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Week 14 injury report roundup

Washington Redskins v Indianapolis Colts

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 14 of the 2014 season.

Steelers at Bengals

It looks like the Steelers will be without linebacker James Harrison (knee) after listing him as doubtful. They’ll definitely be without tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and defensive tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) is questionable. The Bengals continue to wait for linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) to get healthy and it doesn’t look like they’ll have defensive end Margus Hunt (ankle,doubtful) or wide receiver James Wright (knee, doubtful). Defensive tackle Domata Peko (elbow) is questionable.

Colts at Browns

The Colts will be without cornerback Vontae Davis (concussion), which is a big blow for their pass defense. Guard Hugh Thornton (knee), offensive lineman Xavier Nixon (foot) and linebacker Andy Studebaker (hamstring) are also out. Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (hip), tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion), linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) and linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee) are all questionable. Tight end Gary Barnidge (ribs) and safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) are out.

Buccaneers at Lions

The Bucs listed tackle Anthony Collins (elbow), tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back), running back Bobby Rainey (ankle), tight end Brandon Myers (calf) and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring) as questionable even though none of them practiced this week. Linebackers Lavonte David (hamstring) and Mason Foster (Achilles) did practice and drew the same tag. Lions running back Reggie Bush (ankle) is probable to return and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee, out) is the only player listed as anything but probable.

Texans at Jaguars

The Texans ruled out tight end Garrett Graham (ankle) as out for Sunday’s game and listed safety Danieal Manning (hamstring) as questionable. The Jaguars won’t have defensive end Andre Branch (groin) or linebacker Khairi Fortt (hamstring), but defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (foot) is probable after missing Friday’s practice.

Ravens at Dolphins

The Ravens are holding off on making a call regarding running back Justin Forsett (knee, questionable) and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh, questionable). Wide receiver Torrey Smith (knee) is probable. Linebacker Johnathan Freeny (hamstring) and cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder) are out for the Dolphins while cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle), linebacker Chris McCain (ankle) and offensive lineman Nate Garner (illness) are doubtful. Tight end Charles Clay (hamstring, knee) is questionable.

Jets at Vikings

Tight end Jace Amaro (concussion) and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (toe) are both out for the Jets. Linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring) is doubtful for Minnesota while running back Jerick McKinnon (back) is out.

Panthers at Saints

The Panthers ruled out running back DeAngelo Williams (hand) and guard Amini Silatolu (knee). Tight end Greg Olsen (knee) is questionable, but the team expects him to play in New Orleans. Running backs Travaris Cadet (hamstring), Khiry Robinson (forearm), and Mark Ingram (ankle/toe) are all probable for a healthy Saints side.

Giants at Titans

Giants running back Rashad Jennings (ankle) is questionable and says he’ll be less than 100 percent if he does play this week. Linebacker Mark Herzlich (concussion) is also questionable while tackle James Brewer (concussion) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) are out. The Titans expects quarterback Zach Mettenberger (shoulder, questionable) to play and they’ll wait to give final word on tackle Taylor Lewan (ankle, questionable), tackle Michael Oher (toe, questionable), cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back) and wide receiver Kendall Wright (hand). Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (hamstring) is out.

Rams at Redskins

The Rams aren’t much for intrigue this week. Every player on their injury report is listed as probable for Sunday. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (shin) is questionable after missing practice all week and the Redskins have ruled out defensive lineman Kedric Golston (foot,back) and cornerback Chase Minnifield (concussion). Safety Brandon Meriweather (toe) is doubtful.

Chiefs at Cardinals

Kansas City’s iffy run defense won’t have defensive end Allen Bailey (concussion) to help them slow down the Cardinals. Wide receiver Junior Hemingway (concussion) is also out, but everyone else on the injury report is probable. The Cardinals ruled out running back Andre Ellington (hip), guard Paul Fanaika (ankle), safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee, questionable) is a game-time decision again this week.

Bills at Broncos

Wide receiver Mike Williams (calf) has seen his playing time plummet because of coaching decisions and he won’t play a snap this week after being ruled out. Defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee) and tight end Chris Gragg (knee) are also out. Wide receivers Sammy Watkins (hip), Robert Woods (ankle), and Chris Hogan (hamstring) are all probable. For the Broncos, tight ends Julius Thomas (ankle) and Jacob Tamme (rib) are questionable but wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (ankle) is probable after returning to practice Friday. Cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring) is probable as well.

49ers at Raiders

49ers right tackle Anthony Davis (concussion) is out again this week and he’ll be joined on the sideline by tight end Vance McDonald (back) and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (arm). Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring) is questionable. The Raiders also ruled out their right tackle Menelik Watson (foot, ankle). Safety Johnathan Dowling (back) and tight end Brian Leonhardt (concussion) are also out. Linebacker Sio Moore (hip) and cornerback Tarell Brown (foot) are questionable and running back Latavius Murray (concussion) is probable.

Seahawks at Eagles

The Seahawks ruled out center Max Unger (knee, ankle) and hope to have him back next week. Tight end Cooper Helfet (ankle) is doubtful and cornerback Jeremy Lane (glute) is questionable. Quarterback Nick Foles is out and tight end Trey Burton (hamstring) is questionable for the otherwise healthy Eagles.

Patriots at Chargers

Patriots linebacker Chris White (ankle) is doubtful for Sunday night’s game. Long snapper Danny Aiken (concussion), cornerback Kyle Arrington (ankle), guard Dan Connolly (ankle), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee), wide receiver Julian Edelman (thigh), offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), defensive end Chandler Jones (hip), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (shoulder) and running back Shane Vereen (ankle) make up the long list of questionable players. Chargers tackle D.J. Fluker (concussion) and center Chris Watt are questionable after returning to practice on Friday. Linebacker Donald Butler (quad) is also questionable after being added to the injury report as the week drew to a close.

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NFC playoff picture: A tip of the cap to the Cowboys

Tony Romo AP

Though the NFL’s playoff picture is rather unsettled as December begins, we can say this with confidence: a handful of contenders are going to lose to underdogs in these final weeks, and the teeth-grinding and hair-pulling and moaning is going to be something else.

It’s here, though, that we salute the Cowboys, who performed like contenders should on Thursday night in Chicago.

With a three-TD blitz in 13 minutes to begin the second half, the favored Cowboys sent the weak, wobbling, underdog Bears to the canvas, turning a 14-7 game into a 35-7 laugher. From there, the Cowboys (-3.5) coasted on in, securing a 41-28 victory and moving back into the NFC’s top wild-card spot.

However, some might say the Cowboys simply did what they were supposed to do in Chicago. And to be fair, a majority of December favorites do take care of their business.

Since 2004, December underdogs are 223-471 in regular-season play, per Spreadapedia.com. That’s just a 31.6 percent win rate, about three upsets in every 10 games and a little more than 20 underdog wins per December.

In the end, most December games go to form. Cowboys-Bears certainly did. But that is a testament to Dallas, which looked like a club with bigger and better things to do as it drained the drama out of Thursday night’s proceedings.

Yes, favorites usually win, but they don’t always assert. The Cowboys asserted themselves. That’s how it should be done in December.

Here’s how the NFL’s playoff seeding looks through Thursday night. The tiebreaking rules and standings were referenced:

THE BIG SIX

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-3, .750). NFC West leader. Earn first-round bye, home-field advantage. Win three-team tiebreaker for No. 1 seed on account of better NFC record (7-2) than Green Bay (6-3) and Philadelphia (5-2).

2. Green Bay Packers (9-3, .750). NFC North leader. Earn first-round bye. Win head-to-head tiebreaker with Philadelphia for No. 2 seed.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3, .750). NFC East leader. Host Seahawks in wild-card round.

4. Atlanta Falcons (5-7, .417). NFC South leader. Host Cowboys in wild-card round. NFC South’s top-seeded team on basis of head-to-head win vs. New Orleans.

5. Dallas Cowboys (9-4, .692). Wild card No. 1.

6. Seattle Seahawks (8-4, .667). Wild card No. 2. Seeded ahead of Detroit on basis of better record in common games.

JUST MISSING

7. Detroit Lions (8-4, .667).

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

OTHER NFC SOUTH CONTENDERS

9. New Orleans Saints (5-7, .417).

13. Carolina Panthers (3-8-1, .292).

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PFT’s Week 14 picks

Ben Getty Images

It wasn’t as bad a week as some of the weeks we had earlier in the year, but 10-6 from MDS and 9-7 from yours truly was more “meh” than magnificent.

This week, we disagree on a pair of games.  And as I cling to a two-game margin, it could go away this weekend, sparking a three-week, dead-heat sprint to the 2014 PFT picks championship.

For the year, I’m at 125-67 (65.1 percent).  MDS has moved to 123-69 (64.0 percent).  To see our picks for all 16 games for the weekend, start reading.  Or keep reading.  Or just scroll and look for the scores.

Cowboys at Bears

MDS’s take: Are the Cowboys going into a late-season collapse?  Despite their ugly showing on Thanksgiving, I don’t think so.  Dallas’s offensive line should control this game against a mediocre Chicago defensive front, and the Cowboys will get back on track.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 24, Bears 21.

Florio’s take:  Last year, the Bears blew out the Cowboys in prime time at Soldier Field.  This year, the Bears are having a harder time scoring points — and the Cowboys desperately need to get their ninth win, avoiding yet another possible 8-8 finish to the season.  With Tony Romo rested and the Bears simply not very good, it’s time for the Cowboys to ensure a winning season.  Finally.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 30, Bears 20.

Steelers at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Bengals have taken control of the AFC North, but the Steelers still have a chance to surpass them. Pittsburgh is so inconsistent, however, that I think I have to take Cincinnati in this one.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 20, Steelers 16.

Florio’s take:   The last time the Bengals were at home, they lost badly to the Browns.  Since then, Cincinnati has won three in a row on the road.  It’s time for a correction, especially with the Steelers feeling their season slipping away.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 27, Bengals 24.

Colts at Browns

MDS’s take: The choice between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel is less important than the fact that neither can hold a candle to Andrew Luck.  The Colts will put up a lot of points and win comfortably in Cleveland.

MDS’s pick: Colts 35, Browns 20.

Florio’s take:  Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, both, or neither, the Browns currently don’t have the defense to keep the high-powered Indy passing attack under control.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Browns 23.

Buccaneers at Lions

MDS’s take: Could the Lions collapse again this year like they did last year?  I don’t think so.  Detroit will make a statement that it’s a real contender with a big win over Tampa Bay.

MDS’s pick: Lions 38, Buccaneers 14.

Florio’s take:  The Bucs’ unlikely playoff dream likely died last week when Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis produced his reg flag in the nick of time.  The Lions’ playoff dream remains realistic.  With Reggie Bush potentially back and Calvin Johnson back to being Megatron, it’s time for Detroit to make their final push.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 34, Buccaneers 20.

Texans at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Jaguars showed a lot of fight in coming back to beat the Giants, and I could see Jacksonville having a bit of a late-season run like it had last season, when the Jaguars played their best football down the stretch.  But the Texans’ defensive front is going to be too good for the Jaguars’ shaky offensive line.

MDS’s pick: Texans 20, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take:   The Jags have shown they still have some fight, but the Texans are making one last push for the postseason.  They won’t make it, but they’ll make it above .500 this weekend.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Jaguars 20.

Ravens at Dolphins

MDS’s take: This is a big game in the AFC playoff race, and it’s a game I like the Dolphins to win on the strength of their pass defense, which is going to force Joe Flacco into a couple of interceptions and win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 16, Ravens 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s been easy to doubt the Dolphins this year.  But they continue to defy critics, at least when they’re not giving critics more ammunition.  This week, the critics will see a more accomplished Ravens team rolling into town and knocking Miami toward playoff oblivion.  For a change, I’ll break ranks and rely on the team that blasted the Chargers when it had the chance, against the team that recently found a way to lose to San Diego.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Ravens 21.

Jets at Vikings

MDS’s take: I liked the Jets’ run-heavy offensive game plan on Monday night, but I don’t think it will work as well the second time around, now that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has a week to prepare for it. The Jets won’t put many points on the board Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 13, Jets 6.

Florio’s takeTeddy Bridgewater already is better than Geno Smith will ever be.  And the Vikings have shown an ability to win the games they should.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 27, Jets 13.

Panthers at Saints

MDS’s take: The NFC South has turned into a two-horse race, with the Panthers fading down the stretch. The Saints should win at home and end any hope Carolina had of winning the division.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Panthers 14.

Florio’s take:  The Saints somehow has lost three games in a row at home.  None of those opponents, however, were as bad as the Panthers currently are.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 33, Panthers 16.

Giants at Titans

MDS’s take: The Giants are really bad, but the Titans are even worse. I’ll take the Giants to win and the fans stuck watching this game to lose.

MDS’s pick: Giants 16, Titans 12.

Florio’s take:  The Giants continue their AFC South tour.  If they can’t beat the Titans, co-owner Steve Tisch may have to accelerate his timetable for evaluating the coaching staff.  Again.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Titans 13.

Rams at Washington

MDS’s take: The Rams are playing excellent football right now, while Washington is cratering. I’ll pick the Rams to win another blowout.

MDS’s pick: Rams 27, Washington 10.

Florio’s take:  St. Louis has developed an ability to beat non-contenders to go along with its ability to beat contenders.  Washington isn’t a contender.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 27, Washington 17.

Chiefs at Cardinals

MDS’s take: This is a huge game for both teams. In Arizona, a loss would raise real questions about whether the Cardinals can avoid a downward spiral all the way out of the playoffs. In Kansas City, a loss could be a death blow to their wild card hopes. It’s hard to get a read on this one, but I have a little more faith in Alex Smith than in Drew Stanton, and that’s why I’ll go with the Chiefs.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 24, Cardinals 21.

Florio’s take:  Both teams have lost two in a row.  Both teams desperately need to turn things around.  Injuries finally have caught up with the Cardinals, and the rest of the league has caught up with Drew Stanton.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 27, Cardinals 17.

Bills at Broncos

MDS’s take: The thing I like about the way the Broncos are playing right now is that they can win with defense and the running game: Peyton Manning doesn’t need a big game for Denver to win. On Sunday, I expect the Bills’ great front four to pressure Manning all day, but the Broncos to win anyway, thanks to the defense and the running attack.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, Bills 20.

Florio’s takeKyle Orton returns to Denver, after Tebowmania gave way to Peyton Manning.  The Broncos are simply better in every phase of the game.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Bills 20.

49ers at Raiders

MDS’s take: Things aren’t looking good for the 49ers right now, but nothing cures a slump like facing the Raiders. The 49ers will cruise to an easy win.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Raiders 7.

Florio’s take:  Jim Harbaugh gets an early look at the stadium he could be calling home in 2015.  Hopefully he likes raw sewage and dead rats.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 34, Raiders 17.

Seahawks at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Seahawks are finally playing the kind of football we’ve been waiting to see them play, but winning in Philadelphia is a tall order. I like the Eagles to take this one.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Seahawks 20.

Florio’s take:  Pete Carroll knows Mark Sanchez well enough to outscore him.  Sure, the Eagles looked great in Dallas.  But the Seahawks have looked even better in their last two games.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 30, Eagles 27.

Patriots at Chargers

MDS’s take: This is a great game between a team that earned a hard-fought win last week and a team that suffered a hard-fought loss last week. The Chargers are in control in the AFC wild card race, but their schedule is so tough that I just don’t see them making the playoffs. A loss to the Patriots will be the first loss in what is going to be a disappointing December in San Diego.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Chargers 21.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers once went 32 years without beating the Patriots.  Currently, it’s been six years.  The streak will move to seven as the Pats get past last Sunday’s disappointing loss at Green Bay.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, Chargers 21.

Falcons at Packers

MDS’s take: The Falcons had an impressive win over the Cardinals last week, but the way the Packers are rolling right now, I wouldn’t pick anyone to beat them at Lambeau Field.

MDS’s pick: Packers 31, Falcons 17.

Florio’s take:  Four years ago, the Packers rolled into the Georgia Dome and blasted the top-seeded Falcons in the playoffs.  So this is Atlanta’s chance . . . to endure a similar outcome at Lambeau Field.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 48, Falcons 20.

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Week 13 power rankings

Packers Getty Images

1. Green Bay Packers (last week No. 2; 9-3): If/when they face the Seahawks again, chances are the Packers will simply run their offense without worrying about who’s playing defense.

2. New England Patriots (No. 1; 9-3): A couple of years ago, Tom Brady opted for a periodic primal scream. After Sunday’s game was clinched for Green Bay, he went with three primal “F” bombs.

3. Seattle Seahawks (No. 10; 8-4): Good news, Seattle; bad news, rest of the NFL. The Seahawks are back.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 5; 9-3): Mark Sanchez gets a perfect opportunity on Sunday to show Pete Carroll that the quarterback was indeed ready for the NFL.

5. Denver Broncos (No. 6; 9-3): When Peyton Manning is throwing for 179 yards not in a half but in an entire game, the Denver offense finally has real balance.

6. Arizona Cardinals (No. 3; 9-3): They still may be using their own lockers for the Super Bowl, but it’s looking less likely they’ll be using their own lockers during the playoffs.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 7; 8-3-1): When the quarterback with the red hair isn’t getting it done, it’s time to rely on the coach with the red flag.

8. Dallas Cowboys (No. 4; 8-4): Death, taxes, and an 8-8 finish for the Cowboys.

9. Indianapolis Colts (No. 9; 8-4): A week after we didn’t get Luck-Griffin, we’ll likely get Luck-Manziel.

10. Detroit Lions (No. 12; 8-4): If they keep playing like this, they’ll get a chance to go back to lose in the Superdome again in January.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 8; 7-5): The Steel Curtain has become a Shower Curtain.

12. San Diego Chargers (No. 17; 8-4): The rest of the schedule has a lot more in common with the three-game losing streak than the three-game winning streak.

13. Baltimore Ravens (No. 11; 7-5): If they can’t beat Miami, Jacksonville, Houston, and Cleveland in December, the Ravens don’t deserve to have a crack at the likes of New England, Denver, Indianapolis, and Cincinnnati in January.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 13; 7-5): To have any chance to get back to Arizona in February, they need to win there on Sunday.

15. Buffalo Bills (No. 18; 7-5): After two steps forward, the one step back comes in Denver this weekend.

16. Miami Dolphins (No. 16; 7-5): Things are setting up perfectly for another late-season collapse.

17. San Francisco 49ers (No. 14; 7-5): If Jim Harbaugh isn’t worried about his future, then he’s the only one.

18. Cleveland Browns (No. 15; 7-5): Brian Hoyer’s bet on himself apparently wasn’t placed with a money phone.

19. Houston Texans (No. 19; 6-6): A touchdown pass to J.J. Watt while up 38-14? Bill O’Brien learned plenty from Bill Belichick.

20. New Orleans Saints (No. 21; 5-7): Sean Payton shrugged off the “Sunday splash” reports by doing a cannonball into the confluence.

21. Chicago Bears (No. 20; 5-7): Good news, the team that Bears blew out in prime time last year is coming back. Bad news, Josh McCown played quarterback against the Cowboys the last time the Bears hosted Dallas.

22. Minnesota Vikings (No. 22; 5-7): When the offense is built around blocked punts returned for touchdowns, help is needed on that side of the ball.

23. St. Louis Rams (No. 23; 5-7): Well, it’s clear which former L.A. team L.A. should want back.

24. Atlanta Falcons (No. 24; 5-7): This would be a great week for payback against the team that derailed a Super Bowl run four years ago.

25. New York Giants (No. 25; 3-9): “We’re still the best team in New York?”

26. Carolina Panthers (No. 26; 3-8-1): The Panthers say Cam Newton is still their guy. Has anyone asked him if he wants to be?

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 27; 2-10): “We’re still only three games out of first place!”

28. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 32; 2-10): Leave it to the Jags to screw up a perfectly good shot at the No. 1 overall pick.

29. Tennessee Titans (No. 29; 2-10): Whether the Titans should have kept Ryan Fitzpatrick is a lot easier to figure out than 93 times 97.

30. Washington (No. 30; 3-9): When the quarterback plays well and the team still gets blown out, the problem isn’t the quarterback.

31. New York Jets (No. 28; 2-10): Maybe Geno Smith should be introduced as a member of the opponent’s defense.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 31; 1-11): “We got our win for the year. Now we can coast.”

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AFC playoff picture: Division, conference records helping Miami

Jeff Cumberland, Jelani Jenkins AP

With their 16-13 win at the Jets Monday night, the Dolphins joined five other clubs tied at 7-5. And if the playoffs started now, they would be the No. 6 seed, leaving the Chiefs, Bills, Ravens, Steelers and Browns out in the cold.

So how did the Dolphins pull that off?

Oddly enough, their season-opening win vs. the Patriots nearly three months ago is a big part of the answer.

The Dolphins’ victory over New England was a divisional triumph, one of three in four tries for Miami thus far. And that 3-1 AFC East record is superior to Buffalo’s 3-2 division mark, which thus places the Dolphins ahead of the Bills in the playoff-seeding pecking order, per the NFL’s tiebreaking rules. The first two-team divisional tiebreaker — head-to-head record — is rendered moot because Miami and Buffalo split a pair of games earlier this season.

Division record is the next tiebreaker. And the Bills come up just short, with losses at Miami and vs. New England giving the Dolphins the half-game edge.

This leaves the Dolphins as the top-rated 7-5 club in the AFC East.

Now, the tiebreaking formula must be applied once again, with Miami, Kansas City and Baltimore (the top-rated 7-5 AFC North club) to be sorted out. Once again, the head-to-head tiebreaker doesn’t hold, as none of the three clubs has swept the others.

The next tiebreaker is AFC record. And here, Miami wins again. The Dolphins are 6-3 in AFC play, one game better than the Chiefs (5-4) and 2.5 games better than the Ravens (3-5).

That’s how the Dolphins took the top wild-card spot through 12 games. Whether they can hold it, though, is anybody’s guess.

Here’s a closer look at the AFC’s current playoff seeding. The NFL’s standings and tiebreaking rules are essential reference materials.

THE BIG SIX

1. New England Patriots (9-3, .750). AFC East leader. Earn first-round bye, home-field advantage. Hold head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver.

2. Denver Broncos (9-3, .750). AFC West leader. Earn first-round bye.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1, .708). AFC North leader. Host Dolphins in wild-card game.

4. Indianapolis Colts (8-4, .667). AFC South leader. Host Chargers in wild-card game.

5. San Diego Chargers (8-4, .667). Wild card No. 1.

6. Miami Dolphins (7-5, .583). Wild card No. 2. Seeded ahead of Buffalo (also 7-5) on basis of superior division record (3-1 vs. 3-2 — second divisional tiebreaker). Seeded No. 6 in AFC on basis of superior conference record to Kansas City (5-4) and Baltimore (3-5) — the second three-team wild-card tiebreaker.

JUST MISSING

7. Kansas City Chiefs (7-5, .583). Seeded No. 7 on basis of superior AFC record (5-4) to Buffalo (4-5) and Baltimore (3-5) — the second three-team wild-card tiebreaker.

8. Buffalo Bills (7-5, .583).

9. Baltimore Ravens (7-5, .583). AFC North’s second-seeded team because of 2-1 mark in head-to-head games vs. Steelers and Browns (first divisional tiebreaker). This tops the Steelers’ 2-2 mark and the Browns’ 1-2 record.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5, .583). AFC North’s third-seeded team because of superior record in common games to Browns (4-3 vs. 3-3 — third divisional tiebreaker).

11. Cleveland Browns (7-5, .583).

12. Houston Texans (6-6, .500).

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NFL morning after: Marvin Lewis shows NFL needs new replay rules

marvinlewis AP

In the final minute on Sunday in Tampa Bay, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis did something he wasn’t supposed to do. Something that probably saved the game for his team.

Lewis threw the red challenge flag.

Coaches’ replay challenges, as those of you able to keep up with the NFL’s convoluted replay rules know, are only permitted in the first 28 minutes of each half. In the final two minutes of each half (and in overtime), replay reviews are initiated by the replay assistant, who pages the referee on the field if there’s a close call that needs to be reviewed. But after the Buccaneers completed a long pass to get into position to kick a game-winning field goal, Lewis threw his challenge flag anyway, in violation of the rules.

Lewis, it turns out, had noticed something that the officials on the field didn’t: The Bucs had 12 players on the field on the play in question. Lewis wanted to be sure the referee would review the replay, so he threw his challenge flag just to delay the game, even though he knew that he couldn’t initiate a challenge. Lewis figured that even if he couldn’t officially challenge, he could draw attention to the fact that the play needed to be reviewed. Sure enough, the play was reviewed, the Bucs were assessed a 12-on-the-field penalty that knocked them out of field goal range, and the Bengals held on to win the game.

Lewis acknowledged after the game that under NFL rules, he’s not supposed to throw the challenge flag in that situation. But he said he knew the officials had missed a big penalty on the Bucs and had to do something to draw the referee’s attention to it.

“I couldn’t challenge it — I should have just called timeout and made them look at it,” Lewis said. “But obviously, that’s a big, big miss.”

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said after the game that the replay official was on top of it and the play would have been reviewed regardless of Lewis throwing the flag. And maybe Blandino is right. But that doesn’t change the fact that the NFL’s rule is dumb: Coaches should be allowed to challenge a bad call at any time.

At this year’s NFL meeting, Patriots coach Bill Belichick made a proposal to do exactly that: Belichick wanted to change the rule so that everything is reviewable. All sorts of penalties that currently aren’t reviewable — from holding to personal fouls to pass interference — would be reviewable under Belichick’s proposal, and coaches would be allowed to challenge in the last two minutes of each half, just as they can challenge in the first 28.

It’s important to remember that Belichick’s proposal would not increase the number of replay delays. Coaches would still be limited to two challenges per game, with a third challenge allowed if the first two were successful. It would just eliminate the arbitrary limits on the types of calls that can be challenged, and the times during the game when a coach can challenge.

Belichick was voted down, but his proposal was a smart one. As Lewis showed, sometimes a coach knows the officials missed a potential game-changing penalty, and at those times, the coach ought to have the opportunity to initiate a replay review.

The NFL should remove all of the limits on what coaches can challenge and just make the rule that coaches can challenge whatever they want, whenever they want. If a replay shows indisputable visual evidence that the call on the field was wrong, and if a coach thinks it was big enough mistake that it’s worth using up one of his challenges, he should have that opportunity.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:

The Packers and Patriots are the two best teams in the NFL. That was a heck of a football game in Green Bay on Sunday, with the Packers winning 26-21. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see these two teams go at it again in the Super Bowl.

The Cardinals are reeling. It turns out that when the team with the best record in the NFL loses its starting quarterback, that’s a really big deal. The Cardinals were 8-1, best in the NFL , when they lost Carson Palmer for the season. They’ve lost two of three games since then. It’s not all Drew Stanton’s fault, of course, but the 9-3 Cardinals no longer look like they have much of a chance of playing the Super Bowl on their home field.

I like Bill O’Brien’s guts. Facing a fourth-and-2 early in the first quarter, the Texans decided to go for it, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ran for the first down. Houston ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive to take an early 7-0 lead on their way to beating the Titans. Coaches are just too conservative about going for it on fourth down. The rewards of a successful fourth-down try often outweigh the risks of going for it and failing. O’Brien seems to know that. Other coaches could learn from him.

The Raiders are pathetic. A week after earning their first win of the season, did the Raiders build on it? Nope. Instead, they lost 52-0 to the Rams, in the most lopsided loss any NFL team has suffered in two years. Oakland will be looking for a new coach in a month, but I’m not sure what kind of coach would want this job. This franchise is a mess.

Sunday Ticket needs to get better. If you’re an NFL fan, the DirecTV Sunday Ticket service is great. But it’s far from perfect. One of the big flaws is that games that are showing on a local channel are blacked out on the Sunday Ticket channel — if you want to watch the game that your local channel is showing, you need to watch it on your local channel. The problem is that sometimes the local channel doesn’t show the game it’s scheduled to show. That’s what happened on Sunday, when the Chargers-Ravens game ran long on CBS in the early window, which meant the CBS affiliates showing that game didn’t get to the start of the Patriots-Packers game. And the DirecTV channel dedicated to the Patriots-Packers game was blacked out for the vast majority of the country because most people’s CBS affiliates were scheduled to show Patriots-Packers. If DirecTV and the NFL are going to ask fans to pay to watch every game, then DirecTV and the NFL should make sure that every play of every game is available on Sunday Ticket.

Patrick Peterson gets burned a lot. Falcons receiver Julio Jones was the latest to toast Peterson, beating him for 10 catches, a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Peterson is often labeled an elite cornerback, and he gets paid like an elite cornerback. But he sure does get beaten on a lot of big plays. If Jones vs. Peterson had been a prizefight, the ref would’ve stopped it before halftime. That was a brutal beating Jones put on Peterson.

Johnny Football lives! The Browns were mostly dreadful in Sunday’s 26-10 loss at Buffalo, but it sure was fun when they benched Brian Hoyer and put Johnny Manziel in for a fourth-quarter drive. Manziel marched a previously stagnant Browns Offense right down the field, going 80 yards and culminating in a touchdown run. Browns coach Mike Pettine said afterward that he hasn’t decided who his starter will be next week, but I’ll be shocked if it’s not Manziel. He’s Cleveland’s quarterback of the future.

Colt McCoy or Robert Griffin III? No contest. Washington stinks regardless, but it’s pretty clear that McCoy is the best quarterback on the roster — he’s far better than RG3 right now. In Sunday’s loss to the Colts, McCoy completed 31 of 47 passes for 392 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. On the year, McCoy has completed 75.3 percent of his passes and averaged 346 yards per complete game, with four touchdowns and one interception. Griffin has completed 69.7 percent of his passes and averaged 208 yards per complete game, with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Trent Richardson remains terrible. Richardson had just 12 yards on eight carries on Sunday. The Colts’ other running back, Boom Herron, also had eight carries, but Herron gained 88 yards. Richardson has now played 27 games as a Colt since Indianapolis gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire him in a trade with Cleveland. In those 27 games, Richardson has 296 caries for 904 yards. That works out to 3.05 yards a carry and 33.5 yards a game. How can the Colts continue to justify giving the ball to Richardson, given those dreadful results?

All of a sudden, the Bengals are overwhelming favorites in the AFC North. All season, the AFC North has looked like the NFL’s most competitive division, with no clear favorite. But after the Bengals won to improve to 8-3-1 on Sunday, while the other three teams in the division all lost to drop to 7-5, it’s undeniable that the Bengals are the favorites. Thanks in part to a heads-up use of the challenge flag by Marvin Lewis.

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NFC playoff picture: Fading Panthers can still make an impact

Everson Griffen, Cam Newton AP

With the Falcons and Saints winning and the Panthers losing Sunday, the NFC South increasingly looks like it will be won by Atlanta or New Orleans, who are tied at 5-7.

Still, the Panthers will be in the playoff discussion in December, even if only indirectly. Their final two road games are against New Orleans (Sunday) and Atlanta (December 28). The Saints are favorites of around 10 points, and the Falcons likely will be favored over the Panthers in Week 17.

The Panthers could also have an impact on the AFC North race, too; they host the Browns in Week 16 in a game that shapes up as a must-win for Cleveland, which is currently stuck at No. 10 in the AFC despite a 7-5 record.

The Saints, Falcons and Browns will expect to beat the Panthers. Anything less would be a disappointment — perhaps a season-altering one. So can Carolina play spoiler? The playoffs still aren’t completely out of the realm of possibility. After all, the Panthers do get one more shot at the NFC South’s co-leaders.

Of course, we’re talking about a Carolina club that has lost six straight and has the NFC’s worst point differential (-103). In the end, the Panthers’ final month is probably all about whether they can take a chunk out of the Saints or Falcons, who are the worst sort of December favorites — teams just good enough to be in the race but wholly capable of disappointing when the chips are in the middle of the table.

Here’s a look at the NFC’s playoff seeding through Sunday night. The Cardinals, as you will see, have kept the top seed — for now, at least. For reference, here are the NFL’s tiebreaking rules and standings.

THE BIG SIX

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-3, .818). NFC West leader. Earn first-round bye, home-field advantage. Win three-team tiebreaker for No. 1 seed on account of better NFC record (7-2) than Green Bay (6-3) and Philadelphia (5-2).

2. Green Bay Packers (9-3, .750). NFC North leader. Earn first-round bye. Win head-to-head tiebreaker with Philadelphia for No. 2 seed.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3, .750). NFC East leader. Host Lions in wild-card round.

4. Atlanta Falcons (5-7, .417). NFC South leader. Host Seahawks in wild-card round. NFC South’s top-seeded team on basis of head-to-head win vs. New Orleans.

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

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

JUST MISSING

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

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

THE REST OF THE NFC SOUTH

9. New Orleans Saints (5-7, .417).

13. Carolina Panthers (3-8-1, .292).

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Week 13 early inactives

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

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

Chargers at Ravens

Chargers: DT Ryan Carrethers, WR Dontrelle Inman, RB Ronnie Brown, LB Andrew Gachkar, DL Damion Square, OL Ryan Miller, LB Cordarro Law

Ravens: WR Michael Campanaro, CB Rashaan Melvin, LB Arthur Brown, DT Terrence Cody, G/T Jah Reid, DE DeAngelo Tyson, G/C Geno Gradkowski.

Browns at Bills

Browns: TE Jordan Cameron, CB Justin Gilbert, LB Karlos Dansby, S Tashaun Gipson, WR Marlon Moore, WR Rodney Smith, OL Vinston Painter

Bills: TE Chris Gragg, S Jarius Wynn, S Bacarri Rambo, WR Mike Williams, FB Frank Summers, LB Randell Johnson, T Cyrus Kouandjio

Titans at Texans

Titans: LB Kamerion Wimbley, DL DaQuan Jones, WR Kris Durham, RB Antonio Andrews, DB Marqueston Huff, QB Charlie Whitehurst, T Taylor Lewan

Texans: LB Jadeveon Clowney, CB Kareem Jackson, QB Thad Lewis, WR DeVier Posey, LB Akeem Dent, T Jeff Adams, DB Josh Aubrey

Redskins at Colts

Redskins: QB Kirk Cousins, WR Aldrick Robinson, CB E.J. Biggers, G Spencer Long, DE Stephen Bowen, T Tyler Polumbus, WR Leonard Hankerson

Colts: TE Dwayne Allen, G Hugh Thornton, T Xavier Nixon, LB Andy Studebaker, TE Weslye Saunders, G Lance Louis, DT Zach Kerr

Giants at Jaguars

Giants: DT Cullen Jenkins, LB Jacquian Williams, G Adam Snyder, CB Jayron Hosley, T Justin Pugh, DE Mathias Kiwanuka, G Brandon Mosley

Jaguars: CB Jeremy Harris, CB Teddy Williams, RB Storm Johnson, LB Jeremiah George, G Tyler Shatley, T Sam Young, DE Chris Smith

Panthers at Vikings

Panthers: QB Joe Webb, CB James Dockery, DB Robert Lester, OL David Foucault, OL Amini Silatolu, DL Micanor Regis, DT Star Lotulelei

Vikings: RB Jerick McKinnon, RB Zach Line, CB Shaun Prater, LB Michael Mauti, LB Brandon Watts, G David Yankey, T J’Marcus Webb

Saints at Steelers

Saints: LB Kyle Knox, RB Khiry Robinson, WR Robert Meachem, CB Terrence Frederick, NT Lawrence Virgil, T Nick Becton, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Steelers: DT Steve McLendon, CB Cortez Allen, T Marcus Gilbert, LB Ryan Shazier, QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, CB B.W. Webb

Raiders at Rams

Raiders: S Jonathan Dowling, RB Latavius Murray, CB Neiko Thorpe, QB Matt McGloin, WR Denarius Moore, G Tony Bergstrom, DT Stacy McGee

Rams: WR Damian Williams, DB Lamarcus Joyner, CB Marcus Roberson, LB Korey Toomer, OL Barrett Jones, G Brandon Washington, DE Alex Carrington

Bengals at Buccaneers

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

Buccaneers: CB Crezdon Butler, LB Lavonte David, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, TE Brandon Myers, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE Luke Stocker, DT Clinton McDonald

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Memo from Jeff Pash to owners regarding Ray Rice ruling

[Editor’s note:  PFT has obtained a copy of a memo sent Friday to the chief executives and club presidents of every team by NFL general counsel Jeff Pash. The full text of the memo appears below.]

Earlier today, retired federal judge Barbara Jones issued her decision in the appeal filed by the NFLPA from the indefinite suspension imposed on Ray Rice. Judge Jones vacated the indefinite suspension, finding that Mr. Rice did not mislead the Commissioner in describing his actions toward Janay Palmer, who was his fiancée. The decision turned on whether Mr. Rice told the Commissioner that he “hit” Miss Palmer (rather than that he “slapped” her) and whether he claimed that she “knocked herself out” by striking her head in the elevator. Judge Jones found that when he met with the Commissioner last June, Mr. Rice sufficiently described his conduct and that his description was not misleading when compared to the later release of the videotape from inside the hotel elevator.

​No part of Judge Jones’s decision questions the Commissioner’s honesty or integrity, nor his good faith consideration of the issue when he imposed the indefinite suspension on Mr. Rice. Nor is there any suggestion that the Commissioner had seen the video from inside the elevator before it became public, or knew of the contents of the video.

​Judge Jones’s decision ends the disciplinary proceedings relating to Ray Rice. He remains free to sign with a contract and is eligible to participate without restriction upon signing a contract.

​The decision has no bearing on the current work on a revised Personal Conduct Policy, nor on the initiatives announced by the Commissioner on August 28 regarding domestic violence and sexual assault. Similarly, the decision is limited to Ray Rice and should have no effect on any other pending or prospective disciplinary matters.

​The Commissioner has already taken numerous steps to ensure that the unique issues addressed in the Ray Rice matter are not presented again. First, he has substantially enhanced the league’s investigative resources by engaging outside professionals with experience in domestic violence and sexual assault matters. This will help to ensure that disciplinary decisions are based on a more complete factual record, and that the record is developed with the active participation of persons with deep knowledge of these subjects.

​Second, the Commissioner has announced significantly enhanced discipline for violations of the Personal Conduct Policy that involve domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and similar offenses. As Judge Jones noted in her decision, the initial discipline imposed on Ray Rice was based on the Commissioner’s desire to be consistent and fair, as well as the weight he placed on the decisions of the New Jersey prosecutors. However, as she notes, had the Commissioner decided to impose an indefinite suspension at the outset, it would have been very difficult for her or any appeal officer to have overturned that decision. With a new baseline discipline of a six-game suspension without pay, adjusted for aggravating or mitigating factors, there should no longer be any question that the league is addressing these types of misconduct with the seriousness they deserve.

​Third, we have engaged as advisors individuals with specialized experience in both specific offenses and the prosecution of those offenses. This will allow the Commissioner a better opportunity to evaluate and weigh evidence developed by investigators; to give appropriate but not undue deference to decisions by local police and prosecutors; and to ensure that the process of discipline is both fair to players and other employees, and properly balances considerations of rehabilitation, services to victims, and punishment.

​Based on these and other steps, we are confident that the issues addressed by Judge Jones will not be part of future disciplinary decisions of the Commissioner. We will of course review the decision in detail to identify any other aspects that can be addressed within the comprehensive revision of the Personal Conduct Policy that is now underway. This revised Policy will include significant elements regarding independent investigations, more precise definition of the standards of conduct expected of everyone in the NFL, ongoing programs of prevention and education, and greater participation of experts in assessing issues surrounding law enforcement, clinical and therapeutic matters, and discipline. This revised policy will be a key subject of discussion at the December 10 league meeting. We look forward to discussing these issues with you then, and would be pleased to respond to any questions in the meantime.

​We have issued the following public statements: “We respect Judge Jones’s decision to reinstate Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy in an incident of domestic violence. Ray Rice is a free agent and has been eligible to be signed by an NFL team since he was released by the Ravens. Based on Judge Jones’s decision, he will be eligible to play upon signing a new contract. Judge Jones’s ruling underscores the urgency of our work to develop and implement a clear, fair and comprehensive new personal conduct policy. We expect this policy to be completed and announced in the weeks ahead. Our focus is on consistently enforcing an improved policy going forward.”

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Week 13 injury report roundup

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals 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 13 of the 2014 season.

Chargers at Ravens

The Chargers should have running back Ryan Mathews (shoulder, probable), but defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers (elbow) is out and linebacker Andrew Gachkar (knee) is doubtful after missing practice all week. Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) is questionable after missing the last three games. Linebackers Pernell McPhee (elbow) and Terrell Suggs (foot) are both probable.

Browns at Bills

Linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee) will miss another game for the Browns, who are hopeful that tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion, questionable) can play for the first time since Week Eight. Wide receiver Marlon Moore (hamstring) and safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) are also out, while defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (back) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) are questionable. Defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee), safety Bacarri Rambo (hamstring), tight end Chris Gregg (knee) are out for Buffalo, which brings an otherwise healthy group into Sunday.

Titans at Texans

Titans linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (hamstring) is out. Four players — tackles Taylor Lewan (ankle) and Michael Oher (toe), safety Michael Griffin (shoulder) and defensive back Marqueston Huff (hamstring) — are questionable. The Texans expect running back Arian Foster (groin) back in the lineup, but linebacker Jadeveon Clowney will miss another game with lingering knee pain resulting from his torn meniscus earlier in the season. Linebacker Akeem Dent (neck) is questionable.

Redskins at Colts

Washington brings a slew of questionable players with them to Indianapolis. Tackle Trent Williams (knee,ankle), tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), defensive end Jason Hatcher (knee), safety Ryan Clark (stinger) and cornerback E.J. Biggers (concussion) are the notable members of that group. Colts tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle) is out again this week and he’ll be joined on the sideline by guard Hugh Thornton (knee), linebacker Andy Studebaker (hamstring) and tackle Xavier Nixon (foot). Cornerback Darius Butler (knee) is questionable after popping up on the injury report on Thursday.

Giants at Jaguars

Offensive lineman Adam Snyder (knee), defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion/shoulder) are all out for the Giants. Right tackle Justin Pugh (quad) and defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (knee) are questionable. Linebackers LaRoy Reynolds (neck) and Jeremiah George (hamstring) are questionable for the Jags and defensive end Andre Branch (groin, probable) is on track to return.

Panthers at Vikings

The Panthers listed Amini Silatolu (knee) as doubtful, but they’ve already announced Mike Remmers will get the start at right tackle. On the defensive line, Star Lotulelei (ankle) is doubtful and defensive end Charles Johnson (illness) is questionable. The Vikings listed running back Jerick McKinnon (back) as doubtful, but McKinnon ruled himself out on Friday. Tight end Chase Ford (hamstring, foot) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) are questionable.

Saints at Steelers

The Saints ruled out linebacker Kyle Knox (hand) and running back Khiry Robinson (forearm). Cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) is probable for the reunion with his previous team. Safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (arm) are probable to return to the lineup for Pittsburgh, although linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) is less certain to return after being listed as questionable. Cornerback Cortez Allen (thumb) and defensive tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) are both out this week.

Raiders at Rams

There were some encouraging signs earlier in the week, but the Raiders have ruled out running back Latavius Murray (concussion). Safety Jonathan Dowling (back), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and cornerback Neiko Thorpe (hand) have also been ruled out and guard Gabe Jackson (knee) is questionable. Rams cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle), while defensive tackle Alex Carrington (thigh) and safety Lamarcus Joyner (groin) are both questionable. The Rams have not activated defensive end Chris Long (ankle) from injured reserve and will make a call on his status this weekend.

Bengals at Buccaneers

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) will spend another week on the bench for the Bengals. Defensive end Margus Hunt (knee) is also out and linebacker Nico Johnson (illness) is questionable. So are Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring), center Evan Dietrich-Smith (illness), defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring), tight end Brandon Myers (calf), tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back), tight end Luke Stocker (concussion) and safety Major Wright (shoulder).

Cardinals at Falcons

It’s a game-time decision for Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee,questionable). Linebacker Kenny Demens (hamstring) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) are out. Defensive tackle Paul Soliai (not injury related) and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) are both questionable for the Falcons, who won’t have cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) this week.

Patriots at Packers

The Patriots listed long snapper Danny Aiken (concussion), guard Dan Connolly (ankle), defensive end Dominique Easley (knee), tackle Cameron Fleming (ankle, finger), defensive end Chandler Jones (hip), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (shoulder), running back Shane Vereen (ankle) and linebacker Chris White (ankle) as questionable. No reason to worry about Tom Brady (ankle), though: He’s probable. Cornerback Jarrett Bush (groin, questionable) and linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder, questionable) are the only injury concerns for the Packers.

Broncos at Chiefs

Cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) are questionable after doing limited practice work this week. Running backs Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman (foot) will miss another week and cornerback Kayvon Webster (shoulder) joins them on the sideline. The Chiefs won’t have wide receiver Junior Hemingway (concussion), but Donnie Avery (sports hernia surgery, probable) should be back after a long absence from the lineup. Cornerback Christopher Owens (knee, abdomen) and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (calf) are both questionable.

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Statement from lawyer Peter Ginsberg regarding Ray Rice ruling

Peter Ginsberg, Billy Martin, Joel Segal AP

[Editor’s note:  Lawyer Peter Ginsberg has issued a statement regarding the ruling that reinstated his client, Ray Rice to the NFL.  The full text appears below.]

It is a huge relief that Judge Barbara Jones has ruled that Ray can get back to work. That is the fair and legally correct result. The decision, however, certainly does not mean that this incident will be forgotten by anyone involved.

On a personal level, Ray, individually, and Ray and Janay, as a couple, are dealing with these events privately. On a professional level, it is time for Ray to prove himself again. Hopefully, the NFL will use this incident to learn and to improve.

On the heels of Bountygate, Commissioner Roger Goodell has shown once again that he does not follow the rules in his treatment of players and that his judgment cannot be trusted. Under his leadership, the NFL ignored for years the need to create a stronger and more constructive program to address domestic abuse. As we all know, the Rice incident is not an isolated one. It was only in the face of a public outcry, however, that the NFL finally took a step in the right direction with its new domestic violence policy.

But rather than admitting he had been ignoring the domestic violence issue for years, and had failed to subject past violators to real scrutiny, Commissioner Goodell turned his own failings on Ray by punishing him a second time for an offense about which Commissioner Goodell had been fully and completely aware when he imposed the original suspension. That action threatened to end Ray’s career. And in so doing, Commissioner Goodell ignored the basic principle that every worker must be treated in a manner consistent with past punishments and in accordance with published procedures.

Second punishments for the same conduct are unprecedented and not permitted as a matter of basic and fundamental principle. Perhaps now, finally, NFL owners will give real thought to whether the ‘NFL shield’ should tolerate a leader who fails to lead in important areas like domestic violence and who time and again ignores the League’s workers’ due process rights and the right to be treated with fundamental fairness. There are many lessons to be learned from this unfortunate event – Ray is well on his way to learning his from this awful event.  Time will tell whether the NFL and NFL owners are learning theirs as well.

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PFT’s Week 13 picks

Peyton AP

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

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

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

For the week, we were both 11-4.  For the year, I’m at 116-60 (65.9 percent).  MDS stands at 113-63 (64.2 percent).

Bears at Lions

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

MDS’s pick: Lions 14, Bears 10.

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

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Bears 20.

Eagles at Cowboys

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

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 24, Eagles 21.

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

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Eagles 27.

Seahawks at 49ers

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

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 20, 49ers 13.

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

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

Washington at Colts

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

MDS’s pick: Colts 31, Washington 10.

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

Florio’s pick:  Colts 34, Washington 20.

Titans at Texans

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

MDS’s pick: Texans 31, Titans 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Titans 13.

Browns at Bills

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

MDS’s pick: Bills 23, Browns 20.

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

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Browns 20.

Chargers at Ravens

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

MDS’s pick: Ravens 28, Chargers 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 27, Chargers 20.

Giants at Jaguars

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

MDS’s pick: Giants 15, Jaguars 7.

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

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Jaguars 17.

Bengals at Buccaneers

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

MDS’s pick: Bengals 27, Buccaneers 7.

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

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Buccaneers 17.

Raiders at Rams

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

MDS’s pick: Rams 28, Raiders 14.

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

Florio’s pick:  Rams 27, Raiders 14.

Saints at Steelers

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

MDS’s pick: Steelers 27, Saints 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Saints 20.

Panthers at Vikings

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

MDS’s pick: Vikings 16, Panthers 10.

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

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 20, Panthers 16.

Cardinals at Falcons

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

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 24, Falcons 10.

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

Florio’s pick:   Cardinals 23, Falcons 13.

Patriots at Packers

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

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Packers 28.

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

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Packers 24.

Broncos at Chiefs

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

MDS’s pick: Broncos 34, Chiefs 20.

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

Florio’s pick:   Chiefs 27, Broncos 24.

Dolphins at Jets

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

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 34, Jets 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Jets 13.

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Week 12 power rankings

Brady AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AFC playoff picture: Ravens can chart their own path

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

THE BIG SIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUST MISSING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corey Peters AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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