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Robert Kraft: NFL should strive for London team by decade’s end

Robert Kraft AP

The NFL will play a record three regular season games in London in 2014, further affirming the league’s commitment to building interest overseas.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft would like to see the league to take its relationship with London to the next level — and relatively soon.

Speaking at an event promoting CBS’ “Thursday Night Football,” Kraft said putting a team in London by decade’s end ought to be a goal the NFL strives “very hard” to achieve, according to Marc Sessler of NFL Media.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has previously said that if the league were to expand, it would do so by two clubs, not just one.

Without expansion, a London club would entail relocation one of existing franchises. And that, to say the least, would be messy.

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NFC playoff picture: Cowboys under pressure at the quarter pole

Tony Romo AP

With the Thanksgiving Day games in the books, the NFC playoff picture has gotten a shakeup.

First, let’s take a look at the winners:

— With their rout of Dallas, the Eagles (9-3) moved one game ahead of the Cowboys in the NFC East. For the moment, the Eagles are the No. 2 seed in the NFC, though they would lose their spot if Green Bay beats New England on Sunday.

— The Lions (8-4) have slid into the final wild-card spot after dispatching of Chicago.

— The Seahawks (8-4) moved up from No. 6 to No. 5 in the NFC after knocking off San Francisco. Why does this matter? The No. 5 seed is very likely to draw the NFC South winner in Round One.

Now, on to the losers:

— The Cowboys (8-4) fell from the No. 5 to the No. 7 seed on account of a good-but-not-great NFC record (5-4). This knocked them out of a three-way tiebreaker with Detroit and Seattle (see below).

— The 49ers (7-5) are now a game behind Seattle, Detroit and Dallas in the wild-card standings. With the defeat to the Seahawks, the Niners are now 1-3 in division play, with Seattle and Arizona having chances to sweep the season series in December.

— The Bears (5-7) are just about out of wild-card contention, though December home games against Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit will all have general NFC playoff ramifications.

Finally, let’s close with a few words on the Cowboys, who are suddenly quite vulnerable. Three of their final four games are on the road, with their lone home contest vs. AFC South-leading Indianapolis.

Dallas desperately needs to regain its footing with a win at Chicago next Thursday night. But can the Cowboys get it done? They are just 3-3 since upsetting Seattle in October, and they were outgained 464-267 by Philadelphia in the 33-10 loss on Thursday. The Bears’ offense isn’t exactly thriving at the moment, but it does have the skill-position talent to challenge Dallas.

Here’s a look at how the NFC’s playoff teams and primary playoff contenders would be seeded after Thursday’s games. The NFL’s tie-breaking rules and standings are referenced.

THE BIG SIX

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2, .818). NFC West leader. Earn first-round bye, home-field advantage.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3, .750). NFC East leader. Earn first-round bye.

3. Green Bay Packers (8-3, .727). NFC North leader. Host Lions in wild-card round.

4. Atlanta Falcons (4-7, .364). NFC South leader. NFC South’s top-seeded team on basis of head-to-head win vs. New Orleans. Host Seahawks in wild-card round.

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-4, .667). Wild card No. 1. Seeded ahead of Detroit on basis of better record in common games.

6. Detroit Lions (8-4, .667). Wild card No. 2. Seeded ahead of Dallas on basis of better conference record (6-2 vs. 5-4).

JUST MISSING

7. Dallas Cowboys (8-4, .667.).

8. San Francisco 49ers (7-5, .583).

THE REST OF THE NFC SOUTH

10. New Orleans Saints (4-7, .364).

13. Carolina Panthers (3-7-1, .318).

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-9, .182).

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49ers have a decision to make about Harbaugh

Harbaugh Getty Images

As 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wraps up the fourth season of a five-year deal, it’s becoming more and more clear that he won’t be back in 2015.  The goal for the current campaign was to set aside the looming divorce and to focus on getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it.

Now that the season has begun the process of slipping away with a home loss to a Seahawks team the 49ers will visit in 16 days, the 49ers soon will have to implement their plan for resolving their relationship with Harbaugh.

If the many (and largely unrefuted) reports of persistent dysfunction between Harbaugh and the front office are true, and if it’s now clear that the season has begun the process of disintegrating, the 49ers must decide whether to keep Harbaugh through the next four weeks and try to trade the final year of his contract — or to part ways now, elevate Jim Tomsula to head coach, and hope that the switch will spur the 49ers to run the table and earn a berth in the postseason.  The notion of firing Harbaugh with games left seems beyond ludicrous on the surface, but only those inside the organization know the full extent of the four-year tug-of-war that has created a strong sense in league circles that the front office looks forward to the day he exits the building for good.

The frustrations that have lingered while the team has thrived could quickly rush to the surface, now that the season is starting to go off the rails.  Even though the 49ers remain two games above .500, 7-5 isn’t not good enough with the Eagles at 9-3, the Packers at 8-3, the Eagles at 8-4, the Lions at 8-4, the Cardinals at 9-2, and the Seahawks at 8-4.

Including that 49ers, that’s seven total teams vying for five playoff berths that will go to the NFC teams not assigned to the South division.  Currently, the 49ers sit seventh of seven.

While it would be shocking for the 49ers to make a change, it’s impossible to rule out anything in the aftermath of the kind of outcome that proves to the 49ers and everyone else that this isn’t the team it had been in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  If Tomsula is going to be considered for the head-coaching job in 2015 (and multiple league insiders believe he’ll have the inside track to succeed Harbaugh), why not give him a chance to get his feet wet now?

The only reason to stay the course would be to obtain draft picks from the Raiders or whoever else would be interested in making a run at Harbaugh.  Only those inside the organization know whether it’s gotten so bad that they’d prefer to let Harbaugh walk away now than to tread through troubled waters for the next month.

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York says performance “wasn’t acceptable”

Harbaugh Getty Images

If you thought the Thanksgiving night performance from the 49ers in their new stadium wasn’t good, you’re not alone.  The boss didn’t like it either.

This performance wasn’t acceptable,” 49ers CEO Jed York said on Twitter.  “I apologize for that.”

The statement comes at a time when, as noted earlier in the evening, the organization has been conspicuously quiet about the rampant reports suggesting that coach Jim Harbaugh’s time with the franchise will end after the current season concludes.  With the exception of a tweet from York aimed at early October reports that players have grown weary of Harbaugh’s ways, the team has said nothing about the lingering controversy.

York’s latest tweet speaks volumes.  With the team now at 7-5 and facing a trip to Seattle on December 14, the 49ers most likely won’t be going to the postseason.

Running the table could salvage things, but how can the 49ers win the final four games when they barely mustered three points at home in the biggest game of the year?

So, yes, the season is likely over.  And Harbaugh’s tenure is likely over.  Look for the latter angle to gather plenty of steam over the next 10 days, as the 49ers prepare to drive north to Oakland for a game against the Raiders, which could be Harbaugh’s employer by the time January ends.

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Seahawks overpower 49ers, roll to 19-3 victory

Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril AP

In a performance befitting defending Super Bowl champions, the Seahawks rolled to a decisive 19-3 victory over the 49ers on Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

With the win, the Seahawks move to 8-4, placing them as the top wild-card in the NFC. The 49ers, meanwhile, tumbled to 7-5.

The Seahawks dominated the proceedings, leading from the end of the first quarter onward and never getting any real serious challenge for the 49ers, whose offense faltered in spectacular fashion. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed just 16-of-29 passes for 121 yards, and he was picked twice by cornerback Richard Sherman, ever a Niners nemesis. Seattle also blunted San Francisco’s ground game, allowing just 64 yards on 18 carries.

By contrast, the Seahawks were able to attack with the pass and the run. Quarterback Russell Wilson (15-of-22, 236 yards, one TD) had major success keeping plays alive with his feet. On several occasions, his persistence led to dump-offs to wide-open targets leading to big gains, most notably on a 63-yard second-quarter reception by tight end Tony Moeaki. On the play, Wilson spun away from a blitz and scrambled away from his pursuers.

Tailback Marshawn Lynch (20 carries, 104 yards) set the tone in the ground game for Seattle, with his long rush of 33 yards setting up one of the four field goals from Steven Hauschka.

The game’s lone touchdown came in the opening period, with Wilson hitting uncovered tailback Robert Turbin in the flat for a 13-yard touchdown. The drive was set up by Sherman’s first pick of Kaepernick on a throw wide of receiver Brandon Lloyd.

As it turns out, that was all Seattle needed. From there, the Seahawks added to their lead little by little against a rival rendered fangless in its biggest of the game of the season.

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49ers running out of time vs. Seattle

Marshawn Lynch, Aldon Smith AP

The 49ers are on the ropes.

A fourth field goal by the Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka gave Seattle a 19-3 lead with about 10 minutes left in regulation on Thursday night. Given the struggles of the 49ers’ offense, a 16-point deficit seems mountainous. San Francisco mustered just 115 yards on 38 plays through three quarters — an average of three yards per play.

The Seahawks began the third quarter with a field goal, though it could have been even worse for San Francisco, as an offensive pass interference penalty nullified a touchdown by wideout Paul Richardson. Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch made the drive’s key play, breaking a 33-yard rush.

The 49ers then got a field goal of their own, but it took 12 plays and nearly seven minutes to do so, not to mention two key penalties on Seattle, including a holding call on cornerback Richard Sherman.

Now, the 49ers need touchdowns — and fast.

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49ers struggle in first half, down two scores

Robert Turbin, Russell Wilson AP

After a first half in which they looked nothing like playoff contenders, the 49ers face a 13-0 halftime deficit vs. the Seahawks.

The 49ers’ offense had a first two quarters to forget. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled with his accuracy, hitting on just 7-of-16 passes for 55 yards. He was picked once by Richard Sherman, setting up the game’s lone touchdown, a 13-yard Robert Turbin scoring catch. San Francisco’s ground game has sputtered, too, gaining just 23 yards on 10 carries.

The 49ers have also had issues stopping the pass. Quarterback Russell Wilson’s ability to extend the play has caused major problems for San Francisco. The Seahawks’ tailbacks and tight ends have done most of the damage in the passing game; their wideouts have just 28 of the club’s 163 receiving yards.

At 7-4, the Niners are right in the thick of the wild-card race. However, a loss Thursday night would drop them one game back in the NFC with four left to play.

UPDATE 10:29 p.m. ET: The 49ers’ woes continued to begin the third quarter, with the Seahawks adding a field goal on their first drive of the second half to go up 16-0.

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Russell Wilson giving 49ers’ defense fits in first half

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Early in the second quarter of Thursday night’s matchup vs. Seattle, the 49ers got an object lesson in the dangers of blitzing Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

On a 3rd-and-9 play, Wilson spun away from onrushing 49ers defensive back Dontae Johnson, cut back to his right, avoided tackle attempts from Johnson and linebacker Chris Borland and flipped the ball out to tight end Tony Moeaki, who was wide open down the right sideline. Moeaki would rumble 63 yards down to the San Francisco 1, coming oh-so-close to scoring.

The 49ers would hold the Seahawks to just a field goal, with Seattle extending its lead to 10-0.

However, any momentum the Niners might have gotten from their goal-line defense was short lived. The offense again sputtered, and Wilson would lead another drive ending in a field goal, giving Seattle a 13-0 lead it holds with about four minutes left in the first half. On that drive, Wilson would again make a big play vs. the blitz, hitting tailback Robert Turbin for 34 yards after the Niners again blitzed but couldn’t get home.

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Seahawks capitalize on Sherman pick, score first vs. 49ers

Seattle Seahawks v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The visiting Seahawks struck first in Thursday night’s pivotal matchup with San Francisco.

And one of their stars got the ball rolling.

Cornerback Richard Sherman’s interception set up Seattle in opposition territory, and the Seahawks’ offense took it from there, marching 45 yards on seven plays and tallying the game’s first points on tailback Robert Turbin’s 13-yard TD reception to take a 7-0 lead.

On the pick, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick targeted wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, but Sherman read it well and stepped in front of the throw.

Kaepernick has indicated he wouldn’t avoid Sherman, the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl cornerback. And indeed, he tried Sherman early on Thursday.

Score one for Sherman. And put a seven next to Seattle on the scoreboard.

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Michael Crabtree suffers injured ribs, returns to game

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The 49ers got an injury scare in the opening minute of Thursday night’s game at Seattle, but it appears it was just a scare.

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree was shaken up on the game’s second play, clutching at his chest and grabbing at left knee after being tackled on a five-yard reception. Though the club termed his return as questionable with injured ribs, Crabtree was soon back on the field.

However, that’s not all for 49ers injury news. Defensive end Ray McDonald (finger) is questionable to re-enter the contest, the team said.

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Sanchez gets Thanksgiving redemption

Sanchez AP

The butt fumble has yielded to an ass kicking.

Two years ago, the career of quarterback Mark Sanchez hit a nadir when his noggin slammed into the backside of guard Brandon Moore.  The accidental blast into Moore’s hind quarters resulted in a turnover, and the term “butt fumble” was born.

Fast forward to November 2014, where Sanchez has authored a stirring victory over the Cowboys in their own building.  The 33-10 final score — the second-worst Dallas loss on Thanksgiving — suggests that a significant gap exists between the two teams vying for supremacy in the NFC East.  It also will make some wonder whether that 8-3 start by Dallas will inevitably disintegrate into another Auld Lang Syne of 8-8.

For the day, Sanchez threw for under 300 yards for the first time while playing for the Eagles.  He had a career-high 202 yards in the first half, but the Eagles didn’t need him to throw much in the second two quarters, with the defense stifling the Dallas offense and running back LeSean McCoy moving the chains.

With the Seahawks and Cowboys due to visit Philly in the next two weeks and Nick Foles‘ collarbone possibly taking longer than 6-8 weeks to heal, it could be that Sanchez will remain the starter for the rest of the regular season and beyond, with the former Jet whose prospects nose dived after back to back AFC title-game appearances getting a chance to take the Eagles to the NFC championship, and possibly beyond.

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Amid rampant rumors and reports, 49ers front office silent about Harbaugh

Harbaugh Getty Images

As the 49ers move closer to the end of the 2014 season, the sense that coach Jim Harbaugh will be leaving the franchise continues to linger.

Through it all, the organization hasn’t done much to push back against the perception that Harbaugh won’t be back for 2015.  When the reports reached critical mass in early October, with some suggesting that the players wanted Jim to hit the road, Jack, owner Jed York offered up this via Twitter:  “Jim is my coach.  We are trying to win a [Super Bowl], not a personality or popularity contest.  Any more questions?”

While the quest to win a Super Bowl this year continues, with a showdown against the Seahawks starting later tonight, there has been nothing more from the organization to rebut the notion that, as soon as the season ends, the process of separating will commence.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports has reported that Harbaugh will be gone regardless of whether the team wins the Super Bowl.  Weeks later, that specific report hasn’t been rebutted or refuted by the team.

That’s caused some in the league to notice that Harbaugh hasn’t received the support he deserves in what apparently will be his final year.  Eventually, the question will be Harbaugh’s next move — which is expected to entail staying in the Bay Area or, at a minimum, on the West Coast.  It makes the Raiders (Oakland or L.A.) the most likely NFL landing spot for Harbaugh.

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With Ron Parker moving to safety, Chiefs look at cornerbacks

Lankster Getty Images

The season-ending illness to safety Eric Berry has prompted the Chiefs to move cornerback Ron Parker back to the position he maintained while Berry missed time due to an ankle injury.  Which means that the Chiefs need to beef up the depth chart not at the safety position, but at the cornerback position.

Toward that end, the Chiefs have worked out a trio of cornerbacks.  Per a league source, they’ve taken a look at Ellis Lankster (pictured), Johnny Patrick, and DeMarcus Van Dyke.

Parker’s play during Berry’s absence earned a starting cornerback job for him.  Philip Gaines, a third-round rookie from Rice, could be in line to replace Parker at starting cornerback.

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Eagles push lead to 20

McCoy AP

Barring a comeback that would become fodder for legends on par with Clint Longley and Leon Lett, the Eagles will be beating the Cowboys in their first Thanksgiving Day get-together since the Bounty Bowl in 1989.

Midway through the third quarter, the Eagles lead the Cowboys, 30-10.

Philly running back LeSean McCoy has 129 yards rushing on 17 carries, including a 38-yard run that pushing the margin to 20 points.

Down 23-7, Dallas had a chance to make things interesting after a McCoy fumble deep in the Eagles’ end of the field.  But Philly’s defense stiffened, culminating in a self-sack by Tony Romo aimed at keeping his fragile back in one piece.

There’s plenty of time left, but Dallas will have to find a way to triple its output of points in the next 20 minutes of clock time.  If that doesn’t happen, the Eagles will move to 9-3, the Cowboys will fall to 8-4, and the rematch will happen on December 14 on NBC.

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Seahawks may wait to work out new deal with Wilson

Wilson AP

After the Seahawks won the Super Bowl to cap quarterback Russell Wilson’s second NFL season, it became a given that Seattle would sign Wilson to a big-money contract as soon as he became eligible for a new deal, after the completion of the 2014 regular season.

With the Seahawks struggling (in comparison to last year) and with Wilson showing signs of regression, the Seahawks may decide to wait.

Per a league source, the team’s willingness to give Wilson a new deal will depend in large part on how the current season turns out.  Miss the playoffs or get eliminated early, and the Seahawks will be inclined to wait.  Return to the Super Bowl, and a new deal becomes more likely.

Whatever happens, the Seahawks will be sure to do that which is regarded as fair within the locker room.  They didn’t hesitate to pay cornerback Richard Sherman or safety Earl Thomas, cognizant of the importance of rewarding those who have helped contribute to the team’s success.

Wilson definitely has contributed, but the challenge becomes pegging his value if both player and team achieve a lot less than they did last year.

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Eagles take 16-point lead at halftime

Sanchez AP

It looked like it was going to be a shootout, but the Cowboys haven’t done much shooting.

At halftime in Dallas, the Eagles lead the Cowboys, 23-7.

After the Cowboys cut the lead in half, the Eagles generated a trio of field goals, while keeping the Cowboys off the board.

Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez has 202 yards passing, a career first-half high.  He has thrown for more than 300 yards in three straight games.

The Cowboys get the ball to start the third quarter.  Philly’s failure to turn multiple opportunities inside the 10 into touchdowns could come back to haunt the Eagles, if/when Dallas can start scoring more points — and start holding the Eagles from doing the same.

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