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Jared Gaither staying in San Diego for the moment

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A couple of weeks ago, new Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said that he wanted to speak to T Jared Gaither himself before making any decisions about Gaither’s role on the team in 2013.

Telesco didn’t get a chance to speak to Gaither face-to-face, but he was able to have a phone conversation with the tackle who played just four games in San Diego last season because of injury. While that wasn’t his preferred way of chatting with Gaither, Telesco said that there’s no imminent change in Gaither’s status with the team.

“At least I got a chance to talk to him at length and get a feel for him,” Gaither said, via the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I wasn’t here last year, so kind of get his side of what happened last year. Nothing new with him right now. Nothing imminent right now.”

Gaither is set to count $6.5 million against the cap in 2013, but cutting him wouldn’t provide much savings to the Chargers. He’ll count $6 million against the cap if he does get a pink slip, something that helps his chances of sticking around since it would likely cost the Chargers more than $500,000 to find someone who can play left tackle without risking quarterback Philip Rivers‘ health.

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Mike McCoy: We couldn’t make one play to get going

Philip Rivers AP

The Chargers were a win away from a postseason berth on Sunday, but they couldn’t manage to get it against a Chiefs team that gave them plenty of opportunities to grab hold of the game.

Philip Rivers was sacked seven times and threw two interceptions, Nick Novak missed a field goal and the defense couldn’t force a Kansas City offense quarterbacked by Chase Daniel into a turnover. After the 19-7 loss, Chargers coach Mike McCoy lamented those missed opportunities to grab a game that was there for the taking.

“That’s the most disappointing thing,” McCoy said, via U-T San Diego. “With everything that was at stake and for us to play the way we did … We couldn’t make the one play to get it going.”

It was hard not to see the impact of injuries on the Chargers Sunday. The seven sacks and inability to pick up a yard on a key fourth down play came behind an offensive line that was on its fifth center while also starting a rookie at right guard. The top two running backs and top wide receiver were also on the shelf, leaving Rivers and company with “not exactly the offense we expected to have.”

That didn’t stop them from being in position to win in Kansas City, but it may have stopped them from being able to execute and they’ll have a long time to ponder better ways to get the job done in 2015.

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NFL morning after: Seahawks ready to repeat

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Seventeen weeks of the NFL season have come and gone, and we’re left with this: The best team at the end of this season is the same as the best team at the end of last season.

The Seattle Seahawks are poised to become the NFL’s first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Patriots a decade ago. The Seahawks are getting the same great play out of their defense they were a year ago and the same great play from quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, and with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, they’re going to be a very, very tough team to beat.

This season hasn’t always gone according to plan in Seattle. Through six games they were 3-3, and at times early in the year their defense looked like it had taken a step backward. It was reasonable to question during the middle of the season if Seattle was as good as it was a year ago. It was even reasonable to question whether Seattle would make the playoffs at all.

But that’s all over now. With Sunday’s 20-6 win over the Rams, the Seahawks finished the season on a six-game winning streak, with all six wins by double digits. The Seahawks aren’t just beating teams, they’re beating teams up. They’re winning the way great teams win.

And I think they’ve got three more wins left in them. On February 1, the Seahawks will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Again.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday’s game:

Break up the Panthers! I never thought I’d say this about the NFC South champions, but the Panthers might actually be a pretty good team. Yes, they’re lucky that they’re in a bad division, and that’s the only reason they’re in the playoffs at 7-8-1. But they’ve won four in a row to enter the playoffs, including a pair of 31-point road wins at New Orleans and at Atlanta to seal the division title. The Panthers, who host the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, might just advance.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell is terrible at challenges. When Caldwell was the head coach of the Colts, Indianapolis hired former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel solely to serve as an advisor on instant replay challenges. The Colts’ brass knew Caldwell wasn’t good at it and wanted to get him some help. Maybe the Lions should do the same, after Caldwell made an absolutely ridiculous decision to challenge an obviously correct call on which Packers running back Eddie Lacy had the ball knocked out of his arms while he was on the ground and was correctly ruled down by contact. Throwing away a timeout in the second half of a close game is inexcusable, but that’s what Caldwell did. Caldwell is good at the slower, more deliberative aspects of coaching — game planning, getting his players prepared during the week, that kind of thing. But Caldwell just isn’t good at split-second decisions, and that’s easy to see when he throws his challenge flag.

Where did that Geno Smith come from? Smith, in what may very well have been his last game as the Jets’ starting quarterback, went 20-for-25 for 358 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Smith was the only quarterback in the NFL all season to have a game with a perfect passer rating. But here’s the amazing thing about Smith: He was also the only quarterback in the NFL all season to have a game with a 0.0 passer rating. Smith is so inconsistent that there’s just no way the Jets can count on him going forward. Even though he had a great game on Sunday.

J.J. Watt’s great season overshadowed Justin Houston’s great season. Watt was such a force of nature for the Texans that not only will he win the Defensive Player of the Year award, but he’s a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award as well. But while we praise Watt, we shouldn’t overlook Houston, who had four sacks on Sunday for the Chiefs and finished the season with 22.0 sacks, just half a sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record. Watt is the first player to record 20 sacks in two different seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, and Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player. But don’t forget Houston when listing the best defensive players in football.

Odell Beckham is the best receiver in the NFL. Beckham, the Giants’ sensational playmaker, isn’t just the best rookie in the NFL. He’s the best receiver, period. Beckham had 12 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, and he finished the year with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing the first four games of the year with a hamstring injury. There is no receiver in football who made plays as consistently as Beckham did over the last three-fourths of the season, and he was doing it in an otherwise substandard Giants Offense. Beckham is amazing.

DeMarco Murray breaks an Emmitt Smith record. Murray finished this season with 1,845 rushing yards, the most in Cowboys history. When you’re breaking a record set by Smith, that’s pretty good. Murray will have a tough task in the Cowboys’ playoff opener against a good Lions rush defense. But that Lions rush defense will have an even tougher task dealing with Murray.

Russell Wilson is running like no other quarterback. Wilson finished this season with 849 rushing yards, the fifth best total for a quarterback in NFL history, and by far the best total of any quarterback in the NFL this season. Wilson is running better than any other quarterback in the league right now. He looks ready to run Seattle into the Super Bowl.

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Jerry Jones: No one knows what worries me about Dez Bryant contract

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Over the weekend, the Dallas Morning News had the latest in a periodic set of reports about concerns that the Cowboys have about wide receiver Dez Bryant’s life away from the football field.

All of those concerns are aired against the backdrop of Bryant’s impending free agency and what it might mean for the deal that he ultimately winds up with in Dallas. Bryant set the team’s record for receiving touchdowns in a season during Sunday’s victory and provided another entry for his highlight reel with a toe-dragging touchdown.

After the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that any worries he might have about signing Bryant to a long-term deal were worries that he hasn’t shared with anyone in the media and suggested that those worries were similar to ones he has any time he’s negotiating multimillion dollar commitments.

“I told you I’m not going to get into issues regarding any contract, but nobody knows what I’m worried about,” Jones said, via “And I don’t know that I’ve ever signed a contract that I didn’t have things to worry about, but nobody talked about them. You can’t make business decisions, especially multimillion dollar business decisions without having a nice little worry list over on the right. Everybody does. So it’s wrong to say that that is an issue. That’s not an issue relative to overall getting it done. We just want to get it done.”

Jones has already said that the team is prepared to use the franchise tag on Bryant in the event they can’t get a long-term deal done by the deadline to use the tag this offseason, so there’s no fear that Bryant will be leaving the team this offseason. Given the issues involved with reach an agreement, it wouldn’t come as a great shock to see the tag used to buy more time for contract talks designed to make sure Bryant’s highlights continue to benefit the Cowboys.

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Marc Trestman expects to return

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Black Monday has arrived and Chicago will be one of the towns we’re watching for changes as the day unfurls itself.

Chatter over the weekend was that there could be significant changes to the organization with president Ted Phillips, General Manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman all at serious risk of losing their jobs after a 5-11 season that saw just about everything that could go wrong misfire for the Bears.

After Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, Trestman said that he expects to be back and made his case as the right guy to oversee fixing the mess that he helped to create this season.

“I don’t have to go into the reasons that I expect to be back. I couldn’t look at it any other way or with any other kind of focus. My plan is to continue to finalize my notes now that the season is over and make sure that if the opportunity arises, I’ll be able to explain how we fix this thing. Because we have to get better,” Trestman said, via the Chicago Tribune. “Nobody understands the situation better than I do,” he said. “I’ve lived it every day for the last two years. And certainly the last six months. So I think I have some expertise in that area. And putting my thoughts down, I don’t think there’s anybody in a better position to assess it other than myself or Phil.”

We’ll know soon whether team ownership agrees with Trestman’s read on the situation, but status quo is going to be a tough sell for the Bears after a year that went off the rails as spectacularly as this one.

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A.J. Green in concussion protocol

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Bengals watchers spent last week monitoring wide receiver A.J. Green’s recovery from a bruised bicep and Green ultimately made it into the lineup for Sunday night’s loss to the Steelers.

The watch will be on again this week and it might be more difficult to get the same happy outcome for the Bengals. The team announced early Monday morning that Green is in the concussion protocol after suffering a concussion on a hit from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell in the fourth quarter of the game.

Green fumbled on the play, a turnover that all but sealed his team’s losing fate in Pittsburgh. Their chances of losing a second straight game to the Colts next Sunday will increase if Green isn’t able to progress through the protocol over the course of the week and there’s nothing that the Bengals or anyone else can do to speed the process along.

That will make for some tension in Cincinnati in the coming days as they wait to find out if Green will be able to help them avoid a fourth straight year with a loss in their first playoff game.

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Mike Smith: Ultimately, I’m the one held responsible

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The Falcons barely showed up against the Panthers with the NFC South title on the line on Sunday and that appears to be the final straw for Falcons coach Mike Smith.

There was a search firm contracted to help find the team’s next coach before the Falcons lost to Carolina and nothing that happened on the field Sunday made an argument for keeping him on the job any longer. Smith wouldn’t talk about the search firm report after the game, but knows that he can’t evade what comes with having a 6-10 record.

“I wish I would have done a whole lot of things better,” Smith said, via “Ultimately, I’m the one that’s held responsible. This is a 6-10 football team, and there’s one person that the record is attributed to. That’s the head football coach, and we were 6-10 in 2014. There’s a whole lot of things I could have done differently and better. They’re all learning experiences, and I will take those and in the future, make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes that I made this season.”

At some point Monday, we expect to know for sure that Smith, who lead the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five years before crashing to 10 wins over the last two seasons, will be somewhere else when he shows what he’s learned from this experience.

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Tomlin says post-game incident with Nelson was unrelated to hit on Bell

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A post-game discussion between Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Bengals safety Reggie Nelson started fairly innocuously — before becoming heated before resulting in Bengals coach Marvin Lewis breaking it up.  The initial assumption was that Tomlin either objected to Nelson’s low hit on running back Le’Veon Bell or to Nelson’s arguably taunting after inflicting a knee injury.

Instead, Tomlin said after the game that it was totally unrelated to anything that happened on the field.

It’s not an illegal hit,” Tomlin told reporters.  “It’s not illegal. I did not [have an issue with it].”

So what happened between Tomlin and Nelson?

“You have to ask him about that,” Tomlin said.  “He was talking about some he-said, she-said type of a deal. I don’t know what he was talking about. . . .  I guess a teammate told him that I said something regarding him.  That’s untrue.  Ask him.  I have a lot of respect for Reggie Nelson.  He’s a good player.”

Via Coley Harvey of, Nelson refused to talk about the situation after the game.

The situation is bizarre, to say the least.  And it’s odd to think that any “he-said, she-said” disagreement involving a coach of one NFL team and a player on another NFL team would lead to an awkward post-game incident, under any circumstances.

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Report: Jets to “swiftly” fire Idzik, Ryan

Idzik AP

To little (or no) surprise, a new regime is coming to the Jets.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Jets owner Woody Johnson will move “swiftly” on Monday to fire G.M. John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan.

Idzik, who has been on the job for only two years and never got to hire his own coach, has had a disastrous run at the team’s personnel chief.  But Johnson contributed to that by forbidding Idzik from firing Ryan in 2013, creating differing agendas with Ryan hoping to win now to save his job and Idzik trying to build for the future.

Ultimately, Idzik got two years and Ryan six.  The former will likely get little consideration for G.M. vacancies; the latter could be considered for coaching jobs in Oakland, Atlanta, and Chicago.

As Peter King of explained on Football Night in America, the first order of business will be to hire a new G.M., with Ravens assistant G.M. Eric DeCosta and Vikings assistant G.M. George Paton believed to be the early frontrunners.  Former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik also could get some consideration, along with Falcons assistant G.M. Scott Pioli.

Then there’s Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff.  If owner Arthur Blank decides to clean house (and that would be a mistake), Dimitroff would surely rocket to the top of the list in New York.

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Mike Smith is “absolutely done” in Atlanta

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Black Monday is here, and one of the first guys to be gone will be Falcons coach Mike Smith.  Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, Smith is “absolutely done” after seven seasons with the team.

It’s hardly a surprise; owner Arthur Blank already has hired a search firm to find the next head coach.

Some will think that Smith lost his job once he lost Sunday’s NFC South championship game.  But he likely was gone even if the Falcons had won on Sunday.  He likely would have been gone even if the Falcons had won in the wild-card round.

Before Smith’s arrival, the Falcons had never had consecutive winning seasons.  Smith led them to five in a row.  But a 4-12 season followed by 6-10 has sealed Smith’s fate.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Ben Roethlisberger on the spot now

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With Marshawn Lynch last week and Ben Roethlisberger this week, stomach bugs might become a fad before prime time games.

While the Steelers quarterback wasn’t his most prolific, he did enough to boost the Steelers to the AFC North title with a 27-17 win over the Bengals.

He overcame an upset stomach that limited him in pregame — and sent him to the locker room in the first quarter — to throw for 317 yards and two touchdowns.

The Steelers will now host Baltimore Saturday night, while the Bengals will go to Indianapolis Sunday afternoon.

And with running back Le’Veon Bell’s status up in the air with a knee injury, Roethlisberger’s going to have more of a burden on him than ever when he sees the Ravens. Bell left with a hyperextended right knee, and didn’t return.

The Steelers Offense has been clicking, thanks to the balance a multi-purpose threat like Bell provides. But Roethlisberger has been successful moving the ball around all season, and showed after Bell left he can still make plays.

He’s going to have to be prepared to carry more of the load next week, depending on Bell’s condition.

He’s proven he can do it before.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. Remember back when the Steelers had the looming Mike Wallace contract situation, and Antonio Brown got a spite contract out of it?

Yeah, that’s worked out pretty well for the Steelers.

For that $60 million deal, Wallace has gone out to be good-not-great for the Dolphins, catching an average of 70 passes per year. He also was benched during Sunday’s finale under some shady circumstances.

Brown has turned into the league’s leading receiver, and delivered the dagger to win a division title.

The Steelers have been able to take hard lines on contract negotiations because they’ve been able to draft and develop young receiving talent like Brown and Martavis Bryant.

Brown should probably remember that, and his own windfall, when his contract numbers grow unwieldy in the future.

2. Speaking of the reasons the Steelers offense has clicked, the work of line coach Mike Munchak deserves some mention.

Roethlisberger had plenty of time to stand around and look for open targets because the Bengals weren’t getting any pressure.

Munchak has taken over a unit that has underperformed in recent years (at least in terms of the draft-round investment in blockers) and turned it into a solid group.

The Bengals aren’t exactly a great pass-rushing team (actually they’re really bad at it), but the Steelers line stopped them cold.

3. While the Steelers are playing well on offense this year, they clearly don’t have a trustworthy defense.

That’s the only rational explanation for the fake punt-interception in the fourth quarter.

Rather than play field position and trust their stop-side with a three-point lead late, they let punter Brad Wing throw a pass.

Dane Sanzenbacher was there to intercept the pass, one which never should have been designed, much less thrown.

4. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has been playing hurt.

But Sunday night, he wasn’t playing well.

Green at least shared the blame for Andy Dalton’s first-half interceptions, and his fourth-quarter fumble might have cost his team a home game in the playoffs.

After cutting a route off leading to the first pick, he and Dalton had a conversation on the sidelines about what should have happened. The second pick was high but off Green’s fingertips.

The fumble was followed by a hard shot from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, leaving Green dazed on the sidelines.

But cornerback Antwon Blake had raked the ball out previously, adding injury to insult.

5.The Bengals were willing to let Michael Johnson walk in free agency last year.

And while he might not have necessarily earned his payday with the Buccaneers, the Bengals haven’t replaced him.

Other than Carlos Dunlap, there’s not a consistent source of pressure up front, something they’ve been able to count on in the past.

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Steelers holding their breath over Le’Veon Bell knee injury

Le'Veon Bell AP

The Steelers are looking good at the moment, but they’re also holding their breath.

Running back and legitimate MVP candidate Le’Veon Bell just went down clutching his right knee. He got up and jogged off the field under his own power, but was limping.

Safety Reggie Nelson hit Bell squarely on the knee, though it didn’t appear maliciously low.

If Bell — who entered the game with over 2,100 yards from scrimmage — is out any amount of time, the Steelers are going to be hurting.

After letting LeGarrette Blount talk his way out of town, they’re thin at the position, making Bell’s condition crucial.

The fact he went to the locker room after watching a replay of the play’s not a good sign, and the team has referred to his return as doubtful.

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Teammates angry at Mike Wallace for pulling himself from game

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Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace may have some fences to mend with his teammates in the offseason.

Many players on the Dolphins are angry at Wallace because he told coach Joe Philbin he wanted out of today’s game, according to Jeff Darlington of NFL Network. Several different players told Darlington they feel that Wallace’s actions were tantamount to abandoning the team.

Wallace exited the game late in the first half and told Philbin he didn’t want to play anymore, according to the report. Wallace did not speak with the media after the game.

Wallace has not been the player the Dolphins hoped he’d be when they signed him away from Pittsburgh with a huge contract two years ago. Although Wallace has started all 32 games in Miami, he’s yet to have a 1,000-yard receiving season for the Dolphins. His 2014 season ends with 67 catches for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Next year Wallace is due a base salary of $9.85 million. For that kind of money, the Dolphins would like to think Wallace could be counted on not to quit on his team.

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Wild-card weekend lineup is set


The first four games of the 2014 postseason are set.  Sort of.

The final schedule hinges on the outcome of tonight’s game.  For now, here’s the format.

The postseason begins with the Panthers hosting the Cardinals at 4:30 p.m. ET, Saturday on ESPN.  On Saturday night, NBC will have the Steelers against someone; it’ll either be at home against the Ravens (if Pittsburgh beats the Bengals) or at Indy (if Cincinnati wins).

Sunday begins with a 1:05 p.m. ET game on CBS.  It’ll be Baltimore at Cincinnati or Cincinnati at Indianapolis.  Then, the weekend ends with the Lions visiting the Cowboys at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

This incomplete (for now) schedule allows the Bengals to avoid a second straight short week, since they played on Monday night in Week 16.

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Bucs claim they didn’t tank for top pick

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By blowing a 20-7 fourth-quarter lead over the Saints, the Buccaneers secured the top pick in the draft.  Predictably, the Bucs claim that there wasn’t a whole lot of tankin’ going on.  Even though plenty of key players were removed from the contest in the second half.

I don’t think anybody tanked it,” quarterback Josh McCown said after the game, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.  “We played the guys we played to rotate guys in to give them a look.”

Not every player got the memo.

“The whole second half I didn’t play,” rookie receiver Mike Evans said.  “They just pulled me because I was gassed.  It was [the coach’s] decision.”

“I guess I understand why,” said linebacker Lavonte David, who also didn’t play in the second half.  “We wanted to get everybody else some playing time or whatever.  They told me I wasn’t playing the second half, so I just took it for what it was.”

Coach Lovie Smith didn’t make a very convincing case that he wasn’t trying to clinch the first pick in the draft.

“The guys you saw in the first half, the game plan was for them to be in there,” Smith said, via Stroud.  “The second half, we wanted to look at some more football players.  I think that’s not out of the realm of possibilities, to look at some other guys.  We’re not going to the playoffs and we have a comfortable lead and we’re going to run the football.

“One win wouldn’t have helped an awful lot.  We’re going to feel better when we’re winning our division.  Until then, we don’t feel good about a lot except for knowing our roster a lot better and knowing the direction we need to go.  If we had won today, we would’ve felt better about this game, but the season as a whole, that’s not where we want to be.”

While players will never tank, the coaching staff or front office can easily engineer a tanking via the decisions made about who will and won’t play.  And it makes a ton of sense for the Bucs to hold the No. 1 pick.  They’re now on the clock for the first selection, and they can stockpile draft picks and players if they eventually choose to trade the spot.

That’s why the league should have a draft lottery.  Apart from minimizing the temptation to tank, it would give the NFL another made-for-TV event.

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Cowboys, Panthers open as favorites in wild-card round

Cam Newton AP

The lone postseason entrant with a losing record is favored in the wild-card round.

The Panthers (7-8-1) have been made home favorites of 4.5 or five points over the 11-5 Cardinals at Nevada sports books.

The line speaks volumes about the form of both clubs. The Panthers have won four straight games, while the Cardinals lost four of their final six contests, including both games with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley in the lineup. If Drew Stanton (knee) cannot play in the wild-card round, Lindley would likely get another start.

In the other NFC wild-card game, the Cowboys (12-4) are favorites of 6.5 or seven points over the visiting Lions (11-5). Detroit hasn’t won a playoff game since January 5, 1992, when it defeated Dallas in the divisional round at the Pontiac Silverdome.

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