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PFT’s Week 13 picks

Peyton AP

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m quite thankful for my three-game lead through 12 weeks of action.

The three-game lead survived Week 12, because we split the four games on which we disagreed last weekend (I was right on Bengals and Browns, MDS nailed it with the Bears and Seahawks).

This week, with all 32 teams playing for the first time since Week Three, we disagree on only one game.  For all picks for Week 13, scroll down.

For the week, we were both 11-4.  For the year, I’m at 116-60 (65.9 percent).  MDS stands at  (64.2 percent).

Bears at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions have gone from first place to on the verge of collapse, just as they did around this time last year. But the difference is that the Lions’ two-game losing streak has gone against two of the best teams in the league. Against the Bears at home, the Lions should be able to get back to their winning ways.

MDS’s pick: Lions 14, Bears 10.

Florio’s take:  The Lions can’t afford to stumble again, at a time when they can’t find the end zone.  Fortunately, they’ll be facing an opponent far less potent than the Cardinals and Patriots.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Bears 20.

Eagles at Cowboys

MDS’s take: First place in the NFC East is up for grabs, and I’m leaning toward the Cowboys mostly because I don’t trust Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. Although Sanchez is putting up plenty of yardage in Chip Kelly’s offense — three straight 300-yard games — I expect him to throw a couple of interceptions and the Cowboys to capitalize on his mistakes.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 24, Eagles 21.

Florio’s take:  The Eagles won’t be capable of keeping pace with a Cowboys Offense that will present a pick-your-poison dilemma for Philly’s defense.  The Dallas offense continues to fire on all cylinders, and it’ll be enough to secure the first of two games between these teams in only 17 days.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Eagles 27.

Seahawks at 49ers

MDS’s take: The way the NFC playoff race is shaping up, it’s very unlikely that both of these teams can make the playoffs. The loser of this game will be on the outside looking in, without much time left to make up ground. The Seahawks made a statement last week against the Cardinals, and I think they’ll make another one on Thanksgiving.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 20, 49ers 13.

Florio’s take:   The Seahawks held serve at home against the Cardinals to keep Seattle’s playoff hopes alive.  The Seahawks now have a chance to break serve in Santa Clara — and in turn to deliver a potential death blow to the 49ers’ playoff chances.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, 49ers 17.

Washington at Colts

MDS’s take: Remember when there was actually a debate about who was better, Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck?  That feels so long ago. Luck’s team will whip Griffin’s team on Sunday, while Griffin stands on the sideline watching.

MDS’s pick: Colts 31, Washington 10.

Florio’s take:  In April 2012, this would have been one of the most anticipated games for the entire 2014 regular season, pitting the first and second overall picks n the draft against each other.  The game now has far less cachet, with Andrew Luck clearly the better quarterback and Robert Griffin III taking a seat on the bench.  Again.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 34, Washington 20.

Titans at Texans

MDS’s take: The loss of Ryan Mallett is bad news for the Texans in the long term because it prevents them from knowing whether he’s the type of quarterback who could be the face of their franchise. But for this week, Ryan Fitzpatrick is just as capable of helping Houston beat a bad Tennessee team.

MDS’s pick: Texans 31, Titans 17.

Florio’s take:  Ryan Fitzpatrick gets another crack at a team that gave up on him, playing quarterback for another team that gave up on him.  The latest team that gave up on him is better than the prior team that gave up on him.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Titans 13.

Browns at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills have gone through a long, rough week, and they emerged looking great in a big win over the Jets. I think they’ll keep it going against the Browns.

MDS’s pick: Bills 23, Browns 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bills return home after a detour to Detroit, and the Browns roll in with a chance to move to 8-4.  Perhaps the toughest game to call given what Buffalo did to the Jets on Monday night and in light of the fact that the Browns are the better team, the Bills have an extra level of motivation in this one, given the snowstorm that turned the region on its head last week.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Browns 20.

Chargers at Ravens

MDS’s take: I think we can officially write off the loser of this one. The AFC playoff pool is just too deep for the loser to remain in contention. I like the Ravens’ chances in a must-win game at home.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 28, Chargers 17.

Florio’s take:  Baltimore has started to make a push to the postseason with a win at New Orleans; the Chargers have won a pair of home games that they easily could have lost.  Baltimore seems to have the better talent on both sides of the ball to get to eight wins before San Diego.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 27, Chargers 20.

Giants at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Giants’ season is a mess, but they’re still better than the Jaguars. This looks like it’s going to be a lousy, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Giants 15, Jaguars 7.

Florio’s take:  Tom Coughlin heads back to Jacksonville.  Some may want him to stay, if the Giants decide they want him to go.  On the field, always take a Manning against a Bortles.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Jaguars 17.

Bengals at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bucs have played competitive football at times, but on balance they’re a pretty terrible team. The Bengals remain the leaders in the AFC North, and they won’t lose their lead in Tampa Bay.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 27, Buccaneers 7.

Florio’s take:  Another game not on national TV, another appearance from the Dr. Jekyll version of Andy Dalton.  The good news for the Bucs is that they’ll likely still be only two games out of first place after this one ends.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Buccaneers 17.

Raiders at Rams

MDS’s take: I’m impressed with the way the Rams are playing, even though they have no chance of getting to the playoffs in the tough NFC West. Put the Rams in the NFC South, and they’re in the playoffs. Those are the breaks. At least they’ll whip the Raiders in the battle of former Los Angeles teams.

MDS’s pick: Rams 28, Raiders 14.

Florio’s take:  The Raiders have their one win for the season.  The Rams have fewer than they should.  To make this one more interesting, the winner should get dibs on L.A.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 27, Raiders 14.

Saints at Steelers

MDS’s take: I have a simple philosophy: I’m not picking the Saints outside, in a cold-weather city, against anybody. The Steelers will take this one and remain in the AFC North race, while the Saints will lose and remain in the NFC South race because the NFC South is terrible.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 27, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints have lost three games in a row at home.  So it would be fitting for them to win one in Pittsburgh.  But the Steelers are rested and ready and aware of the importance of getting an eighth win in a division of seven-win teams.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Saints 20.

Panthers at Vikings

MDS’s take: I liked the way the Vikings’ defense played against the Packers last week, and if Teddy Bridgewater can just avoid making too many mistakes, Minnesota can win this one. Against a better defense I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in Bridgewater, but against the Panthers’ defense, the Vikings can win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 16, Panthers 10.

Florio’s take:  The Vikings win the games they should and lose the games they should.  They should beat the Panthers, swarming Cam Newton with a potent pass rush and methodically gaining yards with a running game and passing game that are good enough to move the ball against a struggling franchise.  Yes, the Panthers are still pushing for a playoff berth.  The Vikings, however, are trying to lay the foundation for long-term success.  Winning winnable games is part of the culture change over which Mike Zimmer is presiding.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Panthers 16.

Cardinals at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Cardinals aren’t as good a team with Drew Stanton as they were with Carson Palmer, but they’re still a whole lot better than the Falcons. Bruce Arians will have his guys ready to bounce back from last week’s loss in Seattle.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 24, Falcons 10.

Florio’s take:  Have two division leaders in late November ever had a gap this big in overall quality?  The gap will be obvious, with or without poor clock management.

Florio’s pick:   Cardinals 23, Falcons 13.

Patriots at Packers

MDS’s take: It’s the best game of the day and one of the best games of the season. The Packers have played excellent football at home, but the Patriots are the best team in the NFL and will show it in Green Bay.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Packers 28.

Florio’s take:  I’ve gone back and forth on this one, and I finally need to pick a horse.  Given the ability of Patriots coach Bill Belichick to construct a game plan perfectly suited to each and every game, look for the Pats to grind the clock, keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines, actually cover Jordy Nelson, and ultimately prevail on the only stat that matters — points scored vs. points allowed.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Packers 24.

Broncos at Chiefs

MDS’s take: If Denver takes this one, the AFC West race is all but over. Although the Broncos have been inconsistent of late, they haven’t had a loss as bad as the Chiefs losing in Oakland last week. I like the Broncos to complete the season sweep of the Chiefs and take control of the division.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 34, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  The Broncos have looked vulnerable in recent weeks, and Chiefs continue to be one of the toughest teams to beat at home.  Eric Berry’s absence hurts them from a football standpoint, but it will further galvanize a franchise that has overcome plenty of adversity in recent years.

Florio’s pick:   Chiefs 27, Broncos 24.

Dolphins at Jets

MDS’s take: Losing to the Broncos on Sunday may have knocked the Dolphins out of realistic playoff contention, but they’re still a much better team than the Jets. Miami takes this one easily.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 34, Jets 17.

Florio’s take:  The Jets were a “zillion ways” better after the bye, and it wasn’t nearly enough to hand with the Bills.  The Dolphins are better than the Bills.  Not even Jumbo Elliott could make a difference in this one.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Jets 13.

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Week 12 power rankings

Brady AP

1. New England Patriots (No. 2; 9-2):  Gronk like cheese.

2. Green Bay Packers (No. 3; 8-3):  Lambeau Field will never host a Super Bowl, but this weekend it could be hosting a Super Bowl preview.

3. Arizona Cardinals (last week No. 1; 9-2):  There’s a little space on the bandwagon.  It won’t last long.

4. Dallas Cowboys (No. 4; 8-3):  If Jerry Jones gets the bigger piece of the wishbone, we know what he’ll be asking for.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 5; 8-3):  With Cowboys, Seahawks, Cowboys on the immediate horizon, we’ll know plenty about this team soon.

6. Denver Broncos (No. 6; 8-3):  The scoreboard operator was almost the least of the team’s concerns on Sunday.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 11; 7-3-1):  But for that tie against Carolina, the Bengals would be caught in a four-way tie atop the AFC North.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 9; 7-4):  Tied for second sounds a lot better than tied for last.

9. Indianapolis Colts (No. 10; 7-4):  Luck vs. Griffin I finally arrives, with a lot less sizzle than expected in 2012.

10. Seattle Seahawks (No. 13; 7-4):  Like the last time the Seahawks met the 49ers, this one could be an elimination game.

11. Baltimore Ravens (No. 12; 7-4):  Justin Forsett keeps piling up yards — and votes for comeback player of the year.

12. Detroit Lions (No. 7; 7-4):  Four days before eating turkey, Dominic Raiola acted like a turd.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 8; 7-4):  A franchise that has fought through plenty of adversity in recent years has another challenge in Eric Berry’s illness.

14. San Francisco 49ers (No. 14; 7-4):  If Colin Kaepernick is great with a capital “G”, he really did get screwed with a capital “S” on his latest contract.

15. Cleveland Browns (No. 18; 7-4):  If Johnny Manziel ever throws a touchdown pass, it would be wise for his teammates to not ask for a hug.

16. Miami Dolphins (No. 15; 6-5):  If Joe Philbin keeps losing games he could have won, he’ll be losing a job he could’ve kept.

17. San Diego Chargers (No. 16; 7-4):  The win over the Rams felt — and looked — like a loss.

18. Buffalo Bills (No. 19; 6-5):  If the Lions don’t make it to the playoff’s maybe Detroit’s other team will.

19. Houston Texans (No. 17; 5-6):  “Ryan Fitzpatrick can save our season,” said no one ever.

20.  Chicago Bears (No. 21; 5-6):  Barely beating bad teams isn’t the way to convince anyone the Bears aren’t bad news.

21. New Orleans Saints (No. 20; 4-7):  Rob Ryan won’t be back, and it has nothing to do with someone finally deciding to make him a head coach.

22. Minnesota Vikings (No. 22; 4-7):  If they lost to the Packers by only three without Adrian Peterson, how would the Vikings have performed with him?

23. St. Louis Rams (No. 23; 4-7):  They’d be a playoff team if they only played playoff teams.

24. Atlanta Falcons (No. 24; 4-7):  Mike Smith should try to call a time out just before his postseason meeting with the owner.

25. New York Giants (No. 25; 3-8):  “We’re still the best team in New York!”

26.  Carolina Panthers (No. 26; 3-7-1):  “Can we get more bye weeks?”

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 27; 2-9):  “We’re still only two games out of first place!”

28. New York Jets (No. 28; 2-9):  Maybe they should have tried to be a zillion ways plus one better.

29. Tennessee Titans (No. 29; 2-9):  Forget the Titans.  Wait, everyone already has.

30. Washington (No. 30; 3-8):  Jay Gruden has “every intent” to get into broadcasting.

31. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 1-10):  Sio Moore apparently thinks the Raiders were relegated to the CFL.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 1-10):  As they prepare to welcome Tom Coughlin back to Jacksonville, some fans may be wondering whether it makes sense to lure him back for a longer visit.

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NFC playoff picture: Will any of the South’s underdogs step up?

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Control of the NFC South reverted to the 4-7 Falcons after the Saints’ loss to Baltimore on Monday night.

It’s here we note the Falcons will keep the lead if all four South teams lose on Sunday.

And judging from the early lines in Nevada, that’s not impossible.

All four NFC South clubs are underdogs in Week 13. The 9-2 Cardinals are favored by a little less than a field goal at Atlanta, with the Bengals (7-3-1) opening as favorites of a little more than three points at Tampa Bay (2-9).

Similarly, the reeling Saints (4-7) opened as underdogs of a field goal at 7-4 Pittsburgh. Finally, the Panthers (3-7-1) play at 4-7 Minnesota (-2.5).

With wins so scarce in the South, an upset by Atlanta, Carolina or New Orleans could tilt the division race. And perhaps a surprise win would jump-start Tampa Bay, which is still in with a chance.

Here’s how the NFC stacks up after 12 weeks. The NFL’s standings and tiebreaking rules were cited.

THE BIG SIX

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

2. Green Bay Packers (8-3, .727). NFC North leader. Earn first-round bye. Hold No. 2 seed on basis of head-to-head tiebreaker over Philadelphia.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-3, .727). NFC East leader. Host Seahawks in wild-card round. NFC East’s top-seeded team on basis of better division record than Dallas (2-0 vs. 2-1).

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

5. Dallas Cowboys (8-3, .727.). Wild card No. 1.

6. Seattle Seahawks (7-4, .636). Wild card No. 2. NFC West’s second-seeded team on basis of better division record than San Francisco (1-1 vs. 1-2). Seeded ahead of Detroit on basis of better record in common games.

JUST MISSING

7. Detroit Lions (7-4, .636). Earn No. 7 seed on basis of better NFC record than San Francisco (5-2 vs. 6-3).

8. San Francisco 49ers (7-4, .636).

9. Chicago Bears (5-6, .455).

10. New Orleans Saints (4-7, .364). Earn No. 10 seed on basis of better NFC record (4-4) than Vikings (4-5) and Rams (3-5).

11. Minnesota Vikings (4-7, .364). Earn No. 11 seed on basis of head-to-head win vs. St. Louis.

12. St. Louis Rams (4-7, .364).

THE REST OF THE NFC SOUTH

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

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

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AFC playoff picture: Ravens can chart their own path

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

In defeating the Saints 34-27 on Monday night, the Ravens completed a sweep of the NFC South and improved their record to 7-4.

Now, the Ravens embark on a five-game stretch against AFC foes to close the regular season. And in many ways, the Ravens’ playoff fate is now squarely in their hands.

Of the Ravens’ final five games, four are against conference contenders, including Sunday’s pivotal matchup with the Chargers. At the moment, the Chargers are one spot ahead of the Ravens in the AFC seeding, but Baltimore can snag the oh-so-important head-to-head tiebreaker with a victory. Matchups with the Dolphins (December 7), Texans (December 21) and Browns (December 28) offer similar opportunities. The Ravens also draw feeble Jacksonville in Baltimore on December 14, giving them a chance to bolster their AFC record.

After failing to make the postseason in 2013, the Ravens are very much in the mix to be playing in January. And if they knock off San Diego, Miami and Cleveland, they will be tough to keep out, for they will have inflicted real some pain upon their rivals.

Here’s an up-to-date look at how the AFC’s top 12 playoff contenders are seeded. The NFL’s tiebreaking rules and standings were referenced and applied.

THE BIG SIX

1. New England Patriots (9-2, .818). AFC East leader. Earn first-round bye, home-field advantage.

2. Denver Broncos (8-3, .727). AFC West leader. Earn first-round bye.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-3-1, .682). AFC North leader. Host Chargers in wild-card game.

4. Indianapolis Colts (7-4, .636). AFC South leader. Host Chiefs in wild-card game.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4, .636). Wild card No. 1. Hold No. 5 seed on basis of head-to-head win vs. Chargers (first divisional tiebreaker) and better AFC record than Ravens (5-3 vs. 3-4 — second wild-card tiebreaker).

6. San Diego Chargers (7-4, .636). Wild card No. 2. Hold No. 6 seed on basis of better AFC record than Ravens (5-3 vs. 3-4 — second wild-card tiebreaker).

JUST MISSING

7. Baltimore Ravens (7-4, .636). AFC North’s second-seeded team because of 2-1 mark in head-to-head games vs. Steelers and Browns (first divisional tiebreaker). This tops the Steelers’ 2-2 mark and the Browns’ 1-2 record.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4, .636). AFC North’s third-seeded team because of superior record in common games to Browns (4-2 vs. 2-3 — third divisional tiebreaker).

9. Cleveland Browns (7-4, .636).

10. Miami Dolphins (6-5, .545). Hold No. 10 seed on basis of superior AFC East record to Bills (2-1 vs. 3-2 — second divisional tiebreaker).

11. Buffalo Bills (6-5, .545).

12. Houston Texans (5-6, .455).

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NFC playoffs could see a 5-11 team in and a 12-4 team out

Corey Peters AP

Here’s how bad the NFC South is, and how good the NFC wild card race is: There are scenarios in which a 5-11 team is in the playoffs as NFC South champion, and a 12-4 team is left out of the playoffs entirely.

We noted last week that it’s entirely possible that a five-win team could win the NFC South. That scenario only became more plausible on Sunday, when both NFC South teams in action lost.

And with four of the NFC’s worst teams concentrated in one division, that means there are more good teams in the other divisions than there are playoff spots available. There are seven NFC teams — the Cardinals, Packers, Eagles, Cowboys, Seahawks, Lions and 49ers — that could still win 12 games, and there are plausible scenarios in which six of those seven actually reach the 12-win mark. (All seven can’t do it because the Seahawks and 49ers, who still play each other twice, can’t both get to 12 wins.) Only five of those seven teams with hopes of getting to 12 wins can make the playoffs because at least one of the six NFC playoff spots has to go to the NFC South champion.

Using ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine, I found a scenario that saw the Packers finishing at 12-4, losing the NFC North tiebreaker to the 12-4 Lions, and then losing the NFC wild card tiebreaker to the 12-4 Cowboys and 49ers.

Green Bay fans would be livid if that happened, although that scenario is a long shot. However, there are plausible scenarios that have an 11-5 team missing the playoffs while a 5-11 team wins the NFC South.

There’s been increasing talk in recent years about adding a seventh playoff team in each conference, and that seems to be something NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants. Goodell and the owners, of course, are motivated primarily by the extra revenue that extra playoff games could bring. But there’s nothing that could get the fans to support expanding the playoffs more than a seemingly deserving team being shut out. That’s likely to happen this year.

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NFL morning after: Brady and Belichick seeking their fourth ring

brady AP

The Patriots are the best team in the NFL, and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are 10 weeks away from earning their fourth Super Bowl rings.

That’s what I was thinking as I watched the 34-9 beatdown the Patriots put up on a previously pretty good Lions team on Sunday. This New England team has the best offense in the NFL, an offense that, for the last seven games, hasn’t been far off from the insanely great offense of the 16-0 Patriots team in 2007.

Seven games. That’s how many the Patriots have played since that ugly meltdown against the Chiefs, the 41-14 loss in Kansas City that had people claiming Tom Brady was washed up and the New England dynasty was done. Here’s all the Patriots have done in the seven games since then:

– For starters, they’ve won seven straight games. That alone is remarkable in this NFL season, when it seems like every other week the team that we’re sure is on top of the league gets knocked off its perch. No other team is currently on a win streak of more than three games. Seven in a row in today’s NFL is extraordinarily hard to do.

– And they’re not just winning. They’re dominating. Six of the Patriots’ seven wins during their current streak are by margins of 15 points or more. The Patriots have outscored their opponents by a total score of 277-137. That’s an average score of 40-20. A three-touchdown victory is the norm.

– Tom Brady has multiple touchdown passes in each of the last seven games. He’s thrown 22 scores and only four interceptions during this winning streak.

Rob Gronkowski has gotten back to being Gronk, which means he’s emerged as a matchup nightmare, just like he always is when he’s actually healthy enough to play like himself. But perhaps more importantly, Brady has been spreading the ball around to a whole lot of different receivers. Those 22 touchdown passes in the last seven games include six to Gronk, six to Timothy Wright, four to Brandon LaFell, three to Shane Vereen, one to Danny Amendola, one to Brian Tyms and one to Julian Edelman.

– The Patriots can run the ball any way they want. LeGarrette Blount was signed last week, had a couple days of practice, and carried 12 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions yesterday. That came a week after newcomer Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a win over the Colts. When the Patriots started this streak, it was Stevan Ridley who had 113 rushing yards in a win over the Bengals. Shane Vereen has also taken a couple turns as the Patriots’ top rusher.

The Patriots’ defense isn’t great, but it’s good enough, and I wouldn’t bet against Belichick having his defense playing its best football in January. Belichick is just so good at what he does. If he wins his fourth Super Bowl ring, there will be a case that he’s the best coach in NFL history. And in turning this team around like he has over the last seven weeks, Belichick may be doing his best coaching job yet.

New England was the best team in the NFL on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

Here’s why people love Bruce Arians. ESPN aired a segment Sunday morning called “My Best Day,” in which NFL players and coaches talked about the best day of their lives. Arians chose the day that he was able to relinquish his job as the Colts’ interim head coach because his boss, Chuck Pagano, had recovered from cancer treatments and was ready to take over again. That’s the kind of man Arians is: He was in the midst of a very successful year in which he finally got to live his dream as an NFL head coach, and the day that he stepped aside to give the head-coaching job back to Pagano is the day he chose as the best of his life, because he cares so deeply about Pagano as a person that Pagano’s health means far more to him than his own personal achievements. I watched that segment and I wanted to run through a brick wall for Arians. I can’t imagine what it’s like to play for him. The Cardinals lost on Sunday, but Arians remains the leading candidate for the coach of the year.

Jim Caldwell needs to get more aggressive. As the Lions fell behind the Patriots early on Sunday, Caldwell sent the punt or field goal teams onto the field on a fourth-and-6, a fourth-and-goal from the 2, a fourth-and-3 and a fourth-and-1. Later, Caldwell wasted a timeout on fourth-and-14 because he couldn’t make a decision about whether to go for it or kick a field goal. (The Lions kicked after the timeout.) I don’t know how many opportunities Caldwell thought he was going to get, but if you want to win at New England, you’re going to need to take some chances. Caldwell wouldn’t, and his team paid for it.

Teddy’s not ready. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater may one day become a very good NFL quarterback, but he’s not there yet. Sunday’s loss to the Packers showed why Bridgewater would still be on the sideline if Matt Cassel hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury. Bridgewater’s stats don’t look terrible — he completed 21 of 37 passes for 210 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception — but he missed open receivers several times early in the game, and that cost the Vikings the game. On a day when Minnesota’s defense played well enough to win, Bridgewater couldn’t deliver.

Welcome back, Josh Gordon. In his first game of the season after serving a substance-abuse suspension, Gordon was the Browns’ best player on Sunday. Gordon, who led the NFL with an average of 117.6 receiving yards per game last year, caught eight passes for 120 yards to lead Cleveland to a win at Atlanta. Gordon is picking up right where he left off, and the Browns have a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Your weekly reminder that the NFC South is terrible. The Falcons are 4-7, and they’ll be in first place if the Ravens beat the Saints tonight. The Falcons still haven’t beaten a single team from outside their division: They’re 4-0 against their fellow NFC South teams and they’re 0-7 against the rest of the NFL after yesterday’s loss to the Browns. It’s entirely possible that a five-win team could win the NFC South.

Think Mark Sanchez likes playing for Chip Kelly? Sanchez completed 30 of 43 passes for 307 yards in the Eagles’ 43-24 win over the Titans on Sunday. Sanchez never even had two straight 300-yard games in his 68 career starts with the Jets, but he now has three straight 300-yard games after his first three starts with the Eagles.

What Dominic Raiola did was bush league. Raiola, the Lions’ center, admitted that he took a shot at the knees of Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore because he didn’t like the Patriots running up the score. The NFL should discipline Raiola and send a message that such cheap shots are unacceptable. The Patriots are running it up on everyone because they’re better than everyone. They shouldn’t have to take cheap shots just because they’re winning big.

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Week 12 early inactives

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Every week we’ll bring you all the inactives from the early games in one post, constantly updated with the latest information. So check back often to see the full list as it becomes available.

Browns at Falcons

Browns: TE Jordan Cameron, WR Marlon Moore, LB Karlos Dansby, WR Rodney Smith, CB Pierre Desir, DB Robert Nelson, OL Vinston Painter

Falcons: CB Robert Alford, T Jonathan Scott, QB Sean Renfree, LB Tyler Starr, T Cameron Bradfield, LB James Anderson, DT Cliff Matthews

Buccaneers at Bears

Buccaneers: LB Lavonte David, WR Robert Herron, RB Mike James, CB Crezdon Butler CB C.J. Wilson, T Kevin Pamphile, DE Da’Quan Bowers

Bears: DE Trevor Scott, WR Chris Williams, LB Darryl Sharpton, CB Terrance Mitchell, LB Khaseem Greene, OL Eben Britton, T Jordan Mills

Bengals at Texans

Bengals: LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Margus Hunt, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, RB Rex Burkhead, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, T Tanner Hawkinson, WR Greg Little

Texans: CB Kareem Jackson, RB Arian Foster, QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey, LB Max Bullough, T Jeff Adams, DB Josh Aubrey

Jaguars at Colts

Jaguars: DE Andre Branch, LB Jeremiah George, WR Mike Brown, CB Teddy Williams, RB Storm Johnson, G Tyler Shatley, OT Sam Young

Colts: TE Dwayne Allen, T Gosder Cherilus, CB Greg Toler, OL Lance Louis, C Khaled Holmes, DT Kelcy Quarles, DT Zach Kerr

Packers at Vikings

Packers: TE Brandon Bostick, QB Scott Tolzien, CB Jarrett Bush, LB Nick Perry, LB Carl Bradford, C Garth Gerhart, WR Jeff Janis

Vikings: RB Matt Asiata, DT Sharrif Floyd, FB Zach Line, LB Mike Mauti, LB Brandon Watts, G David Yankey, G Austin Wentworth

Lions at Patriots

Lions: DT Nick Fairley, G Larry Warford, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, RB Reggie Bush, TE Kellen Davis, WR Ryan Broyles

Patriots: DE Chandler Jones, T Cameron Fleming, RB James White, WR Aaron Dobson, CB Malcolm Butler, DL Dominique Easley, OL Jordan Devey

Titans at Eagles

Titans: QB Charlie Whitehurst, WR Kris Durham, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, DB Marqueston Huff, T Will Svitek, TE Richard Gordon, DE Ropati Pitoitua

Eagles: QB Nick Foles, CB Roc Carmichael, DB Jaylen Watkins, OL Julian Vandervelde, OL Dennis Kelly, WR Jeff Maehl, DL Taylor Hart

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Week 12 “Three and Out”

Romo AP

With only six Sundays left in the season, things are getting more and more interesting for the teams in contention.  And, for some of the teams not in contention, more and more dysfunctional.

Speaking of dysfunctional, PFT continues to produce every Saturday a three-questions-per-game look at every contest to be played on every Sunday.  There’s one less Sunday game this week, with Jets-Bills moved to Monday.  But with only two teams on byes, there will be plenty of stuff going on in the twelfth Sunday of 2014.

To get up to speed on all of the action, perform the action that requires precious little effort — scroll down.

Browns at Falcons

1.  How much will Josh Gordon be used?

Plenty.  Heavily.  Extensively.

Officially, the Browns plan to ease Gordon, who missed 10 games under his latest drug suspension, back into the game plan.  The Falcons aren’t buying it.  Neither is anyone else.

Gordon remains one of the best receivers in the NFL.  He potentially opens up the rest of the offense.  He’ll be on the field, and he’ll be a key contributor.

2.  What kind of chemistry do Gordon and Brian Hoyer have?

Given that they have played in only three games together, this isn’t quite Montana and Rice.  But in their very first career game together last year, it was.

Hoyer and Gordon connected 10 times for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.  It was the last time the Browns played in a dome.

On Sunday, Gordon and Hoyer are together again.  In a dome again.  So, yeah, things could get interesting.

3.  Do the Falcons wash their hands enough?

Apparently not.  Three offensive starters have missed time this week with the flu.

Receiver Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson, and fullback Patrick DiMarco headline the victims of the virus.  Coach Mike Smith has said Jones will play, and he’s listed a probable (as are Jackson and DiMarco).  But will Jones be ready?

It’s been kind of difficult,” Roddy White said this week regarding the absence of Julio Jones. “Going through plays and stuff, we’ve got people moving around.  He’s just got to get healthy.  He’s going through the flu bug so we’ve just got to get him right and get him ready on Sunday.”

Buccaneers at Bears

1.  What kind of reception will Lovie Smith get?

The over/under on signs that say “Lovie Come Home” or something similar at Soldier Field should be 52.5.  Smith, whom linebacker Lance Briggs has said should be regarded among the best coaches in franchise history with George Halas and Mike Dikta, remains beloved in Chicago.  Smith is likely even more beloved now that the team is struggling under Marc Trestman.

Those cheers could quickly subside if/when Smith and his 2-8 Bucs upend the Bears, who continue to struggle even though they managed to outscore the Vikings a week ago.  Or maybe Bears fans will convert to Tampa fans.  After all, the Buccaneers are a lot closer to playoff contention in the NFC South than the Bears are in the NFC North.

2.  Can Mike Evans keep it going?

There’s no reason to think he can’t.  The rookie told PFT Live earlier this week that the pro game already has slowed down for him.  His performances the past three weeks underscore that reality.

In each of the last three games, Smith has seven catches.  In each of the last three games, he generated at least 124 passing yards.  In each of the last three games, he scored at least one touchdown.

Last Sunday, Evans became the youngest player in league history to surpass 200 receiving yards in one game, securing the NFC offensive player of the week award with seven catches for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

With size, speed, and uncanny ball skills, Evans quickly is becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL.  Soon, he could simply be one of the best receivers in the NFL, regardless of age.

3.  Will the clocks at Soldier Field work any better this week?

They can’t work much worse.  Last week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with a malfunction that forced quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to play a soccer-style guessing game regarding the amount of time remaining.  This week, the situation apparently has been remedied.

“That was a first, and we’d like to say a last,” a Soldier Field spokesman said this week.  “But the [clocks] are ready for Sunday.”

The one thing we know for sure is that, given Lovie Smith’s more laid-back style, it’s unlikely he’ll describe the clocks the same way Zimmer did.

Bengals at Texans

1.  Which Andy Dalton will show up?

Good question.  Two weeks ago, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.  Last Sunday, it was Andy Dalton 2.0.

Having a healthy and productive receiver A.J. Green helped; Green generated 127 receiving yards against the Saints.  Rookie running back Jeremy Hill added 152 on the ground.  Now, running back Gio Bernard has recovered from a hip injury.  So Dalton has weapons.

Of course, the Texans have a fairly potent weapon in defensive end J.J. Watt.  If he can make Dalton uncomfortable, we may see more of the guy who failed in Cleveland two weeks ago — and less of the guy who beat the Saints in their own building.

2.  Are the Texans a legitimate contender?

Only one game behind the Colts, Houston has a pair of encounters remaining against Jacksonville and a visit from the Titans.  That should get Houston to eight wins.  Standing between eight and 11 are the Bengals, Colts, and Ravens.

The test starts Sunday.  Beat the Bengals, and nine games should be a sure thing — 10 games will be a strong possibility.

3.  With Gio Bernard healthy, how much will we see Jeremy Hill?

With Bernard injured, Hill gained more than 360 yards in three games.  Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson says that has resulted in Hill earning more time once Bernard returns on Sunday.

While the Hill-Bernard rotation could drive fantasy owners crazy down the stretch, it could help the Bengals hold off the other three teams in the AFC North.

Jaguars at Colts

1.  What will the Colts do without Ahmad Bradshaw?

Trent Richardson gets yet another chance to justify Indy’s decision to send a first-round pick for the guy on whom the Browns burned the No. 3 overall selection.  Richardson currently has an average of 3.4 yards per carry; Bradshaw, who is out for the year with a broken bone in his leg, was gaining 4.7 yards per attempt.

If Richardson can’t get it done, look for Boom Herron to get more chances.

One guy who won’t be helping the cause is Ben Tate.  While the Colts made a waivers claim on the former Browns tailback, the Vikings had priority.  Surprisingly, the Colts showed no interest in LeGarrette Blount, who gained 166 yards and scored four touchdowns against Indy in the 2013 playoffs.

2.  Could Coby Fleener have a big game?

With tight end Dwayne Allen ruled out due to an ankle injury, Fleener will get a chance to build on his Week 11 performance, which resulted in 144 receiving yards.

I think he’s playing better than I’ve ever seen him,” receiver (former, as of Saturday afternoon) Griff Whalen said this week of his Stanford and Colts teammate. “His demeanor on the field is more physical and more aggressive. After the catch, he’s not shying away from contact. He’s embracing it.”

It’s not bad for a guy who nearly quit football in high school, but who stuck with it because a scholarship was the only path to college.

3.  Does Jags coach Gus Bradley like a little scuffling in practice?

Absolutely.  It happened on Thursday, and Bradley approved.

“We had some guys getting together and had to break them up a little bit but through competition going on,” Bradley said.  “It was a very spirited practice. . . .  It wasn’t like a like a big fight. It was just a scuffle.”

But it shows that the Jaguars still have a little fight in them, despite having only one win on the year.

Packers at Vikings

1.  Will Teddy Bridgewater’s presence make a difference?

Probably not.  While the rookie definitely represents a step up over Christian Ponder, who played poorly when Bridgewater was injured in Week Five, Bridgewater has yet to play like he did in his debut as a starter against the Falcons.

And the Falcons are a far cry from the Packers, who have been rolling over every team in their path.  To outscore Green Bay, Bridgewater must be able to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers.  Few quarterbacks in the NFL currently can pull that off.

2.  How much will Ben Tate play?

Tate was cut by the Browns in part because he didn’t like his role.  In Minnesota, he doesn’t care what his role will be.

He could have a fairly significant one, given that Matt Asiata won’t play this week with a concussion.

Of course, none of the team’s running backs will have much of a role if the Packers run away with the game the way they ran away with the first round last month in Green Bay.

3.  Will Clay Matthews be used outside or inside?

For now, it looks like he’ll primarily stay inside.  Even with outside linebacker Nick Perry questionable due to a shoulder injury, the Packers may opt not to slide Matthews, who is probable with a groin injury, from the inside.

“I think it’s more of a next man up type of mentality around here,” Matthews said this week. “I’m sure [Jayrone] Eliott will have more opportunities as well as Mike [Neal] and [Julius Peppers]. As we have seen in weeks prior, I rush off the edge and play in the middle, so wherever they need me, I will be there.”​

Lions at Patriots

1.  Will the Patriots double-team Ndamukong Suh?

Not constantly.  Coach Bill Belichick is leery about devoting too many resources to stifling Suh.

“As much as you try to double anybody, say Suh, sometimes you can’t because the guy you would have doubling him has to block a blitzer in pass protection,” Belichick said this week. “They create some single matchups like that.”

Still, Belichick knows he needs to find a way to stop Suh.

He changes everything,” Belichick said later in the week.

2.  How much of LeGarrette Blount will we see?

We could see plenty.  Coach Bill Belichick says Blount’s role will be up to him.  It also may be up to Jonas Gray’s ability to show up on time.

With Gray being sent home after being late on Friday due a cell-phone battery snafu, Blount already has a leg up.

Blount used his legs in January, gaining 166 yards and scoring four touchdowns against the Colts.  Gray duplicated the four touchdowns and added 35 yards last Sunday against Indy.  Either guy could give the running game a boost as the weather turns and the wind starts to whip.

3.  How will the Lions deal with tight end Rob Gronkowski?

It sure sounds like they’d like to knock Gronk out of the game.

“Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up,” Lions safety Glover Quin said this week.  “When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him.”

Gronk has a history of getting injured, and he plays with reckless abandon. If you hit him hard and hit him often, there’s a chance he gets injured and exits the game.

Before 2012, it was a given that teams should aspire to put the opponent’s best players on the sidelines.  The bounty scandal forced that talk to become muted.  But the incentive remains.  For the Lions, rendering Gronkowski unable to play could be the difference between winning and losing.

Titans at Eagles

1.  How is Mark Sanchez doing?

It depends on who you ask.  Sanchez thinks he’s not doing well enough.  Coach Chip Kelly seems to think he’s doing OK.

The numbers suggest Sanchez is struggling.  But the Eagles currently have no viable alternative to Sanchez.  They need to simply hold it together while Nick Foles‘ collarbone heals.

With seven good teams jockeying for five playoff berths in the NFC, it may not heal in time to salvage Philly’s seat at the postseason table.

2.  How is Zach Mettenberger doing?

He had a solid showing on Monday night, averaging 11 yards per throw and racking up a passer rating of 110.2.  But the rookie has yet to earn a victory for the Titans, who have lost four in a row.

Still, his teammates believe in him.

I think Zach has been doing outstanding,” veteran receiver Nate Washington said this week.  “He brings a lot to the table, a big strong arm. He’s smart behind the center, knows what is going.  We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, and as a rookie he gave his all.  He is progressing every week, and I think Zach has a huge, bright future in this league and I am excited to watch him grow.”

“He throws a pick-six on the first play of the game and it takes a lot of maturity and a lot of consistency and love for the game to not just throw it in from there,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “That kind of stuff will get you, and he just bounced right back and started slinging the ball.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  I think he somewhat made a name for himself.”

He would have made more of a name for himself if the Titans had beaten the Steelers.  He has another chance to do it against the other team from Pennsylvania.

3.  Is LeSean McCoy the same player he was in 2013?

He says he is.

“Man, listen: I don’t care what’s out there,” McCoy said this week.  “I’m not going to address, ‘Am I the same player?’  For what?  What are we talking about, am I the same player?  That’s for you all to figure out.  Are you crazy?  Am I the same player?  I am the same player.”
The evidence suggests otherwise.

72.9 yards per game on average.  3.7 yards per carry on average.

He has only one 100-yard game, and three with fewer than 25.  Injuries along the offensive line surely are a factor.  But it’s possible McCoy has indeed slipped, which could make it harder for coach Chip Kelly, who is willing to assess every player relative to skills, salary, and cap number, to justify bringing him back in 2015.

Rams at Chargers

1.  Is Philip Rivers injured?

Yes, but that isn’t slowing him down.

“I can honestly say that there’s nothing going on that’s hindering me in any way,” Rivers said this week. “Shoot, there’s a lot of guys in that locker room that are playing that are a lot sorer than I am.”

It’s not in Rivers’ DNA to cry uncle when it comes to injuries.

“Growing up around it, my dad always said, ‘Shoot, unless you can’t walk, you find a way to play, or find a way to get off the field,'” Rivers said.  “That was the main thing.  Don’t lay out there on the field.  I found my way off a few times last Sunday.”

The Chargers finally put Rivers on the injury report, three days after tight end Antonio Gates said the quarterback has a “very severe rib injury.”  But Rivers says he’ll play on Sunday, and that he’ll be “fresh.”

2.  Is Rivers’ center injured, again?

Yes.  And it could mean that the team’s fourth different starting center will play on Sunday.

Rich Ohrnberger is questionable; if he can’t play, rookie Chris Watt gets the nod.

Watt has 64 snaps at center so far, and he has been playing some guard.

“The old adage is, he’s no longer a rookie,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week. “He’s proven himself.”

3.  When will Chris Long be back?

Possibly soon.  He suffered an ankle injury in Week One, and he remains on injured reserve with designation for return, even though he could have returned to the active roster three weeks ago.

“He’s getting better each day,” coach Jeff Fisher said this week. “We’ll just wait and see how he is [Friday].  If that’s the case [and Long is ready], then obviously we have to make a roster move, so we’ll see how he is.”

Whether or not the roster move is made late Saturday, the roster move could be coming sooner.

Cardinals at Seahawks

1.  What’s wrong with Seattle’s passing game?

The easy answer is that receiver Golden Tate left for free agency, that receiver Percy Harvin was traded, and that tight end Zach Miller has landed on IR.  And that the offensive line has been banged up all year.

The tougher answer is the question of whether quarterback Russell Wilson has plateaued as a passer.  Heading into the season, it appeared he had found the proverbial next level.  Now, not.

Since a Monday night performance at Washington that launched an MVP campaign for the third-year quarterback, Wilson has lost a lot of his touch.

In the four games including the win at Washington, Wilson threw eight touchdown passes and one interception.  In the six games since then, five touchdown passes and four picks.  He also is missing open receivers and relying much more on his legs.

Whether it’s by the air or by the ground, the Seahawks need Wilson to come through on Sunday against Arizona, or the chances of repeating as NFC West champions will be slim and none even before a Thanksgiving night showdown against the 49ers.

2.  How much should be expected from Larry Fitzgerald?

It’s hard to say.  He has a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and as former NFL athletic trainer Mike Ryan explained earlier this week on PFT on NBCSN, that usually means the player will miss at least a week.

But Fitzgerald played a full half with the knee injury, and he remains optimistic that he’ll be able to go on Sunday.

Officially a game-time decision, Fitz has had a big game in every other game since the bye week.  This week, he’s due for another big game.  With the Cardinals unexpectedly soaring and one win away from delivering a regular-season knockout punch to the Seahawks, don’t count him out.

3.  How has Drew Stanton discovered his current level of performance?

In part, by revising his diet.  An offseason consultation with an allergist resulted in a determination that Stanton is allergic to milk.  In addition to dairy products, he also was advised to ditch pork, turkey, bananas, and cucumbers.

(Cucumbers?  If I couldn’t eat cucumbers I would no longer want to live.)

Stanton dropped 15 pounds, and he feels better than ever.

“I recover faster, feel light and still have my strength,” Stanton said this week. “I just feel a lot better at this weight.”

The way he’s playing, he’d feel good at any weight.

Dolphins at Broncos

1.  Why is Peyton Manning getting impatient?

Because he knows the window is closing on his team’s ability to force the road to Arizona through Denver.  And if the Broncos eventually have to return to Foxboro in January, it’s probably not going to end any better than it did three weeks ago.

Your sense of urgency has to increase,” Manning said this week.  “Realizing there aren’t many games left and we better get on it, better get going.  Need to play better, I need to play better, . . . You can say all you want, you can talk about doing it, but you’ve got to go and do it.”

It starts, in many respects, with the offensive line.  The Dolphins have the horses to swarm Manning like the Rams did last week, and like the Seahawks did in the Super Bowl.  That’s a lingering problem that needs to be fixed or the Broncos won’t be able to get back to the NFL championship game.  And if they do, they may get roughed up yet again.

2.  Is Bill Lazor worried about reports of griping from players?

Nope.

He says that any actual or perceived friction with players reflects that which is normal for NFL teams.

“You’ve been at practice, nothing is different,” Lazor said this week. “You’ve been at training camp where you could be at the whole practices.  I would like to think that, if the players were asked, that they would say I’ve been professional.

“I’d say there would probably be very, very few times that a curse word has come out of my mouth, but that I’m demanding from them.  The greatest feedback I’ve gotten from our players in one-on-one settings is when they’ve told me how much they appreciate the expectations I have for the offense.”

Those expectations, for the most part, haven’t been met.  So the truth is that the players, not the coaches, are the more likely source of any friction.

3.  Will the Broncos sign Richie Incognito?

Denver hasn’t given him a job yet; if he’d been on the team for Sunday’s visit from Miami, the story lines (and punchlines) would have written themselves.  It remains unclear whether Denver will give him a shot.

No real updates,” coach John Fox said this week. “It’s kind of a personnel matter and we did have him in for a workout. I think that was well-documented. . . .  We work out a lot of people throughout the season. We’re always looking to improve our football team any way possible and I’ll leave it at that.”

So what does Incognito’s former head coach think of the possibility of Incognito getting a job with the Broncos?

“I think Denver has a great front office and a great personnel staff, and they have to certainly make decisions that are best for their football team,” coach Joe Philbin said.  “I’ll leave it at that.”

So they’ll both leave it at that.  For now, the NFL has continued to leave Incognito on his couch.

Washington at 49ers

1.  What should be expected from Aldon Smith in his second game of the year?

Plenty.  In his first game after a nine-game suspension, Smith participated in 54 of 68 defensive snaps.  His mere presence helped make it easier for his teammates to create pressure on Eli Manning, by diluting the available protection.

This week, the protection for Washington could be diluted from the get-go, if left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) can’t play.  Williams’ absence would thrust rookie Morgan Moses into the fray, and he’d be facing Smith.

In other words, quarterback Robert Griffin III had better be ready to run.

2.  Is Robert Griffin III in trouble?

Yes, if the head coach has any say in Griffin’s future.  On Monday, Jay Gruden called out the quarterback both for calling out teammates and for not playing very well.  Gruden later said he went too far — and then he went even farther, calling Griffin “coddled” and making it clear that the “clock’s ticking” on the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Gruden specifically mentioned that Colt McCoy has generated a 2-0 record during games played while Griffin was injured.  McCoy could end up playing while Griffin is not injured.

After the year, Washington could be moving on from Griffin — if Gruden gets to make the call on the future of the quarterback position.

3.  Is Jay Gruden in trouble?

Yes, if the owner still remains fully committed to the guy for whom the team gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick less than three years ago.

While Daniel Snyder and president/G.M. Bruce Allen have remained silent about this week’s string of regrettable remarks from quarterback and coach, they surely have an opinion.  If the opinion is that the first-year head coach has unfairly undermined the franchise quarterback, the franchise may not give the coach a second year.

Cowboys at Giants

1.  Will Cowboys limit DeMarco Murray’s touches?

They claim they won’t, but they should.  The Giants have the worst run defense in the entire league, and the Cowboys have to play again on Thursday, against the Eagles.

This would be a great opportunity to get Murray a little rest, give Joseph Randle some reps, and have Murray ready to roll on a short week made even shorter by playing on Sunday night and again on Thursday afternoon.

2.  How healthy is Tony Romo?

He apparently has recovered from the fractured transverse processes in his back, but he still doesn’t practice on Wednesdays due to the broader concerns about the condition of his spine.  With a game on Thursday, that’s more than a little concerning.

The best move for the Cowboys would be to build a big lead on Sunday night and then get Romo out of the game, so that he’ll have maximum time to rest before facing Philly with the division lead on the line.

3.  Is Eli Manning on the hot seat?

We’d have a more clear picture if his coach were Jay Gruden.  And while no one with the Giants is saying anything bad about Eli (indeed, co-owner John Mara has praised him), the seat has heat as it relates to a contract that expires after the 2015 season.

With a salary of $17 million and a cap number of $19.5 million next year, it could become very difficult to apply the right value to Eli for 2016 and beyond.  Impasse on that point could be the thing that ultimately forces the Giants to move on, because they surely won’t be inclined to apply the franchise tag to Manning in 2016, when based on his 2015 cap number he’d be owed a guaranteed salary of $23.4 million.

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Week 12 injury report roundup

Larry Fitzgerald, Mohammed Seisay AP

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 2014 season.

Browns at Falcons

Browns tight end Jordan Cameon (concussion) and wide receiver Marlon Moore (hamstring) are out, with linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee, doubtful) likely to join them on the sideline. Safety Johnson Bademosi (concussion) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) are both questionable. The Falcons have ruled out cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) and tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring), but the rest of the 53-man roster is healthy enough to play.

Buccaneers at Bears

It’s a four-man injury report for Tampa and all four — linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring), running back Doug Martin (ankle), running back Charles Sims (ankle) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) — are questionable. The Bears ruled out defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and wide receiver Chris Williams (hamstring) while listing tackle Eben Britton (illness), cornerback Demontre Hurst (knee) and tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) as questionable.

Bengals at Texans

Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (hip,collarbone) is set to return after being listed as probable, but linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) is out again this week. Defensive end Margus Hunt (ankle) is also out. The Texans will wait to make a call on running back Arian Foster (groin, questionable) for a second straight week and they’ll continue to be without cornerback Kareem Jackson (knee).

Jaguars at Colts

The Jaguars ruled out defensive end Andre Branch (groin) and linebacker Jeremiah George (ankle), but the rest of the roster is healthy heading into Sunday. The Colts ruled out tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle), tackle Gosder Cherilus (shoulder) and cornerback Greg Toler (concussion). Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle, probable) is set to return.

Packers at Vikings

It will be a week without tight end Brandon Bostick (hip) for the Packers. Cornerback Jarrett Bush (groin), linebacker Jay Elliott (hamstring), defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) are all questionable. The Vikings added running back Ben Tate this week because Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon were banged up. Asiata (concussion) won’t play, but McKinnon (back) is probable. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), wide receiver Greg Jennings (rib), tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and wide receiver Jarius Wright (hamstring) are questionable.

Lions at Patriots

The Lions will wait to make a final determination on running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and they’ve ruled out defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) and guard Larry Warford (knee) for another week. New England listed tackle Marcus Cannon (hip), defensive end Dominique Easley (knee) and safety Nate Ebner (finger) as questionable. Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) is probable, though.

Titans at Eagles

Cornerback Marqueston Huff (hamstring) is unlikely to play for the Titans, who will wait to make final calls on wide receiver Justin Hunter (knee), linebacker Derrick Morgan (knee), safety Daimion Stafford (shoulder) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back) after listing them as questionable. Quarterback Nick Foles (collarbone) remains out, but the rest of the Eagles on the injury report, including offensive lineman Matt Tobin (concussion), are probable.

Rams at Chargers

The Rams will try to win against another AFC West team without defensive tackle Alex Carrington (knee), cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (groin), cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) and wide receiver Damian Williams (hamstring). They hold out hope for tight end Jared Cook (back), tight end Cory Harkey (quadricep) and long snapper Jake McQuaide (back) after listing them as questionable. Chargers safety Jahleel Addae (concussion) and center Rich Ohrnberger (ankle, back) are both questionable and quarterback Philip Rivers (chest) is probable.

Cardinals at Seahawks

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee, questionable) will be a game-time decision after missing practice all week. Defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) is out. The Seahawks expect to have linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe, probable) back in the lineup, but cornerback Marcus Burley (hamstring), linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and center Max Unger (knee, ankle) have all been ruled out. Guard James Carpenter (ankle) is questionable.

Dolphins at Broncos

The Dolphins ruled out linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) and have little hope that cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle, doubtful) or tight end Charles Clay (knee, doubtful) will play. Running back Lamar Miller (shoulder, knee) and guard Daryn Colledge (back) are both questionable. The Broncos ruled out running backs Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Montee Ball (groin), but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) was listed as probable after practicing on Friday. Tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) didn’t practice and is listed as questionable.

Redskins at 49ers

Defensive end Chris Baker (chest) and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) are out for the Redskins, who listed two offensive linemen — guard Shawn Lauvao (concussion) and left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) — as questionable. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (biceps) won’t make his return this week and right tackle Anthony Davis (concussion) is out as well. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle), tight end Vance McDonald (hip) and linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle) are all questionable for the home team.

Cowboys at Giants

Cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee, ankle) is out, but the Cowboys are otherwise free of injury concerns as they return from the bye week. The Giants ruled out defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf), right tackle Justin Pugh (quadricep) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) with Geoff Schwartz (toe, probable) expected to take Pugh’s spot in the lineup.

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AFC playoff picture: Raiders do the Broncos a big favor

Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Eric Berry, Allen Bailey AP

So how much damage did the Chiefs do to their playoff hopes by losing at formerly winless Oakland on Thursday night?

That remains to be seen. But here’s what we know: by falling to Oakland, Kansas City (7-4) drops from No. 5 to No. 6 in the AFC standings. The Chiefs also missed a chance to take a half-game lead on Denver (7-3) in the AFC West.

And it’s the Broncos who might have been the biggest winners Thursday night. If they defeat Miami on Sunday and win at Kansas City to close out November, they will be ever-closer to seizing control of the AFC West. In this scenario, the Broncos would essentially have a three-game lead over the Chiefs with four to play owing to the season sweep of Kansas City. The Broncos also have a chance to sweep the Chargers on December 14. (And if Denver can’t do the job, a tough schedule might prove too much for San Diego.)

So how can we finish this by cheering up Chiefs fans? Well, the Chiefs still have a good AFC record (5-3). They also have head-to-head tiebreakers over the Patriots, Dolphins and Bills. Moreover, the Chiefs can sweep San Diego with a win vs. the Chargers in the season finale. The Chiefs will also get a shot at the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 16.

Now, the bad news.

The Chiefs are going to be underdogs against the Broncos, and they will not be favored at NFC-leading Arizona the following week. It’s quite possible the Chiefs could lose both games to fall to 7-6 before a rematch with the Raiders on December 14.

Assuming the Chiefs win that one — perhaps dangerous, but we’ll live on the edge — they would be 8-6 entering the Pittsburgh-San Diego stretch to close the season. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, they would need to win both to get into the dance for the second straight season.

Look, the Raiders were probably due to beat someone this season. And on Thursday night, they got Kansas City where it hurts.

And in the process, they shook up the AFC West and wild-card races something fierce.

Here’s a look at how the AFC’s top 12 playoff contenders stack up after Thursday night. The NFL’s standings and tiebreaking rules are enclosed as resources, as are team-by-team schedules.

THE BIG SIX

1. New England Patriots (8-2, .800). AFC East leader. Earns first-round bye, home-field advantage.

2. Denver Broncos (7-3, .700). AFC West leader. Earns first-round bye.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (6-3-1, .650). AFC North leader. Host Chiefs in wild-card game.

4. Indianapolis Colts (6-4, .600). AFC South leader. Host Steelers in wild-card game.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4, .636). Wild card No. 1. Hold No. 5 seed on basis of superior AFC record (6-3) to Chiefs (5-3).

6. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4, .636). Wild card No. 2.

JUST MISSING

7. Miami Dolphins (6-4, .600). Hold No. 7 seed on basis of superior AFC record (5-2) to Chargers (5-3) and Ravens (3-4).

8. San Diego Chargers (6-4, .600).

9. Baltimore Ravens (6-4, .600). Seeded ahead of Cleveland on basis of head-to-head win in Week Three. The teams meet again in Baltimore on December 28.

10. Cleveland Browns. (6-4, .600).

11. Houston Texans (5-5, .500). Seeded ahead of the Bills on basis of Week Four victory over Buffalo.

12. Buffalo Bills (5-5, .500).

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PFT’s Week 12 picks

Stanton Getty Images

Not long ago, MDS held a five-game lead in this year’s PFT picks battle.  Now, it’s three games.  In the other direction.

That eight-game swing could end up being a 12-game swing, based on the four disagreements we have for Week 12.

And I led with that because it wasn’t a great week for either of us.  I generated a so-so 9-5; MDS was a sluggish 6-8.

For the year, I’m at 105-56 (65.2 percent).  MDS stands at 102-59 (63.3 percent).

For this week’s 15-game slate of prediction, keep reading.

Chiefs at Raiders

MDS’s take: I still don’t think the Raiders are going to go 0-16, but as the season wears on I’m finding it harder and harder to find a game they’ll win. I certainly don’t think they’ll beat the Chiefs, who can step into first place in the AFC West.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 27, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  Oakland has completed the Raider Slam, losing 16 games in a row over two seasons.  They’ll now move a step closer to the Lion Slam.  Potentially finishing the year only four away from the Tampa Slam.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 27, Raiders 10.

Browns at Falcons

MDS’s take: The 4-6 Falcons are currently the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoff race, while the 6-4 Browns are currently the No. 10 seed in the AFC playoff race. The Browns probably need this game more than the Falcons do, but I’ll pick the Falcons to pick up their fifth win and remain on top of the NFC South.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 21, Browns 20.

Florio’s take:  The Browns play up and down to the level of the competition.  So the Browns need to think of the Falcons not as a 4-6 team, but as a division leader.  Throw in the return of receiver Josh Gordon and renewed doubts about quarterback Brian Hoyer, and that could be the recipe to send the Falcons to 4-7, but still only 1/2-game out of first place, pending Monday night’s game.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 24, Falcons 21.

Jets at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills are probably out of the AFC playoff race after their loss to the Dolphins, but there’s definitely a wide gulf between the third-place Bills and the last-place Jets. Snow might affect the Bills’ preparation this week, but I still expect them to win.

MDS’s pick: Bills 27, Jets 16.

Florio’s take:  The Bills would be the obvious pick if they were able to, you know, practice in advance of the game.  A delay until Monday or Tuesday would make it a more fair arrangement.  Assuming the league will find a way to preserve competitive balance on this issue, the Bills become the obvious choice.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 20, Jets 13.

Buccaneers at Bears

MDS’s take: Lovie Smith will have his new team playing hard against his old team, but the Bucs are still at least a year away from having the talent to compete week-in and week-out. The Bears will take this one.

MDS’s pick: Bears 30, Buccaneers 20.

Florio’s take:  Lovie Smith gets his shot at revenge against the team that fired him after a 10-6 season.  Another loss by the Bears confirms that Chicago won’t finish with a record that good in Marc Trestman’s second season.  A Tampa win may not be the smart pick (when has that ever stopped me?), but it would be a great story.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 24, Bears 20.

Bengals at Texans

MDS’s take: This was the toughest game of the week for me to pick. The Bengals looked awfully good last week against the Saints, but I think the Texans’ pass rush may be too much for Andy Dalton to handle, and Houston will win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Texans 14, Bengals 13.

Florio’s take:  It would be a lot easier to pick Bengals games if they played a little more consistently.  A week after shellacking the Saints in their own building, it’s time to take on a much less accomplished quarterback on a team with less overall talent.  But the Texans clobbered in Cleveland a Browns team that outscored the Bengals by 21 in the prior game.  Actually, it probably makes sense for the Bengals to complete the round-robin by beating the team that beat the team that blew out the Bengals, especially since Marvin Lewis has something the Browns didn’t — actual game tape on Mallett.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Texans 20.

Jaguars at Colts

MDS’s take: This was the easiest game of the week for me to pick. The Colts will shake off last week’s loss to the Patriots with a beatdown of the Jaguars.

MDS’s pick: Colts 33, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take:  Indy isn’t as good as we all thought they were.  But they’re good enough to use a game against the Jaguars to stay at least one game ahead of the Texans.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Jaguars 17.

Packers at Vikings

MDS’s take: The way the Packers have steamrolled everyone in their path recently, they look like the best team in the league right now. They certainly won’t struggle with the Vikings.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Vikings 14.

Florio’s take:  The Vikings are moving in the right direction, but they can’t hang with the Packers this year.  Or probably next year.  Or pretty much every year until Aaron Rodgers retires.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 42, Vikings 21.

Lions at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Patriots took over the top spot in the AFC last week, while the Lions lost an opportunity to take over the top spot in the NFC. Now New England will take another step toward home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Lions will take another step backwards.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 21, Lions 10.

Florio’s take:  The Patriots keep on rolling, regardless of the opponent or the location.  Until they have to go to Lambeau Field.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Lions 20.

Titans at Eagles

MDS’s take: A matchup with the lousy Tennessee defense is just what Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez needs. Philadelphia’s offense will look a whole lot better on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 31, Titans 20.

Florio’s take:  Nothing helps erase the memories of an ugly game at Lambeau Field than a visit from one of the worst teams in the league.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 37, Titans 14.

Rams at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Rams showed last week that they can beat good teams, and although they’re in last place in the NFC West, they’d probably win the NFC South. I’m tempted to pick them to win a second straight upset over a good AFC West team, but I just can’t see them winning in San Diego, even though they’ll make it close.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 21, Rams 17.

Florio’s take:  The Rams keep finding ways to play well against teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2013.  But they haven’t established true consistency.  The Chargers have been consistently mediocre since starting 5-1.  On this one, trust the team that’s playing at home with the better quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 24, Rams 17.

Cardinals at Seahawks

MDS’s take: I’m a believer in the Cardinals — I expect them to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and be a very tough team to beat in January. But the Seahawks, who have a tough road to the playoffs ahead of them, still have a big game in them, and I think that game is coming Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 27, Cardinals 17.

Florio’s take:  Sure, the Seahawks don’t often lose at home.  Yeah, they’ll have even more motivation to beat Arizona, since Arizona won in Seattle last year.  Right, the Seahawks can’t afford to fall four games behind the Cardinals with only five games to play.  Regardless, something is wrong with the Seahawks and plenty is right with the Cardinals.  Coach Bruce Arians will have them ready to play — and to secure a win that will be just as unlikely as their season so far.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 13, Seahawks 9.

Dolphins at Broncos

MDS’s take: If you’re a Broncos fan, you have to be nervous right now. They’ve basically played 20 minutes of good football (last five minutes before halftime and the third quarter against the Raiders) in the last three games. If Denver doesn’t turn things around in a hurry, Kansas City is going to steal the AFC West. But I expect Peyton Manning to bounce back with a huge game.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Dolphins 21.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins wanted to sign Peyton Manning in 2012.  They’ll about to get a very good look at how things might have been.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 34, Dolphins 17.

Washington at 49ers

MDS’s take: Robert Griffin III is “focused on San Francisco.” But no matter how much he focuses, Washington isn’t beating the red-hot 49ers.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Washington 10.

Florio’s take:  With Trent Williams injured, Aldon Smith may end up injuring Robert Griffin III.  Given the way Griffin has played, the 49ers may not want to knock Griffin out of the game.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 30, Washington 10.

Cowboys at Giants

MDS’s take: Tony Romo should be healthier after the bye week, and Eli Manning is playing some lousy football right now. That adds up to a Cowboys win in what could be another Sunday night blowout.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 31, Giants 17.

Florio’s take:  Even if the Giants make good on safety Antrel Rolle’s vow to run the table, it may not be good enough to get an invitation to the playoff party.  It would be fitting for a team that has looked so bad to find a way to turn it around, but the Cowboys are good enough to overpower the team with the worst rush defense in the league — and a quarterback who threw five interceptions last Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Giants 13.

Ravens at Saints

MDS’s take: I’m about to give up on figuring out the Saints. The way the played the Packers, I’d think no one would go to New Orleans and beat them. The way they played the Bengals, I’d think they’re one of the worst teams in the league. It’s a close call with the Ravens coming to town, but I’ll pick the Saints to have a big game with their backs against the wall.

MDS’s pick: Saints 24, Ravens 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints haven’t lost three straight games at the Superdome since 2001, and it won’t be easy to avoid falling for a third time in 15 days, given that the Ravens have had 15 days to prepare for this one.  The Saints remain too good to let it happen.  I think.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, Ravens 17.

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Week 11 power rankings

Cardinals Getty Images

1. Arizona Cardinals (last week No. 1; 9-1): Justin Bethel’s touch pass may end up being more important than any pass Drew Stanton throws this year.

2. New England Patriots (No. 2; 8-2): In each of the last two games against the Colts, a different running back has scored four touchdowns.

3. Green Bay Packers (No. 7; 7-3): Based on the recent offensive outputs, Fifty Shades of Cheese should be the name of this year’s highlight film.

4. Dallas Cowboys (No. 6; 7-3): It’s Six Games to Glory for the Cowboys, who emerge from the bye week to face the Giants and Eagles four days apart.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3; 7-3): Suddenly, Nick Foles looks a lot better.

6. Denver Broncos (No. 4; 7-3): Suddenly, Peyton Manning looks a lot worse.

7. Detroit Lions (No. 5; 7-3): Suddenly, the Lions can’t score points.

8. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 11; 7-3): Suddenly, the Chiefs are becoming dominant.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 10; 7-4): Suddenly, LeGarrette Blount doesn’t have a job.

10. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 6-4): Suddenly, LeGarrette Blount may have a job.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 15; 6-3-1): Suddenly, Andy Dalton 2.0 is Andy Dalton 2.0!

12. Baltimore Ravens (No. 12; 6-4):  This is the one team the Patriots don’t want to see rolling into Gillette Stadium in January.

13. Seattle Seahawks (No. 9; 6-4):  Marshawn Lynch didn’t stay on the field at halftime because he was upset with the team; he just really likes marching bands.

14. San Francisco 49ers (No. 14; 6-4):  Generating five interceptions and winning only by six points isn’t really cause for celebration.

15. Miami Dolphins (No. 17; 6-4):  They’ll win just enough game to create realistic hope before losing just enough games to kill it.

16. San Diego Chargers (No. 19; 6-4):  Philip Rivers has a severe rib injury.  Unless he doesn’t.  Unless he does but simply didn’t tell the coaches about it.

17. Houston Texans (No. 22; 5-5):  With four of last six games at home and three of last six against the Titans and Jaguars, the Texans remain very much alive.

18. Cleveland Browns (No. 13; 6-4):  Every time it looks like Brian Hoyer will force the Browns to make a tough decision, he makes their decision a lot easier.

19. Buffalo Bills (No. 16; 5-5):  Broncos fans may be able to send a few “Orton Hears a Boo” signs to Buffalo.

20. New Orleans Saints (No. 18; 4-6):  They’re still the most talented team in the division.

21.  Chicago Bears (No. 31; 4-6):  Sunday’s win was Jay Cutler’s first victory at home since October 10, 2013.

22. Minnesota Vikings (No. 20; 4-6):  Geno Smith apparently was operating the clock at Soldier Field.

23. St. Louis Rams (No. 21; 4-6):  The Rams would be a dangerous team in the playoffs, if they could ever get there.

24. Atlanta Falcons (No. 23; 4-6):  As MDS pointed out on Sunday, the Falcons could end up hosting a playoff game as a 14-point underdog.

25. New York Giants (No. 24; 3-7):  Eli Manning’s five interceptions made him the first quarterback to throw that many in one game since the last time Eli Manning did it.

26.  Carolina Panthers (No. 26; 3-7-1):  If Cam Newton had said what RGIII said after Sunday’s game, it would have been difficult to find fault with Newton for saying it.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 30; 2-8):  “We’re only two games out of first place!”

28. New York Jets (No. 27; 2-8):  The Jets technically were on a bye, but Mark Sanchez’s performance kept them from being completely forgotten.

29. Tennessee Titans (No. 28; 2-8):  I wonder why Chase Coffman didn’t try to cheap shot Steelers assistant Joey Porter?

30. Washington (No. 25; 3-7):  Regardless of whether RGIII threw his teammates under the bus, Jay Gruden drove the bus over Griffin.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 29; 1-9):  At least the Jags covered the spread during the bye week.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-10):  The Tiger Slam is officially completed; the Raiders will now try to avoid the Lion Slam.

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NFL release on Adrian Peterson’s suspension without pay

Goodell Getty Images

Here’s the text of the league’s release regarding the suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was notified today that he has been suspended without pay for at least the remainder of the 2014 NFL season, and will not be considered for reinstatement before April 15, for violating the NFL Personal Conduct Policy in an incident of abusive discipline that he inflicted on his four-year-old son last May. Peterson pled no contest on November 4 in state court in Montgomery County, Texas to reckless assault of the child.

In a letter to Peterson, Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “The timing of your potential reinstatement will be based on the results of the counseling and treatment program set forth in this decision. Under this two-step approach, the precise length of the suspension will depend on your actions. We are prepared to put in place a program that can help you to succeed, but no program can succeed without your genuine and continuing engagement.  You must commit yourself to your counseling and rehabilitative effort, properly care for your children, and have no further violations of law or league policy.”

Under Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Peterson may appeal the decision by giving written notice to the commissioner within three business days. If he appeals, a hearing will be scheduled promptly, at which he may be represented by counsel of his choice and by the NFLPA and at which he will have the opportunity to present evidence in support of his appeal. If he appeals, Peterson will remain on the Exempt List and continue to be paid pending a decision.

In modifying the NFL Personal Conduct Policy August 28, Commissioner Goodell established a baseline discipline of a suspension without pay for six games for certain offenses, including a first offense of assault, battery, or domestic violence.  He also identified aggravating circumstances that would warrant higher levels of discipline. In his letter, Commissioner Goodell identified several aggravating circumstances present in this case:

“First, the injury was inflicted on a child who was only four years old.  The difference in size and strength between you and the child is significant, and your actions clearly caused physical injury to the child.  While an adult may have a number of options when confronted with abuse – to flee, to fight back, or to seek help from law enforcement – none of those options is realistically available to a four-year old child.  Further, the injury inflicted on your son includes the emotional and psychological trauma to a young child who suffers criminal physical abuse at the hands of his father.

“Second, the repetitive use of a switch in this instance is the functional equivalent of a weapon, particularly in the hands of someone with the strength of an accomplished professional athlete.

“Third, you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct.  When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not ‘eliminate whooping my kids’ and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child’s mother. You also said that you felt ‘very confident with my actions because I know my intent.’ These comments raise the serious concern that you do not fully appreciate the seriousness of your conduct, or even worse, that you may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future.”

On November 6, the NFL requested that Peterson and the NFL Players Association furnish a range of information that would be relevant to evaluating Peterson’s conduct under the Personal Conduct Policy.  No information was provided beyond some of the court papers relating to his November 4 plea agreement. This request was reiterated on November 11. Although there were several additional exchanges of correspondence between the NFL and NFLPA, no further information was provided, other than the name of a professional with whom Peterson has consulted during the past two months.

Peterson was advised on November 11 that a hearing had been scheduled for November 14 to review his case and to allow him or his representatives, as well as the NFLPA, to offer their views and present information on the question of discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy. The NFL then was advised that neither Peterson nor the NFLPA would participate in the hearing scheduled for November 14. The NFL offered to hold the hearing the following day, but was told that date was similarly unacceptable.

Under the Personal Conduct Policy, a deferred adjudication of the kind entered in Montgomery County establishes a basis for imposing discipline. In addition, many prior decisions confirm that the judgment entered with Peterson’s consent is entirely sufficient to find that he violated the Personal Conduct Policy.

“Your plea agreement in Texas, and the related violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, arise out of abusive injuries that you inflicted on your son earlier this year,” Commissioner Goodell said in his letter. “Based on public reports of your statements and photographs that were made public at the time of the indictment, you used a ‘switch’ – a flexible tree branch – to punish your son, striking him in the ankles, limbs, back, buttocks, and genitals, leaving visible swelling, marks, and cuts on his body and risking severe and long-term damage. The visible injuries were such that a local pediatrician in Minnesota, upon examining your son, felt obligated to make a child abuse report to the police. According to contemporaneous media reports, police and medical examiners termed the cuts as ‘extensive’ and as ‘clinically diagnostic of child physical abuse.’ Based on the severity of those injuries, a grand jury made up of citizens of Montgomery County, Texas, voted to indict you on a felony charge, reflecting their belief that there was reasonable cause to conclude that you had overstepped the bounds of acceptable corporal punishment and engaged in physical abuse of your child. Moreover, it appears that this is not the first time that you have punished children in this way. Public statements attributed to you indicate that you believe that this kind of discipline is appropriate and that you do not intend to stop disciplining your children this way.”

Commissioner Goodell’s decision includes mechanisms to ensure, insofar as possible, that there will be no repetition of this conduct. Peterson was directed to meet with Dr. April Kuchuk, an instructor in the NYU Department of Psychiatry and a forensic consultant to the New York City District Attorney’s offices and New York courts, by December 1. After this meeting, Dr. Kuchuk will design a program of counseling, therapy, and community service as appropriate, which will be shared with the commissioner and NFLPA. Peterson will be expected to adhere to that program. Dr. Kuchuk will report any failure to do so to the commissioner and NFLPA.

On Sunday, Peterson made Dr. Cynthia Winston, a professor of psychology at Howard University, available to meet with Dr. Kuchuk to discuss the case. Dr. Winston advised that she was contacted by an attorney representing Peterson to conduct an assessment and that she has met with him in connection with this matter. Dr. Winston, a respected academic and practicing psychologist, advised Dr. Kuchuk that she does not have a background in child abuse or in assessing or treating victims or perpetrators of child abuse.

Dr. Kuchuk has informed the NFL she believes it is essential for her to meet with Peterson personally to review his counseling and other therapeutic work to date. Dr. Kuchuk states that two evidence-based forms of therapy have been shown to contribute to reducing the risk of future abusive behavior in child abuse cases: first, therapy that addresses parenting your children, in particular those who do not live with you, using a modality called parent-child interactive therapy; and second, cognitive-behavioral therapy that teaches the effects of abusive behavior on children and how it traumatizes them. Dr. Kuchuk’s understanding is that Dr. Winston does not provide these types of cognitive and behavioral therapies.

Commissioner Goodell encouraged Peterson to take advantage of the counseling and other resources available to his son through NFL Player Assistance and Counseling Services.

“The well-being of your children is of paramount concern,” Commissioner Goodell wrote. “In the absence of speaking to you to understand your current disposition toward child discipline, we cannot be sure that this conduct will not be repeated.  Moreover, we are unaware of any effort on your part to acknowledge the seriousness of your conduct and your responsibility to demonstrate a genuine commitment to change.

“In order to assess your progress going forward, I will establish periodic reviews, the first of which will be on or about April 15, 2015. At that time, I will meet with you and your representatives and the NFLPA to review the extent to which you have complied with your program of counseling and therapy and both made and lived up to an affirmative commitment to change such that this conduct will not occur again. A failure to cooperate and follow your plan will result in a lengthier suspension without pay.”

Peterson also is required to adhere to all conditions imposed on him by the Montgomery County Court as part of his plea agreement and deferred adjudication. If he fails to adhere to any of those conditions, he is obligated to promptly report that failure to the commissioner, who may elect to impose further discipline.

“It is imperative that you to avoid any incident of this kind in the future,” Commissioner Goodell stated in his letter. “Any further violation of the Personal Conduct Policy will result in additional discipline and may subject you to banishment from the NFL.”

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NFC playoff picture: Cardinals stand atop the conference

patrickpeterson AP

There’s much left to be decided in the NFC playoff race, but this much is clear: The Cardinals are well ahead of the pack.

After beating Detroit on Sunday, Arizona now owns a two-game lead over the rest of the NFC. The Cardinals, who are undefeated in conference play, also own the tiebreaker advantage over every other NFC team. All the Cardinals have to do is win at least four of their last six games, and the road to the Super Bowl will go through Arizona.

Here’s where the NFC playoff race stands, with six weeks to go:

THE PLAYOFF TREE
1. Arizona Cardinals (9-1) NFC West leader. The Cardinals’ schedule isn’t easy going forward: They still have road games at Seattle, Atlanta, St. Louis and San Francisco, as well as home games against the Chiefs and Seahawks. But there’s no reason to think the Cardinals can’t win four of those six, which is all they have to do to clinch the No. 1 seed.

2. Detroit Lions (7-3) NFC North leader. The Lions beat the Packers, which means they currently own the tiebreaker. But the Packers will have something to say about that when these teams meet in Green Bay in Week 17.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (7-3) NFC East leader. The Eagles are 2-0 in the NFC East, which means they own the tiebreaker in the division. But the Eagles and Cowboys still meet twice, in Dallas on Thanksgiving and in Philadelphia in Week 15.

4. Atlanta Falcons (4-6) NFC South leader. Someone has to win the NFC South, and right now the Falcons are on top because they’re 4-0 within the division. (And yes, for you math majors, that means they’re 0-6 against all teams outside the NFC South.) Atlanta will visit New Orleans in Week 16 in a game that may determine the winner of a bad division.

5. Green Bay Packers (7-3) First wild card team. The Packers would be the 5 seed right now because they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lions in the NFC North, but win the conference record tiebreaker with the Cowboys for playoff seeding.

6. Dallas Cowboys (7-3) Second wild card team. Dallas still has four NFC East games remaining, including two against the Eagles.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-4) Catching the Cardinals in the NFC West won’t be easy. The 49ers need to keep winning and hope the Lions, Eagles, Packers or Cowboys go into a slump.

8. Seattle Seahawks (6-4) Seattle is in the same position as San Francisco. The Seahawks and 49ers meet in Week 13 and Week 15. Those look like must-win games for both teams.

9. New Orleans Saints (4-6) Although Atlanta currently owns the tiebreaker, New Orleans is still the favorite to win the NFC South, as the Saints still get to face the Falcons at home. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a wild card team with a 10-6 or 11-5 record have to go on the road and play a 7-9 NFC South winner.

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NFL morning after: In the NFL, no one knows anything

peytonsacked AP

When the Seahawks blew out the Packers in Week One, I knew Seattle was the best team in the NFL.

When the Chiefs got blown out by the Titans in Week One, I knew Kansas City wasn’t going anywhere this year.

When the Broncos beat the Colts in Week One, I knew Denver was still the class of the AFC.

And when the Rams got blown out by the Vikings in Week One, I knew the Rams were one of the worst teams in the league.

Welcome to the NFL, where no one knows anything.

It can be the most maddening thing about the NFL, but I also think it’s the best thing about the NFL: The sheer unpredictability of it all makes it impossible to say with any degree of certainty what’s going to happen on any given Sunday, and that keeps us tuning in every Sunday. On this particular Sunday, the Seahawks lost to the Chiefs and the Broncos lost to the Rams. If I’d told you that would happen after Week One, you’d have said I was crazy.

But it’s not just those two games. Not even close. What if I’d told you at the start of the season that the Cardinals would have the best record in the NFL in Week 11? You’d have said I was crazy. What if I’d told you after the Patriots’ ugly Monday night loss at Kansas City in September that they’d have the best record in the AFC by mid-November? You’d have said I was crazy. What if I’d told you when the Packers were losing 38-17 at New Orleans a few weeks ago that the Packers would win their next two games by scores of 55-14 and 53-20? What if I’d told you that 4-6 would be a good enough record for first place in the NFC South, while 6-4 would be last place in the AFC North? What if I’d told you that the 2-8 Buccaneers would be closer to first place in their division than the 6-4 Seahawks and 49ers?

It’s never as bad as it seems in the NFL. Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense were supposed to be a mess, and then Cutler threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns and the Bears beat the Vikings. But it’s also never as good as it seems in the NFL. The Browns were supposed to be turning things around, finally — and then they got blown out by the Texans.

It sure looks right now like the Cardinals are the best team in the NFC and the Patriots are the best team in the AFC. But we don’t know anything. Our opinions on that will surely change over the final six weeks of the season. Our opinions will probably change every week. All year long.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Chase Coffman should’ve been suspended. On Sunday Jay Glazer unearthed video from last week’s game showing Coffman, a Titans tight end, delivering a brutal cheap shot on a Ravens assistant coach on the sideline. The NFL has seen the video and fined Coffman only $30,000. That’s nowhere near enough. Coffman’s hit was every bit as bad as what Albert Haynesworth did to Andre Gurode, which resulted in a five-game suspension. It’s ridiculous that the NFL didn’t suspend Coffman at all.

Officials: Stop blowing plays dead prematurely. On Sunday in Chicago, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler clearly fumbled, but some official, for some reason, thought Cutler had thrown an incomplete pass and blew the play dead. The Vikings jumped on the ball, but by the time Minnesota recovered the officials had already blown the whistle, and so the ruling was that there was no recovery. This has actually happened with Cutler before, when he was in Denver, and he fumbled but referee Ed Hochuli ruled he had thrown an incompletion. That botched call handed the Broncos a win over the Chargers. When in doubt, the officials should always allow the play to keep going. It’s ridiculous that officials keep blowing plays dead instead of letting them go.

There’s no consistency from NFL referees. On Thursday night, Bills quarterback Kyle Orton was flagged for intentional grounding for a throwaway in the end zone, resulting in a safety. On Sunday, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had an almost identical throwaway in the end zone but wasn’t flagged. Intentional grounding in the end zone is a huge penalty. It’s frustrating that the NFL can’t get all the refs on the same page on such a big call.

Don’t sleep on the 49ers. I confess I was ready to write off San Francisco a couple weeks ago, when they were 4-4. But now they’re 6-4 after Sunday’s win at the Giants, and they can still go on a run to the NFC playoffs. If the 49ers are in it, they’re going to be a tough team to beat.

The NFC South is terrible. The Falcons are 0-6 this season against teams from outside their division, but because they’re 4-0 against teams in their division, they’re in first place in the NFC South. With the Falcons and Saints at 4-6, the Panthers at 3-7-1 and the Buccaneers at 2-8, it’s looking increasingly likely that the winner of this division will have a losing record — maybe 7-9, or maybe even 6-10. A 7-9 team has won a division before, but if a 6-10 team gets a home playoff game, the NFL may need to consider revising the playoff format. A 6-10 team hosting in the playoffs is just wrong.

Happy anniversary, Raiders fans. The Raiders last won a game one year ago today, November 17, 2013, against the Texans. Oakland lost its last six games last year and is 0-10 this year, a perfect 0-16 stretch over the last calendar year.

Andy Dalton turned things around. Last Thursday night, Dalton had what may have been the worst game I’ve ever seen from an NFL quarterback, completing just 10 of 33 passes for 86 yards, with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 2.0. But Dalton turned things around in a big way on Sunday against the Saints: He completed 16 of 22 passes for 220 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. That doesn’t speak well for the Saints’ defense, but it does speak well for Dalton’s ability to shake off a bad game and get back to work.

J.J. Watt remains amazing. Watt caught a touchdown pass in the Texans’ win over the Browns on Sunday, his fourth touchdown of the season. (He previously had another touchdown catch and also has a touchdown on an interception return and a fumble return.) Watt has scored more touchdowns than LeSean McCoy, Julio Jones, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Le’Veon Bell or Frank Gore. And, of course, Watt does much more than score touchdowns. He also recovered a fumble and had a sack and three tackles for loss on Sunday. Watt is a strong candidate for MVP of the league.

Washington’s offense just isn’t working. There’s a lot of blame to go around, and Robert Griffin III doesn’t deserve all, or even most, of it. Griffin actually looked a little more mobile on Sunday, rushing for 41 yards on six carries, and his two interceptions weren’t entirely his fault, either. But the result — a 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay — was ugly. Whoever you want to blame, there are serious problems in Washington, where the offense hasn’t looked particularly good in any of the three games that Griffin has run it this season, and Washington has lost all three games. It was only a couple years ago like Griffin looked like one of the most talented young quarterbacks ever to enter the NFL, but it feels like ages ago. Things change quickly in the NFL.

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