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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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Week 11 early inactives

Ryan Kerrigan, Arian Foster AP

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.

Falcons at Panthers

Falcons: T Jonathan Scott, QB Sean Renfree, WR Freddie Martino, CB Javier Arenas, LB Tyler Starr, T Cameron Bradfield, DE Cliff Matthews

Panthers: DT Star Lotulelei, CB Bene’ Benwikere, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, S Robert Lester, T David Foucault, G Amini Silatolu, T Mike Remmers

Vikings at Bears

Vikings: CB Shaun Prater, RB Zach Line, LB Brandon Watts, G David Yankey, T Mike Harris, TE MarQueis Gray, DE Scott Crichton

Bears: T Eben Britton, DE Trevor Scott, LB Darryl Sharpton, WR Josh Morgan, CB Terrance Mitchell, T Jordan Mills, TE Blake Annen

Texans at Browns

Texans: CB Kareem Jackson, RB Arian Foster

Browns: S Johnson Bademosi, TE Jordan Cameron

Seahawks at Chiefs

Seahawks: LB Bobby Wagner, S Steven Terrell, CB Marcus Burley, LB Brock Coyle, OL Andrew McDonald, G James Carpenter, TE RaShaun Allen

Chiefs: WR Donnie Avery, CB Jamell Fleming, WR A.J. Jenkins, TE Anthony Fasano, QB Aaron Murray, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, CB Christopher Owens

Bengals at Saints

Bengals: RB Giovani Bernard, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Terence Newman, T Andre Smith, T Tanner Hawkinson, DT Devon Still, WR Greg Little

Saints: RB Khiry Robinson, RB Pierre Thomas, RB Edwin Baker, WR Robert Meachem, G Senio Kelemete, T Nick Becton, WR Nick Toon

49ers at Giants

49ers: DT Ian Williams, QB Josh Johnson, WR Quinton Patton, CB Tramaine Brock, LB Dan Skuta, OL Dillon Farrell, WR Bruce Ellington

Giants: LB Jacquian Williams, DT Cullen Jenkins, CB Mike Harris, OL James Brewer, OL Brandon Mosley, OL Adam Snyder, DE Kerry Wynn

Broncos at Rams

Broncos: RB Ronnie Hillman, WR Cody Latimer, DB Tony Carter, RB Kapri Bibbs, LB Todd Davis, OL Michael Schofield, TE Virgil Green

Rams: CB Marcus Roberson, WR Damian Williams, CB Lamarcus Joyner, LB Daren Bates, OG Brandon Washington, TE Alex Bayer, DT Alex Carrington

Buccaneers at Redskins

Buccaneers: RB Doug Martin, CB Alterraun Verner, DL Da’Quan Bowers, T Kevin Pamphile, TE Luke Stocker, WR Robert Herron, CB C.J. Wilson

Redskins: QB Kirk Cousins, WR Aldrick Robinson, T Tyler Polumbus, DE Stephen Bowen, WR Santana Moss, CB Greg Ducre, G Spencer Long

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Week 11 “Three and Out”

Luck Getty Images

As the postseason looms, scrums have developed in each conference for those six seats at the playoff table.  Sunday’s games will go a long way toward determining who gets in — and where they’re seeded.

So here’s a look at every Sunday game for Week 11, with three questions and answers for each one.

No matter how ready you are for the games, you’ll learn at least something you didn’t already know if you keep reading.

For example, did you know that the duckbill platypus can store as many as six hundred worms in the pouches of its cheeks?

To learn more stuff that has slightly more relevance to football, keep going.

Falcons at Panthers

1.  Is Cam Newton hurt?

Officially, Newton’s healthy; after getting banged up on Monday night against the Eagles, Newton’s name doesn’t appear on the injury report.  But Newton has said he’s hurt.  Which may or may not mean he’s injured.  Which may or may not be evidence of a disconnect between the franchise and its franchise quarterback.

On one hand, it’s a mess.  On the other hand, the Panthers have bigger problems than whether the quarterback and the team agree on the question of whether he’s injured.  Or hurt.  Or whatever.

2.  Is the winner still alive?

Very much so.  Despite being 1-6-1 over the last eight games, the Panthers have a bye followed by games against the Vikings, Saints, Bucs, Browns, and Falcons.  Of that quintet, only Cleveland currently is at or above .500.

The Falcons, whose 4-6 record with a win would make them 4-0 in the division, have a tougher slate, with games against the Browns, Cardinals, at the Packers, and Steelers on the docket.  If the Falcons can navigate those games and somehow still win the division, they’ll be ready to compete in the postseason, starting with the automatic home game they’d earn by winning the division.

3.  Does Roddy White care about his upcoming milestone?

He says he’s not as concerned about getting to 10,000 receiving yards as much as he cares about team goals.

“[I’m] more interested in winning games,” White said this week.  “Right now, we can put ourselves in position to kind of take off. So, that’s my main focus.”

White needs only 73 yards to become the 42nd player in NFL history to get to 10,000 receiving yards.  Chances are he’ll get there sooner than later.  The chances the Falcons get back to the postseason are a lot more remote.

Vikings at Bears

1.  How bad is it for the Bears?

It’s pretty bad.  From 1920 through three weeks ago, the Bears had never allowed 38 points in the first half of any game.  Then, in the very next game after the Patriots scored 38 in the first 30 minutes, the franchise record for points allowed in the first half was broken again, with 42 given up to the Packers.

“Chicago Bears, Terror of the Midway,” as a man who liked crossword puzzles once said.  “More like the Chicago Chipmunks, maybe.”

So, yeah, it’s as bad as it’s ever been.  It’ll be even worse if the sub-.500 Vikings and their rookie quarterback come to town and send the Bears to 0-4 at home this year.

2.  How much of a battle will Jared Allen and Matt Kalil have?

It could be a full-blown brouhaha.  The left tackle and the right defensive end had some squabbles while teammates in Minnesota.  Sunday’s game marks the first time they’ll face each other as foes.

Allen is struggling in his first season with the Bears.  At times, Kalil has struggled to perform consistently at the level that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft.  Both could use a big day.  They both know it, which will give this battle a little extra kick.

3.  When will the Vikings have Adrian Peterson back?

They won’t have him for Sunday, but he could be back in time for the Week 12 game against the Packers.  With a hearing set for Monday on the grievance filed against the NFL’s failure to reinstate Peterson from the Commissioner-Exempt list and the labor deal requiring a ruling within five days, Peterson could be back no later than Saturday, November 22.

Of course, the NFL also could expedite its consideration of Peterson’s penalty under the personal conduct policy, welcoming him back from the Commissioner-Exempt list with a suspension without pay.

So if Peterson returns, he may not be back for very long.

Texans at Browns

1.  Why is Ben Tate unhappy?

When he signed with the Browns as a free agent, Tate thought he’d become the team’s workhorse tailback.  Instead, the Browns have used a revolving door, with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West getting plenty of work.

Hurting Tate’s case for more carries is a 3.4-yard average.

He shouldn’t be that upset.  Fewer reps will help keep tread on the tires, allowing the player’s career to last longer than it otherwise would.  For a guy who realizes that the modern tailback position entails a market so lukewarm that it would have made more sense to play safety, the longer the player can stay in the NFL, the better.

2.  What can we expect from Ryan Mallett?

No one knows, because he hardly has played in three-plus NFL seasons.  Mallett has thrown four career passes, with one completion, one interception, and a passer rating of 5.2.

Known for having a strong arm, it’s unknown how he’ll read defenses in regular-season action.  Whether he’ll stay calm in the pocket.  Whether he’ll play better or worse throughout the course of four quarters of action.

The lack of knowledge about Mallett could allow for an artificially strong performance through his first few weeks.  Then, once defenses have enough tape to figure out what he does well and how to take that away, things could change for the fourth-year pro who’s finally getting a chance to show the NFL what he can do.

3.  When will Jordan Cameron return from his concussion?

Possibly, not at all this year.  Which would be a huge problem for the Browns — and for Cameron.  As he approaches free agency, an extended absence due to a head injury will do little to pry a significant amount of guaranteed money from a new team.

The good news for the Browns is that, with Cameron’s status uncertain, receiver Josh Gordon returns next week.  The better news is that the Browns are 6-3 and sitting in first place in the division.

Seahawks at Chiefs

1.  What has happened to Russell Wilson as a passer?

Wilson, whom many predicted would be even better in his third NFL season, has regressed in recent weeks.  During the recent three-game winning streak against so-so foes like the Panthers, Raiders, and Giants, Wilson has one touchdown pass and three interceptions.

“I think my accuracy has been a little bit off for whatever reason,” Wilson said Thursday. “I keep believing in myself. I’m not going to doubt myself. I’ve played a lot of great football at times and I just believe every time I get the ball in my hands I’m going to make something happen.”

The problem could be the lack of weapons in the passing game.  Golden Tate left via free agency and Percy Harvin abruptly was traded four weeks ago.  While the Seahawks have been winning lately, the schedule gets a lot tougher, starting Sunday against the Chiefs and continuing with two games against the Cardinals, two games against the 49ers, and a trip to Philadelphia.

2.  How has the Kansas City defense weathered the storm of injuries?

Pretty well.  With linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive lineman Mike DeVito lost for the year in a Week One home thumping from the Titans (yes, the Titans), it was supposed to be a long year for the defense.

Since a close Week Two loss to the Broncos in Denver, the Chiefs have rolled to six wins in seven games.  They have the top passing defense in the league and the No. 6 overall defense in yardage allowed — and No. 2 in points allowed.

So, yes, things have worked out well.  While it’s easy to wonder how good the defense could have been with Johnson and DeVito, it’s better to think about how good the Chiefs eventually can be if they keep playing like they have in the team’s last seven games.

3.  Will Tony Moeaki play in his return to Arrowhead?

Apparently, yes.  With starting tight end Zach Miller (ankle) on injured reserve, the recently-signed Seahawk and former Chief is expected to be in the lineup on Sunday.  Moeaki, who showed promise as a rookie in 2010 with 556 receiving yards and three touchdowns, was inactive in his first week with Seattle.

Tony has to step up now and jump right in there,” Carroll said Wednesday. “We kept him out last week because we thought it was too soon. It’s still early, still really quick to put a guy in there and expect him to do everything but he is a veteran. He does understand it and he’s picked things up really well. He’s had a very good 10 days with us so far. We will see how far he can take it but we’re counting on him to play.”

Moeaki could be playing a lot.  New starter Luke Willson (ankle) is questionable for the game against the Chiefs, and Cooper Helfet has a knee injury.

Bengals at Saints

1.  Can Andy Dalton 2.0 rebound?

At this point no one knows.  Primarily because no one can understand why Dalton played so poorly in prime time against the Browns.

Dalton was inaccurate throughout the evening, completing only 10 of 33 passes for 86 yards, with three interceptions.  His passer rating was an abysmal 2.0.

And that was at home, where noise isn’t an issue.  In New Orleans, it’ll be harder for Dalton to do everything that a quarterback does.  Which doesn’t bode well for him or the Bengals, unless they’ve figured out what went wrong against Cleveland — and fixed it.

2.  Why are the Bengals practicing in the cold?

Currently starting a three-game road trip, they play at New Orleans, at Houston, and at Tampa.  Nevertheless, they were out in the elements on Thursday.  The last four games of the season — Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, Denver, at Pittsburgh — could each feature temperatures like the 23 degrees they endured on Thursday.

“I think one more time in it I think our guys will know what it’s about,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said.  “For the young guys it’s maybe different for them, but the veterans they know it, they know [the cold is] around the corner and it’s coming.”

3.  Will Mark Ingram continue to carry the load for the Saints?

He’d surely like to, given that he’s in a contract year.  But eventually Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas will return from injury, and Ingram will apparently see his touches reduced.

“It’s hot topic: philosophically when the backs are healthy, is he going to go back to rotating all three runners or keep giving Mark the ball?  I get it,” coach Sean Payton said this week.

But that doesn’t mean the Saints will ignore what Ingram is accomplishing in a contract year.

“Obviously we pay close attention to what Mark is doing right now,” Payton said.  “He’s doing real well. Shoot a year ago, there were a ton of people [asking] for his head, including a few of you here.”

Now, the folks who were asking for Ingram’s head are arguing that the Saints should keep him around.

49ers at Giants

1.  Is Michael Crabtree upset about his role?

Coach Jim Harbaugh thinks Crabtree isn’t unhappy, but Crabtree’s comments in the aftermath of his critical 51-yard fourth-down catch against the Saints suggest he’s not thrilled.

I’m a third-down receiver,” Crabtree said. “I mean, I’m like the third option. So I come in and I do my job.”

If Crabtree isn’t happy, it’s no surprise.  He’s in a contract year, and he has a mere 424 receiving yards in nine games.  Which projects to 753 yards for the season.  Which is 47 yards less than what Hakeem Nicks generated in his contract year.

2.  How much will Aldon Smith play?

It’s unclear, given that he missed nine games to start the season.  Last year, he missed seven week in rehab.  When Smith returned, he participated in only 12 snaps.

Predictably, the 49ers won’t say what Smith will do, but it’s hard to imagine Smith playing extensively, especially based on what happened last year.  The biggest difference is that Smith’s deal with the NFL allowed him to work out at the team facility, which means he’s likely in better shape now than he was after his missed nearly two months in 2013.

3.  Can Eli duplicate Peyton’s 2014 success against 49ers?

Peyton Manning’s blowout win over the 49ers from October 19 arguably has given Eli clues on how to go about beating the 49ers.

“If you can run the ball decently and have good pass protection, that’s always helpful in being successful against any defense,” Eli said this week. “[The Broncos] protected well. They ran the ball decently. And they were able to hit big plays in the passing game because the protection was solid. . . .  That’s always a pretty good blueprint to have. It’s just a matter of if you can execute it.”

Based on the differences between the Giants’ roster and the Broncos’ roster, it’s going to be difficult for Eli to execute it the way Peyton did.

Broncos at Rams

1.  Why is Shaun Hill starting again for the Rams?

Who knows?  Hill was “the guy” entering the season.  And then, at halftime of the first game, he wasn’t “the guy” anymore.  Then, Austin Davis was “the guy.”  Up until the moment he wasn’t “the guy” anymore.

The broader question is who will “the guy” be in 2015?  Sam Bradford has one year left on his contract, but it’s non-guaranteed and the Rams may not want to commit $12.985 million to a guy who has torn the same ACL twice.

2.  Why did the Broncos take a look at Richie Incognito?

They’re not as happy as they would like to be with their interior offensive line play.  While it’s not hurting their ability to contend, the Broncos realized the hard way in Super Bowl XLVIII the downside of not being able to protect Peyton Manning’s blind side, or his front side.

There’s a chance the visit from Incognito was aimed at simply getting the current players to step it up.  If they don’t, Incognito could be a short-term option aimed at helping ensure the Broncos will contend for not just another Super Bowl berth, but a victory once they get there.

3.  How good is the rest of the Denver offense?

Very good, in the assessment of Rams coach Jeff Fisher.  In fact, the man who dealt with Manning and the Colts for more than a decade as head coach of the Tennessee Oilers/Titans believes Manning has never had a better group of weapons on offense.

“With all due respect to the Colts and that system, the system is completely different now,” Fisher said this week.  “Everybody is moving around, as compared to Marvin [Harrison] playing one side and Reggie [Wayne] on the other. [Manning] just made those plays and would put his offense in the best position all the time because he knew exactly what you were doing defensively. This offense is completely different.  They’ve done an outstanding job of putting outstanding players around him.  I think this is the best of cast of playmakers that he’s ever had, and obviously the results are showing that.”

While the current quartet of pass-catchers is indeed excellent, with Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Wes Welker, Manning’s Colts had potential Hall of Famers in Harrison and Wayne.  Indy also had tight ends Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard.

The biggest difference comes at running back.  With the Colts, Manning started out with Marshall Faulk.  The following year, Edgerrin James arrived as a rookie.  Yes, the quality of the tailbacks tailed off later in Manning’s tenure.  Still, Manning currently doesn’t have a stable of superstars in Denver.

Buccaneers at Washington

1.  Is it time for Charles Sims‘ to shine?

Possibly.  The Bucs love the rookie who was on injured reserve (with designation to return) after suffering a broken ankle.  Last week, Sims picked up eight carries for 23 yards and two catches for 17 yards.  But he lost a fumble, which could keep the Buccaneers from fully trusting him.

If his role increases, it would be gradual.

As long as the fumbling doesn’t persist.

2.  Could Bucs punter Michael Koenen be on the outs?

On Thursday, the Bucs signed punter Jacob Schum to the practice squad.  It has sparked speculation that veteran Michael Koenen may be in trouble.

I wouldn’t look too much into it,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We wanted to take a look at somebody else. He’s a punter that we knew something about and we’re constantly rolling guys in.”

But the Bucs rolled in more than just Schum.  He won a Gong Show tryout with Jacob Dombrowski, Tom Hornsey, Charley Hughlett, Chase Tenpenny, per a league source.  So keep an eye on Koenen, who may be on the way out.

3.  How will Washington use receiver Leonard Hankerson?

No one seems to know.  Sunday’s game will be the first in which Hankerson is available this year, due to rehab from a torn ACL.  And it’s unclear how he’ll be integrated into the offense.

It’s also unknown whether he’ll even play.

“We typically have dressed five receivers,” coach Jay Gruden said.  “It could be four; it could be six.  Right now it’s up in the air as far as who we’re going to dress for this game. . . .  We haven’t decided.  But Hank has looked very good since coming back to practice from his injury.  Since we activated him, he’s running around good, making plays all over the place. So, it’s going to be a tough decision.”

Raiders at Chargers

1.  How bad are the Raiders, historically?

Pretty bad.  They’ve lost 15 in a row, dating back to last year.  Finish the season 0-16, and they’ll have 22 straight losses.

If that happens, the question becomes whether they can win one of their first four in 2015.  If not, they’ll match the 1976-77 Buccaneers for the longest losing streak in the NFL’s modern era at 26.

The Raiders finish with a trip to San Diego, a visit from the Chiefs on a short week, a trip to St. Louis, a trip across up the Bay from the 49ers, a visit to the Chiefs, a visit from the Bills, and a game at Denver.

Only one of those teams currently has a record below .500.  Which could mean that the Raiders are destined to become only the second team in league history to finish 0-16.

2.  How bad is it for Antonio Smith?

Even worse than it is for the Raiders.  Smith, who played for the Texans last year, brought a 14-game losing streak to Oakland.  Add nine, and Smith is at 23 straight losses.

So if the Raiders lose the next seven, Smith with finish the year with 30 straight losses.

Factoring in his Week One suspension last year and the Texans’ collapse in December 2012, Smith has a record of 3-27 in his last 30 games.

3.  Is Ryan Mathews ready to go?

He appears to be.  Listed as probable after suffering a Week Two knee injury, Mathews will have a chance to prove to the Chargers and anyone else who may be interested in him that the 2010 first-round pick deserves the standard veteran tailback contract worth $3.5 million or so per year.

To do that, he’ll have to show that he’s able to leapfrog Donald Brown and Branden Oliver.  Which, after nine weeks off, may not be easy to do.

Mathews also will need to stay healthy for the rest of the year.  That’s something he hasn’t consistently done in his NFL career.

Lions at Cardinals

1.  Does Calvin Johnson own the Cardinals?

The paperwork says “Bidwill,” but recent history says “Megatron.”

Last year, he caught six for 116 and two touchdowns.  The year before, 12 for 110.

But the Cardinals ultimately have owned the Lions; Arizona won both games, despite Johnson’s performance.

2.  Can Drew Stanton thrive at quarterback?

Why not?  He threw the deep pass to John Brown that put the Cardinals ahead for good last week, and Stanton was 2-1 during Carson Palmer’s absence due to a dead nerve in his shoulder.

Coach Bruce Arians expects replacements to play like starters, regardless of position.  It’s one of the qualities that makes Arians a great coach — and that makes the failure of any other NFL team to identify him as head-coaching material a lot earlier in his career even more baffling.

3.  Can the Cardinals stifle Suh?

Few have been able to do it yet this year, and the Cardinals don’t exactly have a strong interior offensive line.  Which will make it critical for Stanton to make quick decisions and get rid of the football, or roll to the left or right, away from any pressure coming up the middle.

Eagles at Packers

1.  Does Clay Matthews like playing inside?

He says he does.  His brother, Casey, says Clay doesn’t.

Either way, it’s not Clay’s call.  The coaching staff moved him inside last week, and it worked.  So it could happen against against the Eagles.

Whether Clay likes it or not.

2.  Will the Packers try to take away the run?

The Panthers did on Monday night against the Eagles, and it didn’t work.  Sure, LeSean McCoy gained only 19 yards on 12 carries.  But the Panthers dared Mark Sanchez to beat them — and beat the Panthers he did.

For the Packers, who like Carolina have a subpar rush defense, it still makes sense to load up against McCoy.  Unlike the Panthers, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, who can outscore Sanchez if it becomes a shootout.

Also, shutting down the run keeps the Eagles from playing keepaway, using longer drives to keep Rodgers on the sideline.

3.  Why’s Connor Barwin having such a big year?

With 10.5 sacks and 3.5 on Monday night, Barwin credits his teammates and coaches.

“It’s really a by-product of what we do on defense, because that gives me the opportunity to make plays,” Barwin said. “We really do have a team concept here, and the guys up front sacrifice so that guys like me can make plays.  I couldn’t do what I do if they didn’t do what they do.  So, it all has to work together, or it doesn’t work at all.”

It’s all working together, but there will be plenty of extra pressure on Sunday against the Packers.

Patriots at Colts

1.  With both teams emerging from a bye, who has the edge?

Given two weeks to prepare, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is hard to beat.  The extra time allows him to craft strategies that stifle and confuse the opposing offense.

“You’ve got to expect something unexpected,” quarterback Andrew Luck said this week regarding the Patriots.

The last time these two teams played, the extra time allowed the Pats to easily overcome the surge the Colts acquired via a comeback for the ages against the Chiefs.  This time, the Colts had an extra week, too.  Based on Belichick’s history, there’s a good chance it won’t matter.

2.  What does Bill Belichick think of Reggie Wayne?

Belichick raved this week about the veteran Colts receiver, calling him “really one of the best route runners obviously in the game now maybe ever in the game.”

The respect is mutual, at least as it relates to the players Wayne primarily will be facing.

“This secondary here, in my 14 years playing New England, is probably the best complete secondary,” Wayne said this week. “I think it allows them to do more things up front with their front seven games, that they probably haven’t done in the past years. They’re talented. They’re ball-hungry. It gives them a little bit of where they can be risk-takers with blitzes and things of that nature.”

It also allows them to mix up coverages in a way that will confuse Wayne and his quarterback, Andrew Luck.  Throw in the extra time to prepare, and the chances for confusion increase.

3.  What does Bill Belichick think of Aaron Dobson?

Apparently, not much.  The 2013 second-round pick continues to miss game after game, inactive in six of nine.

At one point, reports suggested that Dobson’s benching flowed from a squabble with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.  Belichick denied that, and Dobson promptly played in the next two games.  In each of the three games after that, Dobson hasn’t played.

“What I’m going through or what I went through is all happening for a reason,” Dobson said this week. “It’s building my character stronger for another reason that I don’t really know what it is yet.  I’m trying to think of everything happening for a reason and trying to stay positive with it.”

It’s all Dobson can do.  The Patriots have him under contract through 2016.  Unless they trade him or cut him, they can continue to pay him to not play.  Which still remains better than neither playing nor getting paid.

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Week 11 injury report roundup

Kyle Rudolph 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 11 of the 2014 season.

Falcons at Panthers

Wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot), wide receiver Devin Hester (ankle) and cornerback Josh Wilson (ankle) are all questionable for the Falcons, who ruled out tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring). The Panthers ruled out defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (ankle) and are making plans that don’t include left guard Amini Silatolu (knee, doubtful). Cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle), defensive end Charles Johnson (not injury related) and tight end Brandon Williams (foot) are all questionable and Johnson is expected to play.

Vikings at Bears

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery, probable) is expected back in the lineup after more than a month on the shelf. Defensive end Scott Crichton (hip) and tackle Mike Harris (ankle) are both questionable. Tackle Eben Britton (illness), defensive end Trevor Scott (knee) and linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) are all out for the Bears and tackle Jordan Mills (ribs, doubtful) is also headed in that direction. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) and tight end Martellus Bennett (ribs) are both probable to play.

Texans at Browns

The Texans listed running back Arian Foster (groin) as questionable, although reports out of Houston indicate he’ll miss the game. Cornerback Kareem Jackson (knee) is definitely out, but it looks like linebackers Jadeveon Clowney (knee, probable) and Brian Cushing (knee, probable) will play. Browns tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) is out again and safety Johnson Bademosi (concussion) will join him on the sideline. Safety Tashaun Gipson (concussion) may join them after being listed as questionable.

Seahawks at Chiefs

The Seahawks hope to get linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe) back next week and it looks like they’ll have to wait for cornerback Marcus Burley (hamstring), guard James Carpenter (ankle) and linebacker Brock Coyle (glute) after listing them as doubtful. Cornerback Jeremy Lane (groin), running back Marshawn Lynch (calf) and tight end Luke Willson (ankle), although Lynch’s return to practice on Friday bodes well for his availability. Chiefs wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin), cornerback Jamell Fleming (hamstring) and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins (shoulder) are all out for Sunday’s game. Cornerbacks Phillip Gaines (ankle, quadricep) and Christopher Owens (knee) and tight end Anthony Fasano (knee) are all questionable.

Bengals at Saints

Running back Giovani Bernard (hip) and linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) are out again for the Bengals and it looks like right tackle Andre Smith (ankle, doubtful) will join them on the sideline. Linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring) and cornerback Terence Newman (knee) are questionable and cornerback Leon Hall (concussion) is probable to return. Cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) is questionable for New Orleans after a limited practice on Friday. Linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle) and wide receiver Robert Meachem (ankle) are also questionable, while running backs Khiry Robinson (arm), Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) and Edwin Baker (concussion) have all been ruled out.

49ers at Giants

The 49ers have ruled out defensive back Jimmie Ward (foot) and defensive tackle Ian Williams (fibula) and cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring) is questionable despite reports that he’ll miss at least this week. Wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle) and linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle) are both questionable. Running back Rashad Jennings (knee) is probable to return for the Giants. Running back Peyton Hillis (concussion), defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) have been ruled out.

Broncos at Rams

The Broncos won’t have running back Ronnie Hillman (foot), but they expect Montee Ball (groin, probable) back in the lineup. The Rams ruled out cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) and listed linebacker Daren Bates (groin), cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (groin) and wide receiver Damian Williams (hamstring) as questionable.

Buccaneers at Redskins

Tampa will play without running back Doug Martin (ankle) for another week and they’ll play the waiting game with defensive end Michael Johnson (hand), tight end Luke Stocker (hip) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) all listed as questionable. The Redskins return from their bye week in good shape with tight end Logan Paulsen (foot, hamstring, questionable) the only player that isn’t 100 percent expected to play.

Raiders at Chargers

Oakland will have to go without tight end David Ausberry (foot), safety Jonathan Dowling (back), guard Gabe Jackson (knee) and cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) this week. Defensive end Justin Tuck (neck) is questionable. The Chargers look a bit healthier with running back Ryan Mathews (knee) and linebackers Manti Te’o (foot) and Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) all probable. Cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder) remains out, though, and safety Jahleel Addae (concussion) is questionable after returning to practice on Thursday.

Lions at Cardinals

The Lions will wait to make a call on running back Reggie Bush’s (ankle) status, but they sent some signals about sitting him down throughout the week. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) and guard Larry Warford (knee) are both out, but it looks like tight end Eric Ebron (hamstring, probable) will return. Defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) is out for the Cardinals and linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) is questionable.

Eagles at Packers

Quarterback Nick Foles (collarbone, out) is the only player on the Eagles’ active roster listed as anything but probable for Sunday’s game. Packers guards T.J. Lang (ankle) and Josh Sitton (toe) are both probable as well, but tight end Brandon Bostick (hip) won’t play.

Patriots at Colts

The Patriots listed defensive end Dominique Easley (knee), safety Nate Ebner (finger), tackle Cameron Fleming (finger) and guard Ryan Wendell (knee) as questionable and defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) is the only player that definitely won’t play. Colts defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle) is out and right tackle Gosder Cherlius (groin) is questionable to play.

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AFC playoff picture: Dolphins have the makings of a playable hand

Da'Norris Searcy, Ryan Tannehill AP

By defeating the Bills 22-9 on Thursday night, the Dolphins moved into the No. 7 seed in the AFC. Their upcoming schedule, coupled with their solid résumé, would suggest they should be no worse than a serious wild-card contender the rest of the way.

The victory improved Miami’s record to 6-4, which includes a 5-2 mark vs. AFC foes. With conference record a key tiebreaker, the Dolphins’ ability to take care of business inside the AFC could end up being a major asset.

The win also gives the Dolphins some cushion entering next Sunday’s matchup at 7-2 Denver. The Dolphins will be significant underdogs against the Broncos, who haven’t lost at home in almost a year. Also, the Dolphins won’t be favored in the rematch with the Patriots in New England, even after winning the first meeting in Miami. The Dolphins’ third-toughest game remaining — a December 7 meeting with visiting Baltimore — could have a significant impact on the wild-card race.

However, the Dolphins draw the 2-8 Jets twice in December, and they also face Minnesota at home. Miami will be favored to win all three games. If the Dolphins can hit that trifecta and sneak out a win against the Denver-New England-Baltimore trio, they will be 10-6 overall and 8-4 in the AFC. There have been worse hands with which to see the river card fall.

The 5-5 Bills, on the other hand, are in a tough spot. Their conference record (2-5) is weak, and they have games against the Broncos, Packers and Patriots in the final four weeks. They can, however, enter the final month with a puncher’s chance if they defeat the Jets and Browns in Buffalo to close out November.

But make no mistake: the Bills are going to have to be stellar down the stretch to crack the playoffs. They lose head-to-head tiebreakers with the Chargers, Chiefs and Texans. And by failing to defeat the Dolphins, they missed a chance at sweeping the season series.

As we turn our attention to the bulk of the Week 11 slate, here’s how the AFC’s top 12 playoff contenders would be seeded if the postseason started today. For reference, here are the NFL’s standings and tiebreaking rules.

THE BIG SIX

1. New England Patriots (7-2, .778). AFC East leader. Earns first-round bye, home-field advantage. Holds head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver.

2. Denver Broncos (7-2, .778). AFC West leader. Earns first-round bye.

3. Indianapolis Colts (6-3, .667). AFC South leader. Hosts Bengals in wild-card game. Seeded ahead of Browns on basis of better AFC record than Cleveland (5-2 vs. 4-3).

4. Cleveland Browns (6-3, .667). AFC North leader. Hosts Chiefs in wild-card game.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3, .667). Wild card No. 1.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3-1, .611). Wild card No. 2.

JUST MISSING

7. Miami Dolphins (6-4, .600). Ranks ahead of Pittsburgh on basis of better AFC record (5-2 vs. 5-3).

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4, .600). Ranks ahead of Baltimore on basis of better division record (2-2 vs. 2-3).

9. Baltimore Ravens (6-4, .600). Has 3-4 AFC record.

10. San Diego Chargers (5-4, .556).

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

12. Houston Texans (4-5, .444).

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PFT’s Week 11 picks

patrick-peterson-calvin-johnson-reflection AP

Last week, MDS and I disagreed on a grand total of none games.  This week, we’ve got some disagreements.

We’ve got five of them.  Which means that we won’t be tied next week, unless there’s a tie in one of those five games.

The full slate of picks (with none of us predicting a tie) appears below.

Last week, we both guessed right on 10 of 13 games.  For the year, we’re at 96-51 (65.3 percent).

Bills at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Both of these teams suffered tough losses on Sunday and will have to shake it off on a short work week for a big game Thursday. The loser of this one is just about out of the AFC playoff race, but the winner is still alive. I think the Dolphins, playing at home, will take this one.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 24, Bills 21.

Florio’s take:  The Bills have been handling the Dolphins with relative ease when their offensive line wasn’t a mess.  Miami’s offensive line currently is a mess.  Case closed.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Dolphins 14.

Falcons at Panthers

MDS’s take: It says something about how bad the NFC South is that the winner of this game between the 3-6 Falcons and the 3-6-1 Panthers will be right in the thick of the division title race with the Saints. I’m going with the Panthers.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 24, Falcons 17.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons are mediocre and moving in the right direction.  The Panthers are mediocre and moving in the wrong direction.  Cam Newton is injured unless he isn’t.  Carolina’s offensive line is offensive.  Advantage Atlanta.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 27, Panthers 16.

Vikings at Bears

MDS’s take: The Vikings are 4-0 against teams with losing records and 0-5 against teams with winning records. That should mean they’ll beat the Bears, but I have a funny feeling that Chicago’s offense is going to bounce back from the debacle in Green Bay and put a lot of points on the board.

MDS’s pick: Bears 31, Vikings 17.

Florio’s take:  The Bears, reeling after a pair of blowout losses, return home for the first time in four weeks to a throng of fans ready to serenade them with boos or worse if they fall behind a Vikings team that doesn’t have a Tom Brady or an Aaron Rodgers to run up the score early.  If the Bears can’t respond to the withering criticism and relentless scrutiny with a victory over a sub-.500 team, everyone in the organization should be terminated.  And fired.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Vikings 20.

Texans at Browns

MDS’s take: It’s been many years since we’ve been able to say this, but the Browns are a legitimately good team. I’m not ready to pick them to win the AFC North just yet, but they’re at least going to be in the hunt through December, and they’ll cruise to an easy win over the Texans.

MDS’s pick: Browns 24, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s the Battle of Brady Backups, with Brian Hoyer and the Browns facing Ryan Mallett and the Texans.  There’s also a Pats-Jets vibe to this one, with a former Belichick assistant facing a former Rex lieutenant.  It would be a very Browns thing for Cleveland to blow it after a 21-point win over a division rival — and the Browns likely would do just that, if the game were in Houston.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 17, Texans 13.

Seahawks at Chiefs

MDS’s take: To me, this is the hardest game of the week to pick. The Seahawks seem like they’ve shaken off their struggles of a few weeks ago and are playing at close to the level they played at last year. But the Chiefs have won their last three home games by scores of 41-14, 34-7 and 24-10. It’s tough to go to Kansas City and win, but I say the Seahawks can do it.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 21, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  It’s another AFC West reunion game, in a series the Chiefs lead 32-18.   Edge goes to the home team, especially since the home team has a defense that could be able to bottle up Marshawn Lynch and chase down Russell Wilson.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 19, Seahawks 13.

Bengals at Saints

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have been somewhat disappointing, but the Bengals on the road are more disappointing than the Saints at home. I’ll go with the home team.

MDS’s pick: Saints 30, Bengals 20.

Florio’s take:  Reeling from a rare home loss, the Saints need to keep distance between themselves and the rest of the none-of-the-above NFC South.  Andy Dalton 2.0 could be exactly what the Saints need.

Florio’s pick:   Saints 31, Bengals 21.

49ers at Giants

MDS’s take: The 49ers look like a team making a push for the playoffs, while the Giants look like a team just playing out the string. San Francisco should win this one handily.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Giants 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s the rematch of a classic NFC title game from 2011.  This one won’t be quite the same.  Because the Giants stink.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Giants 13.

Broncos at Rams

MDS’s take: The Rams have played competitive football against good teams recently, and they might do so again against the Broncos. But there’s a difference between being competitive and winning.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 23, Rams 20.

Florio’s takeAustin Davis, Kellen Clemens, Sam Bradford, Kurt Warner, Jim Everett, Roman Gabriel, Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait.  None would be a match for Peyton F. Manning.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 35, Rams 20.

Buccaneers at Washington

MDS’s take: I wouldn’t pick Lovie Smith’s guys to beat anyone right now. Washington isn’t very good, but Tampa Bay is a lot worse.

MDS’s pick: Washington 28, Buccaneers 14.

Florio’s take:  Two weeks is more than enough time to get ready for a one-win team.  Even for Washington.

Florio’s pick:  Washington 27, Buccaneers 20.

Raiders at Chargers

MDS’s take: I don’t think the Raiders are going to go 0-16, but they’re not going to win at San Diego, where the Chargers will look fresh coming off a bye week and heading into a stretch of the schedule that will determine whether they can reach the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 31, Raiders 13.

Florio’s take:  Three straight losses have San Diego’s playoff chances on the ropes.  The Raiders were punched through weeks ago.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 35, Raiders 17.

Lions at Cardinals

MDS’s take: If Carson Palmer were playing, I’d take the Cardinals. With Drew Stanton? It’s a tough choice, but I think the Lions’ defense is going to apply a lot of pressure on Stanton and make it tough for him to read through his progressions. Stanton will make some plays with his legs, but not enough plays to win.

MDS’s pick: Lions 17, Cardinals 16.

Florio’s take:  When the schedule came out in April, who would have envisioned Detroit at Arizona being one of the top game of the month of November?  With the Lions at 7-2 and the Cardinals at 8-1, it’s a game with major implications for the NFC playoff tree.  Calvin Johnson has run roughshod over the Cardinals in each of the last two years — and Arizona has won both games.  Sure, these aren’t the Lions of 2012 and 2013.  But these aren’t the Cardinals of those two seasons, either.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 23, Lions 20.

Eagles at Packers

MDS’s take: There’s a crowded field of teams jockeying for position in the NFC playoff race, and the loser of this game will have its back against the wall. I think Aaron Rodgers can have a big game against the Eagles’ defense, and Green Bay will win.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Eagles 20.

Florio’s take:  The Eagles looked great on Monday night.  But that was at home against the Panthers.  This will be on the road against the Packers, who despite having a bad defense have an offense good enough to outscore Mark Sanchez and company.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Eagles 20.

Patriots at Colts

MDS’s take: These teams are more or less even, both playing very well on offense with great quarterbacks, both just so-so on defense, both strong on special teams. When it’s even, I go with the home team.

MDS’s pick: Colts 24, Patriots 21.

Florio’s take:  Give Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare, and he’ll beat anyone.  Anyone not named Eli Manning.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Colts 24.

Steelers at Titans

MDS’s take: The Steelers might be the most unpredictable team in the NFL. They can blow out the Colts and Ravens, but they can also lose to the Buccaneers and Jets. I’ll take a guess that they won’t play as badly on Monday night as they did last week against the Jets.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 17, Titans 14.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers should win easily.  Then again, they should have won easily last Sunday against the Jets.  A loss at Tennessee could be fatal to Pittsburgh’s playoff chances, especially with everyone else in the division over .500.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 27, Titans 17.

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Week 10 power rankings

Cardinals Getty Images

1. Arizona Cardinals (last week No. 1; 8-1):  Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas, Kurt Warner, Jim Hart.  The key to this team’s success isn’t the quarterback but the head coach.

2. New England Patriots (No. 2; 7-2):  Bill Belichick the coach has more than made up for the failures of Bill Belichick the de facto G.M.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3; 7-2):  The Eagles may not be sour on Nick Foles.  But they’re sweet on Mark Sanchez.

4. Denver Broncos (Last week No. 4; 7-2):  Brock Osweiler has become the first guy to make the Manning face at Peyton Manning.

5. Detroit Lions (No. 5; 7-2):  The Lions continue to win games against teams that lose games the way the Lions used to.

6. Dallas Cowboys (No. 6; 7-3):  Maybe the Cowboys should leak negative stories about Dez Bryant more often.

7. Green Bay Packers (No. 9; 6-3):  Maybe the Packers should move every player on their defense to middle linebacker.

8. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 6-3):  To become the true heir to Peyton Manning in Indy, Andrew Luck needs to beat Tom Brady in the regular season.  And then lose to him in the playoffs.

9. Seattle Seahawks (No. 10; 6-3):  What’s that about the Seahawks being done with Marshawn Lynch?

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 7; 6-4):  After losing only four times in 23 prior games against the Jets, loss number five came at the worst possible time — against the worst version of the Jets they’ve ever faced.

11. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 13; 6-3):  The Real Andy Reid should invite the Fake Andy Reid to every game for the rest of the year.

12. Baltimore Ravens (No. 12; 6-4):  The best way to keep locker-room comments from being broadcast by a TV camera?  Ask the cameraman to turn off the TV camera.

13. Cleveland Browns (No. 16; 6-3):  At some point, the Browns have to pick a quarterback.  And it would be the ultimate Browns move to pick the wrong one.

14. San Francisco 49ers (No. 18; 5-4):  Linebacker Chris Borland is the best 13-year-old football player I’ve ever seen.

15. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 11; 5-3-1):  When the Bengals hoped to see “Andy Dalton 2.0,” they didn’t mean it quite that literally.

16. Buffalo Bills (No. 14; 5-4):  For coach Doug Marrone, Thursday night’s game against the Dolphins is a little like the sales contest in Glengarry Glen Ross.

17. Miami Dolphins (No. 15; 5-4):  For coach Joe Philbin, Thursday night’s game against the Bills is a little like the sales contest Glengarry Glen Ross.

18. New Orleans Saints (No. 17; 4-5):  Jimmy Graham says he literally put two fingers on Perrish Cox.  Actually, Graham literally put two entire hands on Cox.

19. San Diego Chargers (No. 19; 5-4):  The L.A. Wannabe Round Robin begins this week, with Raiders-Chargers followed by Rams-Chargers followed by Raiders-Rams.

20. Minnesota Vikings (No. 20; 4-5):  Good luck to whoever tries to tackle Adrian Peterson the first time he’s back on the field.

21. St. Louis Rams (No. 21; 3-6):  The only thing the Rams currently have in common with the Cardinals is that their starting quarterback has torn his ACL twice.

22. Houston Texans (No. 23; 4-5):  The Ryan Mallett era finally begins.  Don’t blink.  Better yet, don’t even open your eyes.

23. Atlanta Falcons (No. 27; 3-6):  One game out of first place and 3-0 in the NFC South, the Falcons somehow are in great shape to make a run.

24. New York Giants (No. 25; 3-6):  It’s bad enough to be the worst team in their division; the Giants are suddenly in danger of being the worst team in their own stadium.

25. Washington (No. 26; 3-6):  Jay Gruden thinks his team could be 7-2.  If he’s opting for delusion, why not just go with 19-0?

26.  Carolina Panthers (No. 22; 3-6-1):  Maybe they should trade Cam Newton for Jay Cutler, straight up.

27. New York Jets (No. 31; 2-8):  Mike Vick thinks the Jets would have won more games if he’d been the starter since Week One.  Which overlooks the reality that he would have been injured by Week Four.

28. Tennessee Titans (No. 28; 2-7):  If the Titans moved to L.A. or London or Mars, would anyone even notice?

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 29; 1-9):  Folks in London apparently like the Jaguars because they register roughly the same score as a soccer team.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 30; 1-8):  “We’re only three games out of first place!”

31.  Chicago Bears (No. 24; 3-5):  Bill Swerski hopes his next heart attack is fatal.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-9):  San Antonio wants an NFL team.  Or the Raiders.

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NFL morning after: A call that could change two teams’ seasons

jimmygraham AP

As time expired Sunday in New Orleans, with the score tied 24-24, Saints quarterback Drew Brees heaved the ball 50 yards in the air, where tight end Jimmy Graham grabbed it for an apparent game-winning Hail Mary touchdown. The fans in New Orleans celebrated for just a moment before they saw the flag on the field. As it turned out, Graham had been flagged for offensive pass interference for shoving 49ers cornerback Perrish Cox.

That was the call of the year.

The officials working the 49ers-Saints game deserve an enormous amount of credit for having the guts to make that call. It was absolutely correct, but it was a call some officials would have been reluctant to make. In fact, I couldn’t remember ever seeing offensive pass interference wipe out a successful Hail Mary, even though there’s jostling for position on almost all Hail Mary attempts. When the NFL admitted the replacement refs had screwed up the infamous “Fail Mary” during the lockout of officials in 2012, the league said the real mistake the officials had made was failing to call offensive pass interference, but the reality is officials never call that penalty. And this time they did. And it was the right call.

Graham didn’t think so afterward, saying Cox sold the call by flopping to the ground — exactly the kind of thing Graham said he hated when he was a college basketball player. Graham thought it was a bogus call.

It was definitely not a push-off,” Graham said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I’m running down the field telling myself, ‘Whatever you do, don’t push off.’ It’s interesting how guys grab me everywhere on the field and I put literally two fingers on somebody and they make that kind of call.”

Graham may be right that Cox sold it, but that doesn’t change the fact that Graham committed a penalty. The officials were right to flag him.

If the Saints had won the game in overtime, of course, we wouldn’t be talking much about that call today. But because the 49ers won, this will go down as a call that could change two teams’ seasons. For the Saints, the loss prevents them from taking a huge step forward in the NFC South. At 4-5 the Saints are still in first place in their pathetic division, but with the 3-5-1 Panthers playing on Monday night, Carolina could actually take the lead in the division with a win. If the Saints end up losing the division race by half a game to the Panthers, they’ll surely look back at that Brees-to-Graham Hail Mary and wonder what might have been.

And the 49ers absolutely needed that win to keep pace in the NFC West. The Cardinals won on Sunday to improve to 8-1, and the Seahawks won to improve to 6-3. The 49ers, at 5-4, still have an uphill battle to get to the playoffs. But they’d have almost no shot if they had lost to the Saints.

That penalty flag on Graham was Sunday’s biggest play. Here are my other thoughts:

An appreciation of Michael Vick. In helping the Jets upset the Steelers on Sunday, Vick gained 39 yards rushing. That puts him at 6,006 rushing yards in his career, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to top 6,000 rushing yards. Vick has been at best a good — never great — quarterback, but as a runner he’s a unique figure in NFL history. There’s simply never been a quarterback who could run like Vick can, and he paved the way for a generation of running quarterbacks who came after him.

The list of players with fewer career rushing yards than Vick includes some pretty good running backs, like Chuck Foreman, Joe Morris, Ronnie Brown, Reggie Bush, Natrone Means, Billy Sims and Mike Alstott. It even includes Hall of Fame running backs like Steve Van Buren, Hugh McElhenny, Lenny Moore, Ollie Matson, Gale Sayers, Marion Motley, Paul Hornung and Frank Gifford. Granted, those guys played in the old days, when offensive numbers were nothing close to what they are now, and most of them played both offense and defense. But Vick’s production running the ball really is special in NFL history. He’s the NFL’s all-time record holder in yards per attempt, with 7.05 yards per carry for his career.

Vick is past his prime now, and he’s playing out the end of his career on a lousy Jets team. But he still shows glimpses of the dynamic quarterback he once was. It was fun seeing him go to work on Sunday.

Was that the Seahawks or Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers? The Seahawks’ dominant win over the Giants featured the kind of ground attack you just don’t see in the pass-happy NFL anymore. Seattle ran for 350 yards and five touchdowns, the kind of numbers that we used to see in the days of the triple option dominating college football. No NFL team had managed 350 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in the NFL since 1978. And Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ran for 100 yards again, continuing an amazing year he’s having of making plays with his feet. Wilson now has three games this season of 100 or more yards rushing and 100 or more yards passing. How extraordinary is that? Consider this: In the entire decade of the 1980s, only one NFL player topped 100 yards rushing and 100 yards passing in the same game (Randall Cunningham in 1986). Wilson may be the closest thing to what the Falcons hoped Vick would be when they took him with the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft: A great quarterback who can beat you with his arm or his legs.

Odd stat of the day: Detroit’s Sam Martin became just the third player this century to have two complete passes and two punts in the same game. The Lions called two fake punts, and Martin completed passes on both of them, although only one of them picked up a first down. The only other punters in the last 15 years to do that are Johnny Hekker of the Rams, who pulled off two fakes in a tie game against the 49ers two years ago, and Chris Mohr of the Falcons, who did it to the Lions in 2004.

Your weekly reminder that Peyton Manning is incredible. Manning passed for 340 yards and five touchdowns Sunday at Oakland — and he didn’t even play in the fourth quarter. Manning now has nine five-touchdown games in his career, the most of any quarterback in NFL history. It’s going to be tough to find any record Manning doesn’t own by the time he’s done.

A big game for Dion Jordan. Jordan has looked like a disappointment since the Dolphins traded up to take him with the third overall pick in last year’s NFL draft. He managed just two sacks as a rookie, and this year his season started with a suspension for a failed drug test. But on Sunday he played very well against the Lions. Jordan picked up a blocked field goal and raced 58 yards to set up Miami’s only touchdown, and he also looked very good in pass coverage, at one point knocking a ball out of Calvin Johnson’s hands in the end zone. Jordan has undeniable talent, and on Sunday he looked like he was starting to put that talent together.

Dez Bryant is amazing. Bryant looked like a man among boys when running through the Jaguars’ secondary on Sunday in London, catching six passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. With Calvin Johnson having missed half this season with a sprained ankle, Bryant has emerged as the most imposing threat in the NFL at the wide receiver position.

Lovie Smith is this year’s most disappointing coach. I didn’t think the Buccaneers were going to be good this season, but I did think the arrival of Smith would at least make them resemble a competent football team. Instead, Smith has done something I didn’t think was possible: He took over for Greg Schiano and did even worse. This Tampa Bay team, which lost 27-17 to Atlanta on Sunday, is absolutely awful.

Speaking of Schiano . . . I thought when Schiano was fired last year we were done seeing defensive players trying to blow up the victory formation. Apparently not.

Odell Beckham Jr. is a stud. Beckham, the Giants’ first-round draft pick, got his rookie season off to a slow start because of hamstring injuries. But now that he’s healthy, he’s an outstanding player. He burned Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman for a 44-yard catch on Sunday, and he finished the game with seven catches for 108 yards. He may be the best rookie in the NFL.

Will we ever be able to figure the NFL out? So many things don’t make any sense. The Browns are all alone in first place in the AFC North. Next week’s Lions-Cardinals game will be for the best record in the NFC. Nothing in the NFL is predictable, especially on a day when an offensive pass interference call wipes out a Hail Mary.

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Week 10 early inactives

Detroit Lions v New York Jets

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.

Titans at Ravens

Titans: QB Charlie Whitehurst, WR Kris Durham, RB Antonio Andrews, CB Brandon Harris, T Will Svitek, TE Brett Brackett, DT Sammie Hill

Ravens: WR Michael Campanaro, T Jah Reid, DT Terrence Cody, DE DeAngelo Tyson, C Gino Gradkowski, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Brynden Trawick

Chiefs at Bills

Chiefs: WR Donnie Avery, CB Jamell Fleming, QB Aaron Murray, OL Eric Kush, DB Daniel Sorensen, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, LB Josh Martin

Bills: DB Ron Brooks, S Jerome Couplin, WR Marcus Easley, LB Randell Johnson, RB Philip Tanner, WR Mike Williams, G Cyril Richardson

Dolphins at Lions

Dolphins: TE Dion Sims, G Daryn Colledge, T Jason Fox, DT Anthony Johnson, G Billy Turner, DE Terrence Fede, LB Kelvin Sheppard

Lions: DT Nick Fairley, TE Eric Ebron, TE Joseph Fauria, WR Ryan Broyles, QB Kellen Moore, T Garrett Reynolds, DE Larry Webster

Cowboys vs. Jaguars (in London)

Cowboys: DT Tyrone Crawford, QB Dustin Vaughan, S Jakar Hamilton, DL Davon Coleman, OL Tony Hills, OL Donald Hawkins, LB Tim Dobbins.

Jaguars: DE Andre Branch, LB Jeremiah George, G Brandon Linder, T Sam Young, CB Tommie Campbell, WR Mike Brown, RB Storm Johnson

49ers at Saints

49ers: QB Josh Johnson, WR Quinton Patton, CB Leon McFadden, S L.J. McCray, LB Dan Skuta, LB Patrick Willis, OL Dillion Farrell

Saints: LB David Hawthorne, RB Pierre Thomas, RB Khiry Robinson, OL Eric Olsen, T Nick Becton, DB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, WR Robert Meachem

Steelers at Jets

Steelers: S Troy Polamalu, LB Ryan Shazier, CB Ike Taylor, S Shamarko Thomas, S Ross Ventrone, QB Landry Jones, G Chris Hubbard

Jets: CB Darrin Walls, QB Matt Simms, DL T.J. Barnes, G Dakota Dozier, LB IK Enemkpali, OL Wesley Johnson, WR Walter Powell

Falcons at Buccaneers

Falcons: T Jonathan Scott, QB Sean Renfree, WR Freddie Martino, CB Javier Arenas, LB Tyler Starr, T Cameron Bradfield, DT Cliff Matthews

Buccaneers: G Kadeem Edwards, WR Robert Herron, CB Alterraun Verner, RB Doug Martin, T Anthony Collins, TE Luke Stocker, DE Michael Johnson

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Week 10 “Three and Out”

Peyton Getty Images

Yeah, the “Three and Out” feature has been posted a little later than usual this week.  Thank you for noticing.  I wanted to see if you’d notice.

Actually, there was no specific reason for posting it now other than I ran out of time to finish the thing before the weekly trip to NBC for a Sunday and Monday of watching football and talking football.

So it’s now finished.  So now finish reading it.  (Actually, your click already has been registered.  Do whatever you want.  Like perhaps click another story or 10?)

Titans at Ravens

1.  How will Ravens deal with loss of Jimmy Smith?

We’ll be fine,” coach John Harbaugh said Friday.  “We’ll recover.”

It won’t be easy.  The whole “next man up” thing only goes so far when the guy who starts is a lot better than the guy behind him.  As a practical matter, Smith’s season-ending injury puts more pressure on the front seven to keep the quarterback from targeting the guy who’s doing what Smith would be doing if Smith were still playing.

Smith won’t be doing anything done after having surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury in his foot.  The fourth-year former first-round pick was playing very well for the Ravens.  So while they may be “fine,” they will have a hard time being great.

2.  Has Lorenzo Taliaferro landed in Gary Kubiak’s doghouse?

Not yet.  The running back’s fumble last Sunday night won’t prompt the offensive coordinator to stop trusting the rookie.

“My nature as a coach when that happens is to go right back to him,” Kubiak said. “I believe in the guys we’ve got and believe in what we’re doing.  We wouldn’t have him out there if we didn’t trust him.vvSometimes, those things are going to happen.  They can’t happen too often, we all know that, but I think the players need to know that you’re going to come right back to them and expect them.”

It was the first NFL fumble for Taliaferro, who has become the No. 2 rusher on the team.  He has 247 yards on the season, nearly 50 more than Bernard Pierce.

3.  How will the Titans try to turn around a horrible start?

In an effort to get even, they plan to get mad.

That’s what we need,” tight end Delanie Walker said this week. “We are 2-6, and if you are not mad about that then something might be wrong.  We need to play with more anger, and play angry for four quarters.  Just go out there and be nasty.  Baltimore is a nasty team, but we have guys who can be nasty too.”

The Titans need something, because they continue to be mired in a multi-year funk that has left them non-competitive and, perhaps more importantly, nationally irrelevant.

Chiefs at Bills

1.  Can Seantrel Henderson handle the Chiefs?

We will soon find out.  The rookie tackle, a seventh-round steal, has started all eight games this season.  But he’s never seen anyone quite as talented as the twosome of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

If Henderson can’t slow down either or both, the Chiefs will be knocking down the slow-footed Kyle Orton, repeatedly.

2.  Are Chiefs ready to part ways with Dwayne Bowe?

With no touchdown receptions through eight games and a $14 million cap number for 2015, Bowe’s tenure with the Chiefs could be ending.  While he became only the second member of the franchise to catch 500 passes with the team last week, he’s got only 31 on the season, for fewer than 400 yards.

Assuming the Chiefs don’t keep Bowe, they’ll need to address the position via free agency or the draft.  With half the season in the books, none of the team’s wideouts has a single touchdown reception.

3.  Will Fred Jackson or Sammy Watkins play?

Both have groin injuries, both are questionable.  Jackson’s came on October 19; he was limited in practice all week, but coach Doug Marrone has suggested Jackson’s not yet ready to return.

Watkins injured his groin during practice on Wednesday, missing both Thursday’s and Friday’s sessions.  If he can’t go, Robert Woods becomes the top option.  Woods has a touchdown catch in two of the team’s past three games.

Dolphins at Lions

1.  How close to 100 percent is Calvin Johnson?

Pretty close.  Johnson has said he won’t play until he once again can be Megatron.  And it’s not as if the Lions need him. They’ve won three straight without Johnson in the lineup.

Using him as a decoy doesn’t really work; if he’s playing, that means he’s healthy.  And that’s very good news for a Lions franchise that in past years would find a way to blow a 6-2 start.

2.  Can Reggie Bush get it done against a former team?

Bush struggled against the Saints, finishing with four carries for 10 yards and five receptions for 22.  And he aggravated the ankle injury that had knocked him out of the prior week’s game.

With the bye, Bush has had three weeks to heal for a game against his other team.  Like Johnson, Bush appears on the injury report as probable.  Which means he’ll play.  How effective he’ll be depends largely on how the ankle holds up.

3.  Which one of these teams is for real?

Possibly both.  But one will emerge from this one with the strong scent of a postseason berth emanating mingled with sweat and FieldTurf pebbles.  For the Dolphins, a looming Thursday night visit from the Bills makes it a critical five-day stretch during which much will be learned about the team that lambasted the Chargers, 37-0, in Week Nine.

Cowboys at Jaguars

1.  Will Tony Romo play?

If he doesn’t, Dr. Jones will have some explaining to do.  The team has listed its starting quarterback as probable, which means by rule it’s a virtual certainty he’ll be available for normal duty.  Which means that, despite being injured, Romo is good to go.

Rarely, a player listed as probable doesn’t play.  When that happens, the NFL wants a full explanation.  Basically, if a player is probable, it’s definite he’ll play.

2.  Is London visit a harbinger of good things for Jaguars?

Possibly.  Last year, the trip to England helped bring the Jags together.  While they lost convincingly to the 49ers at Wembley, the Jaguars then reeled off four wins in five games.

This year, they’re not winless and they’ve been more competitive in defeat than a year ago.  Perhaps the return to their home-a-long-way-away-from-home will spark another run.

3.  Can DeMarco Murray run into nine-man fronts?

Not as well as he’d like.  The NFL’s leading rusher expressed frustration about having to do it with Brandon Weeden at quarterback last week against Arizona.

And that reality keeps the Cowboys in play for Adrian Peterson in 2015, if the Vikings decide to move on.  (And if the Vikings ever actually make a decision about what to do with Peterson.)  While Murray is younger, Peterson has barreled into a box filled with eight and nine guys for his entire career.  He may not have many years left, but he may be able to do more with his remaining time in the game that Murray ever will.

49ers at Saints

1.  Why have the 49ers forgotten about Frank Gore?

In back-to-back wins over the Eagles and Chiefs, which came after back-to-back losses, Gore racked up more than 100 yards rushing.  In three games since then, Gore has touched the ball a total of 40 times.

The decision not to give Gore the ball at the goal line with the game in the balance last Sunday surprised the Rams, given Gore’s ability to push the pile in tight spaces.

If the 49ers, who have become a great team by relying on defense and the running game, don’t get back to using Gore more, they won’t be using him in January.  Or anyone else.

2.  Will the Saints keep riding Mark Ingram?

Yes, if he can play.  Both Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) will miss Sunday’s game.  Which makes Ingram a key component of the offense.

He’s questionable with a shoulder injury, after back-to-back 100-yard games only four days apart, a performance that helped move the Saints from 2-4 to .500.  Making the feat even more impressive was the fact that, for his career, Ingram had only one 100-yard game.

3.  How’s Michael Crabtree’s contract year going?

Not too well.  Catches are yards are down, drops are up.  And Crabtree is touchy about the perception that he’s struggling with another injury to his left foot, which has had a pair of surgeries since 2009.

What are you talking about about a foot?” Crabtree recently said. “I’ve played eight games since then and you’re talking about my foot?  We’re good, man.  That ain’t even a question to even ask me.”

Eventually, the question to ask may be, “Which team will you sign a one-year deal with after you don’t get big money on the open market?”

Steelers at Jets

1.  How expensive could Ben Roethlisberger’s recent success be for the Steelers?

Very expensive.  The Steelers opted not to replace the last two years of Roethlisberger’s 2008 contract with a deal that better reflects his market value.  After a pair of six-touchdown, no-pick games, Roethlisberger’s value is going up.

As a result, he could want a lot more after the season than he would have wanted before the season.  If the two sides can’t work something out before next September (and if the Steelers stick to their artificial rule of not extending contracts during the regular season), Ben will hit the market in 2016 — or get more than $22 million for one year under the franchise tag.

2.  Could Rex Ryan be fired if he loses?

Perhaps.  The Jets would be 1-9 at the bye, and it would be a given that Rex would be gone in January.  So why not get rid of him now?

The problem is that there’s no clear candidate on the coaching staff to take over on an interim basis.  Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman routinely defers to Rex, and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is, well, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Perhaps more importantly, G.M. John Idzik possibly needs a few more wins to save his job.  Ryan remains the best option to help lift the Jets to 4-12 or 5-11.  Either final record will be hard to pull off if the Jets lose to the Steelers on Sunday.

3.  What’s gotten into James Harrison?

From retired to unretired after a rash of linebacker injuries got the Steelers to lure him back, Harrison has registered four sacks in the last two games.  He’s now first among all Steeelers with, um, four sacks.  It’s also twice as many sacks as he got last year in Cincinnati, despite playing in 15 games.

So this is a guy who really missed football, right?

“I’m not going to lie and say I missed football,” Harrison said this week.  “To be honest with you, I didn’t miss football.  I was comfortable where I was at, being retired.  I felt like I had an obligation to come back if my kids wanted me to.  They were OK with it, and I came back because I didn’t want to let the [Steelers] down and I felt like them guys are like my brothers — [Brett] Keisel, Troy [Polamalu], Ike [Taylor].  Kind of hard to say no to them.”

It’s even harder to imagine Harrison caring about saying “no” or “yes” or anything else, to anyone.

Falcons at Buccaneers

1.  Could Julio Jones have a big day?

Against the Bucs, he usually does.  In five career games vs. Tampa Bay, Jones has 28 catches for 555 yards and five touchdowns.

During the first encounter of 2014 between the two teams, Jones racked up 161 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns.  So it’s safe to assume another big day for Jones could be in the offing.

2.  Is Mike Glennon no longer the quarterback of the future?

He’s gone from quarterback of the present to quarterback of the past and future to quarterback of the past, present, and future to now just a guy back on the bench behind Josh McCown.

The decision to take the ball out of Glennon’s hands raises real questions about whether the Buccaneers still view him as a viable option over the long haul.  With the team at 1-7, why not give Glennon more chances to develop into a guy who possibly will help the Bucs do a little more winning in 2015?

3.  Is Doug Martin the odd man out?

It sure looks that way.  Firmly on the trading block until he sprained an ankle two weeks ago, the 2012 first-round pick likely will now slide behind Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims on the depth chart, whenever Martin is healthy.  The final year of a low-first-round rookie-wage-scale deal could prompt the Bucs to consider keeping him for 2015.  Then again, it also makes Martin an attractive trade option for another team that thinks he can recapture his “Muscle Hamster” form.

Regardless, don’t look for the Buccaneers to pick up the fifth-year option on Martin’s contract next May.  Until then, don’t expect him to play very much, either.

Broncos at Raiders

1.  Who’s the top running back for the Broncos?

Even with Montee Ball recovering from a groin injury, it looks to be Ronnie Hillman.  And that seems to be okay with Ball.

Generally, the situation isn’t okay with offensive coordinator Adam Gase.  He’s “really frustrated” with the running game.

Fortunately, Gase’s team has a pretty good passing game.

2.  Why isn’t Julius Thomas getting more opportunities?

Because the Broncos are using him more to block.

“I know that’s not ideal since he’s one of our better players at a skill position, but we’ll figure out some ways to help our protection and make sure he’s still a big impact player for our offense,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase recently said.

Since catching nine touchdown passes in five games, Thomas has one in three.  With a total of 83 yards in those three games.

3.  Where’s Matt Hasselbeck?

With his Colts on a bye, Hasselbeck should be heading to Oakland for this one.  If he did, the only three active players from the 1998 draft would be in the same place, at the same time.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson make up the rest of the trio, and Woodson will be trying to intercept passes in the same way he picked off the 1997 Heisman trophy.

There are only three of us?” Woodson said this week.  Yep, there are only three.  And it’ll stay that way, unless and until Randy Moss unretires to play for the Broncos.

Rams at Cardinals

1.  How did the Rams rediscover their ability to get to the quarterback?

With an explosion of eight sacks against the 49ers after struggling all year, the Rams surely did something differently, right?  Like changing blitz packages?

No, we really didn’t,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said this week. “There were a lot of things that people wanted to say were new, but our guys just did a great job in the execution part of it. . . .  The D-line won the one-on-one matchups.

“We were able to finish some one-on-one pass rushes and not allow [Colin] Kaepernick to extend the play. He’s been very, very good on extending plays with his feet. I think our plan was sound in what we tried to do to make sure he stayed in the pocket.”

Defensive end Robert Quinn thinks the turnaround flows from something else:  Switching jerseys.

“It’s something fun to do at practice,” Quinn said.  “Switch jerseys with whoever.  Make it a little rough for the coaches to grade film.”

It’s even more fun to average two sacks per quarter of football as a team.

2.  Are the Rams thinking about the team moving?

Nope.  With talk intensifying of a 2015 or 2016 relocation to L.A., the players and coaches don’t care at all.

“[W]e’ve got too much going on, too much in front of us and way bigger fish to fry,” quarterback Austin Davis told reporters this week.

It makes sense.  Life in the NFL means addresses can change in the blink of an eye, whether through being cut or traded, becoming a free agent, or having the team move.  For players and coaches, what goes with the territory is the reality that, at any time, the territory where the work is may change.

Whether it happens or not, it won’t matter if the players and coaches aren’t getting it done.  Those who aren’t won’t be making the move.

3.  Aren’t the Cardinals due for a letdown?

In theory, yes.  But there’s something about this team that defies convention.  And every other obstacle placed in its path.

With seven wins in eight games, the Cardinals continue to move toward a date with the unlikeliest of destinies — playing in a Super Bowl played in their home stadium.  That’s never happened, due in large part to an actual or perceived jinx that afflicts the teams who are hosting the game.

Fate threw everything it has at the Cardinals, from season-ending injuries to a dead nerve in the quarterback’s shoulder to the suspension of a key defensive player to the defection via free agency of another key defensive player.  Through it all, coach Bruce Arians has turned the jinx on its head, reminding players that someone else will be using their locker room if they don’t earn a berth in the Super Bowl.

Few believe they will.  Which is just another obstacle for Arians ans company to overcome.

Giants at Seahawks

1.  Why is Marshawn Lynch catching so many passes?

He’s one of the best players on the team, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has made it clear that the Seahawks want to get Lynch the ball every way they can.

Last week, Lynch rushed for 67 yards and added 76 yards in receiving. Not bad, given that the Seahawks had only 177 total passing yards.

So look for plenty of Lynch, in any way they can use him. As long as he’s healthy enough to play.

2.  Does Russell Wilson own the Mannings?

Yes. Yes he does. Last year, Wilson faced Peyton and Eli for the same time, in the same stadium.  Wilson beat Eli and the Giants 23-0 at MetLife Stadium in the regular season.  Wilson then beat Peyton and the Broncos 43-8 in the same place.  That’s a total score of 66-8.

This year, Wilson barely overcame Peyton at CenturyLink Field, 26-20 in overtime.  Odds are that Wilson will extend his run against the best two quarterbacking brothers in NFL history (sorry, Koy and Ty Detmer) to an impressive 4-0.

3.  Aren’t injuries a cancer?

When Tom Coughlin became head coach of the Giants in 2004, he notoriously criticized the rash of injuries that had helped seal the fate of his predecessor, Jim Fassel.

“I’m aware of the injury factor, the number of IRs, which is a cancer, let’s face it,” Coughlin said at the time.  “It’s something that has to be corrected.  It’s a mental thing, I believe, as much as anything else.”

In what could be Coughlin’s final year with the Giants, the cancer is back — and spreading.  Multiple key players have been sidelined this year due to legitimate injuries, from receiver Victor Cruz to cornerback Prince Amukumara to running back Rashad Jennings.

Injuries aren’t a cancer; they’re injuries.  And they’re unavoidable in football.

But there also should be no excuses for injuries.  If Coughlin returns for 2015 despite what appears to be an inevitable failure to get to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, it’ll happen only if those injuries become a permitted excuse.

Bears at Packers

1.  Will the Bears take away Jordy Nelson?

The Saints did, doubling Nelson and limiting him to a season-low 25 yards on three catches.  And the Saints seemed to be the first team to regard Nelson for what he has become — one of the best receivers in the NFL.

Nelson entered the game against the Saints averaging more than 100 yards per game.  The last time Green Bay faced the Bears, Nelson caught 10 for 108 yards and two scores.  So whatever they did the last time, they need to better account for Nelson if they want to slow down Green Bay’s offense.

2.  Could Jared Allen snap out of his funk?

The Packers give him the best chance to do it.  Allen has sacked Aaron Rodgers more than anyone else in the league, with 15.5 sacks in the regular season and one more in the playoffs.

So far in 2014, Allen has only 1.5 sacks.  The last time these two teams played, Allen missed the game due to a bout with pneumonia.

3.  Do the Bears have a realistic chance to win?

If we learned nothing from Thursday night’s Browns-Bengals game, it’s that the team everyone is writing off can win the game. Like so many teams already have done this year (and in prior years), unanimous doubt becomes potent ammunition.

Of course, finding a way to turn that motivation into triumph requires something the Bears may not have: An overwhelming desire to prevail sparked by one or more strong voices who will get the players to snap out of their collective funk.

Given Jay Cutler’s 1-9 record against the Packers and Aaron Rodgers’ historic mastery of the Bears, don’t count on that happening.

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Week 10 injury report roundup

Houston Texans v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 10 of the 2014 season.

Falcons at Buccaneers

Wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot), defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi (foot) and running back Antone Smith (neck) are questionable for the Falcons, who have ruled out tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring) in their return from a bye week. Tackle Anthony Collins (foot) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) are both questionable for Tampa. Running back Doug Martin (ankle) is also questionable, but Charles Sims (ankle) is probable to make his first appearance of the regular season.

Titans at Ravens

The Titans have just three players — defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill (hamstring, questionable), WR Nate Washington (shoulder, questionable) and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee, probable) — on their injury report. The Ravens ruled out that many players as wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh), tackle Jah Reid (hand) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) are all ruled out. Smith is done for the season, which may mean a roster move between now and Sunday.

Cowboys vs. Jaguars (in London)

The Cowboys should have quarterback Tony Romo (back, probable) back in the starting lineup, but defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (knee) won’t go. Linebacker Rolando McClain (knee, groin) is questionable after missing practice all week. The Jags won’t have starting guard Brandon Linder (shoulder), defensive end Andre Branch (groin) or linebacker Jeremiah George (ankle). Everyone else on the injury report is probable, including quarterback Blake Bortles (left wrist).

Chiefs at Bills

During a brief press conference on Friday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid ruled out wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin), cornerback Jamell Fleming (hamstring) and linebacker Jerry Franklin (hamstring). Cornerback Phillip Gaines (ankle, quadricep), linebacker Josh Martin (hamstring, knee) and cornerback Christopher Owens (knee) all drew the questionable tag. So did Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (groin) and running back Fred Jackson (groin) and the Bills have been cagey about Watkins’s chances of playing since he aggravated his injury on Wednesday.

Dolphins at Lions

The Dolphins ruled out tight end Dion Sims (toe) and don’t expect to have guard Daryn Colledge (back, doubtful). They will wait to make calls on running back Lamar Miller (shoulder), linebacker Koa Misi (ankle), defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (abdomen), linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (hip, groin) and safety Jimmy Wilson (hamstring) after listing them as questionable. The Lions got three injured tight ends back at practice this week, but Joseph Fauria (ankle, questionable) and Brandon Pettigrew (foot, questionable) are likelier to play than Eric Ebron (hamstring, doubtful).

49ers at Saints

49ers linebackers Patrick Willis (toe) and Dan Skuta (ankle) missed practice all week, but drew questionable tags. So did cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe), defensive tackle Quinton Dial (eye) and wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (hamstring) after working on Friday. Running back Mark Ingram (shoulder) is questionable, but is expected to see a fair amount of work with Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) out again. Linebacker David Hawthorne is out for New Orleans and center Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle), wide receiver Robert Meachem (ankle) and tackle Zach Strief (chest) were listed as questionable.

Steelers at Jets

The Steelers won’t have safety Troy Polamalu (knee), linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle), cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm), safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) or safety Ross Ventrone (hamstring) on Sunday. Everyone else on the active roster is healthy enough to play. The Jets will go without cornerback Darrin Walls (hamstring), but they are also otherwise healthy. That includes the return of quarterback Geno Smith (shoulder) to the gameday roster as a backup.

Broncos at Raiders

Running back Montee Ball (groin) and right tackle Paul Cornick (shoulder) are questionable for Denver, which is looking to get its running game going. Linebacker Nate Irving (knee) is out and may miss a few games. The Raiders ruled out tight end David Ausberry (foot), cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), guard Gabe Jackson (knee) and cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee). Cornerback T.J. Carrie (ankle) is questionable for the latest attempt at win No. 1.

Rams at Cardinals

The Rams could be shorthanded in the secondary with safety Cody Davis (concussion), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (knee) and cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) listed as questionable. The Cardinals will roll without linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and running back Stepfan Taylor (calf) and they listed defensive tackle Ed Stinson (groin) as questionable.

Giants at Seahawks

It looks like another week without running back Rashad Jennings (knee, doubtful) for the Giants, but they hope to have cornerback Zack Bowman (illness, questionable), defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf, questionable) and Mathias Kiwanuka (knee, questionable) to throw against the Seahawks. The Seahawks say running back Marshawn Lynch (calf, probable) is good to go, but guard James Carpenter (ankle), safety Kam Chancellor (groin), offensive lineman Stephen Schilling (knee) and linebacker Malcolm Smith (groin) are all doubtful to play. Cornerbacks Marcus Burley (hamstring) and Byron Maxwell (calf) are questionable on a Seahawks injury report that’s shorter than last week’s but still fairly long.

Bears at Packers

Tight end Martellus Bennett hurt his ribs in practice this week and was listed as questionable for the Bears after missing Friday’s practice. Tackle Eben Britton (illness), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and guard Matt Slauson (chest) are all out. Packers guards T.J. Lang (ankle) and Josh Sitton (toe) got in limited practices on Friday to earn questionable tags for Sunday.

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NFL statement on Adrian Peterson

[Editor’s note:  The NFL issued a statement regarding Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on Thursday, November 6.  The full content of the statement appears below.]

The NFL advised Adrian Peterson this afternoon that following his plea agreement to resolve his criminal case in Texas his matter will now be reviewed for potential discipline under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.

As part of the process, the NFL has requested that Peterson submit relevant information regarding his case and meet with designated experts who will make recommendations for the Commissioner’s consideration. Peterson also will have the opportunity to have a hearing prior to the issuance of any discipline.

Pending completion of the process, Peterson’s status on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt list will remain unchanged.

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PFT’s Week Ten picks

Browns Getty Images

Two weeks ago, MDS enjoyed a five-game lead in the annual PFT picks contest.  Now?  Not.

In Week Eight, I swept the two games on which we differed.  In Week Nine, the Cardinals, Patriots, and Steelers each came through, knocking the margin down to no margin at all.

To his credit, MDS got a hole in one on the Bucs-Browns game, picking Cleveland to win by the unusual score of 22-17.  Fortunately for me — and unfortunately for him — there’s no bonus point for guessing an exact score.

The tie will remain, at least for a week.  For the first time ever, we disagree on none of the games to be played.

Last week, I nailed 11 of 13 games.  MDS was right on eight, wrong on five.  For the year, we’re deadlocked at 86-48 (64.1 percent).

Browns at Bengals

MDS’s take: It’s a credit to Mike Pettine that winning this game would move the Browns into a tie for first place in the AFC North, at least temporarily. Cleveland has played much better than anyone expected. But the Bengals are a (slightly) better team on both sides of the ball, and I like Cincinnati to win a close game at home.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 23, Browns 20.

Florio’s take:  The Browns inspired plenty of confidence four weeks ago, with a 31-10 win over the Steelers.  The Browns didn’t inspire much confidence by losing to the previously winless Jaguars and then by beating in non-convincing fashion the still-winless Raiders and the one-win Bucs.  Cincinnati has A.J. Green back and Jeremy Hill emerging and a defense that should be good enough to continue what ultimately could be the end of the road for Brian Hoyer as the Cleveland starter.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Browns 17.

Titans at Ravens

MDS’s take: Baltimore needs to shake off a rough loss to Pittsburgh, and there’s no better way to shake off a rough loss than having the Titans come to town. The Ravens should win this one easily.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 35, Titans 17.

Florio’s takeMichael Oher returns to Baltimore.  And that’s about the only thing that makes this specific game mildly interesting.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 37, Titans 13.

Chiefs at Bills

MDS’s take: Who expected this game to have real AFC playoff implications? The winner will be in great shape in the wild card race, and I think the winner will be Kansas City, which will rely on its conservative, efficient offense to win a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 14, Bills 10.

Florio’s take:  The last time Buffalo played, the Bills found motivation in the “experts” who picked the Jets to win.  The Bills may find motivation this time around, too, but the opponent is a lot better than the Jets.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Bills 16.

Dolphins at Lions

MDS’s take: The Dolphins played perhaps the most impressive game any team has played all season when they blew out the Chargers on Sunday. But the Lions are coming off a week’s rest and are now a healthier team than they were before their bye week. Detroit will win in a game that has playoff implications in both conferences.

MDS’s pick: Lions 24, Dolphins 21.

Florio’s take:  Few believe the Lions can sustain their 6-2 start.  Even fewer believe the Dolphins are a legitimate 5-3.  Give the edge to the team that’s playing at home and getting Calvin Johnson back.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 24, Dolphins 21.

Cowboys at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Cowboys need to turn things around after dropping two straight, and the Jaguars are just the opponents to help them do it. This game won’t be close.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 28, Jaguars 13.

Florio’s take:  Romo or no Romo, the Cowboys are good enough to beat the Jaguars.  And if the Cowboys aren’t, maybe yet another 8-8 finish is looming.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Jaguars 10.

49ers at Saints

MDS’s take: The 49ers are getting dangerously close to seeing their season spiral out of control, and it won’t get any easier with a road trip to New Orleans. San Francisco’s offense won’t keep up with Drew Brees and Co.

MDS’s pick: Saints 28, 49ers 17.

Florio’s takeColin Kaepernick cemented the starting job with a win in New Orleans two years ago.  In 2014, the 49ers’ once-budding dynasty is crumbling.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 27, 49ers 20.

Steelers at Jets

MDS’s take: I keep thinking the Jets are going to show that they’re a better team than their record suggests, and the Jets keep showing that they’re every bit as bad as their record suggests. Even without Troy Polamalu and Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ defense should be fine against the Jets’ offense, and the Jets just don’t have the talent in the secondary to deal with the Steelers’ passing game.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 34, Jets 14.

Florio’s take:   The Jets have beaten the Steelers only four times in 21 tries.  They’ll keep waiting for the fifth, as their fans find solace in one.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 30, Jets 10.

Falcons at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Falcons’ heartbreaking loss in London two weeks ago was a disaster from which it would be hard to recover. But considering what the Falcons did to the Buccaneers last time the played, I just can’t pick Tampa to win this one.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 21, Buccaneers 20.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons haven’t won since hanging 56 on the Bucs.  The Bucs have given the ball back to the guy who started that game.  The Falcons are better than 2-6 would indicate, and Sunday gives them a chance to prove it.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 28, Buccaneers 17.

Broncos at Raiders

MDS’s take: Denver will bounce back nicely from their big loss in New England. This is the easiest pick of the week.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 42, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  The Raiders’ crippling schedule continues with a visit from the defending AFC champions.  And then there will be only seven chances left to avoid going 0-16.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 34, Raiders 13.

Rams at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Rams have played good football at times and already beaten the Seahawks and 49ers, but they won’t get their third division win on Sunday. The Cardinals will take this one.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 27, Rams 24.

Florio’s take:  The Rams have upset the Seahawks and 49ers, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they knock the team that used to be in St. Louis down a peg.  But 2012 and potential 2014 coach of the year Bruce Arians won’t let his guys get complacent, not with so much riding on their ability to keep doing what they’ve done all year.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 27, Rams 14.

Giants at Seahawks

MDS’s take: Seattle is starting to turn things around, while the Giants are going in the wrong direction. The Seahawks won’t give the Giants the kind of ugly 23-0 beating like last year’s game between these two teams, but Seattle will win comfortably.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 21, Giants 10.

Florio’s take:  New York heads across the country on a short week to face a team that played at home last Sunday.  Throw in the talent gap between the two teams and this one could end up being a rout.  Which would drop the Giants to 3-6 and move them closer to a fifth failure to make it to the playoffs in six seasons.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 27, Giants 20.

Bears at Packers

MDS’s take: As bad as the Bears were during the first half of the season, they’ll be right back in the NFC North race if they can win in Green Bay. Unfortunately for Chicago, that’s not going to happen. The Packers will win, and the NFC North will be a two-team race between the Packers and Lions down the stretch.

MDS’s pick: Packers 24, Bears 17.

Florio’s take:  Green Bay launched its climb out of an early-season 1-2 hole by blasting the Bears in their own building.  The dominance continues on Sunday night as the Bears, who suddenly can’t win either at home or on the road, continue to disintegrate.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 37, Bears 20.

Panthers at Eagles

MDS’s take: It’s tough to say what kind of team the Eagles will be with Mark Sanchez running the show, but considering that they started the season 6-2 despite Nick Foles not playing very well, I expect Philadelphia to do just fine.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 27, Panthers 20.

Florio’s take:  Mark Sanchez returns to prime time, nearly two years after the Thanksgiving night butt fumble.  His team is better than the Jets, his opponent is worse than the Patriots, and Sanchez will commence the process of resurrecting his career against a former No. 1 pick whose career could be inching toward a crossroads.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 26, Panthers 17.

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Week Nine power rankings

Arians Getty Images

1. Arizona Cardinals (last week No. 2; 7-1): Bruce Arians doesn’t want the Cardinals to let anyone else dress in their lockers during Super Bowl week. If winning the NFC title doesn’t work, we suggest storing rotten eggs there.

2. New England Patriots (No. 5; 7-2): Shame on anyone who pointed out that the Patriots stunk back when they, you know, stunk.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 4; 6-2): Chip Kelly says DeMeco Ryans is the team’s Mufasa. Which makes sense coming from a guy who’s built a little like Pumbaa.

4. Denver Broncos (Last week No. 1; 6-2): The Denver scoreboard operator says Peyton Manning didn’t have a very good day.

5. Detroit Lions (No. 6; 6-2): Lions teams of recent years would find a way to blow this.

6. Dallas Cowboys (No. 3; 6-3): Does England recognize the medical credentials of a non-licensed, non-practicing physician who owns a football team?

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 15; 6-3): Martavis Bryant is helping Ben Roethlisberger make a lot of money.

8. Indianapolis Colts (No. 9; 6-3): Eli isn’t the Manning the Colts need to be worried about.

9. Green Bay Packers (No. 8; 5-3): Eddie Vedder would still take Aaron Rodgers with a bad hamstring over Jay Cutler.

10. Seattle Seahawks (No. 11; 5-3): Close wins over winless teams won’t do much to change the perception that the Seahawks aren’t who we thought they were.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 12; 5-2-1): A compelling game in November involving a team from Ohio rarely involves another team from Ohio.

12. Baltimore Ravens (No. 10; 5-4): Two straight losses hurt. Two straight division losses can be fatal to a playoff push.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 16; 5-3): Big Red’s machine keeps chugging away. Oh yeah.

14. Buffalo Bills (No. 14; 5-3): With games against the Chiefs and Dolphins four days apart, it’ll soon be obvious whether the Bills are in position to contend.

15. Miami Dolphins (No. 19; 5-3): Mike Wallace should keep complaining about the offense.

16. Cleveland Browns (No. 17; 5-3): The cupcake portion of the schedule is over. Based on how they played against the Jaguars, Raiders, and Bucs, that may be a good thing.

17. New Orleans Saints (No. 18; 4-4): If they keep winning at home, the playoffs will be a lock.

18. San Francisco 49ers (No. 13; 4-4): “Who’s got it better than us?” That list keeps growing.

19. San Diego Chargers (No. 7; 5-4): The Chargers are collapsing even faster than they’d like their stadium to.

20. Minnesota Vikings (No. 25; 4-5): DeMarco Murray has complained about running into nine-man fronts. If Adrian Peterson returns, Teddy Bridgewater may get to throw into a few of them.

21. St. Louis Rams (No. 26; 3-5): If the Rams played as well against the rest of the league as they do against the 49ers and Seahawks, they’d be in playoff contention.

22. Carolina Panthers (No. 20; 3-5-1): After a 2-0 start, the Panthers have fallen apart. And yet could still win the division.

23. Houston Texans (No. 21; 4-5): Ryan Mallett may not have to wait much longer to prove he can’t perform at the NFL level.

24. Chicago Bears (No. 22; 3-5): The Bears want to know if their new sod comes with a free side of competent quarterback.

25. New York Giants (No. 23; 3-5): Tom Coughlin apparently needs the hot seat to be McDonald’s coffee lawsuit hot before the playoff push kicks in.

26. Washington (No. 24; 3-6): Is it too soon to make a joke about a busload of reporters going off a cliff being a good start? (Chris Rock says it’s not.)

27. Atlanta Falcons (No. 27; 2-6): Why wasn’t Mike Smith fired during the bye week? In part because the team still has a legitimate shot at winning the division.

28. Tennessee Titans (No. 28; 2-6): Zach Mettenberger wants to know if J.J. Watt thinks it’s high-schoolish to check Instagram during a game.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 29; 1-8): Hopefully, folks in London don’t know enough about football to realize that 1-8 is a really, really bad record.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 31; 1-7):  Mike Evans is becoming exactly what the Bucs thought he’d be.  Unfortunately, that statement doesn’t apply to most of the rest of the roster.

31. New York Jets (No. 30; 1-8):  Drew Bledsoe says playing quarterback for the Jets is like a virgin sacrifice. And there’s a punchline hanging there that if uttered in this space would probably prevent me from ever returning to New Jersey again.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-8):  The 2008 Detroit Lions are putting the champagne on ice.  And by “champagne” I mean “ginger ale.”  And by “ice” I mean, “in the back yard under a dead tree.”

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