Mike Florio is joined by Michael David Smith to make their picks for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. They both agree that the Patriots and Broncos look like the clear favorites in the AFC, but the NFC matchups are a little tougher to predict.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
PFT Live: AFC games are no-brainers
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston remains the most talked-about college football player in America, for good and for ill, and today he’s added another item that will be recited on the “con” side of the ledger in the NFL draft.
During Florida State’s win over Boston College, Winston moved an official aside as Florida State was trying to get a play run while the official was allowing Boston College’s defense to substitute. It wasn’t a hard shove and Winston wasn’t penalized, but former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira says that Winston should have been kicked out of the game.
“I’ve looked at this play several times, and in my opinion, Winston should have been penalized for shoving Webster not once, but twice. In fact, I feel he should have been ejected,” Pereira says.
Taken alone, this wouldn’t be a big deal as teams evaluate Winston for the draft. In fact, if a player with a clean image (like the other top quarterback prospect in next year’s draft, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota) did the same thing, people would probably say it just shows what a fiery competitor he is.
But when it’s Winston — who always seems to find a way for his behavior to overshadow his brilliant play — it raises questions once again about whether NFL teams will worry that the headaches he creates are too much to tolerate. Winston is a great college quarterback, but one whom a lot of NFL teams may view as the last person they want to be the face of their franchise.
The Bills are planning on having their elder statesman in the lineup against the Jets.
Tailback Fred Jackson (groin) is expected to play in Monday night’s game in Detroit, Bills coach Doug Marrone said Saturday, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. Jackson was listed as questionable on the club’s Friday injury report.
The 33-year-old Jackson has missed two out of the last three games because of the injury. He’s third on the team in rushing yards and carries, gaining 249 yards and a touchdown on 58 attempts. His 37 catches are second on the club, and he’s accumulated 300 receiving yards and a TD reception.
A major winter storm forced the Jets-Bills game to be moved from Orchard Park, New York on Sunday to Detroit on Monday night.
The Bills (5-5) are currently 1.5 games out in the AFC wild-card race.
For fantasy football participants, here are the skill-position players listed on the final Week 12 injury report, with both Monday-night games (Jets-Bills, Ravens-Saints) included. Key fantasy starters are bolded.
Inactives will be posted 90 minutes before game time.
Byes: Steelers, Panthers.
Bears WR Chris Williams (hamstring).
Broncos RB Montee Ball (foot).
Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (foot).
Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion).
Browns WR Marlon Moore (hamstring).
Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle).
Packers TE Brandon Bostick (hip).
Rams WR Damian Williams (hamstring).
Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (thigh).
Saints RB Khiry Robinson (forearm).
Vikings RB Matt Asiata (concussion).
Washington TE Jordan Reed (hamstring).
Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee).
Bills RB Fred Jackson (groin).
Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle).
Broncos TE Virgil Green (calf).
Buccaneers RB Charles Sims (ankle).
Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (ankle).
Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (hip, foot).
Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (shoulder).
49ers TE Vance McDonald (hip).
49ers WR Bruce Ellington (ankle).
Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle).
Rams TE Cory Harkey (quadriceps).
Rams TE Jared Cook (back).
Saints WR Robert Meachem (ankle).
Texans RB Arian Foster (groin).
Titans WR Justin Hunter (knee).
Vikings WR Greg Jennings (rib).
Vikings WR Jarius Wright (hamstring).
Bears WR Alshon Jeffery (hamstring).
Bears WR Brandon Marshall (ankle).
Bears WR Josh Morgan (shoulder).
Bengals RB Cedric Peerman (hip).
Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip).
Bills RB Frank Summers (neck).
Bills WR Chris Hogan (hip).
Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (ankle).
Bills WR Sammy Watkins (groin).
Broncos RB Juwan Thompson (knee).
Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (concussion).
Cardinals RB Robert Hughes (hamstring).
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee).
Colts RB Trent Richardson (illness).
Colts WR Reggie Wayne (not injury related).
Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry (shoulder).
Dolphins WR Mike Wallace (calf).
Eagles WR Jeff Maehl (foot).
Eagles WR Jordan Matthews (knee).
49ers WR Brandon Lloyd (quadriceps).
Falcons RB Steven Jackson (illness).
Falcons WR Devin Hester (wrist).
Falcons WR Harry Douglas (foot).
Falcons WR Julio Jones (illness).
Jets RB Chris Ivory (shoulder).
Jets RB Chris Johnson (knee).
Jets WR Greg Salas (wrist).
Jets WR T.J. Graham (neck).
Lions RB Joique Bell (ankle).
Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (foot).
Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle).
Lions WR Golden Tate (hip).
Patriots WR Julian Edelman (thigh).
Ravens FB RB Kyle Juszczyk (foot).
Ravens TE Owen Daniels (not injury related).
Saints RB Mark Ingram (shoulder).
Saints RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder).
Saints RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring).
Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (back).
Texans RB Jonathan Grimes (ankle).
Texans WR Andre Johnson (not injury related).
Titans TE Delanie Walker (concussion).
Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (back).
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen, groin).
The Broncos have swapped reserve running backs in advance of Sunday’s game vs. Miami, promoting veteran Jeremy Stewart from the practice squad and waiving rookie Kapri Biggs.
The roster move was announced in the NFL’s Saturday transactions.
The 25-year-old Stewart has appeared in 17 regular season games, all with Oakland from 2012 through 2013. A Stanford product, Stewart (5-11, 215) has rushed 27 times for 103 yards and one TD and has caught 10 passes for 68 yards.
A lingering ankle injury caused Lions running back Reggie Bush to miss last Sunday’s loss in Arizona. He’s currently expected to miss Sunday’s game at New England.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Bush intends to return on Thanksgiving, when the Lions host the Bears.
Bush practiced all week on a limited basis, fueling optimism that he’ll help pump up an offense that mustered only six points against the Cardinals. Officially questionable for Sunday, it’s looking like he won’t be ready to go until Thursday.
Five days ago, the 49ers activated defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey from injured reserve with designation to return. Per a league source, Dorsey nevertheless remains a few weeks away from being ready to play.
Dorsey suffered a torn biceps in August; he’s listed as out for Sunday’s game with a forearm injury. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said recently that Dorsey’s recovery has plateaued.
The problem for the 49ers comes from the decision to activate Dorsey. He would have remained on IR/DFR until ready to play. By activating him, they had to make a move to permit Dorsey to count toward the 53-man roster.
The NFLPA wanted Commissioner Roger Goodell to delegate the ability to resolve the appeal of Adrian Peterson’s suspension to a neutral, third-party arbitrator. Goodell instead delegated the case to former NFL executive Harold Henderson.
While not the kind of independence the NFLPA envisioned, Henderson isn’t currently a direct employee of the league office. Sure, he’s routinely appointed by the league to handle hearings involving player discipline, and he’d presumably like those assignments to continue. But a buffer definitely exists between Goodell and Henderson that wouldn’t apply if Goodell had appointed someone like general counsel Jeff Pash to decide the Peterson appeal.
Henderson has handled 87 player appeals since 2008, and he serves as president of the NFL Player Care Foundation, which is funded jointly by the NFL and the NFLPA. Still, the NFLPA wants the league to treat appeals under the personal conduct policy the same way most appeals are now treated under the substance-abuse and PED policies — with a truly neutral and disconnected entity handling the appeal. The fact that Goodell handed the baton to someone to whom he has handed the baton many times before shows that the Peterson case will be handled the same way most cases have been handled in past years. The union believes the issues raised in this case require independence of the kind that was obtained in the Ray Rice appeal.
To legitimize the disciplinary process, the NFLPA wants true independence in every case. The decision to give the Peterson appeal to someone who falls within the bubble of people to whom Goodell is comfortable delegating appeals shows that the league doesn’t want the same kind of independence.
As the Saints try to avoid falling three games under .500 and in turn losing three straight games at the Superdome for the first time since 2001, they’ll have some extra help in the backfield.
Running back Pierre Thomas appears as probable on the injury report with a rib and shoulder injury. Thomas last played on October 19 at Detroit.
For the season, he has 133 rushing yards and 204 receiving yards in six games.
The Saints host the Ravens on Monday night, in the normal Monday night slot of 8:30 p.m. ET. The Jets and Bill play in Detroit, starting at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Raiders linebacker Sio Moore is lucky his excessive third-down celebration didn’t prevent Oakland from winning for the first time in 17 tries. If that had happened, Moore would have had a problem beyond the Raiders falling to 0-11.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Woodson said, via Michael Wagaman of ESPN.com. “That was the first time I had ever seen somebody celebrate for a whole 40-second clock. That was ridiculous, and they know it. I told Sio he’s lucky we got the win because we really probably would’ve had to fight, and I would’ve seen exactly what kind of fighter he is.”
Moore has apologized for lingering so long in celebration that a timeout had to be taken, because he and Khalil Mack were well behind the Kansas City backfield as the Chiefs prepared to snap the ball.
This offseason saw receiver Eric Decker leave Denver for the Jets in free agency, and Emmanuel Sanders sign with the Broncos to take Decker’s place. Decker sometimes feels the way you’d expect a receiver to feel about leaving a first-place team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning and joining a last-place team quarterbacked by Geno Smith and Michael Vick.
“Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to watch them when they’re playing,” Decker told the New York Daily News. “When they’re clicking on all cylinders, they’re a tough football team. They got the right pieces.”
Sanders ranks fifth in the NFL with 954 receiving yards, while Decker ranks 62nd in the NFL with 450 receiving yards. Decker isn’t crazy about watching that.
“Emmanuel Sanders is playing well in my spot, so to speak,” Decker said. “Sometimes, you know, it’s tough to see all the success. But that’s football. It’s going to go in swings. Who says we can’t be a great football team? We got to obviously do some right things to get there, but I’m happy for Peyton and Demaryius [Thomas]. I respect them so much. They’re all good friends, so I like to see them do well, but sometimes it’s hard.”
Decker isn’t saying he regrets leaving Denver, and his contract with the Jets gives him 36 million reasons to be happy where he is. But Decker is being honest about his mixed emotions: It’s tough to leave a team like the Broncos to play like a team for the Jets.
Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes said something naughty to an official on Thursday night, and he’ll pay for it.
The NFL has fined Hughes $22,050 for unsportsmanlike conduct. Specifically, according to the NFL, Hughes “directed abusive language towards an official.”
We don’t know exactly what Hughes said, but he insisted that it was nothing that warranted a penalty. Hughes said all he did was tell the officials that they had missed a holding penalty that should have been called on the Dolphins.
“There really wasn’t one,” Hughes said when asked what explanation he got from the officials. “I did yell because I did get held on that play. I made sure I yelled, ‘Holding.’ Whatever else came after that, I really don’t know. I don’t know. . . . I’ve never really seen a holding call missed at the point of attack like that. So I really don’t know. I’m at a loss for words right now.”
This was the second time referee Walt Coleman’s crew gave Hughes an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty this season. The last time was Week 6 against the Patriots, when Hughes appeared to do nothing warranting a penalty. Hughes says he doesn’t know what the deal is with this officiating crew.
“It’s the same crew from New England, from when we played New England, so it just doesn’t surprise me,” Hughes said.
But in this case, the NFL obviously agrees with the officials that Hughes said something wrong. Something that will cost him $22,050.
One of the Broncos’ top pass rushers is a late addition to the injury report, but it does not appear to be a big deal.
Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (illness) was placed on the report Saturday, the team said. However, he’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game vs. Miami.
According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Ware was sent home sick on Saturday.
The 32-yard-old Ware has started all 10 games for the Broncos this season, notching 28 tackles and nine sacks. He had played the previous eight seasons with the Cowboys, where he established himself as one of the top pass rushers of his generation.
The Broncos (7-3) are a half-game ahead of the Chiefs and one game in front of the Chargers in the AFC West.
With only six Sundays left in the season, things are getting more and more interesting for the teams in contention. And, for some of the teams not in contention, more and more dysfunctional.
Speaking of dysfunctional, PFT continues to produce every Saturday a three-questions-per-game look at every contest to be played on every Sunday. There’s one less Sunday game this week, with Jets-Bills moved to Monday. But with only two teams on byes, there will be plenty of stuff going on in the twelfth Sunday of 2014.
To get up to speed on all of the action, perform the action that requires precious little effort — scroll down.
Browns at Falcons
1. How much will Josh Gordon be used?
Plenty. Heavily. Extensively.
Officially, the Browns plan to ease Gordon, who missed 10 games under his latest drug suspension, back into the game plan. The Falcons aren’t buying it. Neither is anyone else.
Gordon remains one of the best receivers in the NFL. He potentially opens up the rest of the offense. He’ll be on the field, and he’ll be a key contributor.
2. What kind of chemistry do Gordon and Brian Hoyer have?
Given that they have played in only three games together, this isn’t quite Montana and Rice. But in their very first career game together last year, it was.
Hoyer and Gordon connected 10 times for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. It was the last time the Browns played in a dome.
On Sunday, Gordon and Hoyer are together again. In a dome again. So, yeah, things could get interesting.
3. Do the Falcons wash their hands enough?
Apparently not. Three offensive starters have missed time this week with the flu.
Receiver Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson, and fullback Patrick DiMarco headline the victims of the virus. Coach Mike Smith has said Jones will play, and he’s listed a probable (as are Jackson and DiMarco). But will Jones be ready?
“It’s been kind of difficult,” Roddy White said this week regarding the absence of Julio Jones. “Going through plays and stuff, we’ve got people moving around. He’s just got to get healthy. He’s going through the flu bug so we’ve just got to get him right and get him ready on Sunday.”
Buccaneers at Bears
1. What kind of reception will Lovie Smith get?
The over/under on signs that say “Lovie Come Home” or something similar at Soldier Field should be 52.5. Smith, whom linebacker Lance Briggs has said should be regarded among the best coaches in franchise history with George Halas and Mike Dikta, remains beloved in Chicago. Smith is likely even more beloved now that the team is struggling under Marc Trestman.
Those cheers could quickly subside if/when Smith and his 2-8 Bucs upend the Bears, who continue to struggle even though they managed to outscore the Vikings a week ago. Or maybe Bears fans will convert to Tampa fans. After all, the Buccaneers are a lot closer to playoff contention in the NFC South than the Bears are in the NFC North.
2. Can Mike Evans keep it going?
There’s no reason to think he can’t. The rookie told PFT Live earlier this week that the pro game already has slowed down for him. His performances the past three weeks underscore that reality.
In each of the last three games, Smith has seven catches. In each of the last three games, he generated at least 124 passing yards. In each of the last three games, he scored at least one touchdown.
Last Sunday, Evans became the youngest player in league history to surpass 200 receiving yards in one game, securing the NFC offensive player of the week award with seven catches for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
With size, speed, and uncanny ball skills, Evans quickly is becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL. Soon, he could simply be one of the best receivers in the NFL, regardless of age.
3. Will the clocks at Soldier Field work any better this week?
They can’t work much worse. Last week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with a malfunction that forced quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to play a soccer-style guessing game regarding the amount of time remaining. This week, the situation apparently has been remedied.
“That was a first, and we’d like to say a last,” a Soldier Field spokesman said this week. “But the [clocks] are ready for Sunday.”
The one thing we know for sure is that, given Lovie Smith’s more laid-back style, it’s unlikely he’ll describe the clocks the same way Zimmer did.
Bengals at Texans
1. Which Andy Dalton will show up?
Good question. Two weeks ago, it was Andy Dalton 2.0. Last Sunday, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.
Having a healthy and productive receiver A.J. Green helped; Green generated 127 receiving yards against the Saints. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill added 152 on the ground. Now, running back Gio Bernard has recovered from a hip injury. So Dalton has weapons.
Of course, the Texans have a fairly potent weapon in defensive end J.J. Watt. If he can make Dalton uncomfortable, we may see more of the guy who failed in Cleveland two weeks ago — and less of the guy who beat the Saints in their own building.
2. Are the Texans a legitimate contender?
Only one game behind the Colts, Houston has a pair of encounters remaining against Jacksonville and a visit from the Titans. That should get Houston to eight wins. Standing between eight and 11 are the Bengals, Colts, and Ravens.
The test starts Sunday. Beat the Bengals, and nine games should be a sure thing — 10 games will be a strong possibility.
3. With Gio Bernard healthy, how much will we see Jeremy Hill?
With Bernard injured, Hill gained more than 360 yards in three games. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson says that has resulted in Hill earning more time once Bernard returns on Sunday.
While the Hill-Bernard rotation could drive fantasy owners crazy down the stretch, it could help the Bengals hold off the other three teams in the AFC North.
Jaguars at Colts
1. What will the Colts do without Ahmad Bradshaw?
Trent Richardson gets yet another chance to justify Indy’s decision to send a first-round pick for the guy on whom the Browns burned the No. 3 overall selection. Richardson currently has an average of 3.4 yards per carry; Bradshaw, who is out for the year with a broken bone in his leg, was gaining 4.7 yards per attempt.
If Richardson can’t get it done, look for Boom Herron to get more chances.
One guy who won’t be helping the cause is Ben Tate. While the Colts made a waivers claim on the former Browns tailback, the Vikings had priority. Surprisingly, the Colts showed no interest in LeGarrette Blount, who gained 166 yards and scored four touchdowns against Indy in the 2013 playoffs.
2. Could Coby Fleener have a big game?
With tight end Dwayne Allen ruled out due to an ankle injury, Fleener will get a chance to build on his Week 11 performance, which resulted in 144 receiving yards.
“I think he’s playing better than I’ve ever seen him,” receiver (former, as of Saturday afternoon) Griff Whalen said this week of his Stanford and Colts teammate. “His demeanor on the field is more physical and more aggressive. After the catch, he’s not shying away from contact. He’s embracing it.”
It’s not bad for a guy who nearly quit football in high school, but who stuck with it because a scholarship was the only path to college.
3. Does Jags coach Gus Bradley like a little scuffling in practice?
Absolutely. It happened on Thursday, and Bradley approved.
“We had some guys getting together and had to break them up a little bit but through competition going on,” Bradley said. “It was a very spirited practice. . . . It wasn’t like a like a big fight. It was just a scuffle.”
But it shows that the Jaguars still have a little fight in them, despite having only one win on the year.
Packers at Vikings
1. Will Teddy Bridgewater’s presence make a difference?
Probably not. While the rookie definitely represents a step up over Christian Ponder, who played poorly when Bridgewater was injured in Week Five, Bridgewater has yet to play like he did in his debut as a starter against the Falcons.
And the Falcons are a far cry from the Packers, who have been rolling over every team in their path. To outscore Green Bay, Bridgewater must be able to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers. Few quarterbacks in the NFL currently can pull that off.
2. How much will Ben Tate play?
Tate was cut by the Browns in part because he didn’t like his role. In Minnesota, he doesn’t care what his role will be.
He could have a fairly significant one, given that Matt Asiata won’t play this week with a concussion.
Of course, none of the team’s running backs will have much of a role if the Packers run away with the game the way they ran away with the first round last month in Green Bay.
3. Will Clay Matthews be used outside or inside?
For now, it looks like he’ll primarily stay inside. Even with outside linebacker Nick Perry questionable due to a shoulder injury, the Packers may opt not to slide Matthews, who is probable with a groin injury, from the inside.
“I think it’s more of a next man up type of mentality around here,” Matthews said this week. “I’m sure [Jayrone] Eliott will have more opportunities as well as Mike [Neal] and [Julius Peppers]. As we have seen in weeks prior, I rush off the edge and play in the middle, so wherever they need me, I will be there.”
Lions at Patriots
1. Will the Patriots double-team Ndamukong Suh?
Not constantly. Coach Bill Belichick is leery about devoting too many resources to stifling Suh.
“As much as you try to double anybody, say Suh, sometimes you can’t because the guy you would have doubling him has to block a blitzer in pass protection,” Belichick said this week. “They create some single matchups like that.”
Still, Belichick knows he needs to find a way to stop Suh.
“He changes everything,” Belichick said later in the week.
2. How much of LeGarrette Blount will we see?
With Gray being sent home after being late on Friday due a cell-phone battery snafu, Blount already has a leg up.
Blount used his legs in January, gaining 166 yards and scoring four touchdowns against the Colts. Gray duplicated the four touchdowns and added 35 yards last Sunday against Indy. Either guy could give the running game a boost as the weather turns and the wind starts to whip.
3. How will the Lions deal with tight end Rob Gronkowski?
It sure sounds like they’d like to knock Gronk out of the game.
“Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up,” Lions safety Glover Quin said this week. “When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him.”
Gronk has a history of getting injured, and he plays with reckless abandon. If you hit him hard and hit him often, there’s a chance he gets injured and exits the game.
Before 2012, it was a given that teams should aspire to put the opponent’s best players on the sidelines. The bounty scandal forced that talk to become muted. But the incentive remains. For the Lions, rendering Gronkowski unable to play could be the difference between winning and losing.
Titans at Eagles
1. How is Mark Sanchez doing?
It depends on who you ask. Sanchez thinks he’s not doing well enough. Coach Chip Kelly seems to think he’s doing OK.
The numbers suggest Sanchez is struggling. But the Eagles currently have no viable alternative to Sanchez. They need to simply hold it together while Nick Foles‘ collarbone heals.
With seven good teams jockeying for five playoff berths in the NFC, it may not heal in time to salvage Philly’s seat at the postseason table.
2. How is Zach Mettenberger doing?
He had a solid showing on Monday night, averaging 11 yards per throw and racking up a passer rating of 110.2. But the rookie has yet to earn a victory for the Titans, who have lost four in a row.
Still, his teammates believe in him.
“I think Zach has been doing outstanding,” veteran receiver Nate Washington said this week. “He brings a lot to the table, a big strong arm. He’s smart behind the center, knows what is going. We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, and as a rookie he gave his all. He is progressing every week, and I think Zach has a huge, bright future in this league and I am excited to watch him grow.”
“He throws a pick-six on the first play of the game and it takes a lot of maturity and a lot of consistency and love for the game to not just throw it in from there,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “That kind of stuff will get you, and he just bounced right back and started slinging the ball. That’s the kind of guy he is. I think he somewhat made a name for himself.”
He would have made more of a name for himself if the Titans had beaten the Steelers. He has another chance to do it against the other team from Pennsylvania.
3. Is LeSean McCoy the same player he was in 2013?
He says he is.
72.9 yards per game on average. 3.7 yards per carry on average.
He has only one 100-yard game, and three with fewer than 25. Injuries along the offensive line surely are a factor. But it’s possible McCoy has indeed slipped, which could make it harder for coach Chip Kelly, who is willing to assess every player relative to skills, salary, and cap number, to justify bringing him back in 2015.
Rams at Chargers
1. Is Philip Rivers injured?
Yes, but that isn’t slowing him down.
“I can honestly say that there’s nothing going on that’s hindering me in any way,” Rivers said this week. “Shoot, there’s a lot of guys in that locker room that are playing that are a lot sorer than I am.”
It’s not in Rivers’ DNA to cry uncle when it comes to injuries.
“Growing up around it, my dad always said, ‘Shoot, unless you can’t walk, you find a way to play, or find a way to get off the field,’” Rivers said. “That was the main thing. Don’t lay out there on the field. I found my way off a few times last Sunday.”
The Chargers finally put Rivers on the injury report, three days after tight end Antonio Gates said the quarterback has a “very severe rib injury.” But Rivers says he’ll play on Sunday, and that he’ll be “fresh.”
2. Is Rivers’ center injured, again?
Yes. And it could mean that the team’s fourth different starting center will play on Sunday.
Watt has 64 snaps at center so far, and he has been playing some guard.
“The old adage is, he’s no longer a rookie,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week. “He’s proven himself.”
3. When will Chris Long be back?
Possibly soon. He suffered an ankle injury in Week One, and he remains on injured reserve with designation for return, even though he could have returned to the active roster three weeks ago.
“He’s getting better each day,” coach Jeff Fisher said this week. “We’ll just wait and see how he is [Friday]. If that’s the case [and Long is ready], then obviously we have to make a roster move, so we’ll see how he is.”
Whether or not the roster move is made late Saturday, the roster move could be coming sooner.
Cardinals at Seahawks
1. What’s wrong with Seattle’s passing game?
The easy answer is that receiver Golden Tate left for free agency, that receiver Percy Harvin was traded, and that tight end Zach Miller has landed on IR. And that the offensive line has been banged up all year.
The tougher answer is the question of whether quarterback Russell Wilson has plateaued as a passer. Heading into the season, it appeared he had found the proverbial next level. Now, not.
Since a Monday night performance at Washington that launched an MVP campaign for the third-year quarterback, Wilson has lost a lot of his touch.
In the four games including the win at Washington, Wilson threw eight touchdown passes and one interception. In the six games since then, five touchdown passes and four picks. He also is missing open receivers and relying much more on his legs.
Whether it’s by the air or by the ground, the Seahawks need Wilson to come through on Sunday against Arizona, or the chances of repeating as NFC West champions will be slim and none even before a Thanksgiving night showdown against the 49ers.
2. How much should be expected from Larry Fitzgerald?
It’s hard to say. He has a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and as former NFL athletic trainer Mike Ryan explained earlier this week on PFT on NBCSN, that usually means the player will miss at least a week.
But Fitzgerald played a full half with the knee injury, and he remains optimistic that he’ll be able to go on Sunday.
Officially a game-time decision, Fitz has had a big game in every other game since the bye week. This week, he’s due for another big game. With the Cardinals unexpectedly soaring and one win away from delivering a regular-season knockout punch to the Seahawks, don’t count him out.
3. How has Drew Stanton discovered his current level of performance?
In part, by revising his diet. An offseason consultation with an allergist resulted in a determination that Stanton is allergic to milk. In addition to dairy products, he also was advised to ditch pork, turkey, bananas, and cucumbers.
(Cucumbers? If I couldn’t eat cucumbers I would no longer want to live.)
Stanton dropped 15 pounds, and he feels better than ever.
“I recover faster, feel light and still have my strength,” Stanton said this week. “I just feel a lot better at this weight.”
The way he’s playing, he’d feel good at any weight.
Dolphins at Broncos
1. Why is Peyton Manning getting impatient?
Because he knows the window is closing on his team’s ability to force the road to Arizona through Denver. And if the Broncos eventually have to return to Foxboro in January, it’s probably not going to end any better than it did three weeks ago.
“Your sense of urgency has to increase,” Manning said this week. “Realizing there aren’t many games left and we better get on it, better get going. Need to play better, I need to play better, . . . You can say all you want, you can talk about doing it, but you’ve got to go and do it.”
It starts, in many respects, with the offensive line. The Dolphins have the horses to swarm Manning like the Rams did last week, and like the Seahawks did in the Super Bowl. That’s a lingering problem that needs to be fixed or the Broncos won’t be able to get back to the NFL championship game. And if they do, they may get roughed up yet again.
2. Is Bill Lazor worried about reports of griping from players?
He says that any actual or perceived friction with players reflects that which is normal for NFL teams.
“You’ve been at practice, nothing is different,” Lazor said this week. “You’ve been at training camp where you could be at the whole practices. I would like to think that, if the players were asked, that they would say I’ve been professional.
“I’d say there would probably be very, very few times that a curse word has come out of my mouth, but that I’m demanding from them. The greatest feedback I’ve gotten from our players in one-on-one settings is when they’ve told me how much they appreciate the expectations I have for the offense.”
Those expectations, for the most part, haven’t been met. So the truth is that the players, not the coaches, are the more likely source of any friction.
3. Will the Broncos sign Richie Incognito?
Denver hasn’t given him a job yet; if he’d been on the team for Sunday’s visit from Miami, the story lines (and punchlines) would have written themselves. It remains unclear whether Denver will give him a shot.
“No real updates,” coach John Fox said this week. “It’s kind of a personnel matter and we did have him in for a workout. I think that was well-documented. . . . We work out a lot of people throughout the season. We’re always looking to improve our football team any way possible and I’ll leave it at that.”
So what does Incognito’s former head coach think of the possibility of Incognito getting a job with the Broncos?
“I think Denver has a great front office and a great personnel staff, and they have to certainly make decisions that are best for their football team,” coach Joe Philbin said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
So they’ll both leave it at that. For now, the NFL has continued to leave Incognito on his couch.
Washington at 49ers
1. What should be expected from Aldon Smith in his second game of the year?
Plenty. In his first game after a nine-game suspension, Smith participated in 54 of 68 defensive snaps. His mere presence helped make it easier for his teammates to create pressure on Eli Manning, by diluting the available protection.
This week, the protection for Washington could be diluted from the get-go, if left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) can’t play. Williams’ absence would thrust rookie Morgan Moses into the fray, and he’d be facing Smith.
In other words, quarterback Robert Griffin III had better be ready to run.
2. Is Robert Griffin III in trouble?
Yes, if the head coach has any say in Griffin’s future. On Monday, Jay Gruden called out the quarterback both for calling out teammates and for not playing very well. Gruden later said he went too far — and then he went even farther, calling Griffin “coddled” and making it clear that the “clock’s ticking” on the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Gruden specifically mentioned that Colt McCoy has generated a 2-0 record during games played while Griffin was injured. McCoy could end up playing while Griffin is not injured.
After the year, Washington could be moving on from Griffin — if Gruden gets to make the call on the future of the quarterback position.
3. Is Jay Gruden in trouble?
Yes, if the owner still remains fully committed to the guy for whom the team gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick less than three years ago.
While Daniel Snyder and president/G.M. Bruce Allen have remained silent about this week’s string of regrettable remarks from quarterback and coach, they surely have an opinion. If the opinion is that the first-year head coach has unfairly undermined the franchise quarterback, the franchise may not give the coach a second year.
Cowboys at Giants
1. Will Cowboys limit DeMarco Murray’s touches?
They claim they won’t, but they should. The Giants have the worst run defense in the entire league, and the Cowboys have to play again on Thursday, against the Eagles.
This would be a great opportunity to get Murray a little rest, give Joseph Randle some reps, and have Murray ready to roll on a short week made even shorter by playing on Sunday night and again on Thursday afternoon.
2. How healthy is Tony Romo?
He apparently has recovered from the fractured transverse processes in his back, but he still doesn’t practice on Wednesdays due to the broader concerns about the condition of his spine. With a game on Thursday, that’s more than a little concerning.
The best move for the Cowboys would be to build a big lead on Sunday night and then get Romo out of the game, so that he’ll have maximum time to rest before facing Philly with the division lead on the line.
3. Is Eli Manning on the hot seat?
We’d have a more clear picture if his coach were Jay Gruden. And while no one with the Giants is saying anything bad about Eli (indeed, co-owner John Mara has praised him), the seat has heat as it relates to a contract that expires after the 2015 season.
With a salary of $17 million and a cap number of $19.5 million next year, it could become very difficult to apply the right value to Eli for 2016 and beyond. Impasse on that point could be the thing that ultimately forces the Giants to move on, because they surely won’t be inclined to apply the franchise tag to Manning in 2016, when based on his 2015 cap number he’d be owed a guaranteed salary of $23.4 million.
Colts return man Griff Whalen’s latest mistake was his last in Indianapolis.
Whalen was part of the odd botched kickoff return that easily could have been a safety on Sunday against the Patriots. The Colts signed veteran return man Josh Cribbs this week and have now cut Whalen today.
With Whalen released, the Colts have used the roster space to add running back Zurlon Tipton from the practice squad.
Tipton signed as an undrafted free agent this year after a very good college career at Central Michigan. He’ll add some depth at running back behind Trent Richardson and Dan Herron after the Colts lost Ahmad Bradshaw for the season this week.
The Falcons will honor a living member of the Tuskegee Airmen during Sunday’s game vs. Cleveland.
According to the club’s website, the Falcons will recognize 98-year-old Edward Johnson, a sergeant in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.
Johnson served with the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group, serving as an instrument-flying instructor, the Falcons said.
The Tuskegee Airmen were African-American members of the Air Corps and the U.S. Army Air Forces whose ranks included pilots who flew bombing missions in World War II.
According to the Falcons, Johnson is a long-time fan of the club who has never attended a game. He will be accompanied by one of his daughters.
The ceremony will occur sometime during the first half, the Falcons said.