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Cowboys reportedly make first change of the offseason

Tony+Romo+Dallas+Cowboys+v+Arizona+Cardinals+EDrrFNWJcBIl Getty Images

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last week that there were going to be changes to the team this offseason and reports indicate that the first one has been made.

Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that running backs coach Skip Peete has been relieved of his duties. Peete had been with the Cowboys since 2007 and, per Hill, was surprised by the move.

The reason for his surprise is that starting running back DeMarco Murray missed a big chunk of the season with a foot injury, the second straight year that Murray was sidelined by injury, and that the offensive line performed poorly all season. That contributed to a team record for the fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season and an observation from Garrett during his postmortem on the season that the team needed to be more effective running the ball.

Jones promised to make things “uncomfortable” around the organization. Peete’s departure might be making other assistants a little tenser, but the changes will have to keep coming for the Cowboys to show serious improvement come next season.

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Titans have become the NFL’s biggest slump-busters

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

Maybe it’s their Southern address, but the Tennessee Titans are the most hospitable team in the league, perhaps in league history.

Bless their hearts.

As first mentioned by Peter King of MMQB.com, and extrapolated by Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com, the Titans have done something unprecedented this season.

It’s not that they’ve they lost nine in a row (that’s been done before), it’s who they’ve done it against.

Every team that has beaten the Titans during this streak was coming off at least one loss, and collectively, those opponents had lost 24 straight games prior to welcoming the Titans to their worlds.

The longest previous streak of teams losing to teams coming off a loss was six, achieved most recently in 2010 by the Bengals and the Titans.

They’re likely to extend their record this week, since the Colts are coming off a beating by the Cowboys, and the Titans don’t have much of a chance against anyone.

But at least they’re generous.

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Robbie Gould questions benching of Jay Cutler

Gould Getty Images

Earlier this year, Bears coach Marc Trestman said it’s important to be “accepting” and “non-judgmental” of players who speak their mind. I wonder if he feels that way about the kicker, too?

Robbie Gould, who has missed several games due to injury, has opened up about the decision to bench starting quarterback Jay Cutler for veteran journeyman (which may be an overstatement) Jimmy Clausen.

“I honestly don’t even know what the message is, to be honest with you,” Gould said Monday on WSCR’s The Spiegel and Mannelly Show. “I just think it’s been a long season. [Trestman started Clausen] to provide a spark for the team, is what he told us, and I wish Jay was out there playing.

“[Trestma] did address the team the next day and talked about what happened. He made a decision that he thought was best for the team. And listen, we lost again. That’s the bottom line. We’re in the business of winning football games and production, and we got to produce, and we got to win.

“I feel really bad for Jay. We’re you’re having a tough season like this, he’s not the guy to be the scapegoat or the guy to blame. There’s a lot of guys you can put that blame on.

“You could bench the whole team. It’s not like anybody’s really played fantastic or great. We’re 5-10 now. It’s not like Jay’s the problem. Jay’s not the issue.”

One of the issues is that plenty of players and staff members have been complaining. That’s not something Gould is used to.

“This whole season’s not the Bear way,” Gould said. “Pointing fingers, things getting out of the locker room — that’s not the Chicago Bear way. I think for me, being around the organization for 10 years, seeing guys like Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs who most likely have played or walked through the tunnel for the last time, it’s tough. Because we weren’t taught this way under Lovie [Smith]. We weren’t taught to do these sorts of things. We always stayed together, as close as we could.”

There’s a certain irony in Gould’s comments, since he has now become the latest player to behave in a way other than the Bear way, by talking openly about Trestman’s handling of the team. It underscores the need for change in Chicago, and significant change is likely only one game away.

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Joe Philbin won’t address fate of his assistants

Minnesota Vikings v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

A day after getting a vote of confidence from his boss, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin didn’t give one to his employees.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told reporters yesterday that Philbin was safe for 2015, but Philbin didn’t offer the same courtesy to his staffers today.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Philbin refused to address to fate of his coordinators.

When asked follow-up questions, he fell back on the old coaching standby of focusing on the present.

“Again, I’m concerned about the New York Jets,” he said.

While it’s entirely possible they won’t make any changes, it won’t make his assistants sleep any better for the next week, while Philibin knows where he’ll be.

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Antonio Brown is two catches away from the second-most ever

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown is having an extraordinary season.

Brown has 122 catches through 15 games, which is tied for fourth place in NFL history. If Brown catches at least two passes in Sunday’s regular-season finale, he’ll have 124 this year, which would give him sole possession the second-most in any season, ever. (Herman Moore and Wes Welker are currently tied for No. 2, with 123 catches.)

Marvin Harrison’s NFL record of 143 catches in a season is safe — Brown isn’t going to catch 21 passes on Sunday — but Brown will almost certainly be in second place all-time when Sunday night’s game against the Bengals is over.

Brown leads the league by a whopping 22 catches over second-place Julio Jones, who has 100 catches this year. Brown is also leading the league in receiving yards, with 1,570. And he’s third in the league in touchdown catches with 12. (Dez Bryant has 14 touchdowns and Jordy Nelson has 13.)

It’s been an incredible season for Brown, who has established himself as perhaps the best wide receiver in the NFL.

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PFT Live: Dolphins talk with Armando Salguero, Bengals talk with Paul Dehner

Joe Philbin AP

The Dolphins took themselves out of the coaching change speculation after Sunday’s 37-35 victory over the Vikings when owner Stephen Ross announced that Joe Philbin would return for the 2015 season.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald will join Mike Florio on Monday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss that decision, including whether Ross would have made the same announcement had the Dolphins not blocked a punt through the end zone with less than a minute to play. They’ll also discuss the possibility that Philbin gets an extension before kicking off the final year of his current contract.

Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer will also drop by the show to help us preview Monday night’s meeting between the Bengals and the Broncos. The Bengals can book passage to the playoffs with a victory, but they’ll be playing for the AFC North title in Week 17 either way and we’ll see if Dehner thinks that will impact their approach at all.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Week 17 playoff scenarios

Cam Newton, Paul Worrilow AP

The Patriots, Broncos, Colts and Cowboys have all clinched their divisions. The Steelers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Lions and Packers have all clinched playoff berths. That’s what we know now.

What we don’t know is who the other three playoff teams will be. And we don’t know any team’s playoff seed. Here are the NFL’s official playoff scenarios for the remaining 17 games of this season:

AFC

CLINCHED:
New England – AFC East and a first-round bye
Denver – AFC West
Indianapolis – AFC South
Pittsburgh – playoff berth

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (vs. Buffalo)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

1) NE win OR

2) NE tie + DEN loss or tie OR

3) DEN loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs

DENVER BRONCOS (at Cincinnati; vs. Oakland)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

Denver clinches a first-round bye

Denver clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

1) DEN win + NE loss or tie OR

2) DEN tie + NE loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Denver clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DEN win or tie OR

2) CIN loss OR

3) CIN tie + IND win

CINCINNATI BENGALS (vs. Denver; at Pittsburgh)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

Cincinnati clinches AFC North with:

1) CIN win

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:

1) CIN tie OR

2) BAL loss or tie OR

3) SD loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot

Cincinnati clinches AFC North with:

1) CIN win or tie

Cincinnati clinches a first-round bye with:

1) CIN win + DEN loss or tie OR

2) CIN tie + DEN loss + IND loss or tie

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (vs. Cincinnati)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with:

1) PIT win or tie

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with:

1) PIT win

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (at Kansas City)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

San Diego clinches a playoff spot with:

1) SD win OR

2) SD tie + CIN loss OR

3) SD tie + BAL loss or tie

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

San Diego clinches a playoff spot with:

1) SD win OR

2) SD tie + BAL loss or tie

BALTIMORE RAVENS (vs. Cleveland)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:

1) BAL win + CIN loss OR

2) BAL win + SD loss or tie OR

3) BAL tie + SD loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:

1) BAL win + SD loss or tie OR

2) BAL tie + SD loss

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (vs. San Diego)

Kansas City clinches a playoff spot with:

1) KC win + BAL loss + HOU loss or tie

HOUSTON TEXANS (vs. Jacksonville)

Houston clinches a playoff spot with:

1) HOU win + BAL loss + SD loss

NFC

CLINCHED:
Arizona Cardinals – playoff berth
Seattle Seahawks – playoff berth
Detroit Lions – playoff berth
Green Bay Packers – playoff berth
Dallas Cowboys – NFC East

DALLAS COWBOYS (at Washington)

Dallas clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) DAL win + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB tie

Dallas clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DAL win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR

2) DAL win + DET/GB tie OR

3) DAL tie + SEA loss + ARI loss OR

4) DAL tie + SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB does not end in a tie

DETROIT LIONS (at Green Bay)

Detroit clinches NFC North with:

1) DET win or tie

Detroit clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) DET win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR

2) DET tie + SEA loss + ARI loss + DAL loss or tie

Detroit clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DET win OR

2) DET tie + DAL loss or tie OR

3) DET tie + SEA loss + ARI loss

GREEN BAY PACKERS (vs. Detroit)

Green Bay clinches NFC North and a first-round bye with:

1) GB win

Green Bay clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) GB win + SEA loss or tie

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (vs. St. Louis)

Seattle clinches NFC West with:

1) SEA win OR

2) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie OR

3) ARI loss

Seattle clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) SEA win + DET/GB game does not end in a tie OR

2) SEA win + DAL loss or tie OR

3) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DAL loss or tie + GB/DET tie

Seattle clinches a first-round bye with:

1) SEA win OR

2) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DAL loss OR

3) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + GB/DET tie

ARIZONA CARDINALS (at San Francisco)

Arizona clinches NFC West with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss

Arizona clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie + GB loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss + DAL loss or tie + GB/DET tie

Arizona clinches a first-round bye with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss + DAL loss or tie OR

3) ARI tie + SEA loss + GB/DET tie

CAROLINA PANTHERS (at Atlanta)

Carolina clinches NFC South with:

1) CAR win or tie

ATLANTA FALCONS (vs. Carolina)

Atlanta clinches NFC South with:

1) ATL win

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Marc Trestman: We’ll talk about whether Jimmy Clausen starts again

Jimmy Clausen AP

The Bears lost 20-14 to the Lions on Sunday in quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s first start with the team, leaving them with just one more week until a dismal season can be put to rest.

Clausen went 22-of-39 for 181 yards, two touchdowns and an interception during the contest, which marked his first start since his rookie year with the Panthers in 2010. On Monday, coach Marc Trestman wasn’t ready to say whether Clausen will have a shorter wait before his next start.

“We’ll talk about it today,” Trestman said on WBBM Newsradio 780. “I thought he had a good performance. He needed some help. He didn’t get it — had a few drops along the way, had a couple missed assignments up front in the running game, where we could’ve had a little bit more yardage. But I thought he handled himself [well], for two practices and having not played [much] for four years. It was certainly a good performance.”

Based on that final assessment, it would seem likely that Clausen will be back in the lineup against the Vikings in Week 17. The issues that caused Trestman to turn away from Jay Cutler aren’t going to disappear in a week and Trestman said he has no regrets about the change, so going back to Cutler would be odd. Giving rookie David Fales some playing time might be an idea, but the Bears didn’t even dress him against the Lions and that points toward a visit from Clausen after Santa Claus visits this week.

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Cards have accounted for big Fitzgerald number, want to keep him

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Not only do the Cardinals intend to keep Larry Fitzgerald next season, they want to keep him much longer than that.

Following up on our report last night that the Cards are prepared to carry the veteran wide receiver next year even with his $23.6 million cap hit, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said he hopes it’s a much longer-range relationship.

We have to make good business decisions,” Keim told Arizona Sports 98.7, via Darren Urban of the team’s official website. “I don’t think it’s any secret that we said all along that it is our intent to have Larry Fitzgerald retire a Cardinal. I don’t want to get into it too deep, but with planning purposes and financially, from a cap standpoint and all those sort of things, we have Larry’s [cap] number already baked into our numbers.

“Now, any kind of business decisions moving forward, renegotiations with Larry and that sort of thing, we’ve had ongoing talks with [agent] Eugene Parker and we will continue to have ongoing talks. But again, the best I can tell you is that it is our intent to keep Larry and make sure he stays a Cardinal the rest of his career.”

Fitzgerald has the Cards in a unique position here. If they’re intent on not releasing him, he can sit tight on the big number by refusing to take a pay cut or restructure.

Of course, if there’s something in it for him (such as straight cash, homey) to do a longer deal, then Keim may get his wish.

But one thing’s for sure. Saying he hopes to keep Fitzgerald a Cardinal for life will be easier said than done for Keim this offseason.

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Falcons start selling playoff tickets today

Matt Ryan, Drew Brees AP

The Falcons could still end their season with a loss and a top-10 draft pick.

But they’re selling playoff tickets today anyway.

The team announced that tickets for a potential wild card game would go on sale at noon.

Of course, there’s the small matter of beating the Panthers in next week’s loser-leaves-town match, but Falcons fans can still roll the dice.

Any tickets purchased through Ticketmaster will be immediately refunded if the Panthers win, while the team is offering 25 percent off the single game rate for the playoffs to season ticket holders if the postseason tickets are bought through the team website.

Season ticket holders are also offered a “no risk” option with no money down.

As popular as the NFL has become, teams are finding out that selling early playoff tickets can be tough. And with a 6-9 team that lives in a town which will host bowl games in the coming days, selling tickets to a potential thrashing by a better wild card team is not without its challenges.

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Eagles will roll with Mark Sanchez to close out season

Mark Sanchez AP

The Eagles are out of the playoff race , joining a short list of teams that won nine of their first 12 games before falling short of the postseason.

There have been plenty of reasons for the three-game losing streak that has pushed the Eagles out of contention, including five turnovers by Mark Sanchez that have continued a season-long issue with giveaways from the team’s quarterbacks. With Nick Foles still out with a broken collarbone and Sanchez headed for free agency, some may have wondered if the Eagles would give Matt Barkley a look in the season finale in hopes of starting the offseason evaluations at the position.

It’s not going to happen, according to coach Chip Kelly.

“Mark’s our quarterback,” Kelly said on 94WIP. “Again, I thought Mark played a really good game. He goes 37-of-50. He was 37-of-49 before that last pass [an interception by Bashaud Breeland]. I’m sure he wants that pass back, everybody wants that pass back, but I think Mark played a good game and we’ll continue to go with Mark.”

The turnover problems started with Foles and the two quarterbacks have 25 turnovers between them this season, leaving the Eagles with some things to sort out before the start of next season. They’ve also got issues to work on in the secondary after struggles there did a lot to take the 2014 season from promising to painful in Philadelphia.

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Marshawn has a very polite media availability

Lynch Getty Images

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has now completed the press conference trifecta.

From a media availability consisting mainly of “yeah” answers to one filled with “nope,” Lynch opted for good manners after Sunday night’s win over the Cardinals.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times has posted the transcript of the session, with every question containing an expression of gratitude.

On his 79-yard touchdown run:  “Thank you.”

On how his stomach was feeling:  “Thanks for asking.”

On what he saw on the long touchdown run:  “Thanks for asking.”

Asked again about the touchdown run:  “Thanks for asking.”

“What’s that?” the reporter said.

“Thanks for asking.”

“Can you talk about the run?” the reporter said.

“I know.  I said, ‘Thank you for asking.’  I appreciate it.”

The “thank you” routine continued a bit longer before the reporters gave up.  Which clearly is what Lynch is trying to get them to do.  Eventually, they simply won’t try to ask him any questions at all.

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Packers had to adjust play calls with Aaron Rodgers ailing

Packers Buccaneers Football AP

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers battled the flu all week, so they knew he’d be somewhat less than 100 percent.

But when he strained a calf muscle early in yesterday’s win over the Buccaneers, they had to make some adjustments.

“He didn’t want to come out,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, via Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “I was probably more affected by it than anybody with some of the play calls. Really, really a gritty performance by Aaron.”

With Rodgers unable to move as he’s accustomed or able to, the Packers used him in more pistol formations to keep him from having to move. But after the second series, Rodgers was largely untouched in the pocket, a testament to his offensive line and the punchlessness of the Buccaneers.

“The game plan that we had for it, we were able to stay with the majority of it,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, I probably struggled with it more than anybody and probably should have just cut him loose.”

Rodgers was able to do enough to keep the Bucs at bay, but getting him well before next week’s game for the division title against the Lions is another matter.

“It’s too early to give a 100 percent guarantee,” Rodgers said. “But it would definitely take a lot to hold me out of that game.”

Backup Matt Flynn popped up a few times and grabbed a helmet, but it was clear Rodgers wasn’t coming out, which is a good sign for this week.
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Bills still haven’t won in Oakland since 1966

Bills AP

My favorite fact of the last week came from Oakland, where the Bills hadn’t won since 1966.  Picked by everyone to end that streak in 2014, the Bills still haven’t won in Oakland since 1966.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com shares some of the details regarding the last time the Bills won in Oakland.

The 31-10 Buffalo win happened on Thanksgiving, with Jack Kemp at quarterback for the Bills and Tom Flores at quarterback for the Raiders.  Troy Aikman had been born three days earlier.  The Beatles convened that same day for the first recording session for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The very first Super Bowl (which wasn’t even known as the Super Bowl at the time) was still 51 days away.

Here’s the box score of the game.  Buffalo desperately needed a repeat performance, 48 years later.  Now it’s time to wait until next year, both for a chance to play at Oakland (based on the schedule) and more importantly for a chance to break a playoff drought that has now reached one third of the 48-year failure to win in Oakland.

Based on the scheduling formula, the Bills won’t be playing the Raiders at all next year.  If they move in 2016, the Bills failure to win in Oakland could linger on a lot longer.

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Charles Woodson: Tony Sparano “made his case” to stick around

Buffalo Bills v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Raiders won for the third time under interim coach Tony Sparano on Sunday, knocking the Bills out of playoff contention and running their home winning streak to three games in front of an appreciative group of fans.

With Oakland on the road next week, it could have also been Sparano’s final home game in charge of the team. The Raiders are expected to look elsewhere for a permanent head coach, although Sparano can rest assured that his belief that he should be considered for the job is shared by several of his players.

Defensive tackle Antonio Smith said that Sparano has done “so many things to change the mindset of this team” and quarterback Derek Carr also threw some love in Sparano’s direction. Safety Charles Woodson, who said that he’d like to see his position coaches back with the team regardless of other moves, said he thinks Sparano made a strong impression.

“I think he’s done a strong job for us,” Woodson said, via CSNBayArea.com. “Of course I’m not privy to those decisions, but up until this point, he’s definitely made his case.”

The Raiders held onto Tom Cable after he finished a season well as an interim coach, but he went 13-19 over two seasons as the permanent coach and there are several other examples around the league of sticking with a successful fill-in only for things to go south down the road. How much that history or the players’ feelings will impact Raiders owner Mark Davis is unclear, but the Raiders have likely helped whatever chances Sparano has of keeping the job with their efforts in recent weeks.

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Russell Wilson deserves MVP consideration

Wilson Getty Images

Various debates have emerged in recent weeks regarding the looming MVP vote.  You know, the one that will be taken after the season and not announced until the night before the Super Bowl, when we no longer care very much about the MVP award.

From J.J. Watt to Aaron Rodgers to Tom Brady to DeMarco Murray to Tony Romo to Le’Veon Bell, different points and performances in the season have justifiably sparked discussion and/or fascination about the biggest individual prize in the NFL — even though the process for determining it remains flawed and far from perfect.

When it’s time for the clique of 50 Associated Press voters to cast one vote in a rules-are-there-ain’t-no-rules process that permits them to split votes if the spirit so moves them and that cries out for a Heisman-style system with more voters and a first-, second-, third-place ballot, Russell Wilson deserves consideration.

Wilson deserves consideration not just for what he has done all year long, but for what he did on Sunday night, in a game with enormous stakes.  The Cardinals, with a win, would have nailed down home field advantage throughout the entire postseason, given the site of the Super Bowl.  The Seahawks, with a win, would become a Week 17 home victory against the Rams away from winning the division and possibly seizing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

In a rousing Seahawks victory, Wilson led the Seattle offense to a franchise record 596 total yards, accounting for 427 of them himself (339 passing, 88 rushing).  Wilson had a 55-yard run and an 80-yard touchdown pass in the same game.  He engineered an offense that put 35 points on one of the best defenses in the NFL.

For the year, Wilson now has 26 total touchdowns and only six turnovers.  He has thrown for 3,236 yards and added 842 on the ground.

It’s easy to dismiss Wilson as a glorified game manager, benefiting from a great defense and the presence of Marshawn Lynch, who perhaps deserves a little MVP consideration of his own.  It’s easy to do that, if you don’t watch the Seahawks play.

At a time when the league has caught up with mobile quarterbacks, no one can catch Wilson.  He buys time being the line of scrimmage, darting and spinning and accelerating away from defenders.  He finds the open man from the pocket and outside it.  And when he decides to run, run he does — at all times protecting himself from the kind of hits that have put other mobile quarterbacks on the sidelines.

There’s still a game to go, and the final playoff tree and season statistics should have a lot to do with the final vote.  For now, Wilson at least deserves a spot in the conversation.  A week from now, it’s possible he’ll deserve the prize itself.

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