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Chiefs release Matt Cassel

San Diego Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Chiefs announced the release of quarterback Matt Cassel on Thursday, multiple media outlets said.  (The club’s official Twitter account retweeted a report from a writer for the club’s website saying Cassel had been cut.)

After a 27-touchdown, seven-interception season for a division-title winning Kansas City club in 2010, Cassel struggled the next two seasons. The Chiefs’ trade for Alex Smith and the signing of Chase Daniel signaled the franchise would be going in a different direction at quarterback in 2013.

Cassel was due to earn a base salary of $7.5 million in 2013.

Cassel, who turns 31 in May, has made 62 career starts; such experience could give him some appeal. The question now is where he lands.

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Falcons beat Saints 30-14, set up NFC South title game

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Saints had the game in their building, and the ball in Drew Brees‘ hands.

And as has happened too often this year, that cost them.

A late interception sealed a 30-14 win for the Falcons on the road, setting up a win-and-in NFC South title game if the Panthers can hang on against the Browns.

It was the fifth straight loss at home for the Saints, stunning a crowd anticipating more into silence.

Brees threw two interceptions and was sacked four times, by a defense which had shown no indication it was capable of such a feat.

The game ended with a desperate Brees fumbling, and Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora returning it 84 yards for a touchdown.

Meanwhile, Matt Ryan threw for 322 yards and a touchdown, leading the kind of efficient effort you’d expect from him.

With Julio Jones coming back from an injury to add 107 yards on seven catches, the Falcons improved to 6-9 on the season with the sweep of the Saints.

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Patriots hold off Jets, clinch first-round bye

Nick Folk AP

If Rex Ryan is fired by the Jets on Black Monday, he might be getting calls from other teams looking for a coach.

He should also be getting calls from the teams that will face the Patriots in the playoffs. Coaching what might be his final home game with the Jets, Ryan summoned a strong defensive effort from his 3-11 team that kept them in the hunt for a win into the final minutes. For the second time this year, though, a play on special teams by the Patriots helped seal their fate.

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork appeared to get part of a finger on Nick Folk’s 52-yard field goal try in the fourth quarter and Folk, who had a kick blocked at the buzzer in New England earlier this year, saw his kick fall short. The Patriots ran clock from there and left MetLife Stadium with a 17-16 victory that clinched a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

Ryan should be getting calls from potential Patriots foes to pick his brain about keeping the Patriots to 231 yards while sacking Tom Brady four times. It was a physical, impressive effort by the defense that looked like it might pay off with an upset win when Marcus Williams picked off a pass that Brady threw under duress in the fourth quarter.

The Jets wound up moving backward when Dont’a Hightower sacked Geno Smith after a blown protection, though, and Folk’s field goal went awry to confirm another loss in what looks like Ryan’s final season. Smith didn’t play a terrible game at all, completing 17-of-27 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown to go with the interception that set up New England’s go-ahead score, but, as was often the case in Ryan’s tenure, the offense wasn’t up to the task on a day when the defense brought the fire.

Brady was 23-of-35 for 182 yards and the Patriots found some success on short, quick passes that negated the Jets pass rush. That worked infrequently, though, and it was a rough day for the offense. Wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back LeGarrette Blount and guard Dan Connelly were all out, which may have contributed to a performance that probably won’t cut it against better competition. There’s time to tweak things, especially if the Bengals can help the Patriots out by eliminating the Broncos from the race for the top seed in the AFC.

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Packers knock off Buccaneers, clinch playoff spot

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Packers are headed back to the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.

With their offense sharp and balanced and their defense stout and disruptive, the Packers pulled away to a 20-3 victory at Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31-of-40 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown for Green Bay, which improved to 11-4. The Packers will win the NFC North with a victory next Sunday vs. Detroit.

The defeat dropped the Buccaneers to 2-13 in Lovie Smith’s first season as head coach. And as Tampa Bay nears the offseason, fixing the offense looms as a major priority.

In defeat, the Buccaneers were limited to just 109 yards on 47 plays. Quarterback Josh McCown was sacked six times and connected on only 12-of-26 passes for 147 yards. The Buccaneers’ running game was punchless, racking up just 16 yards on 14 carries.

The Packers, on the other hand, got 99 yards on 17 carries from tailback Eddie Lacy, whose 44-yard rushing TD late in the first quarter gave Green Bay a lead it would not relinquish. The Packers also had two 100-yard receivers, with Randall Cobb (11 catches, 131 yards) and Jordy Nelson (nine catches, 113 yards, one TD) combining to catch all but three passes thrown their way.

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Richard Sherman says Patrick Peterson would be benched in Seattle

Sherman Getty Images

The war of words among the best cornerbacks in the NFL continues.  This time, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL tries to kick another one out of the club.

Bob Costas of NBC’s Football Night in America asked Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman if he’ll watch the work of Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson during tonight’s showdown in Arizona.

“Not really,” Sherman told Costas.  “I really don’t care what happens in his game.  I’m concerned about what we’re doing, the win-loss category, and what the scoreboard looks like.  I think at the end of the day, the tape will speak for itself.  I don’t know if everybody’s compared on an even scale, and I don’t know if he should be mentioned with [the great cornerbacks in the league].  You give up eight touchdowns in a year; it’s hard to put you in that discussion.”

So what would happen in Seattle if a cornerback gave up eight touchdowns?

“At any point, if I gave up that many touchdowns, I think I would be benched on our team,” Sherman said.  “We have a level of accountability and that’s what we strive for.  You can’t give up big plays like that and still play.”

The game needs no further intrigue, but Sherman just provided some.  It would only be better if Peterson plays a little receiver, with Sherman covering him.

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Mangold, Coughlin honor slain NYPD officers

Mangold AP

On Saturday, a gunman killed New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as revenge for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island.  On Sunday, members of New York’s two football teams acknowledged the murders.

Jets center Nick Mangold wore an NYPD hat before the game against the Patriots.  Via Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon, coach Tom Coughlin will wear a black stripe on his shirt and a peace sign under the “NY” logo.

The Giants are playing in St. Louis, where several Rams players made the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture before a game three weeks ago, after a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown.

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Ben Roethlisberger hurts knee, stays in game

Ben Roethlisberger AP

The Steelers scored and then they had a scare.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown and then departed for the locker room while Bruce Gradkowski started warming up on the sideline. He was quickly determined to be probable with a knee injury, however, and returned to the game on the next Steelers drive.

That drive started with the lead cut to 17-9 after the third Chiefs field goal of the afternoon. The Chiefs got some help from a third down flag on Steelers cornerback William Gay for taunting, although his post-play antics didn’t appear to be much more than we’re used to seeing on plenty of unpenalized plays.

That flag upset Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and helped push the Chiefs close to the end zone, but they failed to get the ball into it for the fourth time on the day.

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Saints season going down in flames after fumble ruling

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Saints season might be ending, just as it looked like it was getting going.

Tight end Jimmy Graham scored what appeared to be a touchdown, but fumbled as he was going into the end zone.

A replay review of the call confirmed the ruling of a fumble on the field, so instead of cutting the Falcons lead to 20-14, they’re now down 20-7 in the fourth quarter.

A Falcons win could set up a win-and-in game against the Panthers next week, but the Panthers are actively trying to blow a game against the Browns.

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Pats move in front after Geno Smith interception

New England Patriots v New York Jets Getty Images

The Jets Defense has done a great job against the Patriots on Sunday, but the Jets have lost their lead in the fourth quarter thanks in large part to a miscue by the offense.

Geno Smith threw his 13th interception of the season on an underthrown ball to tight end Jace Amaro as the third quarter wound down with the Jets nursing a 13-10 lead. Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins picked off the pass and then flirted with danger by lateraling it to Brandon Browner in a bit of traffic, but Browner held on and the Pats had the ball inside the Jets’ 40-yard line.

Tom Brady threw quickly to keep the Jets pass rush at bay and then ran for 11 yards when the Jets coverage held up to set up a one-yard touchdown for Jonas Gray. Both Patriots touchdown drives have started in Jets territory, making things easier for a unit that’s had a hard time against the Jets for most of the afternoon.

The Jets Offense hasn’t scored touchdowns of their own, though, and they made the first turnover of the game to give the Patriots the lead with a first-round bye waiting for them if they hold it the rest of the way.

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T.Y. Hilton inactive for Colts

Hilton Getty Images

If the Colts are going to beat the Cowboys on Sunday, they’ll be doing it without one of the best young receivers in the NFL.

T.Y. Hilton will miss the game with a hamstring injury.

Listed as questionable, Hilton traveled to Dallas.  Ultimately, it was a game-day decision that became a decision to not play.

With the Colts already in the playoffs and chances fairly slim of getting a first-round, it makes plenty of sense to give Hilton the week off.

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Buccaneers make goal-line stand, but Packers later add to lead

Bradley McDougald, Eddie Lacy AP

The Buccaneers are hanging in against the Packers.

Turning away a 4th-and-1 attempt at their one-yard-line, the Bucs remain within one score at 10-3 as the fourth quarter begins in Tampa Bay.

On the fourth-down try, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ throw to Randall Cobb fell incomplete. On the previous two plays, the Buccaneers stuffed Green Bay rushing attempts.

The Packers would force the Buccaneers to punt on the ensuing possession, which again puts the onus on Tampa Bay’s defense to keep the team in the game.

UPDATE: The Packers have added to their lead and hold a 13-3 edge in the fourth quarter.

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Lions’ Dominic Raiola stomps on Bears’ Ego Ferguson

Dominic Raiola AP

Ndamukong Suh isn’t the only Lion who stomps on opposing players.

Lions center Dominic Raiola stomped on the leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson in the third quarter today in Chicago. It looked intentional.

Ferguson limped off the field afterward although he did not appear to be seriously hurt.

Suh’s infamous Thanksgiving stomp on Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith resulted in a two-game suspension. Raiola will surely be hearing from the NFL’s disciplinary department as well.

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Joe Flacco has first half to forget

Joe Flacco AP

After a nightmarish first half from their quarterback, the Ravens are in a halftime hole in Houston.

The Texans, behind three Randy Bullock field goals and a TD pass from Arian Foster, hold a 16-0 edge after two quarters.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled mightily, completing just 3-of-18 passes for 27 yards with two second-quarter interceptions, with one coming on a deflection. Overall, Baltimore gained just 31 yards on 28 yards.

The Texans’ second pick, which came courtesy of cornerback Kareem Jackson, set up Foster’s five-yard scoring pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, which give Houston the 16-0 lead with 1:53 left in the half.

Texans backup quarterback Case Keenum has been serviceable, completing 13-of-27 passes for 140 yards with one pick.

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Jets lead Patriots 10-7 at halftime

Tom Brady AP

The Jets have nothing left to do with the playoff race other than play spoiler and they’ve done a pretty good job of it through 30 minutes at MetLife Stadium.

They’ve sacked Tom Brady four times and held the Patriots to an anemic 60 yards in what could be Rex Ryan’s home swan song as the team’s head coach. The offense got off to a slow start in the first quarter, but Geno Smith got hot in the second quarter and moved the team to a pair of scores that put them up 10-7 as the teams went to their locker rooms at halftime.

Sheldon Richardson had two of the sacks for the Jets, including one just before halftime that ended any Patriot thoughts of scoring, to do his best to back up his assertion that he belongs among the best defensive linemen in the league. The Patriots have heavily favored the pass, dropping back to throw 19 times against five rushes, and it hasn’t worked out as their offensive line has been overwhelmed by the Jets pass rush all afternoon.

They’ll get a chance to make some adjustments during the break and they’ll need to if they want to end Week 16 as the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

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Falcons go up 13-7 on Saints just before halftime

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Once upon a time, opponents worried about going to the Superdome.

That hasn’t been the case this year, and the Falcons are the latest to make themselves at home there.

Matt Ryan hit Eric Weems for a short touchdown just before halftime to give the visitors a 13-7 lead at the break.

The Falcons have played an alarming amount of defense, limiting the Saints to 78 yards and sacking Drew Brees three times along with picking him off once.

There have also been several fights over the course of the game, as both sides are desperate to hang onto playoff chances.

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Steelers hold on fourth down to hold onto halftime lead

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Chiefs have moved the ball well against the Steelers on Sunday, but only until they get anywhere close to the Pittsburgh end zone.

Once the Chiefs make it onto the Pittsburgh side of the field, things have played out much better for the Steelers. They held the Chiefs to field goals on their first two drives of the game and then held firm on fourth down on the final drive of the half to hold onto a 10-6 lead at Heinz Field.

Officials initially ruled that Chiefs running back De’Anthony Thomas got a first down on the previous play, but the booth called for a review that found Thomas short. Jamaal Charles was stuffed on fourth down and the Steelers remained in front. There wasn’t much time left in the half and the Chiefs may have had to settle for a field goal even after converting, which opens the door for criticism of coach Andy Reid given the team’s established red zone issues.

The Chiefs never punted in the first half, gained 181 yards and held the ball for more than 17 minutes, but they weren’t able to make any plays in the red zone outside of a successful fake field goal pass to Travis Kelce for a first down. It’s not a new problem for a team that hasn’t thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver all year and it’s not something that Reid has even admitted is a problem, but it’s a big reason why the Chiefs could find themselves losing this Sunday.

The Steelers have pulled off a couple of long drives of their own, twice scoring at the tail end of 11-play, 80-yard voyages down the field. Ben Roethlisberger is 10-of-15 for 131 yards, but the Chiefs have done a good job against Le’Veon Bell outside of his one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

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