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PFT’s Week 16 picks

Titans AP

I entered the week eight games behind MDS.  I exited the week eight games behind MDS.

And now I have only 32 games left to make up an eight-game gap.

But it’s not time to surrender.  A sweep this week gets me halfway to a tie, since we disagree on four games.

We each went 9-7 in Week 15.  For the year, he’s 147-77.  I’m 139-85.

All picks appear below.  As they always do.

Dolphins at Bills

MDS’s take: Going to Buffalo in December won’t be an easy road trip for Miami, as the Bills’ defense is playing well. But it’s hard to pick a team with nothing to play for against a team that just needs to win out to make the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 24, Bills 20.

Florio’s take:  Buffalo already beat the Dolphins in Miami.  With Thad Lewis at quarterback.  Lewis is back at quarterback, and the rematch occurs in Buffalo.  But the weather won’t be all that frightful, and the Dolphins have come a long way since losing to the Bills in October.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Bills 17.

Saints at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Saints looked lousy away from home last week, and I expect them to look lousy away from home again this week. That’s bad news in New Orleans, because losing this game likely means losing the division, which in turn means the Saints will spend the postseason on the road.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 23, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  New Orleans squandered a chance to nail down the division and secure a bye by losing badly to the Rams.  The Panthers now get them outside in Charlotte for the biggest game at Bank of America Stadium in a long time.  A win puts Carolina in the driver’s seat that the Saints squandered, and the Panthers have the defense to disrupt Drew Brees’ timing.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Saints 20.

Vikings at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Vikings are actually looking like a decent team with Matt Cassel at quarterback, while the Bengals turned in a lousy effort last week against the Steelers. But with the Bengals suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs, Marvin Lewis will have his team ready for a big game.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 34, Vikings 21.

Florio’s take:  Relegated to spoiler, the Vikings have played that role well, tying the Packers, beating the Bears, and upending the Eagles.  But Cincinnati hasn’t lost at home this year, and they are one of the best teams in the league when properly focused.  They’ll be focused on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Vikings 13.

Broncos at Texans

MDS’s take: The Broncos are two wins away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Texans are two losses away from clinching the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Both teams will get halfway there on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  In 2012, Peyton Manning wanted to come to Houston.  But the Texans didn’t want him.  On Sunday, Houstonians will get to see what they’ve been missing.  A lot.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Texans 20.

Titans at Jaguars

MDS’s take: This game is utterly meaningless unless you care who comes in second place in the AFC South. I’ll take the Titans to win a close one.

MDS’s pick: Titans 24, Jaguars 21.

Florio’s take:  The Titans aren’t in the losing business.  In Jacksonville, they’ll be in the not winning business.  If they’re really lucky, they’ll be in the tying business.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 30, Titans 27.

Colts at Chiefs

MDS’s take: In this likely preview of a wild card playoff game in two weeks, the surging Chiefs will prove that they’re a whole lot better than the slumping Colts.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 35, Colts 17.

Florio’s take:   They seem to be locked in as the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, but the Chiefs still have some incentive to play hard.  If they win and the Broncos stumble only once, the No. 1 seed remains within reach for a team that won only two games in 2012.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 28, Colts 20.

Browns at Jets

MDS’s take: Neither of these teams is any good on offense, but the Jets are decidedly better on defense and special teams, and I’ll pick them on the strength of that.

MDS’s pick: Jets 17, Browns 13.

Florio’s take:  The 2014 preseason has begun for both teams.  Flip a coin.  Throw a dart.  Light a match.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 17, Jets 10.

Bears at Eagles

MDS’s take: The NFC North leaders visit the NFC East leaders in a game that figures to showcase the weaknesses of Chicago’s defense. I expect Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy to have a huge game as the Eagles roll to a big win.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 28, Bears 17.

Florio’s take:  Even with linebacker Lance Briggs expected to be back for the Bears, Chicago doesn’t have the defense to slow down LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Philly offense.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 31, Bears 24.

Buccaneers at Rams

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have shown more fight late in the season than I expected, so this game may be interesting to watch even though it doesn’t mean anything to the playoff race. I like the Rams, who are a last place team in the NFC West but would be contenders in the NFC North.

MDS’s pick: Rams 27, Buccaneers 20.

Florio’s take:  The consistently inconsistent Rams stunned the Saints last week.  And so it would be fitting for the Rams to stumble against the Bucs, especially with a trip to Seattle looming.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 24, Rams 21.

Cowboys at Redskins

MDS’s take: Dallas’s D is terrible, but Washington is terrible on offense, defense, and special teams. Advantage: Cowboys.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Redskins 20.

Florio’s take:   The Cowboys are coming apart, and the Redskins have nothing to lose.  Especially since they’ve already lost their first-round draft, which pick belongs to the Rams.  Kirk Cousins riddles the Dallas defense and London Fletcher lifts the Washington defense in his final home game.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 35, Cowboys 31.

Giants at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions have choked away their NFC North lead, but they at least have a slight chance to get to the playoffs. The Giants, on the other hand, are playing like a team that just wants this bad season to be over with already.

MDS’s pick: Lions 34, Giants 20.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Lions to blow another game they need to win.  But they play the Giants.  And the Giants aren’t good.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 30, Giants 20.

Cardinals at Seahawks

MDS’s take: Give Arizona a lot of credit for staying in the NFC playoff race a lot later into the season than most people expected, but the Seahawks will crush the Cardinals’ hopes on Sunday and ensure that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Seattle.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Cardinals 14.

Florio’s take:  The best team to not make the playoffs will give the Seahawks a great tuneup for their coming playoffs games.  While the Cardinals have done great things this year, no one will be beating Seattle in its own building.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 24, Cardinals 10.

Steelers at Packers

MDS’s take: With the Packers now having a clear path to the NFC North title, they’ll take care of business against an inconsistent Steelers team.

MDS’s pick: Packers 24, Steelers 20.

Florio’s take:  The last time the Packers rallied for a playoff spot, they beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl.  While the Super Bowl is a long way away, a win over the Steelers could at least propel the Pack toward a fifth straight postseason berth.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Steelers 31.

Raiders at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Chargers still have an outside shot at a wild card, and if they somehow get into the playoffs I think they’d be a dangerous team. It probably won’t happen, but they will take care of business against a Raiders team that has nothing left to play for.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 38, Raiders 20.

Florio’s take:  Even if the Chargers don’t make it to the playoffs (and they likely won’t), they’re laying the foundation for future competitiveness.  The Raiders aren’t.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Raiders 17.

Patriots at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Patriots have been the better team for most of this season, but the Ravens are playing their best football at the right time, while New England is struggling. I like the Ravens to win a tough, physical, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 14, Patriots 13.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens have won four in a row.  The Patriots have suffered one too many injuries to remain highly competitive.  Baltimore moves another big step closer to a sixth straight playoff appearance.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 22, Patriots 17.

Falcons at 49ers

MDS’s take: In the most lopsided game of the week, the 49ers will roll to an easy win, while the Falcons will wish this disaster of a season could end already.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 45, Falcons 7.

Florio’s take:  The last game at Candlestick Park comes against an opponent that is neither nimble nor quick.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 35, Falcons 21.

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Report: Harbaugh decision will be “swift”

Harbaugh Getty Images

No one still knows what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh’s future will be.  Answers apparently will be coming soon after the regular season ends.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported during the Sunday pregame show that a “swift” decision will come after the regular season ends regarding Harbaugh’s future.  The options are fairly limited in number:  (1) keep him for 2015, the final year of his contract; (2) extend his contract beyond 2015; (3) trade him; or (4) fire him.

The most likely options are No. 3 and No. 4.  It has been widely reported that the 49ers will try to trade Harbaugh, and for good reason; in February, they nearly sent him to Cleveland for a pair of third-round picks.

But it won’t be easy to accomplish a trade quickly.  To move Harbaugh, another team must fire its current coach, comply with the Rooney Rule by interviewing at least one minority candidate, negotiate a deal with the 49ers, and negotiate a deal with Harbaugh.  That only happens within 24-48 hours after the season ends if plenty of winking and nodding happens before then.  Which means that the minority-candidate interview will make a mockery of the Rooney Rule.

So if a swift decision is truly coming, it could be that the 49ers simply fire Harbaugh, get nothing for him, and possibly watch him drive up the Bay to coach the Raiders.

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Marshawn Lynch misses early work with upset stomach

Marshawn Getty Images

The Seahawks may be thinking about life without Marshawn Lynch after this season.

They got a sneak preview tonight.

Lynch wasn’t on the field for the start of the game, with what the Seahawks called an “upset stomach.”

In his place, Robert Turbin got the start and ran four times for 22 yards.

The Seahawks opening drive stalled at midfield, and it remains to be seen how much of a role Lynch is going to play.

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Cardinals won’t release Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald Getty Images

When Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill hired G.M. Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians, no one expected them to face so much adversity due to injury — or to have so much success with a collection of next men up.

Next year, they also could be dealing with a salary-cap problem.

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has a cap number of $23.6 million for 2015.  It’s widely believed he’ll be cut.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, he won’t be.

He could be traded, he could restructure his deal, or he could elect to negotiate an extension.  But he won’t be released — even if it means carrying $23.6 million in cap space.

Few players other than quarterbacks have cap numbers even approaching $20 million.  For Fitzgerald, who remains a solid player but no longer dominant, that’s a huge commitment.  The Cardinals are willing to make it, if necessary.

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Bills eliminated from playoff contention with loss at Oakland

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A promising season for the Bills has come to a disappointing end, as a loss in Oakland today has eliminated Buffalo from playoff contention.

The Raiders came out playing hard and surprised the Bills, winning 26-24.

Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr showed again that he’s a promising prospect, if not yet a great quarterback. He had his ups and his downs against a very good Bills Defense, but late in the fourth quarter, after the Bills inexplicably punted, Carr marched the Raiders down the field on a long drive that ended with a game-sealing touchdown pass to Jamize Olawale.

The win means the Raiders will not earn the first overall pick in the draft, but most Oakland fans are probably OK with that. The franchise quarterback of the future in Oakland isn’t Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, it’s Carr.

For the Bills, who fall to 8-7, tough questions about the quarterback position will have to be answered this offseason: If Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel aren’t the right men for the job, who is?

The Bills have a good roster but no franchise quarterback. The Raiders don’t have a good roster, but in Carr, they seem to have a quarterback they’ll be able to win with in the future.

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Raiola could be facing a suspension after Sunday stomp

Raiola Getty Images

When the Lions head to Lambeau Field for the NFC North championship game next week, they possibly won’t have veteran center Dominic Raiola.

Raiola is facing discipline in the wake of his stomp on the leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.  That discipline could include a suspension.

“I want to emphasize that our number one goal and priority is protecting our players from unnecessary risk,” NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent told PFT on Sunday afternoon.  “Actions or techniques that may result in harm or injury are unacceptable.  This will be reviewed and appropriate discipline will be applied to these actions and any potential playing rule violations.”

Vincent declined comment on potential discipline for Raiola.  The player’s history will potentially work against him.  Last month, Raiola was fined $10,000 for clubbing Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore in the head.  Raiola escaped discipline for firing into Moore’s knees during a kneel-down snap to end the game.

Some believe the stakes of the game will be a factor in any decision to suspend Raiola.  Per a league source, that won’t matter.

Look for a decision to come by the middle of the week.  Raiola then will have immediate appeal rights, if he’s indeed suspended for Sunday’s game.

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Giants help Tom Coughlin’s cause with third straight win

Eli Manning AP

The two best arguments to use in favor of Tom Coughlin returning as Giants head coach for another season are that the team’s players still play hard for him and that the offense installed this season will be a strong unit with a year of experience under its belt.

Sunday brought support for both notions. The Giants may have been playing too hard for Coughlin, as evidenced by their excessive penalties and two ejections, but they certainly weren’t rolling over with their coach’s fate for 2015 publicly unaddressed. And their offense put up a great performance against a Rams Defense that hadn’t allowed a touchdown in its last three games.

The Giants won 37-27 as Eli Manning completed 25-of-32 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the scores went to Odell Beckham, who became the first rookie in NFL history to post at least 130 receiving yards and a touchdown in three straight games during his first pro season. Beckham had eight catches for 148 yards overall and the prospect of teaming him with a healthy Victor Cruz in 2015 is a pretty good reason not to rock the boat on offense for the Giants.

Rookie running back Andre Williams chipped in with 110 yards to add to the reasons for positive thoughts about the future on the offensive side of the ball for the Giants. Recent signs for Coughlin’s future with the team have been encouraging and this win shouldn’t do anything to swing the pendulum the other way.

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Cowboys rout Colts, win NFC East

Tony Romo AP

After an agonizing five-season absence, the Cowboys are back in the playoffs — and as division champions to boot.

Led by a spectacular performance by quarterback Tony Romo, the Cowboys rolled to a 42-7 victory over Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Romo was splendidly efficient, completing 18-of-20 passes for 218 yards with four TD passes, three of which came in the first half as Dallas quickly burst clear of sloppy Indianapolis, which committed eight penalties and three turnovers.

With the win, the Cowboys (11-4) clinched the NFC East title. They are guaranteed of hosting at least one playoff game. They will be the only NFC East club in the postseason, as Philadelphia has now been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Cowboys made short work of the Colts (10-5), who saw their faint chances at a first-round bye go completely by the wayside. The Cowboys never trailed, scoring on their first drive and never looking back.

The game was decided in about a 15-minute span in the first half. After Dallas had taken a 7-0 lead about eight minutes into the game, Indianapolis tried a fake punt on its own end of the field. The play looked it would lead to a first down, but rookie defensive back Dewey McDonald dropped a pass from punter Pat McAfee.

On the next snap, Romo threw his second TD pass, hitting Dez Bryant from 19 yards out to make it 14-0.

And from there, Dallas poured it on. A minute into the second quarter, Romo threw another TD, connecting with Colt Beasley on a 24-yard score. And when tailback DeMarco Murray plunged in from a yard out later in the period, Dallas had a 28-0 lead.

Incredibly, the Colts’ first points didn’t come until about five minutes were left in regulation. By then, quarterback Andrew Luck had been pulled from the game as the AFC South champs looked ahead to January. And for as poorly as they played, the Colts will be one of 12 teams with a chance to win the Super Bowl.

So too will Dallas. And with Romo in sharp form and their defense holding up its end of the bargain, the Cowboys look like real contenders.

It’s enough to make 90s kids dust off their Apex One and Starter Dallas jackets. On Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys were back. And the NFC East, finally, is theirs once again.

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Twelve fans injured by indirect lightning strikes at Bucs game

Buccaneers Lightning Strike AP

A total of 12 people were injured, though it appears none were directly struck by lightning outside today’s Buccaneers-Packers game.

According to WFLA in Tampa, a dozen fans outside Raymond James Stadium were injured by an indirect lightning strike.

Tampa Fire Rescue got a call at 4:11 p.m., right after the Bucs lost a 20-3 decision to the Packers. First responders included crews who were already at the stadium.

Seven patients were taken the St. Joseph’s hospital in stable condition, and four or five more were headed there on their own.

Some of the injured were knocked to the ground when the lightning struck nearby.

Given the large amount of people in a large open space, it’s likely fortunate the injuries weren’t worse.

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Drew Stanton inactive on Sunday night

Cliff Avril, Drew Stanton AP

The Cardinals confirmed that Ryan Lindley was going to start at quarterback no matter what they decided to do with Drew Stanton on Sunday night.

Stanton hurt his knee in the Week 15 victory over the Rams and was able to get in a limited practice during the week, which was enough for Cardinals coach Bruce Arians to leave the door open to Stanton serving as Lindley’s backup against the Seahawks.

That door’s been closed. Stanton is one of seven inactive Cardinals for the NFC West clash, leaving rookie Logan Thomas as the No. 2 behind Lindley. Wide receiver Brittan Golden, safety Chris Clemons, guard Jonathan Cooper, defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu, guard Anthony Steen and defensive end Kareem Martin are also out for Sunday night.

The Seahawks knew they would be without left tackle Russell Okung this week and expected to be without center Max Unger after listing him as doubtful. Both men are inactive along with tight end Tony Moeaki, wide receiver Kevin Norwood, defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, wide receiver Chris Matthews and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

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Odell Beckham adds to his highlight reel

Janoris Jenkinsm, Janoris Jenkins AP

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham was in the spotlight often during the first half of Sunday’s game, usually because he and members of the Rams were jawing and taunting one another during a chippy and flag-filled first half.

Beckham remains in the spotlight in the second half, but the reasons are football-related this time. Beckham hauled in an 80-yard touchdown catch to continue his remarkable rookie season. Beckham’s score pushed the Giants to a 34-20 lead through three quarters and pushed him over 90 receiving yards for the eighth straight game. If Beckham closes out the year by topping 90 again next week, he’ll tie an NFL record.

He can put that record alongside the one that makes him the first player to catch 75 passes in his first 11 NFL games. Beckham, who went over 1,000 receiving yards for the year on Sunday, also caught a touchdown in the first half to give him 11 on the season.

It’s not enough to save the Giants season, but Beckham’s exploits certainly make it easier for Giants fans to look toward 2015 on the heels of a third straight season in the NFL wilderness.

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Down 35-0, Colts pull Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck AP

Trailing 35-0 late in the third quarter against the Cowboys, the Colts removed quarterback Andrew Luck from the lineup, replacing him with backup Matt Hasselbeck.

Before departing the game, Luck completed 15-of-22 passes for 109 yards. He was picked twice.

Hasselbeck figures to close this one out, and he could very well see action in the Week 17 finale vs. Tennessee. The Colts (10-4) are all but assured of losing to the Cowboys, which will take Indianapolis out of contention for a first-round bye. Hence, resting Luck next week wouldn’t be completely out of left field.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, are just about set to clinch the NFC East.

Party on, Dallas-Fort Worth. The home team is home free.

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Preliminary diagnosis is Achilles tear for Willie Young

Young Getty Images

The initial news isn’t good for Bears defensive end Willie Young.  Per a league source, the preliminary evaluation indicates that Young suffered a torn Achilles tendon during Sunday’s loss to the Lions.

An MRI will be performed in the morning.

Young, who spent four years with the Lions before joining Chicago, produced 10 sacks this season.  He had a total of six in four prior NFL seasons.

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Raiola claims stomp was inadvertent

Raiola Getty Images

During Sunday’s win over the Bears at Soldier Field, Lions center Dominic Raiola stomped on the ankle of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.  After the game, Raiola claimed it was an accident.

I know what my intentions were,” Raiola said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.  “We’re out there trying to score a touchdown.  I’m not going to put myself in position to get a 15-yarder, come on now.  I knew I was stumbling.  Me and [guard Rob Sims] had a combination block.  I remember exactly what happened.  Stumbling through.  If I intentionally step on him, that puts me in danger of getting hurt so let’s put that to rest.  He accepted the apology, we move on.”

But Ferguson didn’t accept the apology.  Which makes sense, given the indisputable visual evidence.

“You all saw the play; I don’t have to explain that,” Ferguson told reporters, via Birkett.  “I felt like what needs to stay in between the lines needs to stay in between the lines. . . .  We all saw the play.  You can’t take back what happened with that play, do you know what I mean?  You saw the play.”

As to the apology, Ferguson said, “None of that matters.”

The entire case will matter to the league office.  We’ll have more on this topic during NBC’s Football Night in America, which gets rolling at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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Aaron Rodgers on calf injury: It will take a lot to keep me out next week

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The Packers clinched a playoff spot on Sunday by beating the Buccaneers, but they still need a win next week against the Lions if they’re going to be the NFC North champs.

Getting that win would be much easier if Aaron Rodgers is at quarterback. Rodgers, who has been battling the flu, pulled his left calf early in the game and remained in with limited mobility over the remainder of the contest. Rodgers said that the calf tightened up on him at halftime and that he “just didn’t have the running threat” over the course of the game because of the injury, but he sounded confident that he’d be on the field against Detroit.

“Well, it’s too early to give a 100 percent guarantee, but it would definitely take a lot to hold me out of that game,” Rodgers said, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The injury didn’t stop Rodgers from going 31-of-40 for 318 yards, but a lack of mobility might be more noticeable against the Lions defensive line than it was in Sunday’s game.

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Cowboys 30 minutes away from division title

Greg Toler, Dez Bryant AP

The Cowboys couldn’t have played much better in the first two quarters against Indianapolis.

Tony Romo’s three TD passes and a scoring run by tailback DeMarco Murray have given the Cowboys a 28-0 halftime lead over the flat Colts.

With a win, Dallas will clinch the NFC East and end Philadelphia’s playoff hopes.

Romo was nearly perfect in the first 30 minutes, completing 13-of-14 passes for 155 yards, with scoring passes to Terrence Williams (nine yards), Dez Bryant (19 yards) and Cole Beasley (24 yards).

Murray, for his part, has handled a fairly normal workload despite a broken hand, carrying 14 times for 40 yards.

The Colts have made a bushel of mistakes. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman committed the most costly of six first-half fouls against Indianapolis; his taunting penalty kept the Cowboys’ first TD drive alive. Later, with the Colts trailing 7-0, defensive back Dewey McDonald dropped a pass from Pat McAfee on a fake punt, which set up Bryant’s TD to give Dallas a 14-0 lead.

The Cowboys’ defense, meanwhile, has been outstanding, and it slammed the door on Indy one last time to end the half when safety J.J. Wilcox picked an Andrew Luck pass in the endzone.

The Colts get the ball to begin the second half, perhaps giving Indianapolis a flicker of hope. But that’s all it will be unless Indy can match Dallas’ passion and execution.

And that could be impossible on this day, with the Cowboys right on the doorstep of the NFC East title.

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