Johnson scored two touchdown in the second quarter against the Bears to help give the Lions a 24-14 lead, and he caught nine passes for 109 receiving yards in the first half, making him the fastest player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard mark.

The NFL has changed enormously in the last couple of decades, and so it’s no surprise that 27 of the 43 players with 10,000 yards started their careers in 1990 or later. A 10,000-yard career is not what it used to be, but Johnson still has many more good seasons left in him. Jerry Rice’s record of 22,895 receiving yards may be beyond reach for anyone, but Megatron may move into second place before he’s all done. The No. 2 spot on the all-time receiving yards list is currently occupied by Terrell Owens, with 15,934 receiving yards.

Now we’ll see if the Lions can keep it going in the second half, and re-establish themselves as contenders in the NFC playoff race.

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Bears banged up on defense, Detroit takes advantage

megatron AP

The Bears’ defense has suffered a couple of first-half injuries today at Detroit, and the Lions are taking advantage.

Bears defensive end Cornelius Washington has been ruled out for the rest of the game with a chest injury, and safety Chris Conte left for what was first termed a concussion evaluation but later termed an eye injury. The Bears were already without linebacker Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, so they’re really hurting.

And the Lions are really taking advantage: After going 25 drives over three games without a single touchdown, Detroit scored on back-to-back drives. The first was a nine-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson. The second was a 10-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from Joique Bell.

That gave the Lions a 17-14 lead. The Bears started fast, with two Alshon Jeffery touchdown passes, but the Lions have turned this game around in a hurry.

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New stadium isn’t giving the 49ers a true home-field advantage

49ers Getty Images

The 49ers christened a new home stadium this year, but they’re still waiting for a new home-field advantage.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News takes a look at the relatively tranquil” atmosphere at Levi’s Stadium.  And Kawakami makes a great point — if a home-field advantage doesn’t emerge tonight against the Seahawks, it never will.

The 49ers are 3-2 at home this season, with no convincing victories.  Most recently, San Francisco barely beat Washington.

The toughest test comes against the Seahawks.  As Kawakami said, if it’s not loud and raucous in Santa Clara tonight, perhaps it never will be.

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More than half of the 2012 top 10 may not have options exercised

Luck Getty Images

Once the 2014 regular season ends, players drafted in 2012 will become eligible for new contracts.  By May 3, teams holding the rights of first-round picks must decide whether to extend their rookie deals for a fifth year.

Based on the performance of the first 10 players taken in 2012, there’s a good chance more than half of them won’t have their contracts extended.  Here’s a look at each of them.

1.  Andrew Luck, Colts:  The option definitely will be exercised.  Based on how the Colts dealt with Peyton Manning, Luck presumably won’t get a long-term deal until he completes his rookie contract and has the franchise tag applied.

2.  Robert Griffin III, Washington:  As of right now, it’s not looking good.  To say the least.

3.  Trent Richardson, Colts:  Traded from the Browns after one season and still disappointing in his second year in Indy, the Colts most likely won’t extend Richardon’s deal.

4.  Matt Kalil, Vikings:  Solid at times and spectacularly bad in big moments, there’s a strong belief that the Vikings won’t extend Kalil’s contract.  Just like they didn’t extend Christian Ponder’s.

5.  Justin Blackmon, Jaguars:  His option won’t come due in May because his rookie deal has been tolled by a suspension that has lasted more than a calendar year.

6.  Morris Claiborne, Cowboys:  He had fallen out of favor — and out of the starting lineup — before suffering a season-ending injury.  Dallas undoubtedly will pass.

7.  Mark Barron, Rams:  Traded from Tampa at the October deadline, the Rams most likely won’t be inclined to make the investment necessary to keep him from the open market after four seasons.

8.  Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins:  This could be the toughest decision for any team in the top 10.  Tannehill has been good but not great.  Productive but erratic.  Still, if they let him go after four seasons, who will the quarterback be?  That’s probably enough to swing the pendulum to yes.

9.  Luke Kuechly, Panthers:  Yes, without question.

10.  Stephon Gilmore, Bills:  A solid contributor but not yet a star player, it could be more of an investment than the team wants to make.  Especially if there’s a new coach or G.M. after the season.

To summarize, Luck and Kuechly are locks.  Tannehill is likely to get the option.  Beyond that, who knows?

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Bears strike first in Detroit

stafford AP

In the early moments in Detroit, the Bears have done everything right and the Lions have done everything wrong.

Detroit received the opening kickoff and Jeremy Ross took it out of the end zone, only to get tackled at the 14-yard line. The Lions’ offense then took the field and went three-and-out, with two Joique Bell runs for minus-1 yard, followed by Matthew Stafford badly missing a wide-open Calvin Johnson on third down.

After the Lions’ punt, the Bears methodically marched the ball down the field on a six-play, 55-yard drive that ended with Alshon Jeffery catching a short pass from Jay Cutler and running in for a 10-yard touchdown.

This is a must-win game for the Lions, who are on a two-game losing streak. If they keep playing like this, we’ll be able to cross them off the list of playoff contenders in the NFC.

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NFL: Rams-Raiders will remain in St. Louis

Shaun Hill AP

On Wednesday, there was a report in the Indianapolis Star about the “remote possibility” that Sunday’s game between the Raiders and Rams would be moved from St. Louis to a Monday start in Indianapolis because of the ongoing tension in Ferguson, Missouri.

The report said that Lucas Oil Stadium was ready to serve as a site for the game in the event that a decision was made that it wasn’t safe enough to play as scheduled, but that won’t be necessary. While we don’t know when that tension in Ferguson will ease, we do know that the remote possibility is no longer a possibility at all.

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com passes along word from a league spokesman that the game will be played as scheduled at the Edward Jones Dome with a 1 p.m. ET kickoff on Sunday. That avoids a second straight week with two Monday night games after the Jets and Bills were shifted to Detroit in Week 12 after the mammoth blizzard that buried Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

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Will any Thanksgiving records fall today?

OJ Getty Images

As the first of three Thanksgiving games approaches, let’s take a quick look at the history of the best of the best performances on the fourth Thursday in November.

Courtesy of the 2014 Official NFL Record & Fact Book, here are the single-game records from the league’s annual Thanksgiving game.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1929, Ernie Nevers scored six touchdowns for the Cardinals in a game against the Bears.  On three other Thanksgiving occasions, players have scored four times.  Most recently, NBCSN’s Brian Westbrook racked up a quartet of touchdowns for the Eagles against the Cardinals in 2008.

Another record could be a little easier to beat today, but not much.  On Thanksgiving in 1976, Bills running back O.J. Simpson (pictured) gained 273 yards on the ground against the Lions.  There hasn’t even been another 200-yard Thanksgiving rushing performance, with Bob Hoernschemeyer gaining 198 for the Lions in 1950 against the New York Yankees, and Earl Campbell grinding out 195 for the Oilers against the Cowboys in 1979.

Through the air, Troy Aikman passed for 455 yards against the Vikings on the day then-rookie Randy Moss exploded for three touchdowns on three catches.  Matthew Stafford nearly matched that total for the Lions in 2012, with 441 yards passing.  And long before Scott Mitchell went for nearly four spins on the scale, he threw for 410 yards for the Lions in a 1995 Thanksgiving Day win over the Vikings.

When it comes to receiving yardage, Jim Benton of the Browns racked up 303 yards against the Lions 69 years ago on Thanksgiving.  The next highest total came in 2012, with Andre Johnson generating 188 yards for the Texans against the Lions.

Will any of those records fall today?  It’s one of the wrinkles that will fascinate fans and fantasy owners as kickoff approaches.

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Reggie Bush, Riley Reiff out for Lions against Bears

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Lions hoped to have running back Reggie Bush back this week, but his ankle didn’t cooperate.

Bush is inactive for Detroit’s Thanksgiving game against the Bears, making it three straight games that Bush has missed as a result of the injury. He also missed two other games earlier in the year, which may be a contributing factor to the Lions ranking 28th in points scored this season.

Compounding the issues for the Lions Offense on Thursday will be the absence of left tackle Riley Reiff. Like Bush, Reiff was listed as questionable for the game but left off the 46-man roster. Reiff is dealing with a knee injury that knocked him out of last weekend’s lopsided loss to the Patriots. Cornelius Lucas is expected to play in his place.

The Bears had one questionable player on Wednesday, but cornerback Kyle Fuller got the nod in spite of a knee injury. That keeps alive the possibility that he’ll face off with his brother, Lions wideout Corey Fuller, at some point on a day usually spent with family. Linebacker Lance Briggs, wide receiver Chris Williams, linebacker Darryl Sharpton, defensive end Trevor Scott, offensive lineman Eben Britton, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerback Terrance Mitchell are inactive for Chicago.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, guard Larry Warford, quarterback Kellen Moore, receiver Ryan Broyles and defensive end Larry Webster round out Detroit’s list of inactives.

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Colts make a change at cornerback

Cassius Vaughn, Jalil Brown, Randy Bullock AP

The arrival of Shaun Phillips isn’t the only change for the Indianapolis defense this week.

The team announced that they have signed cornerback Jalil Brown and waived cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.

Brown was released by the Dolphins earlier in the week and will be making his third tour of duty with the Colts. Brown spent time with them late last season and played two games with them earlier this year. Brown also has another spell with the Dolphins and began his career with the Chiefs after they took him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

He’ll likely fill the same special teams-centric role that Purifoy played for the team, although there’s a chance he could see time on defense with Vontae Davis, Josh Gordy and Greg Toler all appearing on this week’s injury report.

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Peterson materials due to be filed by Friday

Peterson Getty Images

Next Tuesday, the appeal hearing in Adrian Peterson’s case will commence at 10:00 a.m. ET.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Peterson has until Friday, November 28 to submit any materials that he intends to introduce at the hearing.

It’s unknown what, if anything, Peterson will introduce.  Peterson submitted nothing to the NFL before the decision was made to suspend him for the rest of the 2014 season.

What Peterson submits potentially could have a huge impact on the outcome of the appeal.  If, of course, hearing officer Harold Henderson is willing to break from his track record of siding with the NFL in these appeals.

It’s unclear how quickly a ruling will be issued.  In theory, Peterson could be back as soon as December 7, for a visit from the Jets.

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Odell Beckham gives all the love to the glove

Odell Beckham Jr. AP

Making the catch of the year was mostly Odell Beckham.

But the Giants wide receiver admitted he’s not sure if he could have made his now-famous, falling-backward, three-fingered catch without his gloves.

I have no idea,” Beckham said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

Beckham’s gloves are Nike Vapor Jets, size XXXL (which may also explain how he catches flying things with one hand), which he’s been wearing since his college days at LSU.

“I definitely told them they were some of my favorites that they made,” Beckham said. “It’s just the way that they fit. They’re a tight fit, they’re very light, and they feel like they’re a part of your hand.”

If the gloves were the secret, everyone would be wearing them, but we suspect Beckham’s hands deserve a little more of the credit.

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