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NFL morning after: A great time for great quarterbacks

kaepernick AP

The NFL is, more than ever before, a quarterback league. And we’ve got some great ones playing in these playoffs.

If the wild card weekend taught us anything, it’s that the NFL in 2014 is dominated by quarterbacks. When quarterbacks are playing great football, like Andrew Luck and Alex Smith played in Indianapolis on Saturday, the results are spectacular. When quarterbacks are playing badly, like Andy Dalton played in Cincinnati on Sunday, the result is a team with no chance to win, even when its defense plays well.

The good news for fans who like offense is that next weekend’s four games have what may be the best quarterback matchups in NFL history. Just think about how good the quarterbacks are in the four divisional round games:

Philip Rivers vs. Peyton Manning: Manning will win the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his career for his record-breaking 2013 season, and he’s the best passer in football. But after Manning, the next-best passer in the NFL over the course of the 2013 season was Rivers. Rivers completed a league-leading 69.5 percent of his passes in the regular season, had 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and took a team that looked before the season like one of the worst in the NFL to the playoffs. This will be a great matchup of great passers.

Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady: Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns as he got the first postseason win of his career on Saturday, and now he’ll travel to New England and face Brady, who has 17 career postseason wins. If the Colts can pull the upset, this could be a changing of the guard: The quarterback who has three Super Bowl rings giving way to a much younger quarterback who’s probably going to win multiple Super Bowl rings before his career is over.

Drew Brees vs. Russell Wilson: Brees topped 5,000 passing yards for the fourth time in his career this season; no one else has reached 5,000 yards more than once. Wilson, who grew up idolizing Brees, may be the most exciting player to enter the NFL in recent years: He scrambles like Fran Tarkenton and has a gun like John Elway.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Cam Newton: This is the one that has me the most excited because it’s the one that has the greatest potential to show us what the future of football will be. Running quarterbacks are here to stay, and in Kaepernick and Newton we have the two best running quarterbacks in football facing off. Kaepernick has two of the three best rushing performances by a quarterback in NFL postseason history, with his 181-yard game against Green Bay last year and his 98-yard game against Green Bay on Sunday. Newton led all quarterbacks in rushing in the regular season, with 585 yards, and he’s the all-time quarterback record holder for rushing touchdowns in a season.

Quarterback matchups don’t get any better than that, and that’s what I’m most excited about heading into the divisional weekend. Here are my observations from wild card weekend:

There were no 100-yard rushers. The flip side of the NFL being a league of great quarterbacks is that the running game has been de-emphasized. There wasn’t a single 100-yard runner in the NFL this weekend. In fact, it was a quarterback, Kaepernick, who led all runners in the wild card round with his 98-yard game against the Packers. Running backs just aren’t the NFL’s marquee players anymore.

Smith had a game like no other. Until Saturday, no player in NFL history had ever passed for 350 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and added 50 yards on the ground in any game, regular season or postseason. But Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith became the first player to do it on Saturday when he passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, and added 57 rushing yards. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be judged on wins and losses: When a quarterback plays the way Smith played on Saturday and leads his team to 44 points, he shouldn’t be judged harshly just because his team’s defense gave up 45 points. But the reality is that quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses, and so a lot of people will choose to remember that Smith overthrew an open Cyrus Gray on what could have been a touchdown pass, that Smith lost a fumble and that Smith’s intentional grounding penalty took the Chiefs out of field goal range late in the game. Me, I’ll remember that Smith turned in the game of his life.

Hilton stepped up in a big way. T.Y. Hilton, who became the Colts’ No. 1 receiver by default after Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending injury, had the best game of his career and one of the best games anyone has ever had in the playoffs on Saturday. Hilton’s 13 catches were tied for the second most in NFL postseason history, and his 224 receiving yards were tied for the third most in NFL postseason history. The Colts were very wise to take Hilton in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, the same draft in which they selected Andrew Luck. Those two are going to be a great combination for many years to come.

Two big changes for the Saints panned out. After the Saints’ Week 15 loss to the Rams, New Orleans coach Sean Payton decided he had seen enough of struggling kicker Garrett Hartley and left tackle Charles Brown. And so the Saints cut Hartley and signed Shayne Graham to take his place, and benched Brown and promoted rookie left tackle Terron Armstead to the starting lineup. Both moves looked very good in Saturday’s playoff win over the Eagles. Graham went 4-for-4 on field goals, while Armstead held his own against the Eagles’ pass rush and helped keep Drew Brees upright. Give Payton credit for recognizing two spots on his team that needed to get better, and making the necessary changes.

McCoy couldn’t get loose. During the regular season, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, averaged 5.1 yards a run and 10.4 yards a catch, and had 17 different plays of 20 yards or more. Against the Saints on Saturday, McCoy averaged just 3.7 yards a run and 3.8 yards a catch, and his longest play of the day was 11 yards. The ability of Rob Ryan’s New Orleans defense to keep McCoy in check was a huge part of the Eagles’ season ending on Saturday.

Lewis can build a defense, but he can’t build a quarterback. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has a well-earned reputation as a great defensive mind, and his defense was strong on Sunday, holding a good San Diego offense in check for most of the game. Unfortunately, Lewis has Andy Dalton as his quarterback, and Dalton was beyond terrible on Sunday, with three turnovers that pretty much handed the game to the Chargers. Lewis may need to sign or draft another quarterback this offseason because Dalton simply isn’t up to the task.

Keenan Allen plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. Allen, the rookie receiver who led the Chargers with 1,046 receiving yards, only had two catches for 21 yards on Sunday. So why am I singling Allen out for praise? Because I love the way this young man plays the game, even when he’s not getting the ball. Allen’s brutal but legal block to spring teammate Eddie Royal on a nine-yard run was my single favorite play of the weekend.

TV is better than being there. Three of the four teams that hosted games over the weekend had trouble selling out their stadiums, and no one should be surprised by that. The truth is, if you have an HD TV and a comfortable couch, sitting at home and watching the games for free is a lot better than paying a small fortune to sit in an uncomfortable stadium, often in terrible weather, surrounded by loudmouth drunks. I don’t blame the fans in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Green Bay who were slow to sell out their stadiums last week, and if anything surprises me, it’s that Philadelphia fans sold out their stadium within minutes of the Eagles putting playoff tickets for sale. If I lived in Philadelphia, I would have much rather been at home on Saturday afternoon, watching that great Chiefs-Colts second half, than in my car fighting traffic on my way to the game. And I would have rather been at home to watch my team lose to the Saints than sit in the cold on Saturday night. The best place to watch football is at home.

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Pete Carroll would be surprised if Russell Wilson doesn’t play

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks runs out of the grasp of outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks #55 of the San Francisco 49ers the first quarter of the game at CenturyLink Field on September 25, 2016 in Seattle,Washington. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that quarterback Russell Wilson would be on the practice field Wednesday to kick off the on-field preparation for Sunday’s game against the Jets.

Nothing changed on that front over the last two days and Carroll confirmed Wednesday that Wilson will be working with the rest of the team after going through a morning walkthrough. The quarterback added a sprained MCL to an ankle injury during last Sunday’s victory over the 49ers, but, as reported by Sheil Kapadia of, he has been working with a physical therapist who has been living in his house this week.

Carroll said Wilson is feeling well at this point in the week.

“He’s upbeat and feeling good,” Carroll said, via Curtis Crabtree of PFT and 950 KJR. “We’ll know more after today.”

Carroll went on to say that he would be surprised if Wilson doesn’t play, something that’s supported by the fact that the team opted against working out any quarterbacks who could join Trevone Boykin as options in the event Wilson isn’t in the lineup.

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Foster, Cameron, Pouncey, Misi out for Miami

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Arian Foster #29 of the Miami Dolphins carries the ball during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Dolphins face the Bengals in Cincinnati on Thursday night, four players will definitely not be playing.

Running back Arian Foster (hamstring), tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion), linebacker Koa Misi (neck), and center Mike Pouncey (hip) officially are out for the first game of Week Four.

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (groin) is doubtful, as is guard Anthony Steen (ankle).

Ten other Dolphins are listed as questionable, including receivers Jarvis Landry (shoulder) and DeVante Parker (hamstring), safety Reshad Jones (knee), tight end Dion Sims (ankle), and tackle Branden Albert (ankle).

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Edelman coy about his role on Sunday

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10:  Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots throws a touchdown pass on a flea flicker play during the second half of the 2015 AFC Divisional Playoffs game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Getty Images

If either Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett can’t suit up on Sunday, receiver Julian Edelman will serve as the backup quarterback, again. If both can’t go, Edelman will be the starter.

In a Wednesday conference call with Buffalo media, Edelman was asked whether he has spent time this week practicing at quarterback.

“It’s a team policy that we’re not allowed to talk about where we’ve been practicing, but I can tell you that what we have been doing has been tough because of the opponent, the Buffalo Bills and coach [Rex] Ryan, and what he does, he does so much,” Edelman said. “It’s one of those things where we have to really tap in in the classroom and bring it to the grass in practice and translate that into regular drills, team drills, and all those types of things because we know it’s going to be against a tough opponent this week.”

Asked later by Ryan himself (who identified himself as Walt Patulski of the Buffalo News) whether Edelman will play quarterback this week, the receiver said, “I’m going to do whatever the coaches ask me to do. If they ask me to go out and give a glass of water to someone on the sideline, I’m going to do that with a smile on my face if it helps our team win. You can ask coach [Bill Belichick] that one.”

Ryan had a smile on his face, because Edelman didn’t realize Ryan was the one posing the questions.

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Bengals list Eifert, Kirkpatrick as doubtful for Thursday

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 5:  Tyler Eifert #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter of the game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Cleveland 31-10.(Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bengals Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert’s return will likely wait at least another week.

The Bengals are listing Eifert as doubtful for Thursday night’s game vs. the Dolphins. Eifert had returned to practice last week.

Eifert had ankle surgery last spring after being injured in the Pro Bowl. Last week marked the first time he had practiced in a team setting.

The Bengals are also listing starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick as doubtful. Kirkpatrick has a hamstring injury and will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by Darqueze Dennard.

Safety Derron Smith, who has a chest injury, is listed as questionable.

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Saints bring back veteran tackle Khalif Barnes

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 22: Khalif Barnes #69 of the Oakland Raiders looks on during the preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on August 22, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Raiders 20-12. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Saints are thin in a number of spots, but made a move Wednesday to shore up their offensive line.

According to Herbie Teope of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints are signing veteran tackle Khalif Barnes.

Barnes was in camp with the Saints this summer, but was released as they got the roster down to 53.

The 34-year-old Barnes started one game for Oakland last year, but has 117 career starts with the Jaguars and Raiders.

Left tackle Terron Armstead has been out with a knee injury, and Andrus Peat started in his place Monday night. That was fine, until replacement left guard Senio Kelemete left with a hamstring injury and didn’t return, leaving them thin.

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Is Tannehill still the long-term answer in Miami?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 12: Head coach Adam Gase of the Miami Dolphins talks with quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill #17 and Matt Moore #8 during the first half of an NFL preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Dolphins defeated the Giants 27-10. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Dolphins hired Adam Gase to coach the team, the assignment came with the understanding that Gase would have the ability to decide based on the 2016 season whether Ryan Tannehill should continue to be the quarterback in 2017 and beyond. So, three games in to Gase’s tenure, how are things going?

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald addressed the situation during a Wednesday visit to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio and NBCSN. He provided a positive assessment of the Gase-Tannehill relationship, despite my (usual) efforts to stir things up.

Here’s one way to stir things up for some Dolphins fans: Suggest a reunion between Gase and Jay Cutler, who had a solid season with Gase as the offensive coordinator in 2015. Salguero responds to that chatter, along with providing an assessment of potential outside interest in Tannehill that nearly sparked a debate as intense as the one 80 million people watched on Monday night.

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Darrelle Revis hurt ankle on Wednesday, Todd Bowles not too concerned

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 25: Cornerback Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets stands on the field during warm ups before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Questions about Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis‘ ability to hang with opposing receivers were a big part of the conversation after the first two games of the season, but they aren’t a big topic around the team this week.

Watching the starting quarterback throw six interceptions in a single game has a way of deflecting attention in other directions, although it does look like there will be some discussion of Revis’ fitness in the coming days.

Revis was listed as a non-participant in practice for the Jets, although coach Todd Bowles said that Revis actually hurt his ankle during the session and then took the rest of the day off. Bowles said there’s “not much” concern that Revis’ injury will pose a problem for the team this week, although Thursday and Friday’s practices will provide more information on that front.

Wide receiver Eric Decker sat out practice Wednesday with a shoulder injury that’s been bothering him for the last couple of weeks. Bowles indicated Decker aggravated the injury during last Sunday’s loss to the Colts.

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After being cut in favor of “bums,” Pryor hasn’t forgotten teams that passed on him

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Terrelle Pryor #11 of the Cleveland Browns warms up prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Browns 29-10. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns wide receiver/utility man Terrelle Pryor has finally found NFL success after spending most of the last several seasons looking for a home — and a position.

Though he’s listed as a starter at wide receiver and is clearly more comfortable in that role than he was a year ago, Pryor is showing off his rare athleticism while making cameo appearances as a running quarterback as well. Last weekend, Pryor became the first player to have at least 120 receiving yards, at least 20 passing yards and and at least 20 rushing yards in a game since Hall of Famer Frank Gifford did it in 1959.

Not bad for a guy who spent much of 2014 and 2015 trying to get a job.

Everybody would [take me now]. Everybody,” he told Cleveland Scene this week. “Now, after what happened last year, when I play those teams, I’m trying to make everyone pay. I want to make them look bad, because they made bad decisions, period.

“I should have been on somebody’s team, period. I got a big chip on my shoulder. I want to embarrass them, these teams, these corners, these guys I’m battling against. It’s all I want to do, to win, compete, battle my butt off, make these teams look bad. I put it in my head. I got a lot of work to do.”

Pryor spent much of last September and October on the workout circuit. Among the teams that tried him out but didn’t sign him are the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Seahawks. He was cut by the Chiefs and Bengals — as a quarterback, his original position — in 2015 before the Browns claimed him on waivers in June 2015 and Pryor decided to dedicate himself to becoming a wide receiver. He was cut by the Browns last September but brought back towards the end of last season.

Thus far, that looks like one of the best personnel decisions the Browns have made in years.

“[Teams] were cutting me for bums at quarterback, guys with no reason to be on the team over me,” Pryor said of his position switch. “At the end of the day I know what it is. It’s a lot of politics. So I knew I was playing the politics game and it wasn’t working out in my favor, so I might as well try to do something different.”

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First England game has sparked firing of coach for two straight years

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Head coach Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins looks on during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 20, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL begins its annual export of games to Europe on Sunday, with the 1-2 Colts and 0-3 Jaguars squaring off in London. The Jaguars specifically requested the earliest possible slot, given their history of improving after playing overseas.

But playing in the first England game comes with a risk. For each of the last two years, the initial London game has become a coaching Waterloo.

In 2014, a 38-14 loss to the Dolphins resulted in the termination of Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who went 8-28 during his time with the team.

Last year, the Dolphins fired coach Joe Philbin after a 27-14 loss to the Jets in London. Philbin finished his tenure in Miami with a 24-28 record.

This year, the 1-2 Colts face the 0-3 Jaguars in the first London game. A loss by the Jaguars would drop coach Gus Bradley to 12-40 since taking over in 2013, and it would fuel speculation that he’ll be released with 12 games left in 2016.

That would be a surprise, however. Although owner Shad Khan has made it clear on multiple occasions that the time for winning has arrived, there’s no indication that Khan would make a change this early in Bradley’s fourth year on the job.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who would stumble to 1-3 on the year with a loss to Jacksonville (which hung 50 on Indy last season), also isn’t in trouble, given the four-year contract he signed in January. (Philbin currently is on Pagano’s staff.)

Still, whoever loses on Sunday will be in the AFC South basement with 25 percent of the season in the books, and it will be the kind of start that could result in a change, sooner than later. For either team, an immediate change is unlikely, which would stop the Week Four London-and-done streak at two.

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Jameis Winston airing it out at a record pace

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter talks with quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) AP

No quarterback in the NFL has thrown it more often than Jameis Winston this year. In fact, few have ever.

According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Winston’s 142 pass attempts are the second-most of any first or second-year quarterback in his first three games. Drew Bledsoe had 143 attempts in the first three games of 1993.

“My job is just to do whatever coach [Dirk] Koetter asks me to do,” the Buccaneers quarterback said. “Obviously, the way the games of been playing out, we have had to be in more passing situations. I just do what I’m coached to do. Go out there and try to get wins.”

There is the small matter of getting behind early against the Cardinals (52 attempts), and getting into a shootout with the Rams (a ridiculous 58) to inflate the passing numbers.

But offensive coordinator Todd Monken said the goal would be the first week, when they ran the ball 28 times and threw it 32 times against the Falcons.

“I think the first week is probably indicative of who we want to be,” Monken said. “Last year, being balanced. Obviously, being down at Arizona tends itself to skew it with out no huddle stuff. And really, this past week, if you look statistically in the first half, we had 33 snaps. We were pretty balanced. And then obviously, the second half, we had the drive and they got the strip-fumble. So now when you get behind two scores, and the time is running down, . . .

“But I don’t think anybody would say you want to be a team that’s throwing it as much as we’ve had to throw it. But I have been proud of our guys and I’ve been proud of Jameis and how he’s responded and kept competing.”

Of course, the Bucs were also without running back Doug Martin last week, which cuts into their ability to not pass on every down. But they need to get Winston some help in terms of health or play-calling, because he’s keeping a ridiculous pace.

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Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys runs for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has finally gotten that MRI on his right knee, apparently.

Coach Jason Garrett told reporters on Wednesday that Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee. Garrett called it a day-to-day, week-to-week situation. The coach holds out hope Bryant will play on Sunday at San Francisco.

Bryant twisted the knee while being tackled on Sunday night against the Bears, leaving temporarily before returning to the game. On Tuesday, owner Jerry Jones said that, to his knowledge, Bryant hadn’t undergone an MRI on his knee.

Bryant is the third key player in less than two weeks to injure a knee while being tackled. The other two, Brandon Marshall of the Jets and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, continued to play. Marshall returned to action the week after suffering his MCL sprain. Wilson, also with a sprained MCL, apparently intends to play on Sunday against the Jets.

Bryant’s injury is different, and the question becomes whether and to what extent he’ll risk further injury by playing. Plenty will applaud his toughness if he finds a way onto the field without missing time, but if he re-injures the knee and misses significant time, many of those who would applaud him for continuing to play would chide him for coming back too early, in the way that some are now questioning J.J. Watt’s quick return from back surgery.

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Jay Cutler back at practice, John Fox out sick

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears watches play against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bears coach John Fox said earlier this week that he doesn’t “think there are any givens” about Jay Cutler returning to the starting quarterback job once he’s recovered from the thumb injury that sidelined him in the team’s Week Three loss to the Cowboys.

Cutler took a step toward that recovery on Wednesday when he was a limited participant in the team’s first practice session of the week. Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Cutler was not wearing a brace on his thumb during the portion of the practice open to the media.

Cutler did some “light throwing” during that portion of the practice, but there won’t be any updates from Fox on Wednesday about the quarterback outlook for this weekend’s date with the Lions.

That’s not because Fox is being circumspect about such matters, although he usually is, but because Fox isn’t at the team’s facility because he’s home dealing with a case of the stomach flu. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is filling in and said that there wouldn’t be any word on whether it will be Cutler or Brian Hoyer.

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Aaron Donald having a better year than his numbers show

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after being sacked by Aaron Donald #99 of the Los Angeles Rams during the second quarter of the home opening NFL game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald hasn’t recorded a sack and has only seven total tackles this season, but that doesn’t tell the story of how Donald has played in the first three games of the year.

That’s the word from Los Angeles coach Jeff Fisher, who thinks Donald deserves a lot of the credit for the Rams winning the last two games, even if Donald’s contributions aren’t measured in the box score.

“He’s getting double-teamed and he’s getting all those scheme things that you get offensively,” Fisher said. “It creates other opportunities for someone else. We have to keep moving him around a little bit and create the one-on-ones. Even though his numbers aren’t reflecting it, he’s very productive.”

Donald had 11 sacks last season and will surely have plenty before this year is done as well, but his contribution to the Rams’ defense goes far beyond the number of sacks he records. Donald is a disruptive presence who commands double teams and impacts every play, every time he’s on the field. With J.J. Watt sidelined, Donald may now be the best defensive player in the NFL.

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Belichick unfazed by Rex Ryan’s antics

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s Belichick week for Bills coach Rex Ryan. The occasion, which comes while Tom Brady remains suspended, was marked by Ryan trying (key word: “trying”) to impersonate Belichick.

Ryan also pretended to be a reporter (Walt Patulski of the Buffalo News) during a conference call with receiver Julian Edelman, asking Edelman if he would be playing quarterback on Sunday.

So what does Belichick think of Rex being Rex?

“I’m just focused on getting ready for the Bills,” Belichick said. “I’m not really in tune to all of that. I’m sure it’s important to you guys but it’s not really anything I spend much time with.”

It’s no surprise, given Belichick’s overall style and demeanor. And while it’s easy to presume that, quietly, Belichick derives extra motivation from Ryan’s words and demeanor, Belichick’s record has proven, time and again, that he’s already sufficiently motivated, each and every week.

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Bill O’Brien: You can never replace the best defensive player in the NFL

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans warms up before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) Getty Images

Next man up is a popular answer for coaches to give when asked about losing players to injuries and there will be a need to find people to plug into the Texans defensive line now that J.J. Watt has been placed on injured reserve, but coach Bill O’Brien didn’t bother saying that it would be as simple as just moving someone up a rung on the depth chart.

O’Brien said Wednesday that filling the hole that Watt’s absence leaves in the offense will be a task for all of the players on the defense.

“You can never replace the best defensive player in the NFL, but this is a team,” O’Brien said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

O’Brien said that Watt did everything he could do to get back from his offseason back surgery and “followed doctors’ orders” when it came to returning to the field. He added that he doesn’t know if Watt will need more surgery, something that will be sorted out while the Texans sort out how to deploy their defense without the player that’s led it for most of his time in Houston.

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