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Preseason Power Rankings No. 12: Chicago Bears

Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall AP

The 2013 Bears scored the second-most points in franchise history (445). Only the 1985 Bears tallied more in regular season play, putting up 456 in their bulldozing of all non-Dan Marino-led competition in a 15-1 season.

But for all of their skill on offense, the 2013 Bears were overmatched on defense, surrendering 478 points, 57 points more than any previous Chicago club had given up.

Long before the Packers’ Randall Cobb sprinted through the Chicago secondary en route to the division-clinching touchdown in the regular season finale, the Bears’ defense was broken. Chicago surrendered at least 28 points in half of its games, including 54 to Philadelphia, 45 to Washington, 42 to St. Louis and 40 to Detroit. No team allowed more yards per play than the Bears, and no team was worse against the run.

In the offseason, the Bears set out to bolster that “D,” signing two of the best available defensive ends (Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen) and drafting defensive players with four of their first five picks. On offense, the Bears tried to build continuity. They re-committed to quarterback Jay Cutler, signing him to a seven-year contract worth up to $126.7 million in January. In May, they signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall to a four-year deal worth as much as $40 million.

These were logical moves for Chicago. For once, it was the offense didn’t need much work. Now, the focus turns to whether the defense can provide more resistance in head coach Marc Trestman’s second season on the job.


The Bears’ 2014 offense could be one of the best the franchise has ever fielded. Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards, 12 TDs in 2013) and fellow starting wideout Alshon Jeffery (89-1,421-7) were Pro Bowlers a season ago, as were tailback Matt Forte (1,933 combined rushing-receiving yards) and right guard Kyle Long.

Cutler — now in sixth season in Chicago — appears to have taken well to Trestman’s scheme. The strong-armed Cutler connected on 63.1 percent of his throws a season ago, his best completion percentage in six years. He’s quite capable of being the first Bears quarterback to make a Pro Bowl since Jim McMahon 29 years ago.

If Cutler gets an all-star nod, he’ll be aided by strength of his pass catching corps. Marshall and Jeffery form an outstanding tandem. Forte is one of the game’s best receivers out of the backfield. Tight end Martellus Bennett is solid, too.

In Trestman’s inaugural campaign, the Bears’ passing attempts rose nearly 20 percent, but total sacks were down more than 30 percent. Moreover, the club’s completion percentage was up more than five percent. In short, the 2013 Bears threw it more and threw it better — and their quarterbacks hit the ground less. That’s testament to Trestman’s scheme, but it also reflects well on the offensive line, which the club overhauled last year, drafting Long and right tackle Jordan Mills and signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson.

The Bears can only hope their offseason D-line investment will pay similar dividends. And Allen, Houston and ex-Lions end Willie Young should strengthen a defense that got just 20 sacks from its front four a season ago.

Finally, in Robbie Gould, the Bears have one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers. He hit 26-of-29 field goals in 2013, including 9-of-11 from 40 yards and beyond.


Even with an upgraded defensive line, the Bears’ defense looms a major concern. The top player in the LB corps, Lance Briggs, will be 34 in November. Shea McClellin, the Bears’ 2012 first-round pick, could get reps at strong-side and middle linebacker in an attempt to jump-start his career. More is also needed from second-year pro Jon Bostic, whether at middle or outside linebacker.

The Bears’ secondary also looks shaky. Per Pro Football Focus grades, the club had two of the four worst starting safeties in 2013 (SS Major Wright, FS Chris Conte). Wright departed in free agency, and Conte comes off shoulder surgery. The Bears added four veterans and a draft pick at safety, which at least gives them some options as they try to craft a workable solution on the back end.

The Bears’ cornerback play should also be monitored. The club added some much-needed youth and depth in the draft, taking Kyle Fuller in Round One. Fuller, veterans Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman figure as the top three corners. If the 33-year-old Tillman stays healthy and returns to form, and if Fuller is a quick study, the Bears should be just fine at this key position. But if Tillman misses time, and if Fuller isn’t quite ready for prime time, the Bears could have a problem.

The worries don’t stop there. The Bears’ special teams are quite unsettled entering training camp. The club will have a new punter, holder, long-snapper, punt returner and kickoff returner. And backup quarterback could be a trouble spot after the departure of Josh McCown. Veterans Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer and sixth-round rookie David Fales will vie to back up Cutler. Clausen and Palmer have generally struggled against NFL competition, but Trestman is masterful with quarterbacks.


The defensive depth chart got a makeover. The Bears released defensive end Julius Peppers and didn’t bring back defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive end Corey Wootton or linebacker James Anderson. The Bears’ most expensive free agent signings — Houston and Allen — are defensive ends, a nod to the premium that ready-made pass rushers command. To bolster the defensive tackle depth, the Bears turned to the draft, selecting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the second and third rounds, respectively.

The Bears took a value shopping approach at safety. Free agent additions Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Adrian Wilson are all slated to make less than $1 million in salary this season, per NFLPA records.

On offense, the changes were reserved to backup spots. McCown left to be the Buccaneers’ starter, while tailback Michael Bush and Earl Bennett were released. Rookie Ka’Deem Carey could help replace Bush, while former Washington wideout Josh Morgan was signed to bolster the WR depth.

The Bears underwent several major shakeups in the kicking game. Long-time star returner Devin Hester signed with Atlanta. Punter Adam Podlesh was released, and the club spent a draft pick on a potential replacement (Pat O’Donnell, Round Six). Then, late in the offseason, 16-year long-snapper Patrick Mannelly retired, adding another layer of uncertainty to the special teams.

Camp battles.

Here are the positions and players to watch:

— Safety: Ex-Giant Mundy might have the edge at strong safety, but Wilson is a wild card if he has something left after missing the 2013 season with an Achilles injury. Rookie Vereen is the biggest threat to the incumbent Conte at free safety.

— Cornerback: The progress of Fuller must be monitored. There are plenty of snaps to be had in this secondary if he’s up to it.

— Defensive tackle: Can Ferguson or Sutton push starters Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea? If not, can the rookies at least prove capable rotation players?

— Linebacker: Will Bostic, McClellin and second-year outside linebacker Khaseem Greene step up their play? The Bears didn’t draft a linebacker and added only veteran backup Jordan Senn in free agency.

— Wide receiver: Morgan and second-year pro Marquess Wilson appear the favorites to replace Bennett as the third receiver.

— Running back: Carey and second-year pro Michael Ford will compete for the little work that won’t go to Forte, a true three-down back.

— Quarterback: Palmer, Clausen and Fales will compete for no more than two reserve roles. The question is, which of this trio most quickly applies Trestman’s lessons?

— Returner: Eric Weems is the most experienced option in the competition to return kickoffs and punts.

— Punter: O’Donnell will try to hold off veteran Tress Way.

— Long-snapper: First-year pro Brandon Hartson and CFL veteran Chad Rempel will battle it out.


The Bears must hang tough early. Six of their first nine games are on the road, including trips to visit the 49ers (Week Two), Falcons (Week Six), Patriots (Week Eight) and Packers (Week 10).

If Chicago can get through that nine-pack in decent order, there’s a real chance to close with gusto. From November 16 through December 21, the Bears play five home games and take just one road trip — Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. The Bears end their season at Minnesota — no picnic, yes, but not the worst draw ever.

It all looks fairly cut-and-dried with the Bears. If their defense is better, and if their offense hums along, they are serious contenders for a playoff spot. But if the defense remains a sieve, and if the offense regresses, they are vulnerable.

The Bears aren’t the youngest of teams. Tillman and Briggs don’t have many NFL years left. Cutler and Marshall aren’t kids, either, and Forte is approaching 2,000 career touches. There ought to be a real sense of urgency to get into the playoffs with an offense this talented. As Bears observers with any sense of history would tell you, scoring points traditionally hasn’t been a Chicago strength.

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Jerry Jones: Putting Romo back on the field was worth the risk

Tony Romo AP

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo missed seven games with a broken clavicle, then returned and re-broke the clavicle in his second game back. So does that mean the team pushed Romo back on the field too soon?

Not according to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who says Romo wasn’t pushed to play and the potential reward of Romo getting the Cowboys to the playoffs was worth the risk.

“I don’t think push is the word for it,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “We felt the risk was worth the potential for having him be the impact he can be and really having a fairytale turnaround and doing something that was special. And to me, that’s what we’re about, that’s what sports is about. You shouldn’t ever quit trying to do something extraordinary. The dream was if Tony could have come in and been the catalyst and had the results we had the week before in Miami against a great team, a really great team – Carolina is so impressive – if we could have done that, it could have been the beginning of something special. Now you’ve got to try for that and that’s what we’re here for, to try and do and be a part of a story like that.”

Instead, Jones admits that the season has become a nightmare.

“I had a nightmare last night and I was hoping when I woke up this morning it was just that,” Jones said.

Instead, it’s very real: Romo has been injured twice, and without him the Cowboys are one of the worst teams in the NFL.

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Romanowski: Gabbert was studying film more than Kaepernick

Blaine Gabbert AP

The 49ers haven’t been good at winning games the past two years. They’ve become very adept at leaking unflattering information about employees with whom they’re planning to part ways.

Last year, coach Jim Harbaugh was the target of the leak machine. This year, it’s been quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The latest leak came to light via former NFL (and 49ers) linebacker Bill Romanowski, via In an appearance on 95.7 The Game, Romanowski had this to say: “Let’s talk Colin preparing for games. And you know how they get iPads now. And they regulate, and they can watch how much film you watch. [Blaine] Gabbert, when he was a backup, was watching four to five times as much film as Colin was.”

Apart from the question of whether it’s true is the question of whether it’s part of a deliberate effort by the team to ensure that no tears will be shed when Kaepernick inevitably exits the roster. If it’s true, it explains Kaepernick’s struggles to develop as a quarterback, complementing his reliance on raw physical abilities with an understanding of where the opportunities will arise to carve up defenses.

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Chip Kelly says Bill Davis is safe

Screen shot 2015-08-03 at 12 Getty Images

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis has said coach Chip Kelly won’t be running from Philly. Kelly has now said he won’t be running Davis away.

Asked if Davis will remain with the team after his unit gave up 90 points two games, Kelly gave a one-word reply: “Yes.”

With the Bucs scoring 45 against the Eagles and the Lions scoring 45 against the Eagles, Philadelphia next goes to New England, where another 45 or more could be coming. So what can the Eagles do?

“The answer is there is no other option,” Kelly said. “We have five games left. We have to go and play. We have to get better.”

The good news is that the bar for getting better has never been lower during Kelly’s time with the team.

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With Marshawn gone, Thomas Rawls is listening to Fred Jackson

Thomas Rawls AP

Undrafted rookie running back Thomas Rawls has emerged as the team’s top option in the running game, due to various injuries to starter Marshawn Lynch. And with Lynch recovering from hernia surgery, he had specific advice for Rawls.

“He told me go out there with the same mentality that I’ve been having and listen to Fred [Jackson],” Rawls told reporters on Friday. “Because he’s gone right now, just listen to Fred, and any questions I need to ask him.”

There really isn’t much Fred or Marshawn or anyone else can tell Rawls about playing the position, because Rawls plays without conscious thought — or regard to his health.

“I play off of instinct and I just play my game,” Rawls said regarding whether he’ll avoid some contact to preserve his body. “As I’m out there, I’m not thinking a lot. I don’t think at all. I just go out there and play my game and do what’s best for the team. So if that’s making plays, if that’s going down, which I’ll probably try not to do. But it all depends on the flow of the game.”

Rawls, a Flint, Michigan native who is making his hometown proud, will get his next chance to get in the flow of the game against the Steelers, a team that 10 years ago beat Seattle for a Super Bowl played in Michigan — with another Michigan native at running back for Pittsburgh. With Rawls suddenly getting so much national publicity, coach Pete Carroll wanted to be sure the rookie is ready to go.

“I visited with him about [the attention],” Carroll told reporters on Friday. “He seemed very squared away. Not wanting to change anything about how he prepares and his habits and things like that. I thought it was worth talking to him about since it was such a shift. That’s hard on anybody.”

Rawls has been hard on defenses this year, and the Steelers are about to get a taste of what the guy whose name wasn’t called during the draft can do.

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Jim Caldwell: Lions are thinking about next week, not the playoffs

Jim Caldwell AP

A few weeks ago, Lions coach Jim Caldwell was facing questions about whether he’d be fired during the season. Now he’s facing questions about whether his team can make the playoffs.

Caldwell doesn’t want to answer either question.

Just as Caldwell didn’t want to answer questions about his job security when the Lions were 1-7, Caldwell doesn’t want to answer questions about the playoffs now that the Lions are 4-7.

“You can talk about it, but I don’t,” Caldwell told reporters today. “We don’t talk about anything but the next game, just like we always do.”

The Lions remain a long shot to make the playoffs. Detroit is 3.5 games behind Minnesota in the NFC North and 2.5 games behind Atlanta in the NFC wild card race. With only five games left in the season, that’s a lot of ground to make up. On the other hand, if the Lions were to win out, at 9-7 they’d have a chance.

“That has nothing to do with us at this point,” Caldwell said. “You add them up when you’re done, and right now we’re worried about all the things we’ve got to face.”

Caldwell may not want to answer those questions. But it’s far better to answer questions about the playoffs than to answer questions about his job security.

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Week 12 injury report roundup

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 15:  Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the ball during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on November 15, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) Getty Images

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 12 of the 2015 season.

Vikings at Falcons

Defensive end Everson Griffen (hip, shoulder), safety Harrison Smith (knee) and cornerback Trae Waynes (ankle) all drew questionable tags for the Vikings. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (left shoulder) is probable. The Falcons will go without kicker Matt Bryant (right quadricep), running back Devonta Freeman (concussion) and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (hamstring), but everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to play.

Rams at Bengals

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the team is planning to start Nick Foles at quarterback, but Case Keenum (concussion) still has a chance to play after drawing a questionable tag. Tackle Rob Havenstein (calf), cornerback Trumaine Johnson (thigh), defensive end Robert Quinn (hip, back) and kicker Greg Zuerlein (right groin) join Keenum with that designation. Tackle Andrew Donnal (knee) won’t play. The Bengals didn’t have cornerback Adam Jones (foot) or defensive tackle Pat Sims (knee) last week, but hope to have them this time after listing them as questionable.

Saints at Texans

The Saints return from their bye week without the services of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hip), linebacker David Hawthorne (thigh) and cornerback Damian Swann (concussion). Three other linebackers — Stephone Anthony (lower leg), Ramon Humber (hamstring) and Hau’oli Kikaha (ankle) — are probable. The Texans have 16 players on their injury report, but all are expected to play. That group includes quarterback Brian Hoyer (concussion), linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (wrist) and running back Alfred Blue (back).

Buccaneers at Colts

Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder) is set to have his absence from the Buccaneers lineup continue after drawing a doubtful designation. Defensive end George Johnson (calf) and safety Keith Tandy (concussion) are out this week and guard Ali Marpet (ankle) is questionable. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee) will join wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (ankle) and quarterback Andrew Luck (kidney, abdomen) on the Colts inactive list. Safety Mike Adams (ankle) is doubtful while cornerback Gregory Toler (groin) and linebacker Erik Walden (foot) are questionable.

Chargers at Jaguars

Guard D.J. Fluker (concussion) won’t be in the lineup for the Chargers, but wide receiver Malcom Floyd (shoulder) is probable a couple of weeks after tearing his labrum. Left tackle King Dunlap (ankle) is doubtful and defensive tackle Corey Liuget (foot) is questionable. The Jaguars have ruled linebacker Dan Skuta (groin) out for this weekend. Safety Craig Loston (ankle), running back Bernard Pierce (calf) and wide receiver Neal Sterling (illness) are listed as doubtful.

Bills at Chiefs

The Bills will play without wide receiver Marcus Easley (concussion), guard John Miller (ankle), defensive end Mario Williams (foot) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee), who will have season-ending surgery. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor (right shoulder) is set to start. The Chiefs listed tight end Travis Kelce (groin, ankle) and running back Charcandrick West (hamstring) as questionable. Defensive end Allen Bailey (calf), linebacker Dee Ford (back), guard Ben Grubbs (neck) and wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas (concussion) have been ruled out.

Dolphins at Jets

The Dolphins are optimistic that wide receiver Jarvis Landry (knee) can play after being listed as questionable. They also listed linebackers Jelani Jenkins (ankle), Koa Misi (abdomen), Spencer Paysinger (neck) and Kelvin Sheppard (hamstring) as questionable and ruled out right tackle Ja’Wuan James (toe) again this week. The Jets will play without cornerback Darrelle Revis (concussion) and don’t expect to have safety Dion Bailey (ankle, doubtful). Center Nick Mangold (hand) and defensive end Sheldon Richardson (hamstring) are probable.

Raiders at Titans

Raiders center Rodney Hudson (ankle) is doubtful, which likely leaves Tony Bergstrom to start on Sunday. Linebacker Neiron Ball (knee) and cornerback Keith McGill (ankle) were ruled out. The Titans won’t have running back Dexter McCluster (knee) or defensive tackle Al Woods (ankle), but wide receiver Kendall Wright (knee, probable) is expected to return to action.

Giants at Redskins

The Giants will likely be down two starting offensive linemen with guard Justin Pugh (concussion) out and center Weston Richburg (ankle) doubtful. Linebacker Mark Herzlich (quad) and tight end Larry Donnell (neck) are also out, but cornerback Prince Amukamara (pectoral) is expected to return. The Redskins lost cornerback Chris Culliver to a torn ACL and MCL this week and two other corners — Bashaud Breeland (hamstring, illness) and Deshazor Everett (hamstring) — are questionable. Safety Trenton Robinson (hamstring) won’t play.

Cardinals at 49ers

The Cardinals will be down two defensive tackles after ruling Cory Redding (ankle) and Frostee Rucker (ankle) out. Safety Deone Bucannon (concussion), guard Jonathan Cooper (knee), wide receiver Michael Floyd (hamstring), cornerback Patrick Peterson (ankle) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (groin) are all questionable. Running back Carlos Hyde (foot) remains out for the 49ers and linebacker Ahmad Brooks (concussion/toe) is questionable.

Steelers at Seahawks

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) and tight end Matt Spaeth (knee) will be game-time decisions after being listed as questionable. The Seahawks don’t expect to get linebacker Bruce Irvin (knee) back this week and running back Marshawn Lynch (abdomen) and wide receiver Paul Richardson (hamstring) have already been ruled out. Center Patrick Lewis (ankle, knee) is questionable.

Patriots at Broncos

Patriots wide receivers Danny Amendola (knee) and Keshawn Martin (hamstring) are both questionable as the team prepares to play without Julian Edelman (foot) again this week. Linebacker Jamie Collins (illness) returned to practice Friday, but is doubtful to face the Broncos. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware (back) will miss another game for Denver and guard Evan Mathis (ankle, questionable) will have his status updated over the weekend. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (ankle, finger) is probable after missing last week.

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Dolphins feel good about Jarvis Landry playing

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 22: Jarvis Landry #14 of the Miami Dolphins makes a 47-yard reception to set up a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Sun Life Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets won’t have cornerback Darrelle Revis in the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins and it looks like Miami will have wide receiver Jarvis Landry available to face the shorthanded Jets secondary.

Landry did not practice on Friday, which meant that Thursday’s limited practice was the only work he got while dealing with a knee injury this week. Coach Dan Campbell said that Landry’s absence from practice is part of the plan to have him ready to play on Sunday, however.

“Today we wanted to sit him to get him feeling good for the game,” Campbell said, via “We’ll know more tomorrow, but I’d say I feel pretty good about it. I feel like he’s going to be able to play.”

Landry had four catches for 40 yards against the Jets in Week Four’s 27-14 loss in London. Revis frequently followed Landry into the slot during that contest, so the Jets will have to come up with a different approach if Landy is able to play come Sunday.

Right tackle Ja’Wuan James remains out with a toe injury and defensive end Chris McCain is doubtful with a hip injury. Linebackers Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins, Spencer Paysinger and Kelvin Sheppard are all questionable.

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Danny Amendola questionable for Pats trip to Denver

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 23:  Danny Amendola #80 of the New England Patriots carries the ball after catching a pass during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 23, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots have lost three wide receivers to injuries in their last two games and we know that two of them won’t be playing in Denver on Sunday.

Julian Edelman is out with a broken foot and Aaron Dobson has been placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, but we’ll have to wait another day or two to find out if Danny Amendola will be in the lineup. Amendola was a limited participant in practice for the second straight day on Friday and has been listed as questionable for the game against the Broncos.

Amendola hurt his knee in last week’s victory over the Bills and reports were that he wasn’t expected to miss an extended period of time, something that would certainly be true if he plays this week. It would also be helpful to a Patriots offense that’s run short of experienced options at wideout due to the recent run of injuries, which includes the hamstring issue that has led to Keshawn Martin drawing a questionable tag.

Linebacker Jamie Collins is doubtful to play after making his first practice appearance in a few weeks on Friday and cornerback Justin Coleman joined Edelman as players ruled out for this weekend.

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Steelers shuffle up backup running backs

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 29: Isaiah Pead #24 of the St. Louis Rams rushes against the Baltimore Ravens during a pre-season game at the Edward Jones Dome on August 29, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

When Le’Veon Bell was placed on injured reserve after hurting his knee early this month, the Steelers signed Isaiah Pead to take his roster spot.

Pead hasn’t seen any action for the Steelers and that won’t change this week because the team released him on Friday. All players released at this point in the season have to go through waivers, so Pead will either be claimed by one of the other 31 teams or he’ll become a free agent.

The Steelers promoted Fitzgerald Toussaint from the practice squad to take Pead’s place on the roster. Toussaint played four regular season games and two postseason contests for the Ravens last year, running eight times for 17 yards across all of his appearances.

DeAngelo Williams starts at running back for the Steelers with Bell out of the lineup and Jordan Todman has spelled him for three carries in the last two weeks.

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Chiefs list RB West as questionable

Charcandrick West AP

Chiefs running back Charcandrick West is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game vs. the Bills due to a calf injury.

West did not practice all week. Thursday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he was optimistic West would be able to play this week.

The Chiefs have won four straight to improve to 5-5 and put themselves in the thick of the AFC playoff race. West has been effective since taking over for injured starter Jamaal Charles. He’d scored touchdowns in three straight games before he was injured last week.

Spencer Ware ran for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns after West left last week’s game in San Diego.

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“Focus” will be the key for the Panthers the rest of the way

Chris Thompson, Luke Kuechly AP

With the Panthers at 11-0 (and one victory away from winning 16 straight regular-season games), they have five left in order to become the second team in league history to go 16-0.

Or, possibly, the third, depending on whether the Patriots finish their Week 17 game undefeated before the Panthers do.

To get there, the Panthers will face four division rivals in the final five weeks. Appearing on Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly said that the rest of the regular season won’t be any harder or easier with four NFC South games, but that those games will result in greater “focus.”

The process of focusing starts with a Week 13 trip to New Orleans, for a return match against a Saints team that gave the Panthers all they could handle in Week Three when Drew Brees was out with a shoulder injury. Then comes a visit from the Falcons, who at one point were 5-0 and would love to give Carolina its first loss of the year.

Next up is a trip to New Jersey for a date with the Giants, who know a thing or two about being competitive against unbeaten teams. Then, the Panthers go to Atlanta before finishing the season with a visit from the Buccaneers.

With only the Saints below .500, most of these teams will need to win in order to get to the playoffs. But the prospect of knocking off the Panthers will provide plenty of extra motivation for each and every team that will be facing Carolina.

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Report: Panthers work out Cortland Finnegan

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Cortland Finnegan #24 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates with teammates after returning a fumble 50 yards to score a touchdown during the NFL match between the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium on September 28, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers haven’t lost yet this season, but coach Ron Rivera said Friday that he doesn’t think the team has played a complete game yet this season.

That would explain why they reportedly took a look at a veteran cornerback in hopes of bolstering the team for what they hope is a deep playoff run. Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review reports that the team worked out Cortland Finnegan on Friday.

Finnegan hasn’t played in the NFL this season and said early in the year that he was going to retire, but a workout last month with the Patriots preceded his visit with the Panthers as a sign that he’s not quite ready to give up on his playing days. Finnegan struggled with the Dolphins in 12 starts last season and is long removed from his prime with the Titans.

Josh Norman has been one of the league’s best players, but Charles Tillman has missed a couple of games with a shoulder injury and the Panthers’ interest in potential additions to the group suggest they aren’t totally comfortable with their current depth options at the position.

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Chris Culliver tore his ACL and MCL in Thanksgiving practice

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 15: Cornerback Chris Culliver #29 of the Washington Redskins breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Brandin Cooks #10 of the New Orleans Saints in the first half at FedExField on November 15, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. The Washington Redskins won, 47-14. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

We learned on Thursday that Redskins cornerback Chris Culliver tore his ACL during the team’s practice, but that’s not the only knee ligament he’ll have to rehab before next season.

Coach Jay Gruden announced Friday that Culliver also tore his MCL and that he’ll be placed on season-ending injured reserve as a result. Culliver will have surgery in the near future and has three years left on his deal in Washington, although the severity of the injury makes it difficult to assume he’ll be back for the start of next season.

“He’s a good player for us, obviously. You hate to lose good players,” Gruden said, via the team. “Unforutnately, it happened. It was just a fluke deal – he just went up for a ball and landed on it and it tore.”

Culliver missed three games with a knee injury earlier this year and also served a one-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Bashaud Breeland, Will Blackmon and Kyshoen Jarrett are left as the team’s top cornerbacks. DeAngelo Hall has been playing safety of late, but could also play some corner if the team decides to shift course in the wake of Culliver’s injury.

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Rams plan to start Nick Foles

498313584 Getty Images

It looks like Nick Foles will be back in the starting lineup against the Bengals on Sunday.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said, via Nick Wagoner of, that Case Keenum still has not cleared the concussion protocol after being injured in last Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. As a result, the team is planning to start Foles in Week 12 although Fisher said that they’ll see how Keenum feels on Saturday before making a final decision.

Foles started the first nine games of the season for the Rams, but was put on the bench for last week’s game in a decision that Fisher couched as “what I think is best for this team offensively.” Fisher also said that Foles would eventually return to the starting lineup, although the fact that he’s leaving the door open for Keenum suggests this week wasn’t what Fisher had in mind.

Keenum was injured late in last week’s game, but continued to play as the concussion was missed by the Rams medical staff and the ATC spotter assigned to stop the game if they believe that a brain injury has been missed on the field. That led to an investigation into what broke down in the procedure put in place by the league to ensure a player with a concussion is removed from play.

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Pettine won’t address report of Manziel lying to team

Johnny Manziel AP

On Thursday, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports added a key detail to the recent Johnny Manziel drama: Manziel lied to the team about the creation of the bye-week party video and recruited others to participate in the lie. On Friday, reporters sought confirmation of that from coach Mike Pettine.

They got nowhere.

“I addressed the situation in detail on Wednesday,” Pettine said, via quotes distributed by the team. “When I say I’m sorry to disappoint [you], I’m not really, but I’m just not going there today. We have a game to get ready for Monday night. Like I said, I dealt with it Wednesday. Moving forward.”

Asked specifically about the report from Thursday, Pettine said this: “I already addressed it [Wednesday]. I said trust and accountability was where we had a short fall. Like I said, I have nothing more to add.”

Some would say that Pettine’s failure to deny Glazer’s report confirms it, and that indeed may be the case. Regardless, it’s clear that Manziel has once again squandered the trust of the team — and that he won’t be the starter again any time soon, if ever.

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