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Seahawks hold off Saints, advance to NFC title game

Marshawn Lynch AP

The Seahawks will host the NFC title game next Sunday.

Led by an exceptionally strong defensive performance for three quarters, the Seahawks defeated the Saints 23-15 in Saturday’s divisional-playoff game in Seattle.

The Seahawks will play the winner of Sunday’s 49ers-Panthers playoff game for the right to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2.

In victory, the Seahawks neutralized one of the game’s top pass-catching threats, holding Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to just one reception. They also held the Saints without a single point until 13:14 left in regulation.

Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch racked up 140 yards on 28 carries and scored both of Seattle’s touchdowns, including a 31-yard rumble off left end that gave Seattle a 23-8 lead with 2:48 left in regulation.

The Saints would make a bit of a rally, with quarterback Drew Brees connecting with Marques Colston on a nine-yard reception with 32 seconds left. Then, the Seahawks could not recover the ensuing onside kick, giving the Saints one last shot at a game-tying drive. But when Colston was flagged for a forward lateral on the game’s last play, the Saints’ comeback hopes were officially dashed.

Mistakes hurt the Saints, who never led in their second loss at Seattle on the season. Kicker Shayne Graham missed two field goals, and punter Thomas Morstead’s 16-yard first-quarter punt helped lead to the first of three field goals by Seattle’s Steven Hauschka.

The Saints also paid dearly for their lone turnover of the game. Two plays after Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett forced and recovered a fumble by tailback Mark Ingram, Lynch powered in from 15 yards out, giving Seattle an 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. Another Hauschka field goal gave Seattle a 16-0 halftime edge.

Near the end of the third quarter, the Saints’ offense started to find its way, and one-yard TD run by Khiry Robinson, coupled with an Ingram two-point run, cut Seattle’s lead to 16-8 with a little more than 13 minutes left in regulation.

Now, the Saints were back in the game. And when Brees connected with Robert Meachem on a 52-yard pass that deflected off safety Earl Thomas‘ hands, the Saints were suddenly at the Seahawks’ 25-yard line with less than five minutes left.

But then, New Orleans would make another miscue, drawing a delay of game penalty. And then, the Seahawks’ defense dug in, allowing the Saints to gain no yards on three subsequent plays. Facing a 4th-and-15 at the Seattle 30, the Saints sent out Graham to attempt a 48-yard field goal, and he hooked it wide left.

The Seahawks now had the ball with a chance to put away the Saints. And in a two-play span, they just about did it. First, quarterback Russell Wilson (9-of-18 passing, 103 yards) connected with Doug Baldwin on a 24-yard pass play on 3rd-and-3 with a little less than three minutes left. Then, Lynch broke free off the left side for his 31-yard score.

The Seahawks’ passing game got a lift early from receiver Percy Harvin, who would depart late in the second quarter with a concussion. Harvin caught three passes for 21 yards and rushed once for nine yards, and his impact on the Seahawks’ offense was obvious.

On the other hand, Graham’s lack of impact on the Saints’ offense was also hard to miss. This was a quiet game by the Pro Bowl tight end. Colston (11 catches, 144 yards, one TD) picked up some of the slack, and Brees shook off a below-par first half to finish with 309 yards passing on 24-of-43 completions.

Overall, the Saints outgained the Seahawks 409-277, but make no mistake: the Seahawks’ defense played a strong game, a winning game. By the time the Saints’ offense finally started to get into rhythm, they were running out of time.

And when Seattle’s defense absolutely needed stops, it usually got them.

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Landon Collins named NFC defensive player of the week

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Landon Collins #21 New York Giants celebrates his touchdown during the NFL International Series match between New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams at Twickenham Stadium on October 23, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images) Getty Images

Whether it was jet lag or just the continuation of a season-long lack of consistence, the Giants offense didn’t get much done against the Rams in London last Sunday.

The Giants were still able to return home with a victory, however, and safety Landon Collins was a big reason why they won. Collins had two of the team’s four interceptions of Rams quarterback Case Keenum and scored the team’s first touchdown of the game.

The score came on a play that’s sure to be a staple of highlight films for a good long while. With the Giants trailing 10-3 in the second quarter, Collins picked off a pass that went off Tavon Austin’s hands and began a trip to the end zone that took him from one side of the field to the other while breaking several attempted tackles.

Collins’ second interception came on another attempt to get the ball to Austin in the fourth quarter and set up the touchdown drive that put the Giants up 17-10. Keenum would throw two more interceptions and the score stood up for a victory that had Collins’ fingerprints all over it.

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Davante Adams named NFC offensive player of the week

GREENBAY, WI - OCTOBER 20: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers talks with teammate wide receiver Davante Adams #17 in the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on October 20, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) Getty Images

In the absence of a reliable running game, the Packers needed someone to take on a larger role.

Wide receiver Davante Adams did just that.

Adams was named NFC offensive player of the week after catching 13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in last Thursday’s win over the Bears.

Adams hadn’t caught more than five passes in a game all season, but made the most of the opportunity, and helped spark a Packers offense which has been off sync all season.

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King wins AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after strange, productive day

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 23:   Marquette King #7 of the Oakland Raiders punts against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the game at EverBank Field on October 23, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

Raiders punter Marquette King was good with his right foot and did a little work with both feet in last Sunday’s win at Jacksonville.

Wednesday, King was named AFC Special Teams Player of the week. King averaged 50.6 yards on five punts in the game. He landed four of those five inside the Jaguars’ 20-yard line.

King also picked up a botched snap in the fourth quarter and ran 27 yards for a first down.

He also won an AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award last December.

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Denzel Perryman named AFC defensive player of the week

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 23: Denzel Perryman #52 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on October 23, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s one thing to play hurt. To play hurt and play well gets you recognized.

Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman was named AFC defensive player of the week, after his work in helping the Chargers beat the Falcons in overtime last week, while playing through a shoulder injury.

Perryman’s interception of a Matt Ryan pass helped set up a game-tying field goal for the Chargers. He followed that up with an even bigger play, stopping Devonta Freeman for a loss on fourth down in overtime, which allowed the Chargers to kick their game-winning field goal.

The second-year linebacker from Miami also had seven tackles and a pass defensed.

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Jay Ajayi takes second straight AFC offensive player of the week

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 23: Jay Ajayi #23 of the Miami Dolphins rushes during a game against the Buffalo Bills on October 23, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi joined a small group last Sunday against the Bills.

Ajayi ran for 214 yards in the 28-25 victory, which made him the fourth player in NFL history to run for more than 200 yards in two straight games. Ajayi joins O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams on that list and his running has helped the Dolphins to two straight wins.

It’s also made Ajayi the choice as the AFC offensive player of the week for two weeks in a row. It’s a major turnaround for Ajayi, who was left home at the behest of head coach Adam Gase for the team’s opening game of the season and never ran the ball more than 13 times in a game before breaking out for 204 yards against the Steelers in Week Six.

Ajayi won’t get a chance to make it three straight this week because the Dolphins are on a bye. Should he pick up where he left off come Week Nine, the Dolphins’ outlook for the season will look a lot better than it did when they lost four of their first five games.

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Patriots expected to get Dion Lewis back to practice this week

Dion Lewis, Tre Jackson AP

The Patriots were able to survive four games without their most important offensive piece, and now they could be getting another back midway through the season.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Patriots running back Dion Lewis is expected back on the practice field this week, which would open the 21-day window for him to practice and possibly be activated from the physically unable to perform list.

Lewis had to have a follow-up surgery after last November’s torn ACL, which set back his progress.

With LeGarrette Blount leading the way, the Patriots have been doing well in the running game, with James White filling in as the third-down back.

But getting Lewis back at some point this season would be a boost, considering the job he did for them last year prior to his injury (622 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in seven games).

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Jeremy Langford back at practice

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Brandon Carr #39 of the Dallas Cowboys tackles Jeremy Langford #33 of the Chicago Bears in the third quarter during a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears are working quarterback Jay Cutler back into the lineup after he was cleared to return from his right thumb injury and he has some company on the back to practice list.

Runinng back Jeremy Langford practiced Tuesday for the first time since he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week Three with designs of getting in the lineup for Monday night’s game against the Vikings. Langford was the starter when he got hurt, but coach John Fox wouldn’t say if he’ll be returning to that role.

“Earlier in the season I mentioned that, way back in the day, there used to be a rule that if you were the starter, when you were hurt, it was yours when you came back,” Fox said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “Well, that’s not really necessarily the case as much anymore. It can be. You’re going to play the best guy, and there’s competition to be involved in that.”

As Cutler acknowledged, the Bears don’t have much choice other than putting him back into his old job. The Bears have Jordan Howard and Ka’Deem Carey on hand and both have gotten looks as the lead back with Langford out of the picture, which should make for a competitive backfield situation in Chicago over the coming weeks.

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NFL says Bobby Wagner’s leap was legal

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Head coach Bruce Arians of the Arizona Cardinals reacts to referee Terry McAulay #77 during the NFL game against the Seattle Seahawks at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals and Seahawks tied 6-6.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was furious that Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner wasn’t penalized for jumping over the line to block a field goal on Sunday, saying after the game that he was expecting a “bulls–t” explanation of it from the league.

Now Arians has his explanation.

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said on NFL Network that Wagner did not commit a penalty because he did not land on a player. If Wagner had landed on someone after jumping up to block a kick, that would have been a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. Wagner didn’t do that.

“There’s contact and then theres incidental contact,” he said. “He can run up and jump, but he can’t land on players. Now if he brushes a player or brushes a teammate with incidental contact, that would be legal. So he’s gonna run, jump and clear the line, block the kick. You look at the TV copy replay and you can see that there is some contact. His foot is going to brush the back of the snapper, but that is not significant contact. It’s incidental. He didn’t land on players. So that’s what made it legal.”

We’ll leave it to others to determine whether that explanation is “bulls–t.”

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Ravens want Breshad Perriman to speed up learning curve

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Buster Skrine #41 of the New York Jets intercepts a pass from quarterback Joe Flacco #5 (not pictured) of the Baltimore Ravens to Breshad Perriman #18 at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Ravens had to wait a long while to get wide receiver Breshad Perriman on the field after drafting him in the first round of the 2015 draft thanks to a knee injury that made his rookie year a total washout.

Perriman then dealt with another knee injury this summer, limiting his practice time ahead of the regular season. Perriman has been able to get on the field for all seven Ravens games thus far, but his 14 catches for 183 yards have only made coach John Harbaugh want to see Perriman start taking greater strides in his development as a professional player.

“I told him, ‘I just am impatient. You have all this talent, and there is a lot to learn, but I just want to speed the curve up,'” Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. “Obviously, he said that he could not agree more. We just have to keep chasing it. It is going to happen, and let’s try to make it happen sooner rather than later.”

Perriman’s snaps went up when Steve Smith hurt his ankle, but his production hasn’t seen a similar spike. Wanting more out of a first-round pick is understandable, but asking for more than a player is ready to give is an easy way to be disappointed by the results and Perriman has looked like a player still finding his way in the NFL.

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Vikings linemen know they have to “play better” with what they have

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 30:  Carls Jr Restaurant, part of the of the Restaurant Brands Group on December 30, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand. The NZX 50 Index is the main stock market index in New Zealand and is comprised of the biggest stocks trading on the New Zealand Stock Exchange.  (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s been a rough year so far for the Vikings offensive line. Injuries, a revolving cast of replacements, and your boss calling you “soft.”

But they also realize there’s only so much they can do at the moment.

“I think it’s just playing better with what you have,” veteran left guard Alex Boone said, via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I mean, what are you going to do? There’s not much you can do. It’s not like you’re not going to go down to Carl’s Jr. and find somebody.”

They’ve done everything but so far, including dragging Jake Long out of what appeared to be retirement to start at left tackle. And the lack of continuity is as important for an offensive line as any group in the game, and with both starting tackles on IR, that’s hard to find.

But the ultimate indignity was being labeled “soft” by head coach Mike Zimmer, who added for good measure: “We didn’t block anybody.”

“We’ve got to play better. That’s the bottom line,” Boone said.

When the “soft” remark was run by him again, Boone kept it low-key.

“I feel like we’ve got to play better. I think when you get your quarterback hit that many times it’s a problem,” Boone said. “So we’ve got to play better.”

Of course, there’s a meat-grinder aspect to the Vikings season as a whole, but after Sam Bradford was sacked six times and hit 13, they may need more than a sack of burgers (or the guy who sells them) to fix things.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 16: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots QB Tom Brady’s 132.6 passer rating is by far the highest in the NFL.

Jets WR Brandon Marshall has dropped six passes, most in the NFL. Marshall also leads the league in passes not caught, with 38 passes thrown his way that he didn’t catch.

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi is averaging 6.37 yards a carry, a full yard better than any other qualifying running back in the NFL.

Bills QB Tyrod Taylor’s 8.6 yards per carry on artificial surfaces is the best in the NFL.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton has already been sacked 22 times this year, more than he was sacked in either of the last two full seasons.

Browns RB Isaiah Crowell has the longest run in the NFL this season at 85 yards.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco has thrown an NFL-high 308 passes this season.

Steelers WR Sammie Coates has an NFL-high six catches of 40+ yards.

One good thing you can say about Texans QB Brock Osweiler: He has five third-down runs, and he has picked up the first down on all five of them.

Colts QB Andrew Luck has been sacked an NFL-high 25 times.

The Jaguars have picked up an NFL-low 21 third-down conversions this season.

Tennessee’s Brian Orakpo’s seven sacks have been for a combined total of 52 yards lost, best in the NFL.

Raiders CB David Amerson has broken up 11 passes, tied for the best mark in the league.

Broncos RB Devontae Booker hasn’t been stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage a single time in 51 carries this year.

Chiefs RB Spencer Ware’s 492 rushing yards this year are already more than he had last year, as he’s taken over for Jamaal Charles as Kansas City’s featured back.

After not rushing for any touchdowns last year, Chargers RB Melvin Gordon is tied for the league lead this year.

Even after the Cowboys’ bye week, RB Ezekiel Elliott leads the league with 703 rushing yards and 37 rushing first downs.

Washington RB Matt Jones is a perfect 7-for-7 picking up the first down on third-and-1 this season.

The Eagles are the best team in the NFL, according to the stats at Football Outsiders.

Giants WR Odell Beckham is averaging a career-high 15.8 yards a carry.

Detroit’s Golden Tate has 289 yards after catch, best of any wide receiver in the NFL.

Packers WR Jordy Nelson has an NFL-high five catches inside the 10-yard line.

No one avoided interceptions like Bears QB Brian Hoyer, who threw 200 passes without a single pick before breaking his arm.

Vikings QB Sam Bradford has picked up the first down on an NFL-high 65.4 percent of his passes on third down with 3-7 yards to go.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 2,348 passing yards.

Saints QB Drew Brees has an NFL-high 17 touchdown passes.

Panthers QB Cam Newton has first downs on 38.7 percent of his rushing attempts, best in the NFL.

Buccaneers WR Mike Evans has 34 receiving first downs, best in the NFL.

San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick is doing one thing well: He’s averaging a career-high 8.8 yards a carry.

Cardinals WR Michael Floyd has a first down on 89.5 percent of his catches.

After averaging 5.3 yards a carry last year, Seahawks RB Thomas Rawls is averaging 1.3 yards a carry this year.

Rams RB Todd Gurley still doesn’t have a 100-yard game this season.

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Derek Newton will be in a wheelchair for weeks after gruesome injury

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 24:  Tackle Derek Newton #72 of the Houston Texans is carted off the field with air casts on both legs in the first quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

Never mind football. It could be months before Texans offensive tackle Derek Newton is able to walk again.

Newton tore both patella tendons in Monday’s loss to the Broncos, and was kept overnight in Denver to stabilize his injuries before he was flown home.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, more tests were expected once he returns home to reveal the true scope of the damage, though it is obviously severe. Newton is expected to be in a wheelchair for several weeks before he’s even able to get on crutches, and it could be three months before he’s able to walk on his own. His legs have been immobilized, though he is able to wiggle his toes.

“We’re still gathering a bunch of information,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday. “He’ll obviously be out for the season. I can’t give you any specifics on the injuries and things like that because we still have doctors’ visits.

“He stayed overnight in Denver and he’s on his way back now. I feel bad, just a tough injury, but I know he’s going to work hard to come back.”

Such injuries have been career-enders for other players such as Wendell Davis and Gary Baxter, and even one patella tear would require a lengthy rehab. Newton is already consulting with Dr. James Andrews, in anticipation of the surgeries he will need to start the process.

Until the MRI results come back, we won’t know if Newton suffered additional injuries (like a run-of-the-mill ACL tear).

“To lose your brother like that, we hold him dear to our hearts,” said tackle Chris Clark, who replaced Newton in the lineup. “When that happened to him, we all felt that internally. That’s not just another guy that went down. That’s our brother.

“Can you bounce back from that? I’m not talking about the team. I’m talking about him as a player. How do you even start rehab? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We have a tight-knit group. We hold each other accountable and get things done together.”

Newton signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract in 2015, which included $10 million guaranteed.

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Ladarius Green “excited” and “nervous” after first Steelers practice

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 08:  Tight end Ladarius Green #89 of the San Diego Chargers on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 8, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Chargers 18-17.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers finally got their new Ferrari off blocks, and took it for a first spin around the block.

Tight end Ladarius Green went through his first practice of the season with the Steelers yesterday, as they hope to get the big-money offseason acquisition on the field after the bye. He’s been on the physically unable to perform list after offseason ankle surgery.

“I was excited,” Green said, via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “A little nervous. It was good to get out there with the fellas.”

Green said he thought his ankle “held up good,” and that he was eager to see how he responded today, in their final workout before the bye week.

And while the Steelers don’t exactly lack for offensive options, adding Green to the mix would be huge. He was signed to replace the retired Heath Miller.

He even caught some passes from starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (recovering from a knee surgery of his own), and Roethlisberger said on his radio show on 93.7 FM that Green: “Looks good to me — but don’t have much to compare it to.”

When Green was on the sidelines during minicamp practices, Roethlisberger joked about the high-octane jolt he could provide.

“You’re like a brand-new Ferrari in the impound lot that I’m just looking through the fence at,” Roethlisberger said to him then.

A few more test drives, and they might be ready to put him on the open road.

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How should the NFL break a tie after OT?

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Kicker Stephen Hauschka #4 of the Seattle Seahawks misses a field goal in overtime as the Arizona Cardinals attempt to block during the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals and Seahawks tied 6-6.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Russell Wilson has an idea for resolving ties after one overtime period in the regular season: A single 52-yard field goal, determined by a coin toss. Make it and you win. Miss it and you lose.

But there are other ideas. Picking the best one becomes the basis for Wednesday’s question of the day on PFT Live.

Cast a ballot, battle it out in the comments, and suggest any other ideas you may have.

Most importantly, tune in a 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio and/or 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle will join us at 7:35 a.m. ET to discuss the Brock Osweiler Experiment through seven starts, and Ross Tucker will give us a call at 8:35 a.m. ET to talk about a variety of things, including but not limited to in-game urination etiquette.

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Cleveland has football things to be happy about too

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 18: A young Cleveland Browns fan looks on before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

As if Cleveland doesn’t have enough to fell good about at the moment, there’s also the hope that springs eternal from the Browns.

No, they can’t match an NBA title celebration and an opening night win by the Cavaliers, or a 1-0 lead in the World Series by their baseball neighbors, but there’s always the 2017 NFL Draft.

Via Scott Patsko of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns would own the top overall pick, if the season ended today. And the fact they’re already tracking that speaks volumes about the 0-7 Browns.

Of course, if the season ended today (to steal a line from the witty and urbane Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times), a lot of people would be wondering why it happened on Wednesday and what about the last 10 weeks of the season.

In addition to what would be their own first and 33rd overall picks by virtue of being the only winless team in the league, the Browns also own the Eagles’ first-rounder from the trade to move up to get Carson Wentz, and the Titans’ second-rounder from the move to get offensive lineman Jack Conklin.

While the final order of draft picks is based on playoff results and ties broken by strength of schedule, the 3-4 Titans would currently be picking 10th overall, giving the Browns the first, 26th, 33rd and 42nd overall choices.

Based on current records, the 49ers would pick second overall, followed by the Bears, Panthers, and Jets.

Of course, the season doesn’t end today, so a lot could change. Even if Cleveland’s status doesn’t.

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